Sodom, Gomorrah and same-sex conduct

This is the fourth in a series of columns about same-sex attraction, adapted from the new MBC resource, “What Every Christian Should Know About Same-Sex Attraction,” available in print at mobaptist.org/apologetics and in Kindle format from Amazon.com.

Six passages of Scripture speak directly to the issue of same-sex conduct. This column offers a brief survey of Gen. 19:5: “They [the men of Sodom] called out to Lot and said, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Send them out to us so we can have sex with them!’” (HCSB)

Summary

God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah because of the people’s wickedness, expressed most egregiously in their homosexual behavior. Jews and Christians traditionally have understood the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to speak directly to the issue of homosexuality – revisionist explanations of this passage notwithstanding.

Gen. 13:13 tells us, “Now the men of Sodom were evil, sinning greatly against the Lord.” When the Lord, accompanied by two angels, visits Lot, He says, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is immense, and their sin is extremely serious” (Gen. 18:20).

“Don’t do this evil”

Their sin clearly is homosexual behavior, for they surround Lot’s house and demand that his three guests be given to them so they may “have sex with them” (Gen. 19:5). Lot implores the men, “Don’t do this evil, my brothers” (v. 7). He takes the extraordinary step of offering his two virgin daughters to them if they only abandon their intent for the three guests under his roof.

Other references to these two cities cast them in the light of grievous, unrepentant sin. Jude 7, for example, refers to their behavior as “sexual immorality” and “perversions,” and 2 Peter 2:7 describes “the unrestrained behavior of the immoral.”

The “whole population” is engaged in this immoral practice (Gen. 19:4). For this sin, the Lord destroys the cities in an act of divine judgment.

Challenges

The most common objection is that the sin of Sodom is primarily inhospitality, not same-sex behavior. Proponents of this view often cite Ezek. 16:48-49 to say that the sin of the Sodomites is their refusal to take in needy travelers.

No doubt the men of Sodom are an inhospitable bunch, but reading the next verse changes the perspective: “They were haughty and did detestable things before Me, so I removed them when I saw this” (v. 50). The word “detestable” – or “abomination” in other translations – brings us back to Leviticus, specifically Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13, where homosexual conduct is in view.

Another challenge is that the use of yada – a Hebrew word translated “know” in the KJV and ESV – does not refer to homosexual conduct. It’s true that yada appears numerous times in the Bible and normally refers to knowing factual information, but at times yada plainly means to know someone intimately in a sexual fashion.

In Gen. 4:1 Adam “knew Eve his wife; and she conceived …” (KJV). Further, a look at Judges 19:22-25 offers a close parallel to the story of Lot in Sodom. Certain “perverted men of the city” surround the home where two guests have been taken in, demanding, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex (yada) with him!” (v. 22).

The homeowner describes their intent as “evil” and “horrible” (v. 23), and he offers his virgin daughter and the guest’s concubine in exchange. The men take the concubine, rape (yada) her and abuse her all night (v. 25).

The context determines the correct understanding of yada.

More challenges

A third challenge is that Jesus mentions Sodom and Gomorrah but does not connect the cities with homosexuality. It’s true that in Matt. 10:14-15 Jesus does not specifically refer to any sin for which the residents of the cities are guilty.

However, as Christian authors James White and Jeffrey Niell explain, “Sodom’s judgment had become axiomatic for the fullest outpouring of God’s wrath throughout the Old Testament…. And the comparison is that it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in that day than for those cities that had experienced the visitation of the very apostles of the incarnate Lord, but refused their message of repentance and faith.”

A final challenge is that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not germane to the same-sex debate because it does not address loving, monogamous relationships. It only rails against homosexual gang rape and violence. Even if that were the case, it begs the question of what the Bible says, if anything, about loving, monogamous same-sex relationships.

The Bible speaks positively of loving, monogamous, lifelong relationships between a man and a woman, but never of two women or two men.

Next: Leviticus and the same-sex debate

4 comments

  1. rphilli

    If your concern is with the term “strange flesh,” the literal translation is “other flesh.” The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates the phrase “committed sexual immorality and practiced perversions.” Jude likely is referring here to homosexuality as practiced by the men of Sodom. Thanks for writing.

  2. Ronny Burbidge

    Jude 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. Can you help me in this?

  3. rphilli

    Thank you, Jeff, for your insights. I agree that there is a certain mystery about suffering that we may only fully understand after we’re passed through the portals of heaven. Certainly Job could appreciate this mystery, as could other biblical characters. God is not obligated to tell us why He allows us, or causes us, to suffer. I think sometimes He wants it to be clear — especially in the case of divine discipline — but for the most part, the mystery of suffering, I think, helps us develop a greater appreciation of the wisdom and sovereignty of God. A few books that express this mystery far better than I could are: “If God is Good” by Randy Alcorn; “Where is God When it Hurts?” by Philip Yancey; and “Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering” by Tim Keller. I really love a particular line from Keller’s book (I’m paraphrasing): “God always gives us exactly what we would have asked for if we knew what He knows.” Thanks again for writing. Blessings.

  4. Jeff Labala

    Rob, I read your article on why Christians suffer with interest, because I’m writing an Introduction to Christian Theology from an African perspective. Yours is well written. There is one aspect of the “why’ of suffering that is often overlooked in the discussion—it is the element of mystery about suffering. I did not see that in your piece. While suffering may provide an opportunity for us glorify God, i.e., to manifest the works of God(John 9:1-4), that in itself is never given as the cause of the suffering. In short, all the reasons you gave cannot account for the why of every suffering in the world.Your thoughts on that would be helpful, and may lead me to rethink my thought. Thanks for your ministry and be truly blessed. Your brother in the faith— Jeff

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