Archives For Sodom

This week’s class was devoted to a bit of house-cleaning—sweeping aside biblical arguments from both sides of the debate that seem to clutter, rather than help, the discussion. First, we talked about God’s wrath poured out on Sodom from Genesis 19. Was Sodom condemned because of homosexuality?

According to R. C. Sproul, yes. “In their total lack of shame they have embraced homosexuality and sexual violence,” says R. C. “Many scholars friendly to the liberalization of sexual morality will say the central sin of Sodom was inhospitality and not homosexuality.”sodom

But my question for Sproul is: what do you mean by “homosexuality”? Someone who struggles with same sex attraction? Someone who is in a monogamous, consensual, homosexual relationship? (There were none at Sodom.) Someone who is engaged in extra-marital sex with people of the same gender? As we learned from the first week of class, the term “homosexuality” is so broad that it’s rarely helpful for the discussion.

Plus, Sproul is correct that Sodom has embraced “sexual violence”—they tried to gang rape the two angels—and both Jude and 2 Peter talk about sexual immorality as part of Sodom’s crime. But I don’t know anyone in the LGBT community who would say that gang rape is okay. Somewhere in the middle of the night, there are two ships passing each other.

The question facing the church is: does the Bible permit same sex relations within the context of a consensual, monogamous, and loving relationship? In this regard, the story of Sodom is quite irrelevant.

Next, we looked at a few relationships in the Old Testament that some have taken to validate same sex eroticism. The late John Boswell, for instance, says in passing that “intense love relations between persons of the same gender figure prominently in the Old Testament—e.g. Saul and David, David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi.”

No footnotes. No argument. No evidence. Usually the editor catches such unsupported statements, but for some reason they missed this one. davidcensored1For Boswell, it’s self evident that Ruth and Naomi were lesbian lovers and that Saul and Jonathan were fighting for David’s erotic affections. Now, I’m really trying to read the Bible in an unbiased manner. I want to base my views on what the Bible actually says, not on what I want it to say. But Ruth and Naomi? Really? Would God sanction a lesbian love relationship between mother and daughter in law? I can’t think of a non-cynical response, so let me just move on to David and Jonathan, since there seems to be more evidence there.

You’ve got to admit, there are a few statements about David and Jonathan that raise some eyebrows. “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Sam 18:1; cf. 20:17). Jonathan also “delighted very much” in David and “took great pleasure” in him (1 Sam 19:1). On one occasion, David and Jonathan “kissed one another and wept with one another,” since they would not see each other again (1 Sam 20:41). Finally, when David gets news about Jonathan’s death, he cries out: “very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Sam 1:26).

I’ve got to admit, I’ve never told my best friend that his love to me was better than the love of women, and if I did I might loose him as my best friend, and my wife would certainly have a few questions. So what do we do with these passages?

What we shouldn’t do is read them through the lens of our own hyper-sexed culture. We should interpret them in light of an ancient Near Eastern context where same gender relationships could be incredibly intimate without being sexual.

For instance, the phrase “soul being knit to…” is used by Jacob about his son Benjamin: “his (Jacob’s) soul is bound up with his (Benjamin’s) soul” (Gen 44:30-31). This, of course, does not mean that Jacob had david and jonathansexual interest in his son. They had a non-sexual close bond.

Also, the Hebrew word for “take pleasure in” (hapesh) sometimes has sexual overtones, but it usually only means loyalty. Friends could take pleasure in their friends without taking them to bed. And friends can kiss without taking it to second base. In fact, the Hebrew verb “to kiss” occurs 27 times in the Old Testament, but in only 3 of those 27 instances does it refer to erotic kissing. Most often, relatives are seen kissing with no sexual overtones (15 times), and on four occasions we see two men kissing, but again with no sexual connotation. It’s probably our culture (if you live in the west) that assumes that kissing is purely sexual. But ancient Hebrew culture had a much broader view of kissing, and the biblical evidence supports this.

Finally, when David says that Jonathan’s love surpasses the love of women, this probably means no more than David experienced a commitment, loyalty, and intimate relationship with Jonathon that he did not experience with his many wives. It was quite common, actually, for men to develop more intimate relationships with other men than they had with their wives. Interestingly, one of our auditors just got back from living in the Middle East and he said that the same is very true today in Arabic cultures. Men in the Old Testament times didn’t grow up learning the 5 love languages.

But let’s extend our exegetical leash as far as it will go; let’s just say that David and Jonathan had a steamy Brokeback Masada relationship going on behind the scenes. Would the Bible sanction this? Would the Bible set forth David and Jonathan’s extra marital, adulterous, promiscuous fling as an example to follow? Even if Jonathan was Janet, and the affair was heterosexual, the whole relationship would have been condemned, not celebrated, by the moral standards of the Bible.

So, the point of this week’s class was: don’t support the right doctrine (whatever you feel is the right doctrine) from the wrong texts. In my view, traditionalists have done this with the story of Sodom, and revisionists have done this with David and Jonathan.

Now that the deck has been cleared, we can move on to a text with a bit more relevance: Leviticus 18 and 20. Stay tuned!

In my last post, I argued that it’s unlikely that the entire city of Sodom was “gay” in the sense that we know it today, and that the city was condemned primarily for inhospitality, which included the attempted gang rape of Lot’s guests. Homosexual sex was only a subsidiary issue.

But it may have been at least an issue, according to Ezekiel.

Most scholars cite Ezekiel 16:48-49 as proof that Ezekiel only saw Sodom’s sin as inhospitality—or neglecting the poor. However, Ezekiel 16:50 uses an interesting phrase that’s often passed over too quickly. It reads:

“They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.”

Now, the term “abomination” may seem generic. Scripture talks about all sorts of sins as “abominations.” However, in the book of Leviticus, “an abomination” (toevah) refers to WhatWereSinsSodomhomosexual sex (Lev 18:22; 20:13), and of all the books that Ezekiel draws upon for his theology, Leviticus is at the top of the list. That is, Ezekiel depends on Leviticus for his ethic and theology more than any other biblical book. And—follow me—the book of Leviticus singles out homosexual sex as “an abomination;” no other sin is identified as such.

Here are the two texts:

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (Lev 18:22)

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them (Lev 20:13)

So look again at Ezek 16:48-50:

As I live, declares the Lord GOD, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.

Is Ezekiel reading the Sodom story through the lens of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13? Maybe. Notice the singular: an abomination. Therefore, it’s possible—and I’m only saying it’s possible—that Ezekiel thinks that part of Sodom’s inhospitality was not just attempted gang rape, but attempted gang rape with acts of “abomination;” that is, with homosexual intercourse.

But let’s be honest. This is not a clear, slam dunk, “how could you suggest otherwise” argument. It’s an implicit reference that may carry some relevance. Moreover, as my good friend Jon Marshall reminded me last night: Sodom was condemned in Genesis 19 before the attempted rape. No one had any sex in Genesis 19, hetero or homo: they didn’t even get to first base.

And again, even if the attempted rape of Lot’s guests added to their judgment, it was rape. There was no courting, no wooing, no chocolates or flowers. Nothing in the story of Sodom mentions same-sex attraction leading to a monogamous relationship.

Interlude: Sodom was clearly condemned for having excessive food, prosperous ease, and being unconcerned for the poor (Ezek 16:48-49). Evangelicals listen up. It’s embarrassingly hypocritical to condemn homosexuality while indulging in Sodom’s primary sin. 6,000 children die daily from hunger and preventable diseases, and you’re worried about Prop 8?

I’m always curious how early interpreters read the Bible. They often help us in our own interpretations. So, how did Jews living in the first century interpret the Sodom story? As far as we know, most of them (like Ezekiel) condemned Sodom for inhospitality (Wis 19:14–15; starving-child-5Josephus, Ant 1:194), having pride and selfish wealth (Ezek 16:49–50; 3 Macc 2:5; Tg.PsJ Gen. 13:13; 18:20), or for sexual immorality in general (Jub 16:5–6; 20:5; T.Levi 14:6; T.Benj 9:1). However, both Josephus (Ant. 1.194-95, 200-201) and Philo (Abr. 133-41; QG 4.37) also cite same-sex intercourse as at least part of the reason for their intense condemnation. (Philo is much clearer than Josephus.) But this does not seem to be shared by the New Testament writers. Jude 7, for instance, refers to the sin of Sodom as “going after strange flesh,” but this almost certainly refers to attempted sex with angels, not fellow men (see Bauckham, 2 Peter, Jude, 54). Jesus in Luke 10:10-12 assumes that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality.

Let’s bring it back to my original point. In my preliminary stage of research, I’ve found that the Sodom story is not very relevant for our contemporary debate about same-sex attraction leading to monogamous, consensual sex. The only reference that may suggest otherwise is Ezekiel 16:50, when read through the lens of Leviticus 18 and 20.

So that leaves us with Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13: the only two passages that might condemn homosexual sex in the Old Testament. But do they? Take a look at them and see what you think. Then join me in my next post.


*For an argument that the Sodom story does have same-sex intercourse in mind, see Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 71-146, 159-183.


I wonder how may gay people this guy’s led to Christ

You know the story. Two men visit Lot and they must have been hot, because they attract the attention of the men of the city—every single one, even the kids:

“The men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house…and called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.’” (Gen 19:4-5)

This raises the question: Was Sodom the first all-gay city? And if so, how did it get this way? Was there something in the water?

As it turns out, Lot’s guests weren’t men at all. They were angels. In any case, I want to see how this passage contributes to our understanding of God’s view of homosexuality—if at all.

As the story unfolds, the men of the city never “know” Lot’s visitors. Lot offers his virgin daughters to them instead, but they decline. Instead, the men of Sodom seek to attack Lot for refusing to give up his guests, so the angels strike the men with blindness (Gen 19:4-11).

Some scholars have argued that the passage isn’t talking about sex of any form. When men of Sodom want to “know” Lot’s guests, they only want to know more about them. Where are you from? What are you doing here? Would you care for a Felafel, or would you prefer a Shawarma? This is the view of the late John Boswell—a world renown Yale theologian—who said:

“When the men of Sodom gathered around to demand that the strangers be brought out to them, ‘that they might know them’, they meant no more than to ‘know’ who they were, and the city was consequently destroyed not for sexual immorality but for the sin of inhospitality to strangers” (Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, Kindle loc. 2662).

And many others agree with Boswell. However, even though the Hebrew word for “know” (yadah) rarely conveys sexual intercourse, in this passage it almost certainly does. Lot describes his daughters as never having “known any man” (19:8), which clearly means that they were virgins, not just socially awkward. Plus, was the entire city really roasted for seeking to get acquainted with some strangers? I doubt it. As weird as it may be, the men of Sodom were seeking to gang rape God’s angels.

But Boswell and others are on to something. Most of the other Old Testament passages highlight the sin of inhospitality whenever they reflect on the sin of Sodom. “This was the guilt of…Sodom,” writes Ezekiel: they had “pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did jsodom_and_gomorrahnot aid the poor and needy” (Ezek 16:49). In other words, they were inhospitable, and plenty other Jewish and Christian thinkers said the same (e.g. Wis 19:13) including Jesus (Matt 10:5-15).

So was the sin of Sodom only inhospitality?

Certainly gang raping your guests isn’t the best way to welcome them. Yes, the men of Sodom were inhospitable. But the severity of Sodom’s punishment points to the extensive manner in which they sought to mistreat Lot’s guests. Seeking to sexually violate and abuse the men, or angels, was the pinnacle of their inhospitality.

But I still don’t think this passage speaks to our contemporary issue of homosexuality. In other words, Genesis 19 does not have in view consensual, monogamous, same-sex marriage. In fact, such an orientation wasn’t much of a known category in the ancient Near East. Most evidences of homosexual intercourse had to do with a man of a higher social standing having sex with another man of a lower social standing (a slave, a conquered enemy, a boy, etc.), and the one who was socially lower played the role of the woman. I’ll save you the details. In any case, consensual, same-sex attraction that leads to monogamous sex is never discussed, as far as I know, in the ancient world. It’s certainly not what Genesis 19 condemns.

What’s at stake today is whether consensual, same-sex attraction can be acted upon, not whether it’s okay to gang rape one’s guests. The story of Sodom does not directly answer the questions most Christians are asking today.

Put differently, if Lot’s guests were women, and the sin was (attempted) heterosexual gang rape, would the crime be less severe? Was there anything more sinful about the fact that men were seeking to rape (what they thought to be) men? Maybe, but I don’t think this is the point of the text. At least, later Old Testament and most early Jewish thinkers didn’t think so. Again, the sin of Sodom was remembered as evidence of pride, inhospitality, and immorality as a whole. Not acting upon same-sex impulses. I don’t think the entire city of Sodom, young and old, was gay.

In sum: Genesis 19 should not be a primary passage used in the discussion over whether God condemns homosexual sex. However, there is some evidence that it may speak indirectly to the issue. We’ll explore this in the next post.