CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Sin of Sodom

Aug 16, 2017

Today there is a determined effort being made by some renegades and activists in the church to completely undermine and twist the scriptural position on homosexuality. A number of theological revisionists have appeared over the past half century arguing for a radically different understanding of the biblical prohibition against homosexuality.

What started with a handful of books appearing in the 50s and 60s has now opened up to a flood of pro-homosexual volumes and articles purported to be penned by Christians. But most of these are clearly apostates who have denied God and his word as they fully embrace the spirit of the age.

There are a number of texts found both in the Old and New Testaments that clearly and unambiguously condemn homosexuality. However all of these texts have been challenged by the revisionists, with any number of bizarre and twisted approaches taken.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-19:29) is one obvious case in point. For most of Christian history it has been understood as a clear denunciation of homosexuality. However, a new spin on this event has recently come into vogue, with revisionists arguing that these cities were judged because of a lack of hospitality, not because of homosexuality.

They deny, therefore, 3,500 years of Jewish, and 2,000 years of Christian, tradition on this verse. Actually, it wasn’t until 1955 that this novel interpretation was first put forward by D. S. Bailey in his book Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition.

This interpretation, which many have followed since Bailey, states that the people of Sodom violated the important codes of hospitality, so prominent in the ancient Near East, in the way they treated the visitors. This interpretation is not altogether off the mark, as hospitality was indeed a very important social custom of the day in the ancient Orient, and to not be hospitable was a serious matter indeed.

This view, however, has some major drawbacks. First, totally destroying four cities (the cities of the plain were in fact five in total, according to Gen. 14:2, 8; 19:20-22, 29-30; Deut. 29:23; Hosea 11:8; Admah and Zeboim were destroyed along with Sodom and Gomorrah, while Zoar was spared, because of Lot) merely for the sin of not showing proper hospitality seems a bit rich.

As John Feinberg and Paul Feinberg state, this “would be a huge case of divine overkill! God simply doesn’t do that. The only interpretation that makes sense of the judgment meted out is that the men of Sodom wanted same-sex sexual relations that evening, even as they had habitually engaged in homosexual sex acts before.”

Second, according to the book of Jude, Sodom and Gomorrah fell because of “fornication and going after strange flesh” (v. 7). Jude 1:4-8 is rather explicit as to why God’s judgment broke forth: because of “sexual immorality and perversion”. The Greek term translated “perversion” in the NIV literally means, “going after other flesh” as the NASB for example renders it.

And 2 Peter 2:7-10 refers to the “sensual conduct of unprincipled men” at Sodom and Gomorrah. While homosexuality is not directly mentioned here, it is pretty clear that Peter has it firmly in mind. As Thomas Schreiner remarks, “Peter did not identify the sin of the cities but directed attention to their judgment. Probably there was no need to highlight the sin since it was well known both from the Scriptures and postbiblical tradition.”

Also, verse 10 speaks of “those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority”. But as Douglas Moo points out, “The NIV rendering of this first description is too mild. Peter piles up some very strong words; a literal rendering is ‘going after flesh in a passionate longing for defilement.’ The reference is to sexual sin, probably including, in light of Peter’s reference to Sodom and Gomorrah in verse 6, homosexuality.”

And the sexual sin is compounded by a despising and rejection of authority. As Witherington notes, “Judgment is especially reserved for those who commit grievous sexual sins (as at Sodom and Gomorrah) and despise dominion.”

Third, the word “sodomy” to this day refers to male homosexual activity. Surely one has to perform linguistic and logical somersaults to get away from the obvious meaning of the text here.

The liberal interpretation tries to avoid these issues by saying that the citizens simply wanted to get acquainted with the two visitors. The word “to know” in Hebrew is yadah. It is used 943 times in the Old Testament. True, the verb usually means to become acquainted with. But about ten or twelve times it means “to have sex with” (NIV).

The context here makes it clear how the word is to be used. Lot described the citizens’ desire to know the two visitors as a great wickedness (v.7), and shut the door behind him. And when he offered his own two daughters, he said they had not known a man.

Surely this does not mean they had never met, nor were acquainted with, men. The parallel story in Judges 19 also makes it clear that the desire of the men of Gibeah to “know” their victim was not a mere acquaintance, but a sexual encounter. What they proposed is described as “wicked, vile and disgraceful”.

As Victor Hamilton puts it, “when Lot responds by offering his daughters ‘who have never known a man’ (v. 8), it becomes clear that the issue is intercourse and not friendship. Lot would never have made such an unusual suggestion if the request was only for a handshake and moments of chitchat.”

But some other revisionists seek to argue that it is homosexual rape that is condemned here, not just homosexuality in itself. In his important commentary on Genesis Victor Hamilton offers four compelling reasons why this cannot be the case:

First, nowhere in the OT does the verb yada have the nuance of “abuse” or “violate”. Second, the OT uses unmistakable language to relate rape incidents. Thus the Shechemites “seized” and “lay with” and “humbled” Dinah (Gen. 34:2). Amnon “forced” and “lay with” his half-sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13:14). Similarly, the biblical laws about rape also use these terms: “seize,” “lie with” (Deut. 22:25-27). Third, this interpretation forces one meaning on “know” in v. 5 (i.e. “abuse”) but a different meaning on ‘know’ three verses later (i.e. “have intercourse with”), for it is unlikely that Lot is saying: “I have two daughters who have never been abused.” Fourth, such an interpretation forces these incredible words in Lot’s mouth: “Do not rape my visitors. Here are my daughters, both virgins – rape them!”

He concludes, “Clearly, then, the incident frowns on homosexual relations for whatever reason.” The revisionist account of this story may be appealing to some, but it is not one that can be derived from proper exegesis or hermeneutics. As Hamilton puts it, this “interpretation can only be evaluated as wild and fanciful.”

The mainstream understanding of this text has always seen homosexuality as being clearly in view. As Robert Gagnon reminds us, “the two most prominent Jewish writers of the first century C.E., Philo and Josephus, interpreted Gen. 19:4-11 to refer explicitly to homosexual acts. . . . For Philo and Josephus homosexual conduct was merely the most outrageous example of a much wider range of sinful excess.”

Thomas Schreiner notes how not only the biblical testimony is clear as to the nature of their sin, but so too are the extra-biblical references to Sodom and Gomorrah. For example, he too cites writers such as Josephus and Philo, and notes various writings, such as Testament of Naphtali, Testament of Levi, and Jubilees.

All up we have a clear understanding of what the chief sin of Sodom and the other cities was all about. Trying to pretend it had nothing to do with homosexuality is simply a blatant case of Scripture twisting to push an ideology and an agenda which is completely at odds with the biblical witness.

Of course to make this case is not to claim that Sodom was not plagued with many other sins. It was wicked for all sorts of reasons. As Fortson and Grams put it in their recent volume, Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition:

Some try to reduce Sodom’s sin to a single transgression, such as gang rape or inhospitality. Such suggestions beg credibility in vain. If gang rape is the focus of the story, why does Lot offer his daughters to the mob? If inhospitality is the issue, why is Gomorrah also destroyed? If pairing with angels is the issue (though the men of the city were unaware their visitors were angelic), why is Sodom accused of being extremely sinful before the angels appear? Certainly other sins contributed to Sodom’s sinfulness, but the sin of homosexual practice should not be ignored. Indeed, the men’s homosexual behavior illustrated just how depraved Sodom was.

So next time someone tries to tell you that Sodom has nothing to do with homosexuality, you know you have a radical revisionist on your hands who prefers to twist Scripture to his own – often perverted – ends.

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19 Responses to The Sin of Sodom

  • The incident with the two visitors in Genesis 19 is a symptom and not a cause.

    Back in Genesis 18:20 God had already condemned Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness. The incident with the angels was an example of what they had become but God had already made up His mind before this happened. So, arguing whether it was rape or homosexual activity or simply not being hospitable misses the point. If the incident with the angels hadn’t happened, Sodom & Gomorrah would still have been wiped out.

  • Thanks Phil. Yes even earlier we read about how bad Sodom was. In Genesis 13:13 we find these words: “Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord.” But the point of this article is to demonstrate that it is foolish in the extreme, and quite unblbical, to try to suggest that homosexuality had nothing to do with the story, and with God’s judgment on Sodom.

  • It seems that homosexual activists have really excelled this time in making exegetical fools of themselves! Both within the biblical context and given an understanding of the total corruption within the city of Sodom, clearly described in Genesis 18, it is clear that brutal homosexuality rather than mere friendship was the intention of the crowd. In fact Genesis 19:5-8 is explicit on this account. And I know of no reputable Bible scholar who would try to argue otherwise. Good grief, are militant homosexuals so desperate on this issue, and so anxious to justify their own acts, that they would use such a pathetic argument to support their cause? I am dumbfounded!!

  • Exactly correct Bill and Jehovah says it very plainly Himself. Immediately after giving the commandments regarding sexual sin, including homosexuality and idolatry etc. Jehovah says:-

    Lev 18:24 “You are not to defile yourselves by doing any of these things, since all of these nations that I’m casting out before you have defiled themselves this way.”
    (MKJV)

    It is as clear as clear can be. We know exactly the sorts of things Sodom and the other destroyed cities were doing. Jesus reiterates it even though His audience already knew these things:-

    Mat 15:18 But the things which come out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile the man.
    Mat 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies;
    Mat 15:20 these are the things which defile a man…
    (MKJV)

    They are simply trying to redefine sin to fit their own ideas. Yes we are encouraged to be hospitable in both the Old and New Testaments but to compare that to the sins that God plainly said were the cause of the destruction of these cities is an absolute delusion.

  • Some sodomites and their sympathisers ask “Where did Jesus condemn sodomy in the Bible?”

    Jewish Law was clear on homosexual relations, Jesus did not have to say anything. The Greeks were rife with a man-boy love culture and that is why Paul was very strong in his condemnation when we took the Good News to the gentiles. The Bible couldn’t be more clear.

  • I don’t really understand the way the activists approach this. Even if we assumed for the sake of argument the bible was silent on the question of homosexual behavior specifically (I don’t think it is, but that is really all they have managed to show if we accept their argument) then that just means we need to infer the correct position from more general principles of moral reasoning that the bible is clear on.

    Even in the best case you would only get so far as accepting single partner monogamous till death do you part homosexual unions that have no children. I doubt the activists would accept this.

    More than that, even if we assume it is silent, it isn’t hard to construct an argument from a Natural Law/Design in the Universe approach that looks at the harms and nature of homosexual relationships and concludes they are not in line with what we are created to be and at odds with how we are made to live. You would need to deny God created the world in an orderly fashion to escape that line of reasoning and you aren’t going to be able to remain under the title “christian” in even the broadest sense if you do that.

  • Thanks Bill.
    One text which the revisionists also appeal to in regard to Sodom and Gomorrah is Ezekiel 16:49-50, which says inter alia that God removed these cities because they did not help the poor and needy. Then, they continue, helping the poor and needy is to be interpreted along (what turns out to be) standard socialist lines of a welfare state and all that that implies. So again we have Divine overkill: God wiped them out in a huge conflagration, leaving them as mere piles of ash, charred debris, and bleached skeletons—all because the Sodomites and Gomorrans weren’t socialists! Yeah, right!

    One will find this line of (quite novel) interpretation in certain churches which I won’t name, but it is one I have encountered quite a bit over recent years. All it does is cherry-pick a text, emphasise it, and then use it to overturn or negate all the other texts which clearly speak of homosexuality. One can “prove” any absurd proposition by such means.

  • Thanks Murray. Yes I cite that verse and others in my section on Sodom in my book Strained Relations. And yes, there is no end of foolish revisionist spin on this passage.

  • Thanks Bill. I read this argument (about Sodom and Gomorrah being wiped out because of the lack of hospitality) a while back and couldn’t work out why I didn’t agree with it. Your article has certainly clarified it in my head, and thanks to Murray for his comments as well.

  • If the homosexual exegesis is correct, then what are the implications for incest, child molestation, or sex with animals? Our society is increasingly open to the first, and given messed up family lives GSA does make sense, but would those advocating homosexuality advocate the other two? How do they support rejecting such things when it is their own arguments that validate them? A Bible Believing Christian has no problem with their opposition – God says XYZ, but what Biblical basis does an advocate have? Note I don’t think this contradiction will remain an issue. As society continues to embrace perversion Biblical standards will be increasingly deemed wrong, and there will thus be no issue with logical contradictions.

  • I have recently seen Ezekiel 16:49 used to justify that view

    Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

    But then v50 goes on to say

    They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.

    “Detestable things” (or abominations) has to include homosexuality, given that it is the only specific sinful incident we see, and given that homosexuality appears among the limited range of sins for which that term is used.

  • Our new Pastor gave this sermon saying it was about hospitality, and I believe I was the only one to question him about it. He wouldn’t discuss the matter.

  • Thanks Joh. Sounds like you need a new pastor. Or you may need to find a new church!

  • Yes, a pastor told me it was about bad hospitality too but then again she is from a denomination that has homosexual pastors. It often comes down to one’s own best interest. A pathetic link saying the same was posted by a homosexual Christian on our city’s Christian FB page. The saddest part was that many Christians liked it. I see someone has posted your blog now Bill. Blessings aplenty.

  • I shared from this same text (Genesis 18:20-19:29) in our church last Sunday to reinforce the battle ahead that we face as a church in Australia. Why would anyone in their right frame of mind say that this text was only addressing hospitality? What bible are they reading?

    The book Sodom had no Bible by Leonard Ravenhill, books.google.com.au/books/about/Sodom_Had_No_Bible.html?id=G98AAAAACAAJ&redir_esc=y&hl=en comes to mind here. We know the truth and if we do not allow the truth to set us free, there will be greater consequences.

    God help have mercy on us and help us.

    Keep up the good work Bill

  • There is a passage of scripture the I believe people have not understood the dire ramifications of:-

    Mat 15:1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying,
    Mat 15:2 Why do your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.
    Mat 15:3 But He answered and said to them, Why do you also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?
    Mat 15:4 For God commanded, saying, “Honor your father and mother”; and, “He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him die by death.”
    Mat 15:5 But you say, Whoever says to his father or mother, Whatever you would gain from me, It is a gift to God;
    Mat 15:6 and in no way he honors his father or his mother. And you voided the commandment of God by your tradition.
    Mat 15:7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying,
    Mat 15:8 “This people draws near to Me with their mouth, and honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.
    Mat 15:9 But in vain they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”
    (MKV)

    Many modern Christians just believe we use Jesus’ name and we are OK. We do this and sing rousing songs and do basically what we see is right in our own eyes and we will feel good and be saved but “the Sheep and the Goats” and passages like this above tell us a different story. If we are teaching men’s doctrines instead of what God tells us, I believe this scripture is telling us plainly that our worship is useless. We may say we believe in Jesus but if the Jesus we teach says different things to the real Jesus then our belief really is void. We are following the pseudochrist that Jesus warned us about. Remember in Revelation 13:11 the second beast that creates the image of the beast that people worship has two horns like a lamb.

    In the above scripture the Greek word “paradosis” is translated to the English “tradition” or “traditions” and it appears the Pharisees were apparently happy to use the term but I actually think that is too weak a concept. The etymology suggests “paradosis” means something similar to what has been given, in other words a counterfeit. The Pharisees were happy that, what they had been told and what they had rationalized was good but Jesus told them very clearly otherwise and that they were drawing near with their mouth but their heart was far from God and that their worship was “in vain” because they were ignoring God’s commandments and teaching their own ideas. Sound familiar? If Jesus was saying this about washing your hands or not honoring parents instead of teaching God’s commandments how do we think He will react to people who oppose everything that has been said about marriage and sexual fidelity?

    For those who are interested “paradosis” is the only Greek word I have come across in the New Testament that has a gematria of 666.

    P 80
    A 1
    R 100
    A 1
    D 4
    O 70
    S 200
    I 10
    S 200
    _________
    666

    Coincidence? I really don’t think so.

  • I have often thought of a distinction here. While it is clear that the men of Sodom wanted to commit sexual perversion with Lot’s male visitors and this is clearly sinful behaviour that is condemned in Scripture, it seems that God also decided to destroy these cities through direct judgement. I am not aware of other clear examples from Scripture where God punished homosexual acts with a similar punishment, but it seems to have been (at least) prevalent in Greek culture in the New Testament period. If that were the case, why did we not see God’s judgement then, or indeed see it today in the same way?

    Now firstly you cannot ever put God in a box and secondly maybe why such a judgement does occur again is because a narrative of this sin does not happen again in the Bible. However Jude has an interesting phrase “…and going after strange flesh”. The men who were Lot’s guests I believe to be of supernatural origin – i.e. Angels. Sexual relations that cross into perversions like homosexual sex is one level of evil, but the intent of sexual relations that cross into perversions like homosexual sex with a supernatural being like an angel seems to draw a red line with God for reasons I am not sure I understand. “Strange flesh” could indeed be a reference to an angel.

    A similar case has been made with respect to the flood in that, like Sodom and Gomorrah, there is a phrase that “the Sons of God went into the daughters of men” –

    “There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and the bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

    There has been a lot of debate on who the sons of God were, but I think that a sexual combination of humanity with supernatural beings is a line that God cannot allow to cross and invokes the supreme judgement we saw. It is interesting that straight after this perversion of sexual relations the word “Then” is used, suggesting that such a perversion leads to great wickedness and the intent was only evil continually. Three words – “only evil continually” I take literally and each word is carefully chosen to represent the depravity that possibly resulted from the interbreeding of unlike species.

  • Recently a Brazilian Catholic Bishop called homosexuality a “gift from God”. There is more on this statement on the web site misacor.org.au under current news, if anyone is interested. The Bishop’s approach doesn’t require him to murder scripture as above. He simply [ab]uses his own authority and speaks for God. Could he have committed the sin of blasphemy?

  • Bill, once again you have ‘nailed it’ with this article. It is a great shame that something that is so very clear in Scripture has some “Christians” running for cover (and excuses). Keep up the great God-honouring work you are doing in keeping us informed and Biblically literate regarding the truth of God’s word.

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