The story of Sodom and Gomorrah
Genesis 19 describes how two angels visited Sodom and were welcomed into Lot’s house. The men of the city gathered around the house and demanded that Lot send the visitors to the mob so that they might “know” the angels. The Hebrew verb yada (to know) is ambiguous. It appears 943 times in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). In only about a dozen of these cases does it refer to sexual activity; it is not clear whether the mob wanted to rape the angels or to meet with them, and perhaps to attack them physically. (From the context, it is obvious that their mood was not friendly.)
Lot refused but offered his two virgin daughters to be heterosexually raped if that would appease the mob. The offer was declined. God decided to destroy the city because of the wickedness of its inhabitants. The angels urged Lot and his family to flee and to not look back. Unfortunately, Lot’s wife looked the wrong way, so God killed her because of her curiosity.
God was apparently not critical of Lot for offering his two daughters to be raped. However, God was angry at the other inhabitants of the town. He destroyed Sodom with fire and brimstone (sulfur). He presumably killed all of the men in the mob, their wives and other adults, as well as children, infants, newborns, etc. It is unclear from these few verses whether God demolished the city because the citizens:
- Were uncharitable and abusive to strangers
- Wanted to rape people
- Engaged in homosexual acts
The church has traditionally accepted the third explanation. In fact the term “sodomy,” which means anal intercourse, is derived from the name of the city, Sodom. But the first explanation is clearly the correct one. As recorded in Matthew 10:14-15 and Luke 10:7-16, Jesus implied that the sin of the people of Sodom was to be inhospitable to strangers. In Ezekiel 16:48-50, God states clearly that he destroyed Sodom’s sins because of their pride, their excess of food while the poor and needy suffered, and because they worshiped many idols; sexual activity is not even mentioned.
Jude disagreed with God; he wrote that Sodom’s sins were sexual in nature. Various biblical translations describe the sin as fornication, going after strange flesh, sexual immorality, perverted sensuality, homosexuality, lust of every kind, immoral acts and unnatural lust; you can take your pick.
We are faced with the inescapable and rather amusing conclusion that the condemned activities in Sodom had nothing to do with sodomy.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah actually condemns inhospitality and idolatry, not homosexuality.
Read the Scriptural cross-references: Deuteronomy 29:23, Isaiah 1:9, Jeremiah 23:14, Lamentations 4:6, Ezekiel 16:49-50, Amos 4:11, Zephaniah 2:9, Matthew 10:15 / Luke 10:12, Luke 17:29, Romans 9:29, Jude 7, Revelation 11:8
Nowhere in the Scriptures does it say that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was homosexual sex. Even if the specific point of the story was concerning a sexual matter, rather than hospitality, the issue is rape, not homosexuality. Jesus claimed the issue was simply one of showing hospitality to strangers (Luke 10:12). How ironic that those who discriminate against homosexuals seem to be the true practitioners of the sin of Sodom.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.