sodom and gomorrah: punished for homosexuality?
The Australian Labor Party (the current government) voted on its policy position regarding same-sex marriage at its National Conference; it voted to change its platform in support of changing the Marriage act to include same-sex couples.
In addition was a rally held in the Sydney CBD, with somewhere between five to ten thousand participants, calling for marriage equality in Australia.
In response to these events many Christians I know on Facebook posted comments critical of the push for the recognition of same-sex marriage.
Some, on both sides of the argument, were reasoned and thoughtful, recognising that there are in fact different viewpoints on the matter. They merely sought to offer an opinion in a respectful way.
Others were not so gracious.
But what struck me most was the amount of Christians posting quotations from the Bible, completely out of context and, by my judgement, absent of any form of exegetical investigation.
Something that I found fascinating was the repeated quotation of verses pertaining to Sodom and Gomorrah.
Questions of historicity aside, the quotations on Facebook that I saw seemed to imply that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because their inhabitants engaged in homosexual acts. This seems to be the general assumption of a great many Christians, that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was in fact homosexuality, hence the origin of the term sodomy.
Is this really why Sodom and Gomorrah were punished? When was the last time you looked at this closely?
In my view if you look at the entirety of the Genesis narrative, and also study the interpretation of the Sodom story by later biblical authors, you find that the “homosexual” interpretation holds no water.
Indeed the issue for the inhabitants of these cities is not homosexuality, but their lack of hospitality. Wes Howard-Brook argues:
… the story has nothing to do with condemning “homosexuality.” Rather, it condemns … the lack of hospitality provided in cities to strangers. While Abraham and Sarah lavishly welcomed YHWH’s messengers, the people of Sodom radically reject them.**
Howard-Brook’s argument is embedded in a much larger interpretation of Genesis, and I encourage you to read his book. He goes on to point out that Ezekiel, commenting on the story of Sodom to compare it to Jerusalem in his own time, does not construe the city’s sin as homosexuality, but rather injustice:
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. (Ezekiel 16:49)
This makes much sense, since hospitality to strangers was essentially an issue of justice in Hebrew thought.
Jesus also understood the story the same way when he compares Sodom and Gomorrah to cities which, far from engaging in homosexuality, refuse to accept his disciples, showing them no hospitality (Matthew 10:5; Luke 10:12).
One person who posted on my Facebook posted from Jude 7:
… just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Surely this verse makes it clear – Sodom and Gomorrah committed homosexual acts that were condemned by God!
Not so fast there, partner.
We must remember that the figures who were being sought after for sexual relations by the men of Sodom were not men at all – they were angels. This is reflected in the Jude text, which in Greek does not say the Sodomites sought “unnatural desire” (as most English translations say), but rather that they lusted after “other flesh” (sarkos heteras).
The “other flesh” was not other men at all (which are the same flesh), but angels, or in other words, non-humans.^
What was the sin of Sodom as understood by Jude? It was that they sought sexually immoral relations with non humans, the very same relationships that are condemned all the way back in Genesis 6.
This could equally be construed as an extreme form of inhospitality toward strangers…
What becomes clear from looking more closely at the Bible is that the reason for the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah was not in fact homosexuality, which plays no part in the story, but rather was inhospitality construed in the ancient world as injustice to the needy and sexual lust for non-humans.
The moral of the story?
- The Bible is not nearly as concerned with homosexuality as are contemporary Christians.
- Remember to think twice before posting those out-of-context verses on Facebook, lest you misrepresent the Bible (and God himself).
* Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex
** Wes Howard-Brook, “Come Out, My People!”, (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2010), 60.
^ Richard Bauckham and J.N.D. Kelly, both highly respected exegetes and commentators, concur with this interpretation.
Posted on December 8, 2011, in Biblical Studies, Current Events, New Testament, Old Testament, Sexuality & Gender and tagged Gay, Genesis, Gomorrah, Homosexuality, Hospitality, Jude 7, Labor, Marriage, Sodom. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.