Today I read an article about another Evangelical pastor deciding that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality. The article mentioned that a non-traditional interpretation of the Old Testament story of the destruction of Sodom (Genesis 19) was part of the decision to reconsider the Biblical view of homosexuality. It trotted out one of the two or three common views on what the story was REALLY about – and certainly NOT what the conservatives have long taught – that the primary sin of Sodom was homosexuality.
Here’s my summary of the views, including a novel view I read just recently.
1. Sodom was judged for Homosexuality
This has been the prevailing conservative view of the passage, so much so that the word “Sodomite” has come to mean “homosexual” in modern English, even to the point of, for instance, translating the Greek arsenokoites (literally ‘male coitus’) used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 as ‘sodomites’ in the NKJV version, even though the NT Greek makes no actual mention of the city.
2. Rejection of God’s messengers (a.k.a. inhospitality)
Demanding sex with the male angels (the only gender of angels we find in the Bible, btw) may involve more than just homosexuality. Does it matter that they were angels?
Jesus’ use of the story of Sodom is not used in reference to homosexuality, but with respect to villages who do not receive the gospel – that is, they are inhospitable to the gospel messengers.
Then He began to rebuke the cities in which most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be[a] brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” ~ Matthew 11:20-24
With that as a context, it is argued that the real sin of Sodom was rejecting or abusing the messengers of God. While this argument even holds some sway with conservative Evangelicals scholars, it does not seem to address the condemnation of homosexuality in Romans 1, nor the use of arsenokoites in the other NT passages mentioned above.
Also mentioned in the same breath by gay apologists is that Jesus never directly condemns homosexuality in the NT, leading some to say that this absence means he accepted it. However, this argument is easily dismissed this way: Jesus never mentioned bestiality either, perhaps because it was beyond the pale of consideration. Within a Jewish context, acceptance of homosexuality would also have been beyond the pale. In addition, Jesus is on record defining marriage as one man and one woman (Matthew 19:3-7).
3. Gang Rape
So perhaps it is not inhospitality that is the capital sin, but rape. This might also explain the strange response of Lot offering up his daughters to the crowds – better to have your daughters raped than bring on sure destruction by rejecting the messengers of God.
This is one of the counter-arguments that fits in with common gay-friendly interpretations of the New Testament. Basically, what is condemned in scripture, including the go-to passage on this subject, Romans 1, are the abuse of boys in Greco-Roman culture and religions that forced men to be penetrated unwillingly.
Conservatives might agree on a couple of the premises underlying this argument – that God gave many of the purity and dietary laws in the OT to differentiate Israel from her neighbors, and not necessarily as timeless moral principles. In addition, they might admit that Greco-Roman culture did practice pederasty and male prostitution. However, a close inspection of Romans 1 shows only generic mention of worship of idols or nature, shows no children, no prostitution, and discusses men and women (not children) in a mutually accepted relationship, and it’s condemnation is not of forced rape, but of the violation of the created order, of nature itself, inherent in seemingly ALL homosexual coitus.
So back to Sodom. Let’s say that we don’t buy the traditional view that homosexuality was the reason. And while inhospitality or gang rape are possible, they have counter-arguments. Are there other reasonable choices? Yes.
4. Homosexuality as an indicator of total debasement
Even in Romans 1, homosexuality is not held out as the greatest sin, but one in a group of many that result from rejecting the Creator and the natural order. It is quite possible that Paul in Romans, as well as the author of Genesis, pointed out widespread homosexual practice, not as the main sin, but one that was an indicator of the total debasement of the entire culture – a litmus test. And worse than adultery because while that violates a covenant, it does not violate nature itself, as Paul argues homosexuality does.
Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
~ Romans 1:24-27
This makes sense in both the Genesis and Romans passages, as each are describing the utter debasement of mankind with sin.
If we read this view back into the Genesis account of Sodom, it makes sense that it mentions that the men of the city wanted to have sex with the male angels. It was an indicator of the fullness of wickedness there that required utter destruction – it was beyond remediation or repentance.
5. Purging of the violent giants in the gene pool?
There is an even more interesting idea behind not only the destruction of Sodom, but the flood of Noah. If you’ve seen the movie Noah, you know includes their own imaginative version of the Nephilim (rock creatures?). The few mysterious mentions of them as giants in the pre-deluvian days is fascinating:
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 they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. ~ Genesis 6:4
Surprisingly, this isn’t the only mention of violent and valiant giants in the Old Testament – see Deuteronomy 1:28, 2:11 and 3:11, 1 Samuel 17:1-58, Numbers 12:33, Joshua 11:21, and an allusion to them in the NT in Jude 1:6.
Right now I am reading Giants: Sons of the Gods, a serious exegetical and historic look into the subject of giants, and it makes a strong argument that
a. the size, violence and wickedness of the Cananites, the sons of Nimrod, and pre-deluvian society was due to the actual giants, who were a genetic hybrid of angel and human that had to be purged from the genome.
b. Sodom was destroyed because they were attempting a similar error – to have sin with angels (although men would not produce children, the allusion to pre-deluvian nephilim seems obvious). Some gay apologists even use Jude 1 to make this very claim – that Sodom was not condemned for homosexuality, but for attempting sex with angels, perhaps trying to repeat the great sins that got humans destroyed in the flood. Strange flesh indeed.
And the funny thing is, if they are right about Sodom, that may remove it from the pantheon of scriptures condemning homosexuality. The problem is, of course, that the rest of the pantheon stands unless you buy the differing arguments made for those passages.
I think ‘gay exegesis’ regarding Sodom has opened our eyes to our narrow understanding of this passage, and shown that many conservative theologians have allowed their preconceptions to color the text. This does not, however, mean that they are incorrect on the other more explicit texts condemning homosexuality as unnatural. That argument may ring true to anyone who considers procreation, the design of the human body, and a baseline intuitional disgust of such ‘violations of nature’. Which of the views above make sense to you? It can be more than one, it is certainly more than one for me.