Colby Martin and the Clobber Passages: Sodom and Gomorrah

“The Bible does not condemn those who are born with same-sex attraction, or who are attracted to both sexes, or attracted to neither.  The Bible does not condemn those who are born with the biology of one gender, but identify as another.  The Bible does not condemn any and all acts between the same sex.  To someone who is lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, or queer, and who is in a loving, God-honoring, committed relationship, the Bible does not say, ‘You are not a Christian; you are not saved; you do not belong in the kingdom of Heaven’… So it’s time we stop saying it does”.

So writes Colby Martin, pastor of Sovereign Grace Collective in San Diego, a married heterosexual Christian man who endured pain and exclusion from and by his peers because, he says, “I do not believe that God stands opposed to those who are attracted to the same sex, or that God withholds divine blessing from a same-sex relationship” (Martin, C. Introduction, p. xiii).

Who is Colby Martin?

Chances are you’ve never heard of Colby Martin.  Despite his sincerity and good intentions, and his insistence that his Christianity is orthodox, he has departed from the historical and theological mainstream of Christian orthodox belief by taking a contrary view with regard to homosexuality and now promotes same-sex relationships and marriage.  He has articulated his case to permit same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage without offending God by reinterpreting the bible passages which condemn it.  He reassuringly but misleadingly describes himself as: “…an orthodox Christian who follows the Way of Jesus and who believes in his death and resurrection.  I love the Holy Scriptures and find in them a  revealing of who God is, and a record of how God has uniquely interacted with humanity throughout the history of the Jewish people….My view of scripture is, I’m sure, high by some standards and low by others, but when it comes down to it, I want to study it, seek to understand – and be understood by – it, and critically engage it in ways that honor how and why they were written, who wrote them, and to whom they were addressed.  In short, it would be a mistake to dismiss me or write me off as someone who doesn’t take the Bible seriously, even if you disagree with my conclusions” (Martin, C. 2016, p. 23-24). 

What are the Clobber Passages?

 And chances are you’ve never heard of the Clobber Passages.  The Clobber Passages are those bible verses which condemn and forbid same-sex sexual relations i.e. homosexuality.  They are the verses which cause Christians to regard same-sex sex as sinful because it is against God’s revealed will.  However, while these verses do condemn same-sex sex, they do not allow or encourage Christians to abuse or vilify same-sex oriented people.  Colby (2016, p. vii) nominates six of these passages – three in the Old Testament and three in the New Testament – but there are a few others which could also be classed as such.  The hardest hitters, however, are Genesis 19:1-29 (Sodom and Gomorrah), Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in the Old Testament; and Romans 1:24-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 in the New Testament. 

An Unfaithful Watchman

In his book “UnClobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality”, Colby Martin says of them, “At the end of the day, for Christians who see the Bible as being authoritative in their lives, how they understand the Clobber Passages matters.  If the only interpretation they have ever heard convinces them that the Bible, and therefore God, stands in opposition to homosexuality, then that will inform how they live.  It will affect how they treat their LGBTQ brothers and sisters…Poor interpretations lead to misusing the Bible.  And real people get hurt as a result” (Martin, C. 2016, p. 28).

Colby rightly shows here that the way people understand what the bible says affects how they live – and that is exactly what the bible is meant to do.  But his final sentence in the above quote is highly significant and at the heart of his false theological position concerning homosexuality.  He approaches the issue of same-sex attraction, and the way straight Christians respond to those who are same-sex attracted, by how they make gay people feel.   This is his criterion, and it is here where his theology fails.  He has put people before God.  He is concerned for their feelings more than he is about grieving the Holy Spirit and offending God.  Like many people who want homosexuality to be accepted and acceptable as a viable and fulfilling way of life, and pleasing to God, Colby Martin approaches the whole subject by judging what Christians do with the Clobber Passages and, if they “hurt people” by the way they use them, he changes the way they have been understood since the Clobber Passages were written.  He reinterprets the Clobber Passages.   

But reinterpreting them on earth does not change them in heaven.  He does not have the mandate to change what God has written: “For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven” (Ps 119:89).  God doesn’t take kindly to anyone who messes with what he has given: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you” (Deut 4:2). 

By misinterpreting the Clobber Passages, so far is he from helping gay and lesbian sinners, he is ensuring their condemnation and eternal separation from God.  It is not kind and loving to tell gays “The Bible does not condemn any and all acts between the same sex” when God tells them: “…knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death…” (Rom 1:32).  It is not kind and loving to tell them, “To someone who is lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, or queer, and who is in a loving, God-honoring, committed relationship, the Bible does not say, ‘You are not a Christian; you are not saved; you do not belong in the kingdom of Heaven’”, when God says, “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God….nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind…shall inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10).  The NRSV has “male prostitutes” for KJV’s “effeminate”; and “sodomites” for “abusers of themselves with mankind”.  NIV 1984 has “male prostitutes” and “homosexual offenders”; NIV 2011 has “men who have sex with men”, presumably to correct the fact that the word “homosexual” is a modern term and therefore is not found in the Greek.    

Right use of scripture

Instead of reinterpreting the bible in order to support and encourage people who are sinning by living an unbiblical lifestyle, Colby should be reinforcing God’s words to homosexuals and teaching them how they can live a life that is pleasing to God, despite the difficulties they face in trying to do so.  The best way he can support gays is to tell them what God requires of them and how they can do that, given their difficult situation.  And he should be teaching heterosexual Christians who treat same-sex oriented people insensitively to be more sympathetic and understanding, and to understand the scriptures rightly, not by reinterpreting them to say what they were never meant to say – this is to wrest scripture (2 Pet 3:16), which is a very dangerous thing to do. 

Colby Martin is right to be concerned for the feelings of gay people, and all Christians should be too.  If Christians are using any part of scripture to bully, intimidate, hurt or marginalise people for any reason, it is those Christians who must change, not the Bible.  Christians can love gays without accepting their homosexual behaviour or orientation, and Colby should be showing us how to do that.  As I pointed out in my article “Anthony Venn-Brown, Gay Christians, and their Dilemma”, when an avowed lesbian, Jackie Hill Perry, was convicted directly by God that her lesbian lifestyle was sinful, she repented, was saved and forgiven by him, and she attached herself to a Christian church whose members accepted and loved her, and taught her the bible.  After a lengthy period of time she married a man, bore children, and they live happily together.  If that church had pressured her, she may not have been able to abandon her same-sex lifestyle and desires.  But because she was nurtured by loving Christians, who nevertheless told her the truth about homosexuality, she felt free to immerse herself in the bible and her relationship with God, and consequently came to her own conclusion that her identity was no longer in her sexuality but in Christ.

 But he is lying to these dear people by assuring them that they are not living a sinful lifestyle when God says they are already under condemnation for it.  Colby has, in effect, become a lying prophet who “dealeth falsely” (Jer 6:13) because he has “healed also the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace: when there is no peace (Jer 6:14; 8:11).  “…if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned: if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity: but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand” (Ezek 33:6).  Both Colby Martin and all those who believe his reinterpretation of the Clobber Passages are in great danger if they don’t repent.  You can’t change the meaning of God’s word and not suffer the consequences.  Colby has “changed the truth of God into a lie” (Rom 1:25).  “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim 4:16).

The Clobber Passages

Sodom and Gomorrah

The first of these Clobber Passages is Genesis 19:1-29 which deals with the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.  The point that Colby (and others) makes concerning the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah is that it was not homosexuality but breaking the laws of hospitality that brought God’s wrath upon them.  In order to strengthen his proposition he tells a story which sounds very similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah yet is an ancient Greek myth about a couple named Baucis and Philemon.  He then says that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about “…hospitality, one of the world’s most cherished virtues….it shows up as a central theme in many ancient stories….the notion of opening your home and sharing your resources for the betterment of a traveller, stranger, or foreigner, was imperative.  Failure to do so was tragic and shameful.  Stories and traditions – like Baucis and Philemon, and like Sodom and Gomorrah – were passed on as a way to convey the severe consequences of inhospitality….So we should not be surprised if the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah holds similar details and themes” (Martin, C. p. 50-51). 

He also declares: “So one of the main questions I ask when it comes to a story like Sodom and Gomorrah is not, ‘How did the event literally take place?’ but ‘Why was that story told and retold over campfires from generation to generation for hundreds of years until it was finally written down and preserved?’” (Martin, C. p. 49).  It seems to me that he uses Greek mythology and campfire stories to undermine scripture and rob it of its power and authority, as if it wasn’t given to Moses by God (2 Pet 1:21); which suggests his debt to liberal theology. 

Removing the “Clobber” from the Clobber Passages

But not only is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah about hospitality, according to Colby, it is not about same-sex sex.  He says, “According to the prophets, then, when the Hebrew people thought of Sodom and Gomorrah, they did not think of them in terms of cities that were wicked as a result of wanting to have sex with other men.  No, the sins of Sodom were based on the fact that they had plenty of resources but did not open themselves up to those who were in need.  In short, they were notoriously inhospitable” (Martin, C. p. 58).  And again, “This is not a story about gay men, especially since the concept of ‘sexual orientation’ would have been completely foreign back then.  But more than that, it’s not a story about men who are sexually attracted to other men.  The passion of the men banging down Lot’s door was motivated by a desire to exercise control over the two men, not because they wanted to enjoy same-sex sex acts with them, or develop a relationship with them” (Martin C. p. 59).

But that’s not what the bible says!  Despite Colby’s assertion that the bible never links the sins of Sodom to sexual sin, both Old and New Testaments do.  The prophet Ezekiel, for one, scathingly condemns Judah for idolatry and sexual sin, calling them abomination, and for ignoring the needs of the poor and needy (Ezek chap. 16).  Sodom and Gomorrah was a byword for sexual sin, as we see in Deut 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46.  In the New Testament, there is no mention of inhospitality being the sin of Sodom, but Jude clearly identifies their sin as sexual – and the Sodomites were totally given over to it!  “Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7).  Jude says that the men of Sodom and its neighbouring cities are said to be guilty of excessive fornication and going after strange flesh i.e. same- or male/male-sex.  The English words “giving themselves over to fornication” here is a translation of the Greek word “ekporneuo” which Strong’s’ Concordance defines as “to be utterly unchaste”, and “to give oneself up to fornication’ implies excessive indulgence”

NKJV Study Bible comments on Jude 1:7, “As the angels had committed sexual immorality with humans, so the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah had pursued all kinds of sexual perversion (here strange flesh refers to homosexual acts; see Gen 19:5).  They were also judged by God with fire from heaven (see Gen 19:24)”.

The apostle Peter has an almost identical version of Jude’s letter, and he described how Lot was a witness to the men of Sodom’s “filthy” behaviour and lifestyle.  He writes: “And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an example unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation (life) of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;)….chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness…” (2 Pet 2:6-8, 10).  It is clear, therefore, that Sodom and Gomorrah and the neighbouring cities were judged and destroyed, not for their lack of hospitality but for sexual lust and sin.

The key Greek word used by Peter is aselgeia.  Friberg, Friberg, and Miller define it as: “as living without any moral restraint licentiousness, sensuality, lustful indulgence (2C 12.21); especially as indecent and outrageous sexual behaviour debauchery, indecency, flagrant immorality (RO 13.13)”.

Colby and the Liberals use the wrong example

If God wanted to show his anger towards those who broke the laws of hospitality, why didn’t he use as an example the account of the Levite and his concubine in Judges chapters 19 and 20?  It would have been much more relevant and thus be a more forceful example because the sinners in this case were Israelites of the tribe of Benjamin.  Why choose the pagan cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as examples to teach his people, when the example of his own people would have been far more forceful and relative?  In fact, what the men of Gibeah from the tribe of Benjamin did caused outrage throughout Israel and they gathered a huge military force to punish these “children of Belial” (Jud 20:13).  The details are very similar to the incident in Sodom – the men in Sodom wanted to rape the angels posing as human men, while the men of Gibeah wanted to rape the Levite who was lodging in their town overnight.  In both towns the male citizens came to the host who was lodging his guests and demanded that he send them out so they could rape them.  In both towns these wicked men were offered women as substitutes.  In both cases these offers were rejected; but in the case of Gibeah there were no angels to help the victims, and it resulted in a woman being raped so brutally and repeatedly that she died.  So why didn’t God use the men of Gibeah as the example for his people of the heinousness of abuse of hospitality?  Simple!  God wasn’t using either example to teach about hospitality.  He was showing his hatred of the vile demonstration of same-sex lust of these men in both towns.  And he identifies the crime – the sin – through the Levite priest who was the intended victim.  In describing to the elders of Israel what happened to him and his concubine by the men of Gibeah, he said, “they have committed lewdness and folly in Israel” (Jud 20:6).  No mention of hospitality here.

I’ve already shown that the sin of the Sodomites was attempted same-sex sex by rape.  The similar event in Gibeah was denounced by the whole of Israel and they gathered together to demand of the leaders of Benjamin that they hand over the perpetrators of this vile crime for punishment.

It’s raining men

Colby also claims: “Do you notice how the storyteller points out that every man in the city shows up at Lot’s house?  Several times, in fact, this detail is highlighted.  This should rule out, right off the bat, any interpretation that this story is about homosexual orientation or same-sex attraction.  It simply cannot be the case that every man in Sodom, from the youngest to the oldest, was gay.  Common sense (and statistics) tell us this.  So if this was not a hoard (sic) of gay men overcome with desire to have sex with two out-of-towners, then who were they?” (Martin, C. p. 54). The passage he refers to is: “But before they (Lot and his family and guests) lay down, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said to him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them” (Gen 19:4).

Lest we be persuaded to think that the sin of Sodom was not sexual, same-sex or otherwise, because every single male in the town was banging on Lot’s door, it may be said that this is no argument.  It is just as legitimate, if not more reasonably so, to argue that the bible states that every male in the city was at Lot’s house with evil intent in order to show how completely the male population was given over to their sin – it is meant to shock us with the sheer extent and depravity of it.  In a TV series entitled “The Spartans”, host Bettany Hughes, as I remember it, tells us that homosexuality was institutionalised in Spartan society.  Every male, when he reached seven years of age, was taken from his family and trained for war.  During his training he was also in a sexual relationship with his tutor.  By the time many of them reached adulthood, because they had only ever known same-sex sex, in order for them to become sufficiently sexually aroused to be able to procreate with a female, they were placed in a darkened room and the female was dressed in armour to make the idea of sex as close to “normal” as possible for them; without this the young men could not “perform” because the idea of opposite-sex sex was alien to them.  And lesbianism was also rife in the society as a knock-on effect.  So, in the light of this, the idea of the whole male population of Sodom being willing to rape other males is not that difficult to comprehend or accept. 

All this can only mean that the Sodomites, i.e. the men of Sodom, didn’t want Lot’s daughters whom Lot cruelly offered them; they wanted the men.  This passage (Jude 1:7) is about men wanting sex with men rather than with women, even when two young virgin women were offered them; same-sex sex instead of opposite-sex sex.  This can only be the meaning that Jude intends.  It was not about domination and humiliation of strangers – if that were the case, Lot would have been likewise raped by all the men of the city when he first arrived in Sodom. 

Whether or not the people of Sodom and its neighbouring cities were heterosexual or homosexual doesn’t matter; they were guilty of unlawful sexual sins and behaviour.  Both fornication and homosexuality are sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman, and God condemns them both.  And it cannot be argued that same-sex, loving, monogamous, relationships aren’t referred to here, as Colby Martin argues – the problem for this position is that they don’t need to be.  When Jesus mentioned marriage, he only ever referred to it as being between a man and a woman: “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.  For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain but one flesh.  What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mk 10:6-9).  And “going after strange flesh” is same-sex sex, whether it’s monogamous and loving or not.  The bottom line is: any sex act between two people outside marriage of a male and a female is sin – end of story.

See “Colby Martin and the Clobber Passages: Leviticus chapters 18 and 20: Abomination” for conclusion of my response to the Old Testament Clobber Passages.

References

Friberg T, Friberg B, and Miller N F, 2000, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Martin, C, 2016, “UnClobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality”, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky

NKJV Study Bible 2014, Gen ed. Earl D. Radmacher, NT ed. H. Wayne House, “Jude”, publ. Thomas Nelson Inc., Nashville, TN

www.sovereignjesus.net