What Were the Sins of Sodom and Gomorrah?

In his book, “Being Gay, Being Christian: You can be Both”, Dr Stuart Edser claims that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not sexual, homosexual or otherwise, but inhospitality.  He writes: “Sex is not the point of the story: there is no judgement, positive or negative, regarding either homosexual or heterosexual behaviour.  As Ellens says, ‘What is at stake is the inviolable prescription for hospitality to strangers in the social code and legal code of the ancient Near East…..it is not homosexuality or heterosexuality that is the primary consideration here, but violence’” (Edser, Dr S, 2012, p. 125). 

In the same chapter, Edser, being himself gay, gives his reason for wanting to show that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not homosexuality but inhospitality – it is a very important issue for him.  He writes: “It is essential that we put paid to the conventional interpretation of the Sodom story once and for all. It has been used against gay people so ferociously and for so long that it must be vehemently repudiated…..It is ironic that the real sin of Sodom, violence done to innocents, is exactly what gay and lesbian people suffer at the hands of ‘God-fearing, good Christian’ people and homophobic communities.  They are still stigmatised, ostracised, disowned by their families, made the butt of jokes by media, denounced from the pulpit and even physically assaulted – and much of this is done within the ethic of Judaeo-Christian Western culture”

A wrong “good argument” doesn’t prove the point

However, his comments on the actual sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are incorrect and his argument is the same as most, if not all, the other defences of homosexuality in circulation.  And he consequently omits the sin of homosexuality from the biblical account.   He writes: “The Bible mentions Sodom 54 times, mostly just in passing, but nowhere does it place the sin of Sodom as homosexuality.  Sodom is wicked, certainly, but that wickedness is never once designated as being homosexuality (my emphasis).  He follows this statement with a list of the sins of Sodom as specified by Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Jesus.  Hasn’t he read the biblical letters of 2 Peter and Jude?

It is always the case that when somebody wants to remove or explain away a passage of scripture because it condemns their view and/or desire, they have to spend a lot of time and effort to do so.  Their tactics are usually to deny that they are scripture at all and call the relevant passages fraudulent (e.g. Professor Bart Ehrman, Rachel Held Evans, Gordon D. Fee, and liberal theology in general); reinterpret them with some clever use of other scripture passages; gather the views of people who disagree with the plain teaching of the passage so that they can feel supported in their disobedience and unbelief (2 Tim 4:3-4); and, in Dr Edser’s case, abandon their previously held theology to adopt the liberal theology so that they no longer feel condemned by scripture.  As I’ve said before, it’s easy to say a practice or belief is not sin when you remove it from scripture.  Furthermore, Dr. Edser didn’t need to resort to liberal theology to make his case because it has already been made through a conservative and more literal approach to scripture.

The argument is contradicted by Scripture

However – and here is the point of my article – both the Apostle Peter and Jude, brother of the Apostle James, specify the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah as being sexual.

Peter writes: “And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation [behaviour] 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;) The Lord knoweth how to deliver out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust to be punished: But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness” (2 Pet 2:7-10).

This passage must be seen in its context of depraved sexual sin (2 Pet 2:1-22); i.e. the licentiousness of false prophets (v. 1-3); the sin of the fallen angels who co-habited with human women (v. 4; cf Gen 6:1-4); the sin of human women who were the partners of these fallen angels; the sin of humanity in general (v. 5 cf Gen 6:5-7); and the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah specifically (v. 6-10).  All these people “having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin….they allure with the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error…..It is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallow in the mire” (v. 14, 18, 22).

Furthermore, Jude has similar things to say about Sodom and Gomorrah.  “And the angels which kept not their own estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.  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 of suffering the vengeance of eternal fire” (Jude 6-7).

Dr Edser’s comment, that there is not a single mention of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah being homosexuality, is therefore shown to be wishful thinking.  Rather, the reverse is true – there is not a single mention in these passages (2 Pet 2 and Jude) of the sin of Sodom being inhospitality.  Instead they are characterised by such words as lawless deeds, defilement, adultery, depraved lust, unnatural lust – these and others scream out sexual immorality, both heterosexual and homosexual.

There is no way ‘hospitality’ can be inferred from the letters of Peter and Jude concerning the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Of the many defences of homosexuality I’ve read, all use this argument as a major ‘proof’ for their argument; but it is wrong.

Sexual sins, not inhospitality

I defy anyone, after reading 2 Peter and Jude, to say that Peter and Jude have the idea of hospitality when describing the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah.  No.  No.  Their letters clearly and powerfully show that these cities were guilty of gross sexual sin and defilement of body and soul and were under the condemnation of God because of it.  Their sins were outrageous, shocking, even by the corrupt standards of the ancient pagan world.  Lot was “vexed” by the filthy lifestyle and behaviour of all those around him, and the lawless deeds done in his sight day after day.  When he urged the two angels to stay with him in the safety of his home, he wasn’t thinking about the lack of accepted practice of hospitality – he knew the Sodomites were wicked and depraved men and that nobody was safe in their cities at night because he witnessed their acts of depraved and unnatural lust.

But even if the citizens of Sodom were guilty of inhospitality, they expressed it in violent sexual acts, both hetero- and especially (in Lot’s case) homosexual – and it is these vile acts for which they were condemned and destroyed, not for inhospitality.  The passages do not allow for the idea of inhospitality as being the cause of God’s wrath upon them, or words mean nothing.


Edser, Dr. S, “Being Gay, Being Christian: You Can Be Both”, Exsile Publishing Ltd., Wollombi, NSW, Australia and Auckland New Zealand