What Were the Sins of Sodom and Gomorrah?

Note: This article has been significantly modified and reworked.

In his excellent 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 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”.  Sadly, Dr Edser, a gay Christian, has experienced this himself.

While he makes some good exegetical points in the chapter – I might add that I found the section on the ‘science’ of sexual orientation to be very enlightening; so much so that it changed my view from regarding homosexuality as sin to that of acceptance and support – his comments on the actual sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are incorrect.  And he consequently omits the sin of homosexuality.   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?

Nevertheless, his claim that homosexuality is not the stand-out sin of Sodom and Gomorrah doesn’t negate the rest of his convincing argument for a better understanding of homosexuality and of gays and lesbians; but it is disappointing that he has used it. 

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: “….if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example of what is coming to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the lawless (for that man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by their lawless deeds that he saw and heard), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment – especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust… (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, and the sin of humanity in general (v. 5 cf Gen 6:5-7); and the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah (v. 6-10).  All these people “have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin….and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error…..It has happened to them according to the proverb, ‘The dog turns back to its own vomit’ and ‘The sow is washed only to wallow in the mud’” (v. 14, 18, 22).

Furthermore, Jude has similar things to say about Sodom and Gomorrah.  “And the angels who did not keep their own position, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deepest darkness, for the judgment of the great Day.  Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (The letter of Jude).

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 and homosexuality.

Key Greek words used in 2 Peter 2 and The Letter of Jude

The key words in these passages are given in the English of the New Revised Standard Version, followed by the Greek and its meanings.  My approach is rather clumsy but I’ve gone to this length to show that 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.

2 Peter chapter 2

  • Licentiousness.  Greek word: aselgeia.  Souter defines as: ‘(outrageous conduct; conduct shocking to public decency; a wanton violence), wantonness, lewdness’.
  • Lawless ones.  Greek word: athesmon (from athesmos).  Souter defines as: lawless, ignoring the (divine) ordinances.  Compare Leviticus 18:3-4 for ordinances.
  • Lust.  Greek word: epithumia (from epithumeo).  Bagster’s defines it as ‘earnest desire, irregular or violent desire, cupidity, impure desire, lust…the object of desire, what kindles desire’.
  • Depraved lust.  Greek word: miasmou(from miasmos).  Souter defines as pollution, defilement.  Epithumia with miasmou is ‘depraved lust’.
  • Licentious desires of the flesh.  Greek word: epithumiais (as defined under ‘lust’) sarkos.  Souter defines sarkos as ‘carnal, pertaining to the flesh’.  Thus epithumiais sarkos is ‘licentious desires of the flesh’.
  • Corruption.  Greek word: phthoras.  Souter defines as ‘rottenness, perishableness, corruption, decay, decomposition’.
  • Defilements.  Greek word: miasmata.  See ‘depraved lust’ above.

The Letter of Jude

  • Sexual immorality.  Greek word: ekporneusasai (from ekporneuo).  Souter defines as ‘I am guilty of fornication’.
  • Unnatural lust.  Greek word: sarkos heteros.  Greek Interlinear New Testament with NRSV defines as ‘different flesh’.  Bagster’s defines heteros as ‘(a) another, some other, besides, the other of two, different, foreign, strange, illicit’.  Souter has ‘of two, another, a second, another group…another of the same kind’.

Sexual sins, not inhospitality

I defy anyone, after reading these definitions of the relevant words in 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 “greatly distressed” by the licentiousness all 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 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, or words mean nothing.

“Being Gay, Being Christian: You Can Be both”

Dr Edser’s book shows that the so-called Clobber Passages cannot refer to the lives and same-sex sexual behaviours of gays and lesbians today.  His section on the science of sexual orientation alone shows that the Clobber Passages, which are the mainstays of Christian opposition to gays and lesbians in the Church, cannot be interpreted to condemn today’s gays and lesbians.

When Galileo championed Copernicus’ radical view of heliocentricity, he was charged with heresy and accused of reinterpreting the Bible; he died in confinement within his own house.  His many theories were against the Christian understanding, obtained from the Bible, that the earth is the centre of the universe.  Centuries later Copernicus and Galileo were vindicated and their books removed from the proscribed list.

Around the time of the American Civil War, theologians from the South and the North gathered to discuss the issue of slavery.  Southern theologians, some of whom were brilliant and godly men and very capable in the Scriptures, argued that slavery is biblical and it was not wrong for them to keep slaves.

However, both of these outdated and incorrect views were held firmly by the majority of Christians and churches.  It took a long time and, in America’s case, a bloody civil war, to change the predominant incorrect interpretation of the Bible.

The contemporary view of homosexuality held by many is entrenched and seemingly impossible to uproot.  But now the science is there to prove that sexual orientation is beyond the individual’s ability to change it and is formed while in the womb and furthered by influences in early life; Dr. Edser describes this clearly in his book.

Thus science once again challenges an interpretation of Scripture, but not Scripture itself; an interpretation which discriminates between homosexual and heterosexual Christians.  It has been the cause of massive pain and grief, and driven many young people to suicide who suffered under the pressure imposed by Christians because of their same-sex sexual orientation.  Dr Edser assures that sexual orientation cannot be changed and Christians need to get a new way of understanding the Clobber Passages because the current understanding is false and destructive.

References

“Analytical Greek Lexicon”, Samuel Bagster and Sons, 72, Marylebone Lane, London, W.1, reprinted 1967, 1971

Souter, A.  A Pocket Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, Oxford University Press, London E.C.4, First published 1916, reprinted 1917-1949

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

“The Scripture quotations contained herein are made from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition copyright 1993 and 1989, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.”  “Published by Catholic Bible Press, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee 37214.