Genesis 19: What the Bible Really Says Were the Sins of Sodom

Everyone is familiar with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  At least many people think they are.  The point of the story is to condemn homosexuals and homosexual behavior, right?  Wrong.   And contrary to the belief of some, it’s not merely about a breach of the ancient sacred duty of hospitality either.  Fact is there is much to cull from the biblical text that is often missed.  Let’s take a closer look at this often misconstrued passage and I suspect you’ll see some things you did not see before.

FIRST HINTS

Sodom is used as a symbol of evil in dozens of places in the Bible, but not in a single instance is the sin of the Sodomites specified as homosexuality.  In Ezekiel chapter 16, we read that the prophet declares the word of God saying that a self-righteously religious Jerusalem had not only imitated the vile deeds of the Sodomites, but had become even more corrupt. Then the prophet spells out explicitly what God calls the sin of Sodom:

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord … this was the sin of your sister Sodom:  She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.  They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” (Ezekiel 16:48-50)

Here we have the Bible commentating on the Bible.  We can hardly get better Bible commentary than that.  Here we have what the Bible says is God’s commentary on the story of Sodom and on Sodom’s sin.  Note that contrary to what some are taught, there is no mention of homosexuality in God’s commentary of Sodom’s sin.  In fact, in Genesis 18:20, we read that long before the attempted gang rape at Lot’s house in Sodom the Lord said:

“The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.  If not, I will know.”  (Genesis 18:20-21)

As evangelical Bible scholar William H. Brownlee explains in the Word Biblical Commentary on Ezekiel 1-19, “The word used for ‘outcry’ always refers to the outcry of the oppressed.”  He says, “this is exactly the situation of Ezekiel 16:49.  We are to think of the anguished cries to God of the ‘poor and needy’ to whom the wealthy Sodomites afford no help or encouragement.  … ‘Gave no help and encouragement is literally ‘did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.’  The verb ‘to strengthen’ means not only to give material assistance, but also to give encouragement.  …the converse charge [such as is found in Jeremiah 38:4] of ‘weakening the hands of the people’ … means to discourage, to demoralize.  Thus the ‘poor and needy’ of Sodom and her daughters were so completely demoralized that they had no one to whom to turn, except to Yahweh.”

So God heard their anguished cries of complaint and investigated.  Not that there’s anything God is ever in the dark about.  But he shows the fairness of his judgments which are never the result of rash or sudden resolves.  He judges on his own infallible knowledge, not on the information of others.

DESTESTABLE THINGS

In addition to charges that the Sodomites were arrogant, overfed, unconcerned, and did not help the poor and needy (16:49), God’s commentary on the story of Sodom and on Sodom’s sin also says Sodom “did detestable things before me” (16:50).  Some Christians are quick to stop here and say, “Um, its homosexual; that settles it, let’s move on.”  But before we read our own interpretation into the text, let’s first see if the Bible tells us specifically what these detestable things were.  It is respectful of God’s gift to us to go after his intentions and meanings before arriving at our own.  Sure enough, we find that God, speaking though the prophet, spells out in striking “in your face” condemnation explicitly what Sodom’s abhorrent conduct entailed.

Jerusalem we’re told has a resemblance to her “sister” Sodom (16:46, 16:48, 16:49, 16:56).  The Lord repeatedly calls them sisters because they are kindred spirits in wickedness.  They are also both ancient Canaanite cities.  Sodom was a leading Canaanite city (Gen 10:18) and, according to Ezekiel, a city where people would do anything to maintain their surfeit of wealth and ease and power.  Sodom’s sister Jerusalem too was an old Canaanite city (16:1-3), conquered by King David who made it his new national capital.  And here in Ezekiel 16, the prophet critiques the many cultic Canaanite practices Jerusalem has adopted, some of which are quite revolting.  But from the viewpoint of Ezekiel, this isn’t too surprising since Jerusalem was descended from pagans in the first place:

“The word of the Lord came to me: Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites…” (Ezekiel 16:1-3)

The root of the unitary nature of these “detestable practices” is everything that had to do with the exercise of the pagan Canaanite religion.  Canaanite religious practices were barbarous and thoroughly licentious.  The astounding characteristic of Canaanite deities, that they had no moral character whatsoever, brought out the worst traits in their devotees and entailed many of the most demoralizing practices of the time.  In his commentary on their sin in Ezekiel 16, God starts by indicating their vile deeds included cultic prostitution and building “high places” (16:15-16).

Cultic prostitution was practiced by the Canaanites to promote fertility.  Fertility was highly prized in Ancient times in ways that are completely foreign to our modern thinking.  Fact is in many ways their lives literally depended on it: fertility of the land in the form of rains to ensure and boost crop production, fertility of life through pregnancy and birth, fertility for reproduction of their livestock, and so on. Devotees would visit the pagan shrines and perform sacred sexual rituals with male and female shrine prostitutes to give honor to the Canaanite pagan gods and thereby ensure fertility and prosperity.

The “high places” were the illicit shrines where their worship occurred and their cultic prostitution rites were performed (1 Kings 13:32; 2 Kings 17:29).  God hated the “high places” of the Canaanites and after the Israelites entered the Promised Land they were strictly commanded to overthrow these “high places,” lest they be tempted to worship the Canaanites’ pagan gods and partake in their depraved practices (Ex 34:13; Num 33:52; Deut 7:5; Deut 12:2-3).

Their idolatries also included “making male idols and engaging in prostitution with them” (16:17, 16:20-21, 16:36).   If this was not enough, they also “took their sons and daughters and sacrificed them as food to the idols” (16:20-21).  The practice of child sacrifice to the Canaanite god Molech included a ritualized slaughter of their children (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; 2 Kings 17:31; 23:10; Jer. 7:31; 19:5; 32:35), followed by burning the bodies to ashes.  Drums were pounded to drown out the cries of the children.

They are also repeatedly condemned for building “lofty shrines” to worship the Canaanite pagan gods (16:24-25, 16:31, 16:36, 16:39).  You can read the whole chapter for more on these sordid details and a greatly expanded essay on the subject in Ezekiel 23.   They are also described in my earlier post: Leviticus 18: What was the Abomination? (link also found on “Archives” page).  But not in a single instance in this extensive list of vile deeds, or anywhere else in the 26 times where Sodom is mentioned in the Bible (18 in the OT and 8 in the NT), is the sin of the Sodomites ever specified as homosexuality.

Among other things, this illustrates how blinded we can be by our “reifications” and “canonical interpretations”.   A reification is when we use a concept or doctrine so often and for so long that it comes to be a distinct “thing” to us, something that’s really there, a piece of our mind’s furniture.  We are unaware of how much of our mental furniture consists of reifications.  A canonical interpretation is a way of looking at a biblical passage or doctrine that we’ve become so accustomed to, that the interpretation has become indistinguishable in our minds from the text or passages themselves.

SACRED DUTY OF HOSPITALITY

Evangelical Bible scholar Brownlee also notes, “hospitality to strangers was a virtue exemplified by Abraham (Gen 18:1-8) and Lot (Gen 19:1-3) and an important virtue expected of noble-minded people.  Contrarily, the oppression of the stranger as exemplified by [the attempted gang rape at Lot’s house] in Gen 19:1-9 was, according to ancient Semitic custom, a very grave crime.” 

It is difficult for us as modern readers to imagine that a breach of hospitality could be so serious an offense (though according to Genesis, the Lord was already inclined to punish the Sodomites even before the angels arrived there, which is why they were sent.)  In the ancient world, inns were rare outside of urban centers and travelers were dependent on the hospitality and goodwill of strangers not just for comfort but physical survival.  In desert country where Sodom lay, to stay outside exposed to the cold of the night could be fatal.  Ethical codes almost invariably enjoined hospitality on their adherents as a sacred obligation.

Stories of divine testing of human piety by dispatching beggars or wayfarers to demand the sacred right of hospitality are commonplace in the Old Testament.  In nearly all such stories evil persons appear either as neighbors or other townsfolk who do not fulfill their obligation and are punished, violently or by exclusion from some divine benefice, while the solitary upright family is rewarded with a gift or a prophecy of misfortunes to come.

It is shocking to us to think that Lot would have offered his daughters to the Sodomites.  But this is another example of how different their culture was from our own.  In that time, the father of the house actually “owned” the women.  They were his property.  He was free to do with them almost whatever he wanted.  This action, almost unthinkable in modern Western society, was analogous with the low status of female children at the time and was not without its parallels even in the more “civilized” Roman world.  Once again, we cannot assume the ancient people to whom the Bible was written were just like us.  In some ways, they were and in others, their thinking was so foreign to us that the gulf is almost impassable.

The identification of Sodom with the breach of the sacred duty of hospitality is also made by Jesus when he warned his disciples, sent like the angels as God’s messengers, that they would not be received in some places:

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.  I tell you the truth; it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than for that town.” (Matthew 10:14-15)

MALE-TO-MALE RAPE

We should also note that during biblical times men (and the kings) of conquered tribes were often raped by the invading army as the ultimate symbol of defeat and humiliation.  Male-to-male rape was a way for victors to accentuate the subjection of captive enemies and foes and a way of humiliating visitors and strangers.  If we miss this, we not only miss what was going on in the Sodom and Gomorrah text, we also miss the meaning behind other passages such as 1 Samuel 31:4 and 1 Chronicles 10:4 where Saul, gravely wounded by the Philistines, instructs his armor-bearer to:

“Draw your sword and thrust me through with it lest these uncircumcised come and abuse me.”  (1 Chronicles 10:4)

SUMMARY

So what then were the grievous sins that caused God to judge Sodom worthy of such destruction?   The sin of Sodom was avarice, pride, and a determination to have riches at any cost, according to God’s commentary in Ezekiel.  Sodom did practice pagan rituals, including cult prostitution involving ambisexual sadomasochism.  Why did they do such abominable things?  Because they believed that these things would bring them fertility and secure their place in the world.  They were haughty, had prosperous ease, too much food and did not aid the poor and needy.  Ezekiel said that they practiced all that to get and to maintain their enormous wealth.

Sodom was perverse, according to Ezekiel, because it was rich and powerful and coveted ever more and yet more power.  They believed they obtained that power through multi-sexual sadism, the drinking of blood, semen and other body fluids, the eating of flesh, animal sex and the sacrificing of their children to the pagan gods.  This was the famous sin of Sodom, not what you’ve heard.  And as bad as Sodom was, according to Ezekiel, Jerusalem was much worse off as a city.

This is not my interpretation; it is that which is given in the Bible.  You and I do not get to rip passages from their context and replace them in another age for the sake of convenience.   And we don’t get to make things up as we go along.  As always, we are stuck with the internal interpretation of the text as the primary meaning.

See also on this blog the following related posts:
Leviticus 18: What Was the Abomination?
Romans 1: What Was Paul Ranting About?
Romans 2: Paul’s Bait and Switch
Exegesis: Not for the Faint in Heart
Why No One in the Biblical World Had a Word for Homosexuality

* Links to these and other posts may also be found on the “Archives” page .

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About Alex Haiken

Born to a Jewish family in New York City, I came to faith in Christ in 1982 after trying to disprove the Bible. I found so much evidence in support of the claims of Jesus and the Bible that it required more faith to reject it than to believe it. I hold a Master’s degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and among other things am a lecturer, teacher, blogger and conference speaker. I came out as gay at a young age but was taught when I came to faith that I could not be both Christian and gay. I served for a time as a leader of an ex-gay ministry but shifted my views after recognizing that when the few passages generally appealed to in this debate are examined more closely and in context, the traditional anti-gay interpretations do not hold up to scrutiny. I learned that the ex-gay route is a scripturally unsound mirage, a specious illusion that deceitfully draws people not to a life-giving oasis but to a deeper and deeper spiritual desert. Seeing the immense need for education in this area, I began to speak and write about my experience and new-found convictions. I am also passionate about helping the Church better understand her rich Jewish roots; helping other Jewish people understand Jesus as their Jewish Messiah; and helping other gay people integrate a theologically sound, committed Christian faith with their sexuality. It is my hope that the reflections in this blog will prompt you to explore the paths they suggest, leading to your own more eloquent thinking, exploration and action. If you want, visit the “Contact” page and let me know what you think.
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49 Responses to Genesis 19: What the Bible Really Says Were the Sins of Sodom

  1. MARIA says:

    A clear explication. Much appreciated. Christians in my home country need to hear you.

  2. Ozvaldo says:

    I really enjoyed your description of Sodom. I’m going to read your other posts as well. I’ve been reading a lot about the Bible and homosexuality.

  3. Keith says:

    It’s certainly good to pin down the actual details of stories like these, but I’m not sure I see the benefit to the gay position in this case. It’s a bit like felling one or two trees and declaring that the entire forest is gone. There are other passages in both the New and Old Testaments that explicitly forbid homosexuality. And as I pointed out in the comments of the Warrioress’s post on this topic (you made some really good points there, by the way), even the New Testament regards homosexuality to be worthy of death.

    At the end of the day, then, gay Christians have a difficult decision to face: cherry pick the Bible so that it appears more gay friendly than it really is, or give up Christianity altogether.

    As an atheist who supports gay rights, I think my own recommendation in this matter is obvious

  4. Alex Haiken says:

    Keith, I would disagree with your view that this is about cherry picking the Bible. On the contrary, I believe it’s about reading the Scriptures in context. It’s about going after the author’s intentions and meanings before arriving at our own. There’s an old story about W.C Fields being visited on his deathbed by a friend who caught him reading the Bible. “What are you reading that Bible for?” the friend asked. Fields tersely replied, “I’m looking for loopholes!” Those of us with respect for Bible interpretation and biblical authority do not look for loopholes. What we seek is harder and infinitely more important to find than easy outs. We search for the intention of the original writers. Who was the writer and to whom was he writing? What was the cultural and historical setting of the writer? What was the meaning of the words in the writer’s day? What was the intended meaning of the author and why was he saying it? What should this mean to me in my situation today? To an extent, careful study can open those meanings to us if we are humble enough not to presume we already know. We try hard to get past what we think we already know to find out what we are looking at.

  5. Keith says:

    Alex

    I completely concur that a careful, honest analysis of scripture is necessary, and that we shouldn’t jump to conclusions. In fact, I’d even agree that your analysis of the Sodom story is spot on.

    My point is, perhaps, a simple warning (if I might be so bold), namely that even if the Sodom story turns out to have nothing to do with homosexuality, there are still other passages in both the OT and NT that clearly condemn the practice. I’m curious as to how you would interpret these other passages.

    • Alex Haiken says:

      Keith, I disagree with you that “there are still other passages in both the OT and NT that clearly condemn the practice.” There are only a handful of passages in the entire Bible that have been interpreted as addressing or condemning homosexuality. I’ve already addressed the following passages (links to these may be found on the “Archives” page) and will continue to address the remaining in time.

      “Genesis 19: What the Bible Really Says Were the Sins of Sodom”
      “Leviticus 18: What Was The Abomination?”
      “Romans 1: What Was Paul Ranting About?”
      “Romans 2: Paul’s Bait and Switch”

      • trebord says:

        I would be interested in hearing your view on what the abomination is when a man lies with another man as with a woman.

    • Alex Haiken says:

      Trebord, the passage you are referring is from Leviticus 18. I have already addressed this passage in the post titled: “Leviticus 18: What Was The Abomination?” As indicated above, you can find a link to this post on the “Archives” page.

      • KACalder says:

        Trebord asks a simple and direct question, and is entitled to a simple and direct answer, not to be deflected off onto a fishing expedition. If you had such an answer, you’d give it unstintingly, instead of the interminable wiggling, dodging, prevarication, casuistry . . .

        You need to add 2 Pet. 2:6 et ff. to the list of passages clearly addressing what we call sodomy — it is no accident that we have come to understand that term as we do..

        Not that Sodom/Gomorrah weren’t also guilty of the other forms of corruption as well, but there simply is no wiggling around the fact that their signature abomination was sodomy, and that that is expressly what made Lot sick.

      • Alex Haiken says:

        KA,

        You cite 2 Peter 2:6, which says, “and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly thereafter…” In all due respect, can you explain by what exegetical rule or miracle you can responsibly conclude from that text, “See, its homosexual; that settles it, let’s move on!”

        What I’ve said repeatedly here is that responsible biblical interpretation requires responsible exegesis. Exegesis, which comes from the Greek verb meaning “to draw out,” is about drawing out from the text what it originally meant to the author and to the original intended audience, without reading into the text the many traditional interpretations that may have grown up around it. In contrast to this, what many like yourself do instead is what some theologians refer to as “frontloading”, that is to say, they read their own personal, political, ideological or prejudicial beliefs back into the Bible, instead of reading out from the Bible what the original writers were saying. This process of reading one’s own ideas into interpretation of the Bible is called “eisegesis”. Exegesis and eisegesis are conflicting approaches to interpreting the Bible. Exegesis is about reading out from the Bible what the original writers were saying. Eisegesis is about reading one’s own ideas or prejudices back into the Bible. Exegesis is about getting out of the text what is truly there in the first place. Eisegesis is about putting into the text something never intended by the author.

        In connection with this, the only forms or expressions of same-sex contact cited in the Bible — and I argue, were even known in the ancient and biblical world — are the following three: (1) pagan cult idolatry and temple prostitution, as temples across the ancient Near East employed (or enslaved) both male and female prostitutes, (2) gang rape, as men and kings of conquered tribes were often raped by the invading army as the ultimate symbol of defeat and humiliation since this was a way for victors to accentuate the subjection of captive enemies and foes and a way of humiliating visitors and strangers, and (3) an exploitative form of pederasty that was popular in the ancient and Greco-Roman world. None of these are in any way related to what you and I may know of as “homosexuality” today. It is for this very reason that Bible dictionaries, such as the Harper’s Bible Dictionary, say of homosexuality: “A word for which there is no specific equivalent in the Hebrew Old Testament or the Greek New Testament, since the CONCEPT ITSELF as well as the English word originated only in the 19th century.”

        Again, you and I do not get to make things up as we go along nor do we get to rip passages from their ancient context and place them in another age for the sake of convenience. As always, we’re stuck with the internal interpretation of the text as the primary meaning.

  6. devonbailey says:

    This article is very good, however I do not see how this put’s up a good fight. As you seem to clearly believe the bible is without error it seems that you are searching for answers that help you believe that God is okay with a certain sin. God is against all sin. Homosexuality is a sexual sin. As I’m sure you know, The coming of one flesh refers to how Eve was taken from Adam’s rib and when they come together in sex they return to that “one flesh”. And as I wrote in my blog this is what Jesus says they were created for. This is what man and woman were created for. I would love for Jesus to be okay with my sexual thoughts toward women. That would be so much easier. But he’s not. And I acknowledge my sin as sin and ask for God’s help to bring me out of it because I know that it is a fight I cannot do myself. God is against sin. And we all deserve death for our sins. But God sent Jesus to die for those sins….not so that we could keep on sinning. But so that we could be transformed into his image.

    With much love
    -Devon

  7. Alex Haiken says:

    Devon, I agree that God is against sin. However, what is at issue here is your presupposition that any and all expressions of homosexuality are categorically sin. Let’s not forget that exegesis (from the Greek verb which means “to draw out”) is about drawing out from the text the true meaning of a Bible passage. It means getting out of the text what it originally meant to the author and to the original intended audience, without reading into the text the many traditional interpretations that may have grown up around it.

    In contrast to this, I believe what you’re doing instead is what some theologians refer to as “frontloading”, that is to say, you read your own personal, political, ideological and prejudicial beliefs back into the Bible, instead of reading out from the Bible what the original writers were saying. This process of reading one’s own ideas into interpretation of the Bible is called “eisegesis”. Exegesis and eisegesis are conflicting approaches to interpreting the Bible. Exegesis is about getting out of the text what is truly there in the first place. Eisegesis is about putting into the text something never intended by the author. The reader today must somehow try to enter the world of the biblical writer and seek to understand what the writer was saying. If we fail to pay attention to the world in which the Bible was written, our understanding will almost assuredly be misunderstanding.

  8. Richard Whaley says:

    Devon,
    Besides the points made by Alex, there are other issues. First you state that homosexuality is a sin, but you do not prove it, you accept it and expect the reader to do the same. Why should we accept this as true? Nowhere in the Bible does it state that at all. Your assumption is unproven and false.
    Also, yes, God made them male & female, but what does Paul say in Galatians? “There is no longer …male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Something to think about (also, to read in Greek, since too many translations err here).
    Third, sexual sins have nothing to do with orientation, but with our actions regardless if we are attracted to the same sex or the opposite.
    Last, we are not all made to have a partner, male or female. Even if we are blessed to have a partner marriage is not just for propagation. If so, then should a woman marry who cannot have children? What if she is past the age to bear children? I think you know the answer to this. It is obvious, men and women were not made just to propagate the race, but to love each other, just as a male with a male, and a woman with a woman may do as well. Love is our goal, walking in the love of God, which we can do through the example and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Loving another person is not a sin, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.

  9. Matt Grundon says:

    It’s funny, Richard, that you jump on Devon’s interpretation that homosexuality is a sin without substantial proof and then state that his claim is false with zero evidence whatsoever. Devon addresses that ACTS of homosexuality (i.e. sex (or thoughts of sex) with another man, outside the confines of marriage are the same as the same sins in a straight person. No one is claiming that love is unnatural regardless of to whom it’s directed.

    • trebord says:

      The one consistent message of the Bible with regard to sex is to be sexually pure. It does not discriminate between hetero and homosexuals. Sexually purity does not play favorites either, allowing one to be free to indulge while the other is restricted. I believe the push for same-sex marriage has less to do with benefits, taxes, and the like, and more to do with normalizing that which is not. HOLY Matrimony is the gold ring, the measure by which the unnatural is made natural. But HOLY Matrimony is a state of the relationship, not just the words on a certificate and not conferred because of some ministerial mumbo-jumbo. HOLY Matrimony is that which is sanction by God and while we may not be able to prove a Biblical argument against homosexuality, no-one, by examble in the Bible, can show a model for same-sex marriage either. Yet marriage exists. What exists today for same-sex couples may be Matrimony, but there is nothing HOLY about it.

      • Alex Haiken says:

        Trebord, clearly throughout the Bible we find instructions to shun sexual immorality and to seek the highest moral standard that reflects the Spirit of Christ (e.g. Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Cor. 6:13-20 and 7:1-3; Eph. 5:1-5; Col 3:5-17, to cite just a few examples). However, the fact that the violation of others is strongly condemned does not mean that all homosexual behavior warrants such censure any more than all heterosexuals are to be condemned for their sexual behavior by association with the sins of pedophilia, lust, rape, fornication or adultery. The few verses in Scripture that proscribe sexual union between men all seek to address sins of idolatry, rebellion, self-indulgence, abuse, or grossly irresponsible behavior.

      • trebord says:

        1 Corintihians 6:18 doesn’t support “violation of others” as it says “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.”

      • Alex Haiken says:

        Trebord, but one must ask: What is sexual immorality? Sexual immorality is never defined in the Bible in terms of genital acts. That is a particularly redactionist way of thinking that divorces sex from its relational context in our modern, often sex-obsessed world. On the contrary, the term “sexual immorality” as used in Scripture is always associated with cultic prostituion (i.e., idolatry), adultery, reckless self-indulgence or social and personal irresponsibility. It should also be noted that the Bible’s teaching on sexual immorality was given to a people who saw nothing wrong with polygamy, a practice we would consider grossly immoral today. And what about the levirate marriage? When a married man in Israel died childless, his widow was to have intercourse with his brother(s) until she bore him a male heir. Jesus mentions this custom without criticism (Mark 12:18-27). I am not aware of any Christians who still obey this unambiguous commandment of Scripture. We could go and on. The point, of course, is that you must be careful about what you read into the biblical text that simply is not there.

  10. Keith says:

    Richard:

    “There is no longer …male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

    It is certainly tempting to assume, from this single scripture, that Paul regarded men and women as equals. Unfortunately, there are scriptures written by supposedly the same author that suggest otherwise. Paul very specifically calls on women to be submissive to their husbands. He calls on women to be silent – and to cover their heads – in church. The list goes on.

    What strained apologetic device is needed to explain that away?

    The Bible, as we all know, has a vastly intricate web of authors and editors to its name. It was written over a long period of time, and not one of its authors is thought by serious scholars even to have met its most important character. The most preposterous claim people can make, then, is not that God rejects homosexuality or that God condones homosexuality. It’s that there even is a cohesive answer to the question of what God rejects or condones in the first place.

  11. agreendown says:

    How is there no reference to Jude 1:6-7? “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”

    This specifies that there was sexual sin going on. But as you say, Sodom and Gomorrah doesn’t stand up as a Biblical condemnation of homosexuality, merely as a screen on which many project homosexuality as a manifestation of sexual sin.

  12. Alex Haiken says:

    Agreendown: There’s only so much one can cover in one post. I did cite that Sodom practiced pagan rituals which included cult prostitution involving ambisexual sadomasochism, sex with animals, and a host of other detestable pagan cult rituals. But while some are quick to point to Jude 1:6-7 and conclude: “Um, its homosexual; that settles it, let’s move on,” that is not exegesis (drawing out from the text what is truly there in the first place). It is eisegesis (reading or putting things into the text that simply are not there). Eisegesis is precisely what we’re supposed to avoid.

    In Ezekiel 16, on the other hand, we find that God, speaking though the prophet, spells out explicitly what Sodom’s abhorrent sins entailed. Significantly, not in a single instance in this extensive list of vile deeds detailed in Ezekiel 16, or anywhere else in the 26 times where Sodom is mentioned in the Bible (18 in the OT and 8 in the NT), is the sin of the Sodomites ever specified as homosexuality.

  13. Matt Grundon says:

    My objection to the general points you are making comes from a few passages, none of them having anything to do with homosexuality explicitly, but rather through more of a linking or transitive sort of game.

    I would never claim gay sexual sin and straight sexual sin are in any sense different but lets consider a few things:

    First, I hope we can agree that sex outside of marriage is considered adultery and is a sin. A biblical scholar such as yourself no doubt has come to this conclusion.

    Second, marriage is explained as only to be between a man and a woman. 1st Corinthians says: “But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.”

    I hope we can agree on both of these things. Otherwise, you may as well not even read the third and final point. While you may deny the validity of the two above statements, I challenge you to find a verse that contradicts them, and I will gladly retract my statements.

    So finally, my third point links all of these together under the statement: sex is sin without being within marriage, an institution between man and woman. Straight sex or gay sex, straight lust or gay lust, it makes no difference. Both types are an example of sin and the only escape is through the sacrament of marriage. I suppose the difference is that there is one situation where the bible states straight sex to be good, with no situations in which gay sex is stated to be good.

    In the end, we’re all just sinners. Being gay doesn’t mean you cannot follow God, but I’d be remiss if I saw claims that a man having sex with a man isn’t sin and didn’t make the above points.

    Food for thought.

  14. Alex Haiken says:

    Matt: Thanks for the food for thought. It would appear the only things we are in agreement with is that (a) we’re all sinners, and (b) being gay doesn’t mean you cannot follow God. As for the rest, I’d suggest you be more careful about how define “biblical” marriage. Few human institutions claim to be as traditional as marriage. Yet even fewer have undergone more traceable metamorphoses. Imagine how you’d like concubinage, or a woman’s loss of property to her husband once married; levirate marriage; a husband’s unquestioned right to philander; marital indissolubility in the face of spousal or child abuse. All of these were once part of marriage’s bedrock tradition.

    Let’s take this a bit further. “Marriage” for us commonly refers to an exchange of vows between bride and groom, symbolized by a ring, in a church or government building, with a clerical or governmental official presiding. In patriarchal biblical culture, marriage commonly involved an arrangement in which the groom’s father literally “purchased” the bride from her father, perhaps, accompanied by a banquet (e.g. Genesis 24; John 2). Marriage in Ancient times was about “ownership”.

    In connection with this, “adultery” in the patriarchal culture of the Bible most commonly refers to a property offense against the husband, not a betrayal of one’s spouse. Since no vows were exchanged, there was no infidelity. In Hebrew law, adultery is defined as a man’s having intercourse with a woman married or betrothed to another. The male who commits adultery does not violate his own marriage, but that of the woman and her husband. Adultery was a property-related matter.

    Even “romantic love” as we know it today did not exist in Bible times. Romantic love as we understand it did not come into being until the Middle Ages, which is precisely why this period is referred to as the “Romance Period.” The concept of “falling in love” would have been completely foreign to anyone in ancient times. Few Christian theologians before the 12th century made any references to what is today called “falling in love” and the phenomenon would seem to have been completely unknown to Jesus and his followers and to most of the church until the rise of what is loosely termed “courtly love” in the 12th century. The Greek word for romantic love does not occur anywhere in the NT.

    Among no group of people would concepts of romantic love parallel to those common today have been the operative factors in arranging marriage. “Love” between husband and wife was something expected to develop as a consequence of marriage, not to occasion it. It consisted of fair treatment, respect and mutual consideration and often corresponded more to paternal affections in the pre-modern world. Age differences between husbands and wives may have contributed to that.

    For you and I, a married person, man or woman, commits adultery by having sex outside of the marriage. The offense is infidelity, betrayal of a trust or commitment, and it is against one’s husband or wife. It is a personal offense. In ancient Israel, adultery was an offense only against the husband; it was an unlawful use of his property, his woman, his wife. More than a personal offense, it involved a financial loss: the man had paid his wife’s father a bridal price for her, and her ability to bear children was important to the expansion of his family, i.e. the increase of his property.

    Is this what you mean by biblical marriage? Is this what you’d like to return to?

    • Matt Grundon says:

      So your claim is that sex outside of marriage isn’t a sin? And that the bible doesn’t say that marriage is between a man and a woman?

      I understand that culture was different. But as a Christian the bible is the ultimate authority. I don’t care how messed up you (or I) think that form of marriage was. Give me actual biblical evidence that unmarried people having sex or two men getting married is acceptable and I’ll consider your points. Until then, it’s all just opinion and hearsay. It’s important not to read our own personal biases into the bible. I don’t like a lot of what it says about how we are to live, but its what it says and so I try to live by it.

  15. Alex Haiken says:

    Matt: One thought that imediately comes to mind is the levirate marriage. When a married man in Israel died childless, his widow was to have intercourse with each of his brothers, in turn, until she bore him a male heir. Jesus mentions this custom without criticism (cf Mark 12:18-27). I am not aware of any Christians who still obey this unambiguous commandment of Scripture. That said, for a more thorough reply to your comment, I would suggest you read my post titled “Why No One in the Biblical World Had a Word for Homosexuality”. You can find a link for it on the “Archives” page.

  16. Matt Grundon says:

    Cool post. I see no evidence of scripture that says that marriage is not only between man and woman or that sex outside of marriage isn’t a sin anywhere in it.

    I don’t have a problem with the way you choose to live your life, I only worry that people often do not check the sources of bloggers, and that you may mislead others through your misunderstandings of scripture. To quote you: “Readers are often misinformed and encouraged to believe something that is untrue.” That is exactly what you are doing. I do not look down upon you as “a sinner” as I am as, if not more, guilty than you, I’m sure. What I do look down upon is misusing The Word and becoming complacent in sin within it. We are all called to follow the commandments of God out of love of him daily. Just because everyone sins, doesn’t make it ok.

    That said, God loves gays and I do too. Love isn’t unnatural, and I do find one bit of unquestionable truth in your blog from your post about gay marriage:
    “If it is true that we are saved by faith in what Christ has done then the antigay message touted by Bachmann and others cannot be true. Whether we are straight or gay is irrelevant to God’s redemptive work in our lives. It is the fact of responding to Christ that is the all-important thing.”

    Thank God for that, eh?

  17. Alex Haiken says:

    Matt: Thank God for that, indeed! A few final thoughts that may (or may not?) be helpful. It would appear you believe (1) that the Bible distinctively addresses all issues for all of time including every contemporary issue we face today, and (2) that it’s legitimate to argue from silence. That is to say, if the Bible does not explicitly state something is okay, then it’s not.

    The Bible doesn’t tell us everything. It tells us some things and then there are others we have to wrestle with. The issues we face today are wide-ranging. So while the Bible, the Word of God, has always seemed clear enough about some issues of sexual morality, when we are confronted with some of the complex situations that people find themselves in today, we have to look deeply at the Word of God for wisdom to know how to handle some burning contemporary issues in the most appropriate way. Needless to say, this has raised some difficult questions.

    As I’ve shared with you before, Jesus provided a very important hermeneutic tool to help his followers negotiate their way through moral debates about OT law. He identified one Levitical command as the key to understanding the rationale behind all the others. Quoting Lev 19:18, he said: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    This suggests that, when trying to determine why an OT law was given and what its relevance is to a modern Christian, two vital questions must be asked: (1) “What HARM to neighbor was this command intended to PREVENT?” and (2) “What GOOD to neighbor was this command intended to PROMOTE?”

    And though Lev 19:18 was not all that popular in the days of the OT, it is THE verse from the Torah, or first five books of the Bible, that is the most frequently cited in the NT. It’s a summary and a fulfilling of the Law that was repeatedly referred to by Jesus, Paul and James.

    You’ve made up your mind on this one and as Paul said, “let each one be fully convinced in his own mind.” (Rom 14:5) If you believe homosexuality in any form or expression is sin, then you must walk in that conviction. It would not be healthy spiritually or psychologically for you to violate your conscience.

    The fourth gospel offers us a speech of Jesus at the last Supper that alerts us to expect that further revelation from God would emerge as we grew ready to apprehend them. Indeed that has been the case on scores of issues. As for this one, I think for now we can respectfully agree to disagree.

  18. rogerdengle says:

    Alex,
    I plan to read more of your blog to know more clearly what you have to say, but I have to say that in the first section of this post you are dead wrong. The referenced verse from Ezekiel does indeed mention homosexuality when it says, “They were haughty and did detestable things before me.” Now, having said that I must also say that it is not my place to condemn any person, Christian or not. What it IS my place and responsibility to do is point out the truth of scripture.

    • Alex Haiken says:

      Roger, on what exegetical grounds do you take a passage from Ezekiel such as the one you quoted, “They were haughty and did detestable things before me” (Eze 16:50), and then conclude “Um, its homosexual; that settles it, let’s move on.” Is this not a classic case of reading things into the text that are not there (eisegesis) as opposed to drawing out from the text what actually is (exegesis)?

      The primary point of the post you are commenting on is that if we truly wish to have a sense of what the “haughty and detestable things” were that God was taking the people to task for, we must consider the context. We don’t get to rip passages from their context and then read our own personal prejudices and aversions back into them. I’d suggest you go back and reread the post and the Ezekiel text.

  19. Alex–Another thoughtful, well-reasoned Bible study. Thank you. I hadn’t ever thought about the relationship between Sodom and Jerusalem, though I’ve heard and read it a million times. Very interesting. Opens up a new area for study.

    It’s so important for us to go beyond saying, “This passage doesn’t mean…” and actually get down to what it does mean, what God wanted us to learn in the first place. You did a great job with that. “Avarice, pride and a determination to get riches at any cost…” Uh-oh. Maybe that’s why the church traditionally teaches the way it does. It’s more comfortable to blame homosexuality than to suggest I might need to sacrifice my stuff.

    @Keith- As a Christian feminist, I don’t believe that God thinks of women as lesser. I think he deals in the reality that men traditionally have thought of women as lesser. With Alex’s permission, I’d like to share a post I wrote that deals with the “anti-woman stuff” in the Bible, as well as mainstream Christianity’s relationship with gay people. It’s at http://shevarim.com/2011/04/14/telling-religious-to-get-over-it-is-the-wrong-message/

    • Alex Haiken says:

      Kathryn, thank you for your edifying words. So many things I never thought about too. I simply accepted what I had been taught by others. It was a shocker to ultimately discover that when the few passages of Scripture that generally get appealed to in this debate are examined more closely and in context, the traditional interpretations simply do not hold up to scrutiny. It rarely occurs to any of us that our reading of Scripture is profoundly colored by our own cultural context and worldview, as evidenced by many of the comments on this site.

      We will never arrive at biblical truth by asking of the text: “What DOES it mean?” The reason is that’s the wrong starting point. We’re really then asking, “What does it mean to us today, individually?” and that’s why we end up with scores of different answers that can be answered by anyone subjectively. Exegesis always asks: “What DID it mean?” There’s a vast difference in those questions as starting points. Our job is to somehow try to enter the world of the biblical writer and seek to understand what the writer was saying and what it meant at the time. If we fail to pay attention to the world in which the Bible was written, our understanding will almost always be misunderstanding.

  20. Keith says:

    Kathryn:

    “I think he deals in the reality that men traditionally have thought of women as lesser.”

    This sounds like excuse-making, to be honest. If the Christian conception of God is correct, then he is in no way constrained to “deal in the reality” of whatever bad ideas humans happen to have.

    THere’s an interesting paradox here: Christians claim that Jesus is unique because he was so revolutionary in his thought. Yet apparently he was not revolutionary enough to lay down some simple ground rules about human equality, but instead had to “deal in the reality” of cultural misogyny. I don’t buy it.

    • Keith- Since you posted more specifically in a comment on my blog, I answered more specifically there; but I wanted to say here that I understand your point of view. I really do. I was raised in a secular home by feminist parents. I was taught, and believed, that the Bible is anti-woman. Even after I came to faith in Jesus, I figured that was just something I was going to have to live with. I started going to church, and my church taught that God only works through men, and that a woman’s purpose was only to help men fulfill their dreams. I tried being a good little woman, squelching my own ideas and creativity. But as Alex found, it is to no good end. Denying our personal identity leads only to hypocrisy and misery.

      Finally, when I realized that my church leaders were not infallible, I started digging into the Bible with a fresh perspective. Throwing out what I’d been taught, and studying history, I found the Bible to be the most progressive, pro-woman teaching of all time. I found that God created our specific identities for a purpose, and that every single human being has something valuable to contribute.

      As for Jesus specifically, his example and insistence of including women and children alongside of men, learning and worshiping together, was as revolutionary as his teaching.

      Even though we disagree on some things, we agree on much. We can choose to treat one another with kindness and respect for the sake of our common humanity.

  21. Keith says:

    Kathryn: You’ll excuse my eyes boggling upon reading that the Bible is “the most progressive, pro-woman teaching of all time”. I would love to see how you come up with that idea, given the often atrocious treatment of women in the OT, and given all the pioneers for women’s rights that have written so eloquently over the last few decades.

    • Yes, I can imagine your eyes boggling at that statement. Mine would have too, a few years ago, when I just believed what people told me the Bible says and means. As I said, I answered more specifically on the comments you made on my blog. It’s true that women have been subjected to horrendous treatment over the years and the OT records that treatment.

  22. Lady Tam Li says:

    I really, really like this. 🙂 This is the kind of thing I’ve been looking for, just a deeper understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t say.

  23. Michael says:

    Reblogged this on Running Wolf and commented:
    This is a beautiful passage. Please take the time to read this.

  24. Megan says:

    Alex, this is my first visit to your blog, and I really appreciated this post. I think it is such a shame that so many people are so quick to believe what they are told, and then view the world and the Bible through that lens. You have provided an excellent example of the dangers of depending upon others for truth, rather than turning to the Bible itself. However, I find your replies to comments to be the most impressive. I deeply respect your ability to respond with love and truth, regardless of the hostilities you receive. I hope that seeing the character of Jesus in your responses may break down some of the walls that prevent people from testing the validity of what they cling to as truth.

    • trebord says:

      Megan: I hope that YOU do not simply believe what you are told either. There are many Biblical passages which indicate that what was going was NOT simply a matter of people being inhospitable. Indeed, asking for a house guest–an angel at that–to be sent out so that the locals can have sex with him IS inhospitable. But that’s not what Paul is talking about here:

      Romans 1:25-27

      New International Version (NIV)

      25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
      26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

      Don’t believe the lies spread by those who want to justify their own actions and feel better about themselves. If they want to feel better, let them bring their lives in line with God’s will. God loves them and is ready to heal and forgive.

      • Alex Haiken says:

        Trebord, while you enjoy quoting scripture, fact is unless you can apply the passages you quote responsibly and in context, it is truly you who are guilty of “spreading the lies” — the very thing you are accusing others of doing. Lord knows, far too many well meaning believers in their misunderstandings try to make the Bible say many things it never intended to say. Moroever, had you taken the time to read the post you’d know I hardly claimed this was all “simply a matter of people being inhospitable,” as you phrased it.

        What happens when you ignore the historical context of Scripture? As the old time radio teacher, Dr. J. Vernon Magee, used to say, “A text without a context is a pretext.” The dictionary defines a pretext as, “An effort or strategy intended to conceal something.” In other words, unless you consider the context of Scripture — the entire context including the historical setting — you are, purposely or not, engaging in a strategy to conceal the teachings of the Bible.

        As repeatedly stated here, responsible exegesis requires that we seek to draw out from the text what it originally meant to the author and to the original intended audience, without reading into it the many traditional interpretations that may have grown up around it.

        I would strongly suggest you reread the posts on “Genesis 19: What the Bible Really Says Were the Sins of Sodom” and “Romans 1: What Was Paul Ranting About?” (Links may be found on the “Archives” page) These are not my interpretations. They are that which is given in the Bible. You and I do not get to rip passages from their context and replace them in another age for the sake of convenience. And we don’t get to make things up as we go along. As always, we are stuck with the internal interpretation of the text as the primary meaning.

  25. trebord says:

    Please show me the “lie” that I am spreading and I will be happy to retract it.

    • Alex Haiken says:

      Trebord, surely you jest! I don’t believe for a heartbeat that you’d be happy to retract it and doubt you believe it either. It is a distinctly human trait to cling tenaciously to long-held conceptions of truth and once challenged will eventually relinquish these beliefs only by passing through three separate phases, known as the three stages of truth. During the first stage, the issue goes unnoticed and is ignored. We simply accept and go along without question. The second state is characterized by a period of vehement denial, argument, and challenge. The third stage witnesses the clear certainty about the issue being finally recognized as self-evident.

      We have all seen how one’s pre-existing traditions influence what they see in a text. That’s why responsible exegesis is the only antidote to this perennial problem.

      But in response to your appeal and using the Sodom and Gomorrah post as an illustration (“Genesis 19: What the Bible Really Says Were the Sins of Sodom”), read the post and you’ll discover that God, speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, spells out in striking page after page “in your face” condemnation explicitly what Sodom’s abhorrent sin entailed — and the charges are strikingly more horrific and lewd than “simply a matter of people being inhospitable.”

      Here we have the Bible commentating on the Bible. We can hardly get better commentary than that. Though it is respectful of God’s gift to us to go after the author’s intentions and meanings before arriving at our own, you prefer to tenaciously cling to the doctrines and teachings of your sect finding it ever so difficult and painful to let them go, despite any and all biblical evidence to the contrary.

      • trebord says:

        Sorry you feel that way, but I can and do admit when I am wrong on something. However, in this case, I don’t believe I am spreading lies with what I posted. I’m suggesting that what these men of Sodom had in mind was indeed not very hospitable, but the point of the post is about Paul’s comments—which exegesis cannot address–only the secular writings of someone who never references the Bible, Paul or his comments.

  26. Alex Haiken says:

    Trebord, it would appear you don’t understand or are unwilling to acknowledge how profoundly our pre-existing traditions influence what we see in a text or how tenaciously we tend to cling to our long-held conceptions of truth. (See my last comment above on the three stages of truth.)

    That aside and in all due respect, neither your opionion nor mine is what matters here. In the final analysis, either you can exegetically support your doctrinal position or you cannot. Steadily increasing numbers of evangelicals, Bible scholars, theologians and others, working in good faith and out in the open, are discovering that when these few passages are examined more closely and in context, your doctrinal position is exegetically unsupportable. However, if you think you’ve got some solid biblical exegesis to support your position, bring it. I’d be most interested in hearing your case. Otherwise, I’ll ask you to stop wasting everyone’s time.

  27. I have heard sermons regarding Sodom’s sin, and how it is not homosexuality, but haven’t heard anything quite as clear and culturally considerate as this. Thanks very much for the post. Have to go and re-study some other Bible passages in light of this!

  28. I’m glad that you are not one to explain theology in such a dry tone, but in a fresh way that allows readers to fully understand the ideas you are conveying. Thank you for that, first of all. I can admit that at times I’ve looked at the story of Sodom and thought that homosexuality was a major consideration for God to destroy it. Although, too, I always felt it was more than just that, and I do believe that is a big issue these days, that we make that the issue for the homosexual. I would worry that sometimes, the Christian isn’t exactly safe from condemnation, in the way we treat issues. I worry that there will be many Christians that will end up in the position of being told, “I never knew you.” I say that, because we are not as delicate with the individuals in our society who are a certain way. I’m not saying to condone sin, I’m not saying we should be delicate with the matter of sin in our culture, but we need to be delicate with the souls who depend on us to give them a portrayal of Jesus that they’ve never experienced before. I think pointing the finger, using stories like this one, to prove our side of it, to say that it is horrendous that people live that way, is not the way we are going to help bring people to a genuine relationship with God, a relationship that will ultimately make for restoration in their life.
    Thank you for making these points clear, and I hope that many hear your message and are reached by your ministry in order to bring about a real truth that isn’t tainted by our tendencies to change meaning to support our own views.

  29. Pingback: My 10 Favorite Blog Reads of 2012 | Kathryn Frazier's Shevarim

  30. L says:

    Just asking a question here. For the believers in the whole jesus thing. Was G-D wrong in Deuteronomy 4:16? Because having statues of this jesus thing to worship seems to me like they are calling G-D a liar? Hmmm. Kinda like the whole statue of mary thing too. Just asking… Since we have all these people with these college degrees maybe one can figure out what a carved image of a female and a male is?

    • Alex Haiken says:

      Hi “L” — The second commandment concerns how God is to be worshiped and the idols that it prohibits here are idols of him (the previous commandment already dismissed the thought of other gods). The commandment has nothing to do with art, though the graven images of the ancient world were indeed works of art. But the prohibition is more concerned with how they are employed. The pagans of the ancient world believed that through images of deity, the deity became present in a special way. As a result of this linkage, spells, incantations and other acts would be performed on the image in order to compel the deity. The images then, for the people of the ancient world, represented a worldview, a concept of deity that was not consistent with how God had revealed himself. I hope this helps.

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