Was Sodom into Sodomy?

What the Bible says about sodomy, homosexuality and sin

The discussion of homosexuality in the Bible usually focuses on texts prohibiting certain types of behavior. I would suggest one should rather look at the framework--the storied world in which such prohibitions are offered. That larger framework is the Biblical story of creation, fall, and redemption.

Let us then begin with the affirmations, not prohibitions. Genesis 1-2 says the male was incomplete without the female: "It was not good for man to be alone." The woman was created to be a suitable companion for the man. Indeed, as the rabbis were to say later, the woman is seen as the crown of creation--that which not merely completes creation, but prompts the benediction that now finally all was

tov m'od

--very good.

Following this there is what has been called the creation order mandate-"Fill the earth and subdue it." This mandate could only be fulfilled by a complementary pair of creatures, male and female. Both were required for the propagation of the species, as well as for the assembling of enough humans to eventually subdue the earth.

Christian theology demands that we distinguish God's original design for creation from the effects of the fall: we can't assume that "whatever is, is right." Not all forms of sexual sharing, even between consenting adults, can be affirmed as either good or "normal", however "natural" certain desires may seem. When nature is out of joint, it can not serve as a clear barometer of what is good.


It has become fashionable to suggest that the famous story of Sodom, found in Genesis 19:4-8, and its close parallel in Judges 19:22-24, have no direct relevance to homosexuality. The sin of Sodom, it is said, was being inhospitable to strangers, even to the extreme of seeking to rape them.

This reading is possible, though the earliest interpreters of these texts, from the author of Jude to Josephus, did not seem to think so, and it is not certain that these texts can justify it. The verb yada "to know" is used to mean sexual sharing in the Sodom story, when Lot offers his daughters for them "to know" (i.e. have sexual intercourse with). It's probable that it means the same thing earlier, when the citizens of Sodom ask Lot to bring out his guests so they may "know" them. Lot accuses them of acting wickedly--an odd charge if all they meant is that they wanted to interrogate them to discover if they were spies.

The biblical echoes of the Sodom story, furthermore, all clearly refer to sexual sin. Jeremiah 49:18 criticizes Jerusalem for its sexual sin, and says it is like Sodom. Ezekiel 16:49 is sometimes cited to prove that the sin of Sodom was only inhospitality. But the next verse says the residents of Sodom were destroyed because they did "abominable things before me." Abominable, is the very term Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 uses to criticize homosexual intercourse.

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Ben Witherington
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