As with most doctrines, the belief that the bible condemns homosexuality is multi-layered and allegedly supported by several scriptures. I’m not going to attempt to unravel every one of them, certainly not in one thread topic. However, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a good starting point for analyzing what the bible REALLY teaches regarding homosexuality. Focusing on that one aspect of the anti-gay interpretation of the bible, I offer the following:
(Excerpts from: Homosexianity by R. D. Weekly – For the sake of familiarity, scripture quotations appearing in the book were replaced with the New World Translation)
Now the two angels arrived at Sod′om by evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sod′om. When Lot caught sight of them, then he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the earth. And he proceeded to say: “Please, now, my lords, turn aside, please, into the house of YOUR servant and stay overnight and have YOUR feet washed. Then YOU must get up early and travel on YOUR way.” To this they said: “No, but in the public square is where we shall stay overnight.” But he was very insistent with them, so that they turned aside to him and came into his house. Then he made a feast for them, and he baked unfermented cakes, and they went to eating.
Before they could lie down, the men of the city, the men of Sod′om, surrounded the house, from boy to old man, all the people in one mob. And they kept calling out to Lot and saying to him: “Where are the men who came in to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have intercourse with them.”
Finally Lot went out to them to the entrance, but he shut the door behind him. Then he said: “Please, my brothers, do not act badly. Please, here I have two daughters who have never had intercourse with a man. Please, let me bring them out to YOU. Then do to them as is good in YOUR eyes. Only to these men do not do a thing, because that is why they have come under the shadow of my roof.” At this they said: “Stand back there!” And they added: “This lone man came here to reside as an alien and yet he would actually play the judge. Now we are going to do worse to you than to them.” And they came pressing heavily in on the man, on Lot, and were getting near to break in the door. So the men thrust out their hands and brought Lot in to them, into the house, and they shut the door. But they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, from the least to the greatest, so that they were wearing themselves out trying to find the entrance.
Then the men said to Lot: “Do you have anyone else here? Son-in-law and your sons and your daughters and all who are yours in the city, bring out of the place! For we are bringing this place to ruin, because the outcry against them has grown loud before Jehovah, so that Jehovah sent us to bring the city to ruin.” - Genesis 19:1-13
The traditional and most common interpretation is that the intention of the townsmen was to engage in homosexual sex with the visitors – not simply same-sex sex, but homosexual sex (ascribing a homosexual orientation to those in the mob). The fact that God decided to destroy Sodom, consider in conjunction with Lot’s reaction when the townsmen expressed their sexual intentions – “do not so wickedly,” he said – often leads people to the conclusion that homosexual intentions were the abhorrent crime of the narrative, and was the reason behind God’s judgment of the city.
However, simple logic presents a few problems with this interpretation. First, heterosexuals vastly outnumber homosexuals in every corner of the world, including San Francisco, California. That in mind, it’s simply inconceivable that the entire male population of this city-state was comprised of homosexual – or even bisexual – men. Yet, verse 4 expressly states that all of the men, both young and old, from every quarter of the city surrounded Lot’s house, demanding the visitors. Either we are to believe beyond all reason that this is one gay city (quite literally), or we must consider another interpretation.
This brings us to the second problem with the traditional interpretation. If as few as half of the men in the mob were straight (an extremely low estimate), what were they doing surrounding Lot’s house with the intention of having sex with these apparently male visitors? Are we to believe that they could find no other way to release their sexual energies than to go against their heterosexual inclinations and have sex with other men – forcibly, at that?
Let’s take this a step further. Why do these individuals want to rape the visitors in the first place? Does being gay make one a rapist? Certainly, there are a few unreasonable individuals who believe so; but in the interest of intellectual honesty, we must admit that being gay and being capable of committing rape are two completely different things.
Much more was going on in Sodom than simply homosexual lust, considering that if this was only a problem of sexual arousal, they could have easily satiated their desire with one another. Rape wouldn’t have entered the equation; yet that is clearly what these men had in mind.
The notion that Sodom’s sin was homosexual lust is quite a stretch. For a Christian committed to interpreting scripture properly, a more plausible explanation must be sought.
At the time this narrative takes place, the people of Sodom had recently gone through a war that didn’t turn out so nicely for them (Gen 14). They joined in a rebellion against an alliance of the king of Elam and lost, resulting in the capture of much of their citizenry and treasure. Humiliated, angry, and suspicious of outsiders, the Sodomites have something to prove – that they’re not as weak as recent events indicated.
Rather than succumbing to homosexual attractions, the Sodomite mob desired to humiliate and strike fear in the hearts of these strangers by violating them in the worst way – rape. Does that mean that the assailants were gay? I don’t believe so. Rape is rarely about sex, and almost always about power and humiliation, which was certainly the motivation in this account.
Based upon the culture of the day, Lot’s solemn obligation was to protect his visitors (Gen 19:8). So important was this obligation that he pleaded with the mob, saying, “Please! Do nothing to these men, for they are guests in my home! I have two virgin daughters inside. Let me give them to you instead, and you can do whatever you want to them.” That sounds absurd to us today, but in order to see that Lot wasn’t being a complete moron, we have to consider the culture in which he lived, and the vital importance of providing for and protecting visitors.
Of particular note is what Lot did not say. He didn’t say, “Please don’t have sex with these men. You’re men… They’re men… It’s an abomination, for God’s sake!” Instead, his reason for opposing their demands was that the men were guests in his home, and therefore, under his protection.
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the townsmen were not interested in sexual gratification. Since Lot’s virgin daughters wouldn’t serve their purposes, they turned down his offer. It could be argued that they turned down the offer because they were only interested in men, not women. But, if that were the case, they could have had sex with each other. As stated before, being a homosexual doesn’t make one a rapist. Yet, rape is what the mob had in mind.
Consider what led to God’s initial determination to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. In His dialog with Abraham (Gen. 18), God explained precisely why He decided to destroy these cities.
Consequently Jehovah said: “The cry of complaint about Sod′om and Go·mor′rah, yes, it is loud, and their sin, yes, it is very heavy. I am quite determined to go down that I may see whether they act altogether according to the outcry over it that has come to me, and, if not, I can get to know it.” Genesis 18:20,21
According to God, “the cry of complaint about Sodom and Gomorrah [was] loud, and…their sin [was] very heavy.” It’s only natural to jump to conclusions regarding their “loud” sin – conclusions based on the traditional interpretation of the destruction narrative. But elsewhere in Scripture, we’re told precisely what the sin of Sodom was, so there need not be any guesswork involved in deriving the proper interpretation of the text. We will visit the question of their “loud” sin later. For now, let’s consider the first portion of the verse – that the cry of complaint about Sodom and Gomorrah was great. This is saying that people were crying out against these cities, and their cries rose to the throne of God.
Here’s a question to ponder: Would someone cry out to God after engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity? No matter how good or bad the sex was, there wouldn’t be an outcry precisely because the sex was consensual. On the other hand, one would cry out if he/she was sexually assaulted or raped.
The fact that the cry against Sodom and Gomorrah was great indicates that what got God’s attention were not consensual same-sex sex acts. The Sodomites’ cruelty led to the outcry. With no regard for human dignity, they dishonored, abused, and misused people – particularly those who weren’t residents of the city-state.
Sodomites were cruel, prideful people who had recently been humiliated in battle. Angry and suspicious, the townsmen used the opportunity presented in Genesis 19 to force themselves upon outsiders, thereby instilling fear throughout the land and asserting their perceived dominance once again. This cruelty toward strangers is something Jesus Himself acknowledged.
But wherever YOU enter into a city and they do not receive YOU, go out into its broad ways and say, ‘Even the dust that got stuck to our feet from YOUR city we wipe off against YOU. Nevertheless, keep this in mind, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell YOU that it will be more endurable for Sod′om in that day than for that city. - Luke 10:10-12
In his reference to Sodom, Jesus compared cities within his own society to the ancient city specifically because of a lack of hospitality – if they should refuse to receive the disciples. Consider also the parallel passage, Mark 6:11. Apparently, Jesus didn’t think that the Sodomites’ grave sin was same-sex sexual activity, but inhospitality. It’s a shame that when we think of Sodom today, we have something totally different in mind than our own Lord.
A similar occurrence is recorded in Judges 19.
So they passed along and kept on their way, and the sun began to set upon them when near to Gib′e·ah, which belongs to Benjamin.
Consequently they turned aside there to go in to stay overnight in Gib′e·ah. And they proceeded to go in and sit down in the public square of the city, and there was nobody taking them on into the house to stay overnight. Eventually, look! an old man coming in from his work in the field at evening, and the man was from the mountainous region of E′phra·im, and he was residing for a time in Gib′e·ah; but the men of the place were Ben′ja·mites. When he raised his eyes he got to see the man, the traveler, in the public square of the city. So the old man said: “Where are you going, and where do you come from?” In turn he said to him: “We are passing along from Beth′le·hem in Judah to the remotest parts of the mountainous region of E′phra·im. That is where I am from, but I went to Beth′le·hem in Judah; and it is to my own house that I am going, and there is nobody taking me on into the house. And there are both straw and fodder for our he-asses, and there are both bread and wine for me and your slave girl and for the attendant with your servant. There is no lack of a single thing.” However, the old man said: “May you have peace! Just let any lack of yours be upon me. Only do not stay overnight in the public square.” With that he brought him into his house and threw mash to the he-asses. Then they washed their feet and began to eat and drink.
While they were making their hearts feel good, look! the men of the city, mere good-for-nothing men, surrounded the house, shoving one another against the door; and they kept saying to the old man, the owner of the house: “Bring out the man that came into your house, that we may have intercourse with him.” At that the owner of the house went on out to them and said to them: “No, my brothers, do not do anything wrong, please, since this man has come into my house. Do not commit this disgraceful folly. Here are my virgin daughter and his concubine. Let me bring them out, please, and YOU rape them and do to them what is good in YOUR eyes. But to this man YOU must not do this disgraceful, foolish thing.”
And the men did not want to listen to him. Hence the man took hold of his concubine and brought her forth to them outside; and they began to have intercourse with her, and kept on abusing her all night long until the morning, after which they sent her off at the ascending of the dawn. Then the woman came as it was turning to morning, and fell down at the entrance of the man’s house where her master was,—until daylight. Later her master rose up in the morning and opened the doors of the house and went out to get on his way, and, look! the woman, his concubine, fallen at the entrance of the house with her hands upon the threshold! So he said to her: “Rise up, and let us go.” But there was no one answering. At that the man took her upon the ass and rose up and went to his place.
Then he entered his house and took the slaughtering knife and laid hold of his concubine and cut her up according to her bones into twelve pieces and sent her into every territory of Israel. And it occurred that everybody seeing it said: “Such a thing as this has never been brought about or been seen from the day that the sons of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt down to this day. Set YOUR hearts upon it, take counsel and speak.” - Judges 19:14-30
In this passage, an event eerily similar to the destruction narrative in Genesis19 took place. But there are some important differences. In this story, the travelers were not angels, but a man, his servant, and his concubine. When they stopped in Gibeah to rest for the night, an old man offered them lodging in his home. As they enjoyed the man’s hospitality, the townsmen gathered a mob outside the man’s home. They pounded on the door, demanding that the old man release the traveler to them. The old man offered his virgin daughter and the visitor’s concubine in the man’s stead; but the men ignored him. Apparently trying to save his own skin, the visitor sent his concubine out to the mob, which abused (raped) her all night long.
The point of interest to our current discussion is found in the fact that the townsmen of Gibeah, just as the Sodomites, desired to rape the stranger. Now, if this was a mob of gay men, as we are often led to believe with the similar occurrence in Sodom, we’d have to answer an important question: Why did it suffice this mob to rape the man’s concubine, rather than the man himself?
There’s more to this story than a group of sex crazed homosexuals. In fact, the mob wasn’t full of gay men at all. They weren’t interested in sex with a man, only in raping strangers in their midst. It didn’t matter to them whether the individual was a man or woman, as evidenced by their rape of the concubine. Although they didn’t rape the master, they were still able to get their point across – “We’re the big bad wolves. Fear us!”
This raises quite an interesting question: Why didn’t the Sodomites accept Lot’s offer of his daughters like the Gibeanites accepted the traveler’s concubine? Actually, there’s a very good answer to this question. Neither mob was after sexual gratification. They were seeking only to humiliate outsiders through rape. Since Lot’s daughters were residents of the city, they wouldn’t serve the mob’s purposes. But the concubine was a stranger, which explains why the Gibeanite mob rejected the old man’s virgin daughter (a resident), but had no problem allowing the concubine to serve as the messenger of cruelty.
The outrageous occurrence in Sodom was not an isolated event. But after reflecting on both narratives, it’s fairly obvious that homosexuality was not the culprit. One must choose to believe such a thing beyond all evidence to the contrary. Pride, hate, suspicion, and likely fear drove the townsmen of both Sodom and Gibeah to these horrible extremes to assert their dominance. The victim’s sex didn’t matter, only that he or she was “qualified” to bear their hateful message – an outsider.
These two mobs were guilty of inhospitality – an accurate term, albeit an understatement – and of attempting (in Sodom) and committing (in Gibeah) the horrific sin of rape. Homosexuality had absolutely nothing to do with either narrative. If all they wanted was some man-love, they could have easily gotten it from one another; but we don’t find them doing that.
We now know why.