Sodom and GomorrahWelcome back! This is the fourth post in our series, The Gay Christian Question. If you missed the previous posts please go back and read them to get up to speed on how we are approaching this series…

The Gay Christian Question – A New Series

The Gay Christian Question – 3 Questions for You

The Gay Christian Question – Hermeneutics 101

This week we finally get to the Bible and start digging in to the passages that appear to condemn being gay. Thank you for your patience!

A Short Soapbox Sermon

Beyond coming to a reasonable opinion on the question of whether one can be Christian and gay, the one thing I hope that you get out of this series is the importance of studying questions like this for yourself.

Why?

Because the people that you depend on to tell you the answer to the Gay Christian Question might be wrong!

If they are wrong…and your beliefs have been wrong…and your words and actions have been wrong…the people you have hurt have been wronged.

Do you get my point? Our beliefs shape our words and actions. No matter how sincere we were our misguided words and actions may have hurt others.

And we were wrong!

I plead with you to study these types of questions for yourself. Read books that defend both sides so that you can assess the entire landscape and determine whose arguments are the most reasonable.

How We Will Proceed

With the previous point in mind we will proceed as follows:

Again, my goal is for you to study the issue for yourself. I do not want to be another person telling you what to believe.

About Matthew Vines

Matthew Vines is an advocate for the acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people within Christian communities and in society at large. He lives in Wichita, Kansas. Matthew attended Harvard University from 2008 to 2010. He then took a leave of absence in order to research the Bible and homosexuality and work toward LGBT inclusion in the church.

In March 2012, Matthew delivered a speech at a church in his hometown about the Bible and homosexuality, calling for acceptance of gay Christians and their marriage relationships. Since then, the video of the speech has been seen more than 500,000 times on YouTube, and it was featured in The New York Times and The Christian Post.

In 2013, Matthew launched The Reformation Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to training LGBT Christians and their allies to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. Matthew’s book, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, is in stores now. (credit: matthewvines.com)

Sodom and Gomorrah – Part One

Matthew Vines begins his look at the relevant Bible passages with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from Genesis 18-19:29. Please read through that section of Scripture and then we will proceed.

Vines’ discussion on Sodom and Gomorrah begins in Chapter 4 where he notes two important things:

  1. “Biblical scholars on both sides of the issue dismissed the idea that homosexuality was the sin of Sodom. Yet that belief still pervades our broader cultural consciousness, fueling negative attitudes toward gay people among Christians and negative attitudes toward the Bible among gay people.” p.60
  2. “The account is disturbing, no matter how you read it. A vicious mob surrounded a house, demanding that its guests be delivered for their sexual use. In hopes that he could spare his guests, the man living in the house offered his virgin daughters to the mob instead. As painful and morally troubling as the story is to contemplate, it raises important questions that we need to answer. What exactly was the sin of Sodom? Does Scripture teach that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of God’s wrath against same-sex relations? And if not, how have so many people come to believe that for so long?” p.60

Keep these two things in mind as we look further in to Vines’ argument.

Sodom and Gomorrah’s Evil Reputation

Vines notes that the first mention of Sodom and its evil reputation was in Genesis 13 where Lot and Abram (soon to be Abraham) parted ways and Lot pitched his tents near Sodom. Genesis 13:13 says, “Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.” But Vines notes that the nature of their sin was not specified.

Five chapters later we pick up the story in Chapter 18 where God and two angels appear to Abraham in human form. Abraham offers them water and a meal to refresh themselves. In Vines’ words:

Abraham showed lavish hospitality to his guests, and he then received word of a long-awaited gift: God promised him and Sarah a son. God then told Abraham of his plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah . “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). p.61

Genesis 18 ends with Abraham pleading with God to not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. The LORD agrees to not destroy the cities if He can find even ten righteous people there.

Sodom and Gomorrah’s Evil Act

At the start of Genesis 19, the same two angels arrived in Sodom, still in the form of men. Lot showed them hospitality, just as Abraham had. He bowed to them, addressed them as “lords,” and called himself their servant. Lot then invited them to his home so they could wash their feet and rest for the night. They declined his offer at first, but Lot insisted, so they joined him at his home, where he prepared a meal. p.61

After they had finished eating the meal but “before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.'” – Genesis 19:4b-5

Lot went outside and pleaded with the men of the city to not do this wicked act and offered his virgin daughters to try and satisfy the mob and said, “don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof” (Genesis 19:8). But the mob refused the offer and began to try and break down the door. The angels pulled Lot back in to the house and struck the men with blindness.

The angels then told Lot to flee the city, because “the outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it” (verse 13). Lot and his family left, and God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone— a cataclysmic event that has come to stand for divine judgment against same-sex relations. p.62

Sodom and Gomorrah’s Sin

Vines proceeds to look at what the Old and New Testaments say about Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin. Let’s look at what he found…

Evidence from the Old Testament

Vines notes that Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned 13 times in the Old Testament following Genesis 19.

  • Isaiah, for example, castigated Judah as a “sinful nation,” comparing it to the “rulers of Sodom” and the “people of Gomorrah” (Isaiah 1: 4, 10). But the sins that Isaiah highlighted were not of a sexual nature . They were sins of oppressing marginalized groups, murder, and theft. Isaiah later prophesied that “the pride and glory of the Babylonians … will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah” (13: 19). p.63
  • Jeremiah declared that the adultery, idolatry , and power abuses of false prophets rendered them “all like Sodom” (Jeremiah 23: 14). After Jerusalem’s fall to Babylonia, the writer of Lamentations said that “the punishment of my people is greater than that of Sodom” (Lamentations 4: 6). Amos and Zephaniah, too, invoke Sodom to describe God’s judgment on those who “oppress the poor” or exhibit prideful and mocking behavior (Amos 4: 1– 11; Zephaniah 2: 8– 11). p.63
  • Of the thirteen references to Sodom in the Old Testament following Genesis 19, Ezekiel 16: 49– 50 offers the most detailed description of the city’s sins. In that passage, God stated, “Now 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.” p.64

Vines sums up the Old Testament references to Sodom and Gomorrah as follows:

Sexuality goes unmentioned, both in the Ezekiel passage and in every other Old Testament reference to Sodom following Genesis 19. If Sodom’s sin had indeed been same-sex behavior , it’s highly unlikely that every written discussion of the city for centuries following its destruction would fail to mention that. p.64

Evidence from Other Ancient Jewish Literature

Vines also looked at other ancient Jewish literature to see if they associated Sodom’s sin with same-sex behavior.

  1. Sirach 16:8 – “He did not spare the neighbors of Lot, abominable in their pride.”
  2. 3 Maccabees 2:5 – “The people of Sodom acted arrogantly and were notorious for their wicked deeds. You destroyed them with fire and sulfur, making them an example to others for all time.”
  3. Wisdom 19:15 – “And not only so—but, while punishment of some sort will come upon the former for having received strangers with hostility”

Vines says, “The fact that no Jewish writings on Sodom prior to the first century connected the city’s sins to same-sex behavior may surprise modern readers. But the original understanding of the story, focusing on oppression and inhospitality, has a much stronger basis in the text.” p.64-65

Evidence from the New Testament

In the New Testament Sodom is mentioned eight times. Vines lays out the verses as follows:

  1. Matthew 10 and Luke 10 – “Jesus sent out his disciples, and he mentioned Sodom in the context of inhospitable actions. “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words,” Jesus said, “leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town” (Matthew 10: 14– 15). In Luke 10: 10– 12, Jesus again warned of a fate worse than Sodom’s for any town that did not welcome his disciples.” p.68
  2. Matthew 11 and Luke 17 – “In Matthew 11: 23– 24, Jesus invoked Sodom as a symbol of unrepentance. In Luke 17: 28– 29, he said that the people of Sodom “were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building” before their destruction. He was not condemning those activities, but underscoring the unexpected nature of “the day the Son of Man is revealed” (verse 30). Other New Testament references to Sodom are found in Romans 9: 29 and Revelation 11: 8.” p.197
  3. 2 Peter 2 – “Second Peter 2: 7 says Lot was “greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked” (ESV) in Sodom and Gomorrah, but doesn’t specify same-sex behavior.” p.68
  4. Jude 1 – “The other verse, Jude 7, is more frequently cited by non-affirming Christians as a potential reference to same-sex behavior. There, we read that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah “indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh” (NASB). The phrase “strange flesh” is variously translated as “perversion,” “unnatural desire ,” and “other flesh,” which some argue is a reference to same-sex relations. p.69

Vines clarifies that the Greek phrase used in Jude 1:7, sarkos heteras, contains the prefix for words like heterosexuality. Vines believes that “strange flesh” alludes more to the men trying to have sex with angels because of what is said in Jude 1:6-7, “And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”

When did the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah become homosexuality?

The first biblical interpreter to explicitly link Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin was a Jewish philosopher name Philo. Philo lived in Alexandria, Egypt in the first century AD. Vines’ point about Philo:

He first argued that the root of Sodom’s fall was “goods in excess”— gluttony, lewdness, and “every other possible pleasure.” He continued:

Incapable of bearing such satiety, plunging like cattle, they threw off from their necks the law of nature and applied themselves to deep drinking of strong liquor and dainty feeding and forbidden forms of intercourse. Not only in their mad lust for women did they violate the marriages of their neighbours, but also men mounted males without respect for the sex nature which the active partner shares with the passive; and so when they tried to beget children they were discovered to be incapable of any but a sterile seed.

Philo was not describing same-sex behavior as the expression of a sexual orientation. For him, it was merely a sign that some people overindulged their normal sexual desires. p.70

Vines goes on to state that Philo clearly had a negative view of same-sex relations. But, the same-sex relations in Philo’s interpretation were based on excess, men who sought pleasure of men because they were not satisfied with just sex with women, which is completely different than what we know to today as committed gay relationships.

Even though Philo introduced the idea of same-sex relations as one of the sins of Sodom in the first century, Christian interpreters did not begin linking same-sex relations until the fourth century. Second and third century Christian writers such as Origen, Tertullian, and Jerome all assigned pride and inhospitality as the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.

One of the earliest Christian writers to assign same-sex acts as one of the sins was John Cassian. Cassian said the sin of Sodom was gluttony, which caused people to become “inflamed with uncontrollable lust of the flesh.” Basil, a Greek bishop, warned of the same danger. By the late fourth century, John Chrysostom and Paulus Orosius both attributed sames-sex acts as one of the primary sins of Sodom. And in the fifth century, Augustine wrote that “males burning toward males with hideous lust” was the main sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. By the Middle Ages same-sex acts had replaced hospitality as the main sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Why the shift in interpretation?

Vines argues that early Christians lived in environments where sex was generally deemed bad except for procreation. The earlier mentioned Jerome stated that sex between married couples was only allowed when they were trying to procreate. Vines believes that this restrictive view of sex led many early Christians to “interpret Scripture in ways that explicitly condemned taboo practices.” p.74

But, Vines argues, “the Bible never identifies same-sex behavior as the sin of Sodom, or even as a sin of Sodom . Even when Christians later came to read it that way, giving rise to the term sodomy in the eleventh century, their concept of same-sex behavior still differed greatly from the modern concepts of sexual orientation and gay Christians.” p.76

Next Post

In the next post we will look at the arguments presented in God and the Gay Christian? A Response in order to review a different view of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

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