A Theology of Sex: Genesis and Homosexuality (Part 2)

For such a small population my city has some major problems. Drugs, prostitution, crime, and murder. We have those problems in our little Southern Ohio city. In fact despite all the good things going on in our town we are known for those things. The ancient city of Sodom and Gomorrah was known for similar things. The city had a reputation for immorality. For the purposes of the current study, the question we must ask is if homosexuality was one of the many sins present in the city. While the primary sin discussed in Genesis 19 is the sin of inhospitality, same-sex intercourse is part of that picture.

admittedly this is not an ideal text for the discussion of the Biblical position on homosexuality. After all, same-sex intercourse analyzed here is really homosexual rape.The story unfolds as God sends two angels in human form to visit the city of Sodom. When they arrive Lot, Abraham’s nephew, shows them hospitality by taking them into his home, but he is the only one to show them such kindness. For when the other men in the city hear that there are male visitors they come to Lot’s home and insist that he surrender these guest to them. In Gen. 19, we read:

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house.  5 And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”  6 Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him,  7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly.  8 Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”  9 But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down.  10 But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door.  11 And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door. (Genesis 19:4-11)

What exactly did the men of the city want to do to these guests? The word that carries the weight in this passage is the word “yada” (to know). It is often said that this word only means something sexual in fifteen other instances throughout the Bible, despite being used 943 times in the Hebrew Bible. But the context of this passage makes clear that such an understanding should be applied here in this passage. After all, what does Lot mean by offering the men his daughters if there is no sexual intent? Furthermore, the story parallels the account of the Levite’s concubine in Judges 19:22, 25 which is clearly a story of sexual assault. But is this passage a condemnation of homosexuality itself?

It’s clear that the passage is addressing more than homosexuality. Early interpretation of the passage does focus on the sin of inhospitality. So Isaiah 1:7-17 associates the sin of Sodom with oppression of the orphan and the widow. Ezekiel says that the sin of Sodom was her arrogance and injustice. Ezekiel writes:

Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.  50 They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. (Ezekiel 16:49-50)

It’s common for pro-Gay advocates to argue that on the basis of Ezekiel 16 that the sin of Sodom is social injustice, not homosexuality. But note that in Ezekiel there is a reference to “abominations.” The Hebrew word “toeba” is used to refer to homosexuality in the Levitical code, and elsewhere, and seems a possible usage here. It should at least be considered part of the equation. The problem too many scholars make is that they create a false dichotomy. Either the sin of Sodom is injustice and inhospitality or it is homosexuality. But the text doesn’t allow us that distinction, they are both discussed and both part of the sin.

A passage in the epistle of Jude helps us see this text more clearly. Jude deals expressly with the sexual sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jude verses 6-7 reads:

6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day –  7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire,1 serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1:6-7)

The angels who did not stay in their proper positions of authority is generally believed to be an allusion to Genesis 6, where we learn that the “sons of God” impregnated the “daughters of men.” So Jude makes references to a passage in Genesis of “unnatural” sexual sin, and moves on then to consider another example of unnatural sexual sin in the book of Genesis: the sexual immorality of Sodom and Gomorrah. In Jude’s mind, then, the sin is expressly one of sexual immorality. But we should not view this as an either/or dichotomy, but rather a both/and. A distinction between homosexual rape and inhospitality imposes an unnatural disjunction onto the text. They wording of the Scriptures requires us to include both. As Robert Gagnon writes:

It may well be that inhospitality and social injustice constitute the overarching rubric for the story…Yet what makes this instance of inhospitality so dastardly, what makes the name “Sodom” a byword for inhumanity to visiting outsiders in later Jewish and Christian circles, is the specific form in which the inhospitality manifests itself: homosexual rape. (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 76)

The inhospitality in view, in particular, is the same-sex rape of these visitors, both interpretations of the text are required to do it justice.

The only thing we have left to consider is whether or not this passage requires us to draw the conclusion that all same-sex intercourse is condemned by God. Such a conclusion cannot be drawn from this passage alone. After all, the relation in view is clearly rape. But it should be pointed out that it seems the same-sex nature of the rape is particularly atrocious in the passage. Certainly rape is always wrong and immoral, and God hates such things. But in the Jude passage quoted above the “unnaturalness” of the homosexual rape seems to be the focus. That is to say, in Jude’s judgment what made the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah warranted was that they “pursued unnatural desire”.

Again, I want to stress that a theology that tries to build a case solely on the text of Genesis 19 is going to be very deficient. But we are establishing a pattern in Scripture of viewing heterosexual intercourse as natural, and such intercourse inside the confines of marriage as God-ordained, and homosexual intercourse as “unnatural.” This is important and will serve our studies of other passages well. One final point should be made as I conclude: we all have desires that go against God’s design for us, even sexual desires. So there should be no self-righteousness among heterosexuals. God is against all sin, and heterosexuals are not exempt from that. Our sins may not be the same as our gay and lesbian friends, but we all need Jesus. We would do well to remember that as we interact on this subject.

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