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SODOM AND GOMORRAH 

The traditional explanation for the supernatural destruction of the ancient cities of the plain, Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, has been God’s displeasure and wrath against the sin of homosexuality.  The tradition points to the “men of the city” who surrounded the house where two visitors had come to stay with Lot, Abraham’s nephew.  These visitors were supposed by the people to be men, but were actually angels sent by God to guide Lot and his family safely out of the city.  By this traditional view, the men surrounding the house had come to have “sexual relations” with the visitors.  For this, God poured out fire and brimstone to destroy the two cities where this repulsive and contemptible sin existed.  Even now, the understood sin of Sodom, handed down to us through this traditional teaching, has taken the name “sodomy”. 

Until recent archeological discoveries were made, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was viewed by the scientific community with some skepticism.  The area of their location was evidently fertile and the people who lived there, enjoyed a prosperity not shared by the surrounding areas which was evidently primarily desert wasteland.  Under these circumstances, it is easy to understand how the people of the cities of the plain could become greedy isolationists, always suspicious of strangers.  The world community of the time was small and was unified until the division of languages occurred at the tower of Babel.  Travel between cities was very treacherous and most of the time, hotels were not available.  Hospitality extended to sojourners was an established institution in the community of man.  But the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, with all their abundance and wealth, were evidently suspicious and inhospitable toward strangers.  There is strong biblical evidence that this is the true reason that God destroyed them. 

Biblical Evidence 

If homosexuality is the clear reason for God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah, why doesn’t the writer of Genesis state it clearly as such?  The prophet Ezekiel, on the other hand, clearly states the reason in the sixteenth chapter of his prophetic word, verses 49-50: 

“Now this is 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.” 

This passage says nothing about sexual acts of any kind as the reason for the destruction, but does specifically outline arrogance and a lack of concern for the needs of others as the reason.  The passage teaches that inhospitable acts were the key reasons for God’s judgment.  Why is this explanation by Ezekiel disregarded? 

Many would say that the “detestable” things mentioned in the passage referred to sexual sins including homosexuality which is an abomination to God.  Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven things that are particularly detestable to God: 

“There are six things that the Lord

hates, seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands

that shed innocent blood, a heart that

devises wicked schemes, feet that are

quick to rush into evil, a false witness

who pours out lies and a man who

stirs up dissension among brothers.” 

No where here do we see condemnation of sexual sin of any kind, much less homosexuality.  This is not to say that homosexual acts were not occurring in Sodom or that they were acceptable to God.  The incident outside Lot’s house (Genesis 19:1-10) clearly shows that the intentions of those gathered around the house were to have sexual relations with the “angels” supposed to be men.  A loving act, however, was not intended, but in this case rape.  This kind of treatment was not uncommon in ancient civilizations.  It was a demonstrative way of showing power over enemies.  But by itself, this cannot be the reason for the destruction of Sodom, since the Lord had already determined to destroy the city prior to the angels’ visitation (Genesis 18). 

In Jude 7, the writer says that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah had gone after “strange flesh”.  Some believe that this is referring to homosexuality.  The translation “strange flesh” is from the Greek words heteros sarx (#2087 and #4561) meaning “different flesh”.  Had the writer wanted to refer to homosexual acts, it would have made more sense to use terms homos sarx (#3676 and #4571) meaning “same flesh”.  The Old Testament Pseudopigrapha suggests an alternative rendering of this verse might be that Jude was stating that “just like the wicked angels, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah left their first grace and gave themselves to idolatrous prostitution and the violent treatment of other people, so they have become and example by suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” 

Jesus commented on the sin of Sodom indirectly (Matthew 10:14-15) when he gave his disciples instructions concerning their proper response to inhospitable acts toward them.  He stated that “if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust of 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.”  Through this statement, the inference by contrast is clear: Jesus says that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of inhospitable acts. 

The traditional interpretation of this story largely stems from the unfortunate translation of the word enoshe (#582) in Genesis 19:4.  Most versions say “men”. 

“Before they had gone to bed, all the men

from every part of the city of Sodom -

both young and old - surrounded the house” 

The Hebrew word enoshe is not gender specific but indicates mortals or people.  The word esh (#376) would have been used to mean “man” or eshal (#802) to mean “woman” if gender specific terminology was meant.  This mistranslation gives the impression that just the men of the city had surrounded Lot’s house and the further impression that they were all homosexuals out to have sex with the angels.  The word enoshe is used in Genesis 17:23 with the word zechar (#2145) meaning “male” demonstrates this point.  The King James Version states it this way: 

“Abraham took Ishmael and…every male

among the men of Abraham’s house…” 

The question arises, what other kind of men are there but males?  Abraham was selecting the males from among all the “people” on his household for circumcision.  The more modern translations corrected Genesis 17:23 to indicate people (or in this case household), but for some reason did not make the same correction in Genesis 19:6. 

The intentions of the people surrounding Lot’s house were to rape the visitors.  Most people regard rape as an act of violence rather than a sexual act.  As it would be illogical to condemn all heterosexual sexual acts simply because some people acted abusively, it is also illogical to bring condemnation to all homosexual acts when only some acted irresponsibly. 

Women in the culture of the Old Testament were treated as property; to be used as their owners saw fit.  Men, on the other hand, were to be given respect.  Sexual violence against a man by another man was an all too common demonstration of dominance over another.  Its purpose was to take away the dignity of the subdued; to humiliate the man through forced anal intercourse.  This was carried out by men who were not necessarily homosexuals themselves.  Compare with Judges 19. 

Prostitutes were a common part of the religious fertility rituals in ancient times and no doubt were prevalent in Sodom and Gomorrah.  A word used by many today to condemn homosexuals is the word Sodomite.  Many use this term as a reference to those who lived in Sodom and supposing them to be homosexuals, have used this word synonymously with homosexual as a negative slam.  The word, however, does not appear in the story of the destruction of Sodom.  It is used six times in the Bible and never in connection with the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  It is the word kawdashe (#6945).  It refers to male temple cult prostitutes as in Deuteronomy 23:17.  Their counter parts, kedayshaw (#6948), the female temple cult prostitutes are also mentioned.  These are not homosexuals.  They are prostitutes who were active in the worship of the pagan fertility gods and goddesses of ancient Palestine, according to Dake’s Annotated Reference Bible.  The word “sodomite” originated in the King James Version, but only in reference to these temple cult prostitutes.  Later versions must have picked up the homosexual connotation from the traditional understanding and interpretation of what the sin of Sodom was, and have since been used to condemn homosexuality.  But this conclusion is completely untrue and nonsensical. 

These misinterpretations and the refusal by some biblical scholars to denounce such obvious mistranslations appear to be an attempt to keep homosexuality in general under condemnation.  When faced with the evidence, many have turned a deaf ear and not given serious consideration to the possibility that the traditional interpretation may in fact be in error.  This tradition is so strong that those having a different interpretation are often ostracized for their non-conformity.  Standing for the truth on this issue could mean professional suicide for clerics looking for recognition and acceptance; and those in the spotlight already, are fearful of losing face and will not speak out either. 

Is there no one who will stand up for the truth no matter what it appears to be?  One thing is for sure, the truth will be the truth no matter how anyone might try to cover it up. 

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