If you are new to this series you might want to jump back in and read Part 1, where I talk about some of my personal interactions, or Part 2, where I discuss Romans 1 (and 2). Thank you to everyone who posted comments. They have definitely enriched the posts.
One of my paragraphs in Part 2 caused a little bit of confusion though. I wrote: “I do believe that the Bible condemns homosexual activity and I will talk about this more in a future post…” Let me clarify by way of another example. I believe the Bible teaches that the Earth was created before the Sun and that Sun revolves around the Earth. That does not that I believe the Earth was created before the Sun and that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Do you see the difference? Please give me a little latitude to unpack this in Part 4 or 5 before assuming what I may or may not hold to personally. Again, I ask you to limit your discussion to the specific topic at hand.
With that let us jump to our next biblical text.
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
“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 19:4-5
Pretty easy to put two and two together, isn’t it? The “grievous sin” of Genesis 18 is paralleled with the homosexuality seen in Genesis 19. That is the way we learned it in Sunday School, didn’t we? Except this conclusion is completely wrong.
Remember in my previous post how I encouraged you to focus on what the text actually says, and to put aside any preconceptions and assumptions you might have about it? Well, if you do that here, a different picture quickly emerges.
Let me first look at the big picture.
It was rather fortuitous that yesterday’s post by Mike the Geologist was about the Flood story of Genesis 6.
…a possibly unintended consequence of treating this story as a historical memory is that it takes the focus off what the story really means and places it on an ultimately futile quest for what “really” happened. I’m not against historical study by any means but until we invent a time machine I am more interested in what the author(s) is trying to get across. Why is he telling me this story?
Why are we being told the story of Noah, and why are we told the story of Sodom and Gomorrah?
When we compare the two stories there are some very striking parallels. I have listed a few that immediately come to mind:
- Sex, or attempted sex, between humans and heavenly beings. In Genesis 6 there is this strange tale of the Sons of God marrying the daughters of men. In Genesis 19 there is this strange tale of humans wanting to have sex with messengers from God.
- In Genesis 6, God saw how corrupt the earth had become. In Genesis 18, God says: “I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.
- God destroys the wickedness (by flood, and then by fire and brimstone)
- One family is preserved.
- God (or his agents) actively intervenes to protect them by shutting them in. (7:16; 19:10-11)
- A lasting memorial is created. (altar vs. pillar of salt)
- Sin quickly reintroduced by offspring being intimate with their father. (We again have the weird story of Canaan seeing his father naked and being cursed for it and the equally weird story of Lot’s daughters having sex with him so that their family lines would be continued.)
- The offspring of the sinful offspring become Israel’s traditional enemies. (The Canaanites, Moabites, and Ammonites).
Chaplain Mike made some interesting points when he talked about how the purpose of Genesis is to tell the story of Israel’s origins. His post was about Adam, but the same holds true for the stories of Noah and Lot. It is interesting how all of these stories help to answer the question (from an Israelite perspective) of “How and why did we get here?”, and also “How and why did everyone else get where they are?” There is a recurring pattern in both of wickedness, judgement, preservation, return to wickedness, and the newly wicked becoming the ancestors of their neighbors who they see as being outside of God’s promised blessing. The tying of fresh sin to the foundation of the other nations is their way of explaining why they (the Israelites) are part of God’s big plan, and the other nations are not. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this in the comments.
As mentioned in my previous post, when we zoom into the detail too quickly we lose that big picture and the primary point of the passage which is to help answer the big questions of how and why.
That being said, here are eight reasons why the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not about Homosexuality.
1. As mentioned above, this is an origins story, as such, it is a narrative of how Israel came to be.
2. Genesis 18 does not specify the wickedness. It is only spoken of in general terms. However we might interpret the specific incident in Genesis 19, it is only one specific example, and should not be interpreted as the whole of the wickedness. (More on this later.)
3. This is, overall, a really weird story. God visiting humans. Other humans wanting sex with God’s messengers. A Father willing to sacrifice his daughters to a mob to save strangers (I mean who does that? And Lot is considered to be righteous???). Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt. His daughters both sleeping with their father. Any attempt to principalise this story and try and apply it to our modern context is just going to lead to all kinds of problems.
4. The text states: “All the men”. Statistics tell us that only a small percentage (the actual number is up for debate) of the male population is homosexual. So, if “All the men” were involved this was largely a heterosexual crowd, not a homosexual one.
5. The Hebrew word that is translated “men” is a collective noun. Elsewhere it is translated “Human” or “Humanity”. The scene is describing a mob, which may or may not also have included women.
6. If Lot knew the crowd itself was homosexual, he wouldn’t have offered his daughters in place of the visitors. This ties into my next point…
7. This IS describing a mob trying to commit a gang rape. Gang rape is about power. It is NOT about homosexuality. In fact it is very much an act committed by those who consider themselves heterosexual. If you want to do further reading on this, google rape in U.S. prisons. You will find that while the perpetrators generally consider themselves to be heterosexual, a victim will be homosexual at a rate much much higher than that of the general population.
8. Finally I want to look at Ezekiel’s interpretation of the Sodom and Gomorrah story. Now while Ezekiel might seem to be far removed from the events of Genesis in terms of time, in terms of the compilation of these stories they are likely from the same time period in the Babylonian exile. The stories are being put into their final form during the exile, as a way to explain, “here is how we got here.” This is why we see so many parallels with Babylonian literature. Ezekiel then is in a good vantage point to offer commentary, which he does. In Ezekiel 16:49-50 God tells Ezekiel why he destroyed Sodom:
“‘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.”
I cannot remember when I first read this. But I definitely remember being “gobsmacked”. Wait, what? God’s describes grievous sin as being arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned, not helping the poor and the needy? While I warned above about being careful of what you try to apply from these texts to modern life, I want you to ask yourself, “Does his description seem to apply more to homosexuality or what passes as much of the American Evangelical church?” When I look at Christianity in America today (and Canada as well but maybe to a lessor extent), what I see is rampant consumerism and an unwillingness to share meaningfully with what they have with those in need. I only need to go to my facebook feed to show many many examples of this.
In summary then, this is not a passage about homosexuality at all! It doesn’t fit. It could however be taken as an indictment of how we as Christians live in the west.
I could go on, but I am running out of time. In my next post I will discuss the Leviticus text and some corresponding New Testament passages, and start to unpack my own overall view on how I understand this topic. For this week, I look forward to your comments and further discussion on this particular passage as we further the conversation.