Many people believe that homosexuality is particularly abhorrent to God because, after all, He destroyed Sodom for it. But does the Bible actually say that?1
For the sake of completeness, I have searched the KJV 2 for all references to Sodom and Gomorrah. I haven’t copied them all below because many references were simply a means of warning Israel regarding the kind of destruction that they themselves deserved because of their sins.
Sodom is first mentioned in connection with Lot’s choosing a pleasant place to live. But the warning is given that “the men of Sodom were wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly.” (Gen. 13:13)
A few chapters later we discover that Sodom and Gomorrah were so wicked that God deemed it best to destroy them. Abraham intervened, and the Lord said he would save the cities if even ten righteous were found therein. Of course, we know the result – not even ten righteous could be found in those prosperous cities of the beautiful plains. Note that judgment was determined on Sodom before the incident of the angel visitors at Lot’s house.
“And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know.” (Gen. 18:20-21)
Note that the text does not specify what these “very grievous” sins were. For that we have to look at other references in the Bible.
After the Lord agreed with Abraham’s request that the cities of the plains would be spared if only “ten righteous” were found within their gates (Gen. 18:32), two angels are sent to escort Lot and his family out of Sodom before destroying the cities, because not even “ten righteous” could be found:
“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; And he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.” (Gen. 19:1-2)
Ancient records show that travellers often spent night in the open (see Gen. 28:11). And Lot seems to have made it his duty to seek out strangers and invite them to the shelter of his home – probably because he knew of the inhospitable nature of the men of the city.
Many interpret the subsequent riot and demand to “know” the visitors – probably accurately interpreted as a wish to abuse them sexually – as proof that the special “sin of Sodom” was homosexuality. However, the same reasoning would make a large percentage of the current prison population in America gay. And if “all the men of the city” were literally homosexual, how did the city stay populated?
It is generally recognized that anal penetration has been used as an act of subjugation by heterosexual males in many cultures for thousands of years. In the past it was used to subjugate the losers in a war. Today it is used to establish the prison pecking order.
The men clearly wanted to rape the angels who appeared to be men. This says nothing about their sexual orientation, but it does say something about their lack of morality. And it does say something about their treatment of strangers. As they did it to the visitors to their city, they did it to the Lord Himself, according to Matt. 25: 34-40.
“And he pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat. But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to the this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them. And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly. Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing; for therefore came they under the shadow of my roof.” (Gen. 19:3-8)
When Lot refused to cooperate, the men of the city referred to his “stranger” status as sufficient reason to abuse him as well:
“And they said, Stand back. And they said again, This one fellow came in to sojourn, and he will needs be a judge: now will we deal worse with him than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.” (Gen. 19:9)
A number of times, the prophets were moved to say that the sins of Jerusalem were like the sins of Sodom, or worse. Does that then mean that the special sin of Jerusalem was gay sex?
“For Jerusalem is ruined, and Judah is fallen: because their tongue and their doings are against the LORD, to provoke the eyes of his glory. The show of their countenance doth witness against them; and they declare their sin as Sodom, they hide it not. Woe unto their soul! for they have rewarded evil unto themselves.” (Isaiah 3:8-9)
“I have seen also in the prophets of Jerusalem an horrible thing: they commit adultery, and walk in lies: they strengthen also the hands of evildoers, that none doth return from his wickedness: they are all of them unto me as Sodom, and the inhabitants thereof as Gomorrah.” (Jeremiah 23:14)
“And thine elder sister is Samara, she and her daughters that dwell at they left hand: and thy younger sister, that dwelled at thy right hand, is Sodom and her daughters. Yet hast thou not walked after their ways, nor done after their abominations: but, as if that were a very little thing, thou was corrupted more than they in all their ways. As I live, saith the Lord GOD, Sodom thy sister hath not done, she nor her daughters, as thou hast done, thou and thy daughters.” (Ezekiel 16:46-48)
(Although many suggest that abomination refers particularly to gay sex, I believe that abomination simply refers to practices that are abhorrent to the Lord. Please see my essay, “What Is an Abomination to God?” Any practice out of harmony with God’s character of love is an abomination to Him, and he hates such behavior. And looking up references to things God hates brings up pride much more frequently than any sexual sins.)
After telling the Israelites that their sins were greater than those of Sodom, the prophet was moved to specify the special sins of Sodom, and same-gender sexual practices are not specifically listed:
“Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.” (Eze. 16:49-50)
And in the following texts, Sodom is listed as a “sister” of Israel, indicating the similarities of their sins. Thus, if homosexual sex was the special sin of Sodom, there should be some evidence that it was the main sin of Israel as well. Yet the Bible leaves no such record.
“Neither hath Samaria committed half of thy sins; but thou has multiplied thine abominations more than they, and has justified thy sisters in all thine abominations which thou has done. Thou also, which has judged thy sisters, bear thine own shame for thy sins that thou has committed more abominable than they: they are more righteous than thou: yea, be thou confounded also, and bear thy shame, in that thou has justified thy sisters. When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, then will I bring again the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them: That thou mayest bear thine own shame, and mayest be confounded in all that thou hast done, in that thou art a comfort unto them. When thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former estate, then thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate. For thy sister Sodom was not mentioned by thy mouth in the day of thy pride.” (Eze. 16:51-56)
Jesus gives some indication that the people of Sodom were less hardened than the people of Capernaum:
“And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.” (Matt. 11:23)
And that makes me wonder what He would say about some of our cities today.
Jesus also makes a comparison between the times of Noah, the times of Sodom, and the end times. Yet the interpretation that the special sins of Sodom were homosexual practices is read into the Scriptures. It is not inherent in the text itself. In fact, only heterosexual sexual activity is implied.
“And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built. But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.” Luke 17:26-29)
Peter refers to Sodom and Gomorrah as examples for those that live ungodly. This would seem to cover a wide variety of sins, unless you are willing to argue that the only ungodly practices are homosexual ones.
“And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an example unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds.)” (2 Peter 2:6-8)
Jude seems to associate the sins of Sodom with fleshly sins which may point particularly to sexual sins, but these are not specified:
“For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.” (Jude 1:4, Jude 1:7-8)
And that’s the Bible record of the sins of Sodom. Unfortunately people have a long-standing habit to read into the Bible what is not there, thus justifying their own sins and their spirit of judgmentalism. It’s the age-old pattern of putting someone else down in order to raise oneself up. Except that it doesn’t really work.
Saying that the last recorded acts of the Sodomites – the demands for same-gender sex – are proof that they were destroyed because of their homosexuality is like saying that a condemned man cursing his guards on the way to his execution is being executed for cursing the guards. Sodom was judged worthy of destruction before the incident with Lot and the angels. And we have examined the complete Bible record of Sodom’s sins above.
Unfortunately fundamentalists like to see issues in black-and-white terms and thus they see Sodom’s destruction as a judgment on homosexuality. I believe that this is not borne out by the Bible record.
Gay theologians, on the other hand, commit the same error of over-simplification by seeing Sodom’s destruction as a judgment on inhospitality. And the Bible record does not support that conclusion either. Real life is usually more complex, and the great “Judge of all the earth” sees all there is to our lives.
I believe that if we examine the Bible record with an open mind, we are forced to conclude that Sodom was destroyed for sins that are not uncommon in today’s affluent society – sins that are rooted in self-sufficiency and flaunted in rebellion. Sexual sins were part of the problem, no doubt, but it is unworthy of Christians and it misrepresents the character of God to wrest Scriptures in order to make someone else’s sins appear as greater than our own more common sins of pride, hypocrisy, gossip, and a judgmental spirit. One of my favorite authors had this to say on the subject:
“The Redeemer of the world declares that there are greater sins than that for which Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. . . . And still greater sin is theirs who profess to know God and to keep His commandments, yet who deny Christ in their character and their daily life.” (Ellen White in Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 165)
Did you get that? To “deny Christ” in character and life – to misrepresent Him by the way we live – is a greater sin that that of Sodom and Gomorrah. If that is true, we need to fall at the feet of Jesus and ask Him to make us more like Him – more loving, kind and generous and less condemning.
We need to handle the Word of God with due reverence for its meaning and its revelation of the character of God. We can avoid the sins of Sodom in our own lives only by recognizing our continuing dependence on God both for our physical life and our spiritual salvation.
This article is a minor update of the version that first appeared on the GLOW site in 1999.