This is a continuation from the previous post which went over part of the story of Sodom and looked at some Jewish literature on the subject. In this post we’ll finish the story of Sodom, and also look at some early Christian writings about the sin of Sodom. The rest of the story leading up to the destruction is the part of the story that makes the story memorable, and really what brings this story into the American culture wars. The rest of the story (skipping over Abraham’s discussion with God) is recorded in Genesis 19:
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed down with his face to the ground. 2 He said, ‘Please, my lords, turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night, and wash your feet; then you can rise early and go on your way.’ They said, ‘No; we will spend the night in the square.’ 3 But he urged them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house; and he made them a feast, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. 4 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, so that we may know them.’ 6 Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7 and said, ‘I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have not known a 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 replied, ‘Stand back!’ And they said, ‘This fellow came here as an alien, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.’ Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and came near the door to break it down. 10 But the men inside 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 door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.
Lot made sure that the angles did not stay in the square, now it’s not clear that he did so because he was afraid that they were going to get raped, rather it seems that he merely wanted to show hospitality. He washed their feet and made a feast for them. Then the men of Sodom come and demand that the angels are presented to them so that the men of Sodom can rape them. Lot offers his 2 daughters instead to be raped, why? The text says “for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” Lot had provided the 2 angels with a place for food and shelter, Lot felt he had an obligation to care for them, he took that obligation seriously. In fact, Lot took his obligation to the strangers more seriously than he took his obligation as a father. How did the men of Sodom respond? The complaint wasn’t that they only wanted to rape men, not women; rather it was that they were being judged by a foreigner, this was their complaint.
So what’s the point being made here, the narrative doesn’t directly seem to be about homosexuality in itself, or even rape in itself. Rather it seems to be about the fact that Lot cared for the strangers, whereas the men of Sodom wanted to abuse the strangers.
We can now look at some Christian references to this narrative, one of the relevant narratives is found in the book of Jude:
7 Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
In the Greek:
7ὡς Σόδομα καὶ Γόμορρα καὶ αἱ περὶ αὐτὰς πόλεις τὸν ὅμοιον τρόπον τούτοις ἐκπορνεύσασαι καὶ ἀπελθοῦσαι ὀπίσω σαρκὸς ἑτέρας, πρόκεινται δεῖγμα πυρὸς αἰωνίου δίκην ὑπέχουσαι.
Now here we have a claim that at least part of the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was sexual in nature. The word translated “sexual immorality” is a past tense version of the word πορνεύω, a common New Testament Greek term simply meaning sexual sin of all types. The Greek term translated “unnatural lust” is σαρκὸς ἑτέρας, or literally “Different Flesh.” This term is much more difficult, does it refer to wanting to have sex with Angels? In the story it’s not clear that anyone actually knew the 2 men visiting lot were Angels. However (at least to me) the interpretation that the different flesh refers to the fact that the men were angels makes more sense than interpreting it to refer to homosexuality, since “different flesh” doesn’t really make sense as a reference to homosexuality.
So it looks to me like the reference in Jude definitely is about sexual sin, however not explicitly homosexuality, although homosexual acts would most definitely be included in a Jewish definition of πορνεύω. We have other references in the NT to Sodom and Gomorrah, and some references citing the sin of those cities as being sexual in nature. But I think the scripture in Jude is a good representative of most of them. None of them (as far as I know) make explicit references to homosexuality, although that does not in any way mean that there is no implicit reference to Homosexuality in the condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah’s sexual sin.
We have also some non-Canonical early Christian writings that give us insight into how early Christians might have understood the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. One is from Clement of Rome in his first Epistle in Chapter 11:
On account of his hospitality and godliness, Lot was saved out of Sodom when all the country around him was punished by means of fire and brimstone, the Lord thus making it manifest that He does not forsake those who hope in Him, but gives up those who depart from Him to punishment and torture.
Now here we have not so much an account of what the sin of Sodom was, but rather what made Lot righteous, and presumably what made him stand out from the sons of Sodom. That was, according to Clement of Rome, his Hospitality and Godliness. We have a more in depth explanation of the story from an early Christian perspective from Clement of Alexandria, writing in the late second century in his work Paedagogus (which can be translated as Instructor) Book 3 and Chapter 8:
The Sodomites having, through much luxury, fallen into uncleanness, practicing adultery shamelessly, and burning with insane love for boys; the All-seeing Word, whose notice those who commit impieties cannot escape, cast His eye on them. Nor did the sleepless guard of humanity observe their licentiousness in silence; but dissuading us from the imitation of them, and training us up to His own temperance, and falling on some sinners, lest lust being unavenged, should break loose from all the restraints of fear, ordered Sodom to be burned, pouting forth a little of the sagacious fire on licentiousness; lest lust, through want of punishment, should throw wide the gates to those that were rushing into voluptuousness. Accordingly, the just punishment of the Sodomites became to men an image of the salvation which is well calculated for men. For those who have not committed like sins with those who are punished, will never receive a like punishment.
Here we have something similar to Philo’s explanation. The explanation is that the cause was a culmination of sins, some types of sins leading to other types of sins. Also like Philo, Clement of Alexandria includes homosexuality explicitly, or at least Pederasty explicitly. According to Clement of Alexandria the luxury of Sodom lead to all sorts of sexual sin, including adultery and homosexual Pederasty, thus leading “the Word” to punish Sodom so as to, in effect, stop the type of unbridled sin Sodom engaged in from going unpunished and spreading.
So where does this all leave us? What was the sin of Sodom? Was it homosexuality? Was it not caring for the poor? Was it lack of hospitality for strangers? Was it rape? Was it pride? Was it Luxury?
I would argue in the end that the sin was not one sin, but rather a culmination of many sins, creating a kind of social norm of an ungodly society. I think the hints of the Pride and Haughtiness come early on in Genesis with Abrams dealings with the king of Sodom and culminates in a Society that would go so far as to sexually abuse strangers sojourning in their land. A society drenched in Pride and Haughtiness will end up being the type of society that promotes individualism first, that promotes luxury and that caters to the wealthy and prideful while neglecting the poor and needy. That kind of society would not be so concerned with sexual morality, and in fact would start viewing sex and nothing more than a means towards self-pleasure, another form of luxury and excess, once sex is viewed that way, then the guidelines imposed by God on sexuality have no bearing, marriage is not important, and homosexuality or pederasty or even sex with angelic beings becomes acceptable. It would also be the kind of society who would not view strangers as people whom the society is obligated to care for, but rather as easy targets for abuse and means to further fulfill their desires for excess and pleasure.
The story is a warning about what happens when a Society throws away its central role of maintaining general morality, caring for the poor and needy, caring for strangers, and modestly upholding God’s standards, and instead allows pride, wealth, individualism and the pursuit of pleasure to rule the day.