About the biblical story of Sodom & Gomorrah: Genesis 19
Why did God destroy the
city of Sodom & its people?
What was the sin of Sodom according to Genesis 19?
The text of Genesis 19 implies that God approved of Lot's behavior, even
though he made an offer of his virgin daughters to be raped. This approval
would have been extended to Lot's family as well. But God apparently had a fierce anger
directed at the other inhabitants of the town. He destroyed Sodom with fire
and brimstone (sulfur) dumped from above. According to the story, he killed all of the
men and women of Sodom, as well as all the innocent children, infants,
newborns, etc. who lived in the city. This is one more example of a theme that runs throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation: transferring the punishment from guilty people to innocent people. This is commonly called "scapegoating" and is condemned in all major religions.
It is unclear from this brief passage in Genesis why God demolished the city.
The following theories have been advanced.
The people of Sodom:
Engaged in consensual homosexual acts -- a same-sex orgy in this case. This is the
belief of most conservative Christians. This option seems unlikely because:
Were uncharitable and abusive to strangers, the poor, sick, and disadvantaged.
In that society, a person had a very strong obligation to protect any
guests in their home. Many liberal Christians believe that this is the
meaning behind the story of the destruction of Sodom. This belief has
considerable support in the many other references to Sodom in the Bible and
Genesis 19:5 said that all of the men (perhaps all of the people) of
Sodom formed the mob at Lot's house and demanded to "know" the angels. The
percentage of homosexuals in a typical group of male adults is generally around 5%, not 100%.
- Also, Lot had lived in the city for some years and would have know if all of the
men were homosexuals; he would hardly have offered to sacrifice his daughters to
the mob if the men were entirely homosexual.
- Finally, as noted above, if the men of
Sodom were all homosexuals, there would be few if any children and widows in the
city as are mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.
Wanted to humiliate their visitors by engaging in "an act of sexual
degradation and male rape...These are acts of violence that are committed
by parties seeking to show their hatred for those they are degrading. It is
not an act of love or of caring" 1 Some theologians suggest that the
sin of Sodom was the threat of mass rape.
Wanted to engage in bestiality -- having sex with members of another
species. The mob may have wanted to rape the angels; angels are
not human beings; they are of a different species. This
would be consistent with the frequently mistranslated verse in Jude about the men of Sodom
going after "other flesh" or "strange flesh."
Wanted to adsorb the power of the angels: In ancient times, sacred
sex was very common. People would engage in sexual intercourse with temple
prostitutes who represented a god or goddess. By doing so, the people believed
that they would receive a blessing from the deity. If the people of Sodom
realized that angels sent by God were present in their city, the men of Sodom
may have concluded that raping the angels might give them supernatural powers.
What were the sins of Sodom according to other biblical passages that refer to the city:
A common procedure in biblical apologetics is to let the Bible interpret
itself. Looking elsewhere in the Bible for references to Sodom may help us determine
which of the four above interpretations is correct.
The interpretation of Genesis 19 as referring to a homosexual sin
appears to have been created in the 11th century by the Italian ascetic St. Peter Damian.
Christian theologians generally accepted this explanation until recently. In fact, the English word sodomy,
which popularly means either homosexual or heterosexual anal intercourse, was derived from the name
of the city. The term "sodomy" is also used in some ancient laws to refer
to a variety of sexual behaviors in addition to heterosexual intercourse.
Some of these laws are still on the books
although the U.S. Supreme Court declared them
unconstitutional in 2003-JUN as part of its Lawrence v. Texas decision.
among most liberal and mainline Christian and Jewish theologians has now reverted to the original Christian belief that Genesis 19
refers to a lack of charity and to ill treatment of strangers. Consider:
In ancient Jewish literature, such as the Ethics of the Fathers and
the Talmud, there are many references to Sodom. The phrase "middat Sdom" was used. It may be
translated as "the way the people of Sodom thought". It meant a lack of
charity and hospitality towards others; ignoring the needs of the poor, etc. In the Middle
East, a person's survival could depend upon the charity of strangers. To help strangers
was a solemn religious duty of paramount importance. See Leviticus 19:33-34 and Matthew 25:35, 38 and
Isaiah 1; The entire first chapter is an utter condemnation of Judah. They are
repeatedly compared with Sodom and Gomorrah in their evildoing and depravity. Throughout
the chapter, the Prophet lists many sins of the people: rebelling against God, lacking in
knowledge, deserting the Lord, idolatry, engaging in meaningless religious ritual, being
unjust and oppressive to others, being insensitive to the needs of widows and orphans,
committing murder, accepting bribes, etc. There is no reference to homosexuality
or to any other sexual activities at all.
Jeremiah 23:14:"...among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something
horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so
that no one turns from his wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of
Jerusalem are like Gomorrah." Jeremiah compares the actions of
the prophets with the adultery, lying and evil of the people of
Sodom. Homosexual activity is not mentioned.
Ezekeiel 16:49-50:"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." God states clearly that he destroyed Sodom's sins
because of their pride, their excess of food while the poor and
needy suffered; sexual activity is not even mentioned.
Matthew 10:14-15: Jesus implied that the sin of the people of Sodom was to be
inhospitable to strangers.
Luke 10:7-16: This is parallel passage to the verses from Matthew.
2 Peter 6-8: Peter mentions that God destroyed the adults and children of Sodom
because the former were ungodly, unprincipled and lawless.
Jude, Verse 7: Jude disagreed with Jesus and Ezekeiel; he wrote that Sodom's sins
were sexual in nature. Various biblical translations of this passage in
Jude describe the sin as: fornication,
going after strange flesh, sexual immorality, perverted sensuality, homosexuality, lust of
every kind, immoral acts and unnatural lust. It looks as if the
translators were unclear of the meaning of the verse in its original Greek, and simply
selected their favorite sin to attack. The original Greek is
transliterated as: "sarkos
heteras." This can be translated as "other flesh". Ironically, our English word "heterosexual"
comes from "heteras."
A likely interpretation is that the author of Jude 4 criticized the
men of Sodom for wanting to engage in sexual activities with angels.
Angels are described in the Bible as a species of created beings who were different from humans. The sin of the
people of Sodom would be that of bestiality. Another possibility is
that the "other flesh" refers to cannibalism, which was a practice
associated with early Canaanite culture. However, there is no mention in Genesis 19 about actually eating the angels.
On the other hand there are some passages which might imply that the sin
of Sodom was homosexuality:
Jeremiah 49:18: Some conservative theologians have interpreted
this verse as criticizing the inhabitants of Jerusalem for their sexual
sins, and implying that they were like the men of Sodom.
Ezekeiel 16:50: Although the preceding verse describes Sodom's
sins as pride, laziness, insensitivity to the needs of the poor, and
haughtiness, verse 50 refers to the citizens of Sodom as having "committed
abomination." The Hebrew word "to'ebah," translated here as "abomination,"
was used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) to refer to
various ritually impure acts, such as Hebrews and Egyptians eating
together, Hebrews eating lobster, shrimp, or snakes, sacrificing an animal
in the temple that contained a blemish, women wearing men's clothing (e.g.
pants), a man remarrying his former wife, etc. It was also used in
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 to
condemn same-sex activity between two males. It is not known which "abomination(s)"
occurred in Sodom, but it could conceivably have been same-gender sexual activity.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Reb Gershon Caudill, "A
Heterosexual Jewish Rebbe's View on the (Supposedly) Homosexual Texts in the
Hebrew Bible," at:
"Elaine," "Sodom and Gomorrah," Gay Church, at:
Father Basil Isaacs, "Proofx booklet", Fountain of Life Western
Orthodox Church Catholic Mission. Available for $2.50 from 1928 E. Highland, Suite
F104-142, Phoenix, AZ 85016.
We refer to "the author of Jude" rather than use his name. This is
because there is no consensus on the identity of the author. Conservative
Christian theologians generally believe that the book was written by Jude, a
brother of Jesus circa 67 to 73 CE. Liberal theologians generally believe that
the author is unknown, and that the book was written some time after 100 CE.
Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update and review: 2012-FEB-29
Author: B.A. Robinson.