The Witness of the Old
Testament and Ancient Judaism
An Analysis of Relevant References in
Their Biblical and Historical Milieu
Forget Lot's Wife
Reumah could hardly stand the racket. The pounding on the door and
the shouting were deafening. It seemed that all the men of Sodom had gone
mad and were pursuing their madness at her door! And these were her friends
and neighbors! The men had first demanded that Lot should surrender the
handsome visitors to them to get "to know" them, but now they were
screaming for her husband's head. Lot was terrified and frozen in shock.
How could all this happen? Reumah wondered. She and Lot were influential
leaders in Sodom. How could the Sodomites have turned on them so
suddenly and so viciously? Reumah knew that somehow it was all tied to
the visitors whom Lot had secreted in their home. These two men had come
on a special mission to Sodom. Knowing Sodom's reputation for sexual aggression,
Lot insisted that they stay with him and Reumah rather than in
the city square.
Reumah's thoughts raced over the events of the last twenty-some years.
She remembered the first day when she had seen Lot, the day he first entered
Sodom. She picked him out immediately as a special personyoung,
wealthy, handsome, and an "outsider." He believed in a different God than
did the rest of her society, and this made him decent and honest. Lot often
shared with her his faith in his God Yahweh and told her amazing stories of
how Yahweh had done wonderful signs and miracles for him and his uncle
Abraham. Lot clearly adored Abraham and his wife Sarah. They had brought
Lot with them from their birthplace and helped to make him independently
wealthy. Then, when Lot had become so powerful and rich that the land
could not sustain both his and Abraham's flocks and herds, Abraham selflessly
gave Lot the first choice of other lands. Lot chose the fertile plain of
the Jordan River near Sodom.
Lot immediately became the focus of the affections of eligible women and
seducing men. Many men propositioned Lot, but he was content to be
courted by the women of Sodom. His wealth protected him from overly
aggressive men. To have sex with men was against his religion, Lot had
often confessed. Reumah's father, King Bera, took a liking to Lot. His position
of leadership among the elders of the community gave her an advantage
over the other women of Sodom. She quickly won Lot's heart and became
his wife. Her husband seemed to enjoy his inherited power and prestige.
Reumah and her two daughters in time came to believe in Yahweh, but she
also was determined not to offend her ancestors' gods.
Still, she owed much to the courage and devotion of Abraham, her uncle
by marriage. When he and his servants rescued Lot and the King of Sodom
from the tyranny of King Kedarlaomer and his league, Abraham refused all
spoil and reward. He didn't want anyone to get the idea that he owed his
success and wealth to anyone, including the king. "Yahweh alone is my reward,"
he often said.
Reumah was shaken out of her thoughts by Lot's bold proclamation: "I'm
going to try to pacify the men by offering our daughters to them." Reumah
could hardly believe her ears. Would she now lose her daughters? They were
already engaged to other men! She screamed her opposition. The men
screamed back, "Forget Lot's wife." The messengers at that moment struck
all the men with blindness. Yet they continued groping for the door.
The tumult of the crowd was now accompanied by the shaking of her
house. "Earthquake! Earthquake! This is horrible!" she exclaimed. What
did it all mean? Lot explained that the messengers were actually emissaries
from his God, who was about to destroy Sodom because of its wickedness.
The messengers were there to deliver the righteous because God loved them
and would not allow them to be overtaken by the destruction.
"So this is what it is all about." Reumah was really not surprised. Sodom's
reputation as "sin city" was widespread. The sexual abuse of men with men,
bestiality, seduction, sexual exploitation, and rape were all part of everyday
life in Sodom, and the king encouraged it as part of royal policy. Even more
rampant were the greed, arrogance, and economic exploitation. The poor,
the powerless, and the slaves were especially vulnerable. Reumah was grateful
that her family had been spared all of this. After all, by the king's authority,
Lot held a seat of judgment at the gate. Still, Reumah wondered how Lot
would fare if he was seduced during one of his wine binges. She was grateful
that she had two daughters but wondered about the character of her future
By dawn their situation was desperate. The earthquakes were increasing
and the violence more threatening. The messengers announced that Yahweh
was determined to rescue Lot and his family, but they had to flee at once.
They must leave everything behind. Deliverance had finally come. They all
breathed a sigh of relief.
But not everyone believed the warning of the messengers. The future
sons-in-law refused to be persuaded. They would not leave their families.
Suddenly, almost miraculously, Reumah found herself standing with her
family and the messengers outside the gate. Reumah felt as though she were
in the presence of God. But the messengers compelled them to hasten to
nearby Zoar lest the falling rocks and the hot, fiery ash devour them along
the way. They began to run. Yet Reumah's thoughts now turned to the future.
How would they survive in a new city? With no possessions and no power
and no friends in high places, how could they adjust to starting at the bottom?
Was the price of giving up everything in Sodom worth this? Perhaps
Sodom was not so bad after all. At least she could be a better witness for
Her doubts became unbearable, and she fell behind. Fleeing was a big
mistake. She had to stop. She let the others go on. She longingly looked
back toward Sodom. Family, friends, and neighbors were there, as well as
wealth and prestige. Perhaps many would survive. They would need her.
She could go back. She could and she would return. She would wait here
and then return to start all over
"Where is Reumah?" Lot asked. There was no answer. There were no
living beings left. There were only life forms frozen in their tracks by the
poisonous, deadly gasses and ash that had overcome Sodom. Clearly Reumah
was among them.
* * *
The late twentieth century felt an explosion quite unlike that which
shook Sodom, an eruption of reinterpretation of Scripture regarding gay and
lesbian sexuality. To varying degrees, these studies have found the traditional
view of key texts wrongheaded and in error. The old interpretations were
replaced by three approaches:
1. References to homosexuality do not occur in passages where they
traditionally have been seen (Gen. 19:1-8; Judg. 19:16-30; Ezek.
16:4450; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:8-10; 2 Peter 2:6-8; and Jude 6-8).
Identification of homosexuality in these passages is improper interpretation
2. Homosexuality is in the context of certain passages, but these texts
concern Israel's special ritual or sacred relationship to God (e.g., Levit.
18:22; 20:13). They are irrelevant to the Christian.
3. Whatever references to homosexuality are in Scripture may be deemed
outdated and irrelevant. They concern a form of homosexuality unlike
the modern practice and have nothing to contribute to contemporary
discussion (e.g., Rom. 1:26-27).
There are variants to the third approach. One disassociates moral norms from
theological revelation and asserts that the total modern community must decide
what is moral and immoral, what God's will is for us. Another variation
that appeals to liberation theologians makes freedom in love the chief criterion
for deciding the morality of homosexuality. Such reasoning reads the Bible
through modern philosophies. Of course, many studies adopt two or all three
approaches to the biblical texts.
A study of the biblical witness about homosexuality is timely and holds
acute ramifications for people, in the Judeo-Christian tradition that reach
into all aspects of modern living. The homosexual lifestyle has penetrated
virtually every facet of contemporary society. Organizations exist for the
expressed purpose of affirming homosexuality as a legitimate Christian
lifestyle, including an entire church denomination, the Metropolitan Community
Church. The "gay rights" movement demands that society remove
all civil restrictions on homosexual activity so that homosexuals have access
to all jobs, housing, and public service in government. Their "sexual orientation"
should not be a barrier to any opportunity. The gay community
designs federal and state legislation and promotes judicial decisions as avenues
for advancing its goal to include homosexual activity under civil rights
protection. Churches wrestle with such matters as the acceptance of homosexuals
into the church and even the ordination of gays and lesbians. The
gay community has gone so far as to confront society with a redefinition of
marriage that would recognize two homosexuals living together as man and
wife, with rights to adopt children.
The book that led the way for this new interpretation of the Scriptures
was D. Sherwin Bailey's Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition.
More recently, John Boswell's Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality
won a 1981 American Book Award for History. Boswell's treatment of
Scripture and history to the fourteenth century was hailed as "a groundbreaking
work," a "revolutionary study," "one of the most extensive treatments" of
homosexuality, "an astonishing work of scholarship." It was said to open "a
new area of historical inquiry." Indeed, he succeeded "in making one think
the unthinkable." Robin Scroggs, L. William Countryman, George
Edwards, John McNeill, Pim Pronk, Martti Nissinen, and other
reinterpreters have followed Bailey and Boswell.
Boswell's work continues to have a significant impact among homosexuals
and others, within and without Christendom. The gay movement champions
his work because it believes that it will change the attitudes of heterosexuals
and persuade them to accept homosexuality as a legitimate lifestyle.
It does this by removing the biblical sanctions against homosexuality. Boswell
and others are, I believe, so far-reaching and assertive in their revised interpretations
of the biblical passages that they have crossed the line from objectivity
to activism and are not only revisionist but also prohomosexual.
The approach of liberation theology is distinctive. George Edwards adds
this dimension to the interpretation of Scripture. Where Paul and other
writers of Scripture might condemn homosexuality, the theology of gay/
lesbian liberation must "correct" them. There can be no such condemnation
because soteriology is liberation. Liberation is based on love, whether gay
and lesbian or heterosexual. So Edwards finds Scripture irrelevant and uses liberation
theology to "correct" it.
Still more recently, another approach espouses a distinction between purity
and morality. Countryman believes that homosexuality violates only the Old
Testament "purity rule"; it does not violate any moral principle. Since Jesus
and the apostles in the New Testament abrogated all purity rules, homosexuality
is acceptable. Whether this approach can sustain a distinction between
rules and principles, it challenges the traditional understanding of
Following Countryman, it is important, then, to discover what moral
principle, if any, affects our understanding of homosexuality as acceptable
or unacceptable behavior. I will argue that the nature of God as both loving
and holy provides the anchor for just such a moral principle that excludes
Pim Pronk defends homosexuality from the perspective of moral argumentation.
It is within the "whole human community," not the narrow confines
of revelation or theology, that a moral determination about sexual
morality must be made. Theology and revelation cannot limit God's will
for another day and time. Exegesis of the Bible can affirm that its writers
regarded homosexuality as sin, but does this judgment remain normative?
A new context must determine how much weight to give to the Bible's statements.
Theology is not the epistemological source of the knowledge of good
and evil but exists only to affirm that morality is the will of God. The what
of morality is supplied by moral education, critical thinking, and rational
argumentation. The whole human community in deliberation decides what
constitutes good and evil. Moral positions are part of general revelation and
are antecedent to the appeal to special revelation.
Pronk's method broadly covers all moral argumentation and has far-reaching
consequencesnowhere greater than in the matter of homosexual
ethics. Other approaches involve a discussion of the exegesis of texts on homosexuality
and their interpretation and application. This approach asserts
that "there is every reason to remove the homosexuality issue permanently
from the church's agendas as a moral and religious, i.e., as a scientific, problem."
If this view is correct, then the Bible's statements on homosexuality are truly
irrelevant. Is this a valid approach?
Finally, Martti Nissinen revises Scripture's view of homosexuality from
the standpoint of worldview. He combines features of the thinking of Boswell,
Countryman, Edwards, Pronk, and others. In effect, his view subjects the
biblical worldview to that of modern times. If the contemporary worldview
regards homosexuality differently than does the Bible, then the modern attitudes
deserve to prevail.
For example, Nissinen asserts that biblical writers were people of their
times, with limited knowledge. Modern "changes in worldview" force us
"to diverge from the clear word of the Bible." The "specific moral commands
are norms born from the needs of the time and place." For Nissinen,
love is "the central hermeneutical principle when applying biblical commands";
such an approach means "careful examination of both the Bible
and the prevailing reality in which we live with neighbors of flesh and
Clearly, Nissinen regards contemporary culture, not the Bible, to be determinative
in ethics. His approach, based as it is in worldview, is potentially
the most far-reaching of the revisionist interpretations of the Bible's
statements on homosexuality.
Although each of these approaches has certain distinctives, there are common
principles of interpretation and theological presuppositions. All of the
various approaches incorporate one or more of the three views or approaches
to Scripture discussed above. These approaches to Scripture's teaching regarding
homosexuality have confused and distressed both Christians and
non-Christians. It is possible to find our way to the truth if we follow a careful,
deliberate, and respectful process of interpretation. We can and must
interpret Scripture correctly if we are to apply it rightly within and without
If religion has a direct effect on morality, and morality, in turn, has a direct
effect on law or legislation, then the new interpretations of Scripture
have serious consequences for society, and we must answer them. Religious
grounds derived from Scripture have influenced sexual behavior in the West
more fully than has any other influence. Christians cannot abandon the
implications that their theology has for public morality and legislation. They
must speak to the legitimacy of homosexuality and its effects on morality
and law within and without the church.
This chapter presents the Old Testament witness to Sodom, critiquing
prohomosexual or revisionist interpretations. Subsequent chapters will take
up other literature of the Jews, including the LXX and New Testament, as
well as the ancient literature and law codes of the Greeks and Romans. While
some attention must be given to literature from after the time of the New
Testament, in-depth treatments of references to homosexuality in the church
fathers and the later writings are already available.
Old Testament Authority and Hermeneutics
The interpreter's attitude toward the authority of Scripture is especially
significant as we approach the Old Testament. Revisionist interpreters tend
to dilute Old Testament authority, especially in its references to homosexuality.
For example, Boswell's attitude appears in his statement, "Most Christians
regarded the Old Testament as an elaborate metaphor for Christian
revelation; extremely few considered it morally binding in particular details."
Boswell believes that the nonbinding details include both the dietary laws
and any prohibitions of homosexual behavior.
The basis for such claims is that the ancient world, especially Roman citizens,
"knew no such hostility to homosexuality," hence, non-Jewish converts
to Christianity could hold no such views. Boswell believes that Old
Testament strictures against homosexuality would appear to be arbitrary to
Roman citizens. They would not consider them to be different from the
prohibition against cutting the beard. Thus, Boswell places references to
homosexuality in the same category as teachings about Jewish ritual. He
believes that Paul would include laws against homosexuality in his exhortation
that Christians must regard themselves as free from the yoke of bondage
belonging to the law (Gal. 5:1-2) or Jewish fables (Titus 1:14-15).
According to Boswell, the Old Testament "had no specific positive role in
creating early Christian attitudes toward homosexual acts." Boswell argues
that there is no word in classical Hebrew or Greek for "homosexual," and
neither the qedeim of the Old Testament nor the arsenokoitai of the New
As an example of how crucial are the standards and philosophy of interpretation
that affect Scripture's authority, Edwards appeals to modern statistics
as "sources of enlightenment" to find today's meaning for the text, a
meaning to which the historical meaning of the text "may only render us
blind." He would use contemporary sexology and the "theology of gay/
lesbian liberation" to reject "pietistic" biblical interpretation and to correct
These conclusions are startling, to say the least, and both sides would agree
that they run counter to traditional Christian interpretation. How do Boswell
and others come to them? Unfortunately, they take a path of exegesis or
interpretation that is seriously flawed. Such interpreters begin with a goal;
they seek to show that the Bible has had little influence on Western attitudes
toward homosexuality. For example, Boswell:
1. casts doubt on the meaning and extent of the canon;
2. argues that the word homosexual has no corresponding term in Hebrew, Greek, Syriac, or Aramaic; and
3. interprets Scripture in such a way that the meaning is dissipated or
dismissed as irrelevant or anachronistic.
In addition, when the text fails to support their views, revisionist interpreters
appeal to personal experience or contemporary culture as the criterion
of truth and to the broader concepts of liberation theology and moral
argumentation. This approach subverts the biblical worldview by replacing
it with a contemporary view. This tactic is especially helpful when one argues
that the modern phenomenon of adult-adult mutuality in a homosexual
relationship was unknown in Bible times. Rather, mutuality justifies the conduct.
Modern sexology must correct the unenlightened Bible. This same
appeal to experience can be used to justify adultery, incest, pedophilia, prostitution,
pornography, polygamy, and any other alternative to heterosexual
monogamy, so long as committed mutuality was present.
Such an appeal exalts experience over Scripture and tradition. It effectively
destroys any distinction between what is good or beneficial and what
is evil or destructive. This approach reflects the arrogance and pride that
Paul points to in Romans 1:32: "Although they know God's righteous decree
that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to
do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."
The Creation of Male and Female
Justification of homosexuality from the Bible must take into account the
record of Creation in Genesis 1-2. Such revisionist interpreters as Boswell
have not overlooked this matter. They so interpret these passages that homosexuality
The assumption that the record of Creation and the Old Testament emphasis
on marriage show tacit rejection of one-gender sexual relationships is
"insupportable in a modern context," asserts Boswell. "It does not seem to
have occurred to early Christians." Indeed, "intense love relations between
persons of the same gender figure prominently in the Old Testament."
Boswell cites Saul and David, David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi.
Boswell does not argue that these relationships were sexual. He suggests
as much, however, by observing that literature of the Middle Ages sometimes
represented these relationships as erotic. He believes that Genesis
employs symbols and myths "to explain all its fundamental truths." He observes
that the account of origins omits an account of gay love, as it omits a
discussion of friendship, because "neither could produce offspring."
Boswell thereby implies that gay love is just as legitimate as nonsexual friendship
and heterosexual union, and that it goes unmentioned simply because
the biblical view of sexuality focuses totally on reproduction.
However, such interpretations fail to address the obvious pattern language
in the account. God has created human beings in His image and likeness.
Clearly, humankind only as male and female reflects the eternal diversity of
the divine Being (Gen. 1:26-27). In addition, God made woman from man
as a "helper suitable for him" (2:18, 20). We are able to recognize her special
nature and role from her formation. Female animals have no special or
corresponding mention, and their only special role is to procreate according
to their own kind. The text gives no place to the sexual differences among
animals, nor does it affirm that females come from males. Both male and
female animals come from the earth.
On the other hand, God could have made a thousand males for Adam,
yet He would not have fully achieved His own image and its internal diversity.
Without that full-orbed picture, His own being would have gone unknown
and unknowable. Only a woman, not another man, could complete
the divine design for humankind. Female and male differ from each other in
complementary fashion, and only their union brings about a completion.
In contrast, homosexuals do not find partners; they find mirrors. They relate
to each other as to one-dimensional sexual clones of themselves. The ontological
differences between male and female, reflecting God's ontology, do
not exist in a homosexual relationship. There is no union in "one flesh."
Homosexual practice is an attack against what it means to be human. Reproduction
is crucial, for thereby humans enter into the creative divine work
of generating further human life, which in turn has the capacity to express
love for God and for people. It fulfills God's plan for the human race
Boswell completely misses the focus of Genesis. The creation of humans
emphasized not reproduction but the image of God instilled in the human
being. Obviously, the existence of human beings involves more than reproduction,
as shown in the attention given to creation of the human female in
contrast with the attention given to creation of the female animals. God
would have given no special attention to the creation of the female person if
solely biological processes of reproduction were in view. Rather, the text
gives much attention to the creation of human personhood as "male and
female," and it calls for a special work of God. God breathes into man, and
woman is taken from man, not from the earth.
This argument is carried forward by experience. Across the cultures of
human history marriage has almost universally meant more than reproduction.
Sexuality goes deeper and extends beyond the time of reproduction.
While reproduction may represent the physical aspect of marriage, intimacy
and sexuality also figure into the more important social and spiritual dimensions.
Both the physical and nonphysical are necessary to define who we are
as humans. In addition, human beings have responsibility to the human community
as well as to themselves and their families.
Homosexuality denies all of this. It specifically rebels against God's plan
for an image-bearer and for heterosexual marriage of complementary human
beings for the good of human beings. Indeed, it rejects the nature of God as
revealed by humans and the special image of the divine nature that is revealed
bodily in Christ (Col. 1:15; 2:9). It arises out of pride and arrogance, as both
Scripture and Jews and Christians outside Scripture have recognized.
The creation of humans as male and female (Genesis 1) and the heterosexual
union that constitutes marriage (Genesis 2) lie at the basis of the rest
of Scripture and its comments about sexuality and marriage. A proper understanding
of, and submission to, the record of Creation will guide the inquirer
to the truth about homosexuality and heterosexuality. Genesis 1-3
clearly is foundational to other Bible texts.
Homosexuality and Sodom
In regard to Genesis 19, revisionist interpreters adopt the view that the
destruction of Sodom was due to the city's inhospitality, the violence of the
people toward the two visitors sent from God. The cause of destruction was
not general wickedness, homosexual rape, or homosexual lust. Homosexual
relations became the interpretation as a result of myths popularized in the
early Christian church, Boswell claims. Rather, Genesis 19 condemns inhospitality
to strangers or general violence or is an allegory "only tangentially
related to sexuality." He argues that his view is that which modern
scholarship increasingly favors, mainly as a result of the influence of Bailey's
work. The men of Sodom merely wanted to "know" the strangers received
by Lot, to inspect their passports, as it were.
The Terms of the Text
At issue is the translation of the Hebrew word yada, commonly meaning
"to know." In the New International Version text for Genesis 19:5 and
8, the words of verse 5, "can have sex with," and those of verse 8, "never
slept with," are in each case the translation of yada:
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.". [Lot
said to the men] "Look, I have two daughters who have never slept
with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what
you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they
have come under the protection of my roof."
Others take the view that the text condemns violence of some sort. Countryman
says it is violence, not impurity, for impurity would be irrelevant prior
to the giving of the Law in Exodus and Leviticus. There is no basis for finding a
"universal condemnation of homosexuality or even of homosexual acts."
Countryman appeals to other writers of the Old Testament who, he claims, do
not specify Sodom's sin. Even the use of the term abominations is so unspecific
that one cannot be sure what it means when used by such writers as Ezekiel.
Edwards, with his grid of liberation theology, says that Sodom represents
disregard for the rights of the powerless in "Canaanite statism." Sodom stands
for "violent, aggressive abuse of power and injustice" in the form of "phallic
aggression" against subordinates. To link Sodom with homosexuality in
general is "essentially heretical." Similarly, Nissinen adds that Sodom does
not help us to know God's attitude toward same-gender sexual behavior.
So the revisionist approach to Genesis 19 (and Judges 19, discussed below)
is twofold. With Boswell and Bailey, some deny that homosexuality
was involved at Sodom. Rather, the issue was inhospitality. Others, with
Countryman and Edwards, affirm that homosexual rape or violence was
involved at Sodom, but they do not regard this as evidence for universal
condemnation of homosexual acts.
To prove his position that only inhospitality was the fault, Boswell first
appeals to word frequency. Only ten of 943 occurrences of "to know" (yada)
in the Old Testament unequivocally have the sense of sexual knowledge.
What Boswell and others neglect to discern is that each of those ten instances
is identified as sexual knowledge by context. When a word can have more
than one meaning, context, not frequency, is the crucial factor. Word frequency
only enables one to weigh the likelihood of a meaning or to consider
the range of possible meanings when context is unclear.
In addition, another tool to find meaning is proximity to uses of the same
word elsewhere in the text or usage by the same writer. Use of yada in an
obvious sexual sense occurs in Genesis 4:1, 17, 25. The meaning of sexual
relations establishes a meaning precedent for the book and argues for the
legitimacy of this meaning in Genesis 19:5: "Where are the men who came
to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know [have sexual relations
with] them." Since Moses uses the term with this meaning the most
frequently, it is at least plausible that such a meaning occurs in 19:5.
The use of know in the context just three verses later (19:8) settles the
issue. It is difficult to see how yada can have anything but the sense of "to
have sexual relations with." Lot says, "I have two daughters who have not
had relations with [have not known] man." In this context a sexual sense in
19:5 is virtually certain. The use of equivalents to yada in other Near Eastern
languages (such as Egyptian, Ugaritic, and Akkadian) shows that a euphemistic
sexual meaning was common.
Boswell argues that the term never occurs in reference to homosexual
rape. Boswell's argument has two faults. One is that nowhere else does yada
mean "to inspect passports" ("to act inhospitably"). He also is wrong in asserting
that yada never refers to homosexual assault or rape. We shall see
that this is clearly the meaning in Judges 19:22, 25. Both the Hebrew and
the LXX Greek say that the men of Gibeah came to "know" the concubine,
in the sense of sexually assaulting her: "The men . raped her" (v. 25).
Unmistakably, verse 22 relates that the men of Gibeah sexually desired the
Levite, not his concubine (cf. Judg. 19:22-24; 20:5-6).
The issue of inhospitality does occur in 19:15, 18, but that evil is something
distinct from what happens when the mob of men arrives. Further, it
is fair to ask how it was hospitable for the owner of the house to turn over
the concubine, who also was a stranger in the city. If the homeowner was
defending hospitality and resisting inhospitality, he certainly did not do so
with the Levite's concubine. He gave her over to sexual abuse, even though
she was the property of someone else!
The only explanation of his action that makes any sense is that he was
trying to prevent a greater crime and evil than inhospitality.
Sodom in the New Testament
At this point, revisionist interpreters appeal to the New Testament, claiming
with Boswell that Jesus "apparently believed that Sodom was destroyed
for the sin of inhospitality." In Matthew 10:14-15 and Luke 10:10-12, the
Lord does not cite the cause of Sodom's destruction, but He identifies the
destruction as a prime example of God's judgment. The sin in the context
is not inhospitality but failure to believe the gospel of the kingdom (Matt.
10:7; Luke 10:9). It is rejection of Christ (10:16).
Sodom in the Septuagint
One of the strongest supports for the traditional interpretation of what
happened at Sodom comes from the LXX translation 0f Genesis 19:5, which
uses the term syngenometha. Boswell believes that this use supports his interpretation.
He points out that this word simply means "becoming familiar
with" or "making the acquaintance of" in Genesis 19:5, whereas egnosan
and chresas clearly refer to sexual behavior in 19:8. However, in the parallel
of Judges 19:22, the LXX uses another form of egnosan, gnomen, in the request
of the men of Gibeah to "know" the Levite. It plainly has a sexual
Also, Boswell has not given all the information regarding the term in 19:5.
The word syngignomai, which later came to be spelled synginomai, can mean
various things, including to (1) "be born with, (2) associate or keep company
with or hold converse with, or to (3) become acquainted or conversant with."
Under the second meaning, various ideas are possible, including "come to
assist," "come together with," "meet," or "have sexual intercourse with." The
last meaning occurs in the fifth to fourth centuries B.C. in Xenophon's Anabasis
1.2.12 and in Plato's The Republic 329c and Leges (Laws) 930d. It is also
found with that meaning in an undated Greek inscription, in writings by
Herodotus (2.121.e; 5th century B.C.) and Epidaurus (4th century B.C.), and
in Plutarch's Solon 23 (A.D. 1st-2d centuries). These several references, most
of them from shortly before 250 B.C., which was the era of the LXX translation,
argue that a sexual meaning for the term is probable in Genesis 19:5.
In addition, A Concordance to the Septuagint by Hatch and Redpath cites
two occurrences of synginomai in the canonical Septuagint (Gen. 19:5; 39:10)
and one occurrence in the Apocrypha (Judith 12:16). These occurrences
are in sexual contexts. Genesis 39:10 relates to the attempted seduction of
Joseph by Potiphar's wife. The last words are the translation of this term:
"And it came about as she spoke to Joseph day after day, that he did not listen
to her to lie beside her, or be with her" (emphasis added). The New International
Version translates the last portion: "He refused to go to bed with
her or even be with her" (emphasis added). The final words could just as well
be in apposition to the earlier ones: "he refused to go to bed with her, to
have intercourse with her." Indeed, William L. Holladay cites this verse as
an instance in which the Hebrew hayaim means "to be with someone at
someone's house sexually."
The above data rather convincingly supports a sexual meaning forsynginomai in Genesis 19:5. Indeed, the translators of the LXX might have
deliberately desired to make the sexual reference more explicit, not weaker,
than the Hebrew yada or the Greek ginosko would suggest. This and other
evidence from the LXX is compelling.
Revisionist interpreters do acknowledge that Lot's offer of his daughters
to the men in Genesis 19:8 must suggest some sexual meaning for yada.
Boswell believes that the connection with 19:5 is purely imaginary. Lot was
speaking impulsively, "on the spur of the moment." That argument is irrelevant
to the point that the same term yada occurs in verses 5 and 8, in
such proximity that the assumption can hardly be missed: Both instances
mean "to have sexual relations with." Boswell cites examples from Roman
literature in which fathers offered female children as bribes in nonsexual
contexts, but this is beside the point. He already has admitted the strong
sexual behavior belonging to the verbs used by the LXX in verse 8.
The Hebrew yada occurs here as a euphemism, one of four occurring in
the Pentateuch as references to sexual intercourse. The others are "to come
near or approach" (Gen. 20:4; Isa. 8:3); "to lie with" (Levit. 20:11); "to take
(marry) a wife" (Levit. 20:21); and "to uncover the nakedness" (Levit. 18:14).
All of them have the same meaning.
Sodom and the Disgrace at Gibeah
Boswell and others argue that the account in Judges 19:22ff. also refers
only to inhospitality or violence. We all can agree that the writer of Judges
has clearly modeled his telling of the story on Genesis 19, and we should
interpret them the same way. Although Boswell claims that "Jews and
Christians have overwhelmingly failed to interpret this story as one of homosexuality,"
he fails to back up this claim with any sources. A footnote
admits that some sources have interpreted the act as sodomy. Although the
definitions for sodomy have been wide enough to include several sexual vices,
no one has tried to include inhospitality as a possible meaning, except in the
sense that all sexual attacks are inhospitable.
The Levite could hardly view the interest of the men of Gibeah as simply
an inhospitable act. In Judges 20:5-6, he recounts that the men of Gibeah
came after him intending to kill him. It is a "disgraceful" and "lewd" act. In
19:22, the men demand to have sex with, "to know," the Levite. The host
called this a "disgraceful" and "vile" thing (vv. 23-24 NIV). If the men's aim
was only to become acquainted with the Levite, why do they "rape" the
concubine? Note again that to know is translated "rape."
Boswell makes the amazing claim in his treatment of the account in Judges
that it is anachronistic to view sexual matters as very important to Old Testament
stories. However, the most cursory examination of the narratives of
Genesis and the rest of the Old Testament shows a decided interest in sexuality
and sexual expression of every sort. Sexual concerns arise as early as
Genesis 2 and 3 and are quite clearly related to the cause of the universal
flood of Genesis 6-8: "The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were
beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose" (6:2).
Throughout the Pentateuch's historical narrative, written before Judges, the
author assumes certain sexual standards. Far less attention is given to hospitality.
In Joshua 6, Boswell thinks the Jews spared Rahab the prostitute because
of her hospitality because he sees parallels between that story and
Genesis 19 and Judges 19-20. However, the story is not parallel. Rahab was
spared because of her faith, not her hospitality. Without exercising faith,
she would not have shown hospitality and would have perished. The reason
God destroyed Jericho was not inhospitality. It was rather the inhabitants'
refusal to worship Yahweh and their resulting sins (Josh. 2:8-11; see also
Boswell seeks to show from secular and biblical sources (for example,
Genesis 18; Deut. 23:3-4) that inhospitality was such a grave offense to that
culture that it warranted the destruction of a city. The text never even hints
that this was the reason for the judgment. Inhospitality did characterize the
Sodomites because they pursued homosexual attack. As Thomas E. Schmidt
observes, it is even a false dichotomy to distinguish inhospitality from sexual
sin. The issue is whether this interpretation limiting the sin to inhospitality
is plausible and fits the text and context. Is it possible that God would
destroy an entire city and culture simply because the men wanted to "know"
who the visitors were? Note that the Scriptures seem gender specific; the
men sin in both accounts (Gen. 19:4; Judg. 19:22). The text of Genesis 19:4
and 11 emphasizes the role of men. It is the men of Sodom, "both young
and old, all the people, to the last man (i.e., from every quarter)."
Does inhospitality meet the demands of such characterizations of the sin
of Sodom given as early as Genesis 13:13: "Now the men of Sodom were
wicked and were sinning greatly against the Lord" (NIV)? The author describes
the sin as directed against the Lord, not people. Also, Genesis 14:21
depicts the king of Sodom expressing gratitude for deliverance. He seems
capable of hospitality.
Finally, does inhospitality meet the description of Genesis 18:20ff? The
passage reads: "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" (vv. 21-22 NIV).
God sends the angels as men to Sodom to validate the outcry against its people
(19:13). The text specifies only one sin relating to the angelic visitors, so
only one sin exposed the wickedness and validated the outcry. That one sin
is the demand "to know" the male visitors (19:5). In the entire context, this
is the only deed that the writer considers to be wicked (v. 7; cf. Judg. 19:23-24).
It is sin, not merely some impure act, that the texts condemn.
The revisionist view asserts that early Christian writings, such as Jude,
distorted the original meaning of the story of Sodom. This writing, which
Boswell characterizes as less "authentic" than others, supposedly refers (in
Jude 7) to a Jewish legend that the women of Sodom had intercourse with
angels! However, verse 7 does not mention women. Verse 8 refers to men
who "in the same way . pollute their own bodies." Also, Jude is part of
our canon, whereas what Boswell considers the "more authentic interpretations"
of Origen, Ambrose, and others are not. Jude 7-8 read (NIV):
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns
gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve
as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. In
the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject
authority and slander celestial beings.
The attempt to set Origen, Ambrose, and other later Christian writers at
odds with Jude's "homosexual interpretations" is an argument from silence.
Subsequent writers do not deny that homosexuality was involved. Rather
they follow the pattern of most of Scripture and stress the other sins at Sodom.
Boswell and other revisionists fail to cite all patristic evidence. Indeed, in
his review of Boswell's book, J. Robert Wright notes that Boswell makes
no use of the extensive patristic biblical indexes that were available. In the
first three volumes of Biblia Patristica: Index des citations et allusions bibliques
dan la literature patristique are 157 references to Genesis 19:1-29 and 140 references
to Leviticus 18 and 20. Boswell makes no use of these sources. His
use of two or three church fathers hardly constitutes sufficient research on
which to base a substantive conclusion about the early church fathers.
The Literary Form of the Text
The literary form of Genesis 19 and the literary setting of the chapter in
the book of Genesis add finality to the proof for the traditional interpretation.
A meaning regarding Sodom and its sin comes from the larger context
of the literary structure. This understanding is crucial for determining the
meaning of the words in 19:5 and 8. The story of Sodom is not an isolated
episode but a pivotal part of a larger whole. Robert Alter has pointed out
that Sodom, "far from being an interruption of the saga of the seed of
Abraham, is a major thematic nexus of the larger story." This literary significance
is lost if one removes sexual sin from the text of Genesis 19.
Alter points out that three motifs occur in all annunciation-type scenes:
(1) the woman's condition of barrenness; (2) the annunciation; and, immediately
following, (3) the fulfillment, the birth of the son (cf. Gen. 15; 17;
25:19-25; Judg. 13:1; 1 Sam. 1:2; 2 Kings 4:8-17). However, fulfillment is
delayed until Isaac is born (Genesis 21). Prior to the birth narrative, we learn
of the intercession of Abraham and destruction of Sodom (Genesis 18-19);
the origin of the Moabites and Ammonites through the incest of Lot and
his daughters (Genesis 19); and the sister-wife episode of Abraham and Sarah
in Gerar (Genesis 20).
All three episodes have to do with the promise of seed to Abraham, including
the story of Sodom. The three episodes give content to the faithfulness
of Abraham. They show that Abraham is meeting the stipulation of
Genesis 18:19: "For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children
and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is
right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has
promised him" (NIV). In particular, the account of Sodom adds a "new essential
theme to the covenantal idea" in the story of Abraham. Alter comments,
"Survival and propagation, then, depend on the creation of a just
Each of the three episodes poses a threat to the fulfillment not alone of
the promised birth of Isaac but the whole future of God's plan, whereby the
Gentiles also are blessed. Each episode relates sexual sin and its punishment.
Sodom is a society without judge or justice This story of the doomed
city is crucial not only to Genesis but to the moral thematics of the Bible
as a whole (compare the use of Sodom in Isaiah 1 and Judges 19) because
it is the biblical version of anti-civilization . in regard to this episode's
place in the larger story of progeny for Abraham, it is surely important
that homosexuality is a necessarily sterile form of sexual intercourse, as
though the proclivities of the Sodomites answered biologically to their
utter indifference to the moral prerequisites for survival.
Various motifs connect the narratives of the Flood and Sodom and the
other episodes: God's "looking down," Lot's wife's "looking back," Ham
"looking on the nakedness of" Noah, along with the place of blindness in
the narrative. The daughters of Lot engage in incest (a judgment on Lot for
his earlier offering of his daughters) because they think that God has laid
waste the whole land and civilization with it (Gen. 19:32, 34). So the destruction
of the cities of the plain (including Sodom) is a second judgment
(the first by water, the second by fire). The phrases "rained down" and "from
the heavens" in both narratives (Gen. 7:11-12; 19:24) reinforce this connection.
So does the sexual sin of Ham against his father, Noah. In the
third episode, when Abimelech asks God whether He will slay innocent
people because of the incident with Sarah (20:4), there is a connection with
Abraham's similar inquiry about Lot in Sodom (18:25). For Abraham, however,
Gerar is not another Sodom, for Abimelech does not harm Sarah.
Abraham intercedes for Abimelech, as he did for Sodom, and God removes
the plague of sterility from Abimelech's household (20:18). He also remembers
Sarah, and she gives birth to Isaac (21:1).
Sodom, then, placed between the promise of Isaac and its fulfillment,
becomes "the great monitory model, the myth of a terrible collective destiny
antithetical to Israel's." When sodomy occurs again in Gibeah (Judges
19-20), a whole tribe almost disappears because at first none of the other
tribes will give their daughters in marriage to the Benjaminites (Judges 21).
Later, Isaiah compares Judah to the evils of Sodom (Isaiah 1).
Alter's study of the literary features of the text is significant. It shows that
the revisionists cannot sustain their interpretation of Sodom. The literary
structure of the text demands a homosexual meaning for the sin of Sodom.
Illicit sexual enjoyment or opportunism connects all three of the episodes.
Each one poses a threat to Propagation and survival and a just society. Without
the homosexual meaning for Sodom and its consequences, there is no
coherence among the episodes. The revisionist view fails to meet the demands
of the literary structure of the text.