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Sodom and Gomorrah

I was always taught that the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because homosexuality ran rampant in them.  I have heard repeated several times over that the sin of Sodom is homosexual behavior.  After having studied the Bible more closely, I cannot understand where anyone would get this idea.  Let us review the entire passage concerning Sodom and Gomorrah, found in Genesis 19.  (All Bible passages quoted will be from the KJV.)
1And 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;

2And 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.

3And 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.

4 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:

5And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

6And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him,

7And said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

8 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.

9And 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 thee, than with them. And they pressed sore upon the man, even Lot, and came near to break the door.

10But the men put forth their hand, and pulled Lot into the house to them, and shut to the door.

11And they smote the men that were at the door of the house with blindness, both small and great: so that they wearied themselves to find the door.
There are those who contend that the word "know" occurring in verse 5 merely means "become acquainted with", arguing that the people of the city just wanted these visitors to the city to be registered. However, for the sake of argument, I will concede this point and proceed with the assumption that "know", in this instance, has a sexual connotation.  This seems reasonable in light of verse 8, where Lot seemingly offers up his daughters in place of the angels for these men to have their way with.

So, what is the sin that is being committed here?  It appears to be a gang-rape.  I do not recall any place in the Bible condoning orgies of any kind.  And, in fact, I do recall the Savior bespeaking even the burning of lust within the heart, which these men clearly had and were expressing.  So, these men are lusting and wish to perform a gang rape on the angels visiting Lot.  That seems like a very serious sin to me.  Certainly I will not advocate group orgies of any nature, including those involving only men.  This is an example of wanton lust, not a deep expression of love like the sex that occurs between two married people should be.  I see no indication anywhere in this story that any of the people of Sodom or Gomorrah were interested in pursuing a loving, dedicated homosexual relationship.

Now, let us turn to actual passages from the Bible which discuss what the sin of Sodom really was. The first occurs in Ezekiel 16.
49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.

50 And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
I don't see any mention in this list of anything relating to homosexuality.  I see pride, overeating, laziness, and apathy.  I do need to point out here that in the current LDS version of the Bible, there is a footnote on the word "abomination" which points to the Topical Guide entry for "homosexuality", but this is completely unwarranted.  The word "abomination" was used quite broadly back in those days.  Everything that was against the Law of Moses (for example, pork) was called an "abomination".  Hence, it would have been just as logical for that footnote to say "pork" rather than "homosexuality".  In the actual text of this passage, there isn't even any mention of any sexual sins at all--including that of homosexual behavior.  Was this merely an oversight?  Did Ezekiel just forget to list it?  Considering the fact that most people give homosexuality as the sole reason for the destruction of these cities, I find that very hard to believe.

Isaiah speaks about Sodom when he is telling Israel that they will be destroyed--but not all.  There is hope for Israel because a remnant will be saved and will return and be restored, unlike the city of Sodom that was utterly destroyed, without a single survivor.  The passage is found in Isaiah 1.
9Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.

11To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.

12When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?

13Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of dassemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.
What is Isaiah condemning here?  He is condemning hypocrisy.  He is stating that the people don't actually mean it when they pretend to worship Him.  Does this apply to Sodom?  Possibly.  He addresses "ye rulers of Sodom", but he speaks figuratively very often, so he may be referring in actuality to the rulers of Israel, not of Sodom.  But, it is noted that nowhere in his list of offenses here is homosexuality to be found.  Not once.

The next passage where the sin of Sodom is alluded to (and it's important that we remember this is merely an allusion, no specifics about what the sin of Sodom actually is are given) is when the Savior talks about people rejecting his servants (specifically the apostles).  This is found in Matthew 10.

14 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.

15 Verily I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgement, than for that city.
So, there are a couple of options here:

  1. The sin of Sodom is homosexuality.  In which case, Jesus is saying that rejecting someone who is teaching you the gospel is worse than homosexuality.  This is the opposite of the order most churches (including the LDS church) rank homosexuality.  Most people lump it in with other sexual sins and place the whole group of sexual sins third: the first being the unpardonable sin and the second being murder.  Since neither of those first two in the list are rejecting the apostles, I would say that either the ranking is bad or Jesus really isn't talking about homosexuality after all.
  2. The sin of Sodom is something else--for example, greed and inhospitality, as Ezekiel says it is.  This interpretation makes much more sense because Jesus is specifically talking about being inhospitable to His servants.  It would seem reasonable to me that being inhospitable to someone that Jesus specifically sent to teach you His word is slightly (if not significantly) more serious than just being generally inhospitable.  So, I tend to believe this interpretation.
The next passage that mentions Sodom is in Luke 17.
28Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded;

29But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
This passage doesn't seem to be mentioning what the sin of Sodom was, merely that people were going about their business like any normal day and then poof they were all destroyed.  But, if it is mentioning their sins, again, I don't see homosexuality anywhere in the list here.

In 2 Peter 2:6, Paul mentions that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah in order to show people that He cannot tolerate sin.

The passage in the epistle of Jude, chapter 1, is the only one of which I am aware which could possibly be construed so as to say that the sin of Sodom included (but was certainly not limited to) homosexuality.  It reads thusly.
7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, 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.
It is fairly clear what "fornication" means and that it is a serious sin.  However, the passage "going after strange flesh" is rather ambiguous.  It is customary in Jewish writing for the author to repeat himself when speaking or writing--usually to emphasize the point being made.  Therefore, it is entirely conceivable that the phrase "going after strange flesh" is merely a restatement of "fornication".  This makes sense because someone other than your own spouse would be "strange flesh"--that is, someone with whom you are not allowed to have sex.  It could also mean adultery, using the same reasoning.  Also, since it is "strange" flesh, it could very easily mean a one-night stand--someone with whom you have not had sex before and quite possibly never will have sex with again.  Any one of these options is clearly denounced as sin in several other places in the Bible.  But, interpreting "going after strange flesh" as "having a loving and dedicated relationship with a member of the same sex" seems like a bit of a stretch to me, especially since this would be the only passage in the entire Bible to indicate that the sin of Sodom is homosexuality, where all of the others (such as the one in Ezekiel) which list the sins of Sodom omit homosexuality from the list.

At any rate, there are several passages where Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned.  Some do not say what the sin of Sodom is and all of those that do (or, where an argument may be made that they do) I have enumerated above.  There is only one passage of scripture which, through no small stretch of the imagination, might possibly be interpreted to state that homosexuality was one of (but not the only) the sins of Sodom, while other passages state the sin of Sodom and exclude homosexuality from the list.  I do not see that there is sufficient evidence from the Bible alone that conclusively shows that the men of Sodom were destroyed for loving each other.  Certainly, if some homosexual acts that they committed were sin, there seems to be evidence that this sin was more along the lines of group orgies rather than one-on-one meaningful sex occurring in a loving and dedicated relationship.

Concerning other passages of the writings of Paul which refer to homosexuality (but not the "sin of Sodom"--this is a separate topic), I came across this rather comprehensive discussion of such matters just this morning on one of the blogs that I follow.  Anyone interested in further studying what the Bible says about homosexuality should read it.

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