You don’t have to be a Christian to have heard of the infamous twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The tale has leapt from the pages of Scripture and has entered into mainstream culture. So, the problem certainly isn’t a lack of familiarity with the tale. The problem is that the traditional interpretation of the narrative is exceedingly inaccurate, in that it grossly misidentifies the reason God decided to destroy these cities. In fact, the Bible gives a very solid body of evidence as to why these cities were destroyed, and homosexuality is nowhere to be found!
The reason so many people believe that homosexuality was the cause of these cities’ destruction is that in the destruction narrative—recorded in Genesis 19—an attempt to have sex with two apparently male visitors was made by the townsmen. People interpret this as the reason God decided to destroy these cities, but Scripture absolutely disagrees.
Genesis 19 records the circumstances surrounding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but it actually tells us nothing concerning the reason God decided to destroy the cities. Assigning the actions that took place within this narrative to God’s initial determination to destroy the cities is improper.
Think of this simple, but very accurate analogy…
Let’s say that for my birthday, someone I’ve seen around but never met sends me a card with $50 in it. A week later, I see him. I approach him in order to express my gratitude. As I get near, he says, “Hello.”
I respond, “Thank you so much. I really appreciated that!”
He replies, “You’re welcome.”
Now, did I say thanks because he said hello? Of course not. That may be what took place in that particular moment, but the reason I said thanks had nothing to do with what was happening right then. It had to do with what happened prior to then, which prompted me to approach him in the first place.
In precisely the same way, Genesis 19 records the events surrounding Sodom and Gomorrah’s destruction, but it tells us nothing about why God determined to destroy the cities in the first place. Those who point to the infamous scene of the men surrounding the house as evidence that God destroyed the cities because of homosexuality are misinterpreting the intent of the passage.
What’s interesting is that that famous scene actually had nothing to do with homosexuality. So, even if it was the reason God decided to destroy the cities, homosexuality still wasn’t the culprit. However, I’ll save that discussion for another time. For now, our task is to search the Scriptures to determine exactly why God decided that these cities were so bad that the only solution was to wipe them off of the face of the earth.
Now, in my birthday analogy, the only way to learn why I thanked my new friend was to back up and get a history lesson. The past contained the key to the present. So, let’s put that principle in action and back up from the destruction narrative in Genesis 19 to see what actually led to this judgment.
Identifying The Cause
“And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way.  And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do;  Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?  For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.  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.  And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD.  And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?  Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein?  That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?  And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes.  And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord, which am but dust and ashes:  Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it.  And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty’s sake.  And he said unto him, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there.  And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the Lord: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty’s sake.  And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.  And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.”
Unlike chapter 19, this passage, which immediately preceeds the destruction chapter, lays out the reason God initially decided to destroy these cities. Verse 20 expressly states that what drew God’s attention to Sodom and Gomorrah was a great outcry against these cities, which had arisen to His throne. As a result, He determined to launch a sort of investigation, to see what was causing the people to cry out against them so (v. 21).
This presents the first logical problem against the traditional interpretation of homosexuality. Only the most uninformed or the most bigoted people believe that homosexuals are rapists, pedophiles, or other sexually oppressive people. Certainly, there are homosexuals who fit this description, but no more than there are heterosexuals who also fit it.
The question is: If there was an outcry against these cities that got God’s attention, how was homosexuality the cause of it? It doesn’t matter how good or how bad the sex is; someone doesn’t cry out to God because of it, precisely because the sex was consensual. So, same-sex attractions and/or same-sex sexual activity just doesn’t present cause for such an outcry to rise to the throne of God.
Apparently, cruelly oppressive and exploitative things were being done in these cities to the degree that it got Heaven’s attention. Seeing as homosexuality isn’t a logical culprit, let’s see if the Scriptures actually identify what the culprit(s) actually was—what was causing people far and wide to cry out against the cities.
“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.  And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.”
From the mouth of God Himself (through the prophet), the wicked sins committed by Sodom were:
- Fullness of Bread
- Abundance of Idleness
- Not Helping The Poor and Needy
- Committing Abomination
God identified six sins that resulted in His judgment against the cities. Note in verse 50b that He says, “therefore I took them away as I saw good.” In other words, He wasn’t simply listing various sins of Sodom here. He listed the exact reasons that resulted in His judgment. Someone please tell me where homosexuality is mentioned…
Now, however unfortunate, the sixth sin identified is rather ambiguous. They “committed abomination” before God. Okay, fine; but there were many abominable sins. Which abomination did they commit? Traditionalists are, no doubt, quick to answer: Homosexuality! But, jumping to conclusions does not honor God’s word, neither does forcing our interpretation on various ambiguous texts. If we want to identify the abomination the Sodomites were guilty of committing, we’ll need to look elsewhere in Scripture for guidance.
Search your concordance for mentions of Sodom and/or Gomorrah, and you’ll eventually fall upon the only other passage that specifically identifes the sinful activity Sodom engaged in. In his epistle, the apostle Jude mentions Sodom and Gomorrah by name and identifes what certainly qualifies as their abominable sin.
“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.”
Here, we have the first clear mention of the fact that one of Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins were, indeed, of a sexual nature. It says that they gave themselves over to fornication, and pursued “strange flesh”. “Fornication” in this passage is the word ekporneuo, which is derived from the word porneuo, which is an umbrella term that is often translated “prostitute”, but which refers more simply to sexual immorality, in general. Think of how we might call a person a “whore” today because he/she is sexually promiscuous, not necessarily because he/she sells the body sexually.
So, what we have here is the identification of sexual sins in Sodom (porneuo). But again, we must be careful to let Scripture interpret Scripture. What exactly are the sexual sins they’re guilty of committing?
Well, keep reading… They went after “strange flesh”. Once again, we have a fairly generic, ambiguous term that people associate with homosexuality. But why do they associate it with homosexuality? Does the verse indicate homosexual activity? No. It’s associated with homosexuality because that’s how people interpret the intentions of the townsmen in the destruction narrative (Gen. 19). The problem is that that interpretation is grossly inaccurate—a conclusion explained in detail in another study.
Ask any student of Scripture how best to go about interpreting any single phrase or verse in Scripture and, if they know their stuff, the answer will always be “consider the context”. Any word, phrase, or verse taken in isolation from the surrounding passages can be twisted and misinterpreted. The best way to maintain the integrity of biblical intent is to consider an entire thought, rather than a small portion of it.
Thankfully, the context shows with absolute clarity what is being referred to by the term “strange flesh”, and, as you may imagine, it has nothing to do with homosexuality.
“And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.  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.  Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.  Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.”
Angels Among Us
By reading verses Jude 6-9, we get a better picture of what Jude was talking about when he mentioned Sodom and Gomorrah in verse 7. This context bears out that the subject isn’t homosexuality at all. It’s the untoward interactions between humans and angels.
Verse 6 talks about the angels who sinned during the days of Noah—the ones who left their heavenly habitation to engage in sexual intercourse with human women (Gen. 6:1-4). Note that Scripture elsewhere identifies these rebellious angels as the ones who are presently in chains (2Pe. 2:4-5).
Verse 8 deals with ungodly people who insult or otherwise speak blasphemous things against angels.
Verse 9 deals with two angelic beings (Michael and Satan—of angel kind, albeit now fallen) arguing over control of the body of Moses.
Each of these verses deal with human/angel interaction. Are we to lift verse 7 from this context and assume that it speaks of homosexuality, rather than more human/angel interactions of some sort? We can only be content to do that if our intention is to maintain our biblical worldview, rather than to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture.
So then, the “strange flesh” that the Sodomites were pursuing sexually wasn’t strange in that it belonged to other men. It was strange in that it belong to another (an other) created kind—that of angels. And before we make the mistake of believing that angels don’t have flesh since they are spiritual entities, let’s remember a few things.
- The angels who sinned in the days of Noah certainly had flesh, in that they were able to copulate and have hybrid children with human women.
- The apostle Paul specifically tells us that angels are able to take human form and interact with humans (Heb. 13:2).
- There are multiple examples in Scripture of angels taking human form, including those of Noah’s day (Point 1), those mentioned by Paul (Point 2), and those who visited Abraham in Gen. 18 (the same ones who later carried out God’s judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah in ch. 19).
It’s interesting to note that the phrase translated “strange flesh” in the King James Version is the Greek phrase sarkos heteras. Heteras means “different” or “other”, which perfectly describes the nature of this angelic flesh that the Sodomites were pursuing. It was not “different” in that it was the same (the flesh of other human men). If such were the case, Jude would have used the term sarkos homoios (same flesh). Instead, he expressly stated that they went after “different” or “other” flesh.
Bestiality was the sexual sin of the Sodomites, not homosexuality. God destroyed them for precisely the same reason He destroyed the world during the days of Noah. They were a wicked people and they committed abomination (Ez. 16:49-50), pursuing sexual activity with angel-beings (beings of an other created kind). Interestingly, these very two ingredients were contained within the culture of Noah’s day.
“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.  And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
Notice that the giants (Hebrew: Nephilim) were not simply genetic anomalies. They were the hybrid offspring of human women and angels. Yet, verse 4 expressly states that these Nephilim were in the earth “in those days, and also after that…” If they were in the earth after the time of the Flood, that means that these human/angel liasons did not end with the destruction of the old world. Even post-Flood, there were times when angels and humans copulated and had hybrid offspring.
Two aprocryphal books—though not considered inspired by most Protestant Christians—indicate that giants (Nephilim) were in Sodom prior to its destruction (Ecclesiasticus 16:7-9, Book of Jubilees 20:5). If this was the case, it certainly correlates with Jude’s accusation that they pursued angelic flesh, as well as Ezekiel’s prophetic word that they “committed abomination” before God.
So then, with a little study, we were able to specifically identify the reason God determined to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Let’s recount the sins that Scripture tells us led to the destruction of these two ancient cities:
- Fullness of Bread
- Abundance of Idleness
- Not Helping The Poor and Needy
- Committing Abomination (specifically, human/angel bestiality)
Where is homosexuality in this list? —Only in the minds of ill-informed people. It’s nowhere to be found in the Bible.
Why The Misinterpretation?
The obvious question is: How is it that so many Christians came to believe that the sin of the Sodomites was homosexuality? There’s actually a long answer and a relatively short answer to this question. I’m going to do something fairly uncharacteristic and give you the shorter answer (which actually isn’t all that short).
Misinterpretation is something that’s easily done when a person doesn’t commit themselves to studying the word of God, rather than simply reading it. I’m the first to admit that a surface reading of Genesis 19 can lead a person to believe that homosexuality was the culprit. But, even without the evidence we’ve uncovered in this study, that interpretation still has multiple logical problems.
The simple fact is that many Christians don’t think through what they read. They see men surrounding a house demanding to have sex with apparently male visitors, and they jump to the conclusion that the town is full of homosexuals. They don’t ask themselves, “Why is the entire male population of a town trying to rape strangers?” They never ask themselves if every homosexual is a rapist, and how a town could even survive beyond a generation if it was full of homosexual men. While these are not questions that this particular study answers, there are good answers, but one must think through it, rather than just read Scripture at “face value”.
Child of God, your Lord and Master calls you to think! You have to think about what you read—thoughtfully ponder it and let it revolve around in your mind before forming a premature conclusion. Hopefully, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah can serve as a case in point for how easy it is to completely misinterpret Scripture. Don’t make this mistake, and certanly don’t propagate bad interpretations by teaching them to your friends and/or family.
Let’s return to the biblical witness and accept the fact that God did not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality, but because of the six (6) sins mentioned above, among which was the sexual sin of human/angel bestial sex.