Genesis 19 -- the Sodom and Gomorrah story. The traditional understanding -- both Christian and Jewish, is that Sodom's sin that warranted its destruction was homosexual behavior (the origin of our English word "sodomy"). I now recognize that there's much more to the story than that. I will need to devote a whole post to this at a later time.
Well, this is the post.
As in the above mentioned post, I will not attempt to deal with Marin's confusing exegesis. But I do find myself in agreement with his main thesis that homosexual behavior does not seem to be the reason for Sodom's destruction.
The story of Genesis 19, while relating the actual events of that destruction, is not the only place in the Bible where Sodom is mentioned. The name Sodom is used 48 times in the Bible (39 in the Old Testament and 9 times in the New Testament). Its sister city Gomorrah, which underwent the same fate, is mentioned 23 times (19 in the Old Testament and 4 in the New Testament) in many of the same passages. Amazingly, at least to one who has long held the traditional view, while Sodom is held up in these passages as an example of evil and of God's judgment, homosexual behavior is not clearly mentioned as even one of the sins warranting that judgment.
While the story in Genesis 19 includes the description of an attempted homosexual gang rape of the two angelic messengers who appeared in human form, it should be noted that Lot, Abraham's brother offered his two virgin daughters to the attempted rapists (not exactly a moral alternative) in order to placate them. In other words, these men were perceived as violent rapists and the gender of their victim(s) was irrelevant. A similar incident is described in Judges 19, where the rapists are given their potential victim's female concubine.
But the particular incident in Genesis 19 was not that which brought down the Lord's wrath. It wasn't even the final straw. According to the previous chapter, Sodom and Gomorrah were already marked out for destruction. The two angels who were the objects of the attempted rape were a sort of investigative committee, sent to ascertain whether there were even 10 righteous people in the city (Genesis 18:20-33). There weren't!
In an earlier passage, Genesis 13:13, we read that "... the men of Sodom were evil and extremely wicked sinners against the LORD." No particular sins are mentioned.
So what was Sodom's sin? A search through the other passages sheds quite a bit of light, though most mentions of Sodom seem more concerned with the total destruction of the city itself than with the rationale for that destruction. I'll attempt to deal with those passages that do get more specific.
Isaiah the prophet compares the nation of Judah of his day to Sodom in Isaiah 1:10ff. The sins mentioned in this context, however, are not sexual sins of any sort. As far as I can see there are four that could be listed: false religion and hypocritical worship (verses 10-15); violence and murder (verses 15, 21); oppression of the poor and helpless (verses 17, 23); injustice and the taking of bribes (verse 23). Even when he labels Jerusalem as a whore (verse 21), he is speaking of their religious unfaithfulness. See also 3:8, 9. It should be noted as well that redemption is still held out as a possibility (1:18, 19, 27).
Jeremiah, like Isaiah before him, compared his nation of Judah to Sodom. In one passage he accuses his contemporaries, the prophets of Jerusalem of "the committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; they strengthen the hands of the wicked, so that no one turns away from his wickedness. All of them have become to Me as Sodom and its inhabitants as Gomorrah" (Jeremiah 23:14). Adultery often is used metaphorically of their unfaithfulness to the LORD. But even if literal adultery is meant, this is the only sexual sin so far mentioned.
In Ezekiel's (x-rated?) picture of the sins of Jerusalem (chapter 46), we find her accused of all sorts of whoring around -- her "adulterous" behavior in forsaking the LORD and prostituting herself to the nations around her. Jerusalem is compared with her "older sister Samaria," (which had already been destroyed) and with her "younger sister ... Sodom" (Ezekiel 16:46). Jerusalem and its inhabitants are accused of worse behavior than either of her "sisters." Ezekiel in this passage lists the sins of Sodom.
"Look -- this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were arrogant; they had plenty of bread and careless ease, yet she did not take the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abominations before Me, so I removed them as you have seen" (Ezekiel 16:49, 50). While we're not told specifically what those "abominations" were, there is not even a hint anywhere of homosexual behavior.
In the New Testament, the same pattern continues: Sodom is help up by Jesus as an example of evil and of God's judgment, and is compared to the evils of His day. Jesus even compares the cities of His day unfavorably to Sodom. He says that if Sodom had seen what the cities of His day had seen, they would have repented and been spared (Matthew 10:15; 11:23, 24). However, the sin here appears to be their rejection of Him. This also seems to be the reason for the reference to Jerusalem in the last book in the New Testament as "... the great city which is called spiritually Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified" (Revelation 11:8).
The only specific reference in the New Testament clearly tying Sodom to sexual sin is Jude 7. "... as Sodom and Gomorrah ... indulged in gross immorality (ekporneusasai) and went after strange flesh (sarkos heteras) ... " the going "after strange flesh" is believed by many to be homosexual behavior and very well may be. It should be noticed, however, that Jude is comparing the sexual licentiousness of the false teachers of his day with Sodom (verse 4) and with the fallen angels (verse 6) apparently mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4, who cohabited with women. So the whole passage appears to be a blanket condemnation of the illicit sexual behavior of those who professed to be Christian leaders. Sound familiar?
It would seem to me that we of the evangelical community, especially those who are concerned about moral issues, need to get back to the teaching of the prophets and of Jesus. We need to clean up our own acts first of all, to make sure that our relationship with our Lord is not "adulterous," but is one of complete faithfulness to Him.
And if we want to be concerned with the social evils around us, there are plenty to be concerned with -- injustice, the mistreatment of the poor -- those that brought down God's judgment on Sodom. I don't believe we need to concentrate on the sexual behavior of one particular group.