by Duane Andersen and Robert A. Rees
We know from modern revelation that the Bible has often been misinterpreted. Sometimes this is because misinterpretations are passed on from generation to generation. At other times it is because a lack of historical, cultural or scriptural evidence prevents us from making a definitive interpretation. It is therefore important as we study the Bible to understand that some scriptural interpretations accepted as true are actually a result of centuries and even millennia of ideas and traditions that have persisted in spite of what the scriptures actually say. One of the best example of this are the traditions surrounding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Many Christians, including many Mormons, believe that these ancient cities were destroyed because of the practice of homosexuality. However, not only is this point of view not supported in scripture, it is actually contradicted by scripture.
The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is found in Genesis 18 and 19. Three strangers (seen variously as angels or prophets) visit Abraham before going on to Sodom and Gomorrah, telling him that God will destroy these cities because their “sin is very grievous.” Abraham famously negotiates with the visitors, hoping to save the cities from destruction. It is finally agreed that if Abraham can find ten righteous people in the cities, God will spare them.
When the three men arrive in Sodom and Gomorrah, they are greeted hospitably and given shelter by Abraham’s nephew, Lot. A group of ostensibly heterosexual men from the city try to break into Lot’s house with the objective of sexually assaulting the strangers—treating them “like women” and thus challenging their masculinity. Such inhospitable treatment of strangers was considered a grave social transgression in ancient Israel. When Lot refuses and the aggressors attempt to break into his house to brutalize his guests, his visitors blind them and tell Lot to take his family and leave the city. Once Lot and his daughters are safely outside the city, it is destroyed by fire.
Traditionally, readers of the Bible have interpreted this episode as having to do with homosexuality, but homosexuality is never mentioned in this account. In fact, other biblical scriptures make clear what the transgressions of the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were and why the Lord considered them serious enough to warrant the cities’ destruction. In Ezekiel 16, for example, the Lord threatens to destroy Jerusalem, suggesting that the sins of its inhabitants are worse than those of Sodom: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done. 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.” (Ez 16:49-50, NIV)
Thus, according to what the Lord tells Ezekiel, Sodom was destroyed because of pride and neglect of the poor. This accusation is reinforced by the prophet Isaiah, who adds the sin of blasphemy to the others: “Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence. The look on their faces [the people of Jerusalem] testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves. . . . The LORD enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard; the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?’ declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty” (3:9, 14-5, NIV). Again, Sodom’s sins are blasphemy, plundering, and persecuting the poor, not homosexual behavior.
The book of Jude in the New Testament adds one more sin to the catalog of transgressions of these ancient cities. Speaking of the Israelites, Jude says, “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” (1:9, NIV) It is important to note that the “sexual immorality and perversion” here are not specified as either hetero- or homosexual in nature.
It is important to remember that Sodom and Gomorrah were guilty of many transgressions; nevertheless, in response to Abraham’s plea for mercy, God was willing to save them if ten righteous inhabitants could be found therein. In other words, both the great prophet Abraham and God himself were willing to save the city unless it was proven to be totally depraved, which it was. That depravity, as we have seen was a result of multiple sins, none of which is identified explicitly as homosexual.