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 just plain wrong, in that it grossly misidentifies the reason God decided to destroy these cities. To their shame, the Bible explicitly tells us 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 disagrees.

As I said, Genesis 19 records the circumstances surrounding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, but it actually tells us nothing about 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 analogy…

Let’s say that for my birthday, someone 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 very 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 what happened was the reason God decided to destroy the cities, homosexuality still wasn’t the culprit. However, I’ll address that in more detail further below. Our first 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 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

Then the men rose up from there, and looked down toward Sodom; and Abraham was walking with them to send them off. [17] The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, [18] since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? [19] “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” [20] And the LORD said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. [21] “I will go down now, and see if they have done entirely according to its outcry, which has come to Me; and if not, I will know.” [22] Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, while Abraham was still standing before the LORD. [23] Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? [24] “Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? [25] “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” [26] So the LORD said, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare the whole place on their account.” [27] And Abraham replied, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord, although I am but dust and ashes. [28] “Suppose the fifty righteous are lacking five, will You destroy the whole city because of five?” And He said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” [29] He spoke to Him yet again and said, “Suppose forty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it on account of the forty.” [30] Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak; suppose thirty are found there?” And He said, “I will not do it if I find thirty there.” [31] And he said, “Now behold, I have ventured to speak to the Lord; suppose twenty are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the twenty.” [32] Then he said, “Oh may the Lord not be angry, and I shall speak only this once; suppose ten are found there?” And He said, “I will not destroy it on account of the ten.” [33] As soon as He had finished speaking to Abraham the LORD departed, and Abraham returned to his place.
Genesis 18:16-33

Unlike chapter 19, this passage, which is right before 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 risen 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 abusive 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 doesn’t explain why such an outcry rose 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 these cities.

“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. [50] “Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”
Ezekiel 16:49-50

From the mouth of God Himself (through the prophet), the wicked sins committed by Sodom were identified as:

  1. Pride
  2. Fullness of Bread
  3. Abundance of Idleness
  4. Not Helping The Poor and Needy
  5. Haughtiness
  6. Committing Abominations

God identified six sins that resulted in His judgment against the cities. Note in verse 50b that He says, “Therefore I removed them when I saw it.” 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 abominations” before God. Okay, fine; but there were many abominable sins. Which abominations did they commit? Traditionalists are, no doubt, quick to answer: Homosexuality! But, jumping to conclusions does not honor sacred Scripture, neither does forcing our interpretation on various ambiguous texts. If we want to identify the abominations 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 identifies the abominable activity Sodom engaged in. In his epistle, the apostle Jude mentions Sodom and Gomorrah by name and tells us what their abominable sin was.

“…just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”
Jude 1:7

Here, we have the first clear mention of the fact that one of Sodom and Gomorrah’s sins were, indeed, of a sexual nature. Now, it’s important to note that 5 out of the 6 sins identified by Ezekiel are not sexual in nature. We can, therefore, presume that the sixth (“committing abominations”) is likely what Jude is referring to. He says that they indulged in gross “immorality” and went after “strange flesh.”. “Immorality” in this passage is the Greek word ekporneuo, which is derived from the word pornos, which is an umbrella term that refers simply to sexual immorality, in general, but can also refer to prostitution, specifically. Think of how we might call a person a “whore” today because he/she is sexually promiscuous, not necessarily because he/she literally sells their body sexually.

So, what we have here is the identification of sexual sins in Sodom (ekporneuo). But again, we must be careful not to assume anything. Ekporneuo isn’t specific enough to identify their sexual sin for us. It simply tells us that their sin was sexual in nature. So, what exactly were the sexual sins they were guilty of committing?

Let’s keep reading because the answer is actually right there in the text. It says that 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). But I’ve already proven that what happened in Gen. 19 did not lead to their judgment in the first place.

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, it might surprise you (or not) to realize that it has nothing to do with homosexuality.

And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, [7] just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. [8] Yet in the same way these men, also by dreaming, defile the flesh, and reject authority, and revile angelic majesties. [9] But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”
Jude 1:6-9

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. Consider:

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 involve both humans and angels. 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 existing beliefs, rather than to allow the text to speak for itself.

So then, the “strange flesh” that the Sodomites were pursuing sexually wasn’t strange in that it belonged to other men, as traditionalists would have us believe. It was strange in that it belonged 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.

  1. 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.
  2. Scripture specifically tells us that angels are able to take human form and interact with humans (Heb. 13:2).
  3. 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” 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 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.

Let me just state it plainly. 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 abominations, pursuing sexual activity with angelic beings (beings of an other created kind). Interestingly, these very two ingredients were contained within the culture of Noah’s day.

The Nephilim [KJV: giants] were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. [5] Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
Genesis 6:4-5

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 liaisons 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 apocryphal 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 is true, it certainly correlates with Jude’s accusation that they pursued angelic flesh, as well as Ezekiel’s prophetic word that they “committed abominations” before God. But whether there were giants in Sodom or not, Gen. 19 does explicitly show us that they apparently had a pattern of pursuing sex with angels. It’s not as though the whole town would’ve surrounded the house in a single night on a whim. This was apparently something that wasn’t new to them (maybe not the “rape” aspect, but at least the “sex with angels” aspect).

So, with a little study, we were able to specifically identify the reason God decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Let’s recount the sins that Scripture tells us led to the destruction of these two ancient cities:

  1. Pride
  2. Fullness of Bread
  3. Abundance of Idleness
  4. Not Helping The Poor and Needy
  5. Haughtiness
  6. 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.

Calling Isaiah To The Stand…

In the first chapter of the book of Isaiah, God likened the nation that Israel had become to Sodom and Gomorrah. In His strong criticism of the nation, He provided great insight into specifically how they were like Sodom, and how much this angered Him.

Hear the word of the LORD, You rulers of Sodom; Give ear to the instruction of our God, You people of Gomorrah. [11] “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats. [12] “When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts? [13] “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies–I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. [14] “I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, They have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them. [15] “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. [16] “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, [17] Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.”
Isaiah 1:10-17

Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed 700+ years prior to Isaiah’s day, so when he addressed the word of the Lord to to the “rulers of Sodom” and the “people of Gomorrah,” he was speaking metaphorically to his countrymen–the people of Israel. You can begin reading at verse 1 to see this more clearly. But he drew this association with Sodom and Gomorrah because Israel was going astray in much the same way as he (and the rest of Israel) understood Sodom and Gomorrah to had gone astray. (Amazingly, his original audience understood his analogy. It is only lost to present generations because of hundreds of years of really bad, anti-gay theology on the subject, which didn’t exist during Isaiah’s day, nor Jesus’ day, for that matter–see Lk. 10:10-12.)

When reading God’s rebuke of the Israelites through the mouth of the prophet (vs. 11-17), it becomes clear that God was very angry with them. He’d grown tired of their meaningless religious acts and observances, calling them “worthless… abominations.” He grew to hate their festivals and feasts, and considered them a burden to have to endure. He said that when they prayed, He turned away and refused to listen. Saints, these are some strong words! Clearly, whatever the Israelites had been doing must have been pretty doggone horrific, which explains why Isaiah associated them with Sodom and Gomorrah.

But what was it that was so hateful to God? Well, He gives us a hint at the end of verse 15, saying that their “hands are covered with blood,” which refers specifically to murder, but can also refer to cruelty to others in a more general sense. This becomes clear when God tells them exactly how they can cleanse themselves of their filth… how they can “remove the evil of [their] deeds from [His] sight.” They must cease doing evil, and learn to do good. Sounds nice, but what does this look like, specifically? Verse 17 lays it all out for us. They must:

  1. Seek justice (CEV: See that justice is done)
  2. Reprove (harshly chastise) the ruthless/oppressors (ESV: correct oppression)
  3. Defend the orphan
  4. Plead for the widow

This sounds like something taken out of the playbook of a modern SJW (social justice warrior). Rather than there being any association of Sodom and Gomorrah with homosexuality, as is always the case today, the biblical world understood their sin to be one of their treatment of the “other.” They didn’t correct their evil ways by having “one man, one woman marriage.” No! That had nothing to do with it! What make them clean in the eyes of God was helping those living on the margins of society, and seeking to remove the very existence of those margins (“correct oppression”).

Now, isn’t it stunning that the very people who are quick to reference God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah do so in criticism of something that was nowhere in the mind of Ezekiel or Isaiah (or even of Jesus, when He referenced Sodom)? The great irony is that the very people who trot out Sodom and Gomorrah in condemning LGBTs often support politicians and policies that are much more like the Sodomites than gays are. In their religious hypocrisy, they are completely blind to the fact that it’s their sociopolitical views that exemplify the reason God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, not homosexuality!

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 Scripture objectively, 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, which aren’t within the scope of this specific article.

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 (who weren’t actually men at all), and they jump to the conclusion that the town is full of homosexuals. They don’t critically think about what they’re reading. They don’t ask themselves questions, like, “Why is the entire male population of a town trying to rape strangers?”, or “How can a town that is literally full of homosexual men survive beyond a generation?” 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 conclusion. Hopefully, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah can serve as a case study for how easy it is to completely misinterpret Scripture. Don’t make this mistake, and certainly don’t propagate bad interpretations by teaching them to your friends and/or family.

Let’s return to what Scripture actually says and accept the fact that God did not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality, but because of the six (6) sins mentioned by Ezekiel. And how do we cleanse ourselves of these evils? Isaiah tells us–help and defend those on the margins. Until then, it appears that God isn’t much interested in how religious we may be. In fact, that religiosity sickens Him!

May God open our eyes to correct our theological error, and then respond with an open heart to address in our own society those things that He hated so much about ancient Israel.