Genesis 19

This chapter describes how two angels visited Sodom and were welcomed into Lot’s house. The angels were sent to warn Lot that God was displeased with wickedness of the city’s residents and had decided to destroy the city. The men of the city gathered around the house and demanded that Lot send the strangers to the mob so that they might "know" the angels.

The Hebrew verb which is commonly translated as "know" is yada. Its meaning is ambiguous. It appears 943 times elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). In only about a dozen of these cases does it refers to sexual activity - all heterosexual. It is not clear whether the mob wanted to rape the angels or to meet with them, and perhaps attack them physically. Perhaps they were concerned that the strangers were spies who were sent to the city to determine its defensive fortifications. From the context, it is obvious that their mood was not friendly.

Sensing evil intent by his fellow citizens of Sodom, Lot refused. As an alternative, he offered his two virgin daughters to be heterosexually raped if that would appease the mob. The offer was declined. Later, the angels urged Lot and his family to flee and to not look back. Unfortunately, Lot’s wife seems to have had an inquisitive mind. She looked the wrong way, so God killed her for her curiosity.

God was apparently not critical of Lot for offering his two daughters to be raped. However, God was angry at the other inhabitants of the town. He destroyed Sodom with fire and brimstone (sulfur). He presumably killed all of the men in the mob, their wives and other Sodom adults, as well as innocent children, infants, newborns, etc. It is unclear from these few verses in Genesis whether God demolished the city because the citizens habitually:

  1. were uncharitable and abusive to strangers
  2. wanted to rape visitors
  3. engaged in homosexual acts
  4. wanted to engage in bestiality (the mob may have wanted to rape the angels; angels are not human beings; they are considered to be a different species)

One has to look elsewhere in the Bible for references to Sodom in order to determine which of the four interpretations is correct.

The Church has traditionally accepted the third explanation: that the crime of Sodom was homosexual activity. In fact, the English word sodomy which means homosexual or heterosexual anal intercourse was derived from the name of the city. But the first explanation appears to be the valid one. Consider:

  • Many Jewish stories mentioning Sodom are cited in the Ethics of the Fathers and the Talmud. The phrase "middat Sdom" was used. It may be translated as "the way the people of Sodom thought". It meant a lack of charity and hospitality towards others; ignoring the needs of the poor, etc. In the Middle East, a person’s survival could depend upon the charity of strangers. To help strangers was a solemn religious duty, as mentioned in Leviticus 19:33-34 and Matthew 25:35, 38 and 43.
  • Isaiah 1; The entire first chapter is an utter condemnation of Judah. They are repeatedly compared with Sodom and Gomorra in their evildoing and depravity. Throughout the chapter, the Prophet lists many sins of the people: rebelling against God, lacking in knowledge, deserting the Lord, idolatry, engaging in meaningless religious ritual, being unjust and oppressive to others, being insensitive to the needs of widows and orphans, committing murder, accepting bribes, etc. Homosexuality and other sexual activities were not mentioned at all.
  • Ezekiel 16:49-50:

    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.
    God states clearly that he destroyed Sodom’s sins because of their pride, their excess of food while the poor and needy suffered; sexual activity is not even mentioned.

  • Matthew 10:14-15: Jesus implied that the sin of the people of Sodom was to be inhospitable to strangers.
  • Luke 10:7-16: This is similar to the verse from Matthew.
  • 2 Peter 6-8: Peter mentions that God destroyed the adults and children of Sodom because the former were ungodly, unprincipled and lawless.
  • Jude, Verse 7: Jude disagreed with Jesus and Ezekeiel; he wrote that Sodom’s sins were sexual in nature. Various biblical translations describe the sin as: fornication, going after strange flesh, sexual immorality, perverted sensuality, homosexuality, lust of every kind, immoral acts and unnatural lust It would appear that the translators were unclear of the meaning of the verse in its original Greek, and simply selected their favorite sin to attack.

We are faced with the inescapable and rather ironic conclusion that the condemned activities in Sodom had nothing to do with sodomy. As one Christian editor (9) wrote: "To suggest that Sodom and Gomorra is about homosexual sex is an analysis of about as much worth as suggesting that the story of Jonah and the whale is a treatise on fishing." There is still another level of irony associated with this passage: God seems to condemn the citizens for insensitive treatment and harassment of others. But, this is the favorite Biblical passage that some Christian faith groups use to attack gays and lesbians.

Leviticus 18:22

Some English translations of this verse are:
  • KJV: (King James Version):
    Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind: it is abomination
  • LB: (Living Bible):
    Homosexuality is absolutely forbidden, for it is an enormous sin
  • NIV: (New International Version)
    Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable
  • NLT: (New Living Translation):
    Do not practice homosexuality; it is a detestable sin
  • RSV: (Revised Standard Version):
    You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination

It is interesting to notice that some English translations condemn only gay sex, whereas other versions of the Bible condemn homosexuality, presumably including both gay and lesbian sexual relationships.

Conservative Christians typically interpret this verse as condemning homosexual behavior of all types: from rape, to casual sex to monogamous sexual activity within a committed relationship. Its meaning appears to be clear and unambiguous. This verse is often quoted in Evangelical churches and on ministry radio and TV programs.

This passage is a part of the Holiness Code which is described in Leviticus 17:1 to 26:46. The code lists 614 ethical and ritual laws which were to be followed by the ancient Israelites. The purpose of the laws was to differentiate the Israelites from their neighbors - to keep them pure. They appear to be a grouping of several older collections of laws, because many rules are replicated. A consensus exists amongst Christian theologians, pastors and teleministers that 612 out of the 614 components of the Holiness Code are no longer in force for today’s Christians. The code permits:

  • slavery (25:44)
It requires:
  • a child to be killed if he/she curses their parent (20:9)
  • all persons guilty of adultery to be killed (20:10)
  • the daughter of a priest who engages in prostitution to be killed (21:9)
  • the bride of a priest to be a virgin (21:13)
  • ritual killing of animals, using cattle, sheep and goats (22:19)
  • observation of 7 feasts: Passover, Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Firstfruits, Feast of Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles (23)
  • a person who takes the Lord’s name in vain is to be killed (24:16)
It prohibits:
  • heterosexual intercourse when a woman has her period (18:19)
  • harvesting the corners of a field (19:9)
  • eating fruit from a young tree (19:23)
  • wearing clothes that are made from a textile blend (19:19)
  • cross-breeding livestock (19:19)
  • sowing a field with mixed seed (19:19)
  • shaving or getting a hair cut (19:27)
  • tattoos (19:28)
  • even a mildly disabled person from becoming a priest (21:18)
  • charging of interest on a loan (25:37)
A minority of Christian churches (e.g. Seventh Day Adventists) teach that worship is to occur on Saturday. (19:30) However, essentially all conservative Christian leaders teach that only one Holiness Law, the one which deals with homosexuality, is still valid today. Christians are free to wear tattoos, eat shrimp, pork or rare meat, wear polyester-cotton blends, seed their lawns with a grass mixture, and get their hair cut. But homosexuality is somehow taboo. We have been unable to find any logical explanation that would justify retaining this one law against homosexuality while abandoning all of the rest. We find their stance to be less than ethical.

Some liberal Christians interpret this verse as referring to temple prostitution, which was a common practice in the rest of the Middle East at that time. They note that to’ebah, often translated "abomination", is a religious term, usually reserved for use against instances of idolatry. If the writer(s) of Leviticus wished to refer to a moral violation, a sin, he would have used the Hebrew word zimah. The word "abomination" that we see in English translations of the Bible could better be translated "foreign religious cult practice." The Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (circa 3rd century BCE) translated "to’ebah" into Greek as bdelygma, which meant ritual impurity.

One source (4) makes a word-for-word translation of this verse from the original Hebrew as:

And with a male thou shalt not lie down in beds of a woman; it is an abomination.
In modern day English this could be translated as:
Men may not engage in homosexual sex while on a woman’s bed; it is an abomination
That is, "rather than forbidding male homosexuality, it simply restricts where it may occur." This may seem a strange prohibition to us today, but was quite consistent with other instructions in Leviticus which involve improper mixing of things that should be kept separate. e.g. ancient Israelites were not allowed to mix two crops in the same field, or make cloth out of two different raw materials. or plow a field with an ox and a donkey yoked together. A woman’s bed was her own. Only her husband was permitted there, and then only under certain circumstances. Any other use of her bed would be a defilement.

Leviticus 20:13

In various translation it states:
  • KJV: (King James Version):
    If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.
  • LB: (Living Bible):
    The penalty for homosexuality acts is death to both parties. They have brought it upon themselves.
  • NIV: (New International Version)
    If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
  • NLT: (New Living Translation):
    The penalty for homosexual acts is death to both parties. They have committed a detestable act, and are guilty of a capital offense.
  • RSV: (Revised Standard Version):
    If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
This verse is essentially identical to Leviticus 18:22 discussed above, except the death penalty is added. Religious conservatives generally interpret the passage as condemning all homosexual activity. Some liberals believe it refers to temple prostitution. One source (5) interprets the prohibition as relating to two gay males having sex on a woman’s bed. Their word-for-word translation from the original Hebrew is:
And a man who will lie down with a male in beds of a woman, both of them have made an abomination; dying they will die. Their blood is upon them.
In modern English, this could be translated as:
It is an abomination for two men to have sex on a woman’s bed. They are to be executed; it is their own fault.

Deuteronomy 23:17

This verse states:
  • KJV: (King James Version):
    There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.
  • LB: (Living Bible):
    No prostitutes are permitted in Israel, either men or women.
  • NIV: (New International Version)
    No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute.
  • NLT: (New Living Translation):
    No Israelite man or woman may ever become a temple prostitute.
  • RSV: (Revised Standard Version):
    There shall be no cult prostitutes of the daughters of Israel, neither shall there be a cult prostitute of the sons of Israel.
The translators of the KJV made an error in this verse, which was probably intentional. The word qadesh in the original Hebrew text was mistranslated as "sodomite". Quadesh means "holy one" and is here used to refer to a man who engages in ritual prostitution in the temple. The Living Bible also contains an error; they refer to prostitutes in general, whereas the original Hebrew refers to only those prostitutes who engage in ritual sex in a temple. Other Bible translations use accurate terms such as shrine prostitute, temple prostitute, and cult prostitute. The term "cult" in this case means type of religious service, not an evil, mind-controlling religious group.

The entire verse seems to condemn temple, ritual, prostitution, whether heterosexual or homosexual. It has nothing to say about gay or lesbian sex within either a casual or a committed relationship.

Judges 19

This chapter describes an event much like that at Sodom. Most Conservative theologians would consider this event to be entirely separate in time and place from Sodom. Similarities between the two stories are simply coincidences. Most Liberal theologians would assume that this is simply a retelling of the original Genesis story, in a different location and era. Either or both events may have been mythical.

An unnamed Levite visited the town of Gibeah with his slaves and concubine. He met an old farmer and was made welcome. A gang of men appeared and demanded that the old man send out the Levite that they might homosexually rape or assault him. (It is again not clear what the precise meaning of the verb to know was). The old man argued that they should not abuse the visitor. He offered to give them both the Levite’s concubine and his own virgin daughter to be heterosexually raped. The mob accepted the former, and serially raped her all night. She finally died. The Levite sliced up her body into 12 pieces and sent one to each of the tribes of Israel. This triggered a war between the inhabitants of Gibeah and the Israelites during which tens of thousands died. There was no condemnation against the Levite for sacrificing his concubine, or for committing an indignity to a body. Judges 20:5 emphasizes that the aim of the mob was to kill the stranger - the ultimate act of inhospitality. It appears that these passages condemn abusive treatment of visitors. If they actually refer to homosexual activity, then they condemn homosexual rape, which a crime of power and is unrelated to consentual homosexual activity.

I Kings 14:24, 15:12 and 22:46; II Kings 23:7

These verses refer to prostitution in a Pagan temple. The original word qadesh is again mistranslated as sodomite (homosexual) in the King James Version, but as male prostitute, male cult prostitutes, and male shrine prostitutes in more accurate versions. As mentioned before, the verses are unrelated to consentual homosexual activity.