The Sins of Sodom and Gomorrah

One of my goals with this series in Pride Month is to unpack the passages of the Bible that seem to address homosexuality directly.

The bible’s texts about homosexuality were my biggest stumbling block in my path towards full affirmation of LGBTQ+ folk. I grew up being told that the reason homosexuality is seen as a sin by Christians is because the bible says so. This was enough for me to stand firm in my opposition to homosexuality and with a brief glance at the often-quoted "clobber" texts, it was easy to confirm these statements.

However, as I began to take my study of the bible seriously, I noticed that a lot of what I had been taught about what the bible says about homosexuality was simply not true. This was my first realization of how easy it is to pick and choose verses from the bible to support any particular beliefs.

In these posts, I will share some of the information I have learnt in the hope that you too will learn to take the bible seriously and not be afraid to question some of the interpretations of Scripture that you have been given.

I love the bible and the way that God’s Spirit reveals new, living words to us through its pages. Settle in as we get a bit nerdy.

The Story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is found in Genesis 19:1-29. It is the first of the six “clobber-passages” in the bible that have been used to condemn homosexuality and LGBTQ+ people. Many people claim that God destroyed the city of Sodom because the men there wanted to have sex with other men. They assume that the Sodom story was about homosexuality.

It doesn’t help that the word sodomy which refers to anal sexual intercourse originated from this passage. However, this says more about our modern interpretation of this passage than it does about what was actually going on in the story itself.

The majority of biblical scholars on both sides of the same-sex relationship debate have long-dismissed the idea that homosexuality was the sin of Sodom. Yet this story is still thrown at the LGBTQ+ community as a reason why God hates homosexuality.

Regardless of how you read the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is disturbing. Two (male) angelic visitors arrive in Sodom and are offered safe housing by a man named Lot. A vicious mob consisting of all the men in Sodom arrive at Lot’s house and demand that the two visitors be given to them for their sexual use. In hopes to spare the guests, Lot offers his two virgin daughters to the mob instead, but they decline his offer. The angels tell Lot and his family to leave the City quickly as God was about to destroy it as there were not even ten righteous people among them.

The Context

We need to remember that we are dealing with a story and culture wildly different to our own. In order to understand what is really going on in this story, we need to do our best to understand the context that the story was told in. Furthermore, to better understand the purpose of the story being told, we need to understand what other lessons were being taught alongside the passage in question.

The passage before our story (Genesis 18) tells of God and two angels visiting Abraham. Abraham is praised as the model host for his hospitality shown to the strangers. In the same conversation, God declares that Israel will become a moral and just nation while Sodom and Gomorrah are a lost people full of sin and injustice. The storyteller has already set the two cities up to fail and contrasted them with the morally upright Nation of Israel.

In Genesis 19, the same two angels arrive in Sodom. There were no hotels or Airbnb’s in the ancient world. Travel was hard and dangerous with no protection unless hospitality was offered to the travelers. If hospitality was not found, travelers became fair game for abuse. Luckily for our two angelic travelers, Lot shows them the same hospitality as Abraham, welcoming them into his home.

The author of Genesis reinforces the depths of Sodom’s cruelty and inhospitality by contrasting it with the accounts of Abraham and Lot’s generous hospitality toward strangers.

Further References to Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were representative of evil and injustice in the minds of the ancient Israelites. When God’s people were straying away from the ways God intended for them and worshipping false idols, they would often be compared to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned thirteen times in the Old Testament. Out of all the times that they are mentioned, not once is their sin of a sexual nature. According to the Old Testament authors, their sins were: oppressing marginalized groups, murder and theft (Isaiah 13:19); adultery, idolatry and power abuses (Jeremiah 23:14); oppression of the poor and prideful and mocking behaviour (Amos 4:1-11, Zephaniah 2:8-11).

The most explicit definition of Sodom’s sins is found in 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 the needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore, I did away with them as you have seen.”

In all of the above references to Sodom and Gomorrah, sexuality goes unmentioned. If Sodom’s sin had indeed been same-sex behaviour, it is strange that none of the Old Testament references to it mention it.

In the New Testament, Sodom is mentioned eight times. Just as in the Old Testament, the implied sins of Sodom are of general evil and a lack of hospitality (Matthew 10:14-15, Matthew 11:23-34, Luke 10:10-12, Luke 17:28-29, Romans 9:29 and Revelation 11:8). Two of the New Testament references to Sodom mention sexual sin, but same-sex behaviour is not specified (Peter 2:7 and Jude 7). Peter speaks about the “depraved sensual conduct of the wicked” while Jude says that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah “indulged in gross immortality and went after strange flesh.” Some non-affirming people focus on the phrase “strange flesh,” implying that this is a condemnation of same-sex relationships. However, the Greek phrase for strange flesh is sarkos heteras. You might recognize hetero as the prefix for heterosexual. A literal translation of this phrase is more accurately, other flesh or different flesh. According to Jude, the men of Sodom pursued flesh that was too different to their own, not too similar. Scholars mostly agree that the phrase “strange flesh” likely refers to the attempted rape of angelic beings. This is supported by the previous chapter of Jude which compares Sodom’s transgressions with those humans who mated with angels in Genesis 6, arousing God’s wrath before the flood (Jude 6).

Was Sodom’s sin homosexuality?

How do we know that God’s condemnation of Sodom was not because the act of rape itself would have been a same-sex act? Other than none of the other references to Sodom in the Bible mentioning it, when Lot rebukes the men of Sodom for threatening to rape his visitors, he gave them a reason to back off. He said, “don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof” (Gen 19:8). What Lot didn’t say is just as revealing as what he did say. He did not say, “don’t do anything to these men because that would be a same-sex act.” The issue to Lot was that his visitors were under the protection of his roof. If anything happened to them, he would be liable for the suffering they endured.

The passage mentions several times that every man in the city shows up to Lot’s house. This should immediately rule out any interpretation that this story is about homosexual orientation or same-sex relationships. According to common sense and statistics, it simply cannot be the case that every man in the entirety of Sodom, from the youngest to the oldest, was gay. Furthermore, if they somehow did happen to all be gay, it doesn’t make sense that Lot would later offer his daughters to have sex with.

There must have been something else going on here.

The patriarchal desire for power and domination

In the ancient world, for a man to be raped, it was considered the ultimate degradation. Rape was how men showed their dominance over the outsider and the enemy, regardless of gender.

When the men of Sodom demanded that Lot bring out his guests to have sex with them, it was not an expression of sexual desire but rather a display of power. Aggression and dominance were the motives in this situation, not sexual attraction.

The storyteller’s point about the mob’s plans to gang rape, humiliate, and subject the visitors to such displays of dominance tells us that this can’t be a story about same-sex love or a relationship between two people of the same sex.

Furthermore, when the mob refuses to have sex with Lot’s daughters, it shows once again that their presence at Lot’s house that evening was not about sexual desire. They are there for the sake of control and power. Most of all, they are there for the storyteller to show what the opposite of godly hospitality looks like.

The failure to distinguish between consensual, committed homosexual relationships and violent, coercive relationships shows a serious moral blind spot from modern readers. It is almost as though non-affirming Christians are saying that the main issue with the mob’s intention to rape the foreigners is the fact that the foreigners were men, not that it was rape in and of itself. Of course gang rape is wrong, whether it is homosexual or heterosexual. Sexual violence is a profound violation of human dignity. Rape is evil, regardless of whether it is done to men or women.

The sins of Sodom were not homosexuality. They were inhospitality, greed and abuse of power. These sins presented themselves with a lustful desire to rape and oppress the foreigners among them.

So when did the story of Sodom and Gomorrah become about sex?

The first person to explicitly link Sodom’s sins to same-sex behaviour was a Jewish philosopher who lived in the first century AD, named Philo. His interpretation came about more than fourteen hundred (1400!!) years after the book of Genesis was written. Even for Philo, he was not describing same-sex behaviour as the expression of a sexual orientation. For him, Sodom’s sin was a sign that some people over-indulged on their sexual desires (

Philo’s interpretation only became the standard Christian interpretation a few hundred years later in the fifth century AD. Regardless, this interpretation unfortunately became the dominant Christian view over time.


In summary, the Bible never identifies homosexuality as the sin of Sodom, or even as a sin of Sodom. Even when Christians later came to read it that way, their concept of homosexuality still differed greatly from the modern concepts of consensual, committed same-sex relationships and the LGBTQ+ community.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah reminded God’s people that they were called to be a people that embodied hospitality, sought justice for the oppressed, cared for the outcast, and used their abundance to provide for others. The entire point of Genesis 19 is that people of God are called to be people who receive the outcast and the outsiders, not create them.

To ask Genesis 19 to answer the questions of same-sex attraction or the sinfulness of a loving, committed same-sex relationship, is to ask questions it does not (and cannot) answer.

This is not a story about men who are sexually attracted to other men. It is a story about a mob with a desire to dominate and control two male foreigners, not because they wanted to enjoy same-sex acts with them, or develop a relationship with them.

Sources and Further Reading

Colby Martin - Unclobber

James Brownson - Bible, Gender, Sexuality

John Shelby Spong - The Sins of Scripture

Martti Nissinen - Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective

Matthew Vines - God and the Gay Christian


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