The Men of Sodom

When you read the any book you have to be careful to read what it says, not what you think it says. This is particularly true when it comes to books that people quote from, like the Bible. Snipping a quote out of context can often lead to a misunderstanding about what the passage actually means.

The story of Sodom is a good example of where misunderstanding can occur if you just look at the wrong verses.

In the story of Sodom, God sends two angels to visit Sodom, and the angels are invited to spend the night in Lot’s house. (Lot was the nephew of Abraham). An angry crowd forms outside Lot’s house. Genesis 19:4-5:

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

This is where the association between Sodom and homosexuality comes from, and many Christians believe that Sodom was destroyed because of homosexuality. But does the text actually justify this? Now, to the casual reader, that does seem like proof it was an all male crowd, looking to rape two men. But only to the casual reader.  Skip back a couple of chapters, to Genesis 17:23:

And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house;  and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him.

“Every male among the men” is a curious phrase. If the word men in the KJV means male adult human, then there is no need to specify “every male” among the men. The word men here is the Hebrew word enowsh (Strong’s Concordance, word 582 in the Hebrew and Chaldee dictionary)  which is more of what we would call a gender-neutral word today. It really means something like person. This explains the curious phrase in  Genesis 17. Abraham was told to circumcise “every male among his people”, not every “male among his men”. The word male here is zakar (Strong 2145).

So lets look at Genesis 19 again. The word translated as men is enowsh, the word that in Genesis 17 wasn’t specific enough to mean male men. In Genesis 19, it is used without any qualification. Genesis 19 doesn’t say “the males among the men of the city, even the males among the men of Sodom”, it just says “the people of the city, even  the people of Sodom”. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the crowd outside Lot’s house was all men.  Lot does address them as brethren in Genesis 19:7, but that is a term he could have applied to a mixed-sex crowd as well. (See Leviticus 10:6, for an example of brethren being used to address all Israel, not just the men of Israel.)

The people of Sodom used enowsh to describe the angels. You cannot use Genesis 19 to claim that the people of Sodom thought the angels were male. Even if they did think they were male, they described them as enowsh, showing that the people of Sodom were indifferent to the gender of the individuals they were about to rape.

So, in Genesis 19, rather than a crowd of men who wanted to rape two men, we had a crowd of people who wanted to rape two other people. This was a totally foul and detestable act, but there is no reason to associate it with homosexuality any more than there is to associate it with heterosexuality.

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About Andrew McFarland Campbell

I'm Andrew. Belfast born, Cambridge educated, living in Dublin. Married to John. I earn my living by writing, mainly documentation, but I write fiction as well. I am a liberal Christian and founded Faith and Pride.

Posted on 14 January, 2011, in Defence, Sodom. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. How certain is it that “know” in this context means “engage in sexual intetcourse with”?

    • Andrew McFarland

      I’ve never seen any convincing argument that it doesn’t have the sexual meaning in this context, but I will look into this for you.

      The story of Sodom is a rich, complex one, and there will be more posts about it.

  2. It is also valid to point out that it was failure to give hospitality and protection to strangers which was the primary issue at Sodom. Indeed, they did the precise opposite: To threaten mass-rape as the ultimate degradation. These angels with Lot would have certainly been killed, after suffering massive abuse. From the theological standpoint it is important to note that this is going as far as possible in the opposite direction to “Love thy neighbour”, which was commended later by Christ Himself as the highest of commands, only on a par with “Love God”. Importantly, rape is the subject of the account, and says nothing at all about sexual relations in a loving context.

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