Sunday, 24 February 2013

Homosexuality is only one symptom of the real sin of Sodom

Most people have heard of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities we are told were destroyed for their sexual immorality in the 19th chapter of Genesis (See John Martin’s famous 1852 painting left).

Sodom and Gomorrah have become synonymous with impenitent sin, and their fall with a proverbial manifestation of God's wrath. 

The story has given rise to the English word ‘sodomy’ to  describe a sexual ‘crime against nature’ and specifically homosexuality. 

Recently I was on a tour of the British Library with Jay Smith when he mentioned that a tablet discovered in the library of the ancient city of Ebla, in modern day Syria, had listed the five ‘cities of the plain’ (Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Bela) in the same order as in Genesis 14:1-3, 8-10.

William Shea pointed out in 1983 that on the 'Eblaite Geographical Atlas' [TM.75.G.2231], ad-mu-ut and sa-dam correspond to Admah and Sodom, and are contained in a list of cities that traces a route along the shores of the Dead Sea.

Rabbi Leibel Reznick, a senior lecturer in Talmudic studies in New York, makes a strong and highly plausible case for these cities being the five cities of Bab Edh-Dhra, Numeira, Safi, Feifa and Khanazir which are located at the southern end of the Dead Sea in modern day Jordan. This view is shared by Michael Sanders on the ‘Mysteries of the Bible’ website.

Reznick summarises the evidence as follows (but his whole article is well worth reading):

1. The Bible refers to a metropolis of five cities in the Dead Sea area. Five, and only five cities, have been found there (see map).

2. The Bible refers to a conquest by the Mesopotamians and the artifacts found in the Dead Sea area show a Mesopotamian influence.

3. The Midrash describes the metropolis as a thriving population. The enormous number of burials in the large cemeteries (over 1.5 million in three cities alone) attests to a great population.

4. The Talmud and the Midrash describe the area as an agricultural wonderland. The great diversity of agricultural products found in the ruins verify the lush produce enjoyed by the area's inhabitants.

5. According to the Talmud, there was a span of only 26 years between a war in the area and the ultimate destruction. Devastation levels found in Numeira (Sodom) are consistent with the Talmud's assertion.

6. The Talmud states that Sodom, unlike other cities in the area, only existed for 52 years. The ruins in Numeira (Sodom) indicate that the city lasted less than 100 years.

7. The Bible attributes the destruction of the cities to a fiery storm that rained down from above and thick layers of burnt material covering the remains of the cities in the area bear this out.

Whether or not Numeira will indeed turn out to be the biblical Sodom is yet to be finally confirmed, but Sodom nonetheless remains crucially important in biblical history and theology.

The cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, according to the Bible (Genesis 18 and 19), were destroyed by fire and brimstone for their immorality.

Abraham’s nephew Lot escaped the devastation and later, by his daughters (!), became the father of the ancient nations of Ammon and Moab, which engaged in centuries of conflict with the Israelites.

Sodom is mentioned 46 times in the Bible: 20 in Genesis, 17 in the rest of the Old Testament, and 9 in the New Testament, including five mentions by Jesus himself.

The prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 1:9-10, 3:9 and 13:19-22) accuses the people of Israel as being like Sodom and Gomorrah in their sinning and warns that Babylon will end like Sodom and Gomorrah.

Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:14, 49:17-18, 50:39-40 and Lamentations 4:6) associates Sodom and Gomorrah with adultery and lies and prophesies the fate of Edom and Babylon using Sodom as a comparison.

In Ezekiel 16:48-50 God compares Jerusalem to Sodom, saying that Jerusalem was worse:

‘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.’

In Amos 4:1-11 God tells the Israelites he had warned them and treated them like Sodom and Gomorrah and yet still they did not repent. And in Zephaniah 2:9 the prophet tells Moab and Ammon, southeast and northeast of the Dead Sea, that they will end up like Sodom and Gomorrah.

Jesus continues the same theme. In Matthew 10:1-15, and Luke 10:1-12, he declares certain cities more damnable than Sodom and Gomorrah, due to their response to Jesus' disciples.

‘And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.’

In Matthew 11:20-24 he prophesies the fate of some cities where he did some of his works (RSV):

‘And you, Caperna-um, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.’

In Luke 17:28-30 Jesus compares his second-coming to the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah:

‘Likewise as it was in the days of Lot—they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom fire and sulphur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of man is revealed.’

In 2 Peter 2:4-10 Peter, in his description of the time of the second coming of Jesus, says that God ‘condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly’.

Jude 1:7 records that both Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns ‘gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion’ and ‘serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire’.

So Sodom is intended to be a strong reminder to us and a call to repentance and faith.

But whilst sexual immorality (and specifically homosexuality) was undoubtedly one manifestation of Sodom’s sin, it was far broader than that.

According to Isaiah (Isaiah 1:10-17) Sodom’s sin also included meaningless religious ritual, injustice, neglect of widows and orphans and the shedding of innocent blood. Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:48-50) mentions arrogance, self-indulgence and neglect of the poor.

I am currently reading Rosaria Butterfield’s new book ‘The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert’.

Butterfield was a lesbian English Professor who came to Christ and has described Romans 1:24-28 (which addresses homosexuality) as one of the scariest passages in the Bible.

But in an intriguing chapter titled ‘Repentance and The Sin of Sodom’ she argues that ‘homosexuality – like all sin – is symptomatic and not causal’ and points out that the Ezekiel passage quoted above highlights ‘pride, wealth, entertainment-driven focus, lack of mercy and lack of modesty’ amongst the city’s sins.

‘Pride is the root of all sin’ she declares, in words reminiscent of CS Lewis in ‘Mere Christianity’. ‘Proud people always feel that they can live independently from God’ and ‘feel entitled to do what they want when they want to’.

These passages, she said, ‘forced me to see pride and not sexual orientation as the root sin’. ‘The truth is that outside Christ, I am a manipulator, liar, power-monger and controller… I learned that sin roots not in outward behaviours, but in patterns of thinking.’

By contrast she testifies, ‘Conversion overhauled my soul and personality. It was arduous and intense. I experience with great depth the power and authority of God in my life. In it I learned – and am still learning – how to love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind.’

Romans 1:18-32 takes up the same theme. Sin starts with ‘suppressing the truth’ (18) about God, failing to glorify or give thanks to him (21), denying his ‘eternal power and divine nature’ (20) and exchanging ‘the glory of the immortal God for images’ (22).

Sin’s later fruit includes ‘shameful lusts’ in which ‘women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones’ and ‘men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for each other’ (26, 27).

But those who reject God also ‘became filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity’ (29) including ‘envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice’ (29). They are ‘gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful… senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless’ (30-31) and ‘approve of those who practise’ these things (32).

The destruction of Sodom was a real historical event which Scripture teaches serves as a warning of the much greater destruction and devastation which is coming after death to those who refuse to repent and believe – the eternal fire of Hell.

But the sin of Sodom was far more than sexual immorality which is only a symptom of its real root - a proud and arrogant dismissal of God’s existence and authority and a deliberate choice to live our own way rather than God’s way. 


  1. Spot on Peter, to sum up: Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed due to widespread rebellion (sinful living) against the Living God...

  2. Men & Marriage (George Guilder) makes the same conclusion. It is a symptom, largely due to the abandoning of monogamous marriage. Well worth reading.

  3. Well known conclusion, but well stated; and I always find a summary of the archaeological evidence very helpful. Thanks.

  4. Thank you Peter. Uncomfortable reading for today's relativists, some of them believing themselves to be Christians, but basic bedrock truths like these, founded on Scripture and supported by emerging archaeological evidence, is worth rereading from time to time.

    1. I'm guessing you include situational ethics as part of this relativism you despise so much.

      Under that logic, you cannot differentiate assault from surgery or killing in self-defense from murder.

      More fundamentally, what business is it of yours what consenting adults do in their bedrooms?

  5. Very interesting to combine Biblical exegesis with archaeology - something liberals have never done, historically. They always avoided the archaeological evidence pointing against JEDP for the Pentateuch for example.

    I think though that what Romans is getting at is that the sequence seems to be pride and rebelliont against God - sexual immorality - general immorality. So in a way sexual sin is both symptomatic in one direction and causal in another. It is significant that today, sexuality is the single biggest stumbling block in western countries to people becoming Christian or staying Christian. There may be a connection here with the idea that we are created and designed by God to be male and female both reflecting His image, and that this is how the creation mandate to steward the whole earth and develop culture was meant to be.

  6. - In other words, everything that happened in Sodom is happening right here, right now. Look out for consequences (here, and hereafter ...).

  7. "But whilst sexual immorality (and specifically homosexuality) was undoubtedly one manifestation of Sodom’s sin, it was far broader than that." - Wasn't it strictly speaking rape (albeit male), rather than homosexuality per-se?

    1. The attempted rape of the angels was only the very final step and came after Sodom's fate had already been decreed on the basis of these other carefully catalogued and substantial sins.

  8. So are there not some sins worse than other sins, then?

    1. All sin will affect in a negative way our relationship with God as it hardens our hearts so that we hear God's voice less and less clearly. The only distinction the new testament makes concerning sin is that the affect some sins will have on our lives, bodies, health, relationships etc. is 'worse' than other sins.
      I hope this is helpful.

  9. All sin will affect in a negative way our relationship with God as it hardens our hearts so that we hear God's voice less and less clearly. The only distinction the Bible makes concerning sin in the new testament is that the affect some sins will have on our lives, bodies, health, relationships is 'worse' than other sins.

  10. Are you familiar with our new book that identifies the cities of the Plain as being northeast of the Dead Sea? It's Discovering the City of Sodom: The Fascinating, True Account of the Discovery of the Old Testament's Most Infamous City (Howard, 2013.) There is also an article by author Dr. Steven Collins in the current Biblical Archaeology Review.


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