The Sexual and Social Anarchy of Sodom and Gomorrah

John C. Rankin

[excerpt from Genesis and the Power of True Assumptions, 2013]

In Chapter Six, we also defined the pansexual sin of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 – sexual anarchy that leads to social anarchy that leads to the trampling of the poor and needy. Let’s unpack the whole biblical witness that justifies this summation.

The nature of Sodom and Gomorrah is so often misunderstood as only referring to homosexuality. Rather, it refers to a comprehensive reality of lawlessness, rooted in the brokenness of the marriage covenant of one man and one woman.

There are some four dozen mentions of Sodom in the Bible, and half the time Gomorrah (the smaller city) is mentioned alongside. Of these, we can note nineteen texts that show us the nature of the sins involved.

In Genesis 13:10-13, Sodom and Gomorrah are referenced well before their destruction, when Lot chose to settle there: “Now the men of Sodom were sinning greatly before the LORD.” In Genesis 18:20-21, we read: “Then the LORD said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.”

Genesis 19:1-29 is the whole story of the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Violence is also threatened against Lot by the attempted rapists, and provision made for Lot to escape with his family, and then the cities are destroyed by burning sulfur. But Lot’s wife turned back from her provided deliverance, and became a pillar of salt.

In Deuteronomy 29:16-28, Moses uses Sodom and Gomorrah as an example for the Israelites if they break the covenant. They will be liable if they worship detestable idols and false gods, causing a “root” which “produces such bitter poison.” In Deuteronomy 32:31- 35, Moses refers to Sodom and Gomorrah in the parallelistic idioms of poison, bitterness, the venom of serpents and deadly poison of cobras.

In Isaiah 1:9-31, Sodom and Gomorrah is used as an example of judgment upon the “Daughter of Zion” (Jerusalem) – they were worshiping false gods, doing wrong, with hands full of blood, committing evil deeds, oppressing the downtrodden, the fatherless and widows, acting like a harlot, were murderers, rebels, sinners, thieves who loved bribes, and engaged in sacred prostitution. In Isaiah 3:8-9, Jerusalem staggers like a drunk, and “they parade their sin like Sodom” – against a backdrop of those sins being sorcery, boys as the rulers, oppression, the youth rising up against the old and the base against the honorable, lawlessness, youths oppressing the people with women ruling over them, the plundering and “grinding the faces” of the poor, and haughty promiscuous women flaunting their wealth. In Isaiah 13:19, “Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the glory of Babylonian pride,” the source of all pagan religion, “will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah.”

In Jeremiah 23:9-24, the analogy to Sodom and Gomorrah is at the center of judgment being pronounced on false prophets. “The land is full of adulterers,” and “ ‘[t]he prophets follow an evil course and use their power unjustly. Both prophet and priest are godless, even in my temple I find their wickedness,’ declares the LORD.” And then the analogy: “And among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one turns from his wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.” Thus, they will “eat bitter food and drink poisoned water, the prophets who speak false visions “from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD,” they who despise Yahweh, they who proclaim false peace, they who refused to speak truth to the people, they who “would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.”

In Ezekiel 16:44-58, the judgment on Jerusalem is rooted in a comparison to pagan nations as her parents, and her older sister Samaria (long before judgment and exile), and the interwoven metaphor of Sodom. We see the language of despising husbands and children, detestable practices, of depravity. “ ‘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.” The language of judgment then includes shame, wickedness, consequences of lewdness and detestable practices, all due to breaking the Mosaic covenant.

In Zephaniah 2:8-11, Moab and Ammon are compared in their judgment with Sodom and Gomorrah, and thus, destruction of their gods. They had taunted the Jews and made threats against their land, thus taunting and mocking Yahweh.

In Matthew 10:11-16, those who refuse hospitality to the disciples of Jesus face a judgment more severe than Sodom and Gomorrah (see also Luke 10:1-12). In Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus judges several cities on the north side of the Sea of Galilee that refused to repent of their sins, in spite of having seen his miracles. The largest, Capernaum, will accordingly face a judgment more severe than Sodom and Gomorrah.

In Luke 17:26-37, Jesus had been speaking prior about the coming of the days of the Son of Man. And by means of analogy, he speaks of the judgment in Noah’s days on a people unconcerned with their wicked lives. He then follows with the analogy of the judgment on Sodom, and the fate of Lot’s wife. In Romans 9:29, Paul quotes Isaiah 1:9, making mention of how Sodom and Gomorrah left no descendants.

In 2 Peter 2:4-22, we read that the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah is “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly,” and where “Lot” was “a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard).” [Yet too, as we noted earlier, Lot was a compromised man by continuing to live in the city – a war in his soul.] The language of this analogy to Sodom and Gomorrah continues and describes such sinners as yielding to the corrupt desires of the sinful nature, despising authority, being bold and arrogant, slandering celestial beings, being blasphemous, “like brute beasts, creatures of instincts,” carousing in broad daylight, being blots and blemishes.

“With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning; they seduce the unstable; they areexperts in greed– an accursed brood!  They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness.  But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey– a beast without speech– who spoke with a man’s voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.

“These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity– for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him.  If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them. Of them the proverbs are true: ‘A dog returns to its vomit,’ and, ‘A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.’ ”

In Jude 5-16, there is great interface with the language in 2 Peter, also citing Sodom and Gomorrah, and later adding a reference to Cain:

“And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their home – these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

And finally, in Revelation 11:8, the linkage between Sodom and Egypt is made, where figuratively the Lord was crucified.

In these passages, the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are spoken of as “detestable.”  The Hebrew terms are shaqatz and toevah, which refer broadly to various forms of idolatry, covetousness and sexual perversion.

The Bible also refers to the sins of Sodom in the language of the qadeshim (male shrine prostitutes), in Deuteronomy 23:17-18; 1 Kings 14:22-24; 15:12; 22:46; and in 2 Kings 23:4-14. In the latter case, the final faithful king in Judah, Josiah, brought reformation to a completely corrupted temple. In the process, he had to clear out the idolatrous worship of Ba’al and Asherah by pagan priests, along with various forms of worshiping the celestial objects, of sorcery, sacred prostitution and child sacrifice. The temple was actually being supported by the income of male shrine prostitutes.

In Job 36:16, before the era of Abraham and Sodom, a passing comment by Elihu speaks of the godless: “They die in their youth, among male prostitutes of the shrines. In other words, long before the modern definition of sexually transmitted diseases, we see the life-shortening realities of active male homosexuality.

In the LXX (Septuagint – Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) of Deuteronomy 23:18, the qadeshim are rendered by the word kunes, in reference to dogs in heat without control; and Jesus uses the same language in Revelation 22:14-15.

In one final reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, Paul writes in his first letter to Timothy: “We know that [the] law is not made for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their father or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers …” (vv.8-10). This litany is quite comprehensive, and includes the Greek word arsenokoitais,  literally meaning “homosexuals,” which the NIV calls “perverts” (a translation I do not care for). The verse is linked to Sodom and Gomorrah because of an atavistic and presumptive translation of arsenokoitais as “Sodomites.” There is no etymological reason for this, but the context is one of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Thus, we witness remarkable, relentless and detailed language across the Bible describing the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. The assumption in place is simple – when the God-given trust for man and woman in faithful marriage is broken, all forms of sexual and social anarchy follow, and the most vulnerable in society suffer the most as a result.