Does the Old Testament Condemn Homosexuality?

Atheism can critique Christianity's social impactThe Sodom and Gomorrah story is where many Christians point when arguing that God rejects homosexuality.  That’s a lot to place on just six verses.  Let’s look at them:

All the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them [literally: so that we can know them].”

Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing.  Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man.  Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them.  But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

“Get out of our way,” they replied.  “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.  (Gen. 19:4–9, NET Bible)

There are a couple of interpretations of this story beyond the typical conclusion that homosexuality is so bad that it gets your town destroyed.

We’re so familiar with to “know” in the Bible meaning “to have sex with” that we forget that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  The Hebrew word in question is used 947 times in the King James Version, most of which have nothing to do with sex.  For example, “When you eat from [the fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5), “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:22), and so on.

If that’s the interpretation, what might the townspeople have wanted to know?  Bob Price suggested that the idea of supernatural visitors wouldn’t have been too surprising within that culture.  It was a violent time, and any military advantage for their town would have been helpful.  Angels could have provided important information.

What to me undercuts this is Lot’s response, “Don’t do this wicked thing,” which isn’t in keeping with a request for knowledge.  But if we conclude that gang rape is commonplace for this community, why is this godly man still living there?  The story leaves this unclear.

Let’s consider a second interpretation: if the townsmen were homosexual, why would Lot have offered them his daughters?  Perhaps instead they were simply violent bullies who wanted to use rape for domination or humiliation.  Isn’t this how rape is sometimes used in prison?

(That Lot volunteered his virgin daughters as if they were merely expensive possessions raises other issues, but let’s not go there.)

One unambiguous conclusion is that gang rape is bad.  Okay, no disagreement there.  But what critique does this give of a loving homosexual relationship?  If good/harm is the factor to use in evaluating actions, that makes rape bad and the loving relationship good.

Next time: Does the Old Testament Condemn Homosexuality? (2 of 2)

Acceptance without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western religion,
rejection without proof is the fundamental characteristic of Western science. 
— Gary Zukav

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Related posts:

The first post in this series is here: Homosexuality v. Christianity

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9 thoughts on “Does the Old Testament Condemn Homosexuality?

  1. I believe the story of lot is another fake made up story.. Being written thousands of years ago, the writers were so very unsophisticated, that it’s hard to recognize (like the pink panther detective that was so darn stupid, that people thought he was brilliant). I have seen this several times in the bible, and the pattern is to make a central point, while the obviously made up story to support that point is so unsophisticated, it supports atheists idea that the bible was written by semi literate unsophisticated superstitious people.

    In lots case, offering daughters (probably being underage otherwise would be married off back then) to a rape mob is something out of a horror movie. Then lot, apparently knew the men in the mob, since the whole conversation had a tone of familiarity (and since lot lived there). I can’t find fault offering females to the mob (other than the obvious horror of it), because lot should have had some idea if they were gay or bisexual (since back then pretty much every town was a small town, and you know everyone). This story seemed to focus on the gay being bad, using the gay lifestyle in shock and awe style presentation. Who knows the “angel” might have been gay and they picked up on it. Gang rape is a popular fantasy in the gay S&M genre (as it is in the straight BDSM genre). I hope some electronic censor robot doesn’t flag my whole post as obscene be cause of these words).

    Another made up story is when the power of god kills children because pharaoh says no to Moses..

    • When you consider that the story was first written centuries after it purportedly happened, that’s a lot of oral history to obscure whatever truth of what happened, if anything. And why assign much historical truth to the Lot story when we don’t give any to the Gilgamesh story, for example, or any other supernatural story from that period?

  2. Bob, you are right on with this. But first let me offer my two-cents of “full disclosure.” I am minister in a conservative, Pentecostal denomination that has a “high” view of scripture. While my views are somewhat unorthodox in my circles, when the dust settles I am what would be considered conservative by most. Since I know the audience here is much different than the audience on my blog, I thought it was worth me saying that out front (though Bob probably remembered this about me already). So, I am not trying to defend or attack either side of socio-political issue. Rather, I am interested in the issue of biblical interpretation (sorry for the long caveat).

    This passage (along with Judges 19) is completely mishandled by evangelicals in my opinion. An honest look at the Hebrew Bible reveals the predominant theme of honor vs shame within the Ancient Near Eastern cultural context of hospitality. In both the Genesis and Judges stories we see the “prison mentality” (for want of a better term) that you alluded to. It is actually quite clear in the English, as you have noted. Perhaps another story enlightens it.

    In 2 Samuel 16 we are told about a revolt from one of David’s sons, Absalom, who was attempting to take over the monarchy. Absalom consults one of David’s former advisors, Ahithophel, about how he might be able to secure the throne once and for all (he had already gained control and David had been driven out). So, Ahithophel told Absalom to pitch a tent on the roof of the palace and sleep with his father’s concubines. It says, “Then all of Israel will hear how you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of those with you will be strengthened” (v. 21).

    The idea is that this was a “power” play. Again, it is similar to the “prison mentality.” In the Ancient Near East women were viewed as property, objects of exchange. To seize the property of another was to gain control over him. Few things demonstrated that power shift as clearly as rape.

    The Hebrew Bible clearly condemns homosexuality at face value in Leviticus. Explaining that requires a different hermeneutical application than that which I am applying for these passages. But Leviticus is the ONLY book that addresses the issue in the Hebrew Bible. The sin in Genesis and Judges is the objectification of others expressed in violence.

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  4. Pingback: Homosexuality v. Christianity | Galileo Unchained

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