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Quotables: Against Matthew Vine’s (And Boswell’s) Exegesis of Genesis 19


Every now and then I like posting something incisive that was written in the past because it speaks so well into the present. The sweet thing about this is that these guys, who are often waved away today, have dealt with a lot of the same issues while remaining simultaneously (by the modern mind) ignored. This one comes from Samuel Shin in 2005.

The dramatic elements surrounding this biblical scene outline some of the key components of the homosexual-biblical debate. The Genesis 19 account of Sodom has been one of the major passages used to denounce homosexuality. Words like “sodomy” and “homophobia” (the fear of homosexuals and homosexuality in general), according to Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, could very well have first been coined by this text.23 One leading homosexual-advocacy scholar, John Boswell, has noted that there were four different inferences that one could make regarding the destruction of Sodom:

(1) The Sodomites were destroyed for the general wickedness which had prompted the Lord to send angels to the city to investigate in the first place; (2) the city was destroyed because the people of Sodom had tried to rape the angels; (3) the city was destroyed because the men of Sodom had tried to engage in homosexual intercourse with the angels; (4) the city was destroyed for inhospitable treatment of visitors sent from the Lord.24

He argues for the fourth position, asserting that Lot had broken the hospitality rules and laws of the city and thus needed to pay for that infraction. He also points out that (“to know”) is not used sexually in this passage (and is only used fifteen times in this context in over nine hundred separate examples of ), but again, in the context of homosexuality. He even quotes Jesus as condemning Sodom not for its homosexuality but for its inhospitality in Matt 10:14-15.25

Another pro-homosexual exegete affirms Boswell’s interpretation:

D. S. Bailey has taken exception to this interpretation [that is, the position that God judged the homosexual act of Sodom – ed.], demonstrating fairly conclusively that the evil which Lot suspects of the men of Sodom and for which God punishes them is not a perverted sexual appetite, but rather a breach of the rules of hospitality.26

Clearly the position of pro-homosexual interpreters is to steer clear of the apparent sexual ethical theme of Genesis 19 and focus on the laws of hospitality and Lot’s possible breach of such laws.

However, upon further examination of the biblical text of Genesis 19, to assume that hospitality failures were the cause of God’s divine judgment upon the city seems a bit understated. In the midst of the story, there were other sins that Sodom was found guilty of that complemented the accusation of the homosexual sin. Take Jer 23:14, which reads:

But now I see that the prophets of Jerusalem are even worse! They commit adultery, and they love dishonesty. They encourage those who are doing evil instead of turning them away from their sins. These prophets are as wicked as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah once were. (NLT)

Or note Ezek 16:49-50: “Sodom’s sins were pride, laziness, and gluttony, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. She was proud and did loathsome things, so I wiped her out, as you have seen” (NLT). These passages display the distinct conclusion that Sodom was condemned not for a failure of hospitality but for the act of homosexuality itself. There is no doubt that the rest of Scripture views Sodom not as an unwelcoming, unfriendly city, but as a city of wretched sin and in complete disregard of the holiness of God. In fact Jeremiah lists adultery, a sexual sin, as one example of their sin, which casts doubt upon Boswell’s attempt to take sexual wrongdoing out of the city’s list of sins. Some have also argued that since homosexuality is not mentioned in these texts, it was not considered to be sinful. Yet, omission or silence of a specific sin, in a particular list, does not preclude homosexuality as a sin. It might simply indicate that the biblical writers were emphasizing different perspectives. Paul frequently provided lists of sins, but that hardly meant that these were the only sins that people committed.

Derek Kidner, in his commentary on Genesis, gives a three-point explanation on how this text might be misinterpreted:

(a) Statistics are no substitute for contextual evidence (otherwise the rarer sense of a word would never seem probable), and in both of these passages the demand “to know” the guests is met by an offer in which the same word “know” is used in its sexual sense (Gen. 19:8; Jdg. 19:25). Even apart from this verbal conjunction it would be grotesquely inconsequent that Lot should apply to a demand for credentials by an offer of daughters. (b) Psychology can suggest how “to know” acquired its secondary sense; but in fact the use of the word is completely flexible. No one suggests that in Judges 19:25 the men of Gibeah were gaining “knowledge” of their victim in the sense of personal relationship, yet “know” is the word used of them. (c) Conjecture here has the marks of special pleading, for it substitutes a trivial reason (“commotion … inhospitality”) for a serious one, for the angels’ decision. Apart from this, it is silenced by Jude 7, a pronouncement which Dr. Bailey has to discount to a late stage of interpretation.27

To ignore the sexual context of Genesis 19, and all of the turmoil that surrounds it, is to neglect the context and true meaning of the passage. Richard Lovelace writes:

The Hebrew reader would recognize homosexual practice as one aspect of this depravity, one which is highlighted here because the action which Genesis 19 presents as an epitome of the city’s abandonment is a violation of the law of hospitality to strangers.28

While it is true that inhospitality does take place, placing the whole weight of the destruction of the city on this infraction does grave damage to the essence of God’s justice and the author’s intent in the passage. Kidner correctly refers to Jude 729 and also 2 Pet 2:6, 30 which leave no cover for homosexual advocates who argue that Sodom and Gomorrah were not punished for the sin of homosexuality. The pro-homosexual exegetes’ only answer to these two biblical texts has been to question the legitimacy of Jude, arguing that Jude is nothing more than a later interpretation. Thus, it would belong in the same category as the Book of Jubilees and should be classified as an unreliable source. However, Jude is recognized not as extra-biblical, but canonical literature supported by 2 Peter. The attempt to undermine recognized Scripture reveals the disregard for a high view of Scripture. Adds Lovelace:

Even if the author of Jude were suggesting that the Sodomites were so depraved that they sought sexual union with any partners forbidden by the Law of God, the expression of this licentiousness proverbially connected with the Sodomites was their omnivorous sexual lust manifest in the assault on Lot’s companions.31

The sin was real, and it would take exegetical gymnastics and an assault on biblical canonicity to interpret the text in a way that avoids the conspicuous connection between homosexuality, sin, and God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah.

23 23. Letha Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978), 55.

24 24. John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980), 93.

25 25. Ibid., 94.

26 26. H. Kimball Jones, Toward a Christian Understanding of the Homosexual (New York: Association Press, 1966), 67.

27 27. Derek Kidner, Genesis (TOTC; InterVarsity, 1967), 136-37.

28 28. Richard Lovelace, Homosexuality: What Should Christians Do About It? (Old Tappan: Revell, 1978), 101.

29 29. “And don’t forget the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with sexual immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and are a warning of the eternal fire that will punish all who are evil” [NLT].

30 30. “Later, he turned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into heaps of ashes and swept them off the face of the earth. He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people” [NLT].

31 31. Ibid., 102.

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