Was Sodom and Gomorrah destroyed because of homosexuality?

BY: Dr Confidence Worlanyo Bansah

On Wednesday, October 27, 2021, Sam George was interviewed by Claire McDonald - host of BBC’s Newsday programme.

I took my time to listen to the audio in which he (Sam George) averred that “God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality”.

As a theologian, I find the use of homosexuality as the basis of God’s wrath and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah rather worrying and misleading because the Bible does not say so, or give any clue to that effect.

Simply put, we just have no evidence in the text itself to show or suggest that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexuality.

Despite this, granting without admitting that the men of Sodom and Gomorrah practised homosexuality as often speculated by most Christians both past and present, the text does not give the slightest hint that the calamity that befell both cities was due to homosexual sin.

So we need to remind ourselves of the verdict that was delivered to Lot against Sodom by the two angels, “Then the men said to Lot, ‘Have you any one else here? Sons–in–law, sons, daughters, or any one you have in the city, bring them out of the place; for we are about to destroy this place, because the outcry against its people has become great before the Lord, and the Lord has sent us to destroy it’” (Gen 19:12–13).

This “outcry” could be from oppression, corruption, wickedness, sexual immorality (maybe including homosexuality) or injustice as was the case of the destruction of the whole world by God and sparing only the family of Noah and some spices (Gen. 6:1–7).

A similar account (as that of Sodom and Gomorrah) about a town called Gibeah in Judges 19:22–30 did not result in its destruction.

According to the narrative, when the men of Sodom heard about the visitors in town and were hosted by Lot they went to him and asked,

“Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them” (Gen. 19:5 RSV).

The Hebrew word for “know” is yada’. In various ways, I - like many others - have interpreted Yada’ in this context as “to get acquainted with” and not “to have sexual intercourse with” as other textual arguments suggest.

We know that even in our own context today, town folks are always suspicious of strangers in their vicinity because of security reasons and other criminal behaviours such as armed robbery and kidnapping and they will deal with any such elements and their host (s) badly irrespective of who the host (s) may be.

This concurs with the African Bible Commentary (2006) that the men of Sodom did not know what kind of visitors were in Lot’s house.

Hence, his offer of his two daughters for sex obviously shows how he misconstrued the mission of the Sodomite gang.

We should note that elsewhere in the Bible, Jesus warned us about how unbearable it would be for the town that refuses the ministry of the apostles than for Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgement without making any reference to homosexuality (Matthew 10:15).

This shows the error in citing the story of Sodom and Gomorrah by many Christians to condemn same–sex relationships and other homosexual activities over the past centuries and now.

On the whole, we who want to theologise ought to apply the basic principles of hermeneutics to the (true) interpretation of the Bible.

This helps to remain faithful to the texts of Scripture and to refrain from imposing our meaning on them.

Should we not allow the Bible to speak for itself? It is clear that the biblical authors did not assume that Sodom and Gomorrah were razed to the ground because of homosexuality.

Thus, it is confusing and difficult to see how prohibited laws against homosexuality arrived because of the Sodom and Gomorrah story.

We should therefore not theologise with emotions and cultural assumptions and persuasions but with the texts we have in the Canon when making biblical arguments against homosexuality.

Dr Confidence Worlanyo Bansah, Lecturer, Department of Religion and Human Values, University of Cape Coast.