Most U.S. Christians (54% in 2014) believe homosexuality should be accepted by society. Many U.S. Christian denominations sanction same-sex marriage, including the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the United Church of Christ (UCC). Others oppose, including Assemblies of God, Mormon, Roman Catholic, and Southern Baptist.
Some Christians say that the Bible clearly prohibits same-sex marriage (or gay marriage). Others say it does not.
This is the first in a series of blog posts introducing differing views about scripture relevant to homosexuality and same-sex marriage. My plan is for each post to address one or two scriptural passages related to the topic.
For each, I plan to describe some of the context of the passage and quote it. I plan to then briefly describe some of what those who oppose same-sex marriage and those who affirm same-sex marriage say about the passage.
Introduction and Context: The first passage tells us about Sodom, the city from which the word “sodomize” is derived. Genesis describes God sending two angels to Sodom to investigate the city’s sin. Conservative scholars say that this happened 3400-3800 years ago.
Main Scripture (Genesis 19:1-28):
When the two angels arrived in Sodom, they ate dinner at Lot’s house. The men of the city, “surrounded the house; and they called to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may [have sex with] them.’
Lot went out … and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”
But they replied, “Stand back! … [Lot] … would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they … came near the door to break it down. But the men inside reached out … and brought Lot into the house with them, and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the door ….”
The next morning, after Lot and some of his family fled, God destroyed Sodom (and Gomorrah) with fire.
Some Non-Affirming Christians Say: God destroyed Sodom because men of the city were homosexuals, seeking homosexual sex. Thus, homosexual sex is a sin. We should oppose gay marriage, where homosexual sex would take place, because if we endorse gay marriage, then God might destroy us for the same reason God destroyed Sodom.
Some Affirming Christians Say: The Bible does not say God destroyed Sodom because of homosexuality. Sodom is cited as evil multiple times in the Bible, and not one time is homosexuality mentioned as the sin of Sodom. In fact, the Biblical book of Ezekiel describes the sin of Sodom specifically (and it is not homosexuality). Ezekiel 16:49-50 states:
God said, “Only this was the sin of your sister Sodom: arrogance! She and her daughters had plenty of bread and untroubled tranquillity; yet she did not support the poor and the needy. In their haughtiness, they committed abomination before Me; and so I removed them, as you saw.”
Sodom’s sin was arrogance and failing to support the poor and needy, not homosexuality.
Non-affirming Christians: First, the chief “abomination before Me” referenced in Ezekiel is homosexual sex because the first action of Sodom described in the main passage is men seeking homosexual sex. Second, Jude 1:7, in the New Testament, says Sodom’s sin included sexual immorality and going after “strange flesh,” which is homosexuality: “Sodom and Gomorrah, … giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Thus, we should not endorse homosexuality, even in marriage.
Affirming Christians: First, the “abomination” of “haughtiness” God is describing is right there in Ezekiel (having “plenty of bread and untroubled tranquillity; yet she did not support the poor and the needy”). Second, going after “strange” flesh means going after different flesh. The men of Sodom thought they were going after the same flesh as their own, flesh of men. Instead, the men of Sodom were going after “strange flesh”—the flesh of angels. So Jude noting they were going after “strange flesh” is not about homosexuality. Indeed, Jude was written in Greek, and the Greek word translated as “strange” is heteras (think hetero-, not homo-). Nowhere in the Bible does it say the sin that caused God to destroy Sodom was homosexuality.
My aim with this post was to begin introducing differing views among Christians regarding Biblical passages relevant to same-sex marriage. I will address additional passages on this topic in future posts.
There are many permutations on these views. And, of course, each side says more about these verses and points to other verses, too. You can find more discussion about this subject at the sources listed below.
To go on to part 2 in this series, click here.
(The picture at the top is of the main scripture in one of my hard-copy Bibles.)
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/12/18/most-u-s-christian-groups-grow-more-accepting-of-homosexuality/ (54% …. The question asked was “1 – Homosexuality should be accepted by society OR 2 – Homosexuality should be discouraged by society.” The complete report and questionnaire are available here.)
Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships (Convergent Books 2014)
http://www.dictionary.com/browse/sodomize (sodomize origin)
Added: Ezekiel is referring to the actual Sodom, not using Sodom as code for Judah. (a) The context is condemnation of Jerusalem in an offensive way by talking about its historical origins: “1 The word of the Lord … 2 … confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices 3 and say, ‘… Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 On the day you were born ….” (b) Historical and offensive (even more, ‘You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! … “… you prostitute ….”) (c) The city of Samaria was to the north and the city of Sodom was to the south of Jerusalem, at least that’s where archaeologists put it. (d) Ezekiel is talking about the city of Jerusalem’s ancestry, so talking about the past. (e) A city’s sisters would be other cities — Samaria and Sodom — parallel items, with the ancient city of Samaria as one sister and the ancient city of Sodom as another. Ezekiel is looking at the past, looking at Jerusalem’s ancestry. (f) Sodom and the city names refer to the people not the bricks (e.g., “the sin of your sister Sodom” — people sin) so that Sodom will be restored does not tell you that Lot’s house will be rebuilt (though maybe the physical will get restored, too, who knows), (g) The whole chapter is intended to shock — it’s quite offensive, your mother was a Hittite, your father was an Ammorite, your sister was Sodom, your sister was Samaria, ….. Just saying your sisters are the northern and southern kingdom is not the same offensive / shock effect as prostitute, Sodom, your mother is …. etc. (h) Jerusalem was part of Judah, part of the southern tribes — indeed, the capital —, so to say that Jerusalem’s sister is the southern tribes when Jerusalem is part of the southern tribes at that point makes no sense in this context anyway.
More on this includes:
One, there’s no or insufficient basis to make an assumption or inference that Ezekiel is using something Isaiah did. Isaiah even said explicitly he is using a simile (like) in 1:9. That’s not in Ezekiel.
Two, regardless, Isaiah isn’t calling Judah Sodom. He’s calling ** Jerusalem ** Sodom (as would expect, two cities, parallel). You can see this in a straightforward way in Isaiah 1. See below.
Three, you say you the two sisters in chapter 23 are not the same sisters as in chapter 1 of Ezekiel. Ezekiel 23:4 says “Oholibah is Jerusalem.” The sister there is not Judah, she’s Jerusalem. Verse 23:4 says she is “wîrūšālim.”
More on the second point, Isaiah isn’t calling Judah Sodom. He is calling ** Jerusalem ** Sodom.
This jumps out — Sodom and Jerusalem are cities. Judah is a kingdom or group of tribes in context. So parallels, Sodom and Jerusalem, cities. Not parallels, Sodom and Judah.
And the scripture shows Sodom is Jerusalem, not Judah.
Isaiah 1:1 “The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.
[verses 2-10 discusses Judah (the kingdom) “… Woe to the sinful nation …”]
And turns to a discussion of its cities in verse 7:
“7 Your country is desolate,
your cities burned with fire; …”
Specifically, Jerusalem, beginning in verse 8:
“8 Daughter Zion is left
like a shelter in a vineyard,
like a hut in a cucumber field,
like a city under siege.”
That Jerusalem still is there ….
And then in v. 9 compares Jerusalem to Sodom and to Gomorrah, survivors vs. no survivors:
“9 Unless the Lord Almighty
had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.”
And then uses Sodom and Gomorrah in rhetorical effect to warn:
“10 Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!”
Notice that in v. 1 Ezekiel refers to the kings of Judah — using a Hebrew term for kings, malke — but then in v. 10 does not refer to kings of Sodom, which he probably would have done if Sodom was referring to Judah, but instead used “rulers” — qesine —
And then goes on in vv. 11 – forward discuss things that happen ** in Jerusalem **
sacrifices (“burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; … in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats”) etc
And then concludes in vv. 21 –
“21 See how the faithful city
has become a prostitute! …
“25 I will turn my hand against you;[b] (NIV says: ”
Isaiah 1:25 That is, against Jerusalem”) …
26 I will restore your leaders as in days of old,
your rulers as at the beginning.”
Afterward you will be called
the City of Righteousness,
the Faithful City.”
27 Zion will be delivered with justice,
her penitent ones with righteousness. ….
So, again, even if one took the leap that Ezekiel was using something that way from Isaiah, Isaiah is using Sodom to refer to Jerusalem.
So saying that Ezekiel is using Sodom the same way as Isaiah would have Ezekiel telling Jerusalem that its sister is Jerusalem.
Lot escaped Sodom with his daughters.
The inference that waste forever is the pepole of Sodom is a stretch, as Lot and his daughters escaped and the passages refer to the physical: “As Sodom and Gomorrah were overthrown, along with their neighboring towns,” says the LORD, “so no one will live there; no people will dwell in it.” (Jer 49:18; 50:40 is nearly identical) “… “surely Moab will become like Sodom, the Ammonites like Gomorrah– a place of weeds and salt pits, a wasteland forever. The remnant of my people will plunder them; the survivors of my nation will inherit their land.”” (Zeph 2:9)
Revelation 11:8 explicitly says that Sodom is being used figuratively. It explicitly says so, using pneumatikōs — “Their bodies will lie in the public square of the great city–which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt–where also their Lord was crucified.”
Ezekiel makes no mention of simile or figuratively when referring to Sodom’s sin. This, too, suggests that it is literal, historical Sodom that is referenced by Ezekiel. Where it is a figurative use, the passage says so. It doesn’t there in Ezekiel where it refers to its sin.
The fact that the chapter is intended to shock suggests pretty strongly that the reference to Sodom is the literal Sodom because that is shocking but comparing Jerusalem to Judah, the southern kingdom, is not.
That Jerusalem was part of Judah, part of the southern tribes — the capital — makes the argument that Jerusalem’s sister is the southern tribes when Jerusalem is part of the southern tribes just not make sense.
A claim that Sodom does not mean Sodom in Ez. 1 is contrary to mainstream and standard scholarship on Ez. 1.
Some preterist advocates argue for lots of metaphors and metaphors on metaphors, like that Babylon etc. referred to in Revelation is a metaphor for 1st century Jerusalem. That a preterist advocate would argue that Sodom in Ezekiel 1 is not Sodom but means something different with only a slim reason and in the face of things directly contradictory to their argument would not be particularly surprising. Lots and lots of scripture has to be “metaphored” and several logical leaps made and contradictory scripture ignored to get there.
Lot’s action with his two daughters relates to a slightly different topic, so I haven’t addressed its shocking nature in any depth here.
The scripture quoted in this post is from the New Revised Standard Version, the Tanakh Translation, or the King James Version.
Note: After the third post in this series, I changed the title in the posts to read “… Both Sides of the Debate,” rather than “… A Brief Look at Both Sides of the Debate” as it was originally, because—although each one is brief in the sense that there is a lot more to say on each sub-topic—after three posts on homosexuality and same-sex marriage and envisioning several more, “brief” in the running title of the series did not seem right. Updated.