You can’t make this stuff up

How can you so close your eyes to the clear words of the text? Matt Kennedy’s about to find out, questioning the man who helped write the Lambeth Bible Studies:

Me: I have a question for Dr. West. Would you say that the author of the NT book of Jude was incorrect when he wrote this about Sodom and Gamorrah, “just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire…” that was from verse 7. Would you say that the writer of Jude got the context wrong?

A: No not at all, I think he was referring to the sin of inhospitality.

Me: When he uses the phrase “sexual immorality”?

A: Yes, that was the way they were being inhospitable.

Hover your cursor over this reference – Jude 7 – to read it in the ESV.

I don’t get the argument here. Is Dr West saying that they were inhospitable because they insisted on the strangers residing at Lot’s doing sexually immoral things with them, when the strangers refused. But, if the strangers (angels?) had agreed to commit sexually immoral acts that would have been OK?

Answers on a postcard to:

Agents of Denial
Big Blue Tent
University of Kent

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12 Comments on “You can’t make this stuff up

  1. I mean, sexual immorality doesn’t even have to refer to homosexuality.  I don’t really think Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed for homosexuality, but for immorality in general.  After all, would God have spared the cities if the men had been wanting to gang-rape Lot’s daughters instead of his guests?  I certainly would hope not.

    And let’s not forget that Lot offered his daughters to the crowd of rapists.  Not a very good showing for the only “righteous” man in Sodom.

  2. Hi Jay,

    I think the fact that Lot offers his daughters instead of the men obviously indicates that, to him at least, homosexual activity was worse than heterosexual, but I think your main argument, that Sodom was wiped out because of general immorality, is the key here. Dr West makes it sound as though they didn’t offer the right kind of petit fours with the cup of tea…

  3. Yeah, I don’t understand the “inhospitable” argument either.  If the Lord destroyed cities for being inhospitable we would all be in trouble every rush hour.

  4. I seriously doubt that Lot was making a value judgment about homosexual rape vs. heterosexual rape.  It certainly isn’t “obvious” as you say.  At most, he was trying to protect his guests more than his family.  I can understand that to a certain extent, but I won’t lie.  I’ve always held the fact that he offered up his daughters in very low regard, and I’m often surprised that when many Christians speak of Sodom, they never mention that flash of wickedness.

  5. Wouldn’t liberals note that the attitude to women that the Lot passage betrays is a good reason for not taking biblical gender and sexuality norms as binding today? Good point I would have thought (although a *conservative/evangelical* tried to convince me that Jesus and Paul were feminists, and therefore greater female inclusion in the church is bliblical whereas gay lib is not, which I found strange. )

  6. I think the Pauline approach to gender relationships (“Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church, laying down himself for her“) is a fantastic model to hold onto. I don’t think Lot’s is intended to be read in quite the same way.

  7. OK, I read an explanation of Lot’s offer of his daughters a few months ago, and it made sense to me.  I’ll probably botch it up, but here goes:
    In that culture, men would protect their virgin daughters at all costs, and would readily kill a man who harmed them.  Therefore, Lot’s offer was an extreme illustration of how seriously he took his obligations to his guests.  The men would have recognized how “over the top” Lot’s offer was, and would have been expected to stand down from their request.  What I’m trying to say is that Lot had no intention whatsoever of actually pushing Sissy and Buffy out the front door – he was using hyperbole to make a point.

  8. I think Dr West actually has a rather better point than his own words would seem to suggest (bear in mind the context is not a carefully considered document but a question and answer session). Inhospitality to us does suggest some sort of minor social gaffe or character defect but in the context of that part of the world (even nowadays, let alone in ancient times) the obligations of hosts towards their guests were/are regarded as sacrosanct and more important than almost anything else – and the obligation would apply to the whole host family, not just the head of the family. Thus Lot’s offer, to safeguard his guests by bringing shame on his own family instead, would have been understandable if extreme – and his selflessness (for so they would have regarded it, I think) is meant to contrast with the arrogance and selfishness of the attackers. (There are reflections of this attitude in earlier times in this country too, e.g. when so much is made in Macbeth of his turpitude in killing Duncan while D was a guest in M’s house – something we would nowadays probably regard as insignificant compared with the wickedness of killing him at all.) From the standpoint of the original audience of the Genesis story, I believe the fact that the men of Sodom tried to make Lot surrender his guests to ill-treatment really would have seemed the worst aspect of the affair; the nature of the ill-treatment, being particularly lurid and objectionable, would have been so to speak icing on the cake, and bring out the horror of the position they were putting Lot in.  As for the men of S: since it is stressed that all of them “to the last man” were acting thus, it is not credible to me that they could have been “Sodomites” in the modern sense; and even if they had been, what need would there have been to destroy the city?  It would have perished anyway in a generation. Nor is it really credible that they were motivated by sexual desire,  since if they had been that way inclined they could presumably have satisfied one another with less fuss (nb it is often suggested that rapists in general are not really motivated by a desire for sexual gratification per se but by something more akin to bullying, the morbid need to humiliate others); moreover, in this case, since so many were involved the likely result would have been the death of the victims, and it is conceivable that the reader is supposed to understand that that was part of the intention of the attackers or even their primary purpose. In other parts of the bible when Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned the nature of their sin is not often specified, but the general context implies things like cruelty (Deut 32:32-3); more often the Lord threatens to make Israel like S&G, not for sexual misdemeanours of any sort (except the metaphorical one of whoring after foreign gods, cf. Deut 29, Jer 23) but religious unfaithfulness or for social injustice (Is 1). Jude is as far as I know the first to bring out the sexual nature of the sin, but his purpose in context seems to be influenced by a desire to make a connection between human rebelliousness (and consequent punishment) and that of the divine beings of Gen 6:1-4 (he may be alluding to some non-biblical tradition concerning the fate of the “sons of God/the gods”). In short I really do think that the whole Sodom thing is not very helpful in the context of homosexuality as such (ie. when not part of rape or other obviously unacceptable things).

  9. Since making my last comment in this chain, I have noticed how close a parallel to the Sodom story is provided by the story about the ‘crime of Gibeah’ (Judges 19), which for some reason had slipped my mind before. I think it backs up a couple of my points: the householder explicitly states that it would be wrong to hand over people who are his guests, and the result of the abuse suffered by the concubine is that she does in fact die.
    I am left wondering how much of this sort of thing used to go on in the ancient world! It certainly sheds a rather stark light on the necessity for the injunction not to harm strangers and sojourners, if that’s the sort of thing they risked.

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