Cutting Out Scripture

If you read Morning Prayer this morning in the Church of England you’ll have noticed that a portion of the Old Testament text for today was omitted from the official reading. Here for all to see is what we were asked to read.

The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground.  “My lords,” he said, “please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning.”
“No,” they answered, “we will spend the night in the square.”  But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate.

The two men said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”

So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the LORD is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.

With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.”

When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them. As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

But Lot said to them, “No, my lords, please! Your servant has found favor in your eyes, and you have shown great kindness to me in sparing my life. But I can’t flee to the mountains; this disaster will overtake me, and I’ll die. Look, here is a town near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.”

He said to him, “Very well, I will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.” (That is why the town was called Zoar.)

By the time Lot reached Zoar, the sun had risen over the land. Then the LORD rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the LORD out of the heavens. Thus he overthrew those cities and the entire plain, including all those living in the cities—and also the vegetation in the land. But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.

Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the LORD. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace.

So when God destroyed the cities of the plain, he remembered Abraham, and he brought Lot out of the catastrophe that overthrew the cities where Lot had lived.

This is the bit that the Common Worship lectionary tells us to ignore.

Before they had gone to bed, 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.”

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. And they said, “This fellow came here as an alien, 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.

But the men inside reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door. Then they struck the men who were at the door of the house, young and old, with blindness so that they could not find the door.

Can’t think why they did that…

Now, if anyone wants to have a discussion as to what the sin of Sodom was, I’m happy to oblige, but for the moment I just want to reflect on the idea that the lectionary ignores bits of Scripture that we might be uncomfortable with. Are we happy with that?

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22 Comments on “Cutting Out Scripture

  1. Entirely agree P that we shouldn’t duck what many might consider the more difficult and awkward passages of scripture. God’s apparent ordered genocide of men, women, children, graphic violence, erotic poetry, sexual humour, I have long suggested that this is not a book to be left in the hands of young children :)

    • We’re dealing with a holy God aren’t we Jonathan? Interesting though what approach we take – do we ignore the judgement on numerous sinners and decide that God was wrong to commit genocide, or do we try to read the Scriptures as a coherent theology?

  2. I am always interested to see what the lectionary compilers leave out of our readings. Occasionally verses are omitted because they will crop up in a reading on another day. however, I feel fairly safe in assuming this is not the case here.

    I do feel that there is a valid question to be asked about the purpose and intended audience when we read scripture in the context of public worship. The lectionary is not intended as a guide to private (or even group) study of scripture. I can see how reading verses like this in a context where they are left hanging in the air without discussion or explanation might make it difficult for many to see just how this might be “the word of the Lord.” I haven’t yet preached a sermon at mid-week morning prayer – perhaps I should?

      • Thanks for the response Peter.
        When I was a curate, my incumbent and I would often have a brief discussion of the scripture passages when we met for morning prayer. However, this has not been the pattern with the 2 or 3 lay folk who currently meet at the parish church for morning prayer, and I don’t think they would particularly welcome such a change to their pattern. But I have food for thought.

  3. Many thanks for highlighting this Peter. I would argue that taking the section out renders the passage unintelligible. Whatever one makes of the issues raised, it is impossible to consider the issues if the text has been redacted in this way.

    • Cutting out the text completely removes any explanation as to why Sodom gets blitzed. Of course, it could be that the reason why Sodom gets blitzed is a problem for some…

  4. Such editing in the daily and Sunday lectionaries concerns me. The Canadian Book of Alternative Services does it, too. I can’t help feeling such omissions are more about political correctness than protecting delicate Anglican sensibilities. For my daily prayer I now use, therefore, the St James Devotional Guide lectionary which skips nothing, has readings short enough for daily focus and acknowledges the church year.

    On Sundays, I think it’s important that we engage with these difficult bits rather than ignoring, or denying them. I heard of an Anglican priest who, whenever he encountered one of these omissions in the Sunday lectionary, made a point of preaching on the missing bit for that reason.

  5. To answer your final question – no. But to those who might say “Aha – we use our own sermon series, not the lectionary!” it is worth them analyzing what had and had not been preached over the past 10 years. I did that and found we’d preached lots of Romans, but never chapters 9-11. We’d preached the beginning and ned of Revelation, but never the middle… never lamentations, leviticus, song of songs.. all the hard bits…

  6. Hello Peter and all,

    like tallandrew above, if more tentatively as I don’t regularly go to C of E services, my answer to your ‘are we happy with that?’ would be, no, not really – even if I’m not going to speculate on the reasons for cutting those verses out…

    “Of course, it could be that the reason why Sodom gets blitzed is a problem for some…”, you say to Phil – was about to ask the predictable question, but maybe you’d rather not answer if your next ‘Sexuality and Slavery’ instalment is on Sodom?

    Again, for the same reason I’d understand if you’d prefer not to answer this, but one angle on this could be that Genesis 19 can be juxtaposed with the beginning of Gen 18 (ie Abraham’s model hospitality contrasted with the treatment of Lot by the people of Sodom, and in turn Lot’s treatment of his guests), and also set alongside Judges 19 and the identically-structured story there. Wondering what you’d make of the suggestion that these textual links suggest that the story of Sodom is not relevant to ‘the gay issue’ as debated now?

    in friendship, Blair

    • The issue as to whether the sin is around hospitality or sexual practice is something I’m going to address in my next post on the subject. Do you mind if we wait till then?

      • And even if I do mind what then :)

        …but i think it could be suggested that the sin is around both hospitality and sexual practice, and that nonetheless the text is still not relevant to the ‘gay debate’ as we’re having it now. But may have more to say after your next post…

        in friendship, Blair

        • i think it could be suggested that the sin is around both hospitality and sexual practice

          Stop stealing my arguments before I publish them!

          I think you’re right – there is a good case to argue that inhospitality is one of the sins, but you still have to grapple with the language of the New Testament references to the event (which I will explore in greater detail).

          • I agree that the sin is compound here with several aspects to it – the men of Sodom were really advanced (if you can call it that) in getting in as many sins as possible all in one go. But in addition to violation of hospitality and commission of sex outside marriage, there is also violence and cruelty to add to the list – there are those who say rape is not [primarily] a kind of sex but a kind of violence, and whatever one thinks of that, in this case violence and humiliation of (apparently) vulnerable persons is clearly a big element of what was wrong with the behaviour of the men of S. The parallel in Judges 19 shows that the kind of practice involved was quite likely to lead to death of the victim(s), and it may even have been intended to do so. (Incidentally the Judges parallel – along with the offer of the daughters – also shows that this behaviour seems not to have been necessarily confined to homosexual activity and can hardly have been very closely – if at all – motivated by real SSA, since it is not really conceivable that all the men in a city without exception would have experienced SSA to a significant degree. To my mind it more resembles the kind of 'hazing' of newbies found in many places such as schools and army camps if badly supervised.) For what it's worth it also shows the practice must have been relatively widespread, and certainly did not perish with the cities of the plain; it may have been among the 'abominations' practiced by the Canaanites which are occasionally mentioned as the reason for allowing no contact with them. By the way the cruelty was also towards Lot as it put him in an impossibly humiliating situation, caught between conflicting duties towards his family, his guests, and his neighbours.

  7. Considering that in the story the hero Lot was perfectly ready to buy off the mob by sending his daughters out to be raped I can understand why those who chose the lectionary readings left it out. Hardly an enlightening story, really.

    However, my own practice is usually to read straight through the left out bits anyway. Like Jonathan I have no illusions about scripture to be shattered. It’s a work of man with all his imperfections, prejudices and flaws – even more remarkable then that through the inspiration of the Spirit it also speaks to me of a loving God despite the nasty bits.

    No, in the end I don’t need scripture to be abdridged to fit my own presuppositions.

    • I'm not so sure. What the story demonstrates is two clear points:

      i) The absolute importance of showing hospitality to guests. In this instance, if there is to be rape, Lot is prepared to offer his daughters rather than his guests who must be protected at all costs.

      ii) The utter disgrace in Jewish culture of anal penetration. If there is to be rape committed, Lot would would rather it was vaginal intercourse than anal intercourse.

      So in that sense it is enlightening because it helps us see cultural aspects of the story that teach more theology (the key of hospitality and the general Hebrew view towards anal intercourse).

      • Hi Peter,

        just trying to get used to the funky new comment thingy…

        Re your point 2: isn't the problem here that the reason it's deemed an "utter disgrace" for a man to be penetrated, is that this is a culture with a low view of women? If there were not a large 'status gap' between men and women, it would not be a disgrace for a man to be penetrated, surely – one couldn't be reduced to the status of a woman if women were valued equally. This point is underscored by a look at Gen 19:4 where the text speaks of "the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man" – the men of the city are synonymous with "all the people"; the women of the city do not count. So again, I would question how applicable this is to the debate now.

        I think it's also worth referring to Gareth Moore OP's argument here. He points out ( A question of truth , p71) that Lot's daughters, being virgins, are "in a way part of [his] economic assets". Were they raped it would be near-impossible for them to be married, so in offering them Lot is risking being responsible for them for the rest of his life. "Lot's gesture in offering the crowd his daughters is not, then, an effort to get them to commit a relatively acceptable heterosexual sin as opposed to an abominable homosexual sin; it shows the lengths to which he is prepared to go, what he is prepared to sacrifice, in order to protect the honour of his guests".

        in friendship, Blair

        • Hi Blair,

          Glad you finally got the new comments working.

          "The people" is "hayam" and yam can be used to indicate a specific group of people, in this case the men. The ESV and NIV give the literal translation "all the people" whilst more fluid translations like the NLT understand that the reference here is to "all the men". Picky I know, but it helps to separate out where the language displays a cultural prejudice or is simply a cultural way to express something.

          I like Gareth Moore's argument which I think fits mine, that vaginal rape was some how less bad then anal rape.

          Thanks for contributing Blair.

  8. I’m not so sure. What the story demonstrates is two clear points:

    i) The absolute importance of showing hospitality to guests. In this instance, if there is to be rape, Lot is prepared to offer his daughters rather than his guests who must be protected at all costs.

    ii) The utter disgrace in Jewish culture of anal penetration. If there is to be rape committed, Lot would would rather it was vaginal intercourse than anal intercourse.

    So in that sense it is enlightening because it helps us see cultural aspects of the story that teach more theology (the key of hospitality and the general Hebrew view towards anal intercourse).

  9. The RCL also leaves out that passage at the end of Revelation which warns of punishment to those who remove anything from that book.

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