“Sodomy” Does Not Mean What You Think it Means

The Bible can’t be blamed for the way we misuse “sodomy.”

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed reporters Andrew Kaczynski and Ruby Cramer highlighted a 1994 Miami Herald editorial by Jeb Bush, written during his first and unsuccessful bid to be Florida’s governor. Bush’s editorial, titled “NO SPECIAL LEGAL STATUS FOR GAYS,” argued that “Homosexuality is wrong” and that “sodomy” should not “be elevated to the same constitutional status as race and religion.” (Bush’s spokeswoman told BuzzFeed News, “This opinion editorial from 20 years ago does not reflect Gov. Bush’s views now, nor would he use this terminology today.”)

But let’s discuss that terminology. Sodomy. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Technically, Merriam-Webster defines sodomy as “anal or oral copulation with a member of the same or opposite sex.” But for many, like Jeb Bush, sodomy is basically a synonym for gay sex.

The term comes from Ecclesiastical Latin peccatum Sodomiticum or “sin of Sodom,” referring to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis. And the “sin of Sodom” must have been pretty serious, considering that, in Genesis 19:24-25, “the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the Plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.” It seems clear that God wasn’t happy with them.

For some, the sin of Sodom was clearly homosexuality. In 1986, for example, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) wrote, “There can be no doubt of the moral judgment made there [in Genesis 19:1-11] against homosexual relations.”

But the Bible never explicitly identifies homosexuality as the sin that did Sodom and Gomorrah in. In fact, if we look at the text critically, it’s difficult to conclude that the story is a condemnation of consensual, monogamous, same-sex relationships.

In Genesis 19:1-11, two angels came to Sodom and were staying with a man named Lot. The men of Sodom “both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house,” and called to Lot asking to “know” the two angels — basically, the men of Sodom were trying to gang-rape two angels. Lot then went outside and begged them to “not act so wickedly”; instead, Lot tells the men that he has two virgin daughters and that the men could “do to them as you please.” The men then try to break into the house, before the angels “struck with blindness the men who were at the door of the house, both small and great, so that they were unable to find the door.”

It’s important to note that, unlike Pope Benedict XVI, many scholars disagree that it was the homosexual actions that led to the cities’ downfall. Some, such as Jennifer Wright Knust, claim that the intended homosexual gang rape was only one of Sodom’s many sins — such as pride, hatred, injustice, oppression, and inhospitality. In March 2003, Andrew Sullivan explained:

Most modern scholars believe the original sin of Sodom
was a refusal to be accommodating to travelers. Others believe it
might have been the sin of rape. The Book of Ezekiel explains that
Sodom and “her daughters had pride, overabundance of bread,
abundance, and leisure, but they did not extend their hand to the
poor. They were raised up and committed abominations before me.”
Even in the New Testament, Sodom is condemned in terms of its
connection with “uncleanness” and “adultery.” When the Book of
Leviticus condemns men who lie with men, no reference is made to
Sodom itself.

Furthermore, even if you believe that God condemned the cities because of homosexual activity, it’s important to understand that their actions are not the way we understand homosexuality today. In contrast with today’s world, sex in biblical times was usually for procreation or to show dominance over another person. Far from looking for a consensual and meaningful relationship that happens to be between two people of the same sex, homosexual acts in parts of the ancient world, such as the intended gang rape in the biblical story of Sodom, were often intended as a way to humiliate and dominate other men.

As recently as 2003 — when the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas overturned laws that criminalized consensual sex between adults of the same-sex — 13 states had sodomy laws. (I’m not aware of any laws that specifically addressed the gang-rape of angels). Even today, some are still trying to “pray the gay away.”

Of course (and unfortunately), those concerned about homophobia in the Bible can find plenty to worry about in the text. But it’s time we stop letting “sodomy” mean something it was never intended to mean. In this case, it’s better to let the Bible have the final say about sodomy.

Image: Hartmann Schedel, Sodom and Gomorrah motif from “Nuremberg Chronicle,” 1493.

Mac McCann
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  • Hillbilly Heaven

    The sin of Sodom wasn’t homosexuality, those people raped anything that moved. Theirs was a sin of violence & hatred. Irredeemable coldness of heart and pity.

    • Rich

      So I hope for your soul’s sake you don’t go to your grave with believing that nonsense.

      • dandilion

        um, i don’t get it, rich. do you mean that “violence & hatred” are not sins?

  • Gary Mathis

    Total BS. Just give me a single scripture where homosexuality is mentioned in a positive context. Waiting…

    • Not_in_Denial

      And the wait will be a long one. As would be the utter idiocy of God obliterating Sodom for ‘being inhospitable’.

  • Philip Mcclelland

    So they didn’t have cosensual and meaningful relationships in biblical times??? Only us enlightened moderns have been able to pull that off???

    • Rich

      I hope for your soul’s sake you don’t go to your grave believing this nonsense if your living that lifestyle.

    • Rich

      Sorry, Phillip I hit the wrong reply button.

  • http://lostreef.blogspot.com/ Virgil T. Morant

    In contrast with today’s world, sex in biblical times was usually for procreation or to show dominance over another person.

    Indeed. The ancient mind simply did not grasp a sexual relationship as meaning much other than dominance and procreation. Well, except for whoever wrote Ephesians 5 or Proverbs 5 or Malachi 2 or Genesis 2:18 or Tobit or the entire Song of Songs, to name a few anomalies to the totally obvious general rule of “biblical times” that sexual relations were intended mostly for procreation and dominance. Besides, everybody knows that the desire for “consensual and meaningful” homosexual companionship was completely unheard of until, oh, the late 20th century. I bet even men and women with homosexual desires had never even thought of such a thing until very recently. In any case, surely no one a few thousand years ago gave any thought to it, what with sex being mostly about procreation and dominance and all, and ancient human being having no sense of the desire for intimate companionship expressed or satisfied through sex. Ancients surely understood the true meaning of these texts. One can only be grateful that modern scholarship has unearthed it again from many centuries of obscurity.

    • Sam


      This ladies and gentleman, is an excellent example of acerbic wit.


    • Don Reeves

      Virgil, Thank you for saying so well what I was thinking. This article is so poorly written and thought out. Your response was much better.

  • Jim

    Leviticus also says that we should stone adulterers and misbehaving children and not wear clothes of different fabrics. Why do those who cite Leviticus on the subject of homosexuality not comply with these rules? They pick and choose. Genesis is no guide for anything.

    • Not_in_Denial

      Ah yes, but I think the NT takes care of that quite well.

  • bakabomb

    It’s kind of amusing that we automatically assume these angels had Y chromosomes and other human appurtenances such as digestive orifices.

  • Ralph A Jansen

    A point was missing in the article. The men wanted to know the angels (who appeared as young MEN). When offered free women, they refused. Their minds were solely set on “knowing”, (raping) the two young men. When they were struck blind, the Bible doesn’t say they were crying out for being blind, or that they were confused, or anything like that. It says that they could find the door. In other words, they were so consumed by their desire to have their way with these men (homosexual rape) that they were still trying to get at them. They were consumed by this homosexuality, that even blindness could not stay them.

  • Rich

    To quote Jesus himself, in the beginning he made them male and female, I don’t care how perverted your interpretation is, homosexuality is a sin and is an abomination to God.

    • Not_in_Denial

      Absolutely!! Perverting God’s design.

    • Dan Roy

      Actually in the beginning he made only man and in his image. It never occurred to him that Adam might prefer a woman. Apparently he intended Adam to be gay.

      • Rich

        Instead of you perverts trying to deceive Christians, I dare you to openly go after the Muslims. See how tolerant they are of your deviant behavior.

        • Dan Roy

          Did I get my facts wrong? I’m sure that’s how my bible reads.

  • Not_in_Denial

    My first visit here and I find this homosexual propaganda piece? It seemed like I was reading CT, a known liberal magazine. This is how false doctrine becomes accepted by those who depend on others to do their research for them, which can be OK if its a reliable accepted source, not this fellow. Hmmm, I wonder if I could write an article for them?