One of the more common arguments against homosexuality used to be the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. We say "used to be," because many biblical scholars and teachers today realize that there is insufficient scriptural backing for that argument. Let us together take a clear, honest look at these cities, and let us determine who the inhabitants were, and why God destroyed them.
The first thing to realize is that it wasn't just two cities involved. Today, we only remember the names of two, but in truth, God was about to destroy all the cities of the plain. In addition to Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities of Admah, Zeboiim and Zoar were also about to be destroyed. (Gen. 14:2; Deut. 29:23) Zoar was spared so that Lot and his daughters could flee there, but Admah and Zeboiim met the same fate as Sodom and Gomorrah. Another interesting point is that, at least in reference to Sodom and Gomorrah, the Bible doesn't tell us their real names. Consider: The Hebrew word for Sodom is סדם S'dom and means "burnt." The Hebrew word for Gomorrah is עמורה 'Amorah, and means "a ruined heap." There can be no question that these names were given to the cities after they were destroyed, and were not their original names.
The inhabitants of these cities, like all the Canaanites, were worshippers of false gods. These included the god Molech, arguably the most horrible of all the idols of Canaan. Molech was a huge statue with his arms held out in front of him. A fire would be kindled between his arms, and then newborn children would be placed in his arms and burned alive. This was known as "passing your children through the fire to Molech."
Other practices engaged in by the Canaanites included adult human sacrifice, cannibalism, and temple prostitution. (Having sexual relations with temple prostitutes as a form of worship in fertility cults.) Is it any wonder that God was determined to destroy these cities? From a spiritual perspective, people who worship idols and engage in the above-mentioned practices are extremely likely to become demon-possessed, and it is quite probable that many, if not most, of the inhabitants of the cities of the plain were possessed.
Lot, Abraham's nephew, moved to the city of Sodom with his wife and two daughters. God sent two angels to Sodom in the evening, ostensibly to investigate the rumors of the sinfulness of the city. The real purpose of their visit, though, (since God already knew what was going on) was to rescue Lot and his family from the impending destruction. The account of their visit to the city is found in Genesis 19. Lot was sitting in the gate. This is significant. The person who sat in the gate, that is, the gatekeeper, was entrusted by the rulers of the city to monitor all traffic in and out of the city, and not to admit anyone who could endanger the city in any way. This was a serious responsibility, and the fact that it was given to Lot, who was not a native of the city, but a relative newcomer, was unusual.
A word about the angels: Forget, for a moment, the traditional stereotypes of angels, that is, women with flowing blond hair and huge feathered wings. In scripture, angels usually appeared in the form of men. Frequently, there was nothing unusual about their appearance that would suggest they were anything other than human beings.
Lot greeted the two visitors, as was his responsibility as gatekeeper. (He bowed to the ground, which was not an uncommon form of greeting from an inferior to a superior, in this case, from a public servant to strangers whose social status was unknown.) He then evidently inquired about their business in the city and specific destination, again, as part of his job. Upon learning that they intended to spend the night in the street, Lot insisted that they stay at his house. Some have argued that this was because he knew they would not be safe in the streets. The obvious aside, that there has probably never been a city where it is safe to sleep in the streets at night, the reason for Lot's insistence was actually quite different. It was simply the law of hospitality. This law was unwritten at the time, but was universal throughout the area. It simply stated that if a stranger came to your home or city, you were to treat them as if they were part of your family. You were responsible to lodge, feed and protect them, even at the cost of your own life. Examples of Abraham treating strangers in this way can be found both in scripture and other Jewish writings. This law was later included in the Law of Moses.
After much urging from Lot, the two visitors went to Lot's house and he made dinner for them. Later that night, a mob formed outside of Lot's house, demanding he bring out the guests. Traditionalists would have us believe that the mob was made up of homosexual men, wanting to have sex with the angels. But a careful reading of the verses shows clearly that this was not the case. Gen. 19:4 tells us "But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter." At first glance, it does appear to be a crowd of men. But let's look deeper. The phrase "the men of the city, even the men of Sodom" is a bit misleading. In Hebrew, אנשי העיר אנשי סדם "anshei ha'ir, anshei S'dom," could also be translated as "the people of the city, the people of Sodom." But is that a more correct translation? The rest of the verse will answer that for us: "...both old and young, all the people from every quarter." There is no question, then, that the entire population of Sodom gathered outside Lot's house, men, women and children. This alone tells us that the traditionalists were wrong about the intent of this mob: If you are planning a homosexual orgy, you don't invite the wife and kids!
Of course, this begs the question, how did this mob come to form, and what did they want? The Bible doesn't tell us, so we have to read between the lines and in so doing, backtrack from the mob scene outside Lot's house to where the crowd first gathered. First, the fact that the entire population of the city was involved tells us that this was, to them, a matter of vital civic importance. They evidently felt that the visit of these two strangers was something that could affect every person in the city in some way. So logic suggests that the gathering would have begun at whatever public place Sodom used for such things, such as a City Hall or public square. Here was the situation as they would have seen it: Lot, a stranger who moved here and was given a position of some responsibility, has invited two strangers of unknown origin into the city and into his home. Sodom had only recently come out of war (Gen. 14:1-2), and for all they knew, these men could have been spies. It was essential for the safety and peace of mind of all the citizens, that they determine the identity of these men. They knew, of course, of the law of hospitality, but the safety and security of the city overrode that. So a plan was devised: They would peacefully go to Lot's house and ask to meet the strangers and know who they were. They even had their words chosen: "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out and let us know them." It should be noted that this was phrased as a request, using a polite form of the verb "to know," and was not phrased in a hostile, demanding way. And so the crowd began to move toward Lot's house.
Between their starting point and Lot's house, something happened to this crowd of concerned citizens that turned them into a mob. When they reached Lot's house, they delivered their prepared request, but even though the grammar was still very polite, the character of the people was now that of an ugly lynch mob. What could have happened?
If the people of Sodom were possessed, as they most likely were, this would explain what happened. Even though the people did not know the visitors were angels, the evil spirits inside of them did. When you put a devil in the presence of someone holy, there will almost always be a reaction from the devil. (See Mark 5:1-7) The closer this crowd got to the angels at Lot's house, the more riled up the demons got, and the more out of control the people got. This seems the only plausible explanation. The polite grammar of the crowd shows clearly that they could not have started out as a mob.
There are those who claim that when the crowd said "let us know them," they meant "have sex." There are even translations of the Bible that say "let us have sex with them," or "let us know them carnally." Let us state categorically, that the Hebrew text will NOT support such "translations."
Some say that Hebrew has more than one verb for "know" and that the one used here means "have sex." Let's set the record straight on this. The root of the Hebrew verb for "know" is ידע yada. A form of yada is used here and hundreds of other times in scripture. Only about ten of those times refer to sex, and in each case, the sexual meaning is clear by the context. (Example: Adam knew his wife and she conceived.) To try to make this word mean sex everywhere will get us in a lot of trouble, because the scripture tells us that God knew David, and uses a form of this word. We don't think anyone would be foolish enough to try to attach a sexual meaning to that. When the crowd outside Lot's house said they wanted to know the visitors, they meant exactly that: To know who they were. Or at least, that was what they meant when they started out.
It doesn't take a genius to recognize a lynch mob. And a tiny family like Lot's couldn't hope to fight off such a mob. The only hope in such cases is to try to talk them out of it, or, failing in that, to try to distract them in some way. Lot tried both. He went out to them and asked them not to behave so wickedly. The hostile intent of the mob was clear to him, despite the polite words they used. It was also clear immediately that talking was not going to work. They were in what could only be termed a bloodlust. Lot, in desperation to protect his guests, did what the law of hospitality required. He was willing to sacrifice the lives of his daughters to protect the guests. A word about the two daughters: These girls were engaged to two men from Sodom. An engagement was much more binding in those days than it is today. In fact, it was as binding as a marriage, and even gave Lot legal authority over his daughters' fiancés. Lot offered his two daughters, still virgins, to the crowd in place of the strangers. If he could distract the men of the crowd, then they, as the leaders of the city, could have disbanded the mob, and the guests would be safe.
Consider this: If the men of Sodom were homosexual, there is no way Lot would not have known. He would have known it would be pointless to offer women to homosexual men. He could, and would, have offered them something they would be more likely to accept: He could have offered his sons in law, since the engagement of his daughters gave him that right, or, he could even have offered himself. (Had the crowd outside Lot’s house really been interested in raping the men inside, it hardly seems plausible that they would politely ask permission to do so, using a mild euphemism for sex. Hebrew has a number of verbs to describe sexual intercourse, and at least one of these, עגב agav, is considered somewhat vulgar. A rape gang would be far more likely to use a crude verb such as this.)
Lot's offer was refused, and they seized him, and said they were going to do worse to him than they were planning to do to his guests. Did they attempt any type of sexual contact with Lot? No! Instead, they tried to kill him. There was no sexual situation here at all. But, just for the sake of argument, if the intent of the crowd had been to force the angels to have sex, the crime would have been rape, not homosexuality.
Ezekiel recorded the sins of Sodom: Ezek. 16:49-50 - pride, fullness of bread, abundance of idleness, they did not strengthen the hand of the poor and needy, they were haughty and committed abomination. A note about this unspecified abomination: In the Law of Moses, many things are called abomination, including such things as eating pork and shellfish, having sex with a woman during her period, etc. But Sodom and the other cities were destroyed before the Law was written, so we'll need to look outside the Law for the definition of this word. Outside the Law, the word abomination almost always refers to the practices associated with idol worship, some of which were enumerated earlier. It should also be noted that ancient Jewish commentaries on Sodom (in the Mishnah) all agree that Sodom and the other cities were destroyed because of their failure to help the poor. None of them suggests anything in regard to homosexual activity. In fact, historically, the first religious document to suggest such a connection was the Quran (c. AD 600).
What are Sodomites? In modern times, the word sodomy was incorporated into many states' laws. But it did not mean the same thing in each state. In some states, sodomy referred only to anal intercourse. In other states, it also included homosexual oral sex, and in some states, it even included heterosexual oral sex. For some, anything other than heterosexual vaginal intercourse was sodomy. These definitions all go back to the incorrect notion that Sodom was destroyed for "unnatural" sexual activity. As we have seen above, this simply wasn't the case.
But what about biblical references to Sodomites? In the King James Version, this word can be found in two places: Deut. 23:17 and 2 Kings 23:7. In some translations, the word is even found in the New Testament. But if we look at the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, that is, if we look at the Bible in its original languages, we will never see the word Sodomite in there. So when we see it in an English translation, we must acknowledge that the translators have lied to us.
Let us look at the above two verses in more detail: Deut. 23:17 tells us that there will not be a "whore" of the daughters of Israel, nor a "Sodomite" of the sons of Israel. Now, if we look at the verse in the Hebrew text, it tells us that there will not be a קדשה k'deshah of the daughters of Israel nor a קדש kadesh of the sons of Israel. Even if you don't know a word of Hebrew, you can see that the words are very similar. In fact, k'deshah is simply the feminine form of kadesh, so whatever it is that the daughters were not to be, is exactly the same as what the sons were not to be. So which is it, whore, or Sodomite? Actually, neither. A k'deshah is not a prostitute in the usual sense, that is, not the "street hostesses" who ply their living by having sex for money. Rather, kadesh and k’deshah are temple prostitutes. These were a feature of Babylonian, and later Canaanite, fertility religions. The temple prostitutes usually lived in or near the temple, and having sex with one of them was a form of worship to the goddess of fertility. The money paid to the prostitute was put in the temple treasury. It should be noted that both men and women would visit the temple prostitutes to "worship" in this way. It should also be noted that because this was part of a fertility cult, temple prostitution was ALWAYS heterosexual. Israel ignored this law fairly early in their history. In 1 Samuel, 2:22, we read that the two sons of the High Priest Eli, Hophni and Phineas, who were themselves priests, were having sex with the women of Israel in the doorway of the Tabernacle (this public location proves this was temple prostitution, and not just the two men cheating on their wives).
Let's look now at 2 Kings 23:7: The translation in the King James refers to Sodomites again, but also has errors in other parts of the translation, so the verse is reproduced here translated directly from the Hebrew text: "And he broke down the houses of the temple prostitutes (Hebrew: קדשים k'deshim) that were in the house of the Lord, where the women wove houses (i.e., shrines) for Asherah." (Note: Asherah was one of the names given to the Babylonian fertility goddess.)
One final thought about the cities of the plain, that is, Sodom, etc.: Jude 7 talks about the people of these cities giving themselves over to fornication (definition: any sexual activity outside of marriage, including temple prostitution) and "going after strange flesh." (King James Version). What does that last part mean? The truth is, no one knows. But the translation isn't exact. The Greek does not say "strange flesh," but rather "other flesh." The word for other is ἑτέρας "heteras". Exactly what the phrase means is unclear. But since the word translated as flesh is also the word for meat, it is quite likely that it is referring to the practices of cannibalism associated with early Canaanite culture.