Integrating Faith and Learning, Truth and Life

Thinking rabbitStudying the Bible in an academic context provides a great opportunity to explore the broad relevance of a number of Biblical themes. What are some potential ways the Bible relates to other areas of learning or significant issues in our world?

The Trinity – worship, purpose, full relationships with God and others, how Christianity is distinct from other world religions.

Creation – the sciences, creation care, beauty/order/design in the world, stewardship of resources/gifts/life, fruitfulness, culture, creativity, sexuality/marriage/family, the wisdom of God.

Image of God – the value of human life, living as representatives of God, identity formation, vocation and calling.

Incarnation and physical resurrection – the value of the physical world and physical bodies, physical presence/touch and relationships, the “embodied” life and communication/social media, benefits and dangers of technology to human interaction and growth, medical ethics.

The kingdom of God – power structures and their relationship to God, justice/righteousness/shalom, what God’s reign looks like now and in the future in our world, kingdom ethics applied to various areas of life.

Christian virtues – cultural analysis, sexual morality, business ethics, hospitality, generosity to the needy, other humanitarian issues.

The cross/death of Jesus – “cruciform living” in an indulgent and selfish world, the depths of sin/evil/suffering and brokenness in a fallen world, the power of forgiveness – with God and others.

The church – how Christians are distinct from the world, how Christians should engage with the world, reconciliation and unity within the church, church planting and missions – contributions from various gifted people, ministries to the poor/needy/oppressed.

Justice and judgment – restorative and punitive justice, temporary and final judgment and their functions, divine and human justice, social justice in various arenas, reconciliation between political/social/tribal enemies, war and pacifism.

Biblical covenants – mission and purpose in light of the new covenant, middle east politics in light of the old and new covenants, church and state, living as strangers and exiles.

Union with Christ – identity formation, growth and maturity as disciples, sharing in Christ’s suffering, the persecuted.

New creation – worship and vocation, human flourishing, the value of the physical, beauty, creativity.

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Series Conclusion – the Bible and Same Gender Sexual Activity

sunset

Christian congregations (particularly in Europe and North America) exist within cultures that are rapidly changing in their moral norms. In the years and decades to come, Christians will need to combine a wise and compassionate pastoral approach with biblically informed doctrine when we encounter people inside and outside the church who experience same-sex attraction.

Thankfully, God has given sufficient revelation to guide us in our theological convictions. The topic of same-gender sexual activity is addressed indirectly and directly in Scripture, as we have seen in this blog series.

Very early in the biblical story, marriage is defined explicitly as being between a man and a woman. This definition is maintained (though not always practiced) throughout the rest of the Bible. Genesis 2 establishes God’s clear intention for marriage – between one man and one woman. Jesus affirms this definition in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. Paul reiterates this definition in Ephesians 5. Marriage between man and woman is invested with deeper meaning in these passages, as signposts to God’s eternal plans in creation and redemption.

Same-sex practices are portrayed in a negative light and/or spoken against in both the Old and New Testaments. Often, “righteous” and “unrighteous” behavior is divided clearly in these passages, with same-sex practices being listed under “unrighteous” behavior.

Same-sex practices surface in the “wicked” cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Law God gave to Moses (the Law that reflected God’s holy character and specified how the Israelites were to be his holy people) prohibited same-sex practices, along with other sexual activity that fell outside the bounds of a faithful marriage between a man and woman. While the new covenant in Jesus nullifies ceremonial aspects of the Law as well as specific penalties, there is no indication that God’s demands for moral purity in heart and actions have been discarded.

Jesus did not speak specifically about same-sex practices (probably since his Jewish audience already rejected such behavior because of Leviticus 18 and 20), but he did affirm male-female marriage as God’s design (Matthew 19 and Mark 10). Jesus is also clear that immoral behavior (as opposed to customary rituals) makes a person truly defiled before God (Mark 7:14-18, Matthew 15).

Paul associates same-sex practices (between men and between women) with immorality that characterizes people groups that have denied the knowledge of God in Romans 1.

Paul insists that same-sex practices are among the behaviors that are incompatible with Christian belief and participation in the kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians 6, and he groups same-sex practice with other forms of lawless and ungodly behavior in 1 Timothy 1. But as is the case for all of us, these passages remind us that because of the good news of Jesus Christ sin need not have the final word in our lives. Jesus Christ came to save sinners and re-shape our lives into his image, by the Spirit.

Thus concludes this series. Here are the links to the rest of the posts in the series:

 

Section 1 – Overview

 

Section 2 – Marriage in Genesis, the Gospels, and Ephesians

 

Section 3 – Sodom and Gomorrah throughout the Bible

 

Section 4 – Leviticus 18 and 20

 

Section 5 – Romans 1:18-32

 

Section 6 – 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1

 

Section 7 – Matthew 7:15-20 – A Tree and its Fruit


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Trees and Fruit in Matthew 7:15-20

Fruitful tree

In this post (see intro to the series here) we take a step back to ask a broader question: what makes a teaching harmful or helpful for a Christian? If a teaching is determined to be biblically faithful, is that enough? Or does the legitimacy of a teaching come under suspicion when it creates hardship for those seeking to live according to it?

Matthew Vines uses Matthew 7:15-20 to suggest that any doctrine or teaching should be evaluated according to whether it harms or helps the person who tries to obey the doctrine. He claims that teachings that wound people by imposing relationally unhealthy restrictions on a person (and thus preventing human flourishing) are bad teachings, since they produce bad fruit. Apart from this being a very subjective measure for identifying truth (who defines “unhealthy” vs. “flourishing”?), it does not seem to do justice to the tree/fruit analogy in Matthew 7:15-20 either.

The context of the passage is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). A parallel passage is found in Luke 6:43-44. Jesus is speaking to his disciples and the crowds (5:1; 7:28). The gist of the passage is that the people need to be on guard against false prophets, and there are ways of recognizing these false prophets.

 

Tree and fruit imagery

Jesus explains that disciples will recognize prophets by their fruits. The imagery of fruit is common throughout the Old and New Testaments. Most frequently good fruit describes good works, actions, and deeds that arise out of being faithful to God. Bad fruit is linked to disobedience and moral impurity.

In Matthew fruitfulness is “predominantly an ethical metaphor, based on the assumption that true loyalty to God will issue in appropriate behavior by his people” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 291). Matthew 3:8 and its parallel in Luke 3:8-14 establish the basic meaning of “fruit,” from John the Baptist’s preaching: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” In Luke 3 John the Baptist provides specific examples of what this looks like: being generous to the needy, not cheating others financially, and not abusing power. This shows that “fruits” are actions that are congruent with a repentant heart.

The passage that follows the tree and fruit teaching (Matthew 7:21-23) confirms the idea that people’s actions must match the will of the God they claim to serve. People who claimed the name of the Lord and did works in his name would be rejected by God as workers of “lawlessness.” Why? Because the kingdom of heaven belongs to “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus says this of the false prophets: “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, repeated in 7:20). Then, in three different ways in Matthew 7:16-18, Jesus explains that trees never produce fruit that is contrary to the tree that produces it. So, in the analogy of the tree and the fruit, what is the tree? The tree is not the teaching being taught by the prophet, but the true nature of the prophet.  Jesus is encouraging his hearers to discern the true nature of the prophet by examining the fruit the prophet produces.  What fruit does Jesus have in mind? Let’s take a look at how false prophets are described elsewhere.

 

False prophets

Matthew 7 uses the tree/fruit analogy as a test to measure the true nature of false prophets. What did Jesus mean to describe when he used the label “false prophet”?

In Matthew 12:33-35 the same tree/fruit imagery used against the Pharisees, who had just attributed the works of the Spirit (through Jesus) to Satan. In this case, the bad fruit consists of the words of the Pharisees (their resistance to Jesus and the Spirit’s work through him). They were condemned with warnings that such sin would not be forgiven. After the tree/fruit imagery, he again warns of judgment against arrogant words spoken against Christ and the Spirit. The key issue at this point in the Gospel is the rejection of Jesus by the Pharisees. The Pharisees, in spite of their apparent good fruit (in the people’s eyes and in their own eyes – Matt 23:3, 23:28), were bad trees because of their words against God’s work through Jesus, and Jesus was exposing them as such. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Elsewhere in Matthew (24:11, 24) false prophets in the last days lead people astray and deceive others through false signs (by turning them away from Christ). See also Mark 13:22. The same picture emerges in 2 Peter 2:1 and 1 John 4:1.

Note that in all of these passages the false prophets are not simply teaching wrong philosophies or doctrines, but are giving false information about how God is at work (specifically about whether he is or is not at work through Jesus). These false prophets, whether they are Jesus’ contemporaries (Pharisees) or prophets in the last days, are those who reject Jesus as the Christ and lead others astray.

Likewise, false prophets in the Old Testament deceived people about how God was working in their midst. The false prophets would often prophesy positive things when God wanted to proclaim judgment instead:

  • Isaiah 30:9-10: “For these are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction. They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!’”
  • Lamentations 2:14: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.”
  • Ezekiel 13:9-10: “My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. . . . Because they lead my people astray, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace . . .”
  • Luke 6:26: “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”
  • See also 1 Kings 22:13, Jeremiah 14:13-15, Jeremiah 23:9-16, Ezekiel 22:28, and Micah 3:5-7.

These passages provide evidence that false prophets are guilty primarily of promoting a casual attitude towards obedience to God’s commands (in the Old Testament) or leading people away from Jesus as the Messiah (in the New Testament). They produce bad fruit by pointing people away from God’s perfect plans.

 

Ravenous wolves

In Matthew 7:15 the false prophets are said to be ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing. The metaphor describes the true nature of the false prophet, despite outward appearance. It also indicates the ill intent of the prophet and the harm he causes. Could this language envision the destructive teachings Vines describes?

Wolf imagery surfaces in a similar context in Acts 20:29-30, where Paul says “fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

What is clear in Acts 20 is implied in Matthew 7, in conjunction with the description of false prophets elsewhere in the Gospels: wolves are dangerous because they deceive people into following them instead of Christ. The wolves subvert the heart of faith – devotion to Jesus as the Christ. There is no indication of their being ravenous through imposing restrictions that are seen to prevent human flourishing in general.

 

Conclusions

Matthew 7:15-20 uses tree/fruit imagery to warn against false prophets and their agendas.

The logic of the passage is that the tree (the true character of a prophet) is revealed by the fruit (the actions and teachings of the prophet – either acknowledging the identity and works of Jesus or opposing him). The tree is not the teaching of the prophet, and the fruit is not the perceived effects of that teaching.

False prophets can be recognized when their disobedient actions and opposition to Jesus do not match what would be expected from a “good tree.” Good trees live in harmony with revealed character, will, and work of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Though the prophets are characterized as “ravenous wolves,” it is not because they are placing unreasonable restrictions on the people (such as denying them the option of finding fulfillment in a relationship) but because they are leading people away from Jesus, the Christ.

A careful look at this passage supports the fundamental idea that God’s wisdom determines the beauty and goodness of a teaching, whether it is a teaching that immediately blesses us or whether it is an extremely challenging teaching that requires our wholehearted trust to carry it out (such as the call for someone with same-sex desires to either pursue chastity or cultivate a sexual relationship within a marriage with an opposite-gender spouse). God’s revealed truth in the Bible is the only sure way forward for how to live our lives. True prophets instruct others in God’s character, his teachings, and his Son. False prophets diminish people’s confidence in God’s character, his teachings, and his Son.

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Sin and Gospel in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-17

Christ carries cross

(An overview of this series on the biblical teachings that address same-gender sexual activity is found here.)

Christians acknowledge the reality and presence of sin in our lives and world. But we also point to the power of God to save us, forgive us, and conform us to the image of Christ.

These two passages in Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-17) use terms that are typically translated to describe same-gender sexual activity. In both cases, the words show up on lists of those who practice behavior that is sinful and in conflict with godliness.

Neither passage ends with a negative tone though. Both point ahead to the transforming effects of the gospel message – the good news that Christ died for sinners and by his Spirit cleanses us and helps us experience his work in our lives.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV): Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor the idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality (malakoi and arsenokoitai), nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Timothy 1:8-10 (ESV): Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality (arsenokoitai), enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.

 

Lexical information (what the words mean)

The words malakoi and arsenokoitai  (in 1 Corinthians 6:9) are often paired together to designate both the so-called passive and active participants in same-sex activities (BDAG, 613).

Μαλακός – though this word has a broader meaning of “soft,” BDAG rightly defines the word in this context as “pertaining to being passive in a same-sex relationship, effeminate,” BDAG, 613.

ἀρσενοκοίτης = “a male who engages in a sexual activity with a person of his own sex, pederast,” BDAG, 135. This word also makes an appearance in 1 Timothy 1:10.

Note that the first half of this word (ἄρσην) refers to a male, while the second half is for sexual relations (see Romans 13:13 for Paul’s use of κοίτη to refer to illicit sexual activity). Though a compound word cannot always be understood as the sum of its parts, in this case, with a previously unseen combination (before Paul), the word would be understood from the obvious pairing of meanings from its component parts.

To add to this likelihood, some have posited that the proximity of ἄρσην and κοίτη in Leviticus 20:13 (and Leviticus 18:22), the two passages in the Mosaic Law that speak against same-sex activity, led to the origin of the compound word. The one word became a convenient way to explain this particular vice.

The old Latin and Syriac translations (from the Greek) are the oldest known translations (they are from the second century) of the New Testament. Coptic is not far behind (third century). They provide early evidence for how this term was understood in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. The early Latin, Syriac, and Coptic translations of the New Testament attest to the meaning of sex between males for ἀρσενοκοίτης (Gagnon, 322).

 

Modern translations – 1 Corinthians 6:9 (malakoi and arsenokoitai)

ESV, NIV, HCSB, CEB – They use one all-encompassing phrase for both participants (malakoi and arsenokoitai). For instance – “men who practice homosexuality” (ESV).

NASB – “effeminate” and “homosexuals,” with footnote “effeminate by perversion”

NET – “passive homosexual partners” and “practicing homosexuals”

NKJV – “homosexuals” and “sodomites”

NLT – “male prostitutes” and those who “practice homosexuality”

NRSV – “male prostitutes” and “sodomites”

The Message does not capture the precise meaning of the words with its overly-free translation (vague mentions of sex and its abuses).

 

Modern translations – 1 Timothy 1:10 (arsenokoitai )

ASV – “abusers of themselves with men”

CEB – “people who have intercourse with the same sex”

ESV – “men who practice homosexuality”

HCSB, NASB – “homosexuals”

NET – “practicing homosexuals”

NIV – “those practicing homosexuality”

NLT – “those who practice homosexuality”

NRSV – “sodomites”

 

Contextual information – 1 Corinthians 6

The terms describing sinful behavior are all grouped under the category of person known as “the unrighteous.” These unrighteous are said to have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.

There are a variety of serious sins mentioned in the list, including four that relate to sexual behavior. The list begins with a general term for sexually immoral people (πόρνοι), which is a cognate term for porneia: “This Greek word and its cognates as used by Paul denote any kind of illegitimate – extramarital and unnatural – sexual intercourse or relationship” (Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 871). The list that follows adds adulterers and the two terms for men involved in same-sex activity.

What is the nature of this stern warning? In light of 1 Corinthians 5:5, which prescribes church discipline for sexual sin as a way of helping the offender avoid eternal punishment, the warning in 1 Cor 6:10 is probably intended to point to the possibility of eternal judgment for those whose actions are completely in opposition to God’s kingdom values. This passage is meant to show the serious nature of the sins listed.

That leads us to 1 Corinthians 6:11 (“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” NIV). The tone and logic of the passage suggests Paul’s dual purpose to reassure the Corinthian believers of their salvation and identity in Christ while still establishing the expectation that they will leave any of these old sinful practices behind in their growth in Christ. The implication is that those who persist in blatantly sinful behaviors have not experienced the cleansing work of Christ in their lives and are thus outside God’s kingdom. But the good news is that those who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in Christ will experience God’s work and exhibit fruit in keeping with their transformation.

 

Contextual information – 1 Timothy 1

1 Timothy 1:10 lists ἀρσενοκοίταις with other types of sinners that need God’s law in its proper use. The proper use of the law is to expose sin, not to reform sinners. The introductory condemnation is “for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane.”

Paul shows that God’s (Old Testament) Law is beneficial for sinners, to reveal their sin (in preparation for repentance and reception of the gospel – see 1 Timothy 1:11-16). The Law is not for “the just,” because the Spirit is the one who now brings believers from their past and their old selves, which were characterized by these (and other) vices. The Spirit empowers the believer to put on the new self and bear fruit for God, in ways that are in stark contrast to the old ways of life “for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane.”

The specific offenders mentioned are lawless in areas that correspond to laws found in the OT (including disobedience to parents, murder, sexual immorality and same-sex activity among males, bearing false witness, and possibly, stealing/kidnapping). See Gagnon, 334-335.

Thus, in Paul’s descriptions of two kinds of people (the lawless/ungodly and the righteous), people who practice same-sex sexual relations are counted among the lawless/ungodly, who nonetheless have opportunities for new life through the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:14-16). In verse 15 Paul summarizes the gospel with the words, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Paul believes in a holy and gracious God who both opposes sin and saves sinners.

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Romans 1:26-27 – The Kingdom of God Revealed and Rejected

The Apostle Paul

Biblical restrictions against same-gender sexual activity may seem incredibly counter-cultural. Certainly, this charge is leveled against other biblical teachings as well. Many people find the prohibition against premarital sex to be unrealistic, and contributing money regularly to a church strikes people as foolish, and the idea that Christ is the only way to God can appear to some as intolerant. Biblical teachings reflect the values of God’s kingdom and show us what life should look like under God’s reign. But God’s kingdom has always been in tension with the kingdoms of this world. Romans 1:18-32 paints a picture of what it looks like to resist God’s reign.

(See previous posts on this topic here, here, here, and here).

 

Literary Context of Romans 1:18-32

After the apostle Paul greets his readers, introduces himself, and articulates his gospel message (Romans 1:1-17), he devotes several chapters (Rom 1:18-3:21) to demonstrating that all humanity, both Jews and Gentiles, are sinful and therefore deserving of God’s judgment (“that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” – Romans 3:19). Paul introduces this section of his letter with the pronouncement of God’s wrath against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (πᾱσα ἀσέβεια καὶ ἀδικία). These are words that shape our understanding of what follows – sinful rejection of God and sinful behaviors. “Unrighteousness” (ἀδικία) stands in contrast to the “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) revealed in the gospel (1:16-17).

Romans 1:19-23 speaks of Gentiles’ rejection of God’s general revelation and their descent into idolatry. The focus is not on each individual Gentile’s experience with idolatry, but with idolatry as characteristic of a Gentile world that denies the knowledge of God.

Romans 1:24-25 is a transitional verse that introduces God’s “handing over” of idolaters into immorality. The immorality is described as “the desires of their hearts resulting in impurity (ἀκαρθασία) and the dishonoring of their bodies among/in themselves.” “Dishonoring (ἀτιμάζω) of their bodies” is not defined here but anticipates the description of “dishonorable” (ἀτιμία) same-sex practices in the verses that follow. The prepositional phrase at the end of Romans 1:24 (ἐν αὐτοῖς) could be interpreted as “among themselves” (as a culture-wide phenomenon) or “in themselves” (with a possible parallel in 1 Corinthians 6:18).

Romans 1:26-32 describes the “dishonorable passions,” with 1:26-27 focusing on male-male and female-female sexual activities.

This passage should not be read as Paul’s musings on the psychology of same-sex attraction and behavior. Paul does not set out to prove that for a given individual the experience of same-sex attraction or the practice of same-sex activity is caused by rejecting God.  Paul’s purpose is more general: to argue that “idolatry leads to social disintegration, particularly in the form of sexual confusion, as God hands people over to the consequences of their sinful desires” (Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament, 351).

 

The Text of Romans 1:26-27

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural  relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

“For this reason” – see verse 25 – the reason is the rejection of God for idolatry.

“God gave them up – repeats the language of verse 24 and is repeated again in verse 28. God releases idolaters to their lusts (ἐπιθυμία), passions (πάθος), and debased minds (ἀδόκιμος νοῡς). The verse does not indicate the cause of immorality but describes the unchecked reign of these immoral desires and activities.

  • “Dishonorable” (ἀτιμία) – “a state of dishonor or disrespect,” (BDAG, 149).
  • “Passion” (πάθος) – “experience of strong desire, passion,” (BDAG, 748). This is used in a negative way in 1 Thessalonians 4:5 and Colossians 3:5 as well.

“For” (γάρ) – explains the way in which the passions are dishonorable.

“The women” – Paul describes the prevalence of sexual activity between females before turning his attention to the males.

  • The inclusion of women in descriptions of same-gender sexual activity invalidates the argument that Paul is denouncing only abusive sexual relationships in which one participant is an adult and the other is not (such as pederasty – sexual activity between an adult male and a younger boy). Schreiner notes that “there is no evidence that older women victimized younger girls, and so this theory does not account for the indictment of female sexual relations” (Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, 661).

“Exchanged” is the same word as 1:25 (exchanging the truth of God for a lie) and is related to 1:23 (exchanging the glory of God for images). The pattern reflects exchanging what is true and good for what is false and wrong.

In this case (verse 26), the charge is that people exchange “natural relations” (φυσικὴν χρῆσιν) for “those that are contrary to nature” (τὴν παρὰ φύσιν).

  • φυσικός is “pertaining to being in accordance with the basic order of things in nature,” (BDAG, 1069).
  • χρῆσις is the “state of involvement with a person, relations, function, especially of sexual intercourse,” (BDAG, 1089).
  • φύσις is “the regular or established order of things, nature,” (BDAG, 1070).

In summary, “their women” are said to exchange sexual activities that align with the natural order of things for activities that are against the natural order of things.

For Paul “natural” and “contrary to nature” are categories that are both transparent from observation (male and female differentiation, which is evident to all) and in alignment with God’s creative design from Genesis 1-2. This connection between God’s creative design and observed order is affirmed in Romans 1:20 (God’s attributes are perceived “ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”) Additional corroborating evidence that male and female distinction is what is “natural” is found with the pairing of “women and men” or “females and males” (θῆλυς and ἄρσην) in this passage (see the LXX version of Genesis 1:27, Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:6, and Galatians 3:28). In summary, Paul uses “natural” and “contrary to nature” to describe actions “in accordance with the intention of the Creator” and actions “contrary to the intention of the Creator” (C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 1:125).

  • Paul likewise appeals to “nature” or φύσις in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15, where observed design from creation (“nature”) is used to condemn the practice of men looking like women or vice versa. (Note that in that passage, the confusion of genders was culturally expressed and pertinent to that particular culture, but the basis for not having confusion in the first place was timeless and grounded in creation-determined differentiation between men and women).
  • Natural and unnatural is not determined inwardly, according to the person’s orientation, but according to God’s design in creation. In other words, a person may protest that certain actions are in fact natural to that person’s inclinations, but the Bible does not accept those as natural if they conflict with God’s revealed will.

Some of the same language from verse 26 is applied to men in verse 27. The men’s “natural use” (φυσικὴν χρῆσιν) is “departed from/abandoned” (ἀφίημι- see BDAG, 156). This time though, the parallel to “contrary to nature” (which is opposite of “natural”) is spelled out more specifically. The men were “consumed with passion for one another, men carrying out shameful acts with men and receiving in/among themselves the penalty which was necessary for their error.”

  • “Consumed” (ἐκκαίω) is defined as “have a strong desire for, be inflamed” in BDAG, 303.
  • “Passion” (ὄρεξις) describes “a condition of strong desire, longing,” (BDAG, 721).
  • Note that this is a description of misdirected passion rather than excess passion. The emphasis is on the passion that is not according to “nature.” The disordered passion results in committing same-sex acts. From the men’s perspective, the actions were aligned with their passions, but from God’s perspective, the actions were contrary to nature.
  • Contrary to Vines, 105 (Paul “was condemning excess as opposed to moderation”), Paul is criticizing disordered (contrary to nature and God’s will from creation) passions as opposed to ordered (in harmony with nature and God’s will from creation) passions.

The behavior between “one another” is immediately restated as “men in/with/among men” (ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν).

These men were “carrying out” (κατεργάζομαι – BDAG, 531) “shameful acts” (ἀσχημοσύνη), which is defined as “behavior that elicits its disgrace” (BDAG, 147).

These men (same grammatical subject) also were “receiving” (ἀπολαμβάνω) “the penalty” (ἀντιμισθία – “requital based upon what one deserves, recompense, exchange,” BDAG, 90), which “was necessary” (ἔδει) for their error (πλάνη) – “wandering from the path of truth; error, delusion, deceit, deception” (BDAG, 822). These men received this penalty “in/among themselves,” which is similar language to Rom 1:24 and could mean either among them broadly or within each sinner (with a nod to the personal nature of sexual sin – 1 Corinthians 6:18). The same-sex acts themselves are the penalty for denying God’s natural revelation (not some penalty on top of the same-sex acts), recalling that the language is parallel to “acts contrary to nature” in Rom 1:26.

Why did Paul highlight these vices (women having sex with women and men having sex with men) in particular? For one, it was shocking to the Jewish mindset, which Paul sought to identify with at that point in the argument. But two, Paul likely sees a connection between rejecting the revealed knowledge of God in nature with the distortion of the natural manner of sexual intercourse. Both involve abandonment of the naturally revealed knowledge of creation and its creator. See Gagnon, 264-268 for further examination of connections between the idolatry and same-sex practices as they are described in this passage.

 

Other considerations

Romans 2:1, where Paul abruptly confronts the Jewish moralist for his/her sin, reveals more of Paul’s agenda for Romans 1-3. His purpose is to show that all people are sinners and accountable to God (see Romans 3:19-20). Even though Romans 2:1 serves as a “gotcha” moment for the Jewish readers, Paul still presents points he sees as valid in Romans 1:18-32 (as seen in the transition from the righteousness found in the gospel – Romans 1:16-17 – to the unrighteousness of humanity introduced in Romans 1:18). This resembles the familiar OT prophetic pattern of denouncing both the nations and the Jewish people for their sins (before promising a future hope through God’s saving work).

There is a close association between this passage and Wisdom of Solomon chapters 13 and 14. They have similar critiques of Gentile idolatry and immorality. Wisdom of Solomon may mention same sex relations in 14:26 (γενεσεως ἐναλλαγη), though this is debated.

Could same-gender sexual activity within a committed marriage fall outside of the negative characterization of same-gender sexual activity within this passage? Paul does not indicate the legitimacy of any exception to the rule. And any such practice, whether inside or outside a marriage, would still seem to involve activity that is in opposition to the “natural function” Paul describes in the passage. As John Stott notes, the Bible does not support the idea that “love is the only absolute, and that whatever seems to be compatible with love is ipso facto good, irrespective of all other considerations” (Issues Facing Christians Today, 350).

This brings us back, full circle, to the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is abundant life, even “human flourishing,” with the key qualifier that this is life lived under God’s reign, according to his perfect wisdom. As difficult as a biblical teaching may sound, we can trust that God’s perfect wisdom will lead us into paths of life, both no
w and for eternity.

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Leviticus 18 and 20

Mikveh - Ancient Jewish bath used for ritual cleansing

Mikveh – Ancient Jewish bath used for ritual cleansing

This post continues a series (first three posts are here, here, and here) on biblical teachings that shed light on God’s perspective on same-gender sexual activity. The purpose of the series is provide clarity on the meaning of words and passages that often surface in discussions about this issue. It is always worth remembering that the Bible addresses the issue of same-sex practice, and not the attractions that are experienced. All Christians find their identity in Christ and his gracious work and accept one another on that basis – “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). As Christians, we all struggle with sin, and as the late Rich Mullins sung, “We are not as strong as we think we are.” Yet, we never want to become content with any sin, and we want to remind each other of God’s perfect wisdom for living, which is taught to us in the Bible and is for our good. Jesus proclaimed “blessed are the poor in spirit” (those who recognize their brokenness) alongside “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:3-10).

 

Overview of Leviticus 18-20

In Leviticus 19:2, the LORD tells Moses to tell the people of Israel, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (see also Leviticus 11:44-45; 20:26; 21:8). This helps frame the broader aim of the commands in the book of Leviticus: “Israelites are expected to mirror the divine likeness to the world; more specifically, to be holy as he is holy and so to function as priestly mediators of God” (Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, 108-109). The laws against same-sex relations are provided in this context.

The specific injunctions against same-gender sexual activity are found in the following two verses:

Leviticus 18:22 – “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”

Leviticus 20:13 – “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”

 

Lexical information

Abomination (ESV)/ detestable (NIV) – toevah (LXX – βδἐλυγμα). HALOT, 1703 – toevah – “abomination, abhorrence.”

This word occurs throughout the Old Testament, but here is an examination of its use in legal contexts, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy.

It occurs six times in Leviticus:

  • 18:22 – same-sex relations among males
  • 18:26 – sexual practices of Canaanites (and Egyptians) in general
  • 18:27 – sexual practices of the Canaanites in general
  • 18:29 – sexual practices of the Canaanites in general
  • 18:30 – sexual practices of the Canaanites in general
  • 20:13 – same-sex relations among males

Note that contrary to what is suggested in Vines, 85, there is not a direct connection between “abomination” and sex with a menstruating woman (Lev 18:19). “Abomination” describes the practices in Leviticus 18 as a whole, and same-sex relations among males in particular, but not sex with a menstruating woman (that prohibition is simply stated, without a qualifying descriptor on the act itself).

In Deuteronomy:

  • 7:25, 26 (2x) – worship of other gods
  • 12:31 – worship of other gods, with child sacrifice
  • 13:14 – worship of other gods
  • 14:3 – unclean animals
  • 17:1 – flawed sacrifices
  • 17:4 – worship of other gods
  • 18:9, 12 (3x) – worship of other gods and practices related to that
  • 20:18 – worship of other gods
  • 22:5 – cross-dressing
  • 23:18 – using prostitute money for gift offerings
  • 24:4 – taking back a former wife who married someone else
  • 25:16 – dishonest business practices
  • 27:15 – idolatry
  • 32:16 – worship of other gods

Additional note: as seen in the previous post, Ezekiel 16:50 uses “abomination” to refer to the practices of Sodom.

Here are some parallel terms to toevah in Leviticus 18 and 20:

  • Perversion – tebel – (18:23, 20:12) – HALOT, 1683 – “confusion, disgracefulness.”
  • Wickedness (NIV)/depravity (ESV) – zimmah (18:17, 20:14) – HALOT, 272 – “infamy, shameful behavior.” ESV often translates it as “lewdness” elsewhere, and it is often paired with “abomination” (toevah) in Ezekiel.

The highly negative descriptors (toevah, tebel, zimmah) are tied to some condemned sexual practices in Leviticus 18 but not others, suggesting some gradation in the degree of severity. Though Leviticus 18:3 and 18:30 relates the practices to the activities of the godless Egyptians and Canaanites, this does not suggest that the practices are wrong simply because of idolatrous Canaanite associations. The descriptors (toevah, tebel, zimmah) are used directly with the actions themselves to portray the inherent incompatibility between the aberrant sexual practices and life as God’s people.

Similarly, God’s prohibitions against same-gender sexual activity cannot be written off as solely arising from cultural norms in ancient near eastern societies (as Vines seems to argue). According to Leviticus 18:1 and 20:1, the laws were revealed by God to Moses (“the LORD spoke to Moses, saying . . .”) and were part of his plan for them to “be holy as I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

 

Death penalty for serious breaches of the Old Testament law:

Under the old covenant between God and the Israelites, the death penalty is prescribed for certain behaviors. Punishments such as the death penalty are not part of the new covenant in Christ (the new covenant people of God are not one centralized nation and thus do not enact civil penalties in the same way Israel was called to do so). Still, we know that the Mosaic Law reflected God’s holy character, so we can gain some insight from the laws that God put in place over the people of Israel.

Maintaining order within the community does not stand out as a primary reason for the death penalty, especially in Leviticus 20 (contra Vines, 86). In Leviticus 20:13, the reason for the death penalty is given: same-sex relations between males was an abomination (toevah) that brought blood-guilt on the offending parties (rather than something that was a breach of community order).

Elsewhere in Leviticus 20, God says he himself “sets his face against” those for whom the death penalty is prescribed (20:5, 6), and God connects offenses to the purity of his sanctuary and the holiness of his name (20:3). Elsewhere in the chapter there is mention of blood-guilt, perversion (tebel), and wickedness (zimmah) in connection with the reasons for the death penalty.

Not all sexual violations in Leviticus 20 bring the death penalty. Having sex with a menstruating woman and some varieties of incest carry lesser penalties. Once again, this may indicate that some sins were considered more serious than others within the context of God’s relationship with the Israelites.

  • Note: Vines is misleading when he says that “in Ezekiel 18:13, the death penalty was applied to anyone who charged interest on a loan” (86). Ezekiel 18:11-13 assigns a death penalty for a morally corrupt, idolatrous, and oppressive man, whose crimes include charging interest on a loan (punishment is not for this last vice, independent from the others).

 

Theological context – does the Old Testament Law still apply?

Some laws are clearly annulled in the New Testament (all foods became clean, Gentile converts do not have to be circumcised, and observance of special religious calendars is no longer required). Is it legitimate to differentiate between ceremonial laws, which were abolished, and moral laws, which are still binding? Even though the specific penalties for violating moral laws are no longer in force (church discipline, or the purposeful exclusion of unrepentant sinners from Christian fellowship, is the practice instead – see Matthew 18:15-18 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13), there is evidence that the moral standards from the Old Testament are still consistent with God’s moral will today, especially in sexual matters.

Jesus himself distinguishes between ceremonial uncleanness and moral impurity, releasing people from ceremonial requirements while still condemning moral impurity. Mark 7:14-23 (see also Matthew 15:1-20) differentiates between two types of behaviors:

Things going into a person Things coming out of a person
Things from outside a person Things from within, from the heart
Foods Moral vices
These do not defile a person before God These defile a person before God

 

Jesus lists the things that defile a person: “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery (porneia), coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” The presence of these moral vices (both attitudes and behaviors) makes a person defiled before God.

  • To “defile” (κοινόω) means “to make common or impure, defile in the cultic sense” (BDAG, 552). Jesus is saying that true defilement (of the heart) is tied to immorality that touches the heart and is incompatible with being in God’s presence (see Revelation 21:27). Sin from the heart strikes against God’s holiness in ways that mere ritual non-observance does not. Jesus includes sexual departure from the norm (porneia) among the morally defiling practices and not among the ritually non-binding matters.

Note that at least two of these vices are related to sexual behavior (and “sensuality” likely has sexual connotations too):

  • “Sexual immorality” is from the Greek πορνεία, which is a general term describing all sorts of sexually immoral behavior. It includes any “unlawful sexual intercourse” (BDAG, 854). The term appears in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:32 – “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for porneia, makes her the victim of adultery . . .” and again in Matthew 19:9, where Jesus says likewise: “Anyone who divorces his wife, except for porneia, and marries another woman commits adultery” (see also Deuteronomy 24:1, which is referred to in Matthew 19:7). So porneia is used as a general term to describe sexual behavior that is “out of bounds” for someone already in a marriage. But notice the wider application of the term porneia to sexual sin before being married in 1 Corinthians 7:2. And in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 porneia is related to the general sexual practices of godless Gentiles. And adultery is a separate sin in Jesus’ list in this passage (Mark 7:22). Porneia functions as a handy catch-all term for sexual sin – any sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and a woman (Jesus’ assumed standard according to Mark 10:5-12 and Matthew 19:4-9).
  • “Adultery” is from μοιχεία, which means having sex with someone who is not your spouse.

Jesus thus includes sexual behavior under the category of moral vice rather than ritual impurity. Jesus’ words imply that God’s moral will endures but that standards of ritual purity are no longer binding.

This also means that the Gentiles’ freedom from circumcision was a paradigm shift that cannot be extended to OT commands that are purely moral from God’s perspective. In Acts 15, the Spirit led the apostles to exempt Gentile believers in Christ from circumcision, but the apostles still required the Gentiles to abstain from sexual immorality.

There is broader evidence that New Testament authors still upheld a “third use of the Law” for Christians (the use of the Old Testament Law as an ongoing moral norm for Christian behavior). For instance, both Jesus and Paul uphold the abiding moral authority of the Old Testament law that children must obey their parents (Matthew 15:4-6; Ephesians 6:1-2).

 

Summary

In Leviticus 18 and 20 same -sex practices are treated as serious sins that God would not tolerate in his covenant relationship with Israel. Jesus upholds God’s moral standards (but not the penalties) governing sexual behavior by treating them as different from ritual observances. Jesus does not specify that homosexual sexual activity makes one defiled, but his general list of morally defiling behaviors reflect the moral laws given to the Israelites, which included restrictions against same-gender sexual behavior.

 

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Sodom and Gomorrah throughout the Bible

Fire

This post is part 3 of a series on biblical passages that are relevant for or commonly mentioned in discussions about same-sex practices. The overview to the series is found here, and the second post, which surveys the biblical definition of marriage, is found here. Our goals as Christians should be to better understand the truth communicated in these passages while at the same time to love the people around us with pure hearts. With humility we seek to treat one another with respect and understanding while looking out for each other’s best long-term interests.

This current post examines the original account of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18-19, as well as later passages that refer back to that event.

There is no single sin of Sodom and Gomorrah that is isolated from other sins in Genesis 18-19. The episode that led to God’s judgment upon the cities was only one indicator of a broader sin problem in those cities. The nature of the sins there is best described as comprehensive wickedness, which included arrogance, inhospitable behavior, sexual immorality, and violence.

The specific episode with Lot’s visitors that is recounted as final evidence of Sodom and Gomorrah’s wickedness was characterized by hostility to outsiders, lawlessness, attempted sexual violence against same-gender targets, and arrogance.

 

Genesis 18-19 in context

In Genesis 13:13 Lot and family move into the city of Sodom: “Now the people of Sodom were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD.” This verse points to the general wickedness of the city, without specifying the exact nature of the sins against the LORD.

In Genesis 18 the LORD appears to Abraham and arrives with two men that are later identified as angels, according to their title (malakhim in Genesis 19:1) and by their supernatural actions in Genesis 19 (blinding crowds of men and foretelling divine judgment on the city). The three men (they are identified as men in Genesis 18:2, describing how they looked to Abraham) stay with Abraham and Sarah. The LORD speaks and leads throughout the narrative (Genesis 18:1,10,17,20, etc.), and at one point the two angels depart for Sodom while the LORD stays with Abraham (Genesis 18:22). Abraham treats the LORD and the visiting men/angels with great hospitality.

  • Though the narrator identifies the visitors as the LORD and two angels, Abraham sees them as human men (the men of Sodom will likewise see the angels as men). Hebrews 13:2 probably refers to this event: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Genesis 18:20-21: “Then the LORD said, ‘The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin is so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me.’” In the verses that follow, “righteous” and “wicked” are contrasted.

  • Righteous = tsadiq (dikaios in LXX) – “morally in the right, innocent” (HALOT, 1002). See Noah – Genesis 6:9 – “a righteous man.” God is often described as righteous.
  • Wicked = rasha (aseb­­ēs in the LXX) – “guilty in general, essentially before God, guilty, wicked person” (HALOT, 1295).
  • Outcry = z’aqah – “plaintive cry, cry for help” (HALOT, 277).
  • Grievous = khabed – “weighty” (HALOT, 456).

Genesis 19:4-5 – “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 out to Lot, ‘Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.’”

  • The two angels are identified as “men” by the men of Sodom, which suggests that they were seen primarily, if not exclusively, as ordinary human men by the residents of Sodom.
  • “Have sex with them” is from the Hebrew for “to know,” and it often carries a sexual connotation (which seems to be confirmed in this instance by the same use of “know” in Genesis 19:8). The desperate offering of Lot’s daughters (for sexual intercourse) shows the sexual nature of the request. The scene also has strong parallels to Judges 19:22-26, where men of Gibeah seek to “know” a visiting man in the city, and the man hosting the visitor offers his daughter instead, who is “abused”/raped throughout the night.

Genesis 19:7 – Lot: “Don’t do this wicked thing . . . (offers daughters) . . . But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.”

  • A strong culture of hospitality undergirds the narrative (with Lot’s concern to protect his guests).
  • At the same time, the verses that follow depict a frenzied atmosphere that is likely fed by the need to satisfy sexual desires. In Genesis 19:9 the men say “Get out of our way . . . This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge.” They then proceed to “press hard” and “drew near to break the door down.”

Genesis 19:13 – In the midst of the terrible scene, the angels save the day (and Lot’s daughters!), and the need for divine judgment is confirmed. The angelic visitors say, “The outcry against its people is so great that he (the LORD) has sent us to destroy it.” In other words, the men’s actions were extreme and wicked enough to demonstrate that God’s judgment against the city was justified.

 

References to Sodom (and Gomorrah) in later OT passages:

Many later passages in the OT refer to Sodom and Gomorrah. A basic reason for this is because the cities were memorable for God’s swift judgment upon them. Note in the verses that follow that at times the threat of judgment is the basis of comparison (and not the nature of the sins themselves). In other words, the sins of those threatened by a judgment similar to Sodom and Gomorrah do not always correspond exactly to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, unless the passage explicitly makes that link.

In Deuteronomy 29:23 threatened judgment of Israel is compared to judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah. A similar idea is found in Isaiah 13:19 (against Babylon), Jeremiah 49:18 (Edom), Jeremiah 50:40 (Babylon), Lamentations 4:6 (Jerusalem), Amos 4:11 (Israel), and Zephaniah (Moab and the Ammonites). Judgment in these cases is devastating and irreversible.

Isaiah 1:9-10 – the Israelites, in the wake of God’s judgment, felt that they were almost extinct as a people – almost as devastated as Sodom and Gomorrah. Israel has sinned (“rebellion” and “corruption” and “forsaking the LORD” and “spurning the Holy One of Israel”). There is an ironic turn from verse 9 to 10 – God says they actually are Sodom and Gomorrah (because of their wickedness) – their sacrifices and rituals are meaningless. They need to repent and do right and seek justice.

Isaiah 3:9 – Jerusalem, Judah are guilty because “they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it.” Jerusalem is thus compared to Sodom because its sin is flagrant, being practiced without shame or repentance.

Jeremiah 23:14 – “And among the prophets of Jerusalem, I have seen something horrible: They commit adultery and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that not one of them turns from their wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.” The prophets are unfaithful to God and to their divine calling. Instead of confronting the people’s sins, they are condoning sin (promoting sin without shame or repentance).

  • To “commit adultery” (naaph) is used  throughout Jeremiah and the prophets to refer to idolatry and spiritual unfaithfulness to God and his covenant.

Ezekiel 16 – “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations” (16:2). Jerusalem was the unfaithful wife to God’s covenantal love, through idolatry (16:17), (spiritual) prostitution, and lewdness (16:43 – “Have you not committed lewdness in addition to all your abominations?”).  They imitated practices of godless cultures and cities, including Sodom (16:47): “Not only did you walk in their ways and do according to their abominations; within a very little time you were more corrupt than they in all your ways.” Ezekiel 16:49-50: “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.”

  • A variety of Sodom’s vices are linked to Sodom in 16:49-50, including arrogance, selfish indulgence, lack of mercy, and committing an abomination. The mention of arrogance and injustice match with the general description of the wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 13, 18, and 19, and it may also recall the outcry of the righteous in Genesis 18:20-21 and 19:13 (see Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel 1-24, 509). But what about the language of abomination?
  • The appearance of “abomination” in 16:50 could summarize the sins listed prior to it, or it could add a different sin to the list. “Abomination(s)” (toevah) is mentioned multiple times in the passage to describe practices that are offensive to God (HALOT 1703 – toevah – “abomination, abhorrence”). “Abomination” is used more as a catch-all category for sin elsewhere in Ezekiel 16 (in the plural) but may indicate a more specific sin in 16:50 (in the singular – “committing an abomination”). This is plausible when seen in comparison to Ezekiel 18:10-13, which presents a list that includes “abomination” (singular) before summarizing all sins in the list as “abominations” (plural) – see Robert A. J. Gagnon, “The Old Testament and Homosexuality: A Critical Review of the Case Made by Phyllis Bird.”
  • Even more, “abomination” may describe sexual sin in Ezekiel 16:50. The word also appears in Leviticus 18 and 20 in the context of laws against sexual immorality, and it describes sexual sin in Ezekiel 22:11. More specifically, it may recount the sexually lawless behavior that led to judgment in Genesis 19. The end of Ezek 16:50 (“So I removed them, when I saw it”) may support the idea that “abomination” refers to that specific episode (the attempted male-on-male gang rape), because it suggests a correlation between seeing the behavior (through the eyes of the angelic messengers?) and delivering the judgment. The chaotic scene of sexual aggression was the final straw that confirmed the need for judgment against wicked cities.
  • Though Sodom’s non-sexual sins are highlighted here, there is some evidence that the passage has Sodom’s sexual sins in view as well.

 

References to Sodom (and Gomorrah) in NT passages:

Several New Testament passages highlight the connection between Sodom/Gomorrah and swift judgment. But 2 Peter 2:6 and Jude 7 delve more extensively into the original account from Genesis.

  • Matthew 11:23 – Sodom is used as an example of sin and future judgment (towns rejecting Jesus are in an even worse situation). See also Matthew 10:15/Luke 10:12.
  • Luke 17:28 – with the coming kingdom of God, judgment will come suddenly, amidst common daily events (as was the case with Sodom).
  • Romans 9:29 quotes Isaiah 1:9, drawing upon the finality of judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah.

2 Peter 2:6 – “if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard) – if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment.”

  • Ungodly = ἀσεβέω, ἀσεβής  = “to violate norms of a proper or professed relation to deity, act impiously,” and “pertaining to violating norms for a proper relation to deity, irreverent, impious, ungodly, BDAG, 141.
  • Depraved = ἀσέλγεια = “lack of self-constraint which involves one in conduct that violates all bounds of what is socially acceptable,” BDAG, 141. See also 2 Peter 2:2 and 2:18. ESV has “sensuality.” This vice (ἀσέλγεια) is also condemned by Jesus in Mark 7:22. It is often found in lists associated with sexual immorality (Rom 13:13, 2 Cor 12:21, Gal 5:19).
  • Lawless = ἄνομος = “pertaining to violating moral standards,” BDAG, 85. 1 Timothy 1:9 – the Mosaic Law was given for people who are “lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane.”
  • Elsewhere in 2 Peter 2 (2:2, 2:10, 2:13, 2:18, 2:20) words with connotations of sexual immorality appear as part of a broader condemnation against godlessness.
  • The specific description of Sodom and Gomorrah and the broader context in 2 Peter 2 has sexual deviancy as a strong focus.

Jude 7 – “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings.”

  • Sexual immorality = ἐκπορνεὐω  = “indulge in illicit sexual relations/debauchery.’ Used only in Jude, but related to the common term πορνεία.
  • “Perversion” = ἕτερος σάρξ = “other flesh.” ESV – “unnatural desire.” HCSB – “perversions.” NASB – “strange flesh.” NET – “pursued unnatural desire in a way similar to these angels.” NRSV – “unnatural lust.” It is somewhat ambiguous here whether this refers to desire for same-sex activity or sex with angels, though the former is more likely in view of the fact that according to Genesis 19 the men of Sodom did not appear to realize that they were seeking sex with angels.
  • “Pollute” bodies = μιαίνω = “to cause the purity of something to be violated by immoral behavior; defile,” BDAG, 650.
  • Jude as a whole condemns “ungodly passions” (Jude 18), and “sensuality” (Jude 4 – ἀσέλγεια), so sexual immorality seems to be central to the problem he is addressing (along with general spiritual arrogance and irreverence). The judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah is enlisted as one example of judgment for sexual immorality, with perhaps a specific reference to same-sex sexual activity as well.

 

Conclusions

Both the passage itself and the later references to it show that Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked cities in a number of ways. A number of vices marked the cities. Readers should not target same-gender sexual relations as the solitary sin of Sodom and Gomorrah, though the fact that the men of the city demanded sex with other men is still a notable detail in the story. The narrative of Genesis 18-19 highlights this violent, inhospitable, sexually inflamed behavior as something shocking and out-of-bounds, and some later passages imply that the sexual practices of Sodom and Gomorrah contributed to their being judged by God.

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