“Sodom and Gomorrah: The Response of Jesus and St. Paul,” by Andrew J. Schatkin
The story or rather narrative of the destruction of the pagan cities of Sodom and Gomorrah is a story fully familiar to most Christians who have been to Sunday School and been confirmed to church membership. The story is almost legend in the minds and hearts of most Christian believers and has been etched in the souls of most Christians for many past hundreds if not thousands of years. The story is found in Genesis 19, 1-38. We are told that two angels came to Sodom in the evening and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. Lot rose to greet them and bowed to the earth. Lot invited them to his house to spend the night and there was a feast. The men of Sodom then surrounded the house and asked to know them. Lot then asked to bring his daughters out to them. The men then pressed hard against Lot and drew near to break the door. The men were then struck with blindness who were at the door of the house. Lot was then informed the city was about to the destroyed and punished. We are told the Lord then reigned fire and brimstone and overthrew these cities but Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. All the inhabitants of these cities were destroyed, even what grew on the ground.
This event has been widely interpreted as God’s judgment of homosexual activity and unbridled and uncontrolled sexual activity but it also has been interpreted as a violation by the cities of the requirement of oriental hospitality.
I would now like to take a look at what Jesus has to say about this event, its meaning, and how it is to be interpreted. Jesus rarely speaks of this apparent act by God of punishment and condemnation. In Matthew 10, Jesus instructs the disciples to go about Israel, preaching the Kingdom of Heaven; healing the sick; raising the dead; cleansing the lepers; casting out demons; and take no money or pay. Jesus says to enter the house of the worthy and if anyone will not receive them the disciples are to leave that house or town. He ends by saying that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
What we can say here is that this rejection of the disciples and their preaching is far worse than the punishment and condemnation of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sexual violations, and on the day of judgment will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. Again, in Matthew 11, Jesus upbraids the cities where most of his mighty works had been done because they did not repent. Jesus again concludes that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for you. Once again, Sodom and Gomorrah are minimized in comparison to the cities where Jesus’s mighty works had been done because they did not repent. One can only conclude from these passages in Matthew 10 and 11 that the rejection of Christ and his message and work is far more serious a sin and violation than the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus says the same in Luke chapter 10 that where a town does not receive the disciples it shall be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. In Luke 17:29, Jesus says that the day the Son of Man is revealed will be akin to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah when they were destroyed by fire and sulfur. Unlike in the prior passages in Matthew10 and 11 where Sodom and Gomorrah and their sins are somewhat minimized in comparison to the rejection of Christ, here we are told the coming of the son of Man will be accompanied by the fire and sulfur reigned from heaven as in the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is not that that Sodom and Gomorrah were not destroyed for their evil but the coming of Jesus will occur with such signs so that we can understand the significance of the coming and appearance of Christ and its cosmological importance.
Let us now take a look at some passages in the epistles. Second Peter 2:6 has a different turn and understanding of this story; Peter says in this passage that by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made then an example to those who were to be ungodly and rescued the righteous Lot. Here the apostle Peter does not minimize what happened in Sodom and Gomorrah but makes clear the punishment and condemnation and states in no uncertain terms that what happened was an example to the ungodly. Peter makes clear the heinous nature of the sin in these cities and God’s response to their wickedness. In Jude, the interpretation is even more severe of what this story means and God tell us in this narrative. Jude says that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities which acted immorally and indulged in unnatural lust serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. Jude is clear and unequivocal that their unbridled sexual immorality and their unnatural lust serves as an example of the punishment of eternal fire. Jude tells what the sin of these cities was and why they were punished so severely. Jude informs us that immorality and unnatural lust were the issues in these cities that brought about the horrible suffering and punishment reigned on them (see also Rev. 11:8).
What do I say and what are we to say about Sodom and Gomorrah? Jesus has surprisingly little to say and makes clear it will be worse for those who reject him and his teachings, and healings, than for those cities whose sin is so often cited by some Christians as intolerable. Despite Sodom and Gomorrah being used as the basis for God’s response, judgment, and punishment for homosexuality, Jesus in fact has little to say about the entire matter and tells us that other sins and failings are far worse. Indeed it is most noteworthy that Jesus makes little mention of what may be the sin of homosexuality and homosexual sexual behavior other than to say that man and woman should marry. It is most likely the issue of homosexuality did not arise in his ministry or that there was not any need to address the matter since Jesus was addressing a Jewish audience in Palestine, where the issue did not arise and the matter and activity was prohibited by Jewish law.
I end by saying that it appears that Sodom and Gomorrah was of little concern to Jesus and that he saw other violations far worse, although Peter and Jude both had a severe judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah and minced no words in that regard. All in all, the New Testament has not a great deal to say about the sins of these cities and Jesus himself finds other sins far more serious and worse, at least that seems to be the case. I must conclude that Sodom and Gomorrah and what happened there cannot be evaded as the judgment of God on unbridled sexuality and perhaps homosexual behavior and that judgment and our understanding of it cannot be escaped. But I do repeat that Jesus himself was not as troubled on this matter as some of our Christian brothers and sisters.