Chapter and Verse: Introduction

Genesis 19:1-29

What the Bible says...

Genesis 19:1-29 (excerpt)
[1] The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city. When he saw them, he got up to meet them and bowed down with his face to the ground. [2] "My lords," he said, "please turn aside to your servant's house. You can wash your feet and spend the night and then go on your way early in the morning."

"No," they answered, "we will spend the night in the square."

[3] But he insisted so strongly that they did go with him and entered his house. He prepared a meal for them, baking bread without yeast, and they ate. [4] Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom-both young and old-surrounded the house. [5] They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them."

[6] Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him [7] and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. [8] Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."

[9] "Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them." They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

...and how it can be interpreted

Dr. James B. DeYoungDr. James B. DeYoung
The crucial verses are 19:5 and 19:8. In 19:5 it is emphasized that the men of Sodom sought to have Lot's male visitors (who were actually angels disguised as men) brought out to them that they might "know" them. The Hebrew word for "know" (yada') usually has the meaning of intellectual knowledge, but on some occasions, as here, it means to have sexual knowledge. For example, the same term in Genesis 4:1, 17, 25 refers to the sexual intercourse of Adam with Eve. Here the context of 19:8 confirms that sexual knowledge is intended, for Lot identifies his daughters as those who have not "known any man." Clearly this must refer to sexual intimacy. Thus the men of Sodom sought to sexually assault the men in Lot's house.

This interpretation is also confirmed by the Greek translation of this text as found in the Septuagint (often symbolized by LXX). In 19:8 the LXX, like the Hebrew, uses the common word for "know" (ginosko). But in 19:5 the term used in the LXX is synginomai, which occurs only once elsewhere in the LXX, of Joseph's refusal to sleep with the wife of Potiphar (see Gen. 39:10). It also occurs in three places in the Apocrypha (Judith 12:16; Susanna 11, 39), all with a sexual meaning. To try to define the idea of "know" in 19:5 and 19:8 as some kind of knowledge other than homosexual assault is futile.

In the immediate context we are told that Sodom is a place of wickedness (13:13: "the men of Sodom were wicked, and were sinning greatly against the Lord"; 18:20: "the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous").

Lot characterized the men's desire for the angels disguised as men as a "wicked" thing (19:7 -- and this verdict comes from one whose own morals were compromised -- see v. 8). Yet the only sin of the sodomites described in the narrative itself is homosexual assault.

Lot characterized the men's desire for the angels disguised as men as a "wicked" thing (19:7 -- and this verdict comes from one whose own morals were compromised -- see v. 8). Yet the only sin of the sodomites described in the narrative itself is homosexual assault. Later, when Ezekiel describes the sins of Judah under the symbol of Sodom he names them as pride, excess of food, prosperous ease, failure to help the poor and needy, and being haughty and doing abominations or detestable things before God (16:49-50). The word "abominations" is a term used in Leviticus 18 and 20 to describe homosexual conduct (see the discussion of these texts). In the rest of Old Testament and New Testament Scripture Sodom becomes a code word for sexual perversion and the accompanying pride which motivates it (see 2 Peter 2:7-10; Jude 7). Even Jesus, who mentions Sodom ten times, assumes the story of Sodom to be true and deems it an example of God's judgment on wickedness on a par with the Genesis Flood (Luke 17:26-32).

Dr. David M. CarrDr. David M. Carr
This text is the origin point for the term "Sodomy" still used by many to refer to the homosexual acts they condemn. Yet the main point of this story is not homosexuality, but the inhospitality of the people of Sodom in threatening to rape Lot's guests. We see this already in the way this text is linked to the preceding story of the angels' visit to Abraham in Genesis 18. Abraham and Lot positively respond to the angels' visits, while the people of Sodom are distinguished by their wish to violate the guests sexually.

The main analogy today to this text is not consensual sexual relationships between men or women, let alone committed relationships between people of the same sex. Instead, better analogies would be situations in our society where people, say prisoners or homeless women, are put in situations where they are particularly vulnerable to homosexual or other rape.

To be sure, the text focuses here on attempted homosexual rape. Sadly, ancient societies like Israel were far less sensitive to the problem of heterosexual rape than homosexual rape. That is clear even in this text's positive depiction of Lot's offer of his own daughters for sexual violence in place of his guests (Genesis 19:8). Remarkably, the Bible does not separately name or condemn heterosexual rape. Instead, it focuses here and in Judges 19 on assaults on male honor and hospitality by other males. Christians now know the importance of moving beyond the Bible in recognizing the broader scope of sexual violence.