Why Christians Should Not Use the Word Sodomite

From time to time, I hear Christians referring to homosexuals as Sodomites.  I once suggested in public that this was not appropriate and I was challenged on it.   After all, the Bible speaks about Sodomites, so why should we give up on the word just to be politically correct?

It is true that the word Sodomite does appear in the King James Version:

“There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel. And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the LORD cast out before the children of Israel. And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. And the remnant of the sodomites, which remained in the days of his father Asa, he took out of the land. And he brake down the houses of the sodomites, that were by the house of the LORD, where the women wove hangings for the grove.” (Deuteronomy 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7 KJV)

The question is: how accurate is this translation?  From reading this, you would assume that the Hebrew word is connected in some way to the city of Sodom.  That is not the case.  The actual Hebrew word is qadesh, which literally means sacred or holy one.  Why is this translated as a word connected with homosexuality?  The people being described here are cultic homosexual prostitutes and they are sacred in the sense that their activity had religious meaning.  So while homosexual activity is being described here, the word Sodomite is not very accurate as there is no link to the city of Sodom.

So why do some Christians still use this word?  It goes back to the story of Sodom from Genesis 19.  In that story, the men of Sodom attempt to rape some male-looking angels.  Traditionally, it is the presence of homosexuality that is understood as the reason for the destruction of Sodom.  There is a response to this view by some in which they insist that the sin of Sodom was inhospitality.  I believe the actual reason for the destruction of Sodom is much more complicated.  It was not just the presence of the homosexuality that was the problem.  It was that it had gotten to the point of attempting homosexual rape.  Presumably, people of all orientations agree that is wrong.  Sexual sin was also just one of many sins in Sodom (see Ezekiel 16:49-50).  So it is not as simple as God punishing the people for their homosexuality.

Despite this, there are still many people who see Genesis 19 simply as a condemnation of homosexuality.  Here we see homosexuality in its nastiest form and the people responsible are literally Sodomites.  If a person strongly dislikes homosexuals, this seems to be a strong and harsh word that can be used to express the intense distaste.

What am I saying here?  Am I saying that homosexuality is permissible in the sight of God and that all orientations are equal?  That is not what I am saying.  I believe that God created us to be male and female and that it is in the context of a committed heterosexual relationship that sexual activity should remain.  However, I also believe that Christians need to reach out to all people in love, including homosexuals.  Using the term Sodomite will always shut the conversation down as it hints that the person is a potential rapist who deserves death.  There is no biblical support for calling homosexuals Sodomites and that word should be rejected.  If Christians want to be biblical in our attitude toward homosexuals, perhaps we need to focus on what Jesus says about loving our neighbours.  That does not mean that we give up our convictions on sexuality, but it may mean some changes in how we treat people.

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6 thoughts on “Why Christians Should Not Use the Word Sodomite”

  1. Agreed. Thanks for the help with the translation etc, that’s stuff I could never figure out myself. I think as disciples of Jesus we have to be extremely careful with our treatment of homosexuality in general; if you ask someone what it means to be a Christian they are likely to say that Christians are against homosexuality. We need to work hard to present a balanced view of our opinions, our identity is not primarily in having something to say about sexuality. In fact, sexuality is something of a side issue. Sin is the problem, Jesus is the answer, and deep, real, sacrificial compassion for the lost and the poor is the outworking. Our treatment of the lost and poor is mentioned many more times in the scriptures than sexuality, yet we live in extreme riches, huge houses, drive new cars and plough millions into ‘church’ buildings. And yet half the world starve, and more than half are headed for a lost eternity.

    While it’s important to have a good, well founded opinion on sexuality, it is critical that this is not what we are known for.

    Thanks for the article

  2. I always found the word cringeworthy. Often it’s older Christians who use the term, and it’s hard to correct them when they do.

    Very thoughtful post.

  3. Mike, that video is not simply “about what the Bible actually says and means about homosexuality”. The video is too one-sided for that description. Watching it only gives you half the story. To get the other half of the story, you then need to review some of the critiques of the video (eg as found by Googling the name of the speaker).

    1. I’ve studied this subject before, and the analysis in the video seemed like quite an accurate presentation of the material. Of course it’s one-sided, since the speaker is a young gay man who spent several years studying the bible on the subject, but he’s a committed Christian and was trying to cut through the nonsense that’s been said about this subject and figure out what the Bible actually means.

      The comments I saw were mostly mean-spirited rants by bigots, some of whom clearly hadn’t understood the argument in the video (or perhaps even bothered to listen to it). Were there certain comments you found convincing and would you like to talk about them?

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