According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, the primary definition of “sodomy” is “anal or oral copulation with another person.” Yet, sometimes popular definitions of words and how the Bible uses them can be significantly or slightly different because of cultural and linguistic differences. So what does sodomy mean in the Bible?
In the Bible, sodomy refers to the sexual behavior associated with the people who lived in Sodom, which was men having intercourse with other men. Along with the nearby town of Gomorrah, Sodom is known for being the target of God’s judgment and wrath in the days of Abraham.
What was Sodom’s reputation at the time when Lot settled there? Who are the men that visit Lot in Sodom? What do the Sodomites ask Lot? What does the book of Jude in the New Testament say about the sins of Sodom? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
The Men of Sodom Request To Know Lot’s Visitors
The word “sodomy” describes sexual activity associated with the ancient town of Sodom. In the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, the male Sodomites want to have sex with two men, visitors to the town, who are staying at Lot’s house. The men are angels in disguise (cf. Gen. 19:1).
The Sodomites ask Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them” (Gen. 19:5, ESV). In context, “know” is a euphemism for sex (more below). Some Bible translations are more straightforward than others when describing what the men sought.
|NIV||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.”|
|NLT||They shouted to Lot, “Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!”|
|KJV||And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.|
|NKJV||And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally.”|
|NASB||And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.”|
The majority view among Hebrew scholars is that the term translated as “know” suggests sexual intercourse as it does elsewhere in the Bible. Thus, the men at Lot’s door wanted to have sex with the men inside his house. Other Bible writers also interpret the Sodomite’s request as sexual in nature (see below).
Genesis scholar Kenneth Mathews represents the common interpretation when he writes, “[The residents] make no pretense about their business; they openly make known their intentions to assault the visitors sexually.” 
A minority interpretation is that the Sodomites are guilty of inhospitality, not sexual misbehavior. In the immediate context, Lot offering his virgin daughters to the men argues against this view, suggesting that sexual activity is what they sought (Gen. 19:8). As one scholar says, “Lot would never have made such an unusual suggestion if the request was only for a handshake and moments of chitchat.” 
Jude Says Sodom Was Guilty of Sexual Immorality
In the New Testament book of Jude, the author recounts well-known judgments from the Old Testament in one passage as illustrations for his readers, which included Sodom and Gomorrah.
While Ezekiel lists pride, gluttony, and laziness among Sodom’s sins (Ezek. 16:49), Jude mentions the sexual misbehavior of the residents.
He writes, “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” (Jude 1:7, ESV). The Greek phrase translated as “perversion” (also NIV) is literally “strange flesh” (NASB, NKJV).
|σαρκὸς||(noun) sarkos, “flesh”||Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: “Probably from the base of saroo; flesh (as stripped of the skin), i.e. (strictly) the meat of an animal (as food), or (by extension) the body (as opposed to the soul (or spirit), or as the symbol of what is external…”|
|ἑτέρας||(adjective) heteras, “strange”||Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance: altered, different; of uncertain affinity; (an-, the) other or different — altered, else, next (day), one, (an-)other, some, strange.|
New Testament scholar Gene L. Green writes, “But what was the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah that merited such cataclysmic judgment? The only specific sin mentioned in the Genesis narrative is that the male inhabitants of Sodom desired sexual relationships with the angelic messengers, who were identified as men (Gen. 19:5, 8). Male-with-male sexual relationships are condemned in Scripture (Lev. 18:22; 20:13).” 
|Leviticus 18:22||“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (ESV)|
|Leviticus 20:13||“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” (ESV)|
How Did God Judge Sodom?
Sodom and Gomorrah were towns on the south end of the Dead Sea. In the book of Genesis, Lot chooses to live in the area because of its fertility (Gen. 13:10), apart from his uncle Abraham and soon settles near Sodom. Then, the story foreshadows why God destroyed the towns.
“Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” (Gen. 13:12-13, ESV). Next, the storyline of Genesis focuses on Abraham before returning to Sodom and Gomorrah in chapters 18 and 19.
Although God spared Lot, he judged Sodom and Gomorrah after the incident with the town’s residents and his visitors. “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground” (Gen. 19:24-25, ESV).
 Genesis 11:27-50:26 by Kenneth Matthews. NAC. p. 235.
 The Book of Genesis 18-50 by Victor Hamilton. NICOT. p. 34.
 Jude and 2 Peter by Gene L. Green. BECNT. p. 71.
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