Genesis 19:8—Was the sin of Sodom homosexuality or inhospitality?
Problem: Some have argued that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality, not homosexuality. They base this claim on the Canaanite custom that guarantees protection for those coming under one’s roof. Lot is alleged to have referred to it when he said, “don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof ” (Gen. 19:8, niv). So Lot offered his daughters to satisfy the angry crowd in order to protect the lives of the visitors who had come under his roof. Some also claim that the request of the men of the city to “know” (Gen. 19:5) simply means “to get acquainted,” since the Hebrew word “know” (yada) generally has no sexual connotations whatsoever (cf. Ps. 139:1).
Solution: While it is true that the Hebrew word “know” (yada) does not necessarily mean “to have sex with,” nonetheless, in the context of the passage on Sodom and Gomorrah, it clearly has this meaning. This is evident for several reasons. First of all, 10 of the 12 times this word is used in Genesis it refers to sexual intercourse (cf. Gen. 4:1, 25).
Second, it means to know sexually in this very chapter. For Lot refers to his two virgin daughters as not having “known” a man (19:8), which is an obvious sexual use of the word.
Third, the meaning of a word is discovered by the context in which it is used. And the context here is definitely sexual, as is indicated by the reference to the wickedness of the city (18:20), and the virgins offered to appease their passions (19:8). Fourth, “know” cannot mean simply “get acquainted with,” because it is equated with a “wicked thing” (19:7). Fifth, why offer the virgin daughters to appease them if their intent was not sexual. If the men had asked to “know” the virgin daughters, no one would have mistaken their sexual intentions.
Sixth, God had already determined to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, as Genesis 18:16–33 indicates, even before the incident in 19:8. Consequently, it is much more reasonable to hold that God had pronounced judgment upon these cities for the sins they had already committed, namely homosexuality, than for a sin they had not yet committed, that is inhospitality.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.