Thursday, September 1, 2011

Sodom and Gomorrah - New Testament Beliefs

As I studied what the Old Testament I learned that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was a story that never lost its popularity or its power to illustrate that God could and would destroy a city or nation for whatever sin there might be.  I also learned that throughout the Old Testament, when Bible writers used Sodom and Gomorrah as examples, they did not focus on the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, but on the sins of their own days.

Only Ezekiel directed his attention to the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah; and those sins were not gleaned from the Sodom and Gomorrah story we find in Genesis, but rather, Ezekiel read the sins of his time (economic and social injustice) into the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.  I suppose some would say that through inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Ezekiel knew something about Sodom and Gomorrah that wasn't in Genesis.

Finally, I learned that according to Ezekiel there are worse sins than those of Sodom and Gomorrah. And this brings us to the New Testament.

JESUS - SINS WORSE THAN SODOM AND GOMORRAH'S

In the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke, like the Old Testament, Jesus assumes his audience knows the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. He does not explain the story or tell it again, but rather, he drops their names like everybody knows everything about them - the sins and the total and permanent annihilation of the city.

Jesus used the story of the two cities in two ways: to illustrate greater judgment for those who reject the Gospel and to illustrate that Jerusalem would be destroyed for rejecting him.

Rejecting the Gospel

When Jesus sent out his disciples on a short missions trip to preach, teach and heal; he told them that if a city or town did not receive them, it would be better for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment (Matthew 10:15, Mark 6:11, Luke 10:12).

Rejection of the Good News about Jesus is a sin worse than that of Sodom and Gomorrah's.

Rejecting Jesus

When Jesus had finished his ministry in the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, he pronounced woes that judgment would be worse for them than it was for Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 11:23-24). They were doomed because they had seen so many works of Jesus, but still rejected him.

First of all in Jesus' teachings, the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were never spelled out; instead, the story of Sodom served to illustrate that God destroyed nations for sin - the focus was not on Sodom's sin, but on the wrath of God - that God can and will destroy a city or nation for sin - whatever sin that may be.

Secondly, for Jesus, there was a sin far worse than anything that Sodom and Gomorrah did. And that was for a city to see the miracles that Jesus did and reject him. And in the same way, if a city rejected one of his messengers, its fate was worse than Sodom and Gomorrah.

JUDE AND 2 PETER - TWO VERSIONS OF THE SAME SERMON

If you read through 2 Peter 2 and Jude you will notice that they both follow the same outline.
1. There are people coming into your group that are bad (I believe they were political recruiters).
2. They will be punished by God.
3. They talk big about things they don't really understand.
4. They will be judged.

My take on this is that there were two versions of the same sermon. Most of the ancient world relied on memory, passing down stories, and proverbs and sayings, more than on reading.  This is because most people did not read. So a good sermon may have been passed on like a good story. People just repeated it to others.

I think 2 Peter 2 and Jude are like that. Even though there are some differences between them, they both have the same outline and both use some of the same illustrations to emphasize their points. One of those illustrations is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.

2 PETER

The issues Peter wrote about were the same as Jude's, but Jude went further into the issues than Peter did. I will start with this verse from 2 Peter.

Later, God condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and turned them into heaps of ashes. He made them an example of what will happen to ungodly people (2 Peter 2:6).


Peter used the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in the same way that the Old Testament writers and Jesus did. They used the story to emphasize God's certain judgment on those who boldly sin. Both Peter and Jude used the story in the same way.

Sodom and Gomorrah became the ultimate example of God's wrath on any city whose sins have maxed out. And Peter used it in his sermon alongside of other wrath of God judgments which included angels who were dispelled from heaven and then from the earth in Noah's day by a flood.

The sin that Peter and Jude were warning against was the sin of deception and falling away.  Deceivers were leading Christians away from the purity of the gospel to look for freedom elsewhere. I believe the people who Peter and Jude were warning against were actually political rebels who hoped to overthrow the Roman legions. These rebels were recruiting Christians into their ranks.  Jude and 2 Peter were written during a time of a powerful political upheaval and the streets were filled with the feeling of rebellion and the hopes of becoming politically free. 

When Peter and Jude used Sodom and Gomorrah as illustrations in their sermons, they were thinking more of their own times and troubles, more than the time of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Peter and Jude looked at their own time and pointed out that political recruitment from the group was threatening the church.

JUDE

Jude is the first Bible writer to talk about the sexually immoral sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. I believe the reason he focused on sexual immorality is because he saw sexual immorality in his own day among those who were recruiting from the churches. Those who were recruiting were sexually immoral but not necessarily homosexual. Other Bible writers who used the Sodom and Gomorrah illustraion were faced with other sins that needed to be addressed (such as breaking the covenant, economic injustice, and so on), and so they addressed those sins.

...as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 1:7).

This is one of the most debated scriptures. For the first time in the Bible, and for the only time, the Sodom and Gomorrah's sins of sexual immorality are clearly mentioned, so it is important to look at this as closely as possible.

Jude wrote in Koine Greek - a common language in NT times. The word he used that we translate sexual immorality is "ekporneuō" which is not used anywhere else in the New Testament but in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX), "ekporneuō" is best defined "to prostitute oneself out." As far as I can tell, Jude is saying that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were completely giving themselves over to whatever sexual passions they had.

This still leaves us with the question: Was the evil passion of Sodom and Gomorrah homosexuality? Or was it homosexual rape? After all, the one sin that was mentioned in the first destruction in Genesis (the flood) was violence.

"Going after strange flesh" is the next issue that is debated. Literally the Bible says "going after other flesh." The debate for this expression can be summed up as follows:

1. "Going after strange flesh" refers to homosexuality. In Romans 1, the Apostle Paul argues that homosexuality dishonors the body and is against nature, so it seems likely that the term "strange flesh" means homosexuality.

In Jude 1:8, Jude tells us that the recruiters "defiled their flesh," which sounds very much like the language Paul uses when he talks about homosexuality when he says it dishonors the body. But if this is the case, why didn't Peter mention this in 2 Peter 2? If this was a defining sin of the recruiters, why does Peter ignore it? Peter mentions that the group has eyes filled with adultery; could "defiling the flesh" refer to adultery?

2. The second side says that "going after strange flesh" is trying to have sex with angels. The men of Sodom and Gomorrah knew that there were two angels visiting their city and wanted to have sex with them so much that they were willing to take them by force. They may have wanted to obtain some kind of mystic transferrence of powers or knowledge through intercourse (as in some ancient thought), or they may have simply wanted to experience a whole new type of sex - sex with angels.

This side of the debate needs quite a lot of explanation, because most people of the 21st Century are unfamiliar with it. The reason most don't know about it is because Jude quoted from and leaned on the ideas from two books that were never included in the Bible; the Assumption of Moses (of which we have only some portions of the book) and Enoch (which we have in its entirety from Ethiopian translations).

The Book of Enoch is written by at least five different people all claiming to be Enoch, the man who lived seven generations down from Adam (who according to the Book of Enoch walked with the angels [elohim], received revelations from the angels, and wrote those revelations down). In realilty, the books were written by at least five authors (as mentioned) from around 300 B.C. to A.D. 100. Jude quoted from the first of those five books, which means that he had access to at least one of the five sections that now make up the Book of Enoch.

In that same section of the book of Enoch from which Jude quoted, there is mention of powerful angels, called Watchers, who were given the task (by God) of overseeing the world; but they misused their authority by teaching men how to war (and other stuff) and teaching women about makeup (and other bad things).  In other words, they taught us progress.  These same Watchers lusted after women and had sex with them, thus producing giants as offspring who terrorized the earth. According to Enoch, these Watchers were the "sons of god" who had sex with "daughters of men" mentioned in Genesis 6:2.

The point is this: In Enoch's view, Genesis assumed the possibility of intermingling of the species (angels with humans), and when the men of Sodom and Gomorrah saw angels in their city, the somehow knew that they were heavenly beings and wanted to have sex with them insomuch as they were "other flesh."

Last words on Enoch: There is discussion and disagreement about whether or not Jude believed that the Book of Enoch was inspired by God (like the rest of the Old Testament).  But whatever the case may be, it is obvious Jude believed it was written by the Enoch of the Bible (7th generation from Adam). It is also obvious that Jude believed the account accurately recorded what happened before and during the flood, including the Watchers, their sexual adventures, and the giants that resulted.

SOME OF THE LISTED SINS OF THE RECRUITERS

According to Peter the group that was recruting had sins that included:

Following the currupt desires and passions
Despising authority
Slandering the glorious ones (political and spiritual principalities and powers)
Being bold and arrogant
Speaking evil of that which they did not understand
Openly rioting
Reveling in their own plessures
Eyes focusing on adultery
Greedy
Leaving the right way

Compare this list to Judes':

Defiling the flesh
Rejecting authority
Slandering the glorious ones
Speaking evil of that which they did not understand
Walking after their own desires and passions
Murmuring and complaining
Speaking boastfully
Showing favoritism
Seperating from the group

What is common to both groups and what seems to stand out are these:

Uncontrolled Passions
Lusting, coveting, wanting, desiring, defiling the flesh, reveling

Rejection of authority
Speaking evil, slandering, murmering, complaining, speaking arrogantly, speaking evil of things they didn't understand

REVELATION

The last place in the New Testament that refers to Sodom (and not Gomorrah) is Revelation 11:8 where Jerusalem is called Sodom and Egypt where our Lord was crucified.

CONCLUSIONS

The New Testament like the Old Testament uses the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as illustrations and warnings to emphasize that God can and will destroy a people, a city, or nation for its sins.

Each writer focuses on the sins of his particular time. Most of the writers throughout the Bible are unconcerned with the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, because for them the story is not about what Sodom and Gomorrah did, but what God did to them. Any type of sin gone out of control could do the same.

The writers who mention the sexual sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, mention their sins because their own day was steeped in sexual sin - however, the type of sexual sin was left vague.

One last word about those cities, I believe that the writer of Genesis viewed the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah were the epitome of evil and each Bible writer after was more concerned about the sins prevalent in their own day.

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