What was the sin of Sodom?
An example of my work's usefulness
Biblical teaching on homosexuality has been a topic of much debate in recent times. This is a consequence of the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships in many countries around the world —which is itself a consequence of countries considering how their cultures relate to the increasingly influential global community. But from my perspective, the debate on homosexuality in the Bible provides an opportunity to demonstrate the usefulness of the hermeneutics that stem from my Biblical research —and continue to advance it.
Genesis 19 —Sodom & Gomorrah
The text under consideration is Genesis 19's account of Sodom and Gomorrah. While accepting that the text describes two cities being destroyed in order to end the dreadful sins of their inhabitants, some scholars claim that the described sin of Sodom has more to do with hospitality
The result is often a sustained disagreement rather than persuasion. We could presume this is because one or other side is biased —perhaps both?! As readers of a Bible text, our own backgrounds do tend to influence the way we interpret it. But scholars know this: They know that they should consider a text within its original context, so they place themselves back in time, trying to evaluate the intentions of the original authors. They consider who wrote it? —for which audience? —in what particular situation? —set against what historical background? Unfortunately, these good intentions often prove unhelpful, merely widening the possibility for disagreement. Even with the same critical methods being applied on both sides, the only person you've managed to get to agree with you is the ‘original author’!
But there's an elephant in the room —an enormous exegetical aid that gets little attention from the academics: The most important background that Biblical authors shared with their original audiences is still available for us to examine in some detail even today…
Biblical authors and their audiences had their faith in common: They shared a knowledge of their Scripture. Even when the vast majority were illiterate, they learned Scripture through listening and retelling. Scripture encapsulated their society's values: It was the message to memorise, the shared education, the camp fire tales, the stories that parents taught their children. It developed alongside the society that learned it and lived by it. New material would deliberately allude to what was already shared and known, developing the God-focused, God-inspired message in ways that kept it relevant throughout the ages. And so the library of Scripture built up over hundreds of years. At times, other writings would influence — or be influenced by— the library of Scripture, but the most important outcome at the end of it all is the richly layered book we now call ‘The Bible’.
The development of the Bible is the essential background against which its individual texts need to be considered, so scholars should spend more time exploring its development by examining how texts relate to one another: What references, allusions and other dependencies are evident? What structures do texts share with each other? What follows should convince you of the value of such examination.
I have often found examples, within the Old and New Testaments and beyond, where an author structures a text in line with a prototext —a text already known to the audience. The two texts share a theme-based structure and certain key words or phrases. The words and phrases help to define the structure, but the author also uses them to pick out details within the prototext's message that form a background against which the message of the new text should be understood. So the prototext provides the context for the current text.
The account of Sodom & Gomorrah depends upon such a prototext. The prototext behind it is Genesis 6-9 —The Flood…
Although The Flood and Sodom & Gomorrah are both contained in the early chapters of Genesis, The Flood comes first and shows signs of having been a stand-alone account, pre-dating the construction of Genesis: Note how the account is introduced
In The Flood, water pours down from the heavens to wipe away the sinners from the earth. The account ends with a promise from God that this will never happen again
Genesis adds a small scene either side of The Flood
It tells us that the account in Genesis uses the rejection of male-female relationships as a way of illustrating the rejection of God's created order, but it does not do so in order to define what the sin of Sodom is. Rather, the sin of Sodom is the rejection of God's created order —going against his plans and design. However, seeing as Genesis uses homosexual relationships to depict the sin of Sodom, there is no denying that such relationships are themselves portrayed as contrary to God's created order and, therefore, sinful.
Copyright © Jas.C.Brooke