The Sodom Series, #4
Two angels are invited to Lot’s home for a feast and to spend the night. But there’s a knock at the front door…
4 But before [Lot and his visitors] lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, ALL THE PEOPLE to the last man, surrounded the house;
5 and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.”
GENESIS 19:4–5 NRSV
Before Lot, his family, and his honored guests lie down for sleep, “the men of the city” came.
Although the word men is used, in ancient cultures women, when present, were often not counted. For example, Matthew 14:21 mentions that, when Jesus fed the multitude with loaves and fishes, “The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children” (NIV).
Men in Genesis 19:4 is enôsh, which means “a mortal,” not a male individual (Strong’s H582), “‘man’ in the sense of ‘mankind’” (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 136a).
Both old (zaqan), referring to men and women (Strong’s H2205), and young (naar), referring to boys, girls, and servants (Strong’s, H5288) show up.
“All the people” means “people (as a congregated unit), collective troops or attendants” (Strong’s, H5971); “from the common Semitic root amam, meaning… people in general” (TWOT, 1640a). See Genesis 14:21.
The Holman Christian Standard Bible translates the phrase as “the whole population.” The KJV adds, “all the people from every quarter.” Quarter (qâtseh) means “extremity, border, edge, outmost coast” (Strong’s, H7097).
The citizens who showed up at Lot’s house were not only men. EVERYONE was included—the young and old, both males and females. They came from every part of the city, even from its outermost borders and extremities. Whatever reason they came for, it was something that every citizen of the city participated in.
Women and young people, as well men, gathered from the farthest parts of the city surrounded the house. All the people called out to Lot through the door, asking, “Where are the individuals who came to you tonight?”
So that we may “know” them
The New International Version and other translations use the phrase “so that we can have sex with them.” This is NOT found in other translations, nor is it in the Hebrew.
The correct translation is “so that we may know them,” as is translated in the New Revised Standard Version. See also Num. 31:17,35; Judg. 11:39; 1 Kings 1:4; 1 Sam. 1:19.
The Hebrew word yada, “to know” (Strong’s H3045) is used of knowledge in the vast majority of instances where some form of the word appears in the Old Testament. It “expresses a multitude of shades of knowledge gained by the senses” (TWOT, 848).
It is rarely used to refer to the act of intercourse, and in many of these instances where it is used in this sense, it pertains to intimacy of which sexual relations are only a part.
Knowledge, not sex
The word yada occurs 944 times in the Old Testament. Only ten times—1% of the occurrences—could it be said to refer to intercourse, and only heterosexual intercourse. It means to be acquainted with, to understand. For example, “The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isa. 1:3 NRSV).
In some Bible versions, yada is translated in Genesis 19:5 as “sex” because of the predetermined bias of biblical translation committees. Such bias can be determined by how yada is translated in its other uses, which more clearly refer to intimacy leading to sexual relations.
One such instance is Genesis 4:1: “Now Adam knew [yada] Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain” (NKJV). Most other English translations also use “knew” instead of “sex” in this verse.
Why is yada translated as “sex” in Genesis 19:5 where such a meaning is questionable, but translated as “knew” in its remaining its uses where sexual relations are obvious (Gen. 4:1)?
The Living Bible paraphrases this verse as, “Bring out those men to us so we can rape them.” This perhaps is closer to the intent of the citizens of Sodom, but it is a poor translation for yada.
Why wasn’t shakab used? Shakab means “to lie down for rest or sexual connection” (Strong’s, H7901). Whenever shakab is used in a sexual sense, it refers to illicit relations (TWOT, 2381). (See Gen. 19:32ff; 34:2,7; 35:22; Ex. 22:16; Deut. 22:22; 27:21; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; 1 Sam. 2:22; 2 Sam. 11:4.) But shakab was not used in connection to the citizens of Sodom; yada was used.
Certainly not gay sex
Considering that both male and female, young and old are among those making the request, translating yada in a sexual sense—and primarily as homosexual sex—is puzzling if not ludicrous. John Boswell admits, “[T]he sexual overtones to the story are minor, if present” (Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, 93).
Interpreting the citizens’ request as a demand for homosexual relations is not found in any pre-Christian Judaistic writings for the previous 2000 years; the first recorded instance of homosexual sex being connected to the Hebrew word yada is in the Jewish philosopher Philo’s Quaest. Et Salut. in Genesis IV.31–37, and Philo wrote during Jesus’ lifetime.
Since about the twelfth century A.D., this biblical story has been used to condemn homosexuality. The word sodomy was coined after the name of this city and the behavior of its inhabitants.
Today, biblical traditionalists claim and defend that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of homosexual activity. But we must continue to examine this passage carefully as well as look at ALL the verses about Sodom in the Bible, which I do in The Sin of Sodom: What the Bible Really Says About Why God Destroyed the Cities of the Plain.
How does Lot respond to the threatening mob at his door? We’ll find out next time.
To read the full story, get my book, The Sin of Sodom: What the Bible Really Says About Why God Destroyed the Cities of the Plain, for Kindle and in trade paperback.