I wrote this at the beginning of the Republican campaign. I believe it stands up.
In my circle of Christian friends one will occasionally hear someone speak of the importance of eating meals with one another, using the etymology of the word “companion” as their point of argumentation. The argument goes along the lines of: “the word companion comes from the Latin con panne which means ‘with bread.’ Therefore, those whom you claim to be friends with are those with whom you eat bread.” Or something like that.
The problem with this argument is that word meanings evolve and that is not what people mean when they say companion anymore. Thats not to say that companions shouldn’t eat bread with one another. It’s just that I would prefer another reference to point to. If for instance, there was a classic book that people still read where the origins of the word are clear we could recover companion in the way proposed.
For an example of what I mean, let’s take the word “sodomy.” The common and legal definition of “sodomy” is “Anal or oral intercourse between human beings, or any sexual relations between a human being and an animal.” The etymology of the word supposedly comes from its use in the Bible. Sodom was a town known for and destroyed by God for its wickedness. It is assumed that this wickedness is that they practice sodomy as it is defined legally.
But what is “sodomy” as actually described in the Bible? The passage where the term originates is not so clear. The first real mention of Sodom’s wickedness comes from Genesis 18:20, when the Lord says, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin!” Apparently, people have been crying out to God regarding the sins of Sodom, but we don’t know what that is, so we read on to find out.
In the next chapter, two angels who look like men to the people of Sodom enter the city, ostensibly intent on sleeping in the square, but are persuaded to eat and sleep in the house of Lot. Once there, the “men of the city, the men of Sodom surrounded the house, from the youngest to the oldest, all the people from the entire city,” and they tell Lot to send the “men” outside so the men of Sodom can “know them.” Lot, horrified by their request, suggest the men of Sodom take his two virgin daughters in order to protect his guests, but the “men of Sodom” will have none of it. They decide that they will now threaten Lot with the same fate they threatened the angels, pointing out that Lot had no authority in the town because he had only been there a short time “to sojourn” in Sodom. Because they were angels, though, they were able to use the force or a patronus to help them escape before the Lord destroys Sodom.
Based on this summation, it is understandable that one might conclude that sodomy might include sex between two men. However, any responsible reading would also need to add the caveat that the text is silent regarding consensual sex of any kind. The visitors are clearly being threatened with rape. But, you say, they refuse to rape Lot’s daughters, so therefore we should conclude that sodomy is, at the very least, related to homosexuality.
You might be asking yourself at this point what does this have to do with Republican presidential candidates? How might they be Sodomites? Trump, et. al. never allegedly threatened to rape people, whether male, female, or angel, as far as we can prove. But that assumes that sodomy as described in the Bible is fundamentally about rape. What if it’s something even simpler than that. Let’s go back to the passage at hand.
Note Lot’s reasoning behind offering his daughters in place of the angels. He says, “only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” In ancient Southwest Asia, a child is considered an extension of oneself, but a guest in one’s own home is someone one has to protect. Lot is, in a way (however obviously problematic), bargaining with his own “property” to avoid being a bad host. The men of Sodom don’t like this deal so they threaten Lot, describing him as an outsider, or as some translations put it, “an alien.” The fact that he is an alien apparently justifies his lesser value to the men of Sodom. Thus, we can see that a man of Sodom, a Sodomite, is one who threatens foreigners living in their midst. They show no hospitality toward the outsider.
But still, you say, they didn’t accept the females and still wanted to have sex with another man, thus, sodomy is intrinsically related to homosexuality. Maybe. But let’s see what the rest of the Bible says. The majority of the Bible mentions Sodom only according to its fate, often comparing the fate of Sodom with the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians. But there are some more descriptive passages. I’ll start with Paul, who includes “sodomites” in two lists of sinners. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul says:
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Timothy 1:9-11 says something similar:
This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.
You could be forgiven for assuming that sodomy has something to do with sexual depravity based on these verses. But notice that in 1 Corinthians we could divide the list into two categories: sexual depravity and inhospitality. Which list do the sodomites inhabit? In the English Bible, “sodomites” is the last word of verse 9 and “thieves” is the first word of verse 10, but Paul didn’t write his letter with verse numbers. So “sodomites” could easily be included in the second list. The same goes for 1 Timothy, where “sodomites” could be included with either “fornicators” or “slave traders.”
Still, you say, what about Jude 7, which equates Sodom with “sexual immorality?” This does complicate matters, I’ll admit, but not in the way many people might assume. The “sexual immorality” described in the verse has nothing to do with men having sex with men, but men having sex with angels. In verse 6, the author is apparently referring to Genesis 6:4 where we read that “the sons of God went in to the daughters of humans” which leads to God destroying the earth with a flood. Jude 7 describes the Sodomites as the opposite as those in Genesis 6:4, where they engaged in sexual immorality and “went after other flesh” (emphasis added). That is, Jude 6 is concerned with angels having sex with humans while Jude 7 is concerned with humans having sex with angels. In both stories from Genesis, these sins lead to destruction by God. In other words, I’m not sure Jude helps us out too much other than to suggest that “sodomy” might not be much of a modern problem. There’s one more verse I want to explore, though, before we dismiss sodomy as an issue altogether.
In the Old Testament, as mentioned above, there are several references to Sodom as a warning to the children of Israel—that, if they are not careful, the fate of Jerusalem will be like that of Sodom. This suggests that Jerusalem may be wicked in a way that Sodom is wicked. Does that mean that the inhabitants of Jerusalem were participating in anal sex or rampant rape? The prophets never suggest that. In fact, while we are left to parse the meaning of “sodomite” from Paul or Jude or the author of Genesis, Ezekiel spells it out quite clearly. He writes, in 16:49,
This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.
There is nothing about sex in that description. Rather, if one accepts Ezekiel as an authoritative part of the Canon, which any purported evangelical Christian would do, one must change our definition of sodomy from “anal sex” to “key component of the Republican presidential platform.”
What did Lot do to get saved from the fate of Sodom? He offered shelter to the outsider. In fact, he even offered the outsider food. What is a Sodomite, then? A Sodomite is not a person who participates in anal sex, according the origins of the word. A sodomite is someone who is inhospitable to the outsider, who refuses to show hospitality to the sojourner or the immigrant or the refugee. A Sodomite is someone like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, who would rather a foreigner be brutalized than offer them shelter and food. How does one avoid the sin of sodomy? You treat strangers like companions.