Read the series so far.
In chapter four, Vines addresses the first of six biblical texts dealing with homosexuality. The remaining five are considered in subsequent chapters. Vines’ aim is to demonstrate that none of these passages prohibit committed same-sex relationships.
Chapter four analyzes God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as recorded in Genesis 19. That Christians have traditionally understood this event to indicate God’s strong disapproval of same-sex relationships is both mistaken and unfortunate according to Vines. He believes that a more careful study demonstrates that the sins of Sodom were inhospitality and violence, not homosexuality.
Vines begins by examining a list of Old Testament texts that mention Sodom, pointing out that none of these explicitly cite same-sex relations as the reason for destruction. He follows with evidence from extra-biblical Jewish literature, drawing the same conclusion. He believes that Sodom’s offenses were lack of hospitality and attempted gang rape. Next, he briefly examines and explains all negative New Testament references to Sodom, continuing to muster evidence for his premise. Vines claims that no one linked Sodom’s destruction to homosexual behavior until Philo, the first century Jewish historian. He asserts that Philo inaugurated a gradual shift in perceptions, until the destruction of Sodom became linked to homosexuality in the minds of most Christians from about the tenth century onward. But from the beginning, he assures us, it was not so.
Let’s look at two of the New Testament texts Vines employs. He says, “Second Peter 2:7 says Lot was ‘greatly distressed’ by the sensual conduct of the wicked’ in Sodom and Gomorrah, but doesn’t specify same-sex behavior.” Which raises the question, If not same-sex behavior, what was the offending conduct of the wicked in Sodom? Peter describes “sensual conduct,” “lawless deeds,” and “the lust of defiling passion” (ESV). He tells us that this behavior “greatly distressed” Lot, and that “he was tormenting his righteous soul” day after day by the deeds which “he saw and heard.” This does not describe an occasional episode of gang rape whenever a stranger happened to arrive in town. Indeed, it is hard to imagine that outsiders would ever venture into Sodom if their practice of gang rape was as habitual as the behavior described by Peter.
Furthermore, Vines wants us to believe that this gang-rape style violence had nothing to do with sexual attraction, but was actually aggressive dominance designed to humiliate and subjugate enemies. If so, why does Peter describe it as “sensual conduct” and “the lust of defiling passion”? No, what Peter reports was daily, sensual, lawless, passionate, and defiling. Peter’s square peg of lasciviousness cannot be forced into the round hole of inhospitality and violence. It doesn’t fit. Lot clearly witnessed defiling sexual conduct that best fits the traditional understanding of sodomy.
The second passage is Jude 7, which states,
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. (NKJV)
Here is what Vines says about “strange flesh” (sarkos heteras, different flesh):
Far from arguing that the men of Sodom pursued flesh too similar to their own, Jude indicts them for pursuing flesh that was too different. In fact, the phrase ‘strange flesh’ likely refers to the attempted rape of angels instead of humans. (p. 69)
I find it difficult to believe that “strange flesh” refers to angels, since the men of Sodom clearly did not know that Lot’s two visitors were, in fact angels. By every appearance, they were human males. The Sodomites were not pursuing sex with angels. They were demanding sexual relations with what they believed were men. The passage has long been understood to mean that the men of Sodom desired “different flesh” from the standpoint of unnatural intercourse with men rather than women. Most men desire sex with women. From the viewpoint of normal human behavior, men having sex with women is natural. The Sodomites wanted “different flesh,” namely other men. That is what was “strange” or “different.” Vines’ attempt to turn the obvious upside down may be clever, but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Perhaps we should examine some of Vines’ other assertions. At the beginning of chapter four, he reports a conversation with his Father about Sodom. “They wanted to have sex with other men, so God destroyed them,” says Mr. Vines, echoing the traditional Christian viewpoint. But the problem, according to Vines, is that “he didn’t know any gay couples, so he tended to read any biblical references to same-sex behavior as sweeping statements about homosexuality itself” (p. 59). Over time, we are assured, Vines father became more nuanced in his understanding. He gradually realized that there is a difference between gay people who desire promiscuous sex, something the Bible forbids, and gay people who desire a committed relationship, something which, according to Vines, the Bible does not condemn.
But let’s rewrite this discussion with a slight twist and see what happens. Suppose Mr. Vines said, “They insisted on indulging in promiscuous adultery, so God shut them out of His Kingdom” (1 Corinthians 6:9). And suppose Matthew responded, “But he didn’t know any people involved in loving, committed, long-term adulterous relationships.” Would anyone agree that there is a category of habitual adulterers who are not excluded from God’s Kingdom because they are committed to only one adulterous partner? That’s the distinction Vines wants us to accept regarding homosexuals.
Furthermore, Vines claims that because inhospitable behavior and violence were sins of Sodom, same-sex activity was not. The fact that God chides Sodom for behavior other than same-sex relations proves, at least to Vines, that He does not condemn their homosexuality. “But no biblical writers suggested that the sin of Sodom was primarily or even partly engaging in same-sex behavior” (p. 69). Or again, “But the Bible never identifies same-sex behavior as the sin of Sodom, or even as a sin of Sodom” (p. 75).
This assertion sounds like some of the claims I have read about the War between the States: Because there were ancillary factors, such as State’s sovereignty, economic issues, and competing versions of Christianity, some assert that slavery was not really the reason for the war. Such claims may convince a few partisans, but students of history who have no axe to grind accept the obvious. The primary cause of the Civil War was slavery, the presence of additional factors notwithstanding. Likewise, students of the Bible who have no personal stake in defending homosexuality understand that the primary cause of Sodom’s destruction was rampant homosexual conduct.
To support his unusual interpretations of Scripture, Vines finds it necessary to posit a sharp distinction between same-sex attraction and same-sex activity. He claims that virtually all references to same-sex behavior in the Bible refer to those who did not possess same-sex attractions. They were mostly heterosexual men who engaged in homosexual relations for various reasons, but not, like gay men today, because they could not be satisfied with women. For this reason, Vines argues that everything the Bible says to condemn homosexual activity does not apply to modern gay people, only to heterosexuals who acted against their natural desires. Gay people whose sexual attraction is exclusively homosexual were unknown to the ancients, and consequently, they had nothing to say about them.
That seems a little too convenient to me, but it also raises a number of questions. Are some people born today with exclusive same-sex attractions? If so, were people born that way in centuries past? If not, why are some born like that today and not in Bible days? If it is conceded that some people have always been born this way, then why were the ancients unaware of them, and how can we be sure they did not have them in mind when they wrote against same-sex relations? Vines backs himself into a corner because he wants to have it both ways. Either the Bible does include so called gay people when it condemns same-sex activity, or else modern gays are a brand new type of humanity that did not exist before now. I don’t think Vines wants to go down that road. This is a conundrum of his own making, and he will not easily extract himself from the horns of this dilemma.
Matthew Vines’ book is a clever assault upon the authority and integrity of Scripture. It is a masterful attempt to make the Bible mean the opposite of what it says. Let God be true, and every man a liar, even if that man is a winsome and attractive Bible-quoting professing Christian.
G. N. Barkman received his BA and MA from BJU and later founded Beacon Baptist Church in Burlington, NC where has pastored for over 40 years. In addition, Pastor Barkman broadcasts over several radio stations in NC, VA, TN, and the island of Granada and conducts annual pastors’ training seminars in Zimbabwe, Africa. He and his wife, Marti have been blessed with four daughters and six grandchildren.