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Homosexuality and “Strange Flesh”

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

Some defenders of homosexuality maintain that Jude condemned the men of Sodom—not for their homosexuality—but because they sought to have sexual relations with angels. They base this claim on the use of the expression “strange flesh”: “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 7, emp. added). The reasoning is that the men of Sodom were guilty of desiring sexual relations with the angelic visitors (Genesis 19:1-5). However, several problems are inherent in this interpretation.

THE MEANING OF “STRANGE”

In the first place, the English word “strange” (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB) creates a different meaning in the mind of the English reader than what is intended by the Greek word heteros. The term simply means “other, another” (Beyer, 1964, 2:702-704). Moulton and Milligan note “how readily heteros from meaning ‘the other class (of two)’ came to imply ‘different’ in quality or kind” (1930, p. 257; cf. Arndt and Gingrich, 1957, p. 315). Thayer even defined the word as “one not of the same nature, form, class, kind,” giving Jude 7 as an instance of this use (1977, p. 254). However, he did not intend by this definition to imply that the difference extended to angelic flesh, as is evident from his treatment of the verse in his section dealing with sarx (flesh): “to follow after the flesh, is used of those who are on the search for persons with whom they can gratify their lust, Jude 7” (p. 570; cf. p. 449). In their handling of either “strange” or “flesh,” none of these lexicographers offers any support for the connotation of nonhuman or extraterrestrial, i.e., angelic.

It so happens that eminent Greek scholar A.T. Robertson disputes even the idea that the meaning of heteros extends to the notion of “different.” In his massive and monumental A Grammar of the Greek New Testament, Robertson made the following comment on this term:

The sense of “different” grows naturally out of the notion of duality. The two things happen just to be different…. The word itself does not mean “different,” but merely “one other,” a second of two. It does not necessarily involve “the secondary idea of difference of kind” (Thayer). That is only true where the context demands it (1934, p. 748, emp. added).

So the notion of a different nature, form, or kind does not inhere in the word itself. Only contextual indicators can indicate, quite coincidentally, that the “other” being referred to also is different in some additional quality.

Many English translations of Jude 7 more accurately reflect the meaning of heteros by avoiding the use of the term “strange.” For example, the RSV renders the phrase in question as “indulged in unnatural lust.” The NIV and TEV read: “sexual immorality and perversion.” Moffatt’s translation reads: “vice and sensual perversity.” Goodspeed, Beck, Weymouth, and the Twentieth Century New Testament all have “unnatural vice.” The Simplified New Testament has “homosexuality.” The Jerusalem Bible reads: “The fornication of Sodom and Gomorrah and the other nearby towns was equally unnatural.” Even the Living Bible Paraphrased suitably pinpoints the import of the original in the words, “And don’t forget the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, all full of lust of every kind, including lust of men for other men.”

Considering the meaning of “strange” in its only occurrences (in English) in the KJV (11 times), NKJV (7 times), ASV (10 times), RSV (6 times), and NIV (5 times), one finds that it never is used to refer to angels, but instead refers to: “strange things” (Luke 5:26—i.e., a miracle); “strange land” (Acts 7:6—i.e., Egypt); “strange gods” (Acts 17:18); “strange things” (Acts 17:20—i.e., ideas); “strange cities” (Acts 26:11—i.e., Gentile or outside Palestine); “strange tongues” (1 Corinthians 14:21—i.e., foreign languages); “strange country” (Hebrews 11:9—i.e., Canaan); “strange doctrines” (Hebrews 13:9); “think it strange” (1 Peter 4:4—i.e., odd); “some strange thing” (1 Peter 4:12—i.e., unusual); and “strange flesh” (Jude 7—i.e., male with male). All the other occurrences of the underlying Greek term in the New Testament further undergird the nonapplication of the term to “angelic flesh” (Moulton, et al., 1978, pp. 392-393).

Most commentators and language scholars recognize this feature of Jude’s remark, as evinced by their treatment of Jude 7. For example, the New Analytical Greek Lexicon defines heteros in Jude 7 as “illicit” (Perschbacher, 1990, p. 177). Williams identified “strange flesh” as “unnatural vice” (1960, p. 1023). Barclay wrote: “What the men of Sodom were bent on was unnatural sexual intercourse, homosexual intercourse, with Lot’s two visitors. They were bent on sodomy, the word in which their sin is dreadfully commemorated” (1958, p. 218). Alford correctly translated the Greek as “other flesh,” and defined the phrase as “[other] than that appointed by God for the fulfillment of natural desire” (1875, 4:533). Jamieson, et al., defined “going after strange flesh” as “departing from the course of nature, and going after that which is unnatural” (n.d., p. 544). Schneider said the expression “denotes licentious living” (1964, 2:676; cf. Hauck, 1967, 4:646; Seesemann, 1967, 5:292). Macknight said: “They committed the unnatural crime which hath taken its name from them” (n.d., p. 693). Mayor explained, “the forbidden flesh (literally ‘other than that appointed by God’) refers…in the case of Sodom to the departure from the natural use” (n.d., 5:260). Barnes stated: “the word strange, or other, refers to that which is contrary to nature” (1978, p. 392, italics in orig.), and Salmond adds, “a departure from the laws of nature in the impurities practiced” (1958, p. 7).

The frequent allusion to “nature” and “unnatural” by scholars must not be taken to mean “beyond nature” in the sense of beyond human, and thereby somehow a reference to angels. The same scholars frequently clarify their meaning in unmistakable terms. For example, after defining “strange flesh” as unnatural, Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown add: “In later times the most enlightened heathen nations indulged in the sin of Sodom without compunction or shame” (n.d., p. 544). Alford, likewise, added: “The sin of Sodom was afterwards common in the most enlightened nations of antiquity” (4:533). It is neither without significance nor coincidental that these Bible scholars focus on forms of the word “natural,” in view of the fact that Scripture elsewhere links same-sex relations with that which is “against nature” (Romans 1:26-27) or unnatural—i.e., out of harmony with the original arrangement of nature by God at the Creation (e.g., Genesis 1:27; 2:22; Matthew 19:4-6).

CONTEXTUAL INDICATORS

In the second place, beyond the technical meanings and definitions of the words in Jude 7, contextual indicators also exclude the interpretation that the sin of the men of Sodom was not homosexuality but their desire for angelic flesh. Look again at the wording of the verse: “as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these….” To what cities does Jude refer? The Bible actually indicates that Sodom and Gomorrah were only two out of five wicked cities situated on the plain, the other three being Zoar, Admah, and Zeboim (Deuteronomy 29:23; Hosea 11:8). Zoar was actually spared destruction as a result of Lot’s plea for a place to which he might flee (Genesis 19:18-22).

Do the advocates of homosexuality wish to hold the position that the populations of the four cities that were destroyed were all guilty of desiring sexual relations with angels? Perhaps the latest sexual fad that swept over all the cities in the vicinity was “angel sex”? And are we to believe that the great warning down through the ages regarding the infamous behavior of the inhabitants of Sodom—a warning that is repeated over and over again down through the ages to people in many places and periods of history (Deuteronomy 29:23; 32:32; Isaiah 1:9; 3:9; 13:19; Jeremiah 23:14; 49:18; 50:40; Lamentations 4:6; Ezekiel 16:46,49,53,55; Amos 4:11; Zephaniah 2:9; Matthew 10:15; 11:24; Luke 10:12; 17:29; Romans 9:29; 2 Peter 2:6; Revelation 11:8)—is: “Do not have sex with angels!”? How many times have you been tempted to violate that warning? The opportunity presents itself on a regular basis, right? The country is full of “single angel” bars! No, what Barclay labeled as “the glare of Sodom and Gomorrah,” which is “flung down the whole length of Scripture history” (p. 218), is not angel sex! It is same-sex relations—men with men. And, unbelievably, now the very warning that has been given down through the ages needs to be issued to America!

Additionally, the men of Sodom were already guilty of practicing homosexuality before the angels showed up to pronounce judgment on their behavior. That is precisely why the angels were sent to Sodom—to survey the moral landscape (Genesis 18:21) and urge Lot and his family to flee the city (Genesis 18:23; 19:12-13,15-16). The men of Sodom were pronounced by God as “exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord” back at the time Lot made the decision to move to Sodom (Genesis 13:13). Lenski called attention to the Aorist participles used in Jude 7 (i.e., “having given themselves over” and “going after”) as further proof of this fact: “An appeal to Gen. 19:4, etc., will not answer this question, for this occurred [i.e., the Sodomites descending on Lot’s house—DM] when the cup of fornications was already full, when Jude’s two aorist participles had already become facts, on the day before God’s doom descended” (1966, p. 624).

One final point likewise discounts the claim that the men of Sodom were lusting after angel flesh. The men of Sodom did not know that the two individuals visiting Lot were angels. They had the appearance of “men” (Genesis 18:2,16,22; 19:1,5,8,10,12,16), whose feet could be washed (Genesis 19:2) and who could consume food (Genesis 19:3). The men of Sodom could not have been guilty of desiring to have sexual relations with angels, since they could not have known the men were angels. Even if the men of Sodom somehow knew that the visitors were angels, the impropriety of same-sex relations remains intact—since the angels appeared in the form of males—not females.

An honest and objective appraisal of Jude 7 provides no support for the homosexual cause. The Bible consistently treats homosexual behavior as sinful.

REFERENCES

Alford, Henry (1875), Greek Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker), 1980 reprint).

Arndt, William and F.W. Gingrich (1957), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press).

Barclay, William (1958), The Letters of John and Jude (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster).

Barnes, Albert (1978 reprint), Notes on the New Testament: James, Peter, John, and Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Beyer, Hermann (1964), “miaino,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI:Eerdmans, 1981 reprint).

Hauck, F. (1967), “heteros,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI:Eerdmans, 1982 reprint).

Jamieson, Robert, A.R. Fausset, and David Brown (no date), A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

Lenski, R.C.H. (1966), The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).

Macknight, James (no date), Apostolical Epistles (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Mayor, J.B. (no date), The Expositor’s Greek Testament: Jude, ed. W. Robertson Nicoll (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Moulton, James and George Milligan (1930), Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament Illustrated from the Papyri and Other Non-literary Sources (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982 reprint).

Moulton, W.F., A.S. Geden, and H.K. Moulton (1978), A Concordance to the Greek Testament (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark), fifth edition.

Perschbacher, Wesley ed. (1990), The New Analytical Greek Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).

Robertson, A.T. (1934), A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press).

Salmond, S.D.F. (1958 reprint), The Pulpit Commentary—Jude, ed. H.D.M. Spence and J.S. Exell (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

Schneider, Johannes (1964), “erchomai,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI:Eerdmans, 1982 reprint).

Seesemann, Heinrich (1967), “opiso,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, MI:Eerdmans, 1981 reprint).

Thayer, Joseph H. (1977 reprint), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).

Williams, George (1960), The Student’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel), sixth edition.

Woods, Guy N. (1962), A Commentary on the New Testament Epistles of Peter, John, and Jude (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate).




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