What Does Jude 7 Mean By “Other Flesh”?

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Among those who agree that the Bible prohibits homosexual practice, there is a disagreement about whether the story of Sodom and Gomorr66721_2ah should be used in support of this conclusion. Traditionally, the sin of Sodom has been considered, among other things, the sin of pursuing same-sex intercourse. Hence, the act of male-with-male sex has been termed sodomy. More recently, others have maintained that attempted homosexual gang rape is hardly germane to the question of committed, monogamous gay unions today. Sodom had many sins–violence, injustice, oppression, inhospitable brutality–but same-sex intercourse per se is nowhere condemned in the Genesis account. Some conservative scholars, while still holding conservative conclusions about marriage and homosexuality, have concurred with this line of reasoning, arguing that when it comes to deciding the rightness or wrongness of homosexual behavior, Genesis 19 is irrelevant.

There are many important considerations to weigh when trying to make sense of Sodom and Gomorrah. Obviously, the Old Testament context matters. Knowing something about the Ancient Near East may help too. Looking at literature from Second Temple Judaism is also important. Most critical, however (at least for those with an evangelical view of Scripture), is how the New Testament understands the sin of Sodom. Which is why Jude 6-7 is so important.

And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day—just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire (sarkos heteras), serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 6-7)

There is a case to be that Jude’s comment about sarkos heteras (“other flesh”)  is a reference to sex with angels not sex with other men. Verse 6 is likely an allusion to the sin of the angels in Genesis 6:1-4, which according to Jewish tradition, involved angels having sex with the daughters of men. So it is not far fetched to think that the “other flesh” in verse 7 is a reference to the men of Sodom trying to have sex with Lot’s angelic visitors. If this interpretation is correct, it makes it less likely (though not at all impossible) to see the sin of Sodom as being, at least in part, the sin of homosexual practice. Which, of course, would do nothing to invalidate the other verses that speak on the subject, but it would set aside the most infamous account of homosexuality in the Bible.

Having said all that, I still see good reasons to accept the traditional interpretation and conclude that Jude 7 is a reference to the sin of homosexual behavior.

1. This interpretation is in keeping with prevailing Jewish norms in the first century. Both Josephus and Philo not only condemn relations that are “contrary to nature,” they explicitly understand Genesis 19 as referring to homosexual acts.

2. As a striking example of sexual immorality, it would certainly be more relevant in a first century Greco-Roman context to warn against homosexual behavior as opposed to the non-existent temptation to have sex with angels (cf. 2 Peter 2:6).

3. It would be strange to refer to attempted sex with angels as pursuing other “flesh.” Of all the ways to reference angels, the very physical, human, and earthly sarx seems an odd choice.

4. The men of Sodom did not know they were trying to have sex with angelic beings. Even if sarkos heteras could be taken to mean a “different species” (and I don’t think it does), the men of Sodom had no idea that that is what they were pursuing. Isn’t it more likely to think they were guilty of pursuing sex with other men (as they saw them), then that they were guilty of pursuing sex with angels (which they did not understand)?

5. If pursuing “unnatural desire” is a reference to seeking out sex with angels, how do we make sense of the beginning of verse 7 which indicts Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities of this sin? Were Admah and Zeboim guilty of trying to have sex with angels? It makes more sense to think that Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities all had a reputation for sexual immorality and that one flagrant example of such sin was homosexual practice. This is why the parallel passage in 2 Peter 2:7-8 can depict Lot as greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of these cities. They had a reputation for lawlessness which did not rely on angels to be manifested.

In short, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah and the whole region was not just a one-time attempted gang rape of angelic beings, but, according to Jude a lifestyle of sensuality and sexual immorality, at least one aspect of which was exemplified in men pursuing the flesh of other men instead of the flesh of women.

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