Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom-both young and old-surrounded the house. They called to Lot, “where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” (Genesis 19:4-8)
But God also rescued Lot out of Sodom because he was a righteous man who was sick of the shameful immorality of the wicked people around him. (2 Peter 2:7)
I recently saw a meme on facebook that said this. It was followed by a picture of Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation saying “WTF is this s***!”, pointing out the supposed ridiculousness of these passages. After discussing it a little with a friend, a passage like this in the Bible gives people at least two concerns.
1) Lot is still considered righteous despite having offered his daughters to rapists.
2) Because he’s still considered righteous, it must mean that God thought his action was completely fine.
The contention is that if Lot offered his daughters to rapists, then he shouldn’t be considered righteous at all. The fact that he IS considered righteous must mean that God thought he did no moral wrong. Just another example of the Bible’s sexism and outdated morality, supposedly.
I’m going to tackle both of these concerns. First, I’ll look at what righteousness means in the Bible to show how Lot can still be considered righteous. Second, I’ll argue that there’s no good reason to think that God condoned Lot’s action. It was morally wicked, and the action is depicted as such.
Let’s start with (1). The dictionary defines the word “righteous” in this way
Being righteous, according to this definition, has to do with fulfilling ones moral duties or fulfilling the divine law. If righteousness just has to do with following the divine law, and Lot was considered righteous, then he must have been acting in accordance with his moral or religious duties.
However, the Bible does not define righteousness simply in terms of one’s behavior. Righteousness has more to do with our orientation towards God and what God does for us rather than our own ability to fulfill religious duties. Paul says that “all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith,'” (Gal. 2:10-11). In Romans he says, “For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.'” (v. 4:3). Finally, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. . .” (Phil. 3:8-9). This shows that righteousness is more than just the good works we do, but our status towards God. Since Peter was obviously familiar with Paul’s writings (2 Peter 3:15-16), it makes sense that he would have had this understanding of righteousness when he called Lot righteous. Lot could still be righteous in the sense that he believed and trusted in the God of Abraham, though he was morally stained. He’s also righteous in the sense that he was genuinely distressed by the wickedness in Sodom and Gomorrah, which would count as “outraged sense of justice or morality.” Chris Bruno makes the point that God also saved Lot for Abraham’s sake (Gen. 19:29).
Another reason to think that righteousness isn’t simply following divine laws or moral duties well: God himself is considered righteous. Many theologians and philosophers, however, do not think that God has moral duties or divine laws to follow. For example, William Lane Craig states in question 16 that
According to the version of divine command ethics which I’ve defended, our moral duties are constituted by the commands of a holy and loving God. Since God doesn’t issue commands to Himself, He has no moral duties to fulfill. He is certainly not subject to the same moral obligations and prohibitions that we are. For example, I have no right to take an innocent life. For me to do so would be murder. But God has no such prohibition.
Glenn Peoples at New Zealand says in a podcast on divine command theory
Now because I think that the commands of God are the locus of moral rightness and wrongness, I don’t think that God has any moral duties. Although God may have any number of motivations for acting or commanding as he does, the desire or the inclination to fulfill the demands of morality is not and cannot be one of those motivations because it is only the commands of God that give moral quality to acts or to decisions. So it’s impossible for God to be, as Chamberlain calls God, a “moral being,” that is a person who lives in accordance with morality, which I take to be about duty. Prior to God commanding that we act in a certain way God has no knowledge of moral rightness or wrongness because there is no such thing as moral rightness or wrongness independent of God’s commands.
If righteousness is simply the act of doing your moral or religious duty well, and God has no moral or religious duties, then God shouldn’t be considered righteous. The fact that he is considered righteous must mean there’s something more to the definition of “righteous” than simply behavior. In other words
3) If righteousness is simply the act of obeying moral or religious duties, then God is not righteous (since he doesn’t have moral or religious duties).
4) God is righteous.
5) Therefore, righteousness isn’t simply the act of obeying moral or religious duties.
I am not simply redefining the word “righteous” in order to make my argument successful. Far from redefining righteousness, I am seeking to understand the definition that the Bible gives it. Quoting a dictionary has some value, but you cannot always consult a modern dictionary in order to understand how a word was used by the Biblical authors thousands of years ago.
One more concern might be brought up. Does this mean that Lot could have acted any way he wanted as long as he had faith? Can we do anything we want to, even terrible things, and still be considered “righteous” simply because we have faith? Not at all. Let’s say you get married and tell your wife “I love you,” but your actions toward her completely contradict your words. If you do that, it is questionable that you really love her. Faithfulness and love towards God works the same way. Faith in God without good works is dead (James 2:14-26), and those who say they know God, but don’t do what he commands, is a liar (1 John 2:4). We all make moral blunders though, which is why it’s good that God is so patient and merciful with us, but it’s clear that our actions aren’t excused simply because we have faith.
Now for (2). Does the Bible give us any reason to think Lot’s action was considered righteous? The concern is that, since Lot was considered righteous, then his action of offering his daughters to rapists must have been considered good. So the argument goes
6) Whatever a person that the Bible considers righteous does is considered good.
7) A person that the Bible considers righteous offered his daughters to rapists.
8) Therefore, the Bible considers that act of offering his daughters to rapists good.
(8) follows and (7) is undeniable, but (6) is questionable, since the Bible is very clear that people considered righteous do things that are considered morally wrong. King David is a good example (2 Samuel 11), and so is Jephthah (Judges 11), who was considered a man of great faith in Hebrews 11. This is why God’s mercy and grace is so important. It is also comforting, because if God can love sinners like David and Jephthah, then surely he can love sinners like you and me.
So, we can see how Lot can still be considered righteous if we know what we mean by the word, and the fact that he’s considered righteous does not excuse his action of offering his daughters to be raped. I don’t think these passages in the Bible are examples of sexism or some kind of outdated morality.