Jude 1:7 speaks of “Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh” (KJV). In context, Jude is assuring his readers that God has punished sin in the past and, therefore, He will continue to do so in the future. Jude gives a list of incidents as evidence of God’s judgment, and one of the incidents that he cites is the case of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The King James Version and the New American Standard Version are similar in the translation of Jude 1:7, and both use the term strange flesh. “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire” (NASB).
The ESV has a more interpretive translation: “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” The ESV includes an alternate translation, “different flesh,” in a footnote.
The NIV provides the most interpretive translation: “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”
The traditional understanding of this passage is that the “strange flesh” refers to homosexual desire similar to what was exhibited in Sodom in Genesis 19. Two angels (appearing as men) visited Sodom. Lot, not knowing that they were angels, asked them to come into his home. The men of the city learned of the visitors and mobbed Lot’s house, saying, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them” (verse 4).
In recent years, there has been an attempt to legitimize homosexual desire and even to look for ways to make it compatible with biblical teaching. Some have challenged the traditional understanding that the pursuit of “strange flesh” refers to homosexual lust.
Jude 1:7 begins with “in the same way,” which calls our attention to the situation in the previous verse. Verse 6 says, “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.” This has often been understood as a reference to Genesis 6. The first verses of that chapter highlight the wickedness that precipitated the flood. Many interpret the Genesis passage as referring to angels who in some way had sexual relations with human women. According to some, the logic in Jude 1 runs this way: in verse 6 angels have sexual desire for human beings, and in verse 7 human beings have sexual desire for angels. The conclusion is that the desire for “strange flesh” in Jude 1:7 refers to human-angel relations, not any kind of human-human relations.
This interpretation has several problems. First, it is far from clear that Jude 1:6 is a reference to Genesis 6:2–4. Second, it is far from clear that “the sons of God” in Genesis 6:2–4 refers to angels or that human-angel sexual activity is what is in view. Third, the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah warranted judgment before the angels ever showed up (Genesis 19:20). In fact, pending judgment was the reason the angels went to Sodom in the first place. It is not as though angels were being assaulted on a regular basis in Sodom. And, finally, the men of Sodom had no idea that the “men” visiting Lot’s house were angels, so the issue could not be an unnatural attraction to angels.
The next issue that needs to be addressed is the term translated “strange “ in the phrase “strange flesh.” The word translated “strange” is hetero, which means “different.” The issue is complicated by the fact that we use the term heterosexual to refer to attraction to the opposite gender and homosexual to refer to same-sex attraction. Jude 1:7 says that Sodom and Gomorrah were judged because of hetero attractions. However, the context is clear that hetero in this case does not mean “different gender” but “different from the norm,” as in “strange.” Romans 1:26–27 calls these urges and actions “unnatural”—that is, they are different (hetero) from the God-ordained design.
Finally, some have charged that the sin of Sodom was not homosexuality per se, but violence and attempted homosexual rape. They claim that Genesis 19 has nothing to do with loving, mutual homosexual desire. Certainly, the violence of the men of Sodom adds an additional layer to the problem. It may account for why Jude describes the incident in Sodom as one of “gross immorality,” but it does not explain why Jude says they desired “strange flesh.” Furthermore, it was not for the single incident with Lot that Sodom was judged; rather, that incident simply demonstrated and confirmed the kind of immorality that was rampant in Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding areas.
When all the evidence is considered, the traditional understanding is still the most consistent with the biblical data. Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding areas gave themselves over to all sorts of sexual perversion (rape would be included in this), but homosexual attraction and activity, described as a desire for “strange flesh,” is also included. Jude describes homosexual desire as a desire for hetero flesh because it is “different” from the God-ordained plan for sexuality. Jude says that the men of Sodom were judged for this and stand as an example of God’s willingness and ability to judge such actions in the future.