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Clobber texts against gays: Romans 1:26-27

July 27, 2015

Rom 1Romans 1:26-27: “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.” (King James Version)

Context

Romans – to see it as a whole it is profitable to read it backwards – starting with the end so as to see that the whole perspective is one of God’s inclusivity. In that perspective, the first few chapters are a rhetorical device in which Paul argues with a Jewish teacher that neither Jews nor Gentiles are better than each other

Paul directed this book to Christians in Rome — a city known for its sexual debauchery. Earlier verses in Romans 1 describe how some former Christians, presumably all heterosexuals, had reverted to Paganism. They once more worshiped idols, and engaged in ritual sex orgies. God caused them to engage in same-sex sexual behavior. This is the only passage in the Bible that directly refers to women having sex with other women.

In the Greek

vile affections” does not refer to passion or lust. it appears to refer to the “frenzied state of mind that many ancient mystery cults induced in worshipers by means of wine, drugs and music.

women did change” (or “exchanged” or “abandoned”) their normal sexual activity, which had been with a man or men. They engaged in sexual activities with members of the same sex, in violation of their heterosexual orientation.

“para physin” is often translated as “against nature” or “unnatural” or “immoral.” It actually means “Deviating from the ordinary order either in a good or a bad sense, as something that goes beyond the ordinary realm of experience.”

So this is speaking of a specific group of idol worshipers that were performing homosexual sex acts in rituals, NOT all homosexuals as a whole.

“those without natural affection” (Greek word- astrorgous.) Ironically, this does not speak of those with homosexual attraction, but is the word for “family love/family ties.” Without or against “natural affection” (astrorgous) is speaking of those who despise or reject their family members. The reason this is ironic is because it could apply to families who reject their gay or lesbian family member(s)!

these individuals “exchanged their natural function” or “abandoned their natural function.” The words “exchange” (Greek- Metallasso– “to change”) and “abandon” (Greek- aphiemi– “to give up”)  may demonstrate that they previously had their own personal natural attraction towards the opposite sex, but went against their own natural feelings to engage in things against their innate feelings. This would indicate a choice to engage in new pursuits of lustful sexual exploration (for the sake of idol worship), and not those who have always experienced romantic love and attraction towards the same-sex.

that they were inflamed with lust for one another, which does not describe committed love. Therefore, Romans does not condemn gay and lesbian people individually or gay and lesbian people in loving committed lifelong partnerships.

the (perhaps erroneous) idea that homosexual actions are contrary to nature – most scholars of that day used the “fact” that animals did not engage in homosexuality, so therefore it most be contrary to nature. We now know than a multitude of animals do so, and some even engage in homosexuality with one partner their whole lives.

“degrading passions.” from the Greek word pathos which means “acalamity, mishap, affliction, a feeling which the mind suffers.” This word is more similar to the context of “the passion” in which Christ suffered on the cross, not passion as we see it today (i.e not a feeling of desire or love or sexual attraction). Therefore, it is not saying that sex between two adults of the same gender is degrading, but that they experienced degrading afflictions. In addition, it must be noted that the Greek word Eros (romantic love) is NOT used within this verse or any other passages that appear to condemn homosexuality. it seems that Romans speaks against members of the same sex engaging in temple idol worship which often involved sexual rituals.

‘Against nature’, elsewhere in Paul, means ‘atypical’ – God himself has acted ‘against nature’ by grafting Gentiles into Judaism so to act ‘against nature’ isn’t necessary a bad thing.

That they ‘went astray’ is not how Paul uses the term elsewhere. ‘Make no mistake’ or ‘Don’t let anyone misleads you’ is what he meant when writing to Corinth.

Some see it as an echo of Leviticus 18 but that ignores several differences: Leviticus was written to Jewish circumcised males and makes no mention of words like passion, nature and error whereas Paul is very accurate when quoting from the Septuagint.

the Book of Wisdom (composed in Alexandria) almost exactly parallels Romans 1 – Renato Lings lays the texts side by side, convincingly (see appx), for example, Ro 1.27 Men committed shameless acts with men

Wisdom 14.23 For whether they . . celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs

CybelePaul seems to have written his letter in the Greek city of Corinth where numerous temples existed…. Paul’s language in Romans 1.27 may be a reference to the cult of Cybele, which had a strong cross-dressing element: women dressing up as satyrs with large phalloi so that they could be the penetrators Gallirather than the penetratees with their partners. The rites involved orgiastic frenzies in which men allowed themselves to be penetrated, and which culminated in some of those in the frenzy castrating themselves, and becoming eunuchs, and thus priests of Cybele…. ‘to receive in their persons the due penalty for their error might refer to the castration……

Such castrated devotees, sometimes called ‘galli’, would wander around, as do the ‘hijra’ in modern India, as festal eunuchs assumed to have magic powers or prophetic gifts. The body of just such a castrated Roman eunuch priest with ornaments showing devotion to Cybele was recently uncovered by archaeologists in Northern England.

Paul’s readers would have picked up the sort of thing he meant. Because, as any self-respecting Jew could tell you: this was just the sort of idiotic thing that Gentiles got up to as a result of their idolatry.

Interpretations:

conservative

The late Bennett Sims, the former Episcopal Church, USA bishop of Atlanta, GA was a supporter of equal rights for gays and lesbians, explaining the conservative interpretation”For most of us who seriously honor Scripture these verses still stand as the capital New Testament text that unequivocally prohibits homosexual behavior. More prohibitively, this text has been taken to mean that even a same-sex inclination is reprehensible, so that a type of humanity known as ‘homosexual’ has steadily become the object of contempt and discrimination.

  1. Mohler: “The passage makes it clear that homosexuality is ultimately a rebellion of human nature against the divine creator. It deals with the heart of homosexuality, the passion of man for man or woman for woman.”

Many have equated HIV/AIDS as “the due penalty for their error” in Romans, assuming that this statement is prophesying the killer virus as a punishment for gays.

liberal: this passage refers to some former Christians who had converted back to Paganism and started worshiping idols in the form of humans, animals, and birds. They engaged in wild sexual orgies — activity which was common in Pagan worship at the time. Although their sexual orientation was presumably heterosexual, under the influence of emotion, alcohol, frenzied activity, they engaged in same-sex behaviour: women had sex with other women; men with other men. In doing so, they violated their own nature, which was heterosexual. They were in turn punished, probably with an STD which was very common at the time. They were being punished because their behaviour was opposite to their fundamental nature. The passage is a condemnation of men and women with a heterosexual orientation engaging in same-sex behaviour outside loving committed relationships. It does not refer to persons with a homosexual orientation. It does not refer to persons with any of the three sexual orientations who were engaging in sex within a committed relationship.

By extension, this passage could be interpreted as forbidding opposite-sex sexual behaviour by persons with a homosexual orientation, because it would be against their basic nature to have sex with a person of the opposite sex.

History of interpretation

not understood as homosexuality for at least four centuries.

It was understood as:

  • men having anal sex with women,
  • with men being penetrated by women with dildos dressed as satyrs in excessive cultic orgies which often ended up with the men castrating themselves (the ‘due penalty’ referred to in the text?):

None of them read the passage as referring to lesbianism.
Both St Augustine 354 – 430) and Clement of Alexandria (150 – c. 215) interpreted it straightforwardly as meaning women having anal intercourse with members of the other sex.

Clement of Alexandria also sees it as bestiality: For that reason, births are infrequent among hyenas, because they sow their seed contrary to nature. … Such godless people ‘God has given over,’ the Apostle says, ‘to shameful lusts. For the women change their natural use to that which is against nature. … ‘ Yet nature has not allowed even the most sensual beasts to sexually misuse the passage made for excrement … .Blurring the natural order, men play the part of women, and women play the part of men, contrary to nature. … No passage is closed against evil lusts; and their sexuality is a public institution – they are roommates with indulgence.

It wasn’t until John Chrysostom (349 – 407) that this verse became associated with lesbians and gays.

The passage as a whole

ALL of humanity (not just pagans or Christians) have been shown that God exists from the very beginning of the creation of the world. “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…”

If God has made His “invisible attributes clearly seen” to everyone, than this means that everyone has a choice to worship God, worship nothing, or worship something else…

So now after making this known, Paul speaks directly to the people that have chosen to worship created things (idols) instead of the Creator (God). In this way, he is speaking to those who are pagan idol worshipers. “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” This “image” is an idol made from the image of man, animals, etc. Therefore, the target audience at this point are not all past Christians or atheists, but those that worship idols. …. these specific people exchanged their internal knowledge of God for idols… In doing so, “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions

Appx. The Book of Wisdom in Romans 1

For the wrath of God is revealed . . . against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who . . . suppress the truth

In return for their foolish and wicked thoughts . . . you sent upon them a multitude of irrational creatures to punish them

For equally hateful to God are the ungodly and their ungodliness

For what can be known about God is plain to them

they saw and recognized as the true God the one whom they had before refused to know

his eternal power and divine nature . . . have been understood and seen

For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their creator

they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened

those who lived unrighteously, in a life of folly

they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists

they . . . lay as captives of darkness and prisoners of long nights

Claiming to be wise, they became fools

all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature

if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find the Lord of these things?

they failed to know the one who formed them

they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles

accepting as God those animals that even their enemies despised

miserable, with their hopes set on dead things, are those who give the name ‘gods’ to the work of human hands . , and likeness of animals

people, in bondage to misfortune or to royal authority, bestowed on objects of stone or wood the name that ought not to be shared

they worship even the most hateful animals

Therefore God gave them up in their lusts of their hearts

For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life

they worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator

nor did they recognize the artisan while paying heed to his works

God gave them up to degrading passions

they no longer keep either their lives or marriages pure but . . . grieve one another by adultery

confusion over what is good . . defiling of souls, sexual perversion, disorder in marriages, adultery, and debauchery

Men committed shameless acts with men

For whether they . . . celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs

 

Men . . . received in their own persons the due penalty for their error

they went far astray on the paths of error

Therefore the utmost condemnation came upon them

Then it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge
the just penalty for those who sin

 

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done

For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil

they thought wrongly about God in devoting themselves to idols

They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice . . . murder, strife, deceit

living in great strife due to ignorance, they call such great evils peace

they . . treacherously kill each other

all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit,
corruption .

slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents

they swear wicked oaths and expect to suffer no harm
in deceit they swore unrighteously through contempt for holiness

foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless

faithlessness, tumult, perjury

Those who practise such things deserve to die

you punished . . . those deserving of death

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From → Biblical, Sexuality

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