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Romans 1

The Christian Testament Text on Homosexuality

by Fr. Daniel Helminiak, Dignity Houston BBS

Romans 1:18-32 (especially 26-27: "Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men.")

* `unnatural' mistranslates the term `para physin,' which means rather "beyond what is ordinary or usual." There can be no moral condemnation implies in this term, for in Romans 11:24 God is said to act `para physin.'

* The Greek terms applies to the same-sex acts (atimia = ill-reputed; aschemosyne = uncomely) imply social unacceptability, not moral judgment; though current translations may obscure this fact.

Paul is appealing to Jewish purity sensitivities (see above). In contrast, terms implying real wrong, unethical behavior (asebeia = godlessness, impiety; adikia = wickedness, injustice, wrongdoing), occur in verses 18-19 and 28-31 before and after the section of same sex acts. The contrast must be intentional.

* What is Paul's point? That the idolatry of the Gentiles resulted not only in real wrongdoing, but also in "dirty" behaviors.

* Why bring up purity issues, which Jesus disqualified? To gain the sympathy of the Roman Jewish Christians who knew of Paul's support for the Gentiles, and who appeal to Jewish self-righteousness (1:18-32), then a turn of the tables where the Jews themselves are shown to be sinful (2:1, 17), then a shift to a Gentile perspective (9:3) and finally insistence that Gentiles also respect the Jews (11:13). Verse 14:14 makes clear that the purity issue was raised only for rhetorical reasons: "I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean."

* Why use same-sex acts as the purity issue? Because it would work." Homosexual behavior was an obvious issue, known clearly as a purity concern among the Jews, evidently not a bone of contention like circumcision and the dietary laws, and not likely to offend the Gentiles, who knew the Jews' peculiarity in this matter.

* If verse 26 refers to homosexual acts, it would be the sole Biblical reference to lesbianism -- very unlikely. Lesbianism was little discussed in the ancient world and unlike male-male sex, it is not mentioned in the Hebrew Testament as uncleanness, so it does not fit St Paul's concern here about impurity contrary to the Jewish Law (verse 24). So `para physin' here could refer to any kind of unusual or forbidden sexual activity, like sex during menstruation.

* Conclusion: Linguistic analysis and the overall rhetorical structure of the letter show that Romans presents same-sex acts only as a purity issue. No ethical judgment against samesex acts is at stake here. Rather, the Epistle mentions them precisely to make the point that purity issues have no importance in Christ.

ROMANS 1:26-27

by Bill Sklar <86730@LAWRENCE.BITNET>

"References on Homosexuality and the Bible"

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for ther perversion.

--Romans I:26-27 (NIV)

This is a common passage cited to demonstrate that homosexuality is "wrong" and "unnatural." Such an assumption however, fails to take into account the fact that there are many homosexual Christians who are often monagamous.

According to Is the Homosexual My Neighbor by Scanzoni & Ramey:

The key thoughts seem to be lust, "unnaturalness," and, in verse 28 a desire to avoid acknowledgement of God.... although the censure fits the idolatrous people with whom Paul was concerned here, it does not seem to fit the case of a sincere homosexual Christian. Such a person loves Jesus Christ, and wants above all to acknowledge God in all of life, yet for some unknown reason feels drawn to someone of the same sex, for the sake of love rather than lust. Is it fair to describe that person as lustful or desirous of forgetting God's existence? (p. 62)

Romans does not discuss love-- it simply speaks of lust, as if it is all that homosexuals are capable of. This, simply, is not true.

According to John McNeill, in "The Church and the Homosexual":

If a Catholic homosexual confessed occasional promiscuity, he could receive absolution and be allowed to receive communion in good conscience. If, however, he had entered into a genuine permanent love relationship, he would be judged in "a state of sin," and unless he expressed a willingness to break off that relationship, he would be denied absolution. (p. 169)

By taking such a stance, the Catholic Church practically encourages promiscuity for homosexuals. Healthy monogamous relationships are treated as somehow "worse" than a series of one night stands. As far as the notion that this verse informs us that homosexuality is "pure lust," Robin Scroggs writes, in The New Testament and Homosexuality:

...Paul thinks of pederasty, and perhaps the more degraded forms of it, when he is attacking homosexuality... Perhaps it was those particular conditions he had heard of that made him consider homosexuality unnatural, rather than some overarching abstract theological conviction....

Another point to note is that a common practice of Paul's time by non-Christians involved temple orgies in which sexual acts were performed with many people. It's quite possible that the act he has described here was one such orgy. Notice the sins involved in this that are not inextricably connected with homosexuality: Orgies, sex in a temple, turning away from one's nature and lust. These are what Paul is condemning. Possibly because he's never known of cases of homosexuality which did not include such sins he didn't choose to separate them. Possibly, he simply did not have the knowledge that we now have of what homosexuality is. Also, he possibly did not have the insight or experience to know that there are people on this earth for whom homosexuality is natural and that it can exist in a monogamous, loving relationship. For whatever reason, however, it is clear that when Paul spoke of what we often interpret to mean homosexuality, we are not referring to the same thing. In Paul's time there were no clear examples of monogamous relationships between gay men. There were no cases of devout Christians who were also gay. Today, however, we know better. There are gay men who form covenants with one another and have every bit as much of a commitment to one another as any legally married couple. There are lesbian women who have chosen a partner for life who happens to be female. Whether we approve of this or not, it is a reality and Christians around the world will be forced to recognize that the answers given in the Bible are not so clear as they were once thought to be.

St Paul and Nature

by James Alan Hall s883334@minyos.xx.rmit.oz.au

"Biblical arguments and homosexuality"

(most of argument, and some text, taken from chapter four of John Boswell Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, confirmed by Hall in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible)

Romans 1:26-27 reads, "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 recompence of their error which was meet."

The "nature" in this passage is the Greek word "phusis" which means personal nature or disposition. It's the same Greek word that occurs, for example, in I Corinthians 11:14, "Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?", where Paul is probably using "phusis" to mean custom or tradition. There's a lot of debate about just what "phusis" connoted at that time; but the one thing that's clear is that Paul isn't talking about "natural law" here. (The concept of a "natural law," one that was sinful to violate even for those ignorant of divine law, probably never even occurred to Paul, and certainly didn't occur to any of the many early Christian theologists who commented on this passage; the idea didn't show up in theology for another thousand years. Also, we know from other sources that homosexuality was generally regarded at the time as a natural physical trait; if Paul disagreed with the prevailing belief, there are plenty of other places in his writings where you'd expect him to say so, and he doesn't.)

The word "against" in "that which is against nature" is a clear mistranslation. The Greek word here is "para," which means not "against" but "in excess of." (It's translated as "more than" in the preceding verse, in fact, and in many other places in the New Testament. The Greek word meaning "in opposition to" is "kata.") The very same phrase, "para phusis," is even used to describe the activity of God Himself in Romans 11:23-24, "And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree." What Paul seems to be condemning here is not homosexuality per se (in fact, the absence of any reference to homosexuality in the list of sins that immediately follows, in verses 29-31, is striking) but the satisfying of one's desires in excess of what is fitting to one's nature. (This is also how the passage was interpreted by early Christian theologians; Saint John Chrysostom, for example, felt that it was an important point that the men and women had previously enjoyed satisfactory heterosexual relations. "No one can claim, [Paul] points out, that she came to this because she was precluded from lawful intercourse or that...she was unable to satisfy her desire...")

In general, Paul seemed to feel that sin lay not in specific acts but in their immoderation. "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband," I Corinthians 7:1-2. "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any," I Corinthians 6:12.


by Wilfrid R. Koponen, Ph.D., M.B.A., M.A.R., M.A.)

Romans 1:26-27. The only passage in the Bible mentioning Lesbian acts. Conclusion: The supposedly sweeping Biblical condemnation of homosexuality simply doesn't hold up to close scrutiny, as it is limited to acts of prostitute, idolatry, violent or non-consensual acts, inaccurate translations, or outmoded prejudices against women and their supposed inferiority. How can these be applied to a committed relationship based on love (rather than mere lust) between two consenting adults of the same gender?

from John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, pp. 106-114

Footnotes omitted, Greek text transliterated. Any transcription errors, mine. This is part of a larger chapter on the Scriptures in the book.

Saint Paul, whose commitment to Jewish law had taken up most of his life, never suggested that there was any historical or legal reason to oppose homosexual behavior: if he did in fact object to it, it was purely on the basis of functional, contemporary moral standards.

There are three passages in the writings of Paul which have been supposed to deal with homosexual relations. Two words in I Corinthians 6:9 and one in I Timothy 1:10 have been taken at least since the early twentieth century to indicate that "homosexuals" will be excluded from the kingdom of heaven.

The first of the two, "malakos" (basically, "soft"), is an extremely common Greek word; it occurs elsewhere in the New Testament with the meaning "sick" and in patristic writings with senses as varied as "liquid", "cowardly", "refined", "weak willed", "delicate", "gentle", and "debauched". In a specifically moral context it very frequently means "licentious", "loose", or "wanting in self-control". At a broad level, it might be translated as either "unrestrained" or "wanton", but to assume that either of these concepts necessarily applies to gay people is wholly gratuitous. The word is never used in Greek to designate gay people as a group or even in reference to homosexual acts generically, and it often occurs in writings contemporary with the Pauline epistles in reference to heterosexual persons or activity.

What is more to the point, the unanimous tradition of the church through the Reformation, and of Catholicism until well into the twentieth century, has been that this word applied to masturbation. This was the interpretation not only of native Greek speakers in the early Middle Ages but of the very theologians who most contributed to the stigmatization of homosexuality. No new textual data effected the twentieth-century change in translation of this word: only a shift in popular morality. Since few people any longer regard masturbation as the sort of activity which would preclude entrance to heaven, the condemnation has simply been transferred to a group still so widely despised that their exclusion does not trouble translators or theologians.

The second word, "arsenokoitai", is quite rare, and its application to homosexuality in particular is more understandable. The best evidence, however, suggests very strongly that it did not connote homosexuality to Paul or his contemporaries but meant "male prostitute" until well into the fourth century, after which it became confused with a variety of words for disapproved sexual activity and was often equated with homosexuality.

The remaining passage, Romans 1:26-27, does not suffer from mistranslation, although little attention has been paid to the ramifications of its wording: "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" (KJV).

It is sometimes argued that the significance of the passage lies in its connection with idolatry: i.e., that Paul censures the sexual behavior of the Romans because he associates such behavior with orgiastic pagan rites in honor of false gods. This might seem to be suggested by the Old Testament condemnations of temple prostitution. Paul may have been familiar with temple prostitution, both homosexual and heterosexual, and it is reasonable to conjecture that he is here warning the Romans against the immorality of the kadeshim. The fact that the overall structure of the chapter juxtaposes the sexual activities in question with the superstitious beliefs of the Romans adds further credence to this theory, as do possible Old Testament echoes.

Under closer examination, however, this argument proves to be inadequate. First of all, there is no reason to believe that homosexual temple prostitution was more prevalent than heterosexual or that Paul, had he been addressing himself to such practices, would have limited his comments to the former. Second, it is clear that the sexual behavior itself is objectionable to Paul, not merely its associations. Third, and possibly most important, Paul is not describing cold-blooded, dispassionate acts performed in the interest of ritual or ceremony: he states very clearly that the parties involved "burned in their lust one toward another" ([Greek text omitted]). It is unreasonable to infer from the passage that there was any motive for the behavior other than sexual desire.

On the other hand, it should be recognized that the point of the passage is not to stigmatize sexual behavior of any sort but to condemn the Gentiles for their general infidelity. There was a time, Paul implies, when monotheism was offered to or known by the Romans, but they rejected it (vv. 19-23). The reference to homosexuality is simply a mundane analogy to this theological sin; it is patently not the crux of this argument. Once the point has been made, the subject of homosexuality is quickly dropped and the major argument resumed (vv. 28ff.).

What is even more important, the persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons. The whole point of Romans I in fact, is to stigmatize persons who have rejected their calling, gotten off the true path they were once on. It would completely undermine the thrust of the argument if the persons in question were not "naturally" inclined to the opposite sex in the same way they were "naturally" inclined to monotheism. What caused the Romans to sin was not that they lacked what Paul considered proper inclinations but that they had them: they held the truth, but "in unrighteousness" (v. 18), because "they did not see fit to retain Him in their knowledge" (v. 28).

This aspect of the verses, overlooked by modern scholarship, did not escape the attention of early Christian writers. Noting that Paul carefully characterized the persons in question as having abandoned the "natural use", Saint John Chrysostom commented that Paul thus:

" deprives them of any excuse, . . . observing of their women that they "did change the natural use". No one can claim, he points out, that she came to this because she was precluded from lawful intercourse or that because she was unable to satisfy her desire she fell into this monstrous depravity. Only those possessing something can change it ....

Again, he points out the same thing about the men, in a different way, saying they "left the natural use of the woman". Likewise he casts aside with these words every excuse, charging that they not only had [legitimate] enjoyment and abandoned it, going after a different one, but that spurning the natural they pursued the unnatural.

Although the idea that homosexuality represented a congenital physical characteristic was widespread in the Hellenistic world--and undoubtedly well known to Chrysostom--it is not clear that Paul distinguished in his thoughts or writings between gay persons (in the sense of permanent sexual preference) and heterosexuals who simply engaged in periodic homosexual behavior. It is in fact unlikely that many Jews of his day recognized such a distinction, but it is quite apparent that--whether or not he was aware of their existence--Paul did not discuss gay persons but only homosexual acts comitted by heterosexual persons.

There is, however, no clear condemnation of homosexual acts in the verses in question. The expression "against nature" is the standard English equivalent of Paul's Greek phrase "para physin" which was first used in this context by Plato. Its original sense has been almost wholly obscured by 2,000 years of repetition in stock phrases and by the accretion of associations inculcated by social taboos, patristic and Reformation theology, Freudian psychology, and personal misgivings.

The concept of "natural law" was not fully developed until more than a millennium after Paul's death, and it is anachronistic to read it into his words. For Paul, "nature" was not a question of universal law or truth but, rather, a matter of the character of some person or group of persons, a character which was largely ethnic and entirely human: Jews are Jews "by nature", just as Gentiles are Gentiles "by nature". "Nature" is not a moral force for Paul: men may be evil or good "by nature", depending on their own disposition. A possessive is always understood with "nature" in Pauline writings: it is not "nature" in the abstract but someone's "nature", the Jews' "nature" or the Gentiles' "nature" or even the pagan gods' "nature" ("When ye knew not God, ye did service unto them which by nature [i.e., by _their_ nature] are no gods", Gal. 4:8, KJV).

"Nature" in Romans I :26, then, should be understood as the personal nature of the pagans in question. This is made even clearer by the strikingly similar passage in the Testament of Japhtali, a roughly contemporary document whose comment on this subject was obviously influenced by (if not an influence on) Paul's remarks. "The Gentiles, deceived and having abandoned the Lord, changed their order.... [Be ye not therefore] like Sodom, which changed the order of its nature. Likewise also the Watchers changed the order of their nature . . . (3.3.4-5).

"Against" is, moreover, a somewhat misleading translation of the preposition "para". In New Testament usage "para" connotes not "in opposi- tion to" (expressed by "kata") but, rather, "more than", "in excess of"; immediately before the passage in question, for example, what the King James renders as "more than" (the creator) is the same preposition. Finally, this exact same phrase "para physin" is used later in the same epistle to describe the activity of God in saving the Gentiles: "For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature [para physin] into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree?" (Rom. I l :24, KJV). Since God himself is here described as acting "against nature", it is inconceivable that this phrase necessarily connotes moral turpitude. Rather, it signifies behavior which is unexpected, unusual, or different from what would occur in the normal order of things: "beyond nature", perhaps, but not "immoral". There is no implication of the contravening of "natural law" in Paul's use of this phrase, and for Christians familiar with all of the books which now comprise the New Testament the phrase may have had no negative implications at all; in 2 Peter 2 :12, for example, a similar passage employs "natural" as a term of derogation.

Paul believed that the Gentiles knew of the truth of God but rejected it and likewise rejected their true "nature" as regarded their sexual appetites, going beyond what was "natural" for them and what was approved for the Jews. It cannot be inferred from this that Paul considered mere homoerotic attraction or practice morally reprehensible, since the passage strongly implies that he was not discussing persons who were by inclination gay and since he carefully observed, in regard to both the women and the men, that they changed or abandoned the "natural use" to engage in homosexual activities.

In sum, there is only one place in the writings which eventually became the Christian Bible where homosexual relations per se are clearly prohibited--Leviticus--and the context in which this prohibition occurred rendered it inapplicable to the Christian community, at least as moral law. It is almost never cited as grounds for objection to homosexual acts (except allegorically; see chap 6). The notion that Genesis 19--the account of Sodom's destruction--condemned homosexual relations was the result of myths popularized during the early centuries of the Christian era but not universally accepted until much later and only erratically invoked in discussions of the morality of gay sexuality. Many patristic authors concluded that the point of the story was to condemn inhospitality to strangers; others understood it to condemn rape; most interpreted it in broadly allegorical terms, only tangentially related to sexuality. There was no word in classical Hebrew or Greek for "homosexual", and there is no evidence, linguistic or historical, to suggest that either the kadeshim of the Old Testament or the arsenokotai of the New were gay people or particularly given to homosexual practices. On the contrary, it is clear that these words merely designated types of prostitutes: in the case of the former, those associated with pagan temples; in that of the latter, active (as opposed to passive) male prostitutes servicing either sex.

Romans I did not condemn homosexual behavior as "against nature" in the sense of the violation of "natural law". No clear idea of "natural law" existed in Paul's time or for many centuries thereafter. To Paul, the activities in question were beyond nature in the sense of "extraordinary, peculiar", as was the salvation of the Gentiles, described with the same phrase. Moreover, the persons referred to were considered by influential early Christian theologians to have been necessarily heterosexual (i.e., "naturally" attracted to the opposite sex). There was no implication in the passage that homosexual acts, much less homosexual persons, were necessarily sinful.