Monday, March 12, 2007

Homosexuality and Romans 1

Someone asked me to address the issue of homosexuality and the Bible. Rushing in like a fool, I wanted to examing this passage in Romans 1: 26-27.

Romans 1: 26-27 reads

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural 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 their perversion.
Does this passage provode an argument that homosexuality is always sinful? The "pro-gay" response goes like this: Yes, of course, if your natural sexuality is heterosexual and you "exchange" that for homosexuality, that would be wrong, but what if your natural sexual orientation is homosexual? Then you really haven't exchanged your natural desires for anything, since you were naturally homosexual to begin with.

Or is Paul implying that there are no people whose natural orientation is homosexual? What is clear is that it is not directly taught in the passage. Perhaps what this shows is how little can be demonstrated by appealing to a single passage.

The following is a link to viewpoints on the issue, but pro and con.


Anonymous said...

Here's a look at the passage from the guy who's too harsh sometimes:

On a separate but related note, are there any Critical Thinking/Logic texts/books out there you would recommend as a professor? I'm tried Norman Geisler, Antony Flew, Peter Kreeft, Anthony Weston, Alex Fisher, etcs'... books on logic/critical thinking but in the end I never come away feeling more competent in real analysis of argument.

Jason Pratt said...

Well, it hardly gives positive approval of homosexual actions; on the contrary, Paul is clearly expecting his readers (Jewish and Roman-Gentile alike--which is plausible for common inhabitants of Rome, I think) to find such a result abhorent, because he takes that opportunity to set up an interesting ethical trap _for his audience_: yes, indeed, what they are doing _is_ shamefully wrong, and God gave them over to do even worse things, for which the punishment from God is _also_ certainly coming, like murder, war, lying... gossip... disobedience to parents... slander... _unmercifulness_... which they not only continue to do, despite knowing very well such things are worthy of death, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.

Therefore (he continues!) _you yourselves_ are without excuse, every one of you who is passing judgment (e.g. on the aforementioned pagans given over to homosexuality), for insofar as you judge the other, you are judging yourelf: for you yourselves who are judging are doing exactly the same sort of things! And we _know_ (because he has just led them into agreeing with him, against the danged pagans!) that the judgment of God is according to truth (i.e. rightly falls) upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, O man who is passing judgment upon those who are doing such things (as the homosexuality mentioned earlier) yet are doing the same yourself, that _you_ will escape the judgment of God?! Or do you think so lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that it is the kindness of God that leads you to repentence?! But because of _your_ (i.e. his Christian audience's) stubbornness and unrepentant heart, _you_ are storing up wrath _for yourself_ in the day of wrath and revelation, of the righteous judgment of God! (etc. etc.)

To which those who feel oppressed by us due to their homosexuality, may well say, "Amen!" {g} (Not quoting from Paul here, exactly. {g}) _BUT!_--that Amen comes at a price: it depends entirely on the homosexuality actually being wrong, too; in this case (if not elswhere) a debased result of the people whom Paul is talking about, having abandoned what they themselves of knew about God even in their own culture (meaning Romans 1 leading into this is _NOT_ talking about atheism, per se, btw. Though that can be demonstrated other ways as well.) Which credit to them fits in very well with what Paul says next in chp 2; not only that God works in cultures without the Torah to leave them without excuse but also to _defend them_ before the judgment seat of Christ for doing righteousness according to the best light they can see.

In short, it isn't really about homosexuality. {s} But insofar as it's a topic, Paul is as much against it as he is against murder, war, gossip, uncharity and unmercifulness to pagan homosexuals. So either he's being wildly self-contradictory, or else he knows and is trying to teach something about God's attitude toward judging and punishing sinners (whoever those sinners are, be they people doing sins most repugnant to his audience or his audience themselves) that Paul's own Christian audience hasn't quite gotten yet.

(And maybe in some cases still haven't gotten, almost 2000 years later...)


Jarrod said...

Though I lack the desire to get into a long-winded debate over this issue (as I have had this same debate roughly thirty times in the past month alone), I did want to comment on this passage and the issue of homosexuality in the Bible as a whole.

According to my studies of the ancient Hebrew and Greek, as well as the historical considerations during the time periods of the biblical texts, I have come to the following conclusions.

First and foremost, Christians should follow the example of Jesus Christ. When we look at the gosples, we find that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. However, he did have very much to say about divorce and remarriage; a practice that the modern church - even in the most fundamentalist and evangelical circles - has come to accept as "the norm."

Secondly, we should look at the writings of Paul in context to homosexuality very carefully. Paul's words that are used in references to homosexuality (Rom. 1.18-27, 1 Cor. 6.9, and 1 Tim. 1.10) are difficult cases to prove against homosexuality. The main reason is that the word that is modernly translated in 1 Corintians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 as "homosexual" is a Greek word (arsenokoitai) which no biblical scholar (if they're being 100% honest) truly knows its meaning. It should be noted that before the 14th century, this Greek word was translated as "masturbation" and it was not until the publication of the 1946 Revised Standard New Testament that the word "homosexual" was ever printed in the Bible. (I find it interesting that in the Hebrew and Greek language, which the Bible was originally written in, there is no word for "homosexual," nor any word that comes close.)

The case found in Romans 1 deserves a better reading. From the consensus of scholars and most conclusive evidence, we know that Paul wrote his letter to the Roman church while in the city of Corinth. Corinth was where the worship of Aphrodite, the goddess of sex, love, lust, and beauty was at its highest. The worship of Aphrodite involved its participants having sex with the temple prostitutes, often times playing the role of the opposite gender, which gives us the phrase "trading natural relations for unnatural ones." After reading this chapter, does it not seem that Paul is condemning a cult-practice rather of lust, idolatry, and a misuse of sex than the relationships found in monogamous homosexuals? Perhaps that is why Paul labels the sins (several times) that they are committing as lust and idolatry.

There are verses in the Old Testament as well, specifically in the book of Leviticus that declares a man to lie with another man as a woman an abomination (Lev. 18:22). Leviticus is divided up into Moral Codes and Purity Codes. Most scholars, even the most conservative ones, will have to conceed that the text about homosexuality in Leviticus is found in the Section of Hebrew Purity Codes.

My point is that if we are to take seriously the law in Leviticus about homosexuality (which also calls us to kill the perpetrators), we must also obey the Sabbath (no more going to baseball games, the grocery store, or the mall on Saturdays), obstain from touching the skin of a pig - much less eating it (so much for football), no longer touch our wives or the things they touch when they are menstruating, etc.

These are just the conclusions that I have drawn; not posted here to create a huge debate, just to show the other side of the discussion.

Jason Pratt said...

Since it's likely Jarrod is going to be flamed, I figured it might as well be by someone who has already posted as having peculiar ideas about condemnation, judgment, what's going on in Rom 1 (and 2, and throughout the first half for that matter), etc. {s}

i.e., it won't be flaming, though it will be disagreement in several regards.

Jarrod (and hereafter): {{However, [Jesus] did have very much to say about divorce and remarriage; a practice that the modern church - even in the most fundamentalist and evangelical circles - has come to accept as "the norm."}}

An entirely fair point.

{{When we look at the gosples, we find that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.}}

If you're talking about His ministry during the Incarnation (and if we take His Incarnation seriously, the scope of report about what "Jesus said" needs to be expanded somewhat beyond the Gospels, btw), I agree nothing is obviously reported about that--unless perhaps the 'men dressed in soft clothing' count, compared disparagingly to JohnBapt in a bit of throwaway irony. 'Malakon' is a technical term for catamites, used by Greek writers of antiquity and borrowed by Paul in one of his epistles. But the reference (from Jesus, I mean, which is admittedly different and more detailed in the Matt/Luke synoptic account, compared to the Pauline mention) doesn't _have to_ mean that; and even if it does, while certainly not positive it's hardly condemning.

Whereas, on the other hand, any reference to Sodom is likely to include the behavior of the rape mob by association--and Jesus promises that Sodom (i.e. the people of Sodom) will rise in the last day to stand as a witness against other cities which had better opportunities than Sodom did. Nor should this be surprising, since God (though probably referring to Egypt or another southern nation by allegory) instructed Ezekiel to pass on a message to Israel, that Sodom having been destroyed would repent and enter into fellowship with Him, being redeemed!

So, two possible connotations, both negative, but one hopeful.

If the rapacity of the mob, which is what is clearly remembered afterward in subsequent references to Sodom archetypically, is put up _in contrast to_ their homosexuality, then fine, whatever--so long as we don't just forget the other--since the point even then is that God still has hope for Sodom. i.e. even if God leads authoritative writers elsewhere to condemn homosexuality (not just homosexual rape attempts) along with murder, lying, gossip, slander, etc. as things that deserve death, it doesn't mean that the condemnation is hopeless; much less that homosexuals are being specially singled out, since murder and adultery are defined with maximum broadness by Jesus Himself, and the notion of gossip and other 'little' sins being given the death penalty may seem kind of ridiculous to most of us. We're all put in the same boat together: "all shut up together in transgression", as Paul puts it later in Romans, climaxing his main argument for the first half of the letter, "so that God may show mercy to all!"

But, it _is_ the same boat. Gossip is bad; uncharity is bad; unmercifulness is bad; lying is bad; murder is bad; strife (which should probably be used instead of war, per se {self-correction from earlier}) is bad; adultery is bad...

...and...? That list occasionally includes something else, too.

{{The main reason is that the word that is modernly translated in 1 Corintians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 as "homosexual" is a Greek word (arsenokoitai) which no biblical scholar (if they're being 100% honest) truly knows its meaning.}}

I agree, arsenokoitai could easily refer to masturbation--which, incidentally, has more than a few links to homosexuality, in principle. But I agree, it would be profitable to include _that_ notion in the word, too.

'Malakon', however, is used in parallel conjunction with arsenokoites in 1 Cor, and it _does_ have a commonly attested 'slang' meaning in Greek writers. It means the feminine-behaving partner to a male homosexual relationship.

{{(I find it interesting that in the Hebrew and Greek language, which the Bible was originally written in, there is no word for "homosexual," nor any word that comes close.)}}

'Homosexual' literally means 'sexual man' (or even 'fleshly man' insofar as 'sex' is related to the Greek word 'sarx'.) So if we followed that principle, we would have to say that anyone since the invention of the term 'homosexual', pro or con, _wasn't_ meaning men sexually stimulating men and/or women sexually stimulating women! (Doesn't "gay" mean 'happy' or 'cheerful'? That's nothing to do with homosexuality, either. A "lesbian" is simply someone who comes from the island of Lesbos, isn't he? It doesn't mean a woman who has sex with women. Until we get to very crude epithets, most of our own modern references pro or con are similarly discreet.)

Whereas, we also commonly use the euphamism 'to sleep with' for sex (even though it doesn't strictly mean sexual activity)--and where did we get this? From antiquity, including biblical language. ('Arsenokoites' means 'male-curler'; coitus, still a technical term for sex today, simply means 'to curl up with'.)

Besides which, the act is described well enough in scriptural language (Hebrew and Greek alike) that it's kind of ridiculous to suppose that a lack of an absolutely explicit term means nothing is ever said about it. (Rom 1:26-27 being a good example, to be discussed presently.)

So, yeah, a biblical scholar _can_ in fact be 100% honest and say that arsenokoites (as well as malakon, and several other even more euphamistic terms, such as 'dog' being occasionally used for male prostitutes in Hebrew/Aramaic) has a particular meaning in relation to something that's opposed pretty much everywhere in scripture whenever it's mentioned or alluded to, from Genesis to the end of RevJohn. ('Dogs' show up again in the final chapter there with sorcerers, murderers, idolatrers, those who love and practice lying, etc. It's a pretty typical list.)

That's just how it is. I think it would be more "100% honest" to admit and allow, for better or for worse, that the Judeo-Christian scriptures teach against it; or at best are teaching against something else more fundamental using this as an overt example.

{{Paul wrote his letter to the Roman church while in the city of Corinth.}}

And wrote his letter to the Roman church to, y'know, Romans {g}--who were _not_ in the city of Corinth, and so might not necessarily be up-to-date on particulars of behavior in the prostitution temples there. Granted, though, he's probably talking about the Corinthian pagans. (And even if not them specifically, the Roman audience, _as_ Romans, even where Gentiles, would have recognized this kind of thing even _generally_, whether happening in Corinth or in Rome, as being Greek perversion. i.e. something done by those-nasty-people-over-there. Which is why Paul can lead them on to make his point about being unmercifully judgmental even against those-people-over-there.)

{{The worship of Aphrodite involved its participants having sex with the temple prostitutes, often times playing the role of the opposite gender, which gives us the phrase "trading natural relations for unnatural ones."}}

I _really_ don't think this helps the case any. If a man wants to have sex with a man, and there aren't any available at the temple today, so a woman volunteers to play the part of a malakon--then the problem Paul is talking about is _still_ that "the males, leaving the natural use of the female, were inflamed in their craving for one another, males with males effecting indecency." And since Paul is describing _this_ in terms of 'likewise', then _this_ is what was happening with the less detailed mention of "their females alter the natural use into that which is beside nature." Which means no, he wasn't talking in verse 26 about women pretending to be men for men. (Though doubtless he'd have had problems with that, too.)

{{After reading this chapter, does it not seem that Paul is condemning a cult-practice rather of lust, idolatry, and a misuse of sex than the relationships found in monogamous homosexuals?}}

Um, nope; after reading the chapter yet again, I find no distinction at all being made between monogamy and cult-practice. It's about males leaving the natural use of the female and craving one another instead, with women doing the same in parallel. That could be monogamy or cult-prostitution either one. (For goodness sake, if the argument elsewhere is supposed to be that arsenokoites might 'only' mean masturbation; how is that _NOT_ primarily 'monogamous'?? Or are we going to decide that he's okay with monogamous masturbation, but is speaking instead in 1 Cor against masturbation being done in alternation with sex involving persons other than one's self?!)

Granted, he says this came about _due to_ lust and idolatry, but it's kind of presented as being a pitiable punishment of that. (v. 24, "Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them." v. 26, "For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions." Whereupon Paul describes those degrading passions; which are that men crave men sexually and women women.)

{{My point is that if we are to take seriously the law in Leviticus about homosexuality (which also calls us to kill the perpetrators)}}

Kind of harsh for a mere purity code, isn't it? Plus, since you recognize not even allusion of the topic in the Gospels (or elsewhere in the NT), you're landing it all on Paul--who was pretty lenient about mere purity codes. So why isn't he being lenient here?

I suppose the argument could be attempted the other way around: Paul was actually pretty lenient about purity codes, even though he recognized that if people thought these involved sin then the people (like himself) who recognized there wasn't sin involved _ought not to try to force the other people to comply_, since then they'd be leading _those_ people into sin. (Which isn't very conducive to bishops trying to force parishoners to accept homosexuality, incidentally.) Therefore, since he was lenient about such things, and since homosexuality is spoken against in the purity codes, therefore he must have really been lenient about that, too. (Thus malakon, for instance, must mean something different than what Theophylact, Halicarnassus, Plutarch, etc., used it to mean. Men who dress up in women's clothes, or just in soft clothes, are to have no part in the kingdom, I guess. This would be taken as a moral _improvement_ to the condemnation...? By gays or anyone??)

I think it shouldn't take much introspection to figure, that even if leniency is granted--and btw we _do_ have Jesus talking about granting leniency in foods and Sabbath observance, whereas we don't have Him granting such leniency whenever He (maybe) approaches the topic of homosexuality (hope for redemption even though the people have already been zorched, yes; ironic comparison over-against people who have had more advantages and who expect such archetypal evildoers to be condemned in a we're-better-than-they-are fashion, yes; leniency per se, no)--there is still _some_ kind of important principle back there worth flagging with the death penalty.

And if we're going to talk seriously about the law in Leviticus _and_ talk seriously about Jesus as God Incarnate, then whatever else we do in regard to the law (and I agree there are several potential options worth considering), we have to treat Jesus as being the One Who gave that law. Unless we're going to just write off this law as being something merely attributed to God by whoever was promoting it, in which case I agree there's no religious reason to bother about it in the first place; or unless we're going to deny the divinity of Christ, in which case we probably have more important things to be discussing than homosexuality anyway. {s} Which, btw, is why I've always said that homosexuality is pretty far down on my list of theological priorities for discussion. {g} (Murdering and adultering my neighbor in my own heart takes much higher priority for me, too. {shrug}{s})


Darek Barefoot said...

We need to be careful when arguing from what is "natural." When Paul refers to nature as revealing God's purpose, he is by no means saying that everything natural is pleasing to God. He is approaching nature in a way conditioned by revealed truth to catch glimpses of God's purpose. Nature even in its fallenness shows us something about God, but nature in being fallen also gives rise to that which is abhorent to God.

Paul says that differences in dress and grooming between men and women reflect naturally God's desire for distinctiveness between the two (1 Cor 11:14-15). In the Mosaic Law, transvestism as well as homosexuality is condemned (Deut 22:5; Lev 18:22). The transvetite is not attracted to a style of dress for the sake of style, but to cross-identify with the opposite sex. A code of dress creating a boundary generally between men and women is necessary in order for the transvestite to satisfy his or her desire to cross that boundary. But the very fact that transvestism had to be addressed in a law written thousands of years ago shows that it is in one sense "natural." It is a perversion of nature that arises from nature itself. The urges of the transvestite may not be chosen any more than are those of the homosexual or even the pederast (just ask therapists trying to treat them), although cultivating and acting upon those urges as opposed to suppressing them involves the will.

Note that the Mosaic Law joins the prohibition against homosexuality with one against bestiality (Lev 18:22-23). Again, anything that humans are inclined to do, particularly behavior that recurs across wide spans of time and culture, arises out of nature. But clearly the Bible in both Leviticus 18 and Romans 1 is identifying as perverse certain natural tendencies. These are examples of fallen, disfigured nature ("the flesh") in rebellion against what is still discernible as the divine purpose within nature. This is the same type of appeal that Jesus makes regarding lifelong matrimony. God made them male and female and joined them profoundly together (Matt 19:4), a fact which the perversion of sin has not altogether obscured even apart from God's revealed word. But the kernel of Jesus' reasoning about the unnaturalness (in God's eyes) of divorce is equally devestating to homosexuality, since homosexuality violates the exclusivity of the union of male and female.

It does no favors to homosexuals to tell them that because their inclination arises naturally it reflects God's purpose for them, and that natural inclinations to sin (in any respect) cannot with God's help be overcome.

Jason Pratt said...

Ditto Derek, too, fwiw. {s}


Kuudere-Kun said...

I believe what Paul is addressing here is a specific practise that involved being the passive partner in Anal Sex. Hence why it's only specified as Homosexual in nature for the Men.

But we also need to remember the grander context here was Paganism and Idolatry.

I've written on my views on Sexuality in depth on my "Socially Liberal Fundamentalist" blog.