Natural and Romans 1

And the question of the New Testament’s attitude toward homosexuality revolves around the first chapter of the book of Romans. Let’s face it, the language of Romans 1 is pretty uncompromising.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In 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.

Unlike the Old Testament, it’s pretty clear that Paul would recognize what we call homosexual behavior today. At least from the ancient Greeks onward, such behavior, entirely divorced from religious practices, was known.

The way around this text, according to some, is to declare that for them, attraction to the same sex is “natural.” According to this interpretation, then, it was not same-sex sexual behavior that Paul was describing, but heterosexuals who abandoned what was natural to them.

There are two problems with this. First, the question isn’t what we think it is natural for us, but what did Paul think when he was writing these words. He was trying to convey his understanding to us. If he meant what was natural to each individual, as gay apologists would have it, it is entirely unclear on the text. This leads to the second problem, which is the logic of the entire passage. The entire passage describes a systematic rejection of the natural order. For example, they exchange the worship of the immortal God, for  images of mortal men and animals; they exchanged the creator for the creation;they exchanged the truth for a lie; and they exchanged the created relationship between a man and a woman for sexual relations with the same-sex.

The entire passage is talking about grand themes, not individual sensibilities. It’s talking about whole classes of things, not individual instances. One might as well take the postmodern view that when Paul says”they exchanged the truth for a lie,” he didn’t mean “the truth,” he meant their personal truths. Whatever we may think about absolute truth, Paul was thinking about truth as a category, and in this passage, as the opposite of untruth.

Frankly, I cannot see any way to be fair to the passage, and conclude anything other than that Paul is describing homosexual behavior in the most negative terms.

Having said that however, we have no warrant to hate or stigmatize individuals because they are tempted to certain behaviors. We are all tempted, and we all fail. That, in fact, is part of the message of the first chapters of the book of Romans. Paul declares:

8The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

in Chapter 1, he focuses on gentiles, those who do not pretend to keep the law. But a chapter 2, the focus is on the Jews, those who believe they do. Paul’s point is that everyone is under condemnation — we’re all in the same boat, we all need the grace of Christ. So while it seems pretty clear to me that Romans condemns what we call homosexual behavior, it also condemns a number of things I may be guilty of.

So, I’ll make this bargain with you. I won’t hate you, and you don’t hate me. How about that?

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