- Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?
- Was Sodom the First All-Gay City?
- Sex at Sodom: Was it “Homosexual”?
- Does Leviticus Actually Condemn Same-Sex Intercourse?
- Leviticus 18: A Text Dripping with Blood
- Leviticus 18 & 20 Revisited…for Real
- Are Leviticus 18 & 20 Still Relevant for Christians?
- Homosexuality in Ancient Rome & Why It Matters
- Was “Homosexuality” Unknown to Paul?
- Biological Influences on Same Sex Attraction According to Rome
- Jesus & Homosexuality
- Jesus, Sexuality, & Same-Sex Love
- Jesus, Unconditional Love, & LGBT
- Celibate Gay Christians
- Homosexuality & Romans 1
- Does Romans 1 Only Prohibit Illicit Same Sex Activity?
- Maybe Romans 1:24-27 Is About Purity But Not Sin?
- Is Romans 1 About Straight People Having Gay Sex?
- Does Romans 1 Address Specific Idolatrous Forms of Homosexuality?
- Paul Prohibits Homosexual Sex–But Why?
In my previous post in this series, I summed up five arguments against the so-called traditional reading of Romans 1, which
prohibits homosexual relations. I’m going to spend 5 blogs addressing these arguments beginning with the first one, which reads:
Romans 1 does not consider homosexual acts to be inherently sinful. Rather, Paul has in mind excessive lust and illicit same-sex activity (sex outside of marriage, sex with boys, orgies, etc.). Paul does not have in mind loving, consensual, monogamous sex between partners of the same gender.
Of the five arguments against the traditional reading, this one is the weakest to my mind. Here’s why.
First, the passage can’t be limited to pederasty (sex with boys), because Paul begins with sex among females and pederasty between a woman and a boy, or a woman and a girl, was unknown in the ancient world. It wasn’t an available category for Paul to assume. And since he connects lesbian sex with gay sex by using the word “likewise” in 1:27 he seems to have similar practices in view. In other words, pederasty or other forms of male-male exploitative sex couldn’t have been in view in 1:26 (lesbian sex), and it therefore probably isn’t in view in 1:27 (gay sex). (Please note: a small minority of scholars don’t think 1:26 refers to lesbian sex [most recently, James Brownson]. If they’re right, then this counterargument falls apart.)
Second, there were many words and phrases available to Paul if he was only thinking of illicit sexual activity. If he had pederasty in mind, there were specific words he could have used, but he didn’t. If he had orgies or prostitution in mind, other words were available, but he didn’t use these. In fact, Paul uses the most general words and phrases that he could: “Women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” and “men…gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (1:26-27).
Third, if Paul had in mind both the victim and victimizer (pederasty, rape, etc.), he wouldn’t have condemned both partners. But he says that they both receive “in themselves the due penalty for their error” (1:27). Now, I’m not sure what Paul means by “due penalty;” it’s probably not AIDS or other venereal diseases as is sometimes thought. But the fact that Paul says their (plural) shows that both partners are committing some error. Since both, according to Paul, are guilty, he’s probably not thinking of exploitative sex.
Fourth, Paul uses a common Jewish and Greco-Roman designation for homosexual sex: “against nature” (or “unnatural”—para physin). This phrase was used quite frequently by certain moral philosophers and Hellenistic Jews to refer to various types of homosexual sex: pederasty, lesbian sex, consensual homosexual acts, etc. When ancient writers had a specific type of homosexual sex in mind, they’d usually state this explicitly.
For instance, Plutarch describes male homosexual sex as “contrary to nature” and the love between men and women as “natural” (te physei). Why? Because the passive male partner forfeits his male status by acting like a female (Dialogue on Love, 751C, E).
Plato says that homosexual sex of all forms is “contrary to nature” and even uses the same phrases as Paul in Romans 1:26 (Laws 636c, 841d). Why? Because homosexual sex is the result of excessive passion and it cannot procreate (Laws 772de, 838d-839d).
Josephus agrees: “The Law recognizes no sexual connections except for the natural (kata physin) union of man and wife, and that only for the procreation of children” (Against Apion 2.199).
Philo singles out pederasty as “an unnatural pleasure” (ten para physin hedonen) (Spec. Leg. 3.37-42; cf. Abr. 133-141), but also condemns lesbianism on the same grounds: acting contrary to nature (QG. 2.49; Virt. 20-21; Her. 274).
Another Hellenistic Jew says that male homosexual acts “transgress with unlawful sex the limits set by nature.” His reasoning? “For even animals are not pleased by intercourse of male with male” (Ps. Phoc. 190-91).
What’s the point of all this? To show that within Paul’s world, “against nature” was an umbrella term that applied to all types of homosexual sex. When an author had a more specific type in view (pederasty, lesbian sex, etc.), or a specific reason in view (inability to procreate, animals don’t do it, it feminizes the passive partner, etc.), they made this clear.
But Paul doesn’t. There is nothing in the text of Romans 1 that limits the type of homosexual sex in view, and Paul doesn’t clearly give us a specific reason other than that it’s “against nature.” Why does Paul believe it’s against nature? Is it because gay sex doesn’t procreate, or because animals engage in heterosexual sex (which is actually false)? Paul doesn’t say.
Paul simply condemns homosexual sex by using the broad umbrella phrase para physin (“against nature”) without further qualification. All attempts to smuggle in such qualifications are unconvincing.
But alas, there are 4 more arguments against the traditional view! So if you’re convinced by my counterargument in this post, you’d better grab another cup of coffee because we’ve still got a lot of work to do.
But if you’re not convinced, I’d love to hear why. Again, as always, these blogs represent my “working thoughts” not some dogma etched in stone. Show me where I’m off (or highlight where I’m right); I want to keep interacting with this important text. I genuinely want to be biblical, not support my tradition at all cost.