- 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?
I’ve been on a short hiatus from blogging about homosexuality and the Bible (producing joy in some readers, and protest in others). Thanksgiving, finals’ week, and setting up the Christmas tree prevented me from finishing our discussion. Since the tree is up and I’ve almost digested all that turkey, I thought it would be good to finish our study of Romans 1, as promised.
Again, by way of reminder, I’m in the process of wrestling with the five main critiques of the traditional interpretation of Romans 1 (i.e. that Paul prohibits all forms of same sex intercourse). I’ve already covered the first three in previous posts.
The fourth argument against the traditional view points out that Paul is only talking about those types of homosexual behavior that are connected with idolatry. After all, Rom 1:23-25 explicitly says that the people in question were idolatrous and “therefore” God gave them over to homosexual relations, among many other things listed in 1:24-32.
I don’t know about you, but this argument seems very convincing. Look, I’m an exegete; a “Biblicist” if you will. This means that I try to look closely at what the text actually says. I’m not afraid to go where the text leads even if it offends the consensus or a particular theological tradition. After all, I’m not going to stand before some tradition or a group of pastors on judgment day. I’m going to stand before the holy God of Israel—my Creator, Savior, and Judge—and give an account to the one who breathed out His word. My allegiance is to the text (that is, the God of the text), and this far outweighs my allegiance to a traditional view of sexuality.
So I was impressed by this counterargument when I first came across it in Justin Lee’s outstanding book Torn. Justin pointed out that the gay and lesbians addressed in Rom 1:25-27 are the same ones who worshiped idols in 1:23. This of course raises the question: What does Paul think of gay people who don’t worship idols? Justin suggests that Romans 1 doesn’t clearly address these people. It only talks about idolatrous forms of homosexual sex.
This seemed like a slam-dunk, nail-in-the-coffin argument against the traditional view. But then I looked closer at Paul’s argument. Something Justin didn’t notice (or at least didn’t address) is the fact that the language of idolatry in 1:19-23 has deep roots in the creation account of Genesis 1-3. God, who is called “the Creator” (1:25), has been revealing himself “ever since the creation of the world” (1:20). Moreover, the use of “females” and “males” in Rom 1:26-27 (instead of “women” and “men”) almost certainly alludes back to Gen 1:27 (LXX). And, if you keep your finger in Genesis 1, you’ll see that Rom 1:23 clearly echoes Gen 1:26. Less clear, though probable, connections between Romans 1 and Genesis 1-3 are references to “the lie” (Rom 1:25), shame (Rom 1:27; cf. Gen 3:1, 8), knowledge (Rom 1:19, 21, 28, 32; cf. Gen 2:17; 3:5), and sentence of death (Rom 1:32; cf. Gen 2:17; 3:4-5, 20, 23).
Whatever is going on in Romans 1, Paul sees the problem as abandoning the created order.
So, what does this mean? What it means is that Paul does not seem to link homosexual sex to some first-century form of idolatry. When Paul talks about idolatry, he’s referring to a general turn from Creator to creation exhibited in Genesis 3. Paul therefore seems to be using homoeroticism as a symptom of the Fall of mankind, not the byproduct of Roman idolatry.
This is why Paul goes on to list a shotgun of sins in 1:28-32. He’s not saying that envy, covetousness, murder, slander, and other sins are only wrong if they are connected with idolatry: You can murder all your want, but just don’t bow down to Zeus when you’re through. What he’s saying is that all of these sins are byproducts of the Fall—turning from the Creator to creation.
Still, I keep reading interpreters who say that Paul does not have creation in view. For instance, Matthew Vines, whom many consider to have made the best biblical argument against the traditional view, tries to show that the terms “natural” and “unnatural” have nothing to do with Genesis. He says: “It’s commonly assumed by those who hold to the traditional interpretation that these terms refer back to Genesis 1 and 2, and are intended to define heterosexuality as God’s natural design and homosexuality as an unnatural distortion of that design.” Vines goes on to argue (with little historical evidence) that “nature” refers to one’s own personal disposition, not God’s creational intention. However, he ignores the close connection between “natural” and “unnatural” right there in Romans 1. Whatever we make of the terms “natural” and “unnatural,” we can’t ignore that Paul uses these terms on the heels of the creation account and Fall in Genesis 1-3.
To sum it up, the idolatry mentioned in 1:23-25 is not a specific form of idolatry in the Roman world, but humanity’s general turn from their Creator to the creation. So, contrary to what I used to think about Romans 1, I don’t see clear reason to link the type of homosexuality in Romans 1 to a specific idolatrous form of it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. What am I missing?