Romans 1:25-27,Homosexuality and the Bible, Part III of VIII
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
//Question 1 of 5: Could we be reading the one N.T. reference to homosexuality wrong?
Yesterday, I pointed out that there are two, and only two, places in the Bible which speak against homosexuality. One is in the Holiness Code of Leviticus, and the other is here in the epistle to the Romans. This is the ONLY passage in the New Testament criticizing homosexuality. Since the Bible itself advises a double witness, we should be extremely careful in how we interpret this one passage.
So what did Paul mean? First, let’s put the verses in context. These verses are positioned not as a sin but as a punishment. Repeatedly throughout this chapter, Paul lists a sin and with it its punishment. In this case, the sin is idolatry; the punishment is giving them up to their passions; and the people being punished are described as wicked, covetous, malicious, envious, murderous, deceitful, and evil-minded. So, if you apply Paul’s letter to your gay neighbor, you are labeling him as evil in all these ways.
But what does it mean to “give them up to their passions”, passions that are “against nature?”
Paul was a product of his times, so to understand what he was talking about, we must understand the social setting in the first century. The word to learn is “pederasty.” It refers to an acceptable form of same-sex encounters in the Greek and Roman world, defined by one strong partner (acting as the male, if you will) and one weak partner (acting as the female). It was considered a sort of mentor-student relationship, like men with boys. Surely Paul found this “unnatural”–a word which for him did not mean perverse, but against the norm, just as for Paul long hair on a man was “unnatural”.
For the Romans–the audience of Paul’s letter–pederasty came to be particularly disturbing: it began to crop up between a free man and his slave. It was, in other words, no longer consensual sex.
This, explain many scholars, is the real target of Paul’s warning. He was thinking of same-sex rape. In this light, we can now understand how Paul considered “homosexual relations” a punishment, not a sin! Could we have been reading Paul wrong all this time?
Tomorrow, we’ll look at how Paul seems to contradict his own teaching on this matter.