Posts Tagged ‘ Romans ’

Jamaican Christians And Homosexuality- Response

The In Focus section of the Sunday Gleaner, carried a column wrttiten by Martin Henry entitled : Jamaican Christians And Homosexuality (read it here: http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110918/focus/focus4.html); which seemed to be an article invoking fear and preaching doom and destruction.  He referred to a few well know ‘clobber passages’ including Genesis 2, Leviticus 18 & 20 and Romans 1.  Below is my response to his column, it was also sent to the Gleaner (columns & editor), hopefully it will be published.

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I dare speak for the LGBT Jamaican community, however I must first start by saying shame on you Martin Henry, not shame on you for giving us your opinion, rather shame on you for using fear, deep fear to push what may seem to very many as ‘your agenda’.

You see Mr. Henry; you started right off with the fear that Jamaicans and our churches will be forced to accept homosexuality as normal and have no objections. I disagree; LGBT Jamaicans are calling for the respect of their rights. It is my firm belief that those who oppose homosexuality should be allowed to do so, at the same time those who have differing views should also be allowed to voice those, without threat of physical harm, and/or other forms of discrimination.

There is no dispute that God created male and female; however you seem to be indicating an exclusive plan which is not supported by scripture. You tell us that, ‘the scribe having narrated the creation of woman from a rib of man concluded, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus clearly had no intention of disturbing that order’, are you therefore saying that it is not God’s plan that anyone remain single? Must we then conclude the prophets Elijah and Elisha, the apostles John and Paul, and even Jesus himself, lived outside of God’s plan? I highly doubt that, the majority of the text simply describes the circumstances surrounding the first marriage, with no judgment being expressed or implied about the diversity of marital forms that would follow.

Sodom and Gomorrah was condemned to destruction before the angels went to the city (Genesis 18:20), this erroneous interpretation that the city was destroyed because of homosexuality is wrong, Ezekiel 16:49-52 tells us what those sins were.

The Old Testament prohibits male same-sex sexual activity, and occurs within the context of idol worship. Only one passage in the New Testament refers to both female and male same-sex sexual activity, again it is referred to within the context of idol worship. The other New Testament passages when read in its context and without the biased interpretation rather than translation of the original words, will give us a much better understanding of what exactly is being condemned contrary to the popular belief that they expressly prohibit and condemn homosexuality.

In countries where state and church are separate, it never ceases to amaze me that churches receive special treatment and special provisions to trample over the rights of those who do not ascribe to the tenets of Christianity, while they cry foul and doom and strike fear into the hearts of many, as LGBT Jamaicans attempt to have their basic human rights respected. Let me reiterate I believe that all should be able to state their disapproval of homosexuality and use the Bible or their holy scripture to advocate such. However, how intolerant and bigoted it is to believe that only your view must be allowed to be heard and seen?

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Let’s wrap this up: 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy clearly say homosexuality is wrong!?

We’ve reached the last of the clobber passage. We will now take a look at those that include some of the previous passages; such as those that refer to Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Romans passages. The passages covered in the following article, taken from the Gay Christian Fellowship’s website, covers 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. Most Christians will tell you that scripture validates scripture and so also, rely on these passages. It is important that you read keenly so you can see exactly what it is the Bible says.

The article can be read at the following website: http://gaychristianfellowship.com/articles.php?aid=1019&cid=6

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The vice lists of the apostle Paul are two passages most commonly used by opponents of affirming theology in their condemnation of homosexuality. At face value, most English translations certainly seem to back up their assertion that homosexuality is condemned in Scripture; but as we have seen with the previous examinations in this series, face value has too often led to misinterpretations and misapplications of Scripture. So, let’s reexamine these vice lists in detail and determine whether or not Paul is, in fact, condemning homosexuality (as an orientation) and/or same-sex sexual activity.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [malakoi], nor abusers of themselves with mankind[arsenokoitai],  [10]  Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”

1Corinthians 6:9-10

 

“Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,  [10]  For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind [arsenokoitais], for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine”

1Timothy 1:9-10

In this installment, we’re going to examine two passages in conjunction with one another. As with Lev. 18:22 and 20:13, these passages so closely mirror one another that it makes sense to consider them together.

As you can see, there are two terms present that are often used by Christians to condemn homosexuals and/or homosexuality—malakoi in 1Co. 6, and arsenokoitai(s) in both passages. While it’s to the entire Church’s benefit to ensure that the traditional translation and interpretation of these terms is accurate, it’s especially important for those who have same-sex sexual attractions to know precisely what Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is condemning here. Consequently, we will reexamine the traditional translations and interpretations to see if, in fact, they are consistent with Paul’s intentions.

What Does arsenokoitai(s) Mean?

Because arsenokoitai(s) is used in both passages, we’ll begin there. It’s important to note right out of the starting gate that arsenokoitai is an exceedingly uncommon term. In fact, many scholars believe that Paul coined the term because there’s no evidence in any ancient documents that the term was used before Paul’s usage.

Let’s start by examining how the most common English translations render this obscure term.

NOTE: Place your mouse pointer over the Bible version abbreviation for the full version name.

Version Translation (1Co. 6:9) Translation (1Ti. 1:10)
KJV abusers of themselves with mankind them that defile themselves with mankind
NKJV sodomites sodomites
NIV homosexual offenders perverts
NASB homosexuals homosexuals
AMP those who participate in homosexuality those who abuse themselves with men
NLT those who… practice homosexuality people… who practice homosexuality
CEV one who… behaves like a homosexual people… who live as homosexuals
NCV men who have sexual relations with other men people… who have sexual relations with people of the same sex
HCS homosexuals homosexuals
ESV combined with malakoi as “men who practice homosexuality” (footnotes as “the passive and active partners in consenual homosexual acts”) men who practice homosexuality
YLT sodomites sodomites

Arsenokoitai(s) – Identifying the Problem

For the most part, this word has been translated consistently from one version to another, and from one passage to another; but there are a few very important exceptions. Before considering them, it’s important to note that these two passages are the only places in the Bible where arsonokoitai(s) is used. So, the fact that these exceptions exist is quite telling in relation to how sure the translators were in deriving the accurate translation of this word.

The New International Version translates arsenokoitai(s) as “homosexual offenders” in 1Co. 6:9, but as the very general term, “perverts”, in 1Ti. 1:10. Now, I’m sure that some Christians are content to consider these terms synonyms; but such a conclusion does not suffice a serious student of Scripture. I was recently told by a friend who worked in a hospital of a young girl who was brought in, pregnant with the child of her grandfather. This filthy man certainly qualifies as a pervert, so is that the type of person Paul was condemning; and if so, should the word have been translated as pervert in 1Co. 6:9, as well, rather than as “homosexual offenders”? Which interpretation is correct; and with such a serious inconsistency, why should we trust either NIV translation?

The Amplified Bible provides a similar inconsistency. It translates arsenokoitai(s) as both “those who participate in homosexuality”, as well as “those who abuse themselves with men”. But, how is the reader to know what kind of “abuse” Paul is referring to? Don’t female prostitutes abuse themselves with men? As with the NIV, we’re left to wonder which translation is accurate, and what basis we have to believe either one.

Also, the New Century Version has a gender ambiguity between the two passages. In one, only male-male sex is condemned (similar to what we saw in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13). In the other, all same-sex sexual activity is condemned. Now, this may not seem like a pertinent distinction to the casual reader; but to someone who is after the truth, and especially to someone to whom these condemnations would apply, I think the ambiguity is, at the very least, just cause for a deeper examination.

A final problem with the way these translations render our term is that from one translation to another, they can’t seem to agree on whether those with a same-sex sexual orientation (homosexuals) are being condemned, or only those who engage in same-sex sexual activity. Once again, we see a distinction that, quite regrettably, wouldn’t concern many Christians, but which is more than concerning for those of us who are gay, and for those of us (despite sexual orientation) who do not want to unjustly terrorize or condemn people for being who they are. While such a considerationshould apply to every Christian, it’s an unfortunate reality that it most certainly does not.

The most disappointing part of this is the fact that the vast majority of Christians have no idea what the Greek term actually is, or where else it was used in Scripture. All they know is what’s printed on the pages of their Bibles. They’re trusting that what they’re reading is accurate; and as we can see, that’s not always the case. Even when a single word is translated only twice in the entire Bible, the translation isn’t always consistent. Yet, we’re told to simply trust the “scholars” because they know the biblical language better than we.

Rather than putting my confidence in man, I’ll take God’s advice. I’ll “study to shew [myself] approved”, so that I can “rightly [divide] the word of truth” (2Ti. 2:15). I strongly encourage you to do the same.

Arsenokoitai(s) – Finding the Correct Translation

Determining the correct translation of arsenokoitai(s) is not as easy as it may seem. One might choose to simply play a numbers game, and conclude that since the majority of common translations render the word “homosexuals”, we should do the same. But, that doesn’t suffice me. Having seen the damage that majority rule has done to the Church time and time again throughout history, I’m inclined to rid myself of the translations offered in the text, and try to construct the proper translation from the ground up. It’s certainly better than putting my trust in scholars who have already demonstrated that they weren’t as absolutely sure about the meaning of this term as so many Christians, by default, believe.

PLEASE NOTE: My intention here is not to besmirch the work done by linguistic and biblical scholars in the translation of these various Bible versions. I don’t doubt that they worked very hard to provide a translation that was, if nothing else, more than adequate for instruction in the things of God. My intention is only to point out the undeniable inconsistencies and inaccuracies in these translations, not to call into question the credentials or intentions of those who served on the translation committees.

The first thing that should be considered with regard to this word’s meaning is that arsenokoitai is a compound word. Paul combines the Greek word for male (arsen) with the word bed (koitus), which is often used as a euphemism for sex, as the verb form of “bed” is used in English. So, the constituent words of arsenokoitai can be translated as meaning “those who have sex with men” or “men who have sex”. Most likely, what is meant is those who have sex with men, male-bedders, as it were.

PLEASE NOTE: The meaning of a compound word cannot always be derived by examining the meaning of its constituent words. For example, a hallmark is not a mark in a hall. A butterfly is not a stick of butter that flies. A ladykiller is not a person who kills ladies, nor a lady who kills people.

But, we have to derive a more precise meaning for this term; because even if male-bedder is an accurate generic simplification of this term, it’s not specific enough to be helpful in interpreting Paul’s intended target. For example, heterosexual wives are male-bedders. Is it Paul’s intention to condemn them, as well? It’s obvious that a more precise meaning must be derived. What type of male bedder is being condemned?

Under most circumstances, the context of a difficult word would give us enough clues to ascertain its meaning. It’s a lesson we learned in reading class. Now, at first glance, we might get a little discouraged when looking at the context of arsenokoitai(s) in these two passages because both passages contain seemingly arbitrary lists of sinful activities. However, let’s not form that conclusion too quickly.

In 1Timothy, Paul grouped the terms in his vice list in such a way as to provide just enough clues to derive the target of “male-bedders” with absolute precision and certainty—and we’d better thank God for this, otherwise we’d have to relegate ourselves to a “best guess”, as so many of our English translations erroneously did.

Think about grouping like this… When I’m preparing to go grocery shopping, I often group my items together so that when I’m in the store, I can find what I’m looking for more quickly. I group all of the dairy products together, all of the meats, all of the vegetables, etc. That way, I don’t have to search my list when I arrive in a particular section of the store, nor do I have to keep going back and forth when I come across another product that I forget to get while I was in a particular section.

Paul uses this very same tactic when addressing his vices in 1Ti. 1:9-10. By examining these groups, we can discern the proper meaning of arsenokoitai(s) once and for all.

“Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,  [10]  For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind [arsenokoitais], for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine”

1Timothy 1:9-10

Grouping Analysis
Terms Type of Group
lawless and disobedient synonyms for lawbreakers
ungodly and sinners synonyms for people who transgress God’s word
unholy and profane synonyms for the sacrilegious; those who dishonor the sacred
murderers of fathers/mothers, and manslayers related terms; types of killers
whoremongers [pornois],
male-bedders [arsenokoitais], and
menstealers [andropodistais]
(we’ll examine the connection below)
liars and perjured persons synonyms for people who speak untruths


As you can see, Paul clearly grouped his terms together. Consequently, the question we have to ask ourselves is: What do whores, “male-bedders”, and menstealers have in common? If we can answer this question, we can be fairly certain that we’ve found the definition of arsenokoitais.

Obviously, since we don’t know what type of male-bedders are being condemned—nor do we even know for certain that arsenokoitai(s) can be properly broken apart into its constituent words—we need to focus on finding the link between whores and menstealers first. Then, we’ll be in a better position to discover the role that male-bedders play in this group.

The word translated “menstealers” in the KJV, andropodistais, is translated in other common translations as kidnappers and slave traders. So, we’re basically looking at people who forcibly exploit others, usually for financial gain. Now, the fact that whores (prostitutes) are being condemned in this group indicates that the type of exploitation being spoken of here is sexual exploitation.

So, we have Paul condemning both prostitutes, and those who exploit them for financial gain. Considering modern prostitution, it takes only a small awareness of the industry to quickly identify those who exploit prostitutes. We call them pimps.

Seeing that Paul is, indeed, condemning the participants in a prostitution ring—considering that he condemned both the prostitutes, as well as those who profit from their exploitation—we have to ask one more simple question: Who is the third player in a prostitution ring? Quite obviously, the industry would not exist if it were not for one of its more important players—the customer! So, in this 3-player group in which prostitution is condemned, Paul condemns the prostitutes (pornois), the pimps (andropodistais), and those who “bed” the prostitutes—the customers (arsenokoitais).

Some believe that male-male prostitution, specifically, is what’s actually being condemned here. This is certainly possible when we consider the culture Paul lived in. Pederasty—the sometimes forced sexual relationship between an older and a younger person—most often took a male-on-male form in ancient Greco-Roman culture. So, it’s perfectly consistent with the cultural environment to conclude that Paul was condemning male-male pederastic prostitution. The inconsistency comes into play once we take it upon ourselves to translate and/or interpret this passage as in any way condemning homosexuality in general. Such a leap would be as abusive of the text as seeing a condemnation of opposite-sex prostitution and translating or interpreting it as a condemnation of heterosexuality!

What Does malakoi Mean?

As with arsenokoitai(s), the first thing we need to do is determine whether a reexamination of the meaning of malakoi is justified. Is there sufficient cause to question the translation of this term? To answer this question, we’ll do the same thing we did with arsenokoitai(s)—compare the ways our modern English translations render this term.

Version Translation
KJV effeminate
NKJV homosexuals (footnoted as “catamites”)
NIV male prostitutes
NASB effeminate (footnoted as “effeminate by perversion”)
AMP combined with arsenokoitai as “those who participate in homosexuality”
NLT male prostitutes
CEV pervert
NCV male prostitutes
HCS male prostitutes
ESV combined with arsenokoitai as “men who practice homosexuality” (footnoted as “the passive and active partners in consenual homosexual acts”)
YLT effeminate


It doesn’t take long to realize that a reexamination the translation of malakoi is more than called for. Contrary to what many people would have us believe, it’s exceedingly obvious that the translators were not sure of the proper translation of this term within this context.

Out of the 11 translations considered, 4 completely different terms are used:

  1. effeminate (KJV, NASB, YLT)
  2. some variation of homosexuals, either by orientation or activity (NKJV, AMP, ESV)
  3. male prostitutes (NIV, NLT, NCV, HCS)
  4. perverts (CEV)

Excuse my candor, but this is absolutely ridiculous. These translations are all over the place. In just 11 translations, the word was translated in four completely different ways. That’s an average of a different translation for every two Bible versions. If we made a distinction between the condemnation of “homosexuals” and the condemnation of “homosexual activity” we’d have to add yet another variant translation. If there were ever evidence that a word’s translation requires reexamination, this is it!

Unlike arsenokoitaismalakoi was used elsewhere in Scripture, which allows us to take into consideration its usage in a non-list context. In Matt. 11:8 and Luke 7:25, it (malakois) was used to describe John the Baptist’s clothing. It was translated as “soft” in these verses.

The root word, malakos, actually means soft or feminine. Think of its usage in the gospels as referring to soft apparel, which may seem feminine, like silk. From this perspective, “effeminate” is a fairly accurate rendering of the term in 1Co. 6, in a literal sense. Still, it doesn’t really convey the specific way in which Paul used it. For example, was he intending to condemn anything soft, like the aforementioned clothing worn by John the Baptist? As we had to do with male-bedder, we have to try to identify the specific type of femininity that is being condemned here; for example, all women are, by definition, feminine in one way or another, and we certainly don’t want to think Paul was condemningthem.

Now, we saw in the 1Ti. 1 vice list that Paul grouped his terms together. While there’s no evidence that he did the same in 1Co. 6, the fact that malakoi appears in conjunction with arsenokoitai may lead us to the proper translation of the word.

In fact, it does! Considering that arsenokoitai(s) refers to the customers of prostitutes, it makes perfect sense that Paul would also condemn the prostitutes themselves whenever he condemns their customers. Indeed, as was the case in 1Co. 6, it makes sense that he would condemn the prostitutesbefore he condemned their customers.

Think about modern styles of speech. If I was pastoring a church and condemning certain behavior in a particular sermon, I wouldn’t say, “The customers of prostitutes, and also prostitutes are in sin.” What I would say is, “Prostitutes and their customers are in sin.” The primary subject in such a consideration is the prostitute. Their customers are an extension of them; so it makes sense that in both 1Co. 6 and 1Ti. 1, Paul would condemn prostitutes before he’d condemn their customers—and that’s exactly what he did.

Unlike the English translations’ renderings of arsenokoitai(s) (in which every single translation got it wrong), 7 versions got the translation of malakoi correct (even if not precise), including the KJV, NASB, and YLT (which correctly, albeit imprecisely rendered the term “effeminate”), as well as the NIV, NLT, NCV, and HCS (which more accurately rendered the term “male prostitutes”).

Now, if you’re thinking through this information critically, your next question is likely, Why would Paul refer to male prostitutes by calling them feminine? The answer is found in the type of male-male prostitution Paul was likely condemning—pederasty. The prostitutes were always younger boys, even prepubescent. They would certainly be considered feminine, not only in that they would take the submissive role sexually, but also in that their prepubescent skin was smooth and “soft” (malakos), their voices higher, and their mannerisms not markedly macho.

The Conclusion of the Matter…

Without a doubt, the terms often translated as having something to do with homosexuality, malakoiand arsenokoitai(s), actually have nothing to do with it (in any general sense). To the contrary, what is condemned in these passages is pederastic prostitution, which, although male-male in nature, cannot be seen as in any way analogous to homosexuality in general. Paul was condemning behavior that was familiar to himself and to his readers, and it’s exceedingly unfortunate that our modern English translations have not faithfully preserved his words.

Often hailed as one of the smoking guns of antigay theology, these two Pauline vice lists are an ever-present reminder of the dire need to engage in study before making a theological pronouncement. What’s so sad is that the lists in and of themselves are actually fairly straight-forward. Rather than Paul’s words being the problem, it’s the translation of his words that has held the Church captive to ignorance for so long. But, in the words of Jesus Christ, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free!”

The Bible seh homosexuality and lesbianism is unnatural just read Romans!

I’ve always been amused that through all the condemnations of same-sex sexual activity pointed out the only one that specifically speaks to females is the Romans passage.

The following was written by Pastor Romell D Weekly and can be read here: http://gaychristianfellowship.com/articles.php?aid=1009

 

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Romans 1:26-27 is one of the few Bible passages commonly used to condemn homosexuality. But, unlike the other “clobber passages” (as they’ve come to be called), this is the only passage in the entire Bible that condemns both male-male and female-female sexual activity. As such, it’s the only one that can, in any way consistent with its language, be legitimately interpreted as condemning same-sex sexual activty in any general or universal way. But, just because an interpretation is legitimate does not mean that it is correct. Consequently, the passage still requires careful and thoughtful deliberation.

So, let’s dive right in and see just what this passage is about.

“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: [27] And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.”

Romans 1:26-27

The language couldn’t be more clear. Both male-male and female-female sexual activity were condemned as vile, against nature (unnatural), and unseemly. Not only were the activities condemned, but the assertion of their appropriate punishment (“recompense… which was meet”)—which is often interpreted as sexually transmitted diseases—reinforces just how bad these activities were considered.

As apparent as the language of this passage may seem, however, it behooves us to consider the textual and cultural contexts within which these verses reside. We’ll then be in a much better position to interpret and apply the language of the verses in a manner most consistent with their original intent.

The best way to begin is to examine the greater textual context for clues as to what brought on this serious condemnation of same-sex activity. Was it just a random thought that Paul wanted to be sure to address, or what it a part of a bigger discourse on some other issue? To answer these questions, we’ll begin with verse 18, and read through until the end of the chapter. I do, however, encourage you to read the entire chapter when time permits.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;  [19]  Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.  [20]  For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:  [21]  Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  [22]  Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,  [23]  And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.  [24]  Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:  [25]  Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.  [26]  For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:  [27]  And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.  [28]  And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;  [29]  Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,  [30]  Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,  [31]  Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:  [32]  Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”

Romans 1:18-32

By considering verses 26-27 in isolation from their surrounding context, we could easily make the mistake of believing that the subject of his message was homosexuality. In fact, this was not the case. When homosex sexual intercourse was mentioned, it was specifically related to his message concerning people who were thwarting the revelation of God by engaging in idolatrous practices.

In verse 18, Paul transitioned into a discussion about a certain group of people against whom God’s wrath was revealed. He described the effects of their sin in verses 19-22, and then identified the group in verses 23 and 25. He was speaking about idolaters—people who changed the glory of God into fashioned images that resembled men and animals. These images are called idols, and it is from the worship of these idols that we get the word “idolatry”. And the worship of idols was exactly what the people Paul was referring to engaged in (v. 25).

Now that we’ve determined the context of Paul’s statement, we’re in a much better position to interpret and apply his words in a manner consistent with the original intent. Ultimately, the accurate interpretation boils down to the answer to a simple question: Does Paul’s condemnation of homosex sexual acts in verses 26-27 apply to any such acts in general (a moral pronouncement that is universally applicable), or does it only apply to such acts engaged in within the socio-religious framework of idolatry?

Most people will be quick to answer this question one way or the other, depending on where they already fall in their theological beliefs concerning homosexuality. They’ll choose to interpret the passage in a manner consistent with their existing beliefs. But, such an approach won’t serve us here because rather than looking to validate existing beliefs, we want to allow Scripture to speak for itself. Consequently, we have to look into the text itself to see if it provides any hints as to the answer to this pertinent question.

First, it’s important to acknowledge that a surface-level reading of the text can easily justify either conclusion. On one hand, the subject of Paul’s discourse is idolatry, not sexuality. The homosex sexual acts are only an extension of the idolatrous practices that are at the heart of the matter. As a result, a case can be made that homosex sexual acts engaged in outside of the realm of idolatrous worship would not fall within the scope of Paul’s condemnation.

But on the other hand, a case can also be made that although it’s clear that the subject of Paul’s message is idolatry, the homosex sexual acts that extended from that idolatry were still described in language that indicates a divine perspective on the acts themselves, whether idolatry is involved or not. In fact, vile (v. 26), against nature/unnatural (vs. 26 and 27), and unseemly (v. 27) were all words Paul used to describe the acts themselves, not the idolatry that they found their source in.

Such interpretational problems are a perfect case in point. Scripture is not to be used to validate doctrine. Rather, we should use it to formulate doctrine (2Timothy 3:16). If we start off reading a passage with an absolute certainty of what it means, it is ever-so-easy to read into the text a validation of those beliefs—whether the text itself actually supports those beliefs or not. I strongly encourage you to remain mindful of this when engaging in biblical study, especially when it involves issues with implications as serious as those surrounding sexual orientation.

So, which of these interpretations is correct? The only way a certain answer can be derived is by examining the text itself, as well as related passages, for clues. One very important rule of interpretation is that Scripture interprets Scripture. Let’s employ this rule and determine exactly what Paul is condemning.

The first thing that must be acknowledged is that the subject of this passage was, indeed, idolatry, not sexuality. Not only is this borne out by the verses preceding verses 26-27, but also, Paul made an explicit link between the idolatry that was his subject matter and the homosex sexual activity. In verses 23-24, Paul identified these people as idolaters (verse 23) and then said, “wherefore” (or “therefore”) in relation to God giving them up to sexual uncleanness (verse 24). Clearly, he was saying that their same-sex sexual acts were a result of their idolatry.

This isn’t where the connection ends, though. It’s interesting that people love to read verse 26 in isolation from verse 25; yet the very beginning of verse 26 states, “For this cause” (or “for this reason”). Well, for what reason? Seeing that God gave them over to “vile affections” (which were identified as same-sex sexual affections), what exactly was the reason? Was it because they were born that way? Was it because they were molested during adolescence? What exactly was the reason these people engaged in same-sex sexual activity? Well, if we back up to verse 25, we discover the reason. Paul explicitly told us that they “changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.” Again, Paul identified idolatry as the cause of their same-sex sexual activity.

So then, the first thing we must drill into our minds is that Paul looked at these sexual acts through a specific lens. It wasn’t the lens of whether someone is born gay. It wasn’t even the lens of whether they become gay because of upbringing or traumatic sexual experiences during childhood development. He wasn’t even talking about sexual experimentation or feelings that just seem to develop over time. He was specifically talking about sexual activity being engaged in as a direct result of idolatry. To deny this explicit link to idolatry is to deny the language that God saw fit to inspire Paul to use, not once (in verses 23-24), but twice (also in verses 25-26).

In fact, we find this connection to idolatry emphasized a third time in this passage. Immediately after Paul condemned the sexual activity in verses 26-27, he once again stated that God’s judgment was a result of their idolatry. In verse 28, he said, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind…” If you look at other common translations, it reads something like, “And because they did not…” or as “Since they did not…” Again, this judgment was not the result of the sexual activity. It was the result of their idolatry. Because they rejected the worship of the one true God, God gave them over.

The obvious question is: Why was their homosex sexual activity an extension of idolatry? What was it about the context of their sexual acts that connected them to idolatry in so explicit a way as to make Paul draw this connection not once or twice, but three times? I’m telling you… If we fail to consider this link, we will fail to properly interpret this passage.

Before considering this link, however, let’s examine the words Paul used to describe the sexual activity itself. Let’s determine whether or not Paul’s description of the activity as vile, against nature, and unseemly is subject to the activity’s relation to idolatry, or if it describes the activity irrespective of its context within idolatrous custom.

Term Greek Transliteration Meaning
vile atimias Strong’s G819 – infamy, that is, (subjectively) comparative indignity, (objectively) disgrace: – dishonour, reproach, shame, vile
against nature para phusin Strong’s G3844/G5449 – beyond or opposed to native disposition, constitution or usage
unseemly aschêmosunên Strong’s G808 – an indecency

Two of these Greek words—atimias and aschemosunen—have meanings that are apparently subjective. For example, the World War II attack on Pearl Harbor is infamous in American history, but likely famous in Japanese history. Likewise, what is considered disgraceful, dishonorable, shameful or indecent is subject to the particular culture within which the acts involved are perceived. It is disgraceful, for instance, to show one’s back to a ruler in many monarchal societies, whereas such a thing is not given a second thought in the United States.

Not so obviously subjective is the meaning of para phusin—beyond or opposed to native disposition, constitution or usage. At face value, it seems almost certainly objective. Still, it would serve us well to consider other biblical usages of these terms. If we cannot be absolutely certain of their objectivity or subjectivity by considering this isolated usage, a wider perspective of the biblical writers’ use of these terms (with special emphasis on Pauline usage) will almost certainly indicate whether or not his description is subject to the society in which he lived.

Let’s start with atimia—translated as “vile” in verse 26. Does Paul use the term elsewhere in Scripture in a subjective way?

“Doth not even nature [phusis] itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame [atimia] unto him?”

1Corinthians 11:14

In this passage, Paul actually uses two of our terms—phusis (the root of phusin) and atimia. We’d be hard-pressed to find a person within the modern Church who believes that this passage establishes a universal principle concerning hair lengths on men. Only in the most legalistic mind would a person believe that God is the least bit concerned with how long a person’s hair is. To the contrary, what He is concerned about in passages such as this one is what long hair on a man represents; and what it represented within the ancient Greco-Roman society (femininity; a rebellion against the prevailing patriarchal social order) is very different from what it represents in modern Western society (absolutely nothing). Consider Native American Christians. Should we demand of them that they cut their hair to a certain length, despite the fact that their ethnic culture has no such stigma on men with long hair?

When we fail to understand why a command was given in the first place, we can find ourselves applying it to people and situations to which it was never intended to apply. This may certainly be aneasier approach to Scripture—for it doesn’t require a person to think beyond what they read on the page—but it certainly isn’t the way to honorably approach God’s word, which can only maintain its holiness and efficacy if applied in a manner consistent with its original intent.

Let’s take our examination a step further. As with every language, Greek is not absolutely precise. People often employ synonyms in different contexts, although the overall point being made is the same. So, although Paul used both atimia and phusis in 1Co. 11, does he describe culturally subjective things in Scripture using synonyms of these words, or of aschemosunen (unseemly, indecent)? Actually, he does.

“Judge in  yourselves: is it comely [prepon (G4241) – suitable, proper, fitting, becoming] that a woman pray unto God uncovered?”

1Corinthians 11:13

 

“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame [aischron (G149) – a lack of decorum] for women to speak in the church.”

1Corinthians 14:34-35

It’s clear that Paul certainly used these words in a manner reflective of the culture within which he lived. Consequently, the application of his descriptions would necessarily have to reflect changes within those cultural perceptions.

Even Paul’s appeal to nature in Romans 1:26-27 does not necessarily indicate a divine pronouncement, or some type of universal principle. We certainly don’t consider his appeal to nature in 1Co. 11:14 as a universal, divine pronouncement concerning hair lengths on men (and, considering verse 15, hair lengths on women).

Since it cannot be our default belief that homosex sexual activity is still “vile”, “against nature”, or “unseemly”—seeing as Paul used the same (and synonymous) words to describe culturally subjective things elsewhere in Scripture—we have to consider why he said what he said. Uncovering his purpose in describing the acts the way he did will help us determine whether or not the description still applies.

This is where the textual and cultural context is vitally important. It is only through understanding Paul’s socio-religious location, as well as the overall argument he was making in this passage of Scripture, that we will be able to properly apply his words within the modern socio-religious context—a context that is substantially different than the one Paul originally addressed.

We’ve already determined that the textual context dealt not with human sexuality but with idolatry. Paul’s language in the text expressly indicates that the sexual activity being condemned was absolutely an extension of the idolatrous worship that was the subject of his discourse. Remember that he, three times, connected the judgment of God in relation to the sexual activity to their idolatry. He said, “wherefore/therefore”, “for this cause/reason”, and “as they did not/because they did not”. The sexual activity cannot be considered in isolation from the idolatry that it resulted from. To do so would be to detach verses 26-27 from their context, thereby twisting God’s word.

Now, I previously raised the question of why Paul would state three times that the sexual activity these people engaged in resulted from idolatry. The answer to this question is very easily found by considering the culture within which Paul lived (Greco-Roman), and the particular people to whom he addressed his epistle (the Romans).

From the cultural perspective, the ancient Greco-Roman world was known for its open sexuality. One mustn’t dig deep into history to discover that the Greco-Romans engaged in activities as sexually liberal as temple prostitution and orgies, particularly in religious contexts associated with the worship of the Roman god, Bacchus (called Dionysus by the Greeks). Considering the textual association of the same-sex sexual acts with idolatry, it is almost certain that this type of cultic sexual activity was what he was referring to. To his Jewish eyes, such acts were directly associated with idolatrous worship, and had been considered so for almost 1,500 years (Lev. 18:1-3, 22; 22:1-8, 13). The fact that those within his culture who engaged in the activity often did so within the framework of their idolatrous beliefs only cemented his view that those acts were vile, unnatural, and unseemly.

It was the activity’s association with the idolatrous Greco-Roman society that colored Paul’s view of the acts in general. As far as he was concerned, all same-sex sexual acts were a symptom of idolatry—much like we consider the swastika or burning cross hateful, even though it is actually what theyrepresent that is what’s hateful. Still, when we see such things, we don’t stop and think, What’s the context here? The images immediately invoke a certain negative reflexive emotion. As a Black man, I have the same revulsion at the very sight of the Confederate flag <spits on the ground>, which some people still don’t seem to understand.

Following this logic, it is not only appropriate but vital to proper hermeneutics (methods of interpretation) to consider the association of the images described when determining whether the description is relevant or applicable to our modern society. Is same-sex sexual activity still deeply intertwined with idolatrous culture and/or worship? The answer is: Absolutely not. As is the case with heterosexuality, there are certainly homosexuals who are not Christians, and some who likely subscribe to idolatrous beliefs (worshiping images and icons); however, no sincere person can possibly conclude that homosexuality has anything to do with idolatry within the modern world. Even the most ardent opponents of homosexuality don’t immediately think “idolater” when they think “homosexual”. Instead, they likely think, “Nasty bastard!” No one is imagining homosexuals bowing to a statue of Bacchus, yet that’s precisely what Paul envisioned when condemning same-sex sexual activity in Romans 1.

This is not a guess by Pastor Weekly. Three times, Paul explicitly linked the sexual activity (and God’s releasing them unto it) to their idolatry. These were not people who were faithful servants of Christ. These were not people who had committed their lives to serving Christ and who never bowed to another god. These were not people who wanted lifelong, monogamous (marital) relationships with people of the same-sex, based on inner attractions having absolutely nothing to do with idolatry. These were idolaters, plain and simple, and the sex they engaged in was prompted by their idolatry. Such is absolutely not the case in modern society, and it certainly isn’t the case when it comes to gay Christians, who would sooner die than worship someone or something other than the Lord Jesus!

Now, I understand that people can sincerely read verses 26-27 and misinterpret them. They can even read the greater context and miss the links Paul made and the reason he made those links simply because they’re reading into the text what they’ve been taught down through the years. Still, in the here and now, we have to make a decision. Either we’ll let the text speak to us afresh, or we’ll cling to that old rugged doctrine. Either we’ll accept the fact that Paul clearly condemned this sexual activity within the context of idolatry, or we’ll continue to consider these passages an everlasting condemnation of homosexuality in general, directly contradicting the inspired language of the text itself, as well as an objective consideration of the culture that prompted the language.

Taking into account all that we have considered, it would be wholly inappropriate to hold modern people to Paul’s ancient worldview. While he rightly condemned the activity he witnessed within the idolatrous Greco-Roman culture—much like I, as a pastor, might condemn the inverted pentagram, swastika, and other images or acts associated with evil things within our society—that condemnation is now wholly obsolete because the sexual activity is no longer culturally intertwined with and representative of idolatry, and it most certainly is not being engaged in by people as an extension of idolatrous beliefs or practices. Applying it to 21st century humanity is as ridiculous as condemning a modern woman for wanting to wear her hair short (1Co. 11:15), which, regretably, a few fringe churches still do—God help us!