PAUL'S' VIEWS
    ROMANS
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Summary of this page

Some people use Romans Chapter 1 to say that
homosexuality is sinful and homosexuals are
bad.  However, the facts are as follows:


SEX BETWEEN FEMALES

Romans 1 contains the only reference in the
Bible to females having sex with females.  The
reference is part of Paul’s illustration showing
how rejection of God can lead to people doing
foolish things.

The New International Version translates
Romans 1:26  as:

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

A more literal [and expanded] interpretation of
this verse is:

    For this reason [honoring and serving
    created things rather than the Creator]
    God gave them up [gave the individuals
    freedom to go their own way] to
    dishonorable or shameful passions
    for even their females changed or
    exchanged the natural [sexual] use [of the
    male]
    into that [use which is] against or contrary
    to nature.


What form of female sexual activity is
described in this verse?

This verse (Romans 1:26) states that the women
exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural
sexual relations.

While the
unnatural sexual relations (literally,
use against nature) involving females could be
male-female anal or oral intercourse, it is unlikely
to be so because in Paul’s culture such activity
was not considered as unnatural.

On the other hand, same-sex activity between
females was thought of as unnatural in the
Greco-Roman culture of Paul’s time because
such activity involved one of the women having
an active penetrative role (like a man) in
contravention of the cultural view that women
should always be passive in sex.

It is therefore likely that the female acts criticized
are anal or vaginal intercourse between females
in which one female penetrates another with a
finger or other instrument.  It could also involve
the mutual rubbing of the genital organs.


What points favor Romans 1:26 referring to
sex between females?

  • Same-sex activity between females was
    thought of as unnatural in the Greco-Roman
    culture of Paul’s time because such activity
    involved one of the women having an active
    penetrative role, thus acting like a man.  
    This contravened the cultural view that only
    men should be the penetrators and women
    should always be passive in sex.  Paul and
    his audience shared this cultural view.

  • Many ancient Greek and Roman non-
    Christian authors depicted sexual relations
    between females as unnatural.  The authors
    include Plato, Seneca the Elder, Martial,
    Ovid, Ptolemy, Artimedorus, Pseudo-
    Phocylides. For details see Chapters 2, 4 and 6 of
    Bernadette J. Brooten, Love between Women: Early
    Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, 1996.

  • The use of likewise or in the same way in
    verse 27 means that same-sex activity is
    referred to in both verse 27 and verse 26.

  • Anal intercourse between women and men
    generally carried no stigma in ancient
    Roman society.  No known ancient source
    explicitly describes anal intercourse
    between women and men as unnatural.  
    Therefore Paul would have no reason to
    call male-female anal intercourse unnatural.

  • To illustrate one of the consequences of
    people refusing to glorify God, Paul chose
    the most outrageous form of female sexual
    behavior in his culture, i.e. females taking
    the active penetrative role.

  • The early Christian writer, St. John
    Chrysostom (Homily 4 on the Epistle to the
    Romans) (about 400 CE), considered that
    Paul was referring to female same-sex
    intercourse.

  • Verses 26 and 27 are an example of
    parallelism, where the second verse repeats
    and extends the meaning of the first.


What points favor Romans 1:26 referring to
male-female anal sex?

  • The use of likewise or in the same way in
    verse 27 means that the act of anal
    intercourse is referred to in both verse 27
    (between males only) and verse 26
    (between males and females).

  • Although verse 26 says that women
    exchanged natural relations for unnatural
    ones, it does not say that their male
    partners were exchanged for female
    partners.  It is only an assumption that their
    partners were exchanged.  By contrast,
    verse 27 does say that males exchanged
    their female partners for male partners.

  • The early Christian writers, Clement of
    Alexandria (The Instructor 2.10.86-87)
    (about 200 CE), Anastasius and Augustine
    (Marriage and Desire 20.35) (both around
    400 CE), considered that Paul was referring
    to non-procreative, male-female anal
    intercourse.


What does Paul mean by “nature” in
Romans 1:26?

Verse 26 states that the women exchanged
natural sexual relations [literally,
the natural use]
for unnatural sexual relations [literally,
use
against nature
].

The question of what Paul means by
nature in
verse 26 is important because some people
argue that Paul intended
nature to mean God’s
plan for the world (including sex roles) as at
Creation and that rejection of God expresses
itself in rejection of God’s design for male and
female sexual roles.  In other words, Paul’s
describing female-female sex as
against nature
(and his use of
likewise extends that to male-
male sex in the next verse) would mean that such
types of sex are wrong.

However this interpretation is incorrect.  First
note that there is no gender or sexual use of
nature, natural or unnatural in the Bible except in
this passage (Romans 1:26-27) and in 1
Corinthians 11:14 (implying that it is unnatural for
men to have long hair but natural for women).

Both passages refer to gender (male and female)
roles and both follow allusions to the Creation
(Romans 1:20, 23 and 25 and 1 Corinthians 11:7-
9 and 12).  Despite these allusions to the
Creation in the Corinthians passage,
nature in
that passage clearly means
custom in Paul’s
Greco-Roman culture.

Now what are the allusions to the Creation in the
Romans passage?  Verse 20 says that God's
qualities have been seen since the creation of
the world (stating a time period), verse 23 refers
to images made to look like man and birds and
animals and reptiles (showing the
comprehensive nature of the images or idols),
verse 25 talks about people worshipping created
things rather than the Creator (emphasizing the
difference between the types of things
worshipped), and verses 26 and 27 refer to
males and females (indicating that males and
females of all ages are included, not just adult
men and women).

Note that the Romans passage does
not refer to
the Creation events of male and female persons
being created, their sex roles, or marriage
between a man and a woman.

Therefore it is logical to assume that despite the
allusions to the Creation in the Romans passage,
nature in that passage refers to custom in Paul’s
culture just as it did in the Corinthians passage.  
In other words, what is
natural for Paul is
determined by what he saw as customary in his
culture, not by reference to the creation order.

The conclusion that
nature refers to custom in
Paul’s culture is reinforced by a detailed analysis
of the text, which shows that Paul referred to
male-female sex as
natural relations (v 26 & 27)
and sex between females as
unnatural relations
(v 26) but he did not refer to sex between males
(v 27) as
unnatural relations.  It seems that Paul
did not use
unnatural for sex between males
because such use would only have covered
passive sex acts in which the males acted
contrary to their expected roles in society, and he
wanted to cover both active and passive sex acts
between males.  This indicates that Paul was
using
natural and unnatural to refer to his culture
and not the creation order.


What is the meaning of “natural relations”
and “unnatural relations”

The passage talks about women exchanged
natural sexual relations for unnatural ones

(literally,
females exchanged the natural use [of
the male]
into that [use which is] against
nature).
 It also talks about men abandoned
natural relations with women
(literally, males
having left the natural use of the female).
 In the
context of
natural meaning customary (usual) in
the culture,
natural use of the male (or female)
means sexual (vaginal) intercourse between
males and females.

For the same reason,
unnatural or against
nature
refers to what is not customary in Paul’s
culture and
unnatural relations are any sex acts
which are contrary to custom in his culture.


Who is referred to in Romans 1:26?

While not totally clear, it seems that Paul is
referring to groups of people (or even a society)
who have changed the way they express
themselves sexually.  Nevertheless people do
act sexually as individuals and therefore many
individual women must have changed from
having sex with males to having sex with
females.  This change may have been temporary
for same-sex orgiastic idol worship in Roman
temples (women having sex with temple
priestesses then later having sex with their
husbands) or it could have been permanent
(women giving up sex with their husbands and
having sex only with other women).


Why does Paul mention sex between
females at all?

Paul’s reference to sex between females is part
of his “sermon” illustration showing how rejection
of God can lead to people doing foolish things.  
This form of sexual activity seems to have been
chosen as an example because it was a very
shameful activity in Paul’s culture.

An alternative explanation in
this article posits
that Paul’s mostly illiterate Roman audience
often inaccurately remembered traditional
stories.  They remembered the attempted same-
sex actions of the men of Sodom and recalled
Ezekiel’s six references (chapter 16) to
the
daughters of Sodom
, mistakenly assuming that
the women of Sodom also had same-sex
activity.  As they were illiterate, they could not
read to correct their mistaken assumption.  Paul
would know of this tradition and used it in his
argument in Romans 1.


Summary of Paul’s criticism of sex between
females

It has been shown that the sexual activity
referred to in Romans 1:26 is most probably sex
between females.

Although Paul criticized sex between females by
calling it
shameful lusts and unnatural, he did
not forbid it here or anywhere else in his
speeches or letters.  However both Paul and his
Roman audience believed that sex between
females was unnatural and should not be
indulged in, mainly because their culture thought
it wrong for a female to act like a male during
such sex.


What does the criticism of sex between
females mean for women who are attracted
to other women?

If a woman is attracted to or loves other women
without having sex with them, the criticism of sex
between females is irrelevant.


What does the criticism of sex between
females mean for women who have sex
with other women?

The criticism of sex between females can be
ignored by same-sexually active women today for
the following reasons:

  • This criticism of sex between females is not
    a moral principle as it does not have the
    essential criterion of being prescriptive (a
    command).  That is, the Bible doesn’t ever
    say don’t do it.

  • The criticism of sex between females as
    unnatural is not drawn from the Old
    Testament laws.  Instead the criticism is
    mainly based on the gender-role culture* of
    Paul’s time (i.e. a woman should not act like
    a man during sex) and this is irrelevant to  
    modern cultures.

  • As the criticism is mainly based on culture
    now irrelevant, it does not apply today as
    doctrine.  This conclusion derives from
    Elliott's view that theological doctrines and
    ethical rules cannot be based on Biblical
    texts whose rationales and plausibility are
    based on cultural perceptions, values, and
    worldviews no longer held or considered
    valid **.

  • The view of “no sex outside marriage
    between a man and a woman” can be
    ignored for these reasons.

However
sex between women should
comply with the
no-harm test.  If a woman
does not harm herself, the other woman or any
third party (e.g., a partner), then sex between
women is okay.

*Using the criteria in  Slaves, Women and Homosexuals:
Exploring the Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis
, by William J.
Webb, 2001, sex between women is cultural or has a mainly
cultural component.  Paul’s attitude to sex between women in
Romans 1 was the same as the widespread attitude in the 1st
Century Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures.

** John H. Elliott, No kingdom of God for softies? or, what was
Paul really saying? 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 in context,
Biblical
Theology Bulletin
 Spring 2004



SEX BETWEEN MALES

Chapter 1 of Romans also refers to males having
sex with males.  The reference is part of Paul’s
illustration showing how rejection of God can
lead to people doing foolish things.

The New International Version translates
Romans 1:27  as:

    In the same way the men also abandoned
    natural relations with women and were
    inflamed with lust for one another. Men
    committed shameful acts with other men,
    and received in themselves the due penalty
    for their error.

A more literal interpretation of this verse is:

    and likewise also the males, having left or
    abandoned the natural use of the female
    (natural sexual relations with women),
    were utterly consumed in their intense lust
    for one another;
    males in males working out the shameful
    act,
    and received in themselves the inevitable
    or appropriate payment for their error.


What form of male sexual activity is
described in this verse?

This verse (Romans 1:27) states that men who
had rejected God
abandoned natural sexual
relations with women
.  The men's subsequent
activity is described in euphemistic terms such as
consumed in their lust for one another and
males acting shamefully with males (literally,
males in males working out the shameful act).  
Note that the activity appears to be consensual.

While not explicitly stated, it is most likely that the
male sex act criticized is male-male penetration
(anal intercourse), not other forms of sex
between males.

Penetration is implied because men penetrating
men is the male equivalent of their former vaginal
intercourse with women.

Penetration is also implied by the reference to
males acting shamefully with males.  This
reference is a reflection of the Greco-Roman
concept of Paul’s time that the passive partner in
anal intercourse between males was being
penetrated like a woman and this was a
shameful thing for a man to allow or experience.

However the ultimate origin of the Romans 1
criticism of
males acting shamefully with males
is the prohibition of sex between males (
don’t let
another male penetrate you
) in Leviticus 18:22
and 20:13.  As well as the subject matter being
the same, the Greek term for
acting shamefully
in Romans 1 occurs many times throughout
Leviticus 18 and 20 (where it is translated as
nakedness).  Another similarity is that male
(instead of
man) is used both in Romans 1:27
and in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

Paul’s criticism of sex between males in Romans
1:27 repeats his criticism of sex between males
(
males who have sex with males) in 1
Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10.


Who is referred to in Romans 1:27?

While not totally clear, it seems that Paul is
referring to groups of people (or even a society)
who have changed the ways they express
themselves sexually.  Nevertheless people do
act sexually as individuals and therefore many
individual men must have changed from having
sex with females to having sex with males.  This
change may have been temporary for same-sex
orgiastic idol worship in Roman temples (men
having sex with male temple priests then later
having sex with their wives) or it could have been
permanent (men giving up sex with their wives
and having sex only with other men).  The
extreme form of sex between males described in
verse 27 would vividly remind Paul’s audience of
orgiastic idol worship, such as worship of the
pagan gods Cybele and Attis (Aphrodite and
Adonis).  Descriptions of that type of worship are
given in this comprehensive
paper.  Note
especially the brief comparison of verses in
Romans 1 with practices of the priests and
priestesses of Cybele and Attis.

What did Paul think of same-sex behavior?

Paul’s ideas of same-sex behavior would have
been partly formed by his Jewish background
and intellectual training *.  This would include his
acceptance of male-female sex as the usual
practice and his knowledge of the condemnation
of anal intercourse between males in Leviticus.  It
is likely that his views would have been
expanded by his Greco-Roman culture, including
its basic values of honor and shame.  Hellenistic
Jews around Paul’s time were hostile towards
sex between males, especially pederasty (man-
boy relationships).  As far as we know, Paul was
aware of the many different types of same-sex
relationships in his culture, including male and
female prostitution, pederasty, and relationships
and even marriages between mature men.

Paul’s writings show that he adopted the gender
(sex role) concepts of both the Torah (especially
Leviticus) and his culture, including the
maintenance of “male honor”.  For example, in 1
Corinthians 11 and 14 he states that man is head
of woman, that it is natural that men and women
have different hair lengths and that women
should not speak in churches.

Also Paul's choice of the active verbs
exchanged
and
abandoned reflects his culture’s belief that
same-sex behavior is a freely chosen activity.  
Similarly Paul's use of the phrase
utterly
consumed with intense desire
could reflect the
belief of his culture that same-sex behavior was
associated with insatiable and unbridled lust.  
That is, men would only be satisfied if they had
sex with other men as well as with women.  And
Paul's remarks concerning the giving up of
natural (opposite-sex) intercourse in favor of
unnatural reflected the belief that same-sex
behavior was a violation of his culture’s natural
order, under which male-female sex is the natural
way with males having an active sexual role and
females having a passive sexual role.  Paul also
describes same-sex behavior as one result of
idolatry.

* See Galatians 1: 14, Philippians 3: 5-6, Acts 24:14


What was the Roman attitude to sexual
relations between males?

In Rome, sexual relations between males were
not condemned as such.  But the cultural
conventions had to be followed to maintain male
honor.

First, a Roman man always had to give the
appearance of playing the insertive role in
penetrative acts (i.e. being the active, not
passive, partner).  The Roman view was that
masculinity is domination and penetration is
subjugation.  Secondly, freeborn Roman males
and females (other than his wife) were off-limits
as sexual partners for a Roman man.

It was understood to be natural and normal for a
man to desire sexual contact with male and
female bodies alike.  However the Romans
stigmatized effeminate males who accepted or
even preferred the receptive role in intercourse. *

* This answer is derived from Craig A. Williams, Roman
Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity,
1999.



Is Paul criticizing same-sex activity
wherever it occurs or just same-sex activity
when people worship idols?

Some people try to minimize Paul’s criticism of
same-sex activity in Romans 1 by saying that he
is only criticizing same-sex activity as part of idol
worship.  But this is not so.

Paul says twice that because people honor and
serve created things (including idols) instead of
God (verses 23 and 25), God allows them to
mutually dishonor their bodies sexually (verses
24 and 26).  This is expressed by same-sex
activity (verses 26 and 27).  In other words,  
idols  sex  idols  sex.

The extreme form of sex between males
described in verse 27 would vividly remind Paul’s
audience of the orgiastic idol worship in Roman
temples.

Nevertheless Paul does not directly refer to
pagan temples or same-sex acts in idol worship
in this passage and therefore the “plain sense”
interpretation is that he is referring to same-sex
activity wherever it occurs, in temples or
elsewhere.


Who took part in the same-sex activity?

The same-sex activity was done by (probably
married) persons who usually had sexual activity
with persons of the opposite sex (
females
exchanged natural sexual relations [with males]
for unnatural ones and males abandoned
natural sexual relations with females
[for other
males]).  It appears that these persons had pre-
existing desires to have sexual relations with
people of the same sex.  God
gave them over by
allowing them to act on those desires.  It is
possible that sometimes the exchange and
abandonment was only temporary while the
women and men were having same-sex orgies
(
utterly consumed in their intense lust for one
another
) with priests and priestesses in the
temples.  In other cases, the exchange and
abandonment of male-female sex for same-sex
activity may have been permanent.


What is meant by “receiving the due penalty
for their error” in Romans 1:27?

We don’t really know what the due penalty is.  
However it might be a sexually transmitted
disease, or the same-sex activity itself might be
the penalty for their idolatry.  It could also be that
some of the men changed from male domination
(honorable in their culture) to female passivity
(dishonorable).  Note also that
error means
mistake, not sin.


Summary of Paul’s criticism of sex between
males

It has been shown above that the sexual activity
referred to in Romans 1:27 is
male-male
penetration
(anal intercourse).

Paul criticized this sexual activity by calling it
shameful lusts and shameful acts and states
that
males were inflamed with lust for one
another
.


What does the criticism of male-male
penetration mean for men who are attracted
to other men?

If a man is attracted to or loves other men without
having sex with them, the criticism of male-male
penetration is irrelevant.


What does the criticism of male-male
penetration mean for men who have sex
with other men?

Although Paul criticizes penetrative sex between
men, this criticism is not a moral principle as it
does not have the essential criterion of being
prescriptive (a command).  That is, he doesn’t
actually
say don’t do it.

The criticism of male-male penetration does not
apply today to straight, bisexual or gay men who
have such penetrative sex because it
applied
only to the Greek-
Roman culture of Paul’s time.  
For those who don’t accept this
culture
argument, the criticism of male-male penetration
does not apply when no one is harmed, directly
or indirectly, by the penetration.  See how
this
conclusion is reached.




FALSE VIEWS ABOUT ROMANS 1:26 AND 27

Most of the following views (in italics) are those
of people who wish to minimize the significance
of Paul’s criticism of female-female and male-
male sexual activity.

This passage criticizes only same-sex activity of
heterosexuals, who usually have sex with
persons of the opposite sex, and in no way
criticizes the sexual activity of a modern person
who is exclusively and naturally homosexual.  
(this is false)

It is true that the passage criticizes same-sex
activity by people who usually have or had sex
with persons of the opposite sex.  This view is
supported by St. John Chrysostom (Homily 4 on
the Epistle to the Romans) (about 400 CE).

However the passage also criticizes same-sex
activity as such by using words like
dishonorable
or
shameful passions, unnatural sexual activity,
consumed in their lust for one another and
males acting shamefully with males.  This
criticism is made in the context of the Roman
ethical system of honor and shame.  It is most
likely that the acts criticized are restricted to anal
intercourse between males and anal or vaginal
intercourse between females.  Because the
criticism is of same-sex activity as such, it applies
to all people indulging in same-sex acts –
straight, gay or lesbian.


In Romans 1:26 the words “unnatural sexual
relations” mean “sexual relations contrary to the
nature of the individual person” i.e. a
heterosexual woman having sexual relations
with another woman.  Alternatively the words
“unnatural sexual relations” mean “non-
procreative sex” i.e. sex which cannot produce a
child.   (this is false)

The words unnatural sexual relations (Greek
para physin, literally, against nature) were used
in many ancient texts to refer to same-sex acts.  
The words were used irrespective of whether a
person usually had opposite-sex relations or
same-sex relations.  The words did not mean
only sexual relations contrary to the nature of the
individual person.  Therefore Paul would not
have adopted this meaning.

Also, although some Jewish-Hellenistic writers (e.
g. Philo) regarded any non-procreative sexual
intercourse as unnatural, Paul’s speeches or
letters never refer to any male-female non-
procreative sex as unnatural.  Instead, Paul uses

unnatural sexual relations
to mean sex acts
which are contrary to custom in his culture, i.e.
same-sex acts.


Romans 1:26 and 27 do not condemn or criticize
sex between females or sex between males but
merely show that it is socially disapproved or is
a cultural disorder rather than a sin.  (this is
false)

The words used to describe sex between
females and sex between males include
uncleanness, dishonorable or shameful
passions, unnatural sexual activity, consumed in
their lust for one another
and males acting
shamefully (or inappropriately) with males.  
Elsewhere Paul uses shame or shameful or
dishonorable
to criticize conduct which is not
necessarily evil but may simply be counter-
cultural (e.g. long hair for men).  However
uncleanness (impurity) usually appears in lists of
sins and
lusts is used to indicate evil or bad
desires.  Similar meanings would also apply in
this passage.

This is confirmed by the sexual actions in the
passage being described as
shameful passions
resulting from people honoring and serving
created things rather than God the Creator.  Both
the turning from God and the resulting sexual
actions are being criticized.

Although he does not use the words
sinful or evil
or
wicked, and does not say don’t do it, Paul
would have considered male-male penetration to
be sinful because of the prohibition in Leviticus
18:22 (
don't let another male penetrate you) and
he would expect his audience, especially those
of a Jewish background, to have a similar view.  
Note that Paul also criticizes male-male
penetration (
males who have sex with males) in
1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 (he calls
men who do this
wicked and sinful).

By contrast, note Paul’s different description
(
evil, wickedness) of the sins (murder, etc) in
verses 29-31.


Paul is criticizing only same-sex acts associated
with idolatry or performed as part of cultic
temple prostitution; he does not criticize other
same-sex activity.  (this is false)

The extreme form of sex between males
described in verse 27 would vividly remind Paul’s
audience of the orgiastic idol worship in Roman
temples.

Nevertheless Paul does not directly refer to
pagan temples or same-sex acts in idol worship
in this passage and therefore the “plain sense”
interpretation is that he is referring to same-sex
activity wherever it occurs, in temples or
elsewhere.


Paul does not criticize same-sex acts resulting
from love; he criticizes only same-sex acts that
result from lust or promiscuity.  (this is false)

The passage does not say that the activity is
limited to same-sex acts resulting from lust or
promiscuity.  Therefore the criticism applies to all
same-sex acts, including those resulting from
love.


Paul criticizes homosexual orientation and
same-sex desire as well as same-sex behavior.  
(this is false)

The passage refers only to same-sex acts, not to
same-sex orientation.  The Greek words
translated as
desires in some Bible versions
really mean
lusts and are accompanied by words
such as
dishonorable, vile and inflamed with.  
While the passage is criticizing same-sex acts
and same-sex lust, it is not criticizing non-lustful
same-sex desire.  
Desire in a sexual sense can
have many meanings ranging from just longing to
be in the beloved’s presence to burning lust.


The reference in verse 32 to things deserving
death is contextually connected with
homosexuality  (this is false)

Verse 28 starts a new section of Chapter 1 as it
refers to the next stage in the spiritual
deterioration of the people mentioned, i.e. they
did not see fit to acknowledge God.  God
therefore allowed them to do the wicked things
mentioned in verses 29 to 31.  It is these wicked
things, not the things referred to in the earlier
section (including same-sex activity), which are
worthy of death.  The wicked things include
murder and disobeying parents, which had a
death penalty (if the disobeying included cursing
the parents).


OTHER INTERPRETATIONS AND PAPERS

An excellent interpretation of Romans 1 and its
implications for us today. (pdf)

Some recent alternative opinions on the meaning
of Romans 1 are given in this
informative paper
(pdf).
go to home  www.gaysandslaves.com
Author: Colin Smith