When in Romans

I recently received a comment from a reader (Rob) regarding my treatment of Romans 1 in the post “For the Love of God: An Open Letter to Kevin DeYoung”.  As I set out to answer the question I realized the care and consideration required to answer this question, given the delicacy of the topic, warranted more than is typically decorous for a comment thread.  As such, I asked Rob’s permission to reproduce his comment as a prompt for this post.  The comment below represents Rob’s thoughts:

Hi Nate,

I believe that you have misrepresented Romans 1:26-27 because from Romans 1:18 Paul intentionally shows the ‘ungodliness and unrighteousness of mankind’ that is found in common societal practices that the Romans could relate to. Idolatry and homosexuality were familiar occurrences in Roman society and not some extreme reality. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_in_ancient_Rome (be warned that this Wiki page has explicit explanations that could be very unpleasant for sensitive readers).

That same sex sexual practice occurred outside of the marriage bed is true, but that should not have us evade the fact that the word of God points specifically to the sin of lusting after the same sex ‘where men … gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error’.

Also, even if homosexuality was related to idolatry, which evidently wasn’t the case, God’s word clearly views same-sex sexuality as son (sic) in Romans 1:26-27 regardless of motive.

Rob

Before I reply, I want to thank Rob for this comment and for allowing me to use it in this post.  I think he raises some excellent questions that, I hope, will facilitate a more thorough treatment of Romans 1 than was previously provided.

bible
http://roguepreacher.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/bible.jpg

Hermeneutics

Romans 1:26-27 is one of the infamous “six passages” typically used to condemn same-sex sexuality.  While I have previously addressed these verses, I have never endeavored to treat the passage in a stand-alone setting.  Thus, it seems to me, there is something to be gained by further exploration of this passage.

Before I begin, it seems important to lay some ground work.  First, it is important to know what the passage itself; here is the NRSV rendering:

 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

It is often tempting, especially when we feel so much is a stake, to try to reduce Scripture down to propositional statements – to leave a passage like this to itself and assert it as an absolute and inviolable truth.  In fact, like me in my youth, many people are trained to read Scripture in such a fashion.  Much of evangelical culture is built on the ability of persons to one-off decontextualized Bible verses like they were written as independent thoughts.  However, I believe this is a dangerous precedent, one used too often as a method of confirmation bias.

I want to be abundantly clear, my target is not bias in and of itself.  The reality is, as humans, we are naturally subjective beings.  Every time we engage in any language exercise we are, by the nature of the task, engaging in acts of interpretation and meaning making.  We cannot, ever, truly arrive at an objective assertion of absolute meaning.  This is why discourse, dialogue, and well-reasoned arguments are so important.   We must be aware that we are bringing bias(es) to the text and refuse to engage said text in such a way that we leave our own bias unexamined.  Instead, as Christians, we must be careful to take every argument captive and allow it to be thoroughly examined in the crucible of the cross (2 Cor 10).

As Moltmann once said:

 The cross signifies that in Jesus which makes him the object of preaching and every subsequent theological interpretation, an object which is in contrast to them, and with which hearer and interpreter are brought face to face.  The crucified Christ therefore remains the inner criterion of all preaching which appeals to him.  So far as it points to him, it is tested by him; so far as it reveals him, it is authorized by him.[1]

As such, I believe it important to consider more than simply how a passage functions independently as a decontextualized “proof-text” or “clobber passage”.  Instead, we must recognize that the author of the text took time to form a careful and nuanced argument.  Attempting to artificially sever a phrase from that argument, with no consideration for larger purpose, is a violence to the text of Scripture itself.

There are a number of reasons a carefully considered approach is preferable.  I have previously laid out my critical hermeneutic here (link), but will offer a brief recap for the purposes of this post.

 

  1. It is important for one’s hermeneutic to be logically and rhetorically consistent. We cannot take a careful and nuanced approach with one passage, yet reduce another to a handy back pocket trump card. We must be careful to recognize the biases we bring to the text and be committed to respecting the entire argument being made, not only the parts of the passage convenient for what we want to say.
  2. One’s hermeneutic must also be biblically sound. It is not enough to take passages out of context and make a piece meal argument to fit our own agenda. Instead, we must recognize that it is easy to manipulate and influence the biblical text in our own image. It is considerably more difficult – and rewarding – to admit our bias and allow the collective witness of Scripture, appropriated by the Holy Spirit, to speak into our lives and dismantle our preconceptions as he sees fit.
  3. Every hermeneutic must be in pursuit of Christ-likeness. Again it is not difficult to manipulate Scripture to form a coherent, but nevertheless abusive, interpretative framework. For instance, a person reading Exodus 21, Ephesians 5-6, and 1 Peter 2-3 together could easily argue that Christians can own slaves. They could even argue that these slaves are, in fact, rightfully viewed as property and that we may beat them for their wrongdoings as long as we also recognize and reward them fairly when they do right.

 

 

 

But this does not make this a Christ-like argument.  Our hermeneutic must always factor the crucified Christ, who alone reveals to us the character and will of God (John 1:1-18, John 14; 1 Cor 1-2).  In doing this, it is important not simply to take a flat or literalistic approach to a passage, but to explore the socio-historical and literary context as a means to determine if and where nuance may lie within the biblical text.

 

Thus, to take the example of biblical slavery above, I would point out it is important to consider the linguistic subtleties used by both Paul and Peter to critique the patriarchal social order of ancient Roman society and how that ought to affect our understanding of slavery.  Likewise, I would point out an OT passage like Jeremiah 34 which suggests Yahweh was more critical of Jewish slavery practices than the Exodus narrative by itself might suggest.

 

With these things in mind, I will present a treatment of Romans 1:26-27 that attempts to remain mindful of these categories.  I leave it to the reader to determine the effectiveness of my presentation.

colosseum_in_rome_italy_-_april_2007
(source)

 

 

Contextual Analysis

As stated above, it is simply not enough to quote a handful of verses from Scripture and claim to have grasped the “clear” view of Scripture of any topic.  In fact, in my opinion such a hermeneutic is woefully reductive and painfully myopic; it seems impossible to ever determine what Scripture means if the interpretive onus lies in the individual’s ability to assess a clear meaning.

 

In examining the context of Romans 1, I assert it is imperative to remember that no passage exists in isolation.  Instead, it is intended as part of an intricate argument – a comprehensive theological argument interacting both with the audience’s presuppositions and the text of Scripture itself.

 

As such, my method here shall be to explore how the passage in question, Romans 1:26-27, functions in various contexts.

 

The Passage

 

It seems sensible to start at a surface level analysis and work deeper.  Thus, I will begin by reading the verses Rob explicitly quotes by themselves.  That is, despite my objections, I will attempt – in all fairness – to consider whether these verses function independently to provide a clear enough picture for us to make any conclusions.  I offer the following observations.

 

First, we learn in verse 26 that “For this reason” God has “given up” a group referred to as “them” to “degrading passions”.  Already, for me, a couple questions arise:

  1. What does Paul mean by “For this reason”?
  2. Who is the “them” Paul references?

 

 

The commitment to these verses as a stand-alone thought requires we search verses 26-27 for clear answers to these questions.  In verse 26, Paul describes these people (them) as consumed by “degrading passions”.  These manifest as women exchanging “natural intercourse” for “unnatural”.  While the text does not specifically state what this unnatural intercourse might be, verse 27 states that the men behave “likewise” by “giving upsex with women for “shameless” passions which burn for other men.  This gives us the ability to infer that verse 26 intends to describe some sort of sex act in which the women engage, potentially a same-sex act though it does not say as much.  Verse 27 finishes by saying such “shameful acts” lead to consequences “in their own person” for their “error”.

 This raises several more unanswered questions:

3. Why did Paul consider these passions “degrading”?

4. Why does Paul paint the issue as one of “natural” and “unnatural” intercourse?

5. Why does Paul use the word “shameless” to describe the acts between the men, but says very little about the acts of the women?

6. Is there anything in the surrounding context that would suggest what the “due penalty” in their “own persons” might be?

 

 

 

With so many unanswered questions, it seems verses 26-27 do not stand well on their own.  However, Rob also claims verse 18 provides the context needed to sort out the “clear meaning” he has proposed.

 

Here, Rob notes that the text says Paul is addressing the “ungodliness and unrighteousness of mankind” and asserts that “even if homosexuality was related to idolatry, which evidently wasn’t the case, God’s word clearly views same-sex sexuality as [sin] in Romans 1:26-27 regardless of motive”.

 

Here is the NRSV translation of the verse.

 

 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth.

 

It is notable here that the NRSV chooses to translate the word anthropon in the Greek not to “men” or “mankind” (as Rob quoted from an alternate translation), but to “those”.  As Greek is an androcentric language, a word meaning literally “men” can have several meanings often determined by context.  It can mean a group of males, a gender inclusive group of persons, or connote all of humanity.  However, whether we choose the translation Rob uses, or that of the NRSV, verse 18 does nothing to answer any of the six questions I have posited above.

 

On the other hand, it does raise a new question:

7. What is there in the immediate context of verses 18-32 that led the translators of the NRSV to render anthropon as a gender inclusive group of persons, but not as meaning all of humanity?

 

As such, I propose, the “clear meaning” Rob has proposed from the three verses provided in his comment is hardly “clear”. In fact, there is nothing in these passages which clearly indicates who Paul is speaking of (them) or the occasion for his words (for this reason). Instead, the proposed reading of these verses leaves us with considerably more questions than answers.  Thus, it would appear, we ought to cast out nets a bit wider.

 

Immediate Context

 

In answering question (7) above, I would argue verse 18 seems to have all of humanity in mind with the word anthropon.  However, Paul immediately narrows his focus to a specific group on whom God’s wrath has come for being ungodly and wicked persons seeking to suppress the truth about God’s identity.  Thus, it would seem, the choice of phrasing in the NRSV was meant to render the nuance of this narrowing.

 

However, from a flat treatment of verse 18 we do not, yet, know what this truth is.  Thus, a larger contextual consideration is still necessary.  If we push forward, past verse 18, and treat the entire immediate context (18-32) I believe some answers will begin to present themselves.  For instance, in question (2) I asked:

 

Who are these specific people Paul has in mind?  Answering this question will point to the “truth” these people have suppressed (per verse 18) as well.

 

In verses 19-23, Paul lays out an argument for God himself being evident in nature.  God has made his existence plain to “them”.  Though his true nature was invisible to “them”, “they” could discern his existence in what he had created.  Yet “they” abandoned God and pursued foolishness, giving “themselves” over to senseless thinking and darkness.

 

Specifically, this group has ignored the immortal God of creation, instead making idols of “birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles” (22-23).

 

This does not provide a definitive answer to our question, but it at least begins to narrow down the potential candidates for whom, precisely, Paul has in mind.  It also points to an answer for question (1).  We now have enough information to posit what Paul meant by “For this reason” in verse 26.

 

It was for this reason that God “gave them up” to “impurity” and the “degrading of their bodies” which occurs by pursuing “the lust of their hearts”: these people had exchanged the truth of God as creator and embraced worship of his creation (24-25).

 

While we do not know definitively the identity of the people group yet, we have learned some things about them.

 

  • They appear to worship nature, seeing the created as deity while rejecting the creator (25).

 

 

  • They make carved images of these gods in the form of humans and/or various animals (23).

 

 

  • These people claim to be the purveyors of wisdom (22).

 

 

These observations seem to indicate a high probability Paul is addressing something very specific.  However, for now, it would be only speculation to assert precisely who this group might be.

 

There is, however, something more we can learn from this passage.  That is, we have a framework for considering questions (3), (4), (5), and (6) regarding Paul’s use of the terms “degrading”, “natural” and “unnatural”, and “shameless”.

 

It is important to notice the way in which this passage asserts that God reveals himself in his creation.  According to Paul, God reveals himself as the one whom ought to be worshipped through experience of nature.  That is to say, God reveals himself as the naturally worshipped one.

 

It is quite ironic, then, that these persons reject him, fail to worship him, and give up on serving him because in doing so they worship created beings instead of the being that is Creator.  They worship finite idols, graven images of people, quadrupeds, and reptiles.  They quite literally make an unnatural decision from their experience of nature by worshipping it instead of God.

 

Thus, in response, God gives them up to their own devices.  In answering question (6), because these persons practice their religion in pursuing their own ends they, the supposed wise, are proven to be foolish – their minds, hearts, bodies, and persons become debased.  This leads to the indulgence of all forms of lust and evil.  The plethora of sins listed includes “unnatural” sex acts, but also encompasses a litany of other non-sexual sins that “must not be done” (28).  In fact, I would point out that the non-sexual sins of verses 29-31 outnumber the sexual sins of 26-27 nineteen to two.

 

From looking at these things, we can already begin to see here that Paul never conceived of this passage as a death blow against same-sex marriage in the Church.  Instead, what Paul is speaking to is a specific situation within a specific group of people whose religion incorporates worship of the creation instead of the creator.

 

Paul is thus reminding his audience that those who refuse God, who reject him, inevitably fall into corrupt practices. Their entire society is built on corruption.  Thus as they exchange worship or Creator for worship of creation, they will exchange that which God ordains as natural in creation for that which is not.

 

Here I want to take a moment to consider what the original Greek of verses 26-27 does (and does not!) say.  First, it does not say all persons and all same-sex acts. In fact, what is at stake here is not – properly – sexuality at all.  Already, we have seen that the reason their women and the men have abandoned relations with one another to pursue relations that are “unnatural” and “shameless”.

 

But this is tied to a societal practice emanating from worship of nature, that is to say – as Joel B. Green has noted – that what is considered sinful here is idolatry[2], or the rejection of God as creator and authority.  The sex acts described are a symptom of this sin, they are acts committed in the process of this sin.

 

Next, it will also be helpful to look carefully at the Greek words for “degrading”, “natural”, “unnatural”, and “shameful”.

 

First, we will look at atimias. This word, rendered “degrading” in NRSV is actually better understood as dishonoring.[3]  That is, what Paul has in mind are passions which bring dishonor to those who indulge them.  This word is from the same root as the word atimazesthai in verse 24, which states that God gave them up to the “impurity of their hearts” which manifests as “dishonoring (NRSV degrading) their bodies among themselves.”[4]

 

In similar fashion, the word for “shameless” acts, aschēmosynēn, also bears the connotation of dishonor.  However, this word often means “acts committed publicly which dishonor a person”.[5]  Thus, given that Paul has tied these sex-acts to worship of nature, it would seem reasonable that what he is addressing here are public sex acts committed in the cultic worship of nature gods.

 

Lastly, there are “natural” (physiken)[6] and “unnatural” (para physin).[7]  Both terms are derived from the same root meaning that which was intended to be natural to the created order.

 

Now, as we have already noted, Paul has identified this specific group as people who reject the Christian God as creator.  The people claim themselves to be wise.  They worship nature and their gods are statues or images in the likeness of humans and animals.  They fail to see God as creator revealed in the act of creating an orderly world (ktiseos kosmou, vv. 18-25).[8]

 

As such, they have been given up to these false gods, whom they worship with impure hearts that pursue dishonor by engaging in public acts which bring them disgrace.  Thus, a natural sex act in Romans 1 is that which brings honor to the person and promotes the worship of God a creator.  And a dishonorable sex-act is one which promotes the worship of false gods, leading to public dishonor.

 

This allows us to propose an answer to questions (3), (4), and (5).  Paul calls these acts degrading because they are public acts of sexuality conducted in worship of a pagan deity (nature/fertility god).  Paul ties the rejection of God as creator in nature to the rejection of orderly conduct (that which is natural).  If God has revealed himself in the kosmos (root of kosmou), or order of creation, then to reject the God of this order is to reject what is natural and to embrace that which is unnatural, chaos which the Jews conceived as anti-god/creation.  Since the act the females commit is considered to be implicit in describing the actions of the males, it makes sense to spend more time focusing on what the men have done – the sex act they have committed.

 

However, we still do not have an entirely satisfactory answer to question (2).  In addition, I see another pertinent question which must be asked:

 

8. Were there any people groups with a history engaging is this kind of cultic worship at the time Paul wrote Romans?

 

cybelelions
(source)

 

Roman culture

First, I want to recognize that Rob has provided an article from Wikipedia (linked above) on “Homosexuality in Ancient Rome”.  The article deals with many of the facets of same-sex practices in Roman culture.   I am not sure, however, in what way this article is supposed to undermine my argument.  It seems to me that Rob has, in reality, missed the crux of my argument altogether.  However, in fairness to the source provided, I want to provide a very brief overview of what can be learned from it.

 

First, I want to recognize that the Wikipedia link does a fair job as an introduction to the topic.   It hits the highlights well enough in emphasizing many of the ways in which same-sex acts typically occurred.

 

Between men these were:

  1. Prostitution: A dominant male could have relations with a male prostitute.  This could be in either a cultic practice or in a wider societal setting.
  2. Sexual Slavery: A master could use his male slaves – both child and adult – as objects of sexual gratification.
  3. Pederasty: a male of higher class could take on a young prepubescent male as his charge.  He would mentor the boy, with whom he would carry on a sexual relationship in order to teach him the core virtues.  It ought to be noted that, while the proliferance of pederasty is disputed in Roman culture, literature suggests it was at least enough of a practice that prominent thinkers devoted time to condemning it.
  4. Rape in war:  male soldiers, to humiliate the opposing army, would often rape the defeated soldiers publically.

 

The article also notes that female same-sex activity was not well represented in Roman literature.  When it is referenced, one of the participants is usually described in “masculine” imagery – seen as the partner who penetrates.

 

I want to point out that the article itself stated that the Roman practice of same-sex activity was rooted in a culture of male dominance.  It was quite often an act of aggression, mean to emasculate the penetrated partner.

 

In my opinion, these types of acts are What Paul has in mind in 1 Corinthians 6 with the words malakoi and arsenokoites, the latter echoed in 1 Timothy.  Specifically, I believe Paul has in mind there aggressive and exploitative acts which seek to effeminate and emasculate others.

 

What is notably missing in this article – as Rob points out – is a specific reference to cultic practice.  The question that emerges from this article is simple.

 

Does this article represent the only types of same-sex activity in Roman society?  Or, were there other practices of same-sex genital acts considered acceptable in the Roman world?

 

The reality is, there were a great many fertility cults in Roman culture.  Among these cults many were mystic cults, which included practices such as purity rituals, divine marriage, ritual castration, and ecstasy.

 

Before I continue, I want to be clear, there will be descriptions contained here which may offend.  While I will do my utmost to not be explicit or graphic, the subject matter requires I at least offer an accurate account of worship practices.

 

Both the Roman Republican and Imperial periods have a well attested cult to the Divine Mother, a goddess often attributed to war and fertility.[9]  This Mother had many names, but one of the more common was Cybele (Latin) or Kybele (Greek), also sometimes alternately called Sybil. In the Sibylline cult, priests called Galli, would lead ecstatic rituals in worship of the goddess.  Among these rituals of self-castration, erotic dancing, and in some cases orgies. Also, the galli were known to practice sexual acts despite having no genitalia. They were even known to assume the role of “penetrating” partner through acts of penetrative oral stimulation on both men and women.[10]  Imagery for this cult included statues of the goddess in human form as well as plant and animal imagery – including lions and snakes.[11]

 

Because the gallus had no penis, these acts were considered an offense to Roman “virtue” and their patriarchal gender roles.  That is, whether engaged in sex acts with a male or a female, sex acts committed by the galli we considered a violation of natural (patriarchal) order because the galli did not conform to either male of female identity.  As such, these priests were commonly denied Roman citizenship.  However, this did not prevent the cult from gaining traction.[12]

 

Cybele was credited as the goddess which guided Rome to victory over the Carthagian army.  As a result, the Roman government could not simply ban the cult, as it was central to the worship practices of many of its warriors.  Further, risking displeasing the goddess who had delivered the Romans from a near defeat seemed ill advised.[13]  There is even attestation to the influence of the cult in the Roman capitol, even though full participation in orgiastic rituals was forbidden in the city.[14]

 

I want to be clear here.  I am not saying that the Sybilline cult can be explicitly identified as the group Paul is referring to.  The text does not give enough evidence for a 21st century reader to make an absolutely certain identification – though I would point out the similarities to the group described in the text are significant.   However, the question at hand is not whether we can pinpoint the exact group but whether there are any people groups fitting the bill of Romans 1:16-32 within Roman pagan worship and thus offering a challenge to Rob’s claim that same-sex acts in Roman society had nothing to do with idolatry.  Since the Sybilline cult lines up well with the text, it seems to me it is no stretch to see specific practices within Roman fertility cults as the issue Paul wished to address with his audience.

 

It is at this point I will note an important – and often ignored – nuance of the Greek text of Romans 1:26. The Greek text does not state explicitly that the women in question were engaged in same-sex acts.  It only says that God gave “them” – the inclusive group called anthropon in verse 18 – up to “passions of dishonor”.   The women of this group of humans, who have rejected God, are said to have “exchanged that which is natural for what is unnatural”.  This is depicted as occurring in the same way that the men have abandoned the natural and become consumed with lust for one another, practicing shameful same-sex acts.

 

If the act Paul had in mind was oral stimulation by a galli during worship practice of the goddess Cybele, then this could very well have been what Paul meant by both the men and the women being engaged in similarly sinful acts.  However, whether Paul had specifically this in mind, or some other practice, what seems clear is that the reference is to specifically cultic sexual acts committed in the worship of pagan deities.

 

As such, I have proposed a sufficient answer to question (8) – yes there were groups at the time Paul was writing whose cultic practices fit the description Paul gives.  Thus, we can begin to suggest, per question (2) that the “them” Paul refers to is a group of people with a history of involvement in pagan sex rituals.

 

However, before answering this question fully, I suggest some further insight is necessary.

 

Romans

 

As is often the case – especially in Paul’s letters – there is still much to be learned that not even the 18 verse context of Romans 1:18-32 can tell us.  Thus, in order to more fully understand what Paul has in mind we must broaden our gaze more.

 

I want to begin by proposing that, at a minimum, Romans 1:16 – 3:31 ought to be treated as a single unit of thought.  However, regardless of how many units of thought any epistle is divided into, it is also important to recognize that each individual argument is a microcosm of the whole, serving to build upon itself and form a coherent and persuasive rhetorical presentation for the intended audience.

 

As such, I will consider both contexts.  First, it will be helpful to answer the still looming question of to whom Paul is referring with his constant use of plural gender inclusive pronouns, rendered in English as their, them, etc.   Romans 1:16-17 will prove helpful:

 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

 

Here, we see that Paul has set out to discuss the ways in which the Gospel has been revealed to both the Jews and the Gentiles.  This gospel will reveal God as righteous and inspire faith in all who pursue his righteousness.

 

As such, in verse 18 the persons who “by their wickedness suppress the truth” are directly juxtaposed with those who are righteous, living by faith in God.  In fact, the word used for “wickedness” (adikian) is a direct antonym of The words used for the righteousness of God (dikaiosyne) and for the righteous person (dikaios) in verse 17.[15]

 

As such, it would seem that Paul has in mind a group of people, known to Roman Church who deny God and have worshipped nature as a false deity.  As the passage specifically speaks of Jews and Greeks – a phrase used to encompass what was the known world of the Roman occupied territories – the references to sexual worship of pagan deities seems to indicate Paul has in mind specifically Greek speaking Gentiles and their well-known cultic practices in worship of pagan deities in Romans 1:26-27.  This works to confirm the assertion made above and provide a sufficient answer for question (2).

destinations-roman-history-hero
(source)

 

 

Historical Context

 

Having answered the “who?” of Paul’s argument in Romans 1, it is important also to consider another question:

 

9. Why does Paul feel the need to speak to the Roman church about these passages?

 

As such, a consideration of the historical situation surrounding Paul’s writing of Romans will prove enlightening.

 

In 19 CE, the emperor Tiberius, at the behest of Sejanus, expelled all Jews from Rome.  However, after Sejanus death in 31 CE the ban was lifted.  By 41 CE there was a significant Jewish population in Rome once more.  It is likely that, at this time, Christianity came to Rome with Jewish Christians immigrants and merchants traveling to the Roman capitol.  Thus, the Roman church was founded on the work of Jews ministering to their Greek-speaking neighbors.[16]

 

However, in 49 CE the Jews were expelled from Rome by the emperor Claudius for causing a disturbance “instigated by Chrestus” (often believed to be a reference to Christ).[17]  As a result, while the early Christian movement in Rome had begun among Jews (Thus why Paul states “to the Jew first”) the church was now entirely comprised of Gentile worshippers.

 

Thus the Roman church formed its own traditions in Christ without the input of Jewish traditions and culture.  When Claudius died in 54CE, the Jews were again allowed to return to Rome.[18]  However, the Christians among them found a church that looked decidedly different from how they had left it.

 

This led to a power struggle, as the Jews and Gentiles both had separate Christian traditions which, to them, seemed incompatible.  Approximately 4 years later, the Apostle Paul – in anticipation of an impending visit to Rome – sent his letter attempting to establish peace and unity in preparation for his visit.[19]

 

The purpose behind writing Romans then is, in part, to overcome disunity in the congregation.  Paul, in setting up God as a directly revelatory God, and creating an argument where none are innocent before their creator.  Thus, Paul does not stop by merely showing the Greeks are culpable to their creator.  He likewise holds the Jews accountable in chapter 2.  The Jews may look down on their Gentile kindred, thinking “We know God’s judgement on those who do such things…”.  But Paul reminds them that “when you judge those who do such things, yet still do them yourselves” they are equally accountable (vv. 2-4).  Paul thus holds the Jews accountable the law.  Because they have violated the law, they stand guilty before God.  In fact, their use of the law to delineate themselves from the Gentiles only serves to further expose their guilt, for that is the sole function of the law (vv. 12-29).

 

While God entrusted himself first to the Jews, many were unfaithful to him (3:1-8).  Thus, it is not better to be a Jew for “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (vv. 9, 23).  As Paul sees it, being Jewish has no distinct advantage over being Gentile because, even if a Jew worships Yahweh as creator, unless they have kept very law as part of the covenant of circumcision, they stand condemned (2:17-29).

 

As such, the sin Paul looks to emphasize in Romans 1 is specifically sin apart from the law, which brings about death apart from the law (2:12-16).  He is establishing unity by tracing through the divided community a line which leads away from lines of denigration and discord, and traces them both to identity found in “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (3:22).  With this in mind, I want to briefly return to Romans 1:16-32 to see how Paul is building towards this argument.

 

In 1:28-32 Paul lays out a litany of actions that, like the sex acts of 26-27, he considers related to be rejection of God.  In fact, he argues that in rejecting God they have been given up to a mind that is adokimon.  This word, in the Greek, bears the connotation of being false or counterfeited.[20]  Thus, Paul is stating that their counterfeit understanding (Greek noun) will lead them to embrace a host of things which are “not proper or fitting” (kathekonta) for persons who revere God.[21]

 

These acts are depicted as unrighteous (adikia) and wicked (this time rendered with poneria).  They not only know such actions are against creation purpose, they rebel in them and entice others to participant as well.

 

With this in mind, I feel confident in asserting that my focus on idolatry in Romans 1:26-27 is an entirely consistent reading within the larger argument for unity in the larger context of Romans.  Paul is arguing that using one’s identity as “Jew” or “Greek” to create social strata or hierarchies of authority is not conducive to the formation of a Christ centered Christian community.  Instead, Paul proposes the only boundaries of the Christian community are those who profess Christ, worshipping God properly in faith (the righteous) and those who don’t (unrighteous).

 

New Testament

 

This concept occurs in other Pauline epistles as well.  In 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 Paul seeks to overcome division by reminding the Corinthian church that no one can affirm Christ as Lord unless they do so by the work of the Spirit (v. 3).  Further, in 1 Corinthians 1:18-32, Paul calls the church to unity in the cross, which renders both Jewish and Greek wisdom foolishness and their power, weakness.  God exalts the weak in the cross and gives them a new identity.

 

This is further upheld in Galatians 3, where Christ is considered a curse under the law (v. 3).  Yet, in being accursed he overcomes the law – which demands death – and instead unites everyone who follows him as children of Abraham, a community in which the particularities of ethnic distinction find their truest form within the mutuality of an identity within God’s adopted family of covenant.

 

It is no coincidence then that in Romans 4 Paul transitions from a discussion of damnation to death before God in chapters 1-3 to a discussion of Abraham and his covenant.  Just as Paul uses the covenant of Abraham to include all persons in the family of God in Galatians 3, he also traces the fulfillment of Abraham’s “blessing to the nations” (cf Gen 18:17-19, 22:15-18) in Christ as the beginning of Christian unity (4:13-35) and the promise of salvation in faith (vv. 1-12).

 

Some Further Considerations

Having established this, I want to move on from answering questions of hermeneutics and work towards a vision for Christian support of full inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the Church.  To do so, I want to trace Paul’s argument through some important Old Testament concepts that, I believe, will help to demonstrate some important principles.

 

Paul, as a Pharisee, was a scholar of the Jewish Scriptures.  It is no coincidence, then, that the treatment of divisions within the Roman church would be ideologically similar to ideas proposed in the Hebrew Bible – the only Scriptures possessed by both Jewish and Gentile believers in the 1st century C.E.

 

It is no coincidence then that his argument has deep roots in Genesis 1.  In the opening creation poem of Scripture, we learn that God has created an orderly creation out of the chaos of watery deep.  Using images typical of the Ancient Near East, Genesis uses water to represent anti-creation, or chaos.  This is why the flood of Genesis 6-9 is so devastating.  God quite literally destroyed his creation, returning it to its chaotic watery state, before recreating it again from the deep.  In the same way, in Exodus 15 the Red Sea is depicted as a watery chaos from which the Hebrew slaves emerge as the nation of Israel, employing significant parallels with the Genesis account.

 

Further, throughout Scripture, God’s sovereignty over his creation is juxtaposed with the chaos of the “deep waters” (see here).  Passages like Psalm 33 and 148 portray YHWH as the Lord over the deep, the one setting the boundaries of the chaotic waters and whom the sea monsters of chaos obey.  Throughout the OT that which is ordered is natural, that which promotes chaos is not.  Rejection of God is thus perceived as unnatural or unacceptable and those who perpetrate such actions in pagan cultic worship are promised that they will be undone, returned to a state of chaos or uncreation (e.g. Jnh 2; Isa 8:1-15).

 

Thus, when Paul speaks in Romans 1 of those who reject God and have their body, minds, hearts, and entire society become debased, he is depicting their uncreation in the rejection of their creator.  In Romans 2, then, when Paul promises the Jews the same punishment for their unfaithfulness to the law – which parallels the unfaithfulness of the Gentiles in worshipping creator over created – it is notable he is evoking images of exile.  In fact, that violation of the law would lead to their “uncreation” is stated by Moses in Deuteronomy 28.  If the nation of Israel kept their end of the covenant of the law forged at Sinai (Exodus 19-24), they could expect blessing and protection from YHWH.  However, if they rejected YHWH and were unfaithful to their covenant, then they could expect to be unmade – conquered and utterly destroyed by their enemies.

 

This is the covenant of circumcision referenced by Paul in Romans 2.  Though Abraham’s covenant was eventually marked by circumcision, Paul notes it was a covenant that preceded the practice as a response to Abraham’s faith.  Thus, through this covenant all persons are included among God’s people apart from circumcision (Rom 4, cf Gal 3).  Abraham was counted as righteous by his faithfulness to God and trust in God’s provision.  And it is through this faith, through Abraham’s righteousness, that Christ has fulfilled the Abrahamic covenant and all are now Children of God.  As Paul states in Galatians 3, the law can only condemn and in Romans 2 Paul notes that those who worship God will be those who bear his mark on their heart, not on their flesh.

 

As such, both those who worship false deities and those who lose themselves in law miss the true nature of God and the worship he desires.  Paul argues,  we can only truly worship God in faithful imitation of Christ through humility and love of neighbor (Rom 13:8-10; cf. Phil 2:1-11).

 

That is not, however, the only connection to Genesis 1.  In Romans 1, Paul uses specific terms for “male” and “female” (Arsenes and Theleiai respectively).  These same root words occur when God makes humanity “male” and “female” in his image in the Septuagint (LXX) text of Genesis 1.  As Paul is specifically invoking the theme of creation, it is hardly a coincidence that he invokes language indicative of a passage depicting it.

 

Paul is thus evoking the theme of creation purpose.  The pagans described in Romans 1 have abandoned the God who created them in his image and thus that image has been utterly corrupted.  In the same way, Israel in its adherence and insistence on law, has chosen to worship God in actions instead of in faith in Christ.  In both instances, Paul sees these as corruption of purpose.

In Genesis 1, the order of creation is such that function is emphasized. [22]  Genesis 1 fits neatly within the genre of Epic Poetry.  It is stylistically similar to other creation narratives from the Ancient Near East.  The Babylonian creation myth, Enuma Elish, depicts creation as a divine war between the deity Marduk and a giant sea serpent.  In creating the world, Marduk kills the sea serpent Tiamat and rips her in two lengthwise.  He then uses the two halves of the serpent to conquer the waters by separating them into an upper and low sea, forming sky and land.

Comparisons with the Epics of Atrahasis and Gilgamesh, older texts adapted by Enuma Elish, reveal further similarities between Genesis 1-11 and Ancient Near Eastern myths.  These epics tell a story of creation from watery chaos, divine displeasure with humanity, and a flood from which a single person/family is saved.

However, it is notable that there is also a deal of dialectic tension between Genesis 1 and its Mesopotamian counterparts.  The God of Genesis has no issue taming the waters.  Also, humanity in Genesis is created to share in Yahweh’s purposes, not as slaves to the gods’ appetites.  Also, a close reading of parallel biblical creation poems such as Job 26 (cf 40-41) and Psalms 74:12-17 reveal that there are ancient versions of the Israelite Epic containing stories of sea dragons and emphasizing Yahweh’s power over foreign deities (which are assumed to actually exist!).  Our current account does not represent the entirety of Jewish thought, but the culmination of their identity in post-Babylonian chaos.[23]

Lastly, a careful reading of the Genesis 1 creation epic will help reveal its own poetic structure.  If you look at the flow of the text, you will notice it has a mirror image format.

Day 1 – Light & Dark/Day & Night

Day 4 – Greater & Lesser light marking day and Night

Day 2 – Waters Separated/Sky (dome) created

Day 5 – Waters and Sky filled with living creatures

Day 3 – Dry land and vegetation created

Day 6 – Dry land filled with animals and humans that consume vegetation

Day 7 – Creation culminates in God’s rest

As such, we discover that when Yahweh is depicted as ordering creation, the language connotes him carefully crafting each day as a skilled artisan.[24] Also, He divides and orders in priestly fashion, separating everything according to its type.  Lastly, he assumes the role of divine king in the seventh day.

The rule of God as king and priest is thus intimately connected to the notion of Sabbath rest.  As such, a look at the mirrored structure of the poem shows the seventh day is the intended focus of Genesis 1-2:3.  That is, it is important to our current discussion that only in Yahweh’s rest does humanity find its meaning.

While I won’t rehash here the complex biblical commands of Sabbath (I treat it briefly here), it is enough here to say that the Sabbath represented Israel’s response to the very real presence of Yahweh in the formation of their nation (cf Ex 16, 23:10-13; Lev 25).  Israel was not called simply to observe Sabbath as a day of the week, but to live Sabbath in relation to their neighbor.  Sabbath was emulation of Yahweh in all they did and the assurance of his presence in their midst.  Failure to practice Sabbath was among the reasons Yahweh sent Israel into exile (Jer 17:19-17, cf 34).

It is no wonder, then, that the language of Yahweh’s rest is linguistically tied to his act of filling the tabernacle/temple with his Shekinah glory (Ex 40, 2 Chron 7).  In both cases, what is at stake is Yahweh establishing his presence towards the establishment of his divine kingdom.  The seven instructions for building the tabernacle (Ex 25-31) closely resemble the seven days of creation. Both passages culminate in Sabbath. The intricate imagery of the tabernacle/temple suggest it was intended as a microcosm of creation, reminding us that just as Yahweh indwells the tabernacle/temple, he has chosen to dwell within his creation.

Likewise, at the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests in Leviticus 8, the process is depicted as lasting 7 days and nights. At the end of the inauguration, we are told in Leviticus 9, that a fire from the Lord consumed the offering, marking that he had accepted Aaron and his son’s as priests. Considering this, we can begin to determine what it means to be made “in God’s image” in the narration of Day 6.

In stating that humanity – both male and female – are created in the image of God, we learn he has commissioned them for his purpose.   The idea of bearing “image” in Hebrew is rooted in the notion of priestly kingship.  In other words, in establishing his kingdom, and himself as ruler, Yahweh is inviting humanity to partake in his purpose, to rule accordingly in his kingdom.[25]

This is consistent with the creation of Israel in Exodus 19.  Having been delivered from the chaotic waters of the Red Sea (as noted above) an epic poem is written which strongly resembles the language and tone of Genesis 1 (Ex 14:1-21).  At Sinai, as Israel makes their covenant before Yahweh, they are called to be the set apart as a holy nation, a “priestly” royalty which represents the kingdom of Yahweh before the nations (19:5-6).

Once we have established these things – Yahweh as indwelling ruler and humanity as priestly stewards – we can begin to divest ourselves from propositional treatments of Romans 1:26-27. Instead, we can address the larger narrative framework at play and begin to understand that what is at stake in Romans 1-3 is not what actions specifically are sinful, but instead how improper worship of God leads to sinful actions. In denying God as revealed in the cross of Christ, both Jews and Greeks have chosen to deny God’s purpose for them.

As we showed through Paul, in Jesus, the purpose of Abraham’s covenant, the blessing of all nations through his offspring, is thus fulfilled. The Jews self-understood purpose as steward and priest is extended also to the Gentile, who is also not included among those who are God’s children through the cross (cf Gal 3). As such, what is at stake here is, precisely, the identity of individuals in relationship to God and to his kingdom purpose. This is why idolatry is said to lead to sin, not sin to idolatry. The two, as Paul sees it, are intricately connected as the worship of something false leads one to reject the calling and purpose of God in humanity for all creation. This is why, in Romans 8, Paul depicts creation as subjected to futility by humanity and as groaning in labor, awaiting the redemption of humanity that the New Creation might be realized.

rainbow-window-cross
(source)

 

 

Conclusion

Through the cross, Christ establishes solidarity with the oppressed, inflicted, and abused of humanity (Isa 52:13-53:12).  In fact, as I pointed out before, in “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2) God exalts what the world finds weak and foolish (1 Cor 1:18-32).  Jesus became the thing which the world rejected, abandoned by God, crucified a rebel and cursed as a blasphemer, the very embodiment of sin for those whom the world would condemn (Luke 20:9-19; Matt 27:46; 2 Cor 5:11-21).[26]

 

The cross of Christ teaches that us that he is for the least of these, their sufferings are his sufferings (Matt 25:31-46; 1 Peter 2:21-25).  As such, I am confident in saying that the Christ of God, when he was crucified, died as one among the LGBTQ community.  As persons made in his image, he takes on their suffering and rejection and counts himself among them even as they are abused and abandoned by those who claim to worship him, but do not know his love (1 Cor 13, 1 John 4).  LGBTQ persons can find their identity in Christ by knowing that they were created to be in communion with him, and his body, to be fulfilled according to whom God has created them to be in his cross.  He does not call them to abandon their identity, but instead to discover the fullness being created as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer persons within his community, the Church.

 

When we, as straight/cis Christians, deny the LGBTQ community their place within the body of Christ, we are in fact denying their humanity and rejecting the work of Christ on the cross.

 

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:8-12)

 

 

[1] Jürgen Moltmann, Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology (Fortress: Minneapolis, 1993) p. 75.

[2] Joel B. Green, Body, Soul, and Human Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008) p. 101.

[3] Walter Bauer, William F. Arndt, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and F.W. Danker, “ἀτιμία, ας, ἡ” p. 149 in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2000).

[4] BDAG, “ἀτιμάζω”, p. 148-149.

[5] BDAG, “ἀσχημοσύνη, ῆς, ἡ”, p. 147.

[6] BDAG, “φυσικός, ή, όν”, p. 1069.

[7] BDAG, “φύσις, εως, ἡ” pp. 1069-1070.

BDAG, “παρά”, p. 756-758.

[8] BDAG, ”κτίσις, εως, ἡ”, p. 572-573.

BDAG, “κόσμος, ου, ὁ”, p. 561-562.

[9] Luke and Monica Roman, “Cybele” pp. 122-123 in Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Cults (New York City: Facts of Life, 2010).

[10] Eric M. Orlin, Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating an Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010) from Ch. 3 of Google Books copy.

[11] Lynn E Roller, In Search of the God Mother: The Cult of Anatolean Cybele (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999) pp. 38-39, 131-138, 152-154, 169-170.

[12] Orlin, Foreign Cults.

[13] Sarolta A. Takacs, “Magna Deum Matre Idaea, Cybele, and Catallus’ Attis” pp. 367-386 in Cybele, Attis,  and Related Cults: Essays in Memory of M.J. Vermaseren, ed. Eugene N. Lane (New York: Brill, 1996).

[14] Mary Beard, “Religion” pp. 729-768 in The Last Age of the Republic, 146-43 B.C., vol. 9 of The Cambridge Ancient History, ed. J.A. Crook (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003) esp. pp. 763-768.

[15] BDAG, “ἀδικία, ας, ἡ”, pp. 20-21. “δικαιοσύνη, ης, ἡ”, pp. 247-249. “δίκαιος, ία, ιον”, pp. 246-247.

 

[16] John Reuman, “Romans”, pp. 1277-1313 in Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003) esp. p. 1277-1278.

[17] John Reuman, “Romans, Letter to the” pp. 1135-1138 in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000). esp. 1136

[18] Reuman, “Romans”, ECB, pp. 1277-1278.

[19] ibid. p. 1279

[20] BDAG, “ἀδόκιμος, ον”, p.21.

[21] BDAG, “νοῦς, νοός, νοΐ, νοῦν, ὁ”, p. 680. “καθήκω”, p.491.

[22] The following discussion of Genesis 1 is derived from a previous post entitled “The Fruit of Complement”

[23] R.W.L. Moberly, TheTheology of the Book of Genesis, Old Testament Theology Series, eds. Brent A. Strawn and Patrick D. Miller (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009). pp. 43-50.

[24] Ibid, 54-57 (quoting John D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988]).

[25] John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis 1: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2009) pp. 72-77.;

[26] Crucified God, p. 153.

**Cover image from http://media.culturemap.com/crop/a9/69/600×600/gay-marriage-two-ladies-cake-toppers-and-two-men-cake-toppers_104909.jpg**

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28 thoughts on “When in Romans

  1. Nate,

    Sorry for the delay. Lots of things going on and I wanted to give the most thorough response I could.

    As far as dealing with your argument regarding Romans, I have a few things to say:

    I don’t have a whole lot to add in and of myself. The idea that Paul is dealing only with homosexuality in relation to pagan worship has been rather thoroughly debunked by many scholars, including Robert Gagnon. You may read his books or visit his website: http://www.robgagnon.net Incidentally, I see little evidence that you have even read Gagnon, who is a must-read on this topic of homosexuality in the Bible. In fact, Gagnon is so essential that no responsible treatment of the text can be done without consulting him and at least interacting with his arguments. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t see any reference to him here or elsewhere on your site. But maybe I missed it. And it’s not just Gagnon, a moderate-conservative either. Lots and lots of liberal Bible scholars agree.

    Back to my comments on LT Johnson. As an undergrad student in religious studies at a secular university, I had a liberal Roman Catholic professor who is well recognized as a Christian ethicist. In our class discussion on homosexuality, she brought up your essential point only to then debunk it by saying, quite accurately, that the Bible has nothing positive to say about homosexuality. Mind you, she was all for “full inclusion” of homosexual persons in the church, she was just willing to confess that the Bible was wrong. You seem to be willing to confess that the Bible was wrong to endorse genocide (it doesn’t, btw, but another issue) and other things. Why not just come out and say the Bible is wrong for condemning homosexuality?

    But as far as a basic response to Romans 1 and your exegesis, you basically go off track at the beginning by assuming that Paul’s focus is narrowed exclusively to those who commit idolatry or that he wasn’t thinking of homosexuality within a non-pagan setting. The wider context makes that impossible. Yes, Paul mentions outright idolatry specifically in verses 22–23. And as a result of that idolatry, people are handed over to various evils (vv. 24-25, 26-27, 28-32). No one person is handed over to all of these evils, as both Scripture and human experience attest; the idea is that those who commit idolatry are handed over to one or more of the representative list of evils.

    In order for your argument to work, the homosexual acts in view must be those committed only by pagan idolaters. In other words, it must be homosexual acts can be non-sinful when committed by those who are not pagan idolaters. But in fact, Paul has a much broader view of what constitutes suppressing the knowledge of God than outright pagan idolatry. You could, in fact, take out verses 22-23 and the argument would still flow. Why do I say this? Because the handing over of people to those acts by God is not the result only of exchanging the worship of God for the worship of created things. How do we know this? Because chapter 2 says the Jews, who did not worship created things, were also handed over to the various evils listed, at least those evils listed in 1:28–32. So the Jews were handed over to the same vices as the pagans (or at least some of the same vices) even though they did not build images of creeping things, and the only reason for this can be that they likewise suppressed the truth of God in unrighteousness (1:18). They just did it in a different way. And Romans 2–3 describes how the Jews have in fact suppressed the knowledge of God.

    And when you read the rest of Paul and the New Testament, it is very clear that people can “worship” the one true God and Creator and still be suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Jesus repeatedly condemns his opponents for doing that. Paul repeatedly talks about his past in sin and repressing the truth as he persecuted the church. You can even look at the various pagans of Paul’s day. He interacts throughout his epistles with pagan thought, and Acts describes him doing so as well. Many of these philosophies did not entail worship of a pantheon of images. Many of them were at least implicitly monotheistic.

    So you cannot connect the sinfulness of homosexual activity described exclusively with false pagan worship of images. False pagan worship can result in homosexuality, but so can homosexuality come from those who claim to be worshipping in a non-pagan way. There’s no reason to condemn the activity in Leviticus, for example, if it is impossible to worship the true God AND engage in homosexual acts as well.

    Because of that, the evidence of pagan worship and homosexual activity that you adduce, while interesting, is in many ways besides the point that Paul is making. His point is that all people, Jew and Gentile suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Some do it with pagan worship, but the Jews do it as well. And God hands over those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness to various sins. Some, but not all, are handed over to murder. Some, but not all, to homosexuality. Some, but not all, to gossip. And so on.

    The sinfulness of the acts Paul describes is not due exclusively to any connections with idolatry that they might have. They are also dishonorable because natural relations were exchanged for those contrary to nature. And first-century Jews, as Gagnon and many others demonstrate, connect what is natural to sexual activity with procreation and the complementarity of the male and female sex organs, both of which are impossible in homosexual activity. For your argument to work, you must also basically ignore Paul’s Jewishness.

    Then when you go on from there you have much more serious problems in the canonical and cultural context. It really is quite impossible for your reading to make sense if you believe in any continuity between the biblical books, but this is just for starters:

    a. If God creates people homosexual and that is a good thing, then that must have also been true of the pre-fall context of Gen. 1–2. Yet God tells the same creatures he made to be fruitful and multiply. So, your position entails God, before sin enters the world, commanding at least some creatures to do something that is against their very good nature. Something impossible for them to do.

    b. There is not one positive mention of a committed, monogamous homosexual relationship in all of Scripture. In fact, you would think just by reading Scripture that no such thing exists. The silence is deafening. Why? It could be that the biblical writers were ignorant that such things could and did exist, even if they were perhaps rare. That is impossible in the Greco-Roman context of the NT. Homosexual relationships, even “committed” homosexual relationships were well known. The more likely explanation is that the authors of Scripture did not expect that anyone would claim to be Christian and in such a relationship because those two realities are fundamentally incompatible.

    c. Lots of instructions in Scripture for how husbands are to treat wives and wives are to treat husbands. Not a single word on how husbands are to treat husbands and wives are to treat their wives.

    d. Scripture is not afraid to be countercultural. Jesus and Paul were not afraid to go against the grain of what their culture said about women and slaves, for instance. Homosexuals were “marginalized” then, and yet complete silence. Odds are that such was because Paul and Jesus agreed with their culture on this matter.

    e. And point d. is strengthened by the fact that if NT scholarship has taught us anything, it is that Paul and Jesus and Peter and so on were in most ways very conventional Jews. In fact, their treatment of women, for instance, stands out because they were so very conventional on just about everything else. Jesus had much in common theologically with the Pharisees, and that’s one reason why he is so harsh on them. (It’s as if He’s asking, How could they be so wrong when they got so much right?) Yet silence on homosexuality. Far safer and much more in keeping with the Jewish context of the NT to assume they held the same views on homosexuality as their Jewish countrymen.

    Now of course you could deny canonical consensus or that all of Scripture is given by God, but then essentially lapse into a Marcionite view of Scripture. You quite rightly state that Marcion believed the God of Israel had nothing to do with the God of Jesus, but you are wrong to then go on and say that what seems to be your position is not a flavor of Marcionism.

    How do we know what the God of Israel is like? The prophets and New Testament Apostles.
    Did the prophets have any problem with the command to exterminate the Canaanites or the social regulations you have decried as inherently unjust? No. In fact, the prophets appeal to the law in which those commands are found and Jesus said it won’t pass away (Matt. 5) until it’s fulfilled. Paul said the law was good provided it is used for its intended purpose.
    Did they believe those things above were given by God? Yes. There’s absolutely no evidence that Jesus or anyone else thought only some parts of the Torah and the rest of the OT were inspired and some weren’t.
    Do you believe those things above were given by God? Apparently not. Maybe I’m wrong, however. Feel free to correct me if that is the case.
    Assuming I am correct on point 4, then, you simply don’t worship the God of Israel that the prophets and the Apostles and Jesus worshipped. They believed those things were just and given by God. You believe God could never give them, it seems. So their view of the God of Israel and your view of the God of Israel are fundamentally different. Just as it was with Marcion, whose view of the God of Israel did not match the view of the God of Israel held by the wider church, the prophets, Jesus and the Apostles. You aren’t so outright about it, but to reject any part of the law as divinely inspired and just is to reject the God of Israel revealed to us by Jesus and the Apostles.
    And then, the inherent weakness of your position is shown in the lack of consensus regarding it.

    a. There is no general agreement among those who profess to believe in the Bible and to be for “full inclusion” as to what exactly the condemnations of homosexuality are all about. The only agreement is “Well, we can’t say for sure what Paul is talking about, but what we can say for sure is that it’s not about our homosexual Christian friends.” That’s a very weak position to hold, particularly when the consensus of the Christian tradition is decidedly against you. In fact, you recently tweeted that “It can’t mean THAT” is an impotent position.

    b. Speaking of consensus, the major branches of Christianity, the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and confessional Protestantism differ over much theologically. They don’t differ over this at all. In fact, you can’t find a church father or any Protestant Reformer condoning homosexuality activity among Christians. You can’t find anyone before 1950, and that’s being very generous with my dating.

    Does that prove the traditional position is correct? Not in itself. Truth is often in the minority position. But it’s extremely rare, if not impossible, to find a position asserted in church history that cannot claim continuity with what came before. Even the Reformers, who at the start were in the minority, continually pointed back not only to Scripture but also to church fathers to support their positions. To what can your position point? Nothing from church history. Furthermore, the fact that there is so much disagreement among various traditions on vital issues and yet no disagreement on this strengthens the force of the consensus. It would be one thing if everyone agreed on everything, but people approaching the study of Scripture and history from different perspectives all agree on this. It greatly reduces the role that theological presuppositions are playing.

    c. Which brings me back to my earlier point about LT Johnson. Who agrees that Scripture is uniformly negative about homosexuality in all contexts? People who believe in inerrancy. People who don’t. Average laypeople in the pews. Bible scholars who are professed atheists but work in secular universities. Moderates such as LT Johnson who denies inerrancy and yet has respect for the historicity of Scripture. There’s o reason for all these people to agree on a very contentious issue, and yet they do.

    Who agrees that homosexuality is condemned by Scripture in every case? Uniformly it is people who have a non-inerrantist view of Scripture. There’s not broad agreement among groups with different presuppositions regarding the errancy, authority, and canonicity of the text. That suggests the position you espouse is driven far more by what is brought to the text than what is derived from it.

    d. With further respect to diversity, it is very interesting how this “advocacy” for inclusion is found almost entirely in white upper-middle class European modern and postmodern scholarship that is also supportive of Western colonial imperialism in such things such as imposing certain views of homosexuality on other cultures through vehicles such the U.S. State Department and the United Nations. Meanwhile, those who are most likely to hold to a traditional view of homosexuality that says that all homosexual activity is a sin aren’t white Europeans.

    http://www.pewglobal.org/2013/06/04/the-global-divide-on-homosexuality/

    Some money quotes:

    “The survey of publics in 39 countries finds broad acceptance of homosexuality in North America, the European Union, and much of Latin America, but equally widespread rejection in predominantly Muslim nations and in Africa, as well as in parts of Asia and in Russia. Opinion about the acceptability of homosexuality is divided in Israel, Poland and Bolivia.”

    “Attitudes about homosexuality have been fairly stable in recent years, except in South Korea, the United States and Canada, where the percentage saying homosexuality should be accepted by society has grown by at least ten percentage points since 2007.”

     “The survey also finds that acceptance of homosexuality is particularly widespread in countries where religion is less central in people’s lives. These are also among the richest countries in the world. In contrast, in poorer countries with high levels of religiosity, few believe homosexuality should be accepted by society.”

    Meanwhile, the same historic tradition that rejects your novel views was shaped by Europeans, of course, but its most formative years were all led by non-Europeans. The Early Church Fathers were North African, Asian, and so forth. Few if any Europeans among them.

    So what I can see is an almost complete lack of cultural and socio-economic diversity among those who hold your position. Basically just a bunch of rich white Europeans who are as colonialist in their orientation as they ever were in the past. Again suggesting that the position isn’t driven by the actual biblical text but by the particular moral assumptions of late modern Anglo Europeans forged in nominally Christian or irreligious contexts. Queer theory? Talk about something forged in very privileged contexts where wealth allows people not to worry about actual problems that the vast majority of the world focuses but to put all their attention in lifting up the sexual minorities that are currently privileged by the left, which on this issue is uniformly rich and white.

    As a consequence, it would just be better to admit that the Bible is uniformly negative on homosexual relationships but that the Bible is wrong and that you and other late modern/postmodern middle class colonialist Whites like you know better about what the text means than people who have far more in common with the biblical culture than you ever will. How ironic is it that Christians from the developing world, who have far more in common culturally with the biblical writers than you or I ever will, essentially look at your position and laugh?

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    1. This response is written on my phone (my dog broke my computer) so please bear with any errors.

      I’ve discussed Gagnon in conversation (though not specifically here). For all the hype, I see nothing novel nor persuasive.

      Also, saying I haven’t read Gagnon has zero bearing on the validity of the argument. It’s an appeal to authority at best. You spend a great deal of time off topic.

      I didn’t say the Bible says something specifically positive. I said it has little to say on it at all, and that context dictates what it does have to say – which is negative but rather specific.

      So I ask what other evidence there is and explore why it isn’t so cut and dry.

      The command to annihilate and entire race of people is called genocide.
      I specifically address your concern about Ch. 2 on the context section. Paul works in Romans to bridge the gap between Jewish and Roman believers. He is fairly specific which chapters are addressed to which set, and how the whole ought to bring unity.

      Have you read Wright on Romans? He and I draw some different conclusions in places (obviously) but his work on context and literary form is brilliant.

      Gagnon’s entire argument about complementarity is filtered through the Greek philosophical underpinnings of the church fathers.

      Not to mention, the image of God as procreation is actually poorly attested in both Jewish lit and the church Fathers.

      In fact, many of the church fathers considered sex a result of the fall entirely. And Jewish scholars believed Adam was initially hermpahroditic, split in half to create Eve (thus the concept of being “one flesh”).

      Also, Gagnon has not dealt with the fact that everyone is called to be one flesh with both Christ and each other through “the body of Christ” in Paul -which undermines the idea from Genesis 2 that one flesh is seen as purely sexual.

      Also, the work of John Walton (a conservative scholar who does not affirm same-sex marriage) completely undermines the claim that “be fruitful and multiply” is simply a command to have sex. His exploration of the priestly root of the imago dei in Genesis 1 is enlightening.

      Point (b) is an argument from silence. There is also no negative mention of such a relationship.
      There are plenty of instructions on how to treat people we love in all relationships (even how to love our enemies) so again, (c) is an argument from silence.

      D. You have to define homosexual before you say they were marginalized. Because emperor’s had male sex slaves and even castrated young boys and married them. Also, the practice of pederastt was quite popular in Roman society.

      Also, don’t forget the move go include eunuchs in the Christian church modeled even by Christ. They were forbidden by Jewish law, and considered less than men by Jewish custom, yet Jesus embraced them as fully men. Also, Jesus and Paul’s provision for singleness undermines the idea that men are created only for marriage to women.

      Jesus argues being a eunuch can be the natural course of a person’s life.

      E. You keep misusing the word “Marcionite”. Marion denied that the God of the OT was the same God as Jesus. The view that revelation is progressive, that we know God most fully in Jesus, and that Christian ethics is a developing and contextual enterprise is well attested.

      The prophets also contradict the law. Isaiah calls for eunuchs to be admitted into the temple. Several prophets (and even the Psalms!) critique the cultic rituals of the temple.
      I never denied inspiration. I pointed out that inspiration is part of the process of progressive revelation. Thus why Jesus didn’t scold his disciples for failing to wash their hands and why he healed on the Sabbath.

      Jesus even recognizes that laws on divorce were a concession based in Israelite stubbornness and the need to curb their injustice.

      Also, the provision of a King was ordained by God, and he even supported the monarchy. Yet Scripture also contains staunch critique of the kings and points beyond human rule and politics to the kingdom of God.

      God make a concession in the Bible more than once, and he also critiques the people or needing those concessions.

      Perhaps read the work of Bruegemann on the prophets. Fascinating look at the ways in which the OT doesn’t present one, single monolithic vision of the Jewish faith.

      Also, you have absolutely no clue on my opinion on inspiration. Much like your basic failure to understand the Marion heresy. Doesn’t really bode well for your argument when you spend most of your time tilting at windmills.
      The lack of general consensus is an empty argument. There is no general consensus on what gender complementarity means among complementarians. I doubt you’d apply the same argument there however.
      There is a great deal you can’t find in church fathers and reformers. For instance, Aquinas and many others held that being female was a disfunction of masculinity. They held to views of the earth as flat. They held to a number of medically false beliefs.

      They aren’t he end all be all of any argument.

      You might want to look up third wave Christian feminism, liberation theology, and the influences of womanism.

      There are a great number of black biblical scholars teaching at prestigious Christian universities leading the way on these things.

      Also, postmodernism is by and large a critique of colonialism. Maybe read some postmodern scholars. Especially in the past several decades (since at least the civil rights movement) post colonialist, post modernist theology has been challenging the role historical patriarchy and western philosophy have played in patriarchal oppression and false binaries.

      Also, there are movements in a number of nonWestern countries to be LGBT inclusive. (Also, Latin America is considered part of the global south and has a strong vein of anti-colonialist Christian theology).

      Also, I seriously doubt you’ve read much queer theory. Have you read Patrick Cheng? Are you familiar with the connections between Black Lives Matter and the Queer rights movement? Queer theory is largely born out of feminist, womanist, and liberation theologies which are driven by women and minorities.

      You throw around words and ideas like you’ve only ever read someone else’s summary. I doubt you’ve read any queer theory beyond Matthew Vines or Justin Lee.

      You certainly have almost no grasp on the relationship between postmodern thought and the rise of post-colonialist philosophies and ideologies. Or the connections between feminism and postmodernism for that matter.

      Anyway, we can go in circles all day, but your arguments are repeatedly self-defeating and your lack of research glaring.

      Perhaps we should stop while we’re ahead. I’m not much for fruitless argument, certainly not when my dialogue partner has little grasp of the basic terms of the conversation.

      Peace to you.

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  2. Nate,

    I will get back to you on your response and your article here. Before I do, however, can you please answer two questions for me:

    I saw you tweeted this (yesterday, I believe):

    “Xians, do not gloss over these passages. The OT contains genocide and rampant injustice. The royal narrative must be wrestled with.”

    Is it your view that there are passages of the OT that actually commend and endorse genocide and injustice. If so, which ones (one or two will do)?

    On what basis do you decide whether something is unjust or just?

    Thanks,
    Robert

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    1. It is necessary to recognize that this is a non sequitur to the conversation. I has absolutely zero bearing on the argument I have made.
      The context of the convo should have provided the answer, as it was in response to a friend posting a specific passage and asking how this could be “God’s law.”
      I’m assuming your familiar with passages on Canaanite genocidal in the Bible. They are quite common, and they advise the killing of all people – including women and children.

      Besides he completely lack of any historical or archaeological evidence this ever occurred, there are passages within the Bible even that indicate the Israelites often made treaties with their Canaanite neighbors to preserve the peace.

      Also, the inclusion of the Canaanites within the people of God, as occurs within the prophetic tradition, and as is realized within the cross of Christ – the same Christ who promised Gentile inclusion in Luke 4 – and the same Christ that warns against harming children and those in positions of weakness as well as against striking one’s enemy, that genocide would be a wholly injust and incompatible with the Gospel.

      It is also injust to treat women as the property of men, to suggest a rape victim marry their rapist, or to suggest that a woman who fails to cry out is just as guilty as her rapist.

      All of these also occur within Scripture. But we are not bound to the stricture of OT law, so the question is not must I follow these laws, but how do I justify OT revelation of God with the sometimes radically different revelation of God in the Christ.

      We can’t ignore the passages, we must wrestle with them. Again, dialectic tension which recognizes the difficulty, but searches for a way forward.

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      1. It’s not a non-sequitur. I need to understand where you are coming from so that you will understand where I am coming from.

        I recognize that my sense of what is just and unjust informs my interpretation, but my basic stance is that where my sense opposes Scripture, Scripture tells me what is just.

        My guiding principle is that the NT revelation of Christ is not radically different than the OT revelation of God, and to assume as much is to accept Marcionism.

        We can debate specific examples, but that would be beside the point. I don’t agree with all of your characterizations as to what the laws say. But to close before I move on, since the law of God in the Old Testament would say that at least in some cases, a violated woman should marry her violator, then it is not inherently unjust for that to happen. That doesn’t mean there aren’t interpretative challenges, but my basic stance is to say that all of the OT law is just in its given context. I don’t think you are prepared to say that. But that is fundamental for interpreting Romans, which was written by a Jew whose understanding of what love is is determined by those very commandments (Romans 13).

        My basic hermeneutical assumption is that we are in fact bound by every Old Testament commandment unless it is overturned in the New Testament. Without a doubt, Jesus and the Apostles operate on that principle. All of their ethical teaching assumes OT moral norms. Offhand, I can’t think of anything that doesn’t. And that is vital for understanding the NT teaching on homosexuality in Romans 1 and elsewhere.

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        1. Okay, I’m going to take these out of order.

          I don’t know what you intended to say in your final paragraph. It may be incredibly poor wording, I’m hoping it is not what you actually believe.

          First, your wording implies that Jesus and the Apostles not only had the completed text of the NT, but that they based their ethic on whether the NT specifically overturned an OT law.

          Glaring problem, you have the cart before the horse. The earliest NT book was written some 10-20 yrs after Jesus ascended. The earliest Gospel was written 30 yrs after ascension.

          So it would be rather difficult to assert Jesus or the Apostles built a hermeneutic based on the NT. Perhaps you meant their hermeneutical approach to OT formed the theology of the NT, but if so you chose the wording quite poorly.

          If you’re going to throw around heresies, at least use them properly.

          Marcion believed that the Hebrew Bible was not congruent at all with the NT. He rejected the idea that Jesus was sent by the God of Israel, that Jesus was not this God.

          I said nothing of that sort. I said the OT reveals God, but that Jesus reveals God fully. Often the full revelation is in tension with the partial revelation of the OT.

          For instance, the God of the OT is hardly depicted as capable of death. Jesus however – the human male that was fully God – died. God was not human, and to even suggest a human being could be God in Israel was blasphemy. Which is why the temple authorities so strongly persecuted Christians.

          In fact, if you will recall, Jesus was repeatedly accused of blasphemy by the religious leaders of his day. Yet Jesus claimed to be the full revelation of the Father.

          So what about having only the OT made it impossible for the religious authorities – persons who knew the OT by heart and carried Scripture with them always, the leading scholars of their day – to entirely reject the deity of Christ.

          For God-self to become human, for the fullness of God to dwell within a human being, to be tortured and murdered, and to become the embodiment of sin on the cross is radical. It defies every notion of what it means to be God.

          Even Paul recognized this when he said th cross is an offense to Jews and Gentiles alike, yet it is the full revelation of God’s wisdom and power.

          Your misuse of Marcionism combined with the wording of final paragraph do not instill confidence in your argument.

          You have a huge obstacle to overcome when claiming we are bound by all OT laws not explicitly overturned in the NT.

          For instance, nowhere within the NT does the text explicitly state you can wear mixed fabrics. It seems a petty law, but there is little direct excursus on individual laws within the NT.

          Also, while Paul and Jesus are certainly influenced by OT law, it is absurd to say they simply reaffirm it. Paul calls law condemnation and death before saying Jesus was condemned under law and became the embodiment of it’s curse in Galatians.

          Also, in Romans Paul draws a specific distinction between law (condemnation apart from Christ) and covenant (adoption, inclusion for all who will be in Christ). Paul does not advocate lawlessness, but instead instills an ethic based in love.

          This is reverberated in 1 Corinthians. Any word spoken or deed done apart from love is nothing according to Paul. You cannot fulfill the law without love for neighbor.

          And most certainly, Jesus emphasizes a “law of love” which offends Jewish sensibility in Luke 4 or the story of the Good Samaritan.

          Your concept of justice is a bit skewed from what the word means in Scripture. For instance, the word rendered justice in NT Greek is also the word rendered righteousness. Justice is not “just deserts” or “retributive punishment”. Instead, the word means “to right that which is wrong.” Justice is why Jesus died on the cross, to act in love to restore humanity into a right relationship with God and one another by removing the obstacle of sin (and its consequence eternal death).

          Justice was defying the law sparing the woman caught in adultery. Recognizing the injustice of the tribunal’s actions – even as it was legally justified – and undermining it.

          Strict adherence to OT law cannot save, Paul is explicit on that. Only justification through Christ – being made right before God in the cross and resurrection – can save a person.

          As such, there is really no issue seeing a law as injust because love and not empty stricture is the ethic of the cross. Again, Paul says adherence to law cannot save, it only leads to eternal death. Eternal death cannot be consistent with the justice of the cross.

          Our ethic is not the law of Israel, but the cross of Christ (e.g. Phil 2 & 1 John 4). Scripture tells me Jesus is the source of truth and justice, and in him all the law and prophets are fulfilled, the curse has been endured and lifted.

          I will close by saying that your claim that there are occasions in which a woman should marry her rapist to fulfill justice is morally bankrupt.

          Rape is a violent crime, it is to rob a person of agency and consume their body for personal satisfaction. It is the dehumanization of a person, reducing them to personal utility.

          Rape doesn’t stop just because someone gets married. Expressed consent is still necessary for every marital sex act.

          If the law is fulfilled in love, then subjecting my neighbor to further victimization by forcing her to marry her rapist is not only not just, it is not a fulfillment of the law. Allowing my neighbor to be dehumanized, to be treated as property or utility is injust.

          The reason in the OT for marrying a rapist is expressly that the daughter is property of her father , and her rape makes her undesirable for other suitors, thus denying him a full bride price.

          If love is my ethic, if the cross uplifts the oppressed (rape victim) and brings low the oppressor (rapist), then I am hardly doing anything unbiblical to declare injustice there.

          Your intent here seems to be to undermine my hermeneutic by claiming I am a heretic and that I have a low view of the text. However, you are carefully avoiding any engagement with the actual content of my argument.

          A non-sequitur is a topic introduced to derail the topic at hand by changing the subject. You need to specifically address the historical, hermeneutical, and theological arguments presented, not distract from them to avoid the actual content of the post.

          Even if we disagree, this ought to be enough to end our chase of rabbit trails and bring you back to the actual content of the post.

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  3. Nate,

    Just a brief comment. The vast majority of NT scholars would not agree with your position, even those who agree that homosexuality is not sinful but can be holy. Case in point: Luke Timothy Johnson, one of the top NT scholars of our day, states unequivocally that the NT condemns all homosexual activity. He just believes that the NT is wrong.

    https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/homosexuality-church-1

    Frankly, that is the most honest position one can have if one believes that homosexuality is not always sinful.

    There are a few people who say they respect biblical authority who would argue along similar lines such as yours, though interestingly, there is almost no unanimity on what Romans 1 means among those who try to read it not as a blanket condemnation of all homosexual activity. These individuals are decidedly in the minority of those who profess a high view of Scripture, however. And most testimonies I have seen go something like this:

    “I was taught that Romans 1 condemns all homosexuality activity and that all homosexuals are inherently bad, evil, etc. But then I met a really nice homosexual, and that forced me to question everything.”

    Perhaps the problem is the idea promoted among many evangelicals that homosexuals can’t be nice, loving people and not that Romans 1 actually says what you are trying to make it say.

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    1. Rob,

      I’ll offer a brief response.

      1. LTJ’s opinion isn’t new to me. There are quite a few affirming NT scholars with similar opinions. Here is, perhaps, an irony to their opinion.

      LTJ says he has no patience to a cultural appeal to what the text says. Yet he later states specifically that the reason the he rejects the biblical witness is that experience has dictated the text is wrong.

      But this is still an appeal to the culture of the text. He is saying the antiquity of the text leaves it mired in false stereotypes based on the understanding of that time, an understanding since replaced by a better understanding through experience and study.

      Thus while the text is straightforward it is not binding, there are other texts which allow us to see a way forward. But an appeal to the text as antiquated is still an attempt to root it in a cultural context and to render that context disqualifying for the teaching.

      Whatever LTJ claims, his actual hermeneutic is not that markedly different from mine.

      Further, you appeal to LTJ without making any argument why my opinion needs to conform to his. Even recognized authorities can be wrong, and you clearly consider him “honest” but wrong.

      Perhaps I misread you, but your intent seems to be to get me to appeal to the authority of LTJ to convince me to admit I am simply tossing Scripture aside in favor of experience. That would, of course, render my arguments moot and alleviate any need on your part for careful and critical engagement.

      It’s also a logical fallacy.

      2The “turns out their nice” argument is rarely where people actually changed their mind. It may be the beginning of the story – “I realized that gay men aren’t prowling pedophiles.” or “I learned that trans women aren’t going to rape my wife in the bathroom.”

      However, that is a catalyst, not the end of a journey. Realizing the stereotypes are rooted in fear and hatred causes on to question whether the “biblical” teachings which are often used to perpetuate these stereotypes are equally problematic.

      This leads to further study and a realization that the issue isn’t as black and white as we’ve been told. Some, like LTJ believe the text isn’t binding because of experience, others see the text being specific to a situation with little relevance to the lives of modern LGBTQ+ persons.

      Experience doesn’t negate study and study doesn’t negate experience. The tricky part is minding the dialectic tensions between them and figuring out how to move forward.

      1. Appealing to the minority of an opinion isn’t really a sound argument against it. A majority of scholars in the 18th and 19th centuries were arguing for slavery. Heck, Martin Luther was the minority opinion and none of the reformers then could agree on much – other than the need for change.

      The entirety of evangelical theology is built on the false narrative that they represent an oppressed and unpopular minority opinion in the United States.

      No one – including yourself – actually believes that the popularity of an opinion, nor he specific variances in belief which fall under a wider umbrella, are grounds on which to judge the truth of an opinion.

      To be frank, that is little more than a cleverly worded bandwagon fallacy.

      So I close by noting that the comment above does little to address the argument in my post by way of careful engagement. I would encourage you to wrestle with it a bit more.

      Peace be with you.

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  4. “One’s hermeneutic must also be biblically sound. It is not enough to take passages out of context and make a piece meal argument to fit our own agenda.”

    Well said.

    “Every hermeneutic must be in pursuit of Christ-likeness. Again it is not difficult to manipulate Scripture to form a coherent, but nevertheless abusive, interpretative framework. For instance, a person reading Exodus 21, Ephesians 5-6, and 1 Peter 2-3 together could easily argue that Christians can own slaves. They could even argue that these slaves are, in fact, rightfully viewed as property and that we may beat them for their wrongdoings as long as we also recognize and reward them fairly when they do right.”

    The key here is what is called “the law of love”, where Jesus and Paul both said that love to God and neighbour is the fulfilment of the law. I always struggled with the fact that both slavery was condoned both in the law of Moses and in Paul’s letters. Thanks for pointing out Ezekiel 34 in relation to this – I will read that one. I think Galatians 3:28 bears a lot on this too. In the New Testament Gentiles were brought near to God and made “equal” with Jewish people. Western societies no longer view women as property and we condemn slavery, which means that Galatians 3:28 has been fulfilled – although it took over 1000 years for it to take effect.

    Thank you for speaking up for the gay community and reminding the body of Christ that we are human beings.

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  5. I want to take a moment to clarify a question that I have repeatedly received in emails. I stated above that the word Porneia does not occur in any form in the Greek Manuscripts of Romans 1:29 and I stand by that assertion. I will however note the need for a nuance to dispel concerns that I am somehow twisting or intentionally deceiving anyone.

    Thus, as I have been inundated with “proof” recently of its occurrence I will address it here briefly.

    First, it is true that there is evidence of the occurrence of Porneia in Romans 1:29 in the Textus Receptus and a few other texts of the NT (Those wishing to research the various manuscripts are encouraged to do so). However, this is considered by the majority of scholars to be an inaccurate rendering of the passage.

    As early as the 1800’s however, with the discovery of new NT Greek manuscripts which predate those used by Textus Receptus. These manuscripts do not contain the word Porneia in Romans 1:29.

    This is significant because a number of prominent modern Bible translations have chosen not to include the word in their translation of Romans 1:29.

    These translations include the NIV, NLT, ESV, NASB, ASV, NRSV, HCSB, NAS (1977), ERV, and RSV. In fact, I pulled every Bible translation I personally own to be sure and did not find a footnote noting a variance in this passage in any of those translations. To show that this isn’t some liberal agenda reworking, I checked an NIV student’s study Bible from the late 90’s and found no variance note. Also, it is notable that the NIV has been associated with scholars such as Don Carson, who strongly opposes same-sex sexuality. Likewise, the ESV is the work of Wayne Grudem, et al, who would strongly oppose my reading.

    The reality is, the most reliable Greek manuscripts, those most commonly agreed upon by Bible scholars from every strand of evangelical conservatism, do not include the word Porneia in Romans 1:29. There is no compelling case for its inclusion in this passage and, I want to reiterate, there is no occurrence of the word Porneia in the Greek manuscripts of Romans 1:29 considered most reliable, those which stand behind the most well-respected Bible translations of the 20th and 21st centuries.

    Those wishing to understand why these texts are preferred and the literary critical techniques scholars us to make these decisions are encouraged to do so on their own.

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  6. Just make a quick point that may have been made by others but I don’t have time to read the vast volume of the comments!!

    If the position is to be taken that Paul is talking about sexual sins among the gentiles during or because of attendance of pagan rituals only in v 26-27 then Paul is also only calling murder sin in the context of a pagan ritual or because of attendance of pagan rituals since the very same reason given for the sexual sin is used to describe murder in v 28-29. Also, it could be said, he would be calling the sin of murder only sin for pagans and not Jews if the context held is that Paul is looking at the culture of Rome only and speaking to its practices. However, if one is to state that murder is sin for all people, than sexual sin must then be placed in that same category. That includes homosexuality since homosexuality is part of what Paul is addressing in v 26-27. Paul actually qualifies the vile passions as including homosexuality by saying “For even…”. He is talking about all sexual immorality which in the Greek is the word porneia and is found in v 29 of the list of sins at the end of Romans 1. Verses 26-27 are simply an expounding of what he is ultimately addressing in v 29-31. Yet upon review you may notice that Paul is not addressing idolatry in a temple but in the mind which then releases the evil of the heart. You would notice this by seeing that Paul never directly uses the word idolatry in his list of sins in v 29-31. If Paul’s concern was practices of pagan idolatry wouldn’t he have at least listed it directly? Idolatry in the mind and evil from the heart is a common teaching in the OT and of Jesus when He was in His earthly ministry. James also gives this teaching and Paul brings up the same teaching structure he is using in Romans when he writes the Ephesians. Mind and heart given over. It is credited to satan as the first sin ever committed anywhere by anyone. He first committed idolatry in his mind and then acted upon it. In his case the idol was himself. This is not a new thought as the culture even says the same teaching when it says: “Winning the mind and hearts of the people” in political talks.

    Finally at the end of Romans 1 and into 2 we see not a correcting of the Jews but Jesus’ teaching about not being hypocrites. As we judge so we are judged and by judging others when we have a log in our eye. But removing the log and then help the other remove his splinter. It is always very dangerous to allow hermeneutics to lead exegesis. All of Romans comes directly from principles and teachings in the Scriptures and many are taught by Jesus Himself in His earthly ministry.

    Paul: ” But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

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    1. Josh,

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.  Here are a few thoughts on why your critique falls short.

      1.In one sense, you are absolutely right.  The actions forbidden are tied to idolatry.  How they are tied to it, though, is where you have entirely missed the point.

      Paul says that because of their idolatry, they also commit these other sins.  I argued that the sex acts are separated for a reason – Because they depict practices a first century audience would have immediately recognized as tied to pagan fertility worship. Now, I provided a number of credible sources showing why I believe there is a strong case for this.

      Now, in terms of murder et al, there is something important to be noted here.  Paul is connecting the root problem, rejection of God (idolatry) with outward actions as physical manifestation of a deeper problem.  He is saying, these actions are evil because of the motivations behind them.  

      Now, of course, murder could mean the ritual sacrifice of the first born child – such cults existed.  But what Paul is saying, what I argued for, is that Paul is saying that in their rejection of God they are being unmade.  They are descending into chaos, into anti-creation.  In rejecting God they are also rejecting the notion of love of neighbor and instead are living only for self. They engage in violent, abusive, and exploitative actions because they have created gods in their own image who justify them.

      Also, throughout the OT, idolatry and injustice are tied to one another.  Israel refused to free their slaves because they had rejected God (Jer 34).  Malachi and Micah are devoted to condemning idolatry and connecting the sins of Israel to their rejection of God.  In fact, Deut 27-28 outlines the ways in which idolatry by Israel, various rejections of covenant, would lead to their unmaking as a nation.  Paul is applying the same thought process here

      Now, one last thing to point out.  In the verses immediately preceding 26-27 Paul outlines how these people have rejected God as true creator and worship false gods instead.  Then, in 26, he says “For this Reason” implying what comes next is directly tied to what came before.  

      Now, in v. 28 Paul states “and since they did not see fit to acknowledge God”. Thus, what came before was considered an act tied to rejecting God.  Thus, the acts described are pagan sex acts.

      2) Your point about the Jews is less well-argued more irrelevant cheap shot.  If Paul is speaking of the Jews as under the law, then does the law forbid murder or any of the other things laid out? I invite you to read through the Law sections of Exodus or the entire book of Leviticus.  The answer will become quickly apparent.

      3) The word pornera does not occur in Romans 1:29.  Poneria does those.  Poneria means wickedness in general.  It does not have an inherently sexual connotation.  So your look there is wasted on an argument based on factual error.  There are no sexual sin listed in 28-32 at all.  There is a clear separation of the sins of 26-27 from the sins of 28-32 and as I argued above, the beginning of each paragraph is quite telling.

      4) I’m not sure you understand what hermeneutics means.  There is no exegesis without hermeneutics.  In order to read a text, you must have a set of commitments as to what represents a proper reading.

      For instance, I am going to assume when reading a text that 2 verses do not provide enough context to know what the author means.  I am going to assume looking at the original language text will prove helpful in understand in the English translation.  I am going to assume that causative conjunctions beginning paragraphs mean that what came before us organically linked to the argument the author is making in this section.

      Hermeneutics is the commitments you have when reading the Bible.  It is the lens you use.  For instance, you use the lens that Paul is talking about all same-sex acts so you saw “pornera” where “poneria” occurred.  You filled in the blanks to fit your argument.  The question isn’t who is interpreting and who isn’t.  You clearly are and so am I.

      The only question here is “Who’s argument holds the weight of the text?” So let’s review:

      1) You ignored the beginnings of the paragraphs which give insight into Paul’s view of the causative relationship between idolatry and other sins.

      2) You denied temple imagery, yet Paul directly references the making of idols.  That is enough to take this beyond the “idolatry of the mind” to acts of physical worship.

      3) You presented a factual error regarding a word in the text and this interpreted the text using a faulty and rhetorically self-defeating assumption.

      4) You failed to understand the basic idea that Jews are forbidden from doing things by the law.  Thus, under the law and outside the law both being accountable in different ways in Romans 2 is a significant indicator of what Paul means.

      It also helps that in the law, disobedience is often linked to idolatry.  Reading the other comments, however copious they may have been, would have saved you some time here.

      5) You claimed my argument was faulty because my hermeneutic got in the way of my exegesis.  Yet you made a false claim and interpreted the text with that glaring mistake in mind.  

      So, I’m sorry, but your argument doesn’t hold weight.  In fact, it collapsed in on itself.

      I am perfectly happy being judged by the standard I have given to the LGBTQ community.  In fact, such a standard convicts me of ways I am unloving.  It calls me to imitate Christ and not seek to be following any other Gospel but “Jesus the Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

      As I have written more than one post on the topic.  I encourage you to read the others at the “Difficult Topic” link I sent you.  

      Peace to you,

      Nate

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  7. Hi Nate,
    When you write things like ‘one of the infamous “six passages”’ before objectively processing the text with your audience, you unfairly influence the jury against my position. You also seem to assume that because I have interpreted the text differently to you, that I didn’t use proper hermeneutics.

    I am not unaware of hermeneutic principles like those that you laid out. In fact, I have taught them for a number of years. And, it is through using these principles that I am also aware and teach that slavery and patriarchy are not supported by the Bible. However, legitimizing same-sex unions with hermeneutics like yours is impossible without error and then making vague what is plain and turning evil into truth.

    You also said, “We cannot, ever, truly arrive at an objective assertion of absolute meaning.” But surely God’s word has absolute meaning. And, though the meaning is broader and narrower at times, it is nevertheless absolute and accessible by God’s Spirit. And, yes, by way of these discussions too.

    What does Paul mean by “For this reason”?
    You are in error in attaching this phrase to the idolatry and not Paul’s whole argument, namely the rejection of what is plain about God. Romans, especially here, is logically focusing on the general issue of man’s state.
    Who is the “them” Paul references?
    People went about rejecting God in various ways. The “them” described in verse 24 is used for mankind. What follows is a description of just how heinous mankind’s sinful nature became, by practicing same sex relationships.

    Why did Paul consider these passions “degrading”?
    They have been unnatural from the beginning.

    Why does Paul paint the issue as one of “natural” and “unnatural” intercourse?
    To make the point.
    Why does Paul use the word “shameless” to describe the acts between the men, but says very little about the acts of the women?
    As I see it, it is implied by how it is written. Also, he is speaking in generalized terms and the men were far more engaged in the practice.
    Is there anything in the surrounding context that would suggest what the “due penalty” in their “own persons” might be?
    Paul refers to what is commonly known. Our bodies and souls suffer as a result of sin, and more especially those of immorality. Medical journals might help a little to know what happens with unnatural sex.

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    1. Rob,

      Please forgive the long , but I think it necessary. I have a few thoughts.

      First, you did not in your comment present a hermeneutic, nor an argument.  You stated that three verses were all that was necessary to resolve the issue.  So I interacted with precisely the words you provided.  The irony of your reaction is that I let you know about this post before I even wrote it and you added to your initial comment the final paragraph accordingly.

      Your argument was, “I am right, you are wrong, there is no debate to be had”.  You quoted verse 26-27 with 18 as context, so I showed that even a treatment of only those passages – the ones you said were all that was necessary to show me wrong, left a lot of questions and not a lot of answers.  If you have a hermeneutically sound argument, you didn’t make it.  You have a blog, if you wish to write a response post, feel free to do so.

      Second, still dealing with your initial comment, you said that (1) There was no connection between idolatry and same-sex actions in Roman culture and (2) Even if there was, the text clearly has a blanket prohibition in mind so it is irrelevant.

      Already, you attempted to set boundaries and told me that hi would reject anything that colored outside the lines.  So, I’m not going to pretend you presented a factually based or hermeneutically sons argument just because you say so.  I was respectful to your concerns, but showed that your claims were factually errant and hermeneutically questionable at best.  

      Now, to the “infamous six passages”. The reality is, regardless of opinion, these passages are points of controversy.  Talking about them is a perfect way to stir up disagreement and for feelings to get hurt and egos bruise quickly. I used infamous because it notes well that I am treading on “sacred ground” for some and I don’t expect it to be popular.  I’m not sure why you think it was aimed at you or your argument.  

      I don’t know where you learned hermeneutics or what you teach.  I’m not going to lay out a full explanation of historical and literary criticism for a blog post.  I have plenty of books on hermeneutics, but the reality is this.  It is possible to manipulate Scripture to say anything you want it to.  You know this as well as I do.  

      Now in terms of being logically consistent, any argument must have this.  It must be free from logical fallacies and factual errors.  I demonstrated that you had been factually errant and had were committing a logical fallacy by presenting an argument a priori.

      That is, you presumed that your assertion that Paul is not talking about idolatry as fact.  Thus you found an article on Roman homosexuality that did not mention pagan worship.  As such, you asserted there is no connection between pagan sex worship and Romans 1.  Thus, the passage must be a blanket prohibition on same-sex sexuality.

      But, since I clearly showed you omitted or avoided all data that contradicted your claim about the connection between same-sex sex acts – and there is a lot of data! – then your argument is both factually flawed and logically invalid.

      Here’s the thing, I could have stopped there.  Instead, I chose to consider whether, despite the flaws in your argument, you might somehow still be right about the meaning of the passage.

      So I included biblical evidence. I provided a well-researched argument from both the text itself and a number of scholarly sources to show that there simply is sufficient evidence to be drawn from careful exegetical study of the text to draw the conclusion you made.

      Now, a quick aside.  You are upset because I said we cannot arrive objectively at an answer, there will always be a subjective component.  Yet, ironically, you assert that the Bible undermines patriarchy and slavery.  Why?  If all of the Bible can be objectively known, some questions arise.

      Are all passages equally objective?  That is does each passage have a clear-meaning and hold equal authority?  If they do, then there is a problem with saying that the Bible undermines patriarchy and slavery.  Consider

      One could argue for slavery because, in reality, the Bible never forbids it.  In fact, Exodus 21 says I can own a slave and even best him to death, as long as he takes more than 24 hours to die from his injuries.  

      Likewise, one can say that the Bible permits me to rape a virgin and then pay her father to marry her.  Such allotments are built into the Levitical law.  This is patriarchy 101, family honor comes first and the girl is a utility, an object, to facilitate that.  

      (2) If all passages are equal, how do you decide which one’s don’t count?

      That is, if every passage in Leviticus is absolute truth for all people, then do to eat shellfish or pork?

      And don’t give the “moral law” versus “ceremonial law” stuff.  That is mitigating context.  If it is objectively true, that means the truth is unchanging and equally apparent to all people.  It cannot be objectively true if it does not apply to all persons equally.

      In order to argue that the law doesn’t apply to you, you first need an interpretive lens for making such an assumption.  Thus you would say, in Acts Peter is told dietary laws no longer apply.  Except, then the NT would have more authority than Leviticus because it tells us those laws are for the Jews, that the Law can only condemn not produce righteousness, and thus we have a higher authority than the Law Jesus (this is precisely Paul’s argument in Gal 3).

      But that is not an objective argument, it is a subjective determinance of what ideas carry the most weight, and it cannot be argued to be objectively true for everyone without saying that one passage is less true than the other.

      (3) Why would the NT carry more weight? If we can know God’s will objectively, through observation based only on the clear facts of the text, then why would Galatians hold more weight in your argument than Leviticus? Is Leviticus less inspired than Galatians?

      The reality is, even reading the text in English means you are reading how certain people have decided the Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic text is best rendered.  But it is well known that there are words in the Bible that occur only there.  We have to consider many factors and make educated assumptions to even produce a translated text.

      Then, you have to assume that the English words you’re reading mean what you think they mean.  English words have alternate meanings.  Even within Scripture, there are places we have to decide if the author is using “spirit” as a synonym for soul or means the Spirit of God. Likewise, by “word of God” does the author mean Scripture or Jesus?

      The process of reading and engaging a text is the process of making and receiving meaning.  It is the process of recognizing one’s own subjectivity and thus considering mitigating circumstances and contextual issues to push us beyond our selves, to consider whether we are capable of forming an absolute meaning on our own.

      4) Who says God communicates in objective terms?  If he does why does one passage say “God is not like men” and others say he became human?  If he does, why does Scripture call Jesus both the creator of the universe and the firstborn of all creation?  Why does Scripture tell us God is free to do as he pleases, yet Jesus can only do what the Father permits?  Why do we accept that Jesus is the full revelation of the Father (as he claims in John’s Gospel and as stated in Hebrews 1) if he can die, and if his power was limited in human form?

      Here’s the answer, Faith!  We place our faith in Jesus, that we can trust him and thus trust Scripture.  But, as Hebrew 11 tells us, Faith is not certainty.  Instead, it is trusting what we can see to be adequately interpretive of what we can’t.  It is hope that Jesus is truly God and thus we have a promise guaranteed in him.  And it is the essence of believing in God because, while we cannot see him, we believe he is active and participatory in our story, seeking to justify us to himself.

      And why do we believe this?  Jesus.  We have Faith in Jesus, and because of that Faith we believe the Gospel and because of the Gospel we believe Scripture.  And at the center of it all, as Paul constantly reminds us, is “Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

      Thus, having shown that your argument did not hold weight rhetorically or biblically – that it dismissed valid interpretive data by claiming it didn’t exist – I offered a well cited analysis based on a wide swath of data.

      I then moved past the pursuit of facts – where th insist the argument lies – and into the realm of faith.  I looked to Jesus for inspiration and found that I see a consistently Christ-like argument for supporting the LGBTQ community, including same-sex marriage.  

      Now, to after a some things you said.  First, there are no medical studies that you reference.  I’ve done the research and all of the common “studies” people cite have either been thoroughly debunked or purposefully twisted to say things they don’t.  Before you send me a link to some pastor or bloggers take on a study, don’t bother.  Send me the link to the actual study and directly cite it in your comment how it shows that being LGBTQ is inherently and objectively harmful.  

      Here are some things to avoid.  AIDS statistics that are not globally focused.  Studies about “unhappy” children that do not cite factors of peer influence such as bullying.  Studies on the number of sex partners someone has.  

      None of these is sufficient to say that God cannot sanctify LGBTQ to himself and make such relationships between them a vessel of his grace and love.  Speaking about brokenness has nothing to do with whether God can redeem something.  

      If God can use me and you, he can use them.  As Paul reminds, “all have sinned” and “none are righteous”.

      Finally, you set out to “answer” my questions.  But you still presented no argument. You stated I am wrong because there is only one right and obvious interpretation, the one you have asserted.  You claim God is on your side.  Here is the thing, Jesus are with the tax collectors and was accused of being a sinner and a drunkard.  He allowed a prostitute to wash his feet and was accused of violating common decency.  He touched lepers and blesing women, he violated the letter of Sabbath law, and he defended an adulteress.  Most of all, he shared water with Samaritans and make the Jews’ sworn enemy the hero of a parable.

      (continues in next comment)

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    2. So, if you expect me to accept that God is on your rhetorical side because you are using Scripture and your privilege as an “insider” to Christianity  to say who is out, who is rejected, who cannot be with God “as they are” you’re not going to convince.

      If Jesus is among the least of these, then I am in good company in defending the LGBTQ community mind order to make space for their voices to be heard.

      As I said before, if you have a case, make it. In fact, put it on your blog and advertise me as a fraud if it makes you feel better.  Tell people I’m lying and enabling sin.  I’ve heard it all before.  I’ve lost friends, yet I have not felt released by God from writing this. I have not felt anything but his push to serve my neighbor, to humbly support and give voice to those we so often seek to silence by making space for them to be heard.

      I mean no offense, but I don’t serve you, I serve Christ and in him my conscience is clear.

      In case I have stated it clearly enough, I support same sex marriage and the LGBTQ community BECAUSE I follow Christ and believe in the authority of Scripture, not in spite of it.

      Thanks for your engagement.  Peace to you Rob, know I harbor no animosity.

      Your brother in Christ,

      Nate

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      1. Hi Nate,
        If you look again you will see that in answering your questions I presented a concise hermeneutic and argument. I indicated that the intention of the opening passages of Romans was to show mankind’s need for the Gospel in the light of their rejection of God and their sinful condition, that was shown to have escalated amongst them to unnatural offenses.

        Let me unpack it a bit:
        THE GOSPEL, AND PAUL’S DESIRE TO SPREAD IT
        Rom 1:14 I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
        Rom 1:15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
        Rom 1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
        Rom 1:17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

        THE BACKDROP TO THE GOSPEL – MANKIND’S REJECTION OF GOD
        Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
        Rom 1:19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.
        Rom 1:20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
        Rom 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
        Rom 1:22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
        Rom 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

        THE BACKDROP TO THE GOSPEL – GOD’S JUDGMENT IN LEAVING MANKIND TO THEIR LUSTS
        Rom 1:24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves
        Rom 1:25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
        (Primary idolatry here is that man worshipped ideas of their OWN imagination and served THEMSELVES, the creature, rather than God).

        EXPANSION OF GOD’S JUDGEMANT – ALLOWING MANKIND TO ESCALATE SIN TO DISHONOURABLE AND UNNATURAL PASSIONS
        Rom 1:26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;
        Rom 1:27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

        (While “For this reason” is linked to the previous verse, it is nevertheless linked as a further outcome of the initial rejection of God. Furthermore, same sex ‘passion for one another’ in itself stands alone as a sin, refuting the idea that this was linked solely to cultic practices.
        It is not dishonorable or unnatural for a human to sexually desire someone of the opposite sex. It becomes dishonorable when they satisfy this desire through thoughts of lust or acts of sexual intercourse outside of marriage. These sins are dishonorable, but in the realm of what is natural, i.e. male with female. What follows is an escalation of sin to what is dishonorable by virtue of it being unnatural, female with female and male with male.
        Regardless of whether you believe that ‘shameless acts with men’ are something beyond any so-called healthy homosexual relationship, the text initially shows that same sex ‘passion for one another’ is already a sin. There is therefore no good form homosexuality, because homosexuality by nature requires same gender ‘passion for one another’. Furthermore, ‘passion for one another’ stands alone, refuting the idea that this was linked solely to cultic practices.)

        OTHER AREAS OF MANKIND’S SIN
        Rom 1:28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
        Rom 1:29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,
        Rom 1:30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,
        Rom 1:31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
        Rom 1:32 Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
        (The above list further confirms that Paul’s intention in the passage was to show the general state of mankind in their sin).

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        1. Rob,
          First allow me to apologize for being unclear. Often when we write we think we have something stated that we do not. This is the case here, I thought I made a clear argument for what I meant by hermeneutic, but it doesn’t seem at all to be clear to you. I’ll take the blame and offer some further thoughts.

          1) When I said you hadn’t presented a hermeneutic or an argument, I meant to say you hadn’t presented one “towards” an argument. That is, as a hermeneutic is the interpretive framework by which you read an interpret something (most often a term used when studying Scripture) you have stated your hermeneutic.

          By states your hermeneutic, I mean that you have told me the text stands on its own with a clear meaning. However, you have not presented a functional hermeneutic based on a wide degree of research with an attempt to take into account the fulness of the available evidence.

          Thus, your hermeneutic has produced a faulty, flawed, and factually errant argument. You have a hermeneutic, but that hermeneutic is to only read evidence which supports your own thesis. Thus, you argued a priori, as I stated before.

          2) You may not have noticed, it was a subtle shift, but I actually changed my argument from “For the Love of God”. In that post, I argued that “anthropos” was used to refer only to the Greeks. I changed that reading, as in looking back over my research I noticed that it was not a linguistically accurate reading.

          The reason for this was simple. Romans 1, at least after verse 14, is part of a much larger argument. Paul states he is dealing with Jews and Greeks. He is pushing for unity among those divided.

          Now, he states the “Jew first” yet he chooses ironically to address the Greeks first. These ironic subversion occur throughout Romans.

          For instance, in Romans 9 Paul uses the figures of Esau and Pharoah to ironically undermine the Jewish claim to favored status, privilege, and authority. Instead, Paul argues that Godm will.have mercy on whomever he pleases. He then explores the “objects of wrath” a designation for Gentiles based on how they often functioned in Jewish Scriptures. Paul is promoting unity by telling them both are chosen, both are under the covenant of Abraham (per ch. 4) and both are sinful, thus their unity is in Christ.

          Now, when looking at Romans 1, I note it is part of a larger argument. Since Romans 2 continues the argument of 1, and since there is a clear shift away from the original topic to address the Jews in this chapter, my reading is hardly wishful thinking.

          3) For the sake of argument, let’s assume Paul did mean to include the Jews in ch. 1. I have seen well-reasoned and somewhat convincing arguments for this. But those still point to very specific incidents of pagan idolatry.

          Let me highlight some examples from Jewish history.

          In Exodus, the Jews build a golden calf as a proxy for YHWH while He is on the mountain with Moses. They somehow believe this will get his attention in a positive way since that is how gods were worshipped in Egypt. The text indicates that they worshipped this idol through an orgy.

          Now, in Leviticus there are two chapters which are often referenced 18 & 20. These passages mirror each other in many ways. Both speak of the acts Israel must not commit sexually. Both chapters tie these acts to the cultic practices of the Canaanites in worship of Molech, and both state that these are among the reasons God will drive out the Canaanites. They are also told not to mix with the Canaanites later in Leviticus precisely to prevent them from deviant sexual behavior linked to worship of Canaanite gods

          Lastly, in Numbers 25 we learn of the Baal of Peor. Here, the Moabites, at the behest of Halal under the advise if Balaam seduce the Israelites into Baal worship. They use sex to lure them into Baal worship.

          Now, lest you still think there is no connection to pagan sex worship and Israelite history, look at Malachi. The entire book is focused on condemning Israel for pagan worship practices. Some of these practices include divorcing their wives and carousing with “daughters of a foreign god”.

          So, while you may disagree with my assertion of specificity, you have hardly undermined my argument about the connection between idolatry – primary sin- and sexually deviant practices in worship of pagan gods.

          Nor have you undermined the fact that the latter list of sins indicates chaos and disorder, they – like the people of Noah’s time – are being uncreated. But this time, they are consumed not by water but by their own debasedness as a result of rejecting God.

          Again, I appreciate you providing section headings, thus dividing the passage into parts that you think function together and helping me see how you read the passage.

          However, you have still only asserted that the meaning is clear. You have not addressed the fact that you based your argument against me on a statement that was shown to be false.

          You haven’t presented a reason why I’m wrong. You haven’t debunked a single point of my argument. But you have stated that you differently from me and your reading is the only right reading because it is the clear reading and thus I am wrong.

          So, here’s what I am asking. If you think I am wrong, then put together a well-reasoned argument, taking into acount the evidence I have presented and your own factually errant statement.

          Take into account my previous comment in which I walked through why my treatment disassembled every level of your argument and exposed your hermeneutic as textually flawed.

          In other words, please don’t waste time telling me I’m wrong unless you intend to put in the careful time and research to show me I’m wrong.

          All you’ve done so far is say the Bible is against me and God is at war with me. But you have not presented anything near a comprehensive argument demonstrating your claim to possess the one, correct, and inerrant meaning of Scripture.

          Peace to you,

          Nate

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          1. Nate,
            As I have pointed out, the logic of the text itself clearly shows you to be wrong. Nothing more is needed.
            Do I really need to expound on “consumed with passion for one another” any more than Paul already has?
            Finally, outside of the Romans text their is no Biblical evidence of God supporting same sex unions.
            Your brother,
            Rob

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          2. Rob,

            You haven’t demonstrated a clear logic, you have stated that it exists so you don’t have to argue. Here’s the thing.

            When Jesus challenged the Pharisees on Sabbath law, they both knew the law didn’t permit him to heal on the Sabbath.

            He knew he was breaking the law by soaring the adulteress, yet he did it anyway.

            There was no support for inclusion of the Samaritans or the Gentiles as fully included into the covenant God made with Abraham until Jesus shared water with a Samaritan woman and Paul argued for inclusion.

            The question at hand is whether the Bible says it is sin. I have resoundingly stated no. The Bible condemns pagan worship which leads to debased orgiatic behavior in the ecstatic worship of fertility deities. Seems “burn with passion” is descriptive of an orgy where everyone has sex with whomever they want to me.

            I also briefly insinuated that 1 Cor 6 and 1 Tim 1 both highlight relationships if exploitation, issues of prostitution and pederasty. This is something I supported in “For the Love of God” and you have not endeavored to disagree on.

            You chose to hang your hat on one passage. You chose to say there is a clear meaning and no amount of evidence could contradict that meaning. That’s your prerogative. But I would remind you of something.

            A couple centuries ago a group of people formed a new country based on the belief that slavery was God ordained. They pointed out there were no pasages which clearly forbid the ownership of another human being as property. Further, they pointed out that there are a great number of passages which condone it. Now if the Bible is God’s word, they said. If you believe God can only tell the truth and his word is absolute hey argued. Then slavery could not be morally condemned from Scripture and thus they were right and abolitionists were wrong.

            After slavery ended, for many years, people used passages to argue that there were clear racial divides. They argued that Scripture clearly showed that “the black man” was an inferior race. They then used science to talk about diseases, about how unnatural intermarriage is, and to argue that they just aren’t equal. They needed a separate law because they couldn’t manage under ours to be civilized. They needed to be kept on the outside.

            Now, I don’t assume you believe those people possessed the “clear meaning” of Scripture. Why not? And don’t make a contextual argument.

            You have insisted on the logic of the passage here. You have told me that no other evidence will be accepted or considered because you possess the clear meaning. But if you are going to argue against a nuanced argument – one which dismantled your presentation at every turn by considering a variety of scholarly and we’ll respected sources – by arguing that you’re just right “Because the Bible tells me so” then stick to your guns. What does the clear and plain logic of the Bible tell you about why slavery is wrong.
            Or since you don’t believe in patriarchy, why is that wrong. How are the silence of 1 Timothy 2 or the home responsibilities of Titus Titus 2 to be treated, without considering mitigating historical circumstances about the history of the geographic location?

            Here’s the thing, you have said that even if Romans doesn’t condemn it, no part of Scripture condones it. But no part of Scripture condones you brushing your teeth, or driving a car. It doesn’t talk about going to the movies, it doesn’t speak about dating – marriages must be arranged! And these are moral issues for different communities, the clear meaning of Scripture. Why are you more right than the Amish, or the ultra-conservative baptist, or anyone else on things not mentioned in Scripture.

            You’re argument is rife with logical fallacies. You argue a priori, you argue from silence, you are dismissive without creating an argument because I am enabling sin (ad hominem, you haven’t shown that, only used accusations to automatically delegitamize me).

            It is rife with factual errors you have yet to address. Assumptions you have made that hold no weight as a hermeneutic.

            You have refused to engage because you consider yourself in the privilege place of boundary policing and truth keeper. Yet, I would point out, you elevate yourself by excluding others. By telling me Christ is at war with me, by telling me I am a lying, deceiving. Yet you have not in any level demonstrated a single accusation. You are the keeper of God’s truth and his dare I cross you.

            Paul strictly forbids such behavior in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians. He speaks against assuming a position of privilege against your neighbor. He speaks of love and says all the truth and gifting in the world means back squat unless you have embraced and imitated the Love of God express for all on the cross of Christ.

            So, here’s the thing. I have made a strong case you clearly don’t have a counter argument for. I have this stated that without a clear Biblical mandatemm suggesting LGBTQ persons exist in defiance of God, there is only one place left to turn. Thus, I turned to the cross and said there is no identity capable of expressing God’s love and modeling his grace which cannot also be justified to him, sanctified by him, and empowered as a child of full inheritence in his family.

            Thus, it is precisely because I am a follower of Christ, who believes in the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and who endeavors to answer the call to love neighbor as myself, and who seeks to be of the same mind as the kenotic Christ who would give up all for the sake of those he was sent to serve (that’s us!) that I will continue to claim without reserve that God loves and affirms the LGBTQ community and so do I.

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      2. Nate,
        In order to show His love, and Himself as the Way, Jesus hung out with sinners. But, He never condoned them in their sin. I also happily hang out with homosexuals, adulterers, fornicators, and those who hate (murder), lie, cheat, lust, etc. In fact, I have been on the list, even at times after my salvation.
        But, the same Jesus also wars against those in His Church who practice and/or promote immorality in His church (Rev 2:16), because this is not of Him.
        Your brother,
        Rob

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  8. Overall, I think your post is useful.

    FWIIW, I translate arsenokoites and malakoi as male sexual shamers and male sexual self-shamers. A believer is not to shame another or oneself. That is the closest short definition that I think tries to get at Paul’s concern.

    Not sure what you refer to Abraham’s covenant in the singular when there were three of them: Gen 12, Gen 15, Gen 17. I think the triple nomenclature makes it clearer to see what is going on.

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    1. I think we differ in opinion on the singular of covenant. My use of Abraham’s covenant treats the numerous iterations as pointing to a single promise that unfolds over the course of Genesis. Also, it shows how God’s covenant with Abraham affects his interactions with him, such as in at Sodom and Gomorrah (a passage I reference). I am taking this covenant not as merely an event, but a state of being in Christ.

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Thanks for taking the time to read and engage. I look forward to your feedback, I welcome any criticism. However, as my goal here is mutualy respectful, beneficial conversation, I only ask that we keep civility in mind with our words. Grace and Peace.

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