Romans 1:26-27

 This post was originally written and posted at: http://www.otkenyer.hu/truluck/six_bible_passages.html. It was written by Dr. Rembert S. Truluck, who was a Southern Baptist pastor and professor of religion. This is a reformatted copy of the Google cache. It is a snapshot of the page as it appeared on 9 Feb 2012 10:05:36 GMT. I linked to it in a post that I wrote, and then had difficulty getting back to the original page (apparently his server is/was down). So I decided to copy the relevant parts and post them on my own server. I did not, however, write the original text. Therefore I am removing comments.


“For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions: for their women exchanged the natural use for that which is against nature.  And in the same way also the men abandoned the natural use of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.”
Author’s Note:  All of this refers to idolatrous religious practises that were common in the time of Paul.

Taking anything that Paul said out its context is like trying to drive a car blindfolded.  You don’t know where you are, where you have been, where you are going, or who you just ran over and killed!

Paul’s writings have been taken out of context and twisted to punish and oppress every identifiable minority in the world: Jews, children, women, blacks, slaves, politicians, divorced people, convicts, pro choice people, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, religious reformers, the mentally ill, and the list could go on and on.  Paul is often difficult and confusing to understand.  A lot of Paul’s writing is very difficult to translate.  Since most of his letters were written in response to news from other people, reading Paul can be like listening to one side of a telephone conversation.  We know, or think we know, what Paul is saying, but we have to guess what the other side has said.  As 2 Peter 3:16-18 pointed out, we have to be on guard against using Paul’s writings in unhealthy and destructive ways.

When I taught a college course in the Book of Romans, I decided to memorize Romans, as Augustine suggested.  The effort paid off.  Being able to visualize the message of Romans as a whole immediately cleared up a lot of Paul’s thought that I had not been able to untangle before by traditional means of study.  It helped so much that I continued to memorize the books of the Bible that I taught in college courses.

The theme of the first 3 chapters of Romans is expressed in 1:16: “The gospel is the power of God for spiritual freedom (salvation) for all who believe.” Paul showed that all people equally need and can have Jesus in their lives.  Paul’s gospel is inclusive, as expressed in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 1:26-27 is part of Paul’s vigorous denunciation of idolatrous religious worship and rituals.  Read all of Romans 1:18 to 2:4 for the context of the verses. 

Romans 1:26-27 contains some words used only here by Paul.  Familiar words are used here in unusual ways.  The passage is very difficult to translate.  The argument is directed against some form of idolatry that would have been known to Paul’s readers.  To us, 2,000 years later and in a totally different culture, the argument is vague and indirect.

Verse 25 is clearly a denunciation of idol worship, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature and not the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”.”  Paul at no point in his writing dealt with same-sex orientation or the expression of love and affection between two people of the same sex who love each other.

Paul wrote Romans from Corinth, the second largest city in the empire and the crossroads of world trade and culture.  Pausanius observed at about the same time as Paul that there were over 1,000 religions in Corinth.  The most prominent were the fertility cult of Aphrodite, worship of Apollo, and the Delphi Oracle, which was across the bay from Corinth.  Paul’s readers would have been aware of the religious climate from which he wrote Romans and would have understood Paul a lot better than we do.

The word “passions” in 1:26 is the same word used to speak of the suffering and death of Jesus in Acts 1:3 and does not mean what we mean by “passion” today.  Eros is the Greek word for romantic love, but eros is never used even once in the New Testament.  “Passions” in 1:26 probably refers to the frenzied state of mind that many ancient mystery cults induced in worshippers by means of wine, drugs and music.

We do not know the meaning of “burn” in 1:27, because Paul never used this particular word anywhere else, and it’s origin is uncertain.  The term “against nature” is also strange here, since exactly the same term is used by Paul in Romans 11:21-24 to speak of God acting “against nature” by including the Gentiles with the Jews in the family of God.  “Against nature” was used to speak of something that was not done in the usual way, but did not necessarily mean that something “against nature” was evil, since God also “acted against nature.”

One more word needs special attention.  “Committing indecent acts” in 1:27 is translated by King James Version as “working that which is unseemly.”  Phillips goes far beyond the evidence and renders it as “Shameful horrors!”  The Greek word is askemosunen and is formed of the word for “outer appearance” plus the negative particle.  It speaks of the inner or hidden part or parts of the individual that are not ordinarily seen or known in public.  “Indecent” in 1 Corinthians 12:23 referred to the parts of the body that remain hidden but are necessary and receive honor. 1 Corinthians 13:5 used the word to say that love does not behave “indecently.”

This word for “indecency” was used to translate Deuteronomy 24:1 into Greek to say that a man could divorce his wife if he “found some indecency in her.”  The religious teachers argued endlessly about what “some indecency” meant.  Some said it was anything that displeased the husband.  Others were more strict and said it could only refer to adultery. In Matthew 19:1-12, Jesus commented on Deuteronomy 24:1-4, but he did not define the term. 

Paul was certainly aware of the variety of ways that the teachers interpreted the word “indecency,” and he used it in a variety of ways himself.  To read into “indecent acts” a whole world of homosexual ideas is to abandon the realities of objective academic study and to embark on useless and damaging speculation that cannot be supported by the meaning of the word or by Paul’s use of it elsewhere.

If Paul had intended to condemn homosexuals as the worst of all sinners, he certainly had the language skills to do a clearer job of it than emerges from Romans 1:26-27.  The fact is that Paul nowhere condemned or mentioned romantic love and sexual relations between people of the same sex who love each other.  Paul never commented on sexual orientation.  As in the rest of the Bible, Paul nowhere even hinted that Lesbians and Gay men can or should change their sexual orientation.

SPECIAL NOTE on Romans 1:31, where the King James Version translated the Greek word astorgous as “without natural affection.”  This is one of the characteristics of people “with a reprobate mind” (KJV of 1:28).  The word for “reprobate” is more recently translated as “depraved” or “perverted” in order more neatly to fit the sexualizing of everything possible in the list.  The literal meaning of “reprobate” (Greek dokimon) is “to fail to measure up” or “to fail to meet the test” and simply means that the list of things that follows is the result of a mind that has abandoned God.  The word astorgous, “without natural affection,” is used only here and in 2 Timothy 3:3.  It has nothing at all to do with homosexuality or with sex.  It is the Greek word for “family love” or “family ties” with the negative prefix.  It refers to people who despise and reject their family members.  Rather than being directed at homosexuals, it is a term that is directed at people who despise and reject their own homosexual children and brothers and sisters! Modern translators, knowing this, usually render the word as “unloving,” and the implication of some sort of “unnatural” or “perverted” affection is removed.  Many more translation corrections are needed elsewhere!

The use of Romans 1:26-27 against homosexuals turns out to be a blunt instrument to batter and wound people who were not intended in the original text.  Paul clearly taught throughout Romans, Galatians and his other letters that God’s freely given and all inclusive love is for every person on earth.  Notice what Paul said about judging others in Romans 2:1: “Therefore you are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgement, for in that you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practise the same things.”

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