Romans 1:26-27

Interpretation by religious liberals

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Many religious liberals, gays, lesbians, mental health professionals, human sexuality researchers, etc. hold a variety of views on this passage from Paul's epistle to the Romans. We cite a selection of their beliefs below.

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Comments from a Philadelphia Inquirer forum: 

bullet J. Nelson: "Paul didn't write it as a condemnation of homosexuality, but as a criticism of Greek behavior in temple worship. Greeks often incorporated sexual behavior in temple worship." 1

bullet D. Bartlett: "This is the tough one. I think one doesn't get around this. It's the only place in the New Testament where there's any extensive discussion of homosexual relations. In Romans, there's no question that Paul thinks certain kinds of homosexual behavior are a result of the idolatry of the pagan world." 1

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A human sexuality and progressive Christian viewpoint:

Human sexuality researchers and others who have studied the nature of sexual orientation might reject Paul's belief that homosexuality is beyond the normal. Many religious liberals reject Paul's condemnation of homosexual behavior, particularly when Paul's support for the oppression of women, and his acceptance of slavery as a normal social practice in (Philemon 1:15 to 16) are considered. They might feel that this passage in 1 Romans should be rejected as immoral and outside the will of God, much as other biblical passages are immoral by today's ethical standards and should be ignored -- including those passages that regulated human slavery, required some hookers to be burned alive, advocated genocide, required victims of rape to marry their rapist, allowed the torture of prisoners, and required the execution of non-virgin brides

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Interpretation by the Archbishop of Canterbury:

Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion talked to theology students at the University of Toronto in Canada in 2007-APR. He discussed the use that conservative Christians have made of biblical passages to condemn homosexuality. He concentrated on Romans 1. He said that this passage was intended to warn Christians to not be self-righteous when they see others fall into sin. He said:

"Many current ways of reading miss the actual direction of the passage. Paul is making a primary point not about homosexuality but about the delusions of the supposedly law-abiding. [These lines are] for the majority of modern readers the most important single text in Scripture on the subject of homosexuality."

However, right after that passage, Paul warns readers not to condemn others:

Romans 2:1: "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things." (King James Version)

Or as Williams rendered the passage:

"At whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself."

Williams said that Romans 1 favors neither side in the debate over equal treatment of gays and lesbians in the Anglican Communion:

bullet It would not help liberals because it states that homosexual behavior was "as obviously immoral as idol worship or disobedience to parents."
bullet It would not help conservatives, who have been "up to this point happily identifying with Paul's castigation of someone else," and challenge them to ask whether they were right to judge others.

He concluded: "This does nothing to settle the exegetical questions fiercely debated at the moment" in the Anglican Communion. 7

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The passage is unrelated to homosexuality:

The complete passage describes how a group of Christians left the church, converted to Paganism, and engaged in orgiastic, presumably heterosexual sexual activities. This type of behavior was common among Pagan fertility religions in Rome during Paul's time. Paul writes that, later, God "gave them over" to something new: homosexual behavior. This implies that they had a heterosexual orientation and had engaged only in heterosexual sex throughout their lifetime. God influenced them in some way to engage in homosexual orgies. This was, for them, an unnatural, and thus sinful, activity.

Paul  criticized them because they were engaged in sexual activity which was unnatural for them. For a person with a heterosexual orientation, homosexual behavior is "shameful," "unnatural," "indecent," and a "perversion." The passage in Romans is not a condemnation of homosexual behavior. Rather, it disapproves of sexual behavior that is against a person's basic nature (i.e. homosexual behaviors by people whose orientation is heterosexual). 2

For the vast majority of adults, those who are heterosexual, it is indecent for them to engage in homosexual activities. One can interpret Paul's writing as stating that, for the small minority of humans who are homosexual, it would be indecent for them to engage in heterosexual activities.

As C. Ann Shepherd writes: "When the scripture is understood correctly, it seems to imply that it would be unnatural for heterosexuals to live as homosexuals, and for homosexuals to live as heterosexuals." 3

Bruce Hahne writes, in point form:

bullet "Verses 26-27 exploit Jewish cultural prejudices.

bullet Good rhetorical strategy: begin with assumptions of audience, build on them to make your point.

bullet So Romans 1:26-27 speaks only of heterosexual people who act 'contrary to their nature.'

bullet The text provides neither ethical nor behavioral guidance to lesbian, bay or bisexual people." 4

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The passage is not related to permanent, loving, committed same-sex relationships:

Some question whether the word "perversion" in Verse 27, and "such things" in Verse 30 are related to only certain types of gay and lesbian behavior. e.g.:

bullet Homosexual orgies, or

bullet Group same-gender sexual practices in a religious setting. This was a common practice among Pagans at the time; e.g. in the temples dedicated to the Goddess Aphrodite.

bullet Casual homosexual activities outside of a committed, monogamous two person relationship, or

bullet Homosexual molestation between a man and a child. In Paul's day, the child victim was often a slave.

These probably were the only forms of same-sex activity that Paul was familiar with. Paul may well have not been thinking of gays and lesbians in committed relationships when he wrote this passage. He never referred to such couples in his writings, and may well have never encountered any during his lifetime. He might simply have been condemning homosexual orgies and other sexual activities outside of a monogamous same-sex relationship.

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The passage's homosexual implications of minor importance:

Many English translations render the end of Verse 27 as "due penalty of their error." Their basic error was not homosexuality. It was for former Pagans who converted to Pauline Christianity to leave the faith, return to Paganism, and engage in idolatry. That is the main theme of the argument. From the idolatry flowed sexual orgies, sexual behavior against their nature, wickedness, greed, murder, etc. The intent of the passage is to show how idolatry leads to complete degeneration of their behavior: to evil, envy, treachery, spite, gossiping, etc. The reference to what was, for them, unnatural homosexual behavior seems almost incidental, to the story. It was merely one symptom of the results of Pagan idolatry.

Arland J. Hultgren writes:

"Paul is not speaking here of homosexual orientation. Instead, he is talking about the gentile world, a world of idolaters, who long ago rejected the worship of God and became a culture of abuse, in which power and conquest were established and displayed in sexual acts." 5

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Passage refers to bisexuals not homosexuals:

In Greek and Roman society of the time, bisexuality was regarded as quite natural; people in some walks of society were expected to engage in sexual activity with persons of both genders. Since most of them were heterosexual, bisexual activity would be against their personal nature. Romans 1 discusses such individuals first engaging in opposite-sex orgies, and then migrating to same-sex orgies. That is, by engaging in both opposite-sex and same-sex behavior, they were attempting to behave as bisexuals; this would be against their heterosexual nature.

The Apostolic Restoration Mission, a Pentecostal organization, states

"...God created each of us with a sexual orientation. To attempt to change it is, in effect, telling God that He created us wrong. The creation (us) does not have the right to 're-create' itself." 6

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Additional interpretations of Romans 1 are listed elsewhere on this web site.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Fred Tasker, "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?", Philadelphia Inquirer, 1997-JUL-13. The article was based on an earlier survey of religions opinion of 6 theologians and religious leaders covering the range from conservative to liberal thought. Included were:
    1. The Rev. Jill Nelson, pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church
    2. David Bartlett, professor at Yale Divinity School
  2. "Dr. Swiney," "How to be true to the Bible and say 'Yes' to same-sex unions,"  at:
  3. C. Ann Shepherd, "The Bible & Homosexuality," at:
  4. Bruce Hane, "Romans conclusion, cont.," at:
  5. Arland J. Hultgren, "Being faithful to the Scriptures: Romans 1:26-27 as a case in point," at:  You may need software to read this PDF file. It can be obtained free from:
  6. "A study of homosexuality and the Bible," Apostolic Restoration Mission, at:
  7. Tom Heneghan, "Paul on Gays," University of Texas, at:

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Copyright © 1996 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-FEB-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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