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Homosexual passages in the Bible

Part 1: More interpretations of Romans 1:26-27
by various theologians, writers
, & webmasters

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The passage may refer to child sexual abuse:

Some interpret the "men...with other men" clause to be a translation of the original Greek word for "pederasty" which was commonly practiced at the time by adult males with male children (often slaves). Thus Paul might have been criticizing child sexual abuse.

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The passage may condemn all non-procreative sex:

From Paul's era, until today, many people have believed that the only natural, normal sexual activity was between one man and one woman for the purpose of procreation -- or as a minimum that the sexual activity was open to conception. Thus "unnatural" sex would include:

  • Anyone engaging in sex for pure enjoyment.

  • Married opposite-sex couples who engaged in intercourse even though one or both partners were sterile or if the woman was past childbearing years.

  • Married couples who had sex even though the woman was not in the fertile part of her menstrual cycle,

  • A couple using some form of contraceptive.

Perhaps Paul's use of the phrase "para physin" (unnatural) simply meant that when the people engaged in same-sex practices, there was no procreative potential the behavior. Thus, it was unnatural, at least to Paul.

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The passage may refer to dominant/submissive relationships:

Writer Richard Summerbell suggests that this passage may refer to men who are predominantly heterosexual, but who are involved in:

"... dominant/submissive relationships or casual sex with younger men or older teens...Most of the men taking up such relations are married and actively heterosexual at the same time. The male-male relationships are diversions or, when taken up by single men, substitutes for heterosexuality.  It became clear to me that surrogate heterosexuality, a type of male- male sex which in our societies is common in prisons but nowhere else (it is sometimes referred to as "prison homosexuality") can become so common in some societies that its practitioners greatly outnumber and also influence the behavior of those who are actually of a homosexual orientation." 1

Thus, Paul may be writing of men involved in dominant/submissive relationships and/or of heterosexuals involved in sex with male youths. Neither has any connection to modern-day, consensual, committed same-sex adult relationships.

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The passage may condemn same-gender sexual behavior because of Paul's personal lack of knowledge:

Some religious liberals suggest that Paul is here declaring his own opinion: that all homosexual behavior is sinful and unnatural.

Many religious liberals study biblical passages in detail to determine if it covers all cultures during all eras, or whether it only refers to a single culture or a single time period in history. Using this method, they have rejected many biblical teachings. For example, passages that:

  • Denigrate women and considered them as property,

  • Regulate slavery,

  • Allow polygyny,

  • Require widows to marry their brother-in-law,

  • Require rape victims to marry their rapists, and

  • Many other passages in the Bible that required, promoted or regulated practices which are considered immoral by today's ethical standards.

Many people have adopted an understanding of human rights, in which both sexes and people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, religions, cultures, etc. are treated equally.

People living today have the advantage of learning from recent findings of human sexuality research to which Paul did not have access. Thus, Romans 1 may accurately reflect Paul's beliefs; but they are beliefs that now have to be largely abandoned, as we have already abandoned slavery, dictatorships, theocracies, the oppression of women, religious intolerance, burning alive some hookers, and many more practices found throughout the Bible that are now considered immoral or evil.

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A Roman Catholic view:

The Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, " added footnote 18 to their 1975 declaration "Persona Humana" 2 which includes a very different rendering of Romans 1:26-27:

"...why their women have turned from natural intercourse to unnatural practices and why their menfolk have given up natural intercourse to be consumed with passion for each other, men doing shameless things with men and getting an appropriate reward for their perversion,"

Most versions of the Bible start Verse 27 with an expression like: "In the same way" (NIV, NRSV, NAS) or "in like manner" (Rhiems New Testament). or "The men also turned" (KJV). Since the men were engaging in homosexual activities, the "in the same way" phrase would imply that the women were engaging in lesbian sex.

However, the version that the Pope quoted omits the phrase. This gives a completely different slant to the entire passage. The men are still described as engaging in same-gender sexual activity, but the women could be merely engaging in some unspecified "unnatural practices". One can speculate whether these practices were simply non-traditional, and/or non-procreative heterosexual activities such as heterosexual oral or anal sex, masturbation, sex with multiple men, sex using contraceptives, etc. They might not have been involved in same-sex practices at all. Thus, one could argue that the entire Bible may be totally silent on lesbianism.

"Pope Paul VI approved this Declaration... confirmed it and ordered its publication." 2

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Romans 1 may contain "prosopopoiia" -- two contrasting points of view:"

Douglas A Campbell has written a book about the concept of Justification in the epistles of Paul. It is titled "The Deliverance of God: An apocalyptic rereading of Justification in Paul." 3 It has the potential of triggering a massive change in Christian theology.

Paul J. Nuechterlein writes in an Amazon.com book review 4 that Campbell:

"... argues that interpreters of Paul are off-center with the heart of Paul's message of unconditional grace. They've gotten off track because they've both wrongly made Romans 1-4, with its dominant language of Justification, the center of Paul's message, and because they seriously have misread Romans 1-4. He proposes Romans 5-8, which is about God's unconditional deliverance of Creation from the powers of sin and death, as the true center for Paul's message. Paul's readers should be understanding Romans 1-4 through the lens of Romans 5-8, and not vice versa.

And so the misreading of Romans 1-4 has been huge. He suggests that Paul in Romans 1:18-3:20 has included a diatribe in the Greco-Roman style of the times against an opposing Teacher in Rome. The conventional reading of Romans 1-4 has thus represented what is actually two contradictory views of the Gospel, Paul's and his opponent's, as Paul's view alone -- thereby importing false views of faith and God into the Church's theology (e.g., conditional grace). Campbell skillfully sorts out the opponent's views in his radical rereading of Romans 1-4 such that Paul's Gospel is more clearly the message of a gracious, unconditional deliverance from sin and death in order that believers might live life in the Spirit."

Konstantin Kovshenin, writing in his Early Church Studies blog also discusses Campbell's book. He suggests that:

"... in Romans 1:18-32, Paul is using a rhetorical device called “speech-in-character” or prosopopoeia – προσωποποιία (pgs 532-33) allowing Paul to create an opposing case in order to invalidate it and reveal the veracity of his own teaching."

That is, the traditional interpretation of this passage is wrong. Only parts of it represent Paul's teaching. Other parts contain the arguments of another person who Paul feels is mistaken. It is a type of conversation in which the beliefs of a teacher in Rome are contrasted with Paul's beliefs.

It is as if a person read the transcript of a TV debate between a Democrat and a Republican and assumed that the transcript represented the views of one person.

Kovshenin writes:

"In short, if Paul’s teaching is not present in [parts of] verses 18-32 but it is instead something that Paul is refuting, then false teaching has been passed off as truth."

Some theologians have detected two writing styles in Romans 1 that would seem to indicate that Paul switched between his own style and that used by an opposing, false teacher.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

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

  1. Richard Summerbell, "Homosexuality and the Integrity of Scripture," at: http://members.aol.com/
  2. Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, "Persona Humana: Declaration on certain questions concerning sexual ethics," 1975-DEC-29, at: http://www.newadvent.org
  3. book cover image Douglas Campbell, "The Deliverance of God: An apocalyptic rereading of Justification in Paul," Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, (2009). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store This book received the maximum rating of 5 stars among all 7 reviewers.
  4. Paul J. Nuechterlein, "Back on track for unconditional grace," Amazon.com, 2009-NOV-11, at: http://www.amazon.com/
  5. Konstantin Kovshenin, "Douglas Campbell, Stephen Colbert and Katy Perry – Romans 1:18-32" early church studies blog at: https://earlychurchstudies.wordpress.com/
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Copyright © 1996 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-FEB-25
Author: B.A. Robinson

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