God and Homosexuality: Part 5 – Romans 1

Hey everyone! Sorry I didn’t get this out yesterday but it is a big passage and I wanted to make sure I spent enough time on it. Blessings my lovlies. Enjoy.

Today we will be discussing the passage from Romans 1. This passage has traditionally been the one that people point to as being the strongest argument against homosexuality. It is also the one that people point out, has direct application to today because it is located in Romans and written to the first century believers in Rome. While I agree that this text is the passage which most directly addresses homosexual behaviors I believe that Paul is very specific here as to who and what he is talking about. Let’s look at the scripture.

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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 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.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 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.

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. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 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.  (Romans 1:21-32 ESV)

In their book, The Children are Free, Jeff Miner and John Connoley write the following:

…Paul, in his classically trained style, thoroughly explains the factual assumptions and rationale behind his condemnation of the behavior described here. This makes it easy for us to answer our question: Does this passage apply to inherently same-gender-attracted people who are living in loving, committed relationships?

If we follow the passage, step-by-step, we find Paul is moving through a logical progression. He is talking about people who:

  1. Refused to acknowledge and glorify God. (v. 21)
  2. Began worshiping idols (images of created things, rather than the Creator). (v. 23)
  3. Were more interested in earthly pursuits than spiritual pursuits. (v. 25)
  4. Gave up their natural, i.e., innate, passion for the opposite sex in an unbounded search for pleasure. (v. 26-27)
  5. Lived lives full of covetousness, malice, envy, strife, slander, disrespect for parents, pride, and hatred of God. (v. 29-32)

The model of homosexual behavior Paul was addressing here is explicitly associated with idol worship (probably temple prostitution, and with people who, in an unbridled search for pleasure (or because of religious rituals associated with their idolatry), broke away from their natural sexual orientation, participating in promiscuous sex with anyone available.

There are, no doubt, modern people who engage in homosexual sex for reasons similar to those identified in Romans 1. If someone began with a clear heterosexual orientation, but rejected God and began experimenting with gay sex simply as a way of experiencing a new set of pleasures, then this passage may apply to that person. But this is not the experience of the vast majority of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.

Miner and Conolley go on to point out that the people being discussed in this passage, because of whatever specific actions they have taken (much of Christendom would say because of their idolatry and homosexual activity), “They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

I know and have known many homosexual people in my lifetime and this describes almost none of them. As a matter of fact there are many homosexual people who have grown up in the church, who love God and wanted nothing more than to follow Jesus and to love their neighbors who were met with evil, malice, strife, gossip, slander and several other things listed here simply for saying they were attracted to members of the same gender. How does that add up? On the web site gaychristian.net Justin Lee says in his essay:

Notice that Paul talks about homosexuality in connection with the fertility rites (look for the “therefore” in v. 24 and “because of this” in v. 26), and not in the list of sins at the end of the passage.

Rome was known at the time to be a society full of idol worship. Sex acts were almost always a part of the temple worship of these false gods. This section is clearly written in that context. Even in Roman society as a whole sex was thought of in a way that would be totally foreign to us today.

Wikipedia notes regarding the attitudes regarding sex in the Roman world,

No moral censure was directed at the adult male who enjoyed sex acts with either women or males of inferior status, as long as his behaviors revealed no weaknesses or excesses, nor infringed on the rights and prerogatives of his male peers. While perceived effeminacy was denounced, especially in political rhetoric, sex in moderation with male prostitutes or slaves was not regarded as improper or vitiating to masculinity, if the male citizen took the active and not the receptive role.

We should also discuss the “due penalty for their error” clause. Many Christians teach that the “error” is homosexuality and that the “due penalty” is sexually transmitted disease or AIDS. This really just doesn’t make sense on its face. Heterosexuals get sexually transmitted diseases and lesbians have the lowest risk of contracting AIDS. It seems obvious to me this is talking about something else. In What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel A. Helminiak, he states,

…what is translated as “in their own persons” reads differently in Greek. A better translation would be “among themselves.” The reference is not to individuals and their persons but to the Gentiles as a whole, to their culture.

Moreover, the word “penalty” offers a loaded translation; it carries a negative connotation which is not in the Greek. The Greek word simply means “recompense, “desserts,” or ” payment,” which could be positive, negative or neutral.

Given what we already understand about the first chapter of Romans, a very easy explanation of verse 27 arises. The error Paul refers to is not homosexuality but Gentile idolatry. Idolatry is his concern throughout the whole of that chapter: they knew God but did not worship God. And the recompense that comes to the Gentiles for not worshiping God is the uncleanness that is a regular part of their culture.

The other thing I love that no one talks about is what immediately follows this section in Romans 2 (please also remember that Chapter breaks and headings were added to help people find their way around scripture and have no authority). Let’s look at Romans 2 where Paul makes sure that the Roman believers know who is the righteous Judge.

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?  (Romans 2:1-4)

So, right after Paul discusses idol worship, having no other Gods, turning against God and who he made you (for some people this means homosexual) and living lives full of covetousness, malice, envy, strife, slander, disrespect for parents, pride, and hatred of God, he turns around and says, “Hey, don’t be too quick to judge though, because you have done the same things!” Hmm.

In the book Jesus, The Bible and Homosexuality, Jack Rogers, points out several errors people make when interpreting this passage.

(1) they lose sight of the fact that this passage is primarily about idolatry, (2) they overlook Paul’s point that we are all sinners, (3) they miss the cultural subtext, and (4) they apply Paul’s condemnation of immoral sexual activity to faithful gay and lesbian Christians who are not idolaters, who love God, and who seek to live in thankful obedience to God.

You can read more at:

Would Jesus Discriminate?
Gentle Shepherd MCC
Amazon Book list

6 thoughts on “God and Homosexuality: Part 5 – Romans 1

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