Homosexuality and Romans 1-3

Today in my Sunday school class I emphasized that those who use the material in Romans 1 about homosexuality as a weapon with which to condemn and “clobber” others have clearly made the error of stopping reading at the end of chapter 1 – which, like all the chapter and verse divisions in the New Testament, was not in the letter Paul wrote. If we continue reading, we discover that Paul engaged in a stereotypical Jewish condemnation of Gentiles (compare for instance Wisdom of Solomon 13-15) not as an end in itself, but in order to get Jewish readers who joined in the condemnation to understand that they themselves were in the same situation.

I also noted that the dominant form of homosexual act in the Greek world in Paul’s time was between a teacher and his male student. It is thus worth considering that Paul may have been more interested in condemning pederasty/paedophilia rather than addressing committed same-sex relationships. We also discussed whether an appropriate Christian outlook today is to condemn homosexuality in general, or to expect gay and lesbian Christians to hold themselves to a higher standard (monogamy) than prevails in our society, whether among homosexuals or heterosexuals. Also worth noting is that no one today practices “Biblical marriage“, and to the extent that our view of the “nature” of men and women has changed (considered in Paul’s time to be inherently active and passive respectively), is there any reason in our time to continue to view it as inherently demeaning for a man to take on a passive (i.e. female) role? Might such a gender-unequal first-century worldview, and more precisely its honor-shame values system, be at the heart of Paul’s assumption that male-make sexual relations are fundamentally dishonoring?

It is also worth noting that in Romans 1, Paul apparently views homosexual practices as a “punishment” for Gentile turning away from God, rather than as something that itself is a cause of the divine wrath. Time prevented us from looking at the ways in which objects of wrath are turned into objects of mercy on numerous occasions in the Bible. Also left for consideration on another occasion is whether, should we wish to welcome homosexuals in a Christian community, we cannot find at least as much justification for doing so in the Scriptures as we have for other groups that might, on Scriptural grounds, be excluded (e.g. for instance the divorced).

The aim is to conclude the series on homosexuality next time, after which will follow some Easter-related topics.

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