Key Question: Does this passage say anything implicitly or explicitly about committed, loving, monogamous, covenanted same-sex relationships?
I am going to post three times (today, Tuesday and Wednesday) on this passage, because it is pretty central to the discussion.
The only way to understand Romans 1:26-27 is to read it as part of Romans 1-4 (yes, four chapters). Paul is making one single argument through the first several chapters of Romans — and it has nothing to do with homosexuality.
Paul is trying to make the case to his Jewish audience that there is no advantage to being Jewish over being Gentile when it comes to salvation. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace.
This is Paul’s fundamental argument. And he is arguing using the old bait-and-switch with is readers. He begins by painting a terrible picture of gentiles… you can almost hear his readers cheering him on… “yes, such terrible people!”, they were thinking. This is what Paul is trying to accomplish and so he chooses examples designed to bring about that reaction. Homosexuality is used by way of example… an example that any first century Jew would have understood and reacted to.
Paul wants his audience to accuse their “enemy” so that he can turn the argument around in chapter 2 and again in chapters 3 and 4, asking “are you any better?” (Answer: No.)
So that is argument Paul is making. He is not laying out a theological teaching on homosexuality, but uses it as an example that would have resonated with his audience.
Some interpretive issues include: (1) what exactly does Paul mean by homosexuality in this passage, (2) what does he mean by “natural” or “unnatural”, (3) as an argument from example, how much weight does this passage hold in terms of ethical prescription?
While there is some debate as to what Paul means by homosexuality, let’s just assume a straightforward cultural understanding. In other words, Paul is not talking about covenanted gay relationships here (such and idea was unknown in his world) nor is he talking about sexual orientation. Again, an idea foreign to Paul.
As for “natural” or “unnatural”, it is hard to tell what he means by this term. Is this the same “unnatural” of women having short hair or men having long hair? (same Greek term, same author). We generally reject that teaching of Paul as being merely cultural and not universal.
What the text DOES SAY about homosexuality?
I think this text teaches that homosexuality is not God’s A-plan, but that it is the result of brokenness and sin in the world. That is not the same thing as saying that homosexuality is itself sinful or the result of individual sin, but rather it is part of how SIN (big S) has wrought havoc with creation.
I have written elsewhere on the idea that we all live in “Plan B” — and that is really the nature of the Christian life. Plan A was a sinless existence in Paradise. Once sin (big S, again) was introduced into the world, we all find ourselves in Plan B. Jesus’ death and resurrection are only need in Plan B. Paul’s argument in Romans is an argument from Plan B — that we are all in it and that Jesus is the only answer to it. Not holiness, not personal piety or righteousness. But Jesus and His cross alone. The notion of this Plan-B is described by Paul in Romans 8:18-25.
As a gay Christian, the question this raises for me is what does it look like to live in Plan B (like we all do) with integrity, joy, freedom, and in a Christ-honoring way? More thoughts on this tomorrow and Wednesday.
What the text DOES NOT SAY about homosexuality?
This passage is not a teaching on homosexuality, per se. It is uses homosexuality as an example. So it is not fair to say that Paul needs to address all aspects of the issue… that was not his goal or purpose. So while this passage says little or nothing about how gay Christians are supposed to live in Plan B, nor much about committed, covenanted, relationships — we cannot take that silence as endorsement by Paul. All we can say is that we are limited in what we can conclude from this passage.
But here is something I am confident in concluding from the Book of Romans (chapter 8):
28And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
31What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Those are my thoughts on this passage… what are yours? Questions? Observations?