Believers who condemn gays often use Paul’s comment in Romans as airtight proof of their position, but there are three reasonable alternative perspectives of this passage:
Paul thought homosexuality was evil
Paul had in mind practices connected with idol worship
Paul summarized typical Jewish thinking about Gentiles
Beginning in reverse order, we considered perspective C earlier; today we will look at the others.
Is Paul talking about homosexuality in this passage or something else? Considering the context of Paul’s statement, it seems he might refer to religious ritual instead—perhaps temple prostitution.
Romans chapter 1 says:
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
It certainly appears that Paul’s focus is idolatry and that the sexual acts are part of that idolatry. If this is so, then Paul’s comment has no connection to gay relationships today, which have nothing to do with idol worship.
Are These Actually Paul’s Views?
Keep in mind that this might not represent Paul’s opinion, as we discussed last time. He might be recapitulating views of Jews who castigated Gentiles. But, we don’t have to choose between perspectives B and C; they are consistent with each other.
So we could conclude that Paul demonstrates, and opposes, the views of Gentile-bashing Jews who hated their idolatrous behavior. Perhaps the Jews had in mind Deuteronomy chapter 23:
No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute…because the Lord your God detests them both.
Paul’s Romans passage continues to describe these terrible people:
They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful.
If we remove the God-hating, the rest of these accusations remind me of many conservative leaders and believers I’ve known.
Do Paul’s Opinions Represent the Views of the Father?
Though I believe it very likely that Paul opposes the views of Jews who castigate Gentiles and their idolatrous practices, in the end it doesn’t matter whether he states his own opinion or that of others.
There is a much larger issue to consider, and this brings us to perspective A.
I have great admiration for Paul. He was a creative thinker, and it is he who opened fully the good news of Jesus to Gentiles like me. But Paul was also human and one who spoke from his limited understanding—like we all do; he even admits as much.
When Paul gave us great insights, it changed the church forever. But when he made errors, it entrenched those errors in the church and made them difficult to overcome. Such was the influence of Paul.
Unfortunately, Paul’s comments in Romans chapter 1 cause tremendous pain because many mistake Paul for the voice of God and accept his words as God’s judgment on gays, even though that wasn’t even the point he was trying to make. The real tragedy is that believers use Paul’s words here to cancel out his more emphatic words about love.
If Paul were to visit us today, and see the results of his comment, my guess is he would be distressed beyond measure that people have used his words to hurt other people.
What about the Sins Lists?
We have covered four of the six most common clobber passages. The remaining two are Paul’s sin lists.
1 Corinthians chapter 6 reads:
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Timothy chapter 1 says:
The law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.
We will spend little time on these passages for two reasons: we don’t know what the most important Greek words mean and even if this is Paul’s opinion it doesn’t mean it’s the Father’s opinion.
The Greek words are very ambiguous and are translated in Bibles quite differently. Arsenokoitai might even have been coined by Paul himself, for there is no known precedent for the word. Malakos means ‘soft’ but does not seem specifically sexual. It could refer to a soldier soft in battle or men who lived pampered lives. For centuries theologians thought it meant masturbation.
These are VERY weak arguments, but whatever these words mean why do we focus on them for God’s special condemnation and ignore the ‘Greedy’ and ‘Slanderers’?
This completes our review of the clobber passages. Next time we will consider gays and Jesus’ inclusiveness.
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Have a great day! ~Tim