PAUL'S' VIEWS
    ROMANS
    MORE DETAILS

Summary of this page

Some people use Romans Chapter 1 to say that
homosexuality is sinful and homosexuals are bad.  
However, the facts are as follows:


SEX BETWEEN FEMALES

Romans 1 contains the only reference in the Bible to
females having sex with females.  The reference is part
of Paul’s illustration showing how rejection of God can
lead to people doing foolish things.

The New International Version translates Romans 1:26  
as:

    Because of this, God gave them over to shameful
    lusts. Even their women exchanged natural
    sexual relations for unnatural ones.

A more literal [and expanded] interpretation of this verse
is:

    For this reason [honoring and serving created
    things rather than the Creator]
    God gave them up [gave the individuals freedom to
    go their own way] to dishonorable or shameful
    passions
    for even their females changed or exchanged the
    natural [sexual] use [of the male]
    into that [use which is] against or contrary to nature;


What form of female sexual activity is
described in this verse?

This verse (Romans 1:26) states that the women
exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural sexual
relations.

While the
unnatural sexual relations (literally, use
against nature
) involving females could be male-female
anal or oral intercourse, it is unlikely to be so because in
Paul’s culture such activity was not considered as
unnatural.

On the other hand, same-sex activity between females
was thought of as unnatural in the Greco-Roman culture
of Paul’s time because such activity involved one of the
women having an active penetrative role (like a man) in
contravention of the cultural view that women should
always be passive in sex.

It is therefore likely that the female acts criticized are anal
or vaginal intercourse between females in which one
female penetrates another with a finger or other
instrument.  It could also involve the mutual rubbing of the
genital organs.


What points favor Romans 1:26 referring to
sex between females?

  • Same-sex activity between females was thought of
    as unnatural in the Greco-Roman culture of Paul’s
    time because such activity involved one of the
    women having an active penetrative role, thus
    acting like a man.  This contravened the cultural
    view that only men should be the penetrators and
    women should always be passive in sex.  Paul and
    his audience shared this cultural view.

  • Many ancient Greek and Roman non-Christian
    authors depicted sexual relations between females
    as unnatural.  The authors include Plato, Seneca
    the Elder, Martial, Ovid, Ptolemy, Artimedorus,
    Pseudo-Phocylides. For details see Chapters 2, 4
    and 6 of Bernadette J. Brooten, Love between
    Women: Early Christian Responses to Female
    Homoeroticism, 1996.

  • The use of likewise or in the same way in verse 27
    means that same-sex activity is referred to in both
    verse 27 and verse 26.

  • Anal intercourse between women and men
    generally carried no stigma in ancient Roman
    society.  No known ancient source explicitly
    describes anal intercourse between women and
    men as unnatural.  Therefore Paul would have no
    reason to call male-female anal intercourse
    unnatural.

  • To illustrate one of the consequences of people
    refusing to glorify God, Paul chose the most
    outrageous form of female sexual behavior in his
    culture, i.e. females taking the active penetrative
    role.

  • The early Christian writer, St. John Chrysostom
    (Homily 4 on the Epistle to the Romans) (about 400
    CE), considered that Paul was referring to female
    same-sex intercourse.

  • Verses 26 and 27 are an example of parallelism,
    where the second verse repeats and extends the
    meaning of the first.


What points favor Romans 1:26 referring to
male-female anal sex?

  • The use of likewise or in the same way in verse 27
    means that the act of anal intercourse is referred to
    in both verse 27 (between males only) and verse
    26 (between males and females).

  • Although verse 26 says that women exchanged
    natural relations for unnatural ones, it does not say
    that their male partners were exchanged for female
    partners.  It is only an assumption that their partners
    were exchanged.  By contrast, verse 27 does say
    that males exchanged their female partners for
    male partners.

  • The early Christian writers, Clement of Alexandria
    (The Instructor 2.10.86-87) (about 200 CE),
    Anastasius and Augustine (Marriage and Desire
    20.35) (both around 400 CE), considered that Paul
    was referring to non-procreative, male-female anal
    intercourse.


What does Paul mean by “nature” in
Romans 1:26?

Verse 26 states that the women exchanged natural
sexual relations [literally,
the natural use] for unnatural
sexual relations [literally,
use against nature].

The question of what Paul means by
nature in verse 26
is important because some people argue that Paul
intended
nature to mean God’s plan for the world
(including sex roles) as at Creation and that rejection of
God expresses itself in rejection of God’s design for
male and female sexual roles.  In other words, Paul’s
describing female-female sex as
against nature (and his
use of
likewise extends that to male-male sex in the next
verse) would mean that such types of sex are wrong.

However this interpretation is incorrect.  First note that
there is no gender or sexual use of
nature, natural or
unnatural in the Bible except in this passage (Romans 1:
26-27) and in 1 Corinthians 11:14 (implying that it is
unnatural for men to have long hair but natural for women).

Both passages refer to gender (male and female) roles
and both follow allusions to the Creation (Romans 1:20,
23 and 25 and 1 Corinthians 11:7-9 and 12).  Despite
these allusions to the Creation in the Corinthians
passage,
nature in that passage clearly means custom
in Paul’s Greco-Roman culture.

Now what are the allusions to the Creation in the Romans
passage?  Verse 20 says that God's qualities have been
seen since the creation of the world (stating a time
period), verse 23 refers to images made to look like man
and birds and animals and reptiles (showing the
comprehensive nature of the images or idols), verse 25
talks about people worshipping created things rather
than the Creator (emphasizing the difference between
the types of things worshipped), and verses 26 and 27
refer to males and females (indicating that males and
females of all ages are included, not just adult men and
women).

Note that the Romans passage does
not refer to the
Creation events of male and female persons being
created, their sex roles, or marriage between a man and
a woman.

Therefore it is logical to assume that despite the
allusions to the Creation in the Romans passage,
nature
in that passage refers to
custom in Paul’s culture just as
it did in the Corinthians passage.  In other words, what is
natural for Paul is determined by what he saw as
customary in his culture, not by reference to the creation
order.

The conclusion that
nature refers to custom in Paul’s
culture is reinforced by a detailed analysis of the text,
which shows that Paul referred to male-female sex as
natural relations (v 26 & 27) and sex between females
as
unnatural relations (v 26) but he did not refer to sex
between males (v 27) as
unnatural relations.  It seems
that Paul did not use
unnatural for sex between males
because such use would only have covered passive sex
acts in which the males acted contrary to their expected
roles in society, and he wanted to cover both active and
passive sex acts between males.  This indicates that
Paul was using
natural and unnatural to refer to his
culture and not the creation order.


What is the meaning of “natural relations”
and “unnatural relations”

The passage talks about women exchanged natural
sexual relations for unnatural ones
(literally, females
exchanged the natural use
[of the male] into that [use
which is]
against nature).  It also talks about men
abandoned natural relations with women
(literally, males
having left the natural use of the female).
 In the context
of
natural meaning customary (usual) in the culture,
natural use of the male (or female) means sexual
(vaginal) intercourse between males and females.

For the same reason,
unnatural or against nature refers
to what is not customary in Paul’s culture and
unnatural
relations
are any sex acts which are contrary to custom
in his culture.


Who is referred to in Romans 1:26?

While not totally clear, it seems that Paul is referring to
groups of people (or even a society) who have changed
the way they express themselves sexually.  Nevertheless
people do act sexually as individuals and therefore many
individual women must have changed from having sex
with males to having sex with females.  This change may
have been temporary for same-sex orgiastic idol worship
in Roman temples (women having sex with temple
priestesses then later having sex with their husbands) or
it could have been permanent (women giving up sex with
their husbands and having sex only with other women).


Why does Paul mention sex between
females at all?

Paul’s reference to sex between females is part of his
“sermon” illustration showing how rejection of God can
lead to people doing foolish things.  This form of sexual
activity seems to have been chosen as an example
because it was a very shameful activity in Paul’s culture.

An alternative explanation in
this article posits that Paul’s
mostly illiterate Roman audience often inaccurately
remembered traditional stories.  They remembered the
attempted same-sex actions of the men of Sodom and
recalled Ezekiel’s six references (chapter 16) to
the
daughters of Sodom
, mistakenly assuming that the
women of Sodom also had same-sex activity.  As they
were illiterate, they could not read to correct their
mistaken assumption.  Paul would know of this tradition
and used it in his argument in Romans 1.


Summary of Paul’s criticism of sex between
females

It has been shown that the sexual activity referred to in
Romans 1:26 is most probably sex between females.

Although Paul criticized sex between females by calling it
shameful lusts and unnatural, he did not forbid it here or
anywhere else in his speeches or letters.  However both
Paul and his Roman audience believed that sex between
females was unnatural and should not be indulged in,
mainly because their culture thought it wrong for a female
to act like a male during such sex.


What does the criticism of sex between
females mean for women who are attracted
to other women?

If a woman is attracted to or loves other women without
having sex with them, the criticism of sex between
females is irrelevant.


What does the criticism of sex between
females mean for women who have sex
with other women?

The criticism of sex between females can be ignored by
same-sexually active women today for the following
reasons:

  • This criticism of sex between females is not a
    moral principle as it does not have the essential
    criterion of being prescriptive (a command).  That
    is, the Bible doesn’t ever say don’t do it.

  • The criticism of sex between females as unnatural
    is not drawn from the Old Testament laws.  Instead
    the criticism is mainly based on the gender-role
    culture* of Paul’s time (i.e. a woman should not act
    like a man during sex) and this is irrelevant to  
    modern cultures.

  • As the criticism is mainly based on culture now
    irrelevant, it does not apply today as doctrine.  This
    conclusion derives from Elliott's view that
    theological doctrines and ethical rules cannot be
    based on Biblical texts whose rationales and
    plausibility are based on cultural perceptions,
    values, and worldviews no longer held or
    considered valid **.

  • The view of “no sex outside marriage between a
    man and a woman” can be ignored for these
    reasons.

However
sex between women should comply with
the
no-harm test.  If a woman does not harm herself, the
other woman or any third party (e.g., a partner), then sex
between women is okay.

*Using the criteria in  Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring the
Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis
, by William J. Webb, 2001, sex
between women is cultural or has a mainly cultural component.  Paul’s
attitude to sex between women in Romans 1 was the same as the
widespread attitude in the 1st Century Jewish and Greco-Roman
cultures.

** John H. Elliott, No kingdom of God for softies? or, what was Paul
really saying? 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 in context,
Biblical Theology Bulletin  
Spring 2004



SEX BETWEEN MALES

Chapter 1 of Romans also refers to males having sex
with males.  The reference is part of Paul’s illustration
showing how rejection of God can lead to people doing
foolish things.

The New International Version translates Romans 1:27  
as:

    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.

A more literal interpretation of this verse is:

    and likewise also the males, having left or
    abandoned the natural use of the female (natural
    sexual relations with women),
    were utterly consumed in their intense lust for one
    another;
    males in males working out the shameful act,
    and received in themselves the inevitable or
    appropriate payment for their error.


What form of male sexual activity is
described in this verse?

This verse (Romans 1:27) states that men who had
rejected God
abandoned natural sexual relations with
women
.  The men's subsequent activity is described in
euphemistic terms such as
consumed in their lust for
one another
and males acting shamefully with males
(literally,
males in males working out the shameful act).  
Note that the activity appears to be consensual.

While not explicitly stated, it is most likely that the male
sex act criticized is male-male penetration (anal
intercourse), not other forms of sex between males.

Penetration is implied because men penetrating men is
the male equivalent of their former vaginal intercourse
with women.

Penetration is also implied by the reference to
males
acting shamefully with males
.  This reference is a
reflection of the Greco-Roman concept of Paul’s time
that the passive partner in anal intercourse between
males was being penetrated like a woman and this was
a shameful thing for a man to allow or experience.

However the ultimate origin of the Romans 1 criticism of
males acting shamefully with males is the prohibition of
sex between males (
don’t let another male penetrate
you
) in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.  As well as the subject
matter being the same, the Greek term for
acting
shamefully
in Romans 1 occurs many times throughout
Leviticus 18 and 20 (where it is translated as
nakedness).  Another similarity is that male (instead of
man) is used both in Romans 1:27 and in Leviticus 18:
22 and 20:13.

Paul’s criticism of sex between males in Romans 1:27
repeats his criticism of sex between males (
males who
have sex with males)
in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy
1:10.


Who is referred to in Romans 1:27?

While not totally clear, it seems that Paul is referring to
groups of people (or even a society) who have changed
the ways they express themselves sexually.  
Nevertheless people do act sexually as individuals and
therefore many individual men must have changed from
having sex with females to having sex with males.  This
change may have been temporary for same-sex orgiastic
idol worship in Roman temples (men having sex with
male temple priests then later having sex with their
wives) or it could have been permanent (men giving up
sex with their wives and having sex only with other men).  
The extreme form of sex between males described in
verse 27 would vividly remind Paul’s audience of
orgiastic idol worship, such as worship of the pagan
gods Cybele and Attis (Aphrodite and Adonis).  
Descriptions of that type of worship are given in this
comprehensive
paper.  Note especially the brief
comparison of verses in Romans 1 with practices of the
priests and priestesses of Cybele and Attis.

What did Paul think of same-sex behavior?

Paul’s ideas of same-sex behavior would have been
partly formed by his Jewish background and intellectual
training *.  This would include his acceptance of male-
female sex as the usual practice and his knowledge of
the condemnation of anal intercourse between males in
Leviticus.  It is likely that his views would have been
expanded by his Greco-Roman culture, including its
basic values of honor and shame.  Hellenistic Jews
around Paul’s time were hostile towards sex between
males, especially pederasty (man-boy relationships).  As
far as we know, Paul was aware of the many different
types of same-sex relationships in his culture, including
male and female prostitution, pederasty, and
relationships and even marriages between mature men.

Paul’s writings show that he adopted the gender (sex
role) concepts of both the Torah (especially Leviticus)
and his culture, including the maintenance of “male
honor”.  For example, in 1 Corinthians 11 and 14 he
states that man is head of woman, that it is natural that
men and women have different hair lengths and that
women should not speak in churches.

Also Paul's choice of the active verbs
exchanged and
abandoned reflects his culture’s belief that same-sex
behavior is a freely chosen activity.  Similarly Paul's use
of the phrase
utterly consumed with intense desire could
reflect the belief of his culture that same-sex behavior
was associated with insatiable and unbridled lust.  That
is, men would only be satisfied if they had sex with other
men as well as with women.  And Paul's remarks
concerning the giving up of
natural (opposite-sex)
intercourse in favor of unnatural reflected the belief that
same-sex behavior was a violation of his culture’s natural
order, under which male-female sex is the natural way
with males having an active sexual role and females
having a passive sexual role.  Paul also describes same-
sex behavior as one result of idolatry.

* See Galatians 1: 14, Philippians 3: 5-6


What was the Roman attitude to sexual
relations between males?

In Rome, sexual relations between males were not
condemned as such.  But the cultural conventions had to
be followed to maintain male honor.

First, a Roman man always had to give the appearance
of playing the insertive role in penetrative acts (i.e. being
the active, not passive, partner).  The Roman view was
that masculinity is domination and penetration is
subjugation.  Secondly, freeborn Roman males and
females (other than his wife) were off-limits as sexual
partners for a Roman man.

It was understood to be natural and normal for a man to
desire sexual contact with male and female bodies
alike.  However the Romans stigmatized effeminate
males who accepted or even preferred the receptive role
in intercourse. *

* This answer is derived from Craig A. Williams, Roman
Homosexuality: Ideologies of Masculinity in Classical Antiquity,
1999.


Is Paul criticizing same-sex activity
wherever it occurs or just same-sex activity
when people worship idols?

Some people try to minimize Paul’s criticism of same-
sex activity in Romans 1 by saying that he is only
criticizing same-sex activity as part of idol worship.  But
this is not so.

Paul says twice that because people honor and serve
created things (including idols) instead of God (verses
23 and 25), God allows them to mutually dishonor their
bodies sexually (verses 24 and 26).  This is expressed
by same-sex activity (verses 26 and 27).  In other words,  
idols  sex  idols  sex.

The extreme form of sex between males described in
verse 27 would vividly remind Paul’s audience of the
orgiastic idol worship in Roman temples.

Nevertheless Paul does not directly refer to pagan
temples or same-sex acts in idol worship in this passage
and therefore the “plain sense” interpretation is that he is
referring to same-sex activity wherever it occurs, both in
temples and elsewhere.


Who took part in the same-sex activity?

The same-sex activity was done by (probably married)
persons who usually had sexual activity with persons of
the opposite sex (
females exchanged natural sexual
relations
[with males] for unnatural ones and males
abandoned natural sexual relations with females [for
other males]).  It appears that these persons had pre-
existing desires to have sexual relations with people of
the same sex.  God
gave them over by allowing them to
act on those desires.  It is possible that sometimes the
exchange and abandonment was only temporary while
the women and men were having same-sex orgies
(
utterly consumed in their intense lust for one another)
with priests and priestesses in the temples.  In other
cases, the exchange and abandonment of male-female
sex for same-sex activity may have been permanent.


What is meant by “receiving the due penalty
for their error” in Romans 1:27?

We don’t really know what the due penalty is.  However it
might be a sexually transmitted disease, or the same-sex
activity itself might be the penalty for their idolatry.  It
could also be that some of the men changed from male
domination (honorable in their culture) to female passivity
(dishonorable).  Note also that
error means mistake, not
sin.


Summary of Paul’s criticism of sex between
males

It has been shown above that the sexual activity referred
to in Romans 1:27 is
male-male penetration (anal
intercourse).

Paul criticized this sexual activity by calling it
shameful
lusts
and shameful acts and states that males were
inflamed with lust for one another
.


What does the criticism of male-male
penetration mean for men who are attracted
to other men?

If a man is attracted to or loves other men without having
sex with them, the criticism of male-male penetration is
irrelevant.


What does the criticism of male-male
penetration mean for men who have sex
with other men?

Although Paul criticizes penetrative sex between men,
this criticism is not a moral principle as it does not have
the essential criterion of being prescriptive (a
command).  That is, he doesn’t actually
say don’t do it.

The criticism of male-male penetration does not apply
today to straight, bisexual or gay men who have such
penetrative sex because it
applied only to the Greek-
Roman culture of Paul’s time.  For those who don’t
accept this
culture argument, the criticism of male-male
penetration does not apply when no one is harmed,
directly or indirectly, by the penetration.  See how
this
conclusion is reached.




FALSE VIEWS ABOUT ROMANS 1:26 AND 27

Most of the following views (in italics) are those of
people who wish to minimize the significance of Paul’s
criticism of female-female and male-male sexual activity.

This passage criticizes only same-sex activity of
heterosexuals, who usually have sex with persons of the
opposite sex, and in no way criticizes the sexual activity
of a modern person who is exclusively and naturally
homosexual.  (this is false)

It is true that the passage criticizes same-sex activity by
people who usually have or had sex with persons of the
opposite sex.  This view is supported by St. John
Chrysostom (Homily 4 on the Epistle to the Romans)
(about 400 CE).

However the passage also criticizes same-sex activity
as such by using words like
dishonorable or shameful
passions
, unnatural sexual activity, consumed in their
lust for one another
and males acting shamefully with
males
.  This criticism is made in the context of the
Roman ethical system of honor and shame.  It is most
likely that the acts criticized are restricted to anal
intercourse between males and anal or vaginal
intercourse between females.  Because the criticism is
of same-sex activity as such, it applies to all people
indulging in same-sex acts – straight, gay or lesbian.


In Romans 1:26 the words “unnatural sexual relations”
mean “sexual relations contrary to the nature of the
individual person” i.e. a heterosexual woman having
sexual relations with another woman.  Alternatively the
words “unnatural sexual relations” mean “non-
procreative sex” i.e. sex which cannot produce a child.   
(this is false)

The words unnatural sexual relations (Greek para
physin
, literally, against nature) were used in many
ancient texts to refer to same-sex acts.  The words were
used irrespective of whether a person usually had
opposite-sex relations or same-sex relations.  The words
did not mean only sexual relations contrary to the nature
of the individual person.  Therefore Paul would not have
adopted this meaning.

Also, although some Jewish-Hellenistic writers (e.g.
Philo) regarded any non-procreative sexual intercourse
as unnatural, Paul’s speeches or letters never refer to
any male-female non-procreative sex as unnatural.  
Instead, Paul uses
unnatural sexual relations to mean
sex acts which are contrary to custom in his culture, i.e.
same-sex acts.


Romans 1:26 and 27 do not condemn or criticize sex
between females or sex between males but merely
show that it is socially disapproved or is a cultural
disorder rather than a sin.  (this is false)

The words used to describe sex between females and
sex between males include
uncleanness, dishonorable
or shameful passions, unnatural sexual activity,
consumed in their lust for one another
and males acting
shamefully (or inappropriately) with males.  
Elsewhere
Paul uses
shame or shameful or dishonorable to
criticize conduct which is not necessarily evil but may
simply be counter-cultural (e.g. long hair for men).  
However
uncleanness (impurity) usually appears in lists
of sins and
lusts is used to indicate evil or bad desires.  
Similar meanings would also apply in this passage.

This is confirmed by the sexual actions in the passage
being described as
shameful passions resulting from
people honoring and serving created things rather than
God the Creator.  Both the turning from God and the
resulting sexual actions are being criticized.

Although he does not use the words
sinful or evil or
wicked, and does not say don’t do it, Paul would have
considered male-male penetration to be sinful because
of the prohibition in Leviticus 18:22 (
don't let another
male penetrate you
) and he would expect his audience,
especially those of a Jewish background, to have a
similar view.  Note that Paul also criticizes male-male
penetration (
males who have sex with males) in 1
Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 (he calls men who do
this
wicked and sinful).

By contrast, note Paul’s different description (
evil,
wickedness)
of the sins (murder, etc) in verses 29-31.


Paul is criticizing only same-sex acts associated with
idolatry or performed as part of cultic temple
prostitution; he does not criticize other same-sex
activity.  (this is false)

The extreme form of sex between males described in
verse 27 would vividly remind Paul’s audience of the
orgiastic idol worship in Roman temples.

Nevertheless Paul does not directly refer to pagan
temples or same-sex acts in idol worship in this passage
and therefore the “plain sense” interpretation is that he is
referring to same-sex activity wherever it occurs, in
temples or elsewhere.


Paul does not criticize same-sex acts resulting from
love; he criticizes only same-sex acts that result from
lust or promiscuity.  (this is false)

The passage does not say that the activity is limited to
same-sex acts resulting from lust or promiscuity.  
Therefore the criticism applies to all same-sex acts,
including those resulting from love.


Paul criticizes homosexual orientation and same-sex
desire as well as same-sex behavior.  (this is false)

The passage refers only to same-sex acts, not to same-
sex orientation.  The Greek words translated as
desires
in some Bible versions really mean
lusts and are
accompanied by words such as
dishonorable, vile and
inflamed with.  While the passage is criticizing same-sex
acts and same-sex lust, it is not criticizing non-lustful
same-sex desire.  
Desire in a sexual sense can have
many meanings ranging from just longing to be in the
beloved’s presence to burning lust.


The reference in verse 32 to things deserving death is
contextually connected with homosexuality  (this is
false)

Verse 28 starts a new section of Chapter 1 as it refers to
the next stage in the spiritual deterioration of the people
mentioned, i.e. they did not see fit to acknowledge God.  
God therefore allowed them to do the wicked things
mentioned in verses 29 to 31.  It is these wicked things,
not the things referred to in the earlier section (including
same-sex activity), which are worthy of death.  The
wicked things include murder and disobeying parents,
which had a death penalty (if the disobeying included
cursing the parents).


OTHER INTERPRETATIONS AND PAPERS

An excellent interpretation of Romans 1 and its
implications for us today. (pdf)

This interesting
paper shows that Romans 1 could be
based on a Jewish best-seller of the period called
Wisdom of Solomon.

Some recent alternative opinions on the meaning of
Romans 1 are given in this
informative paper (pdf).
go to home  www.gaysandslaves.com
Author: Colin Smith