Romans 1 - What Historical And Religious Context Did Paul Address
In First Century Rome?

Romans 1 is about idolatry,
not homosexuality.



Paul wrote his epistle to the Romans from the rowdy port city of Corinth, where sexual immorality and prostitution were openly practiced. Yet Rome was even more idolatrous than Corinth. Sporting events in the Circus Maximus and fertility goddess worship in pagan temples echoed the adulation of idolatrous Romans. Rome was a city wholly given to idolatry.
Pagan temples of ancient Rome


Think of it this way:

Attempting to understand Romans without factoring in Cybele and shrine prostitution is as silly as trying to understand terrorism in New York City in September 2001 without factoring in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Related Links explain
Romans 1:26-27

1. Why is Cybele vital to understanding Rom@ns? Part 1

2. Why is Cybele vital to understanding Rom@ns? Part 2

3. Why is Cybele vital to understanding Rom@ns? Part 3

4. What does akatharsian mean in Rom@ns 1:24 and 6:19?

5. Are Rom@ns and shrine prostitution historically linked?

6. Did Aristides in Ad 125-126, link Rom@ns 1 to shrine prostitution?

7. What does against nature mean in Rom@ns?

8. Will I go to hell because I am a lesbian and how can I know for sure?

9. How can we be sure what Paul was talking about in Rom@ns 1?

10. What words could Paul have used if he intended to condemn homosexuality?

11. Since gay couples cannot legally marry, is sex in a committed relationship sin?

12. When is it appropriate for a same sex couple to begin a sexual relationship?

13. Does Rom@ns 1:26-27 refer to heterosexuals acting like homosexuals?

14. Does Rom@ns say that God gives gay people over to homosexuality?

15. Does Rom@ns 1:26-27 condemn homosexuals?

16. Are lesbians treated the same as gays in the Bible?

17. Does Rom@ns 1:26 condemn lesbians?

18. How did you decide that Rom@ns 1:26 does not condemn lesbians?

19. How can you say that Rom@ns 1 has nothing to do with homosexuality?

20. Does likewise in Rom@ns 1:27 equate gay sex with lesbian sex?

21. How do you interpret Rom@ns 1:27?

22. Can you convince me that Rom@ns 1 is not talking about gays and lesbians?

23. What is the gospel?

24. What is justification by faith, part 2?

25. In scripture, idolatry in often linked to cultic sex rituals.



Dr. Peter S. Ruckman,
Bible teacher



Even Dr. Ruckman, one of the most virulently anti-gay Baptist preachers, says Romans 1:26-27 describes activity that happened thousands of years before Paul wrote Romans.

On pages 61-62 of his Commentary on Romans, Dr. Ruckman writes (emphasis his):
“...in Romans 1, the entire passage is talking about the Gentiles as a group. Notice verse 21: “when THEY knew God.” Verse 24: God also gave THEM up to uncleanness.” Verse 26: “God gave THEM up unto vile affections.” Verse 28: “Even as THEY did not like to retain God in their knowledge.”

So what you have in this passage is a history of the Gentile people when “God gave them over to a reprobate mind,” it had nothing to do with anything that took place in Paul’s day.

The passage is past history that took place before the time of Christ back in Genesis (chap. 11). That is when the “giving up” took place...

In the passage before us, God tested the Gentile nations on these points (vss. 26-32), and the Gentiles failed, as a group, on more than one occasion. So the Lord gave them up to the things which they were doing: he no longer dealt with them, as a whole, on the things listed in these verses...

But Paul said to the Athenians in Acts 17:30, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but NOW commandeth all men everywhere to repent.” So whatever the Lord did with the Gentiles in Romans 1, the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ changed all of that. God once more is dealing with the Gentiles, but on one issue-belief in His Son."

The Bible Believers Commentary Series, The Book of Romans, by Dr. Peter S. Ruckman, 2003, BB Bookstore, Pensacola, pp. 61-62.

*****************


The Circus Maximus in first century Rome seated 150,000 spectators. It was enlarged by Emperor Trajan after AD 98 to accommodate 250,000 spectators on marble seats. Its immense size, approximately 680 yards long and 160 yards wide, provided room for many spectacular events. The stadium could be flooded to provide a watery battleground for ships or drained for chariot races. Cybele's temple loomed atop the Palatine Hill above the upper right end of the Circus Maximus.

The Circus Maximus sports stadium

Throughout ancient Rome thousands of bronze and marble statues honored false gods. Carved friezes decorated building facades, depicting everything from daily activities to pagan gods. Wall, floor and ceiling murals in homes and commercial buildings depicted erotic sexuality.

Painted pottery portrayed
pornographic pictures

Sensuality and lust were part of everyday life in ancient Rome. Paul's letter to the Romans addressed the first century realities of Roman idolatry, fertility goddess worship and shrine prostitution. Romans is not theoretical. It is practical and focused on what Roman Christians encountered every day they lived in Rome.


Roman aquaduct




Beyond the erotic and salacious, ancient Rome was an incredibly modern city. In the first century AD, six aqueducts, drawing on 130 outlying reservoirs, supplied water to homes and businesses and to 170 free public bath houses and 500 fountains.

Cybele's Temple in first century Rome is the historic and religious context Paul addressed


White stone steps, the ruins of Cybele’s Temple, on the Palatine Hill in Rome, where, in the first century, shrine prostitutes engaged in same sex prostitution to worship the fertility goddess.



"From a distance, the white stone steps caught the eye, making Cybele's Temple
seem to float in the air."

Facing the Circus Maximus, crowning a long bank of white stone steps atop the Palatine Hill, the temple of Cybele (this Link will open in a new page), loomed over first century Rome. The shrine prostitution practiced in Cybele's Temple is the specific historical context of Paul's letter to the struggling Christians in Rome.

Over the intervening 2000 years, the city has built up the land around the Palatine Hill so that today, it hardly seems like a hill. Much of ancient Rome is now buried under as much as 40 feet of fill dirt.

Cybele's Temple resembled the Temple Of Concord, having six massive columns across the front and three columns along either side.



The Temple
of Concord,
Agrigentum, Sicily




Prostyle Temple Design

This is a prostyle, hexstyle temple, with six columns across the front but with only three columns on each side.
According to the University of Chicago, the Temple of Magna Mater - Cybele, (This Link will open in a new page), was a prostyle, Roman hexstyle Corinthian temple, with columns across the front but without columns along the length of both sides.

"It was decided to attribute the actual ruins to the Temple of the Magna Mater [Cybele] because of the statue of the goddess found near the edifice, and now in the close Domus Tiberiana, and to an inscription found on the right side of the façade, that says: M(ater) D(eum) M(agna) I(daea).

A coin of Faustina the elder confirms this, showing the entire shape of this temple of Corinthian order. Another confirmation is given by a relief of Claudian age, now at Villa Medici, with the representation of the same facade."

On the edge of the Palatine Hill the ruins of an ancient temple can still be seen. The Temple of the Magna Mater, has been identified by archeologists as the temple of Cybele through inscriptions honoring the Magna Mater (the Great Mother of the gods).

"This represents a temple of the Corinthian order, with curved roof, and a flight of steps on which is a statue of Cybele with a turreted crown enthroned between lions."

In the ruins were the remains of a huge seated female figure, Cybele on a throne, the base of which featured lion’s paws. This Cybele figure with turreted headdress is not the original figure but conveys a general idea of the figure that was found.

Cybele on her throne

Lions were the traditional attendants of Cybele, the Magna Mater and Rome's reigning fertility goddess. The stone walls which supported the weight of the massive figure are 12’ thick.

The ruins of Cybele's prostyle, Roman hexstyle temple indicate that the original temple was 56’ wide and 108’ long. Cybele’s main Temple on the Palatine Hill (there were five Cybele temples in ancient Rome), was destroyed in the 4th century AD. Today only the pictured ruins remain.



The primary difference between the Temple of Magna Mater (Cybele) on the Palatine Hill in first century Rome and the Temple of Concord is that Cybele’s Temple had six columns across the front (at the top of the white stone steps) but only three columns on each side. The white stone steps of Cybele's Temple are still visible today (see earlier photo on this page).


In Cybele's Temple, castrated, transvestite Galli priests offered themselves sexually to male worshipers. This pagan same sex activity is what Paul describes in Romans 1:27.
Temple of Concord,


models an architectural style similar to Cybele’s Temple on the Palatine Hill in first century Rome. The cultic sexual activity in Cybele's Temple does not equate to modern homosexuality anymore than rape equates to heterosexuality.

(1) Idolatry, (2) fertility goddess worship and (3) shrine prostitution frame the historical setting in which first century Christians received Paul’s letter to Rome.

Romans 1:26-27

"For this cause [idolatry] God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet."

Was Paul talking about
modern homosexuality or
ancient pagan idolatry?




Robert Haldane,
1764-1842,
Scottish evangelist



Conservative Scottish Calvinist Robert Haldane, certainly not a supporter of gay rights, in 1835, wrote this in his Commentary on Romans.

"The Apostle having awfully depicted the magnitude of Pagan wickedness, and having shown that their ungodliness in abandoning the worship of the true God was the reason why they had been abandoned to their lusts, here descends into particulars, for the purpose of showing to what horrible excesses God had permitted them to proceed.

This was necessary, to prove how odious in the sight of God is the crime of idolatry. Its recompense was this fearful abandonment. It was also necessary, in order to give a just idea of human corruption, as evinced in its monstrous enormities when allowed to take its course, and also in order to exhibit to believers a living proof of the depth of the evil from which God had delivered them; and, finally, to prove the falsity of the Pagan religion since, so far from preventing such excesses, it even incited and conducted men to their commission."


In Romans 1, Paul addressed a particular religious situation in the city of Rome. Traditionalists view Paul’s words in 1:26-27, especially the phrase against nature as a universal prohibition of homosexuality, a generic prohibition of any and all homoerotic practice. This view ignores the context of Paul’s argument and the most basic rule of hermeneutics.

Scripture cannot mean now
what it did not mean then.

Since Paul was referencing a particular pagan religious activity, shrine prostitution, in Romans 1, it is dishonest to reinterpret his words as if they suddenly refer to modern gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgendered people. Paul’s words in Romans 1 are neither generic nor theoretical.

In Romans 1, Paul addressed a real situation faced by Christians in first century Rome. He was not making a sweeping condemnation of any and all same sex activity, divorced from the historical and religious context of his argument against idolatry.

If Paul's words in Romans 1:26-27 were not a universal reference to homosexuality in the first century AD, then Romans 1:26-27 cannot be a universal reference to homosexuality today.

Reading into the text what Paul did not say (a universal prohibition of homosexuality) is called eisogesis. That is an improper way to interpret scripture. Modern "ignore the context" interpretation is unworthy of Christians who love the word of God.

Paul's words to the Christian community in ancient Rome come from his knowledge of the first century world in which he lived. His carefully tailored argument in Romans 1 is set in the specific context of Gentile and Jewish history, complete with first century illustrations familiar to first century readers.

Paul’s readers were intimately acquainted, as we are not, with Greek, Jewish and Roman culture and the shrine prostitution which permeated those ancient cultures.

Can we honestly deny the influence
of fertility goddess cults which
flourished in first century Rome?

As residents of the Imperial City, ancient Romans personally witnessed thousands of statues of false gods, hundreds of pagan temples and pagan worshipers thronging the grand streets for religious festivals. Commentators who ignore the historical and religious context of Romans 1 entirely miss the point of Paul's argument against idolatry and shrine prostitution.

Fertility goddess worship and shrine prostitutes flourished in first century Rome. That is precisely what Paul addressed in Romans 1. Attempts by non-gay Christians to divorce Romans 1 from its historical context are due more to their support of an anti-gay agenda than a desire to honestly understand Romans 1.

A Cybele Fountain In Spain

This Spanish fountain, honoring Cybele, pagan fertility goddess of ancient Rome, depicts Cybele riding in her chariot pulled by lions.

Factual information is a
wonderful antidote for ignorance.

Cybele the fertility goddess (this Link will open in a new page) was worshiped throughout the Roman Empire and was also depicted on Roman coins. It is impossible to separate Paul's words in Romans 1 from the fertility goddess worship that permeated first century Rome.

In the heart of Rome, a temple to Cybele was constructed in 194 BC. When fire destroyed the original temple, Augustus rebuilt it in 3 BC. Cybele, a prominent first century fertility goddess, was sometimes called (Magna Mater) or Great Mother and (Mater Deum) or Mother of the gods. First century Romans worshiped her as the Sacred Protectress of Rome.

Ancient Roman Coins Testify
To Cybele's Widespread Influence


Cybele, on an ancient Roman coin, is called Mater Deum, "Mother of the gods." By the first century AD, when Paul wrote Romans 1, the Cybele cult was one of the most powerful in the Roman Empire.

Click here for more photos and information about the fertility goddess Cybele as Mater Deum, “mother of the gods” on ancient Roman coins. Cybele worship included orgiastic sexual rites and ritual bloodletting by Galli priests and priestesses, similar to the practice of Baal worshippers in the Old Testament.

“And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their manner with knives and lancets, till the blood gushed out upon them.”
- 1 Kings 18:28.

Some priests, accompanied by wild music and frenetic dancing, castrated themselves. In the first century AD, religious festivals honoring Cybele were celebrated in the streets. Castrated long haired priests preceded the image of the goddess, beating drums and cymbals, showing off their colorful clothing.

Who were the
unholy priests of Cybele?

The priests of Cybele (this Link will open in a new page), were called gallus or galli, referring to their man-made eunuch status. They were physically castrated to further their sexual service to the fertility goddess. Male worshipers would engage in anal sex with the priests, as an offering to the goddess. This is the shameful activity Paul refers to in Romans 1:27.


Bas Relief
of an Archigalla priest of Cybele.


An Archigalla was a head priest.
"Galli, castrated male eunuch priests, were found in many goddess cults. They functioned as representatives of the goddess, offering themselves sexually to male worshippers.

These religious practices flourished in first century Rome."

A Dictionary Of Greek And Roman Antiquities, Third Edition, Appleton, 1874, p. 566, Galli definition.

Did you know that
the ancient fertility goddess
had many names?


G. Rattray Taylor,
1911-1981
British author




“The religions which developed these ideas were all based on a maternal figure, found under different names throughout a great part of the Near East.

To the Phoenicians she was Astarte; to the Phrygians, Cybele; to the Babylonians, Ishtar; to the Thracians, Bendis; to the Cretans, Rhea; to the Ephesians, Artemis; to the Canaanites, Atargatis; to the Persians, Anaitis; to the Cappadocians, Ma. But though her names differ, her attributes are the same - she is always the mother who succours and helps, and who bestows fertility.

This composite figure was generally known as Magna Mater, the great mother, and it was said that she was mother of all the other gods...

‘On certain days a multitude flocks to the temple, and the Galli in great numbers, sacred as they are, perform the ceremonies of the men and gash their arms and turn their backs to be lashed (I Kings 18:28).

Many bystanders play on the pipes, while many beat drums; others sing divine and sacred songs. All this performance takes place outside the temple... As the Galli sing and celebrate their orgies, frenzy falls on some of them, and many who had come as mere spectators afterwards are found to have committed the great act (self castration).”

Sex In History, Gordon Rattray Taylor,
1954, Book 3, ch 12.

Idolatry and shrine prostitution are
what Paul addressed in Romans 1,
not homosexuality and lesbianism.



Painting of a Galli
priest of Cybele.



Paul grounds his Romans 1 argument in historical fact, explaining what Christians witnessed in Rome every day, the idolatry and shrine prostitution which surrounded worship of false gods.

For a more detailed study of Romans 1,
with many Links to additional info, visit:

Rom@ns 1:18-32 - Paul, the goddess Religions and Homosexuality,

Jeramy Townsley's fascinating website.




Links for additional study

From Romans 1, Return To
Gay Christian 101 Home Page

Did Jesus meet a gay
centurion in the Bible?

Does the New Testament say
we are not under law?



This page updated April 30, 2014