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.
The testimony of history
"In Isaiah's time it (idolatry) abounded, witness the abominable idolatries of Ahaz (which some think are particularly referred to here - Isaiah 57) and of Manasseh.
1. They were dotingly fond of their idols, were inflamed with them, as those that burn in unlawful unnatural lusts, Ro-mans 1:27. They were mad upon their idols, Jeremiah 50:38. They inflamed themselves with them by their violent passions in the worship of them, as those of Baal's prophets that leaped upon the altar, and cut themselves, 1 Kings 18:26,28… Justly therefore were they given up to their own hearts' lusts. Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible, Isaiah 57
A Geneva Series Commentary, A Commentary on Romans, by Charles Hodge, 1983 reprint (first published in 1835), Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, p. 41.
"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."
The Pillar New Testament Commentary, The Epistle to the Romans, by Dr. Leon Morris, 1988, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, Grand Rapids, p. 89.
“...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.
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 but differed in that it had only three columns along either side.
of Concord, Agrigentum, Sicily
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.
The 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 modern heterosexuality.
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, the widespread written testimony of Christian preachers like Aristides and many commentators down the centuries and the most basic rule of hermeneutics.
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.
Idolatry was the issue and Paul used idolatry to illustrate the lost condition of the heathen, to prepare them to receive the glorious gospel of Christ. The gospel illustrates the wrath of God against sin and how God dealt with sin by Himself becoming the perfect sacrifice, Genesis 22:8, John 1:29, 1 Corinthians 5:7, Romans 3:25-26.
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. Idolatry, not lesbians and gays, was the issue Paul addressed.
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
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.
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.
A Dictionary Of Greek And Roman Antiquities, Third Edition, Appleton, 1874, p. 566, Galli definition.
Did you know that
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).”
Rom@ns 1:18-32 - Paul, the goddess Religions and Homosexuality,Jeramy Townsley's fascinating website.
Does the New Testament say
we are not under law?
This page updated March 22, 2015