Does Romans 1:26-27 condemn homosexuals?
The temple of Sybil in ancient Rome
No, Romans 1:26-27 does not condemn gays, transgendered people, lesbians or bisexuals. All Christians have a duty before God to interpret scripture honestly, in context, instead of divorcing verses from their context and then insisting they mean something they never meant to the original hearers.
"For this cause 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." - Romans 1:26-27
Because all scripture is given in a biblical cultural, doctrinal, historical, linguistic, literary and religious context, those factors must be part of our thinking as we seek to understand scripture. Romans 1:26-27 was given in a very clear context.
There is no cultural indication, no doctrinal indication, no historical indication, no linguistic indication, no literary indication, no religious indication, that Paul intended to blast lesbians and gays in Romans 1:26-27.
Instead, Paul chooses as his illustration, the worst possible transgression of pagan Gentiles, the sin of idolatry, so that the Jews in his reading audience will be saying, "Yes, Yes, they're guilty!" Then Paul will spring his rhetorical trap in 2:1 when he declares that Jewish idolatry is just as sinful as Gentile idolatry and therefore, in chapter 3:23, everyone is guilty. Here is how Paul puts his argument together.
The context of Romans 1 is pagan worship of false gods, particularly Cybele, known in the first century as Protectress of Rome or Magna Mater - Great Mother. I devote three pages on this website to answering the question: Why is Cybele vital to understanding Romans 1?
I also point out that early Christian writers like Aristides understood Paul to be describing Cybele worship. Paul has a particular goal in mind when writing to the church at Rome. That goal involved presenting the glorious gospel of Christ, Rom. 1:16-18.
The gospel reveals and declares the wrath of God against sin, that God punished Jesus for our sins when Jesus died, as us for us, as our Substitute. Yet no one gets saved until s(he) understands that s(he) is a sinner who has transgressed God's holy law for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Therefore, to make it clear that all are sinners, Romans 3:23, Paul references idolatry, pointing out the idolatry of Gentiles who worshiped false gods, and by implication, the idolatry of Jews because in the OT, they also broke God's law and worshiped the false gods of the Gentiles. Their particular worship of false gods involved same sex sexual rituals, Lev 17:7, 18:3, 21-22, 20:2, 3, 4, 5, 13, Deu 23:17-18.
Paul uses words like akatharsian in Rom 1:24, the same Greek word used in the Septuagint translation of the OT to describe shrine prostitution and shrine prostitutes. Almost everyone who read Romans 1 in the first century would have been struck by the link to shrine prostitution which Paul's use of akatharsian indicated.
To support his argument, in Rom. 1:26-27, Paul cites examples of idolatry utilizing the idolatrous behavior of Gentiles in the OT and the idolatrous behavior which was part of everyday life in mid-first century Rome. That idolatry was the unholy worship of Cybele, also called Minerva and other names, depending on one's cultural heritage.
Cybele as the Phrygian goddess had five temples in mid-first century Rome. As the consort of Jupiter, she also had another temple in Rome besides her five Cybele temples. Cybele was featured on Roman coins used in mid-first century Rome and throughout the empire.
Cybele was also called Magna Mater and Protectress of Rome. Paul illustrates idolatry by using an example with which all of his Roman readers would be familiar - Cybele worship. Yet his intention wasn't to attack lesbians and gays. His intention is to support his idolatry argument with easy to recognize illustrations so that his Jewish audience will be nodding along as they read.
"Yes, those wicked idolatrous Gentiles..." Then, just as his Jewish readers are saying, "Yeah Paul, tell it like it is," Paul drops his bombshell in chapter 2:1ff. when he says, You Jews are just as guilty before God as the Gentiles.
So in chapter 1 Paul indicts and condemns Gentiles for the sin of idolatry. In chapter 2 Paul indicts and condemns Jews because, says the apostle, you do the same things the Gentiles do. In chapter 3:10-23, Paul concludes that all are under sin, both Jews and Gentiles.
That is the historical context, the religious context, the cultural context and the spiritual context of Romans 1. Idolatry is the focus of Paul's argument, not gays and lesbians. The cultural and religious context is unfamiliar to some modern readers because many modern readers are unfamiliar with Roman history and Jewish history in the first century AD.
Paul's point never was
about lesbians and gays.
Early Christians like Aristides and Justin Martyr
understood Paul to be condemning shrine prostitution. Our rule of interpretation is:
Scripture cannot mean NOW
what it did not mean THEN.
If Paul was not describing committed faithful non-cultic same sex partnerships in AD 58 when he wrote Romans, then it is wrong to insist that those verses are dealing with committed same sex partnerships now.
Christians need to do more reading and study before concluding that the first notion that pops into our head when we read Romans 1 is infallibly correct. Sometimes, the first thing we think when we read a verse of scripture is wrong. That is why we are encouraged to "Study to shew yourselves approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
-2 Timothy 2:15
How does shrine prostitution figure in our understanding of Romans 1?
Good Person Test.
What does against nature mean in Romans 1?
Does Romans 1:26 condemn lesbians?
Are lesbians treated the same as gays in the Bible?
How did you decide that Romans 1:26 does not condemn lesbians?
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Ed's original question:This page revised July 2, 2015
"In the book of Romans it is clear that Paul characterizes having same sex relations as a willful and sinful act, so how can we justify it? Just because two people love each other does not make it alright, does it? It is not within God's design for human sexuality."