How can we be sure what Paul was talking about in Romans 1?
by Rob G.
Ruins of a Temple
Bernardo Bellotto, 1721-1780
Excellent question! Every honest student of scripture stipulates to the basic historical facts. Temple or cult or shrine prostitutes did serve false gods in pagan temples in first century Rome. Those who disagree have not bothered to acquaint themselves with Roman history.
Honest seekers of truth also agree that pederasty and same sex activity apart from Roman temples were facts of life in first century Rome. So how do we honestly decide what God and Paul intended us to learn from Romans 1:26-27?
What was Paul talking about?I. Paul links the sexual behavior of females in Romans 1:26
to the sexual behavior of males in Romans 1:27 by saying ”likewise also the men.”
Whatever Paul is talking about, both females and males were engaging in the same behavior.II. Paul links their sexual behavior to his idolatry argument.
The point of Romans 1 is idolatry
and forsaking the true God. Whatever Paul is talking about involves rejecting God and worshiping idols, in other words, idolatry. Paul describes idolatrous behavior beginning in Romans 1:18ff.III. Paul's beliefs as a Jew are rooted in the Old Testament.
Whatever Paul is talking about is prohibited behavior based on what the Jewish Old Testament actually says. In plainer words, Paul is not grabbing ideas out of thin air and making up new sins. He is talking about sins with which his first century Roman readers were familiar.
Now we are in a position to evaluate the possible interpretations of Romans 1:26-27 and decide what it means based on cultural doctrinal historical linguistic religious and scriptural context.
Is Paul talking
Pederasty was the Greek and to a lesser extent, the Roman practice of a sometimes older man having a sexual relationship with a sometimes younger man.
Is pederasty the point of Paul's argument
in Romans 1? No, we know that is not what Paul was talking about because Paul links female sexual practice in Romans 1:26 with equivalent male sexual practice in 1:27, when he uses the phrase, ”likewise also the men.”
Whatever Paul was describing must be typical of idolatrous females and
idolatrous males in first century Rome.
Because history is silent about female pederasty in the Old Testament and in first century Rome, we may safely conclude that pederasty is not what Paul is talking about in Romans 1:26-27.
Is Paul talking about
homosexuality in general?
Did Paul intend his readers to understand that all same sex activity between two lesbians
or two gay men, even in committed, faithful, non-cultic partnership, is sinfully wrong and places the same sex partners under the wrath of God?
No, that cannot possibly be Paul’s argument. If Paul intended to blast gays and lesbians, there were many words he could have used
to do that. Yet Paul did not use any of those words. Paul's beliefs as a born again Jew are rooted in the Old Testament and the OT never proscribes lesbian
sexually intimate same sex partnerships.
In fact, the Old Testament never prohibits male same sex partnerships. The verses so commonly used to attack gay men are really describing pagan temple prostitutes,
not gay men. If Paul was talking about same sex sexual activity in general, his analogy breaks down because, ”likewise also the men,”
links whatever the women were doing with whatever the men were doing.
Both groups were committing the sin of idolatry, using sex to worship false gods, therefore any attempt to make Paul's argument a general blast at gays and lesbians falls flat because it does not fit Paul's argument about rejecting God, worshiping idols and practicing idolatry.
Is Paul talking
about temple prostitutes?
Could it be that Paul is talking about a particular kind of sexual activity which he and God intended to prohibit? Yes, there is one kind of sexual activity which occurred in first century Rome which meets all the criteria. That prohibited sexual activity is anal sex in worship of the fertility goddess, also known as shrine prostitution
- The behavior Paul mentions is something both women and men were doing. Female and male devotees of the fertility goddess allowed themselves to be used for anal sex as part of their pagan worship. That is idolatry and perfectly matches Paul's idolatry argument.
This meets the criterion of Paul's "likewise also the men" which equates the sexual activity engaged in by male and female temple prostitutes, Romans 1:26-27.
- The behavior Paul mentions must involve rejecting the true God and must involve some form of pagan idolatry which is the point of Paul's argument in Romans 1.
This meets the criterion of rejecting God, worshiping idols and practicing idolatry which Paul describes and which was practiced by devotees of Roman fertility goddesses in first century Rome.
- The behavior Paul prohibits must be behavior prohibited in the Old Testament. Cult prostitution, shrine prostitution, temple prostitution, different words for the same pagan behavior, is prohibited in the Old Testament, for women and for men.
"There shall be no cult prostitute among the daughters of Israel, neither shall there be a cult prostitute (a sodomite) among the sons of Israel." - Deut 23:17, The Amplified Bible.
Therefore shrine prostitution or temple prostitution is the example Paul intended to describe and proscribe in Romans 1:26-27. And for the record, the word sodomites
is never used in the Bible to refer to gays and lesbians. In the Bible, the word sodomites always describes a temple prostitute.
Common Sense Conclusion
Romans 1 is not a negative blast at gays and lesbians. Paul and God are focused on pagan idolatry. And the sexual activity mentioned in Romans 1:26-27 refers to fertility goddess worship, not
two gay guys falling in love and committing to spend their lives together and not
two gay gals falling in love and committing to spend their lives together.
Anti-gay Christians who use Romans 1 to assault the GLBT community are committing spiritual malpractice. They rip verses out of context to prove a lie and that is not an honest way to handle the infallible words of the living God.Would you like
to get saved?
Return to Gay Christian FAQ
Return to 101 Community
Gay Christian 101 Home Page
Painting by Bernardo Bellotto
Ruins of a Temple,
is a Public Domain photo
courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
This page revised March 7, 2013