In Romans, Paul is warning that many were guilty of worshipping man instead of God and therefore was becoming an idol. The love for that idol is an unnatural love called lust. Some men and women allowed sex to become their god (vile affections) and the result is turning the natural love for sex into something unnatural (verse 26). Paul does not specify what that unnatural sexual conduct is, but it is something not natural for those that have made sex their God. He could have been talking about both the male and female sex goddess prostitutes in the Temple like he was clearly discussing in 1 Cor. For homosexuals this part of the passage should not apply. To a Christian, God is first in their lives and not sex so they would not fall under this condemnation.
The issue is that Paul describes men as naturally preferring women. For men whose natural preference is for women, to have sex with a man would violate this, as in the case of Pederasty. It is also interesting to note that these men must "katergazomai" the act of sex with other man. In Greek this means extreme energy is required to accomplish the deed referred to. This would also support the view that it was heterosexual males having anal intercourse with heterosexual males such as to degrade those captured in battle which was a common practice under pederasty. For a gay male, clearly this extreme energy is not required so it does not appear to have that meaning. Many heterosexual couples also enjoy anal sex, which is naturally enjoyable to them, not just to homosexuls.
From this same understanding of Paul's use of the term "natural" there are many churches who would condemn a man whose hair is too long, based on 1 Cor 11:14. Or "natural" can mean what is customarily observed (cp. Romans 11:24). Certainly in Paul's day the usual preference of people was for the opposite sex. It appears more and more that homosexuality is a redundant characteristic of birth just as is being left-handed. If heterosexuality is the norm, that doesn't mean those naturally born homosexual are any less blessed by God.
BUT READ FURTHER : The Importance Of Romans 2 To read Romans 1 without Romans 2 is a great error, for Paul goes on to say that we are not to judge each other! He points out the self-righteousness of those who have judged the pagans just described in Romans 1. Then he reiterates Jesus' command of the Golden Rule in his own words: "to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life (2:6)".
So what's happened between Romans 1 and 2? Paul is using an "attention grabbing" technique like any good writer or speaker. In this letter, he is concerned with trying to bridge the gaps between Jewish Christians and Greek Christians who were judging each other and putting each other down.
Paul starts by talking about those "awful pagans" -- a group which both jew and greek Christians felt superior to. He gives a laundry list of "sins" and the Christians are probably going "yeh, yeh, those bad people, we are better". Then, after having caught them in their judgementalism, he says "by judging, you pass judgement on yourself." By using a pagan example of sins, he could then go on to say, in effect- GOTCHA! Do not judge! He said, "God shows no partiality" (2:11).
Romans 1 is being misused today to bash homosexuality much as the Jewish and Greek Christians were bashing each other in his day. He did not write Chapter 1 to be used apart from Chapter 2. His point was not to reinforce judgementalism but to say stop judging.
In Romans 1 Paul was not saying anything about homosexuality as practiced today. In Romans 2 he is saying even if he was, don't judge for you are equal in your sins. Yet Church dogma completely misuses Romans as it does other verses to condemn homosexual behavior, which is no where condemned in the Bible.
I think many gays and lesbians lead a much more Christ like life than many falsely judging Christians that act more like pharisees.
The idea of "against nature" had anything to do with homosexuality only occurred with the increasing emphasis of Hellenistic Jewish and Christian moralists on sexual purity gave rise in late Jewish apocrypha and early Christian writings.
In the intellectual environment vehemently opposed to the casual hedonism of the Hellenistic world, many issues which had not been specifically sexual became so; this was the case with marital questions such as adultery, onanism and homosexuality. This was done by just slightly altering the greek words!
The Judaeo-Platonist schools such is in Alexandria, greatly influenced some early Christians, since they combined the authority of classical learning with a tradition of Old Testament scholarship (responsible for the Septuagint translation which most Christians used).
For Christians, The Alexandrian rule had great influence in what was considered "natural". In the third century Clement of Alexandria asserted that "to have sex for any purpose other than to produce children is to violate nature."
This concept was also taught by Philo to Platonist Jews. Any use of human sexuality, potential or actual, which did not produce legitimate offspring violated "nature": all moral issues were subordinate to the primary duty of males to procreate. Celibacy was as :unnatural as homosexuality, failure to divorce a barren wife was "unnatural" as was masturbation.
Unfortunately Church tradition of today has bought into these twistings of scripture and ignores true biblical research to find the truths of scripture. But many Christians and ministers just think they know it all and many are totally unaware of the background of some of their false teachings. That is why some of today's Christianity is such a travesty. But it need not be, if it taught more of Christs teachings of love and acceptance rather than legalisms that have had their meanings twisted and were redefined by no other than Christ himself!
Since this is the only seemingly direct reference to unnatural sex acts and also the only place in scripture that refers to two women together being unnatural this is an important verse to examine regarding homosexuality.
It is not clear from the Greek what Paul meant. But it is clear Paul did not use the word (physiken for natural and para physin for unnatural) as in the "laws of nature" modern readers might take it as. His usage was more precise. For Paul, the "nature" of something was its particular character or kind. Consider a few of many examples.
In Gal 2:15 Paul speaks of those who are Jews by nature and in Romans 2:27, he speaks of those who are Gentiles by nature (although the literal reference to the Gentiles reads "uncircumcised by nature").
In 1 Cor 11:14, Paul writes, "Does not nature (physis) itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him?"
In all the cases, and others I didn't list, Paul uses the term "nature" to imply what is characteristic or peculiar in this or that situation. You would not expect a Jew to be ignorant of Jewish law, and you would not expect a Gentile to act like a Jew; that is not their "nature." For Paul, something is "natural" when it responds according to its own kind, when it is as it is expected to be.
The Greek word para usually means "besides", "more than," "over and above.", "beyond." We retain this meaning in many English words such as a paralegal being someone not totally qualified to be a lawyer, but who assists a real lawyer."
In a handful of stock phrases, para can also mean "contrary to", so para physin could be translated "contrary to nature." But given Paul's own usage of these terms in other verses, the sense is not "in opposition to the laws of nature" but rather "unexpectedly" or "in an unusual way," what we might mean if we said" "Contrary to her nature, Jean got up and danced all night." Even God acts "unnaturally" in Romans 11:24.
There is no sense whatever in Romans that the same sex references were wrong, immoral or against God or contrary to the divine order in conflict with the what is universal nature. The acceptance in Pauls' time of homosexuality as natural will be discussed later.
There is also the Stoic idea that Paul would have known were any sex that is not normal unless for procreation. Later this was expanded on to make most all sexual pleasure wrong but this happened more later in Church history. Clearly, Paul does not use the term this way and was not concerned about procreation. Paul was expecting the speedy return of Christ, the end of the world, so nowhere in his writings does he show concern for sex only for procreation.
In verse 26, are the words para physin in talking about women who "exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural." To Paul it meant nothing immoral but simply out of the ordinary. If it referred to lesbian sex, yes, homosexuality is out of the ordinary since only about 10% of people are born homosexual. Many more are bisexual, but it is still a minority .. out of the ordinary. But the reference could mean other things including sex during menstruation which was definitely immoral, against Jewish moral law. It could have referred to oral sex, having sex with an uncircumcised man, sex while standing up, or anything that would be considered the standard way of having sex.
A reason people might also conclude it refers to female same sex-acts is the word likewise or in the same way..links verse 26 with verse 27. Verse 27 clearly refers to male same sex genital (homogenital) acts.
But is the parallel between verse 26 and verse 27 that both the women and the men perform same sex acts, or is the parallel simply that both the women and the men gave up the expected way of having sex for something else, whatever it might be?
The latter explanation makes perfect sense of the text. The men and women could both be involved in something "beyond the ordinary" without both being involved in homosexual acts. Only if it is assumed that para physin means "unnatural" and that "unnatural sex" necessarily means homogenitality, does verse 26 have to refer to lesbian sex. But close attention to Paul's usage shows that those assumptions are very questionable. There is no need to read lesbianism into verse 26.
In fact, if verse 26 refers to lesbianism, some explanation is needed. Lesbianism was not a major topic of knowledge or discussion in the Greco-Roman world. We have only a handful of references to it in all the existing texts from the ancient world Moreover, lesbianism is not mentioned anywhere else in the Christian Testament. Why in the world would Paul have brought up that subject and made an issue of it here? Why, if it is so important is it never mentioned again?
There is also a further consideration, and it is the most telling: In verse 24, Paul introduces the topic of impurity. At issue is ritual violation of the Jewish Law. Under this topic Paul mentions what the women do and then what the men do. As will be shown below this section of Paul's argument is precisely about uncleanness, not about sin. But the Hebrew Scriptures never mention female homogenitality. How could it fall under the Jewish heading of impurity? But something else, like sex during the menstrual period could have qualified both as violating the Jewish Law and as nonprocreative. Paul must have had something like that in mind when he spoke of the women doing sexual things para physin or outside the ordinary.
In any case, the burden of proof that verse 26 refers to lesbian sex certainly rests on those making that claim.
There is a lot at stake in the interpretation of this verse. If this verse does not refer to female homogenitality, then nowhere does the Bible even mention it, and condemnation of female homogenitality would have no biblical basis. What sense would the case against homogenitality make if only male, but not female, homogenital activity is to be condemned?
On the other hand, if the Bible nowhere condemns homogenitality in itself -- as is the argument here - then the easier reading stands without problem: verse 26 does not refer to female same sex acts but to some kind of heterosexual practices that were considered taboo, unusual or unclean, and were perhaps also nonprocreative. This interpretation seems the more reasonable.
But even if this interpretation is wrong, even if verse 26 is a reference to female same-sex acts, the general conclusion argued below must still apply: Romans may refer to same-sex acts, but it intends no ethical or moral condemnation of them.
One more set of considerations supports that same general conclusion. In verses 26 and 27, Paul uses two words to describe the sexual acts he has in mind: "degrading passions" and "shameless acts." Neither of these words has any moral connotation. Both refer simply to social disapproval.
Take "degrading passions," for example. The Greek word translated as "degrading" is atimia. It means something "not highly valued" "not held in honor," "not respected." "Ill reputed" or "socially unacceptable" also convey the sense of the word.
That is the very sense in which Paul commonly uses that word. For example, in 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul applies that word to himself. He notes that he is sometimes held in disrepute or shame because of his commitment to Christ. Evidently, then, to be in atimia is not necessarily a bad thing.
Again, in 1 Corinthians 11:14 Paul uses the word to suggest that it is "degrading" for a man to wear long hair. Even though, as we saw above, Paul says this is what "nature" teaches, it is clear that no moral judgment is intended. Or again, in Romans 9:21 Paul speaks of clay pots fashioned "for dishonor." That is a polite way of talking about chamber pots, something people do not consider very nice.
In none of those cases does the Greek word express a moral judgment. So when Paul calls certain passions "degrading" in Romans 1:26, he is not saying they are wrong; he is merely saying they do not enjoy social approval.
Basically the same meaning applies to the word aschemosyne, translated as "shameless acts" in verse 27. Literally the word means "not according to form." You may recognize the English words "scheme" or "schematic" in the middle of that Greek word. The sense of the word is "not nice," "unseemly," "uncomely" or inappropriate."
In 1 Corinthians 7:36 Paul uses that word to describe the father who refuses to give his daughter in marriage: that is not the socially correct thing to do. In 1 Corinthians 12:23, the prudish Paul refers to the "uncomely" or "unpresentable" parts of the body. Of course, he means the genitals.
Those references carry no weight of moral judgment. Likewise, then, in using those words Paul does not imply that male-male sex is wrong. He merely says it is not looked upon well. It is not considered nice.
Once again the same general conclusion arises. Paul uses certain words to describe male-male sex. A study of these words shows that he makes no ethical condemnation of male-male sex. He merely points out social disapproval of it.
Without doubt, Romans does refer to homogenital acts. But equally without doubt, on an historical-critical reading, Romans makes no ethical condemnation of those acts. Both Paul's peculiar use of the term para physin and his use of atimia and aschemosyne to describe homogenital acts come together and support the same conclusion.
If Paul does not think that homogenital activity is wrong, why does he say that it is uncomely and disreputable? And why would Paul ever say such things when he is writing to the Romans? Homogenital sex was an everyday part of their world. They thought it perfectly natural for men to be attracted to other men. While there was concern about some excessive and abusive practices, the Greeks and Romans saw nothing improper in such sex in itself. Why does Paul bring up the topic at all?
Paul states there is something socially unacceptable about male-male sex. You may recognize here the same sense that we saw in the use of the word toevah in Leviticus. Translated "abomination," the meaning is "ritual taboo or impurity," something unacceptable for Jewish society. The word carries with it a sense of disapproval or improperness. Likewise, "dishonorable" passions and "shameless" acts in Romans carry that same sense of "inappropriate," "not socially acceptable."
The parallel with Leviticus seems to be deliberate. There were words, both Hebrew and Greek, that meant "ethically wrong." Those words could have been used in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 but, as we have seen, those words were not used. Similarly, Paul also had words that mean "ethically wrong," and he could have used them to refer to male-male sex. But he did not.
In fact, such words of ethical/moral intent occur in that same first chapter of Romans. They occur before the section on homogenital acts and they occur after it. But they do not occur within the section on homogenital acts which is clear evidence they is nothing morally wrong with homosexuality.
In Romans, homogenitality serves merely as an instance of Gentile "uncleanness," judged by Jewish standards. Paul introduces this "uncleanness" precisely to make the point that such matters have no importance in Christ. This is clear from every consideration already presented. Moreover, only if that is really the case does the whole structure of Romans make sense.
This interpretation completely explains the reference to male-male sex in Romans. Attention to the terms in the passage, study of the argument of the passage and analysis of the whole letter converge on the same conclusion. The letter to the Romans certainly does not consider homogenital acts to be sinful. Indeed, the success of Paul's letter to the Romans depends on this being so.
A further conclusion follows. Not only did Paul not think homogenital acts are sinful; more than that, he seems to have been deliberately unconcerned about them. In his considered treatment of the matter, he teaches that in itself homogenital activity is ethically neutral.
Once again, a sad irony surrounds this matter. There is a religious lesson to be learned.
A long-standing and naive reading of the Scriptures has led many sincere followers of Jesus astray. They oppose and oppress lesbian and gay people in the name of the apostle Paul. Bolstered by societal prejudice and zealous in their sexual self-righteousness Christians have been misreading Paul's letter to the Romans and rejecting members of the Christian community because of it.
Yet to insure the unity of believers was a major reason for Paul's writing. Paul insisted on faith and love as the things that really matter in Christ. But by misunderstanding Paul's argument, people unwittingly rely on tastes and customs instead of the word of God. They argue about what's dirty or clean, dispute who's pure and impure, and pit heterosexual against homosexual. Thus, they divide and splinter the church over what does not matter in Christ. In God's name they foment hatred and fuel oppression and disrupt society at large. They commit a grave injustice, the very offense that Paul's letter meant to counter.
This is a sad state of affairs. It is unworthy of followers of Jesus.