This is the third part of this series that looks at Romans 1 (Read the first section here, and the second here). This part of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome is the most significant set of verses used to oppose homosexuality, and so it’s worth spending some time on. Thus far, I’ve shown three problems with the traditional reading:
- A plain reading of the text makes it clear that Paul is talking about people who are filled with lust, sexually out of control and who are descending into moral bankruptcy. This is not relevant to God-fearing, loving gay couples.
- There are sins – evil and wicked actions – listed in Romans 1. But there are also certain activities that Paul calls “culturally unacceptable” – these are not wicked actions and God is not opposed to them. In Romans 2, Paul will talk about circumcision in this way, and he’ll return to this theme over and over again in this letter, using many different examples, including observance of holy days and food sacrificed at the temples. In Romans 1, he talks about male homosexuality and women who have sex for pleasure alone (“unnatural sex” in the Jewish worldview), and says that some Christians find these socially unacceptable. But they are not evil or sinful. Do not call anything unclean, when God has not called it unclean.
- The purpose of Romans 1 is Romans 2 – you cannot read the first without the second. It is clear when you do so that Paul’s main point is that we should NOT judge other people on the basis of the actions he listed in Romans 1.
I want to go even further in this part of the series and summarise all the points I’ve made so far by showing you that Paul has a progression in mind: These people have abandoned God, and started worshipping idols. As God abandons them to this, they slip into a lifestyle that spirals ever downward until it is characterised by “no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy” (verse 31). The progression, as we will see below, is from socially unacceptable behaviour to morally wrong actions, to complete loss of humanity. Paul is going to show the Jewish readers that they have a similar progression of issues that other people could point to as signs of them not being committed to God enough. This completely changes how we should read the verses on homosexuality, and makes the most sense of Romans 2, and, in fact, the whole letter. I will then show again – at the risk of repeating myself too much – the importance of Romans 2 (and the rest of the letter) to understanding how we interpret Romans 1. This is a vital key to identifying how we have so badly misinterpreted Romans 1 for so long.
What the sin actually is
Before we do this, though, I want to talk to those of you who still believe that God is opposed to homosexuality. Assuming you are right for just a moment, it’s still important to ask what this might mean. What part of “being homosexual” is actually sinful?
Continue reading The Bible and Same Sex Relationships, Part 12: What Romans 1 is Really All About