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Sexuality and Christian belief (Was: Homosexuality and the Bible)

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Wow, okay. I'm back online, after losing my laptop for a week. I've now read through the thread (or skimmed, in parts) and am a bit overwhelmed by how far the stream has flowed from its original banks. Such is the way of things at A&F - you miss a week, and the discussion is very different than when you left.

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I understand your suspicion, Rich (and yours as well, Ryan). What it comes down to, for me-- what makes NFP make moral sense, in terms of respecting the integrity and design of the marital sexual act-- is that unlike artificial contraception, NFP preserves the sexual act, whenever it is consummated, exactly as God designed it. In NFP, couples are either giving themselves to each other, sexually, fully, with no barriers between them, as God designed-- or they are abstaining, which is perfectly allowed in the Bible. By contrast, with the use of artificial contraception, the man is saying to his wife, "I'm not giving myself to you fully; I'm choosing to hold part of myself (that God Himself designed) back," and the wife is agreeing. It's not the total self-giving experience that sexual intercourse was designed to be. To put it bluntly, something is in the way!

Sure, I see the difference. I guess that my reservations are based on arguments here concerning the evolution of christian teaching through the millenia. If procreation is the chief end of sex as was argued for most of christian history, then more knowledge of fertility cycles will help identify proper intervals and nfp would have it backwards. But I sense that a door has been opened more recently, which Anglicans first, and then others have rushed through. It would seem to me that the Catholic church has taken more reserved steps. The real question is about that teaching down through the centuries. What, how, when, and why there have been subtle changes.

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mrmando wrote:

: Well, yes and no. The main task of the Synod was to refute the Confession of Cyril Lucaris, a book by the former patriarch of Constantinople that had sought to bring Calvinist teachings into the Orthodox Church. You might call this a controversy within the Church's own ranks.

Yeah, I can see how a book by one guy might have been controversial, but it hardly sounds like the sort of controversy that the Church faced in the 4th and 5th centuries, where Arianism was a serious rival to the orthodox understanding of the Trinity, so much so that, if memory serves, it was the majority opinion among the Church's bishops for a while. (And let's not forget that it was a bunch of Arians who sacked Catholic Rome and brought an end to the Roman Empire in the West.) I doubt, in other words, that there was any serious risk of schism here, comparable to what was going on in the West.

: Anyway, it seems there was virtually no controversy about canon, East or West, for a thousand years or so, until Protestants started questioning it -- but that controversy did apparently lead to councils that finally settled which books were in or out.

Well, again, I defer to Pelikan, who says there was no controversy at all in the East, whereas in the West there was ambivalence about the Apocrypha until the schism between Catholics and Protestants prompted each side to take a stand.

Incidentally, skimming through Pelikan's Whose Bible Is It? at Amazon.com, I come across this passage (pages 116-117):

The writings of Eusebius and of his contemporary, Athanasius of Alexandria, make it evident that agreement on the disputed books was approaching by the middle of the fourth century and that the canon of the New Testament which now appears in Christian Bibles was gaining general, if not quite universal, acceptance. That canon appears for the first time in a letter of Athanasius issued in 367 CE.

After that letter other traditions held their own for a time. Thus the scholars and theologians of Antioch in general accepted only three Catholic Epistles -- James, I Peter, and I John -- while one of its most illustrious representatives, Theodore of Mopsuestia, rejected the whole of this section of the canon. The West followed the lead of Athanasius. In 382 a synod was held at Rome under Pope Damasus, at which the influence of Jerome secured the adoption of a list of books answering to that of Athanasius. This was ratified by Pope Gelasius at the end of the fifth century. The same list was confirmed independently for the province of Africa at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 and 419 under the leadership of Augustine of Hippo. The second canon of the Second Trullan Council of 692, known to canon lawyers as the Quinisext, may be taken to have formally closed the process of the formation of the New Testament canon for East and West. This stands in sharp contrast to the status of the Old Testament within the church, which was not acted upon by an "ecumenical" church council until the Council of Trent in 1546 and then in a way that has gone on being disputed because of the status of the Apocrypha.

For whatever that's worth.

: Well, MLeary's recent contributions are much more the sort of thing I was looking for when I started posting in this thread.

Yeah, they've been great.

: It's interesting that Jewish sexual ethics seem to have been imported wholesale into Christianity when so many other lines of Jewish thought were discarded. Knowing how and why that happened (insofar as it's possible to know it) could, it seems, be helpful in debates like these.

Sure. And of course, we may see that importation happening in Paul's letters, if indeed Paul's reference to lesbianism in Romans 1 reflects the Jewish thinking of his day.

du Garbandier wrote:

: The subsequent index of depravities is not a list of proscribed behaviors, the participation in which will incur wrath. Rather, these behaviors themselves reveal God's wrath.

Exactly. As I've said many times in these debates over the past two decades, when Paul says these people "received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion," homosexuality is the PENALTY, not the perversion. The PERVERSION is the idolatry and the disordered view of the relationship between the Creator and his creation. Anti-gay types don't always like having homosexuality shuffled off to a secondary position like this, and pro-gay types don't like the fact that Paul is still basically negative towards homosexuality even if he shifts the focus of his argument somewhere else, but there it is.

And for those who would try to employ Romans 1 in the service of anti-gay bigotry, it is noteworthy that Paul describes "unnatural" sexual activity as the punishment for idolatry etc., while then going on to say that all those OTHER practices (including gossip!) deserve "death". That may simply reflect a crescendo in Paul's rhetoric more than any sort of systematic ranking of sins, but if there is one thing Paul is NOT doing with this passage, it is treating homosexual behaviour as the ultimate evil -- no matter how many modern Christians may be inclined to use the passage that way. And this is all before we turn to Romans 2!

Greg P wrote:

: However, the scope of reference is most definitely constricted, by the unique culture of that time and place and by the basic rules of hermeneutics. The text cannot mean what it never meant. First century Rome was not like 21st Century Miami, or 18th century Massachusetts.

But first-century Rome does stand on the shoulders of all the previous centuries and cultures with which Jewish thought had come into contact.

M. Leary wrote:

: This is the gist of why Hays (in Moral Vision of the New Testament) can describe homosexuality as the "sacrament of sins" in the midst of constructing an argument in favor of gay ordination. The text is sin's myth.

Eh? Is Hays in favour of gay ordination, then? Or is he just engaging in a sort of thought experiment?

Christopher Lake wrote:

: The simple, historical fact is that for 1, 920 years (until 1930, at the Anglican Lambeth Conference), all historic Christian churches condemned artificial contraception as wicked interference with God's natural design for our sexuality.

The historic Christian church began in AD 10? When Jesus was barely a teenager? ;)

: As for bisexuals, I believe the Biblical principle would be chastity, not necessarily a "seeking" of heterosexuality (although if that is one's wish, one can certainly pray and seek it).

I don't see why they would NEED to become exclusively heterosexual. A friend of mine (who was raised Catholic, but is not particularly religious nowadays) is bisexual but tells me she has no intention of ever cheating on her husband, and it seems to me that that should satisfy everyone. Yes, she says that she and her husband sometimes share admiring appraisals of the attractive women who pass them on the street or whatever, but if her husband can handle that, then I don't think there's anything to worry about there.

Jeff Kolb wrote:

: 3. God cares much less about whether my statements and beliefs about reality are correct, and much more about whether his creation flourishes.

Ah, but what is the correct definition of "flourishes"? The Catholics here would certainly argue that sperm and other parts of God's creation are not being allowed to "flourish" when people use birth control, for example.

: In keeping with my sense that strictly rational thinking needs to be bounded, I find it unfortunate that message boards like this are so good for traditional debate, and rather less so for a broader, both/and sort of inquiry. Traditional debate rarely changes anyone's mind, while experience often changes people. There's lots of debate here, but a rather limited flavor of experience.

Well, debate itself can be an experience. ;)

And certainly part of the reason I'm Orthodox now is because of debates I've had with people here at A&F and at its predecessor sites. But yes, that's only part of the reason; I had to actually go to an Orthodox church and EXPERIENCE the worship there, too, before I made the switch. Still, it must be said that if it hadn't been for all the rational (albeit sometimes heated!) discussion here, giving myself over to the experience wouldn't have been as easy.

Rich Kennedy wrote:

: While I understand the intent behind Natural Family Planning, I am suspicious. It seems to contradict the thrust of much that has been quoted here from the Early Fathers.

Good point.

e2c wrote:

: . . . Paul was a rabbi, after all.

He was?

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While I understand the intent behind Natural Family Planning, I am suspicious.

You need to understand it better. biggrin.gif

(still lurking until sometime next week)

Not that Suz and I have ever bothered much with NFP. We're very N, and we're all for F ... but we've never really given much energy to P.

I wouldn't be surprised. I'm talking of concepts here and you are always a fountain of explanation. Further, as a traditional Anglican, I am always drawn to the teachings of "the undivided church". Still, there seems to be either evolution of thought, or some sort of paradox (contradiction might be too pejorative).

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Not that Suz and I have ever bothered much with NFP. We're very N, and we're all for F ... but we've never really given much energy to P. :lol:

If you need to give much energy to P, then you ought to see your urologist...

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Not that Suz and I have ever bothered much with NFP. We're very N, and we're all for F ... but we've never really given much energy to P. :lol:

If you need to give much energy to P, then you ought to see your urologist...

You can't P when you're doing the F thing. N designed it that way.

(ducking)

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For a second I thought you'd said "You can't P when you're doing the F'N thing."

I almost did, more or less, you could say.

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This is why the temple prostitute reading is unhelpful. Do you really suppose Paul is saying, "don't be like those temple prostitutes, who not only whore away their bodies but also gossip and disobey their parents--you know, those prostitutes"? It constricts Paul's scope of reference to the point of absurdity.
No one has suggested that Paul is stating anything like that. However, the scope of reference is most definitely constricted, by the unique culture of that time and place and by the basic rules of hermeneutics. The text cannot mean what it never meant. First century Rome was not like 21st Century Miami, or 18th century Massachusetts.

Thanks for your reply, Greg. I guess I am confused as to who you believe Paul is referring to when he says "God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (28-31). Are you saying that all of these terms do not apply to the same people, a premise I took to be a key assumption of the temple prostitute theory? If not, then how do you parse the various applications--what applies to whom?

Also, in what respect should considering "the unique culture of that time and place" mitigate or alter our understanding of gossips, boasters, disobeyers of parents, fools, slanderers, the envious, the faithless, etc., or at least of Paul's reference to them?

One problem with your reading of this passage-- if this is not referring to a specific, historical practice -- is that it simplistically attributes the cause of homosexuality to turning away from God.

Leaving aside questions of historical context and anachronistic applications of modern categories of identity, let me say this: anyone who reads Romans 1 & 2 and comes away focused strictly on homosexuality or any other particular sin has probably missed the point. Anyone who comes away from Paul brooding on the pathology of any particular sin, on how Those Sinners have turned away from God, has probably missed the point.

The more I consider the temple prostitute theory, not only does it seem less and less plausible, but I believe it actually fosters what amounts to a gravely unloving stance toward homosexuals. Let's focus on Paul's famous "Therefore" at the start of Romans 2, which has been mentioned already:

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.

As I understand these two chapters, and as Peter and others have intimated, Paul leaves no person of any -sexuality with any grounds whatsoever to exempt themselves from the preeminent obligation to "honor [God] as God" and "give thanks to him." In the eyes of God, who "shows no partiality" (2:11), all of us are entangled in rebellion, and the emblems of that rebellion rise up before our eyes like so many foul belching geysers proceeding from a single subterranean source.

Whereas the temple prostitute theory, as I understand it, effectively (though of course not explicitly or, in some cases, intentionally) says to today's homosexuals: Paul is not talking about you. You are, in an ultimate way, exempt from the catastrophic force of original sin. You are not among those who did not honor God or give him thanks. You were not present at the great calamity. In an inversion of the prophet Nathan, the temple prostitute theorist says to homosexuals, you are NOT the man! As such, go about your business, continue in your ways, don't worry too much about repentance. Because of the scarcely scrutable contingencies of history, and because you are a loving person in a loving relationship, I pronounce you exempt. It's the whores and prison rapists and war rapists and similarly unloving people in unloving relationships who are not exempt. But not you. You don't exploit people. You aren't dangerous in dark alleys. You're a-okay.

This is perilous territory.

Edited by du Garbandier

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I think there's a lot of different readings that we're conflating so far into a unified "temple prostitute theory". For me, I think the takeaway is just that Paul was describing something historically specific about sexual practice that is distinct from modern understanding of the diversity in sexual orientation. From there, though, you can take it a number of different directions--from "this says nothing about homosexuality broadly" to "this is really just about the relationship between god and humanity" etc. I don't think it requires you to conclude that the passage has nothing to say to modern gays.

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Leaving aside questions of historical context and anachronistic applications of modern categories of identity, let me say this: anyone who reads Romans 1 & 2 and comes away focused strictly on homosexuality or any other particular sin has probably missed the point. Anyone who comes away from Paul brooding on the pathology of any particular sin, on how Those Sinners have turned away from God, has probably missed the point.

But specific sins are mentioned and Paul tells us the basic pathology: Men turned away from God to idols and as result plunged into perversity. To take these stark declarations of Paul and wrap them in generalizations about the human condition, waters down the power of the text tremendously .

When Paul warns in Romans 2 about hypocritical judgment, he is warning an audience that he knew to be dabbling with the same pagan offenses he just described. The application is pointed at the throat of religious hypocrisy, not all mankind in some universal sense. All have sinned, but not all are hypocrites, and there is no hypocrite like the religious hypocrite. That's a most unique creature.

This is where, in my view, a rabid fundie has a better grip on the spirit of the text than you are presenting. Men were banging other men, in this context, as a result of their forsaking God. Period. My view retains the barb and does not attempt to push the tip of the spear back one bit. Men and women abandoned God and dove headlong into darkness and pagan dissipation. This included sex rituals in which heterosexual men and women left behind their natural inclinations, in favor of things done to please their unclean gods.

Edited by Greg P

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Peter, you're right, obviously, about the faultiness of my math, regarding the exact number of years of the historic Christian church. Math is not my strongest area. :) The point, however, basically stands-- for at least 1, 800 years, or at least as long as historic Christianity took a public stance on artificial contraception, until 1930, it was roundly condemned as sin-- including by all Protestant denominations.

Actually, in my moving away from Protestantism, this is one of the factors steering me away from Eastern Orthodoxy and towards Catholicism. In studying Orthodox writings, it appears that, until fairly recently, EO condemned artificial contraception just as strongly as the Catholic Church and pre-1930 Protestantism. It is only in the last half of the 20th century that I see any openness in EO circles to seeing artificial contraception as licit within the marriage bed. Contrary to how most might view it, I see that as a point for Catholicism, not against it (speaking as an increasingly unsettled Protestant here).

On your other point, I never said that bisexuals or homosexuals necessarily need to "seek" heterosexuality. I do think that the Bible calls all non-heterosexuals (and single hetero's, like me) to chastity. It definitely ain't easy, but from what I see, it is the path of obedience commanded in the Bible.

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Firstly I agree with Holy Moly that a number of different readings are being conflated into "The Temple Prostitution theory". I'm not sure the passage is quite that specific, though it's certainly more specific than "all non-Christian gentiles" or the like. My take is that it may be about a specific, but significantly large section of Roman society who worship idols and were loose with their sexual habits.

As I understand these two chapters, and as Peter and others have intimated, Paul leaves no person of any -sexuality with any grounds whatsoever to exempt themselves from the preeminent obligation to "honor [God] as God" and "give thanks to him." In the eyes of God, who "shows no partiality" (2:11), all of us are entangled in rebellion,

I agree that everyone has the 'obligation to "honor [God] as God" and "give thanks to him"'. And I agree that the letter's intended audience (Roman Christians) were certainly the target of what Paul is doing in chapter 2, but I think chapter 1 is fairly specific. These are people who (to bunch them all together) "suppress the truth by their wickedness" (v18), claimed to be wise (v22) and worshipped "images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles". That's reasonably specific certainly there are many alive today (straight and gay) who would not correspond to that. So how is this universal?

Whereas the temple prostitute theory, as I understand it, effectively (though of course not explicitly or, in some cases, intentionally) says to today's homosexuals: Paul is not talking about you. You are, in an ultimate way, exempt from the catastrophic force of original sin.

Between those last two sentences there is a massive, massive, humongous leap. I agree that Paul is not talking about them, but that is an entirely different kettle of fish from saying they are off the hook of universal sin (FWIW I'm not really sure I believe in original sin, at least not how it's classically defined, but do believe that we are all sinful).

You are not among those who did not honor God or give him thanks. You were not present at the great calamity. In an inversion of the prophet Nathan, the temple prostitute theorist says to homosexuals, you are NOT the man!

The first two sentences there are just an extension of your previous point (and therefore my previous answer), but it's no inversion of the prophet Nathan. None of the various non-anti-homosexual-practice readings of this passage would suggest that this passage is promoting, or even justifying modern, committed homosexuals. Indeed I suspect few could read the passage without a wince, or feelings of guilt or anger. What we are arguing is that this passage (Ch.1) is no more applied to those of homosexual orientation than it is to those of us with heterosexual orientation.

As such, go about your business, continue in your ways, don't worry too much about repentance (for monogamous same-sex relationships)...because you are a loving person in a loving relationship, I pronounce you exempt (from identifying yourself with the people Paul is talking about in this passage). It's the whores and prison rapists and war rapists and similarly unloving people in unloving relationships who are not exempt. But not you. You don't exploit people. You aren't dangerous in dark alleys. You're a-okay.

The bits in brackets are of course mine, based on what I've argued above, and I missed out the 'scrutable' clause cos I didn't really get it, but otherwise, yes that's broadly, I suppose, what I probably think. Although I would never say "a-okay".

And I would insist that there are many other areas where they would need to repent.

This is perilous territory

Given the above, I'm not sure why.

On another front, various ones of you who take the traditional position on these passages have often said that this passage just lists homosexuality as one of many areas of sin, that the passage places it on the same level as gluttony etc.

I have two issues with this. Firstly, I don't think all sins are equal, other than that they all separate us from God. But I don't God sees Hitler's crimes as the same as Mother Theresa's (pre-repentance) even though both sins are sufficient to separate us from God.

But secondly, whilst I think that homosexuality is barely mentioned in the Bible in relation to things such as living unjustly, gluttony etc., in THIS passage whatever form of homosexuality is mentioned here is made a much bigger deal of, and seemingly pre-dates the check list of sins in v29-31 in some way. Perhaps it's just because it was a more prominent part of the other half of the discussion with Paul which we no longer have.

Matt

Edited by MattPage

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By the way, it seems to me that what none of those of you who take the traditional take on this passage have done is explain why hugely committed, faithful Christians today (who most definitely don't reject God in order to worship idols) who despite years of prayer and repentance still have these same desires that Paul so clearly describes as being a result of rejecting God.

Matt

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Every human being is guilty of the sin of idolatry. Even committed, faithful Christians. It might not precisely be bowing down to images, but one needn't read Paul's condemnation of idolatry as so simplistic, since Paul prefaces everything in Romans 1 with this: "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but theybecame futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." That, I'd suggest, is the key to understanding what Paul means by idolatry here. We're turning everywhere except to God.
This is false. Such generalizations inevitably dilute the text until everyone, everywhere is guilty of a little bit of everything .

This idolatry was the real deal, not the 1st century equivalent of shopping at the mall on Sunday's or ducking Wednesday night service in favor of watching the NBA playoffs. These were people who understood the invisible attributes of God through the general revelation of creation and yet preferred serving idols fashioned to look like filthy animals. Any attempt to apply these verses to people simply "not putting God first in their lives" (to cite one, oft-used example) constitutes a real castration of the text.

Edited by Greg P

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Firstly I agree with Holy Moly that a number of different readings are being conflated into "The Temple Prostitution theory". I'm not sure the passage is quite that specific, though it's certainly more specific than "all non-Christian gentiles" or the like. My take is that it may be about a specific, but significantly large section of Roman society who worship idols and were loose with their sexual habits.

So the Romans and not the Greeks? They had two fairly different systems of idolatry, if that is the term we want to use. In Corinth, for example, the Roman imperial cult basically re-structured the existing city and overlaid its sacred spaces with architecture, monuments, coinage, and inscriptions that celebrated the mythic grandeur of pax romana. "Idol-worship" in the Roman imperial cult consisted of various national gods, as well as venerating past and present political figures that enabled the present glory of Rome. This is different than the more abstract and localized forms of worship that were permitted to continue in the west (and even encouraged, as is the case with Herod's temple).

So, Romans 1 may be about which religious system contemporary to Paul? And if it is specifically the Roman cultus, than does this description here match the kind of worship and sexual behavior we see in Rome contemporary to Paul? I agree that this text so specifically moves towards homosexuality as the "sacrament of sins" that there must be some kind of contemporary reference Paul has in mind. But the difficulty in identifying a specific system of worship that involves homosexuality in the time period, the applicability of his description to so many other historical contexts he was familiar with, and the generalizing of his point in the laundry list of sins at the end of the text (note the recapitulation of v21 in v28) is also exacerbated by the fact that Paul is doing theology in an epistolary format. This format often causes tension in how we, as contemporary readers, deal with the difference between his local audience and his universal audience.

I also go in circles on this (which we should, hermeneutical spiral and all that), but always end up with something along the lines of the following: When people turn to what Barth helpfully calls "No-God," there will be an inevitable decline which ends in the loss of consciousness about what is natural and what isn't. Socially sanctioned sexual perversity is a good barometer for where one is on this continual historical cycle. Paul could easily open up his Roman Daily newspaper and underline numerous evidences for his argument, but so could anyone with an awareness of the fact that sin has its own metanarrative circulating throughout history with a startling predictability.

I think this is consistent with the context:

1. In Romans 1:17, Paul tells us how the righteousness of God is revealed in a concrete, historical sense. Before talking more about that (chapters 3-5), it makes sense to talk a little about how his wrath is revealed in a concrete, historical sense. And this one is a no-brainer. Paul can just say: Open up the newspaper. Look around! Look at those guys kissing at the Circus Maximus/on Dawson's Creek! That is God's "let them go ahead and do it" wrath in action.

2. But go ahead. Put your canary down the mineshaft of Romans 1. Feel that little thrill when it is dead when you pull it back up? That little thrill you get from not being like one of them? Well, lets take a look at Romans 2... God's wrath isn't just something that is working itself out in the present, it is also something that will happen in the future.* And it is something that we will all face. Yes, even your very secrets will be judged (even the resolutely hetero, white bread, parents-obeying, neighborly, modestly self-congratulatory ones).

3. All this is to say: The universal sense of what Romans 1 means is not something that we have to articulate on the basis of this description of sin. It arises from the role these verses play in the broader argument of Romans.

*And this movement from God's wrath in a present sense (Romans 1) to God's wrath in a future sense (Romans 2) would have been a big deal to Roman Christians, steeped in Roman imperial thinking that had no conception of a future eschatology, but was resolute in celebrating the present and the past. Paul pointing Roman citizens towards something eschatological, something that would happen to them in the indeterminate future, was something that would have been hard for them to wrap their heads around.

in THIS passage whatever form of homosexuality is mentioned here is made a much bigger deal of, and seemingly pre-dates the check list of sins in v29-31 in some way.

Hays in Moral Vision is excellent in articulating how homosexuality functions here in Paul's thinking. It doesn't really pre-date the checklist. It is simply the pinnacle of sin as rebellion. The rebellious component of sin can be located in its tendency to subvert the Creator/creature order, homosexuality being a direct, physical attempt at this subversion (hence his use of "sacramental" as a descriptor).

(This is the gist of it, but it has been a few years since I have read this chapter, so double-check me for accuracy.)

By the way, it seems to me that what none of those of you who take the traditional take on this passage have done is explain why hugely committed, faithful Christians today (who most definitely don't reject God in order to worship idols) who despite years of prayer and repentance still have these same desires that Paul so clearly describes as being a result of rejecting God.

This is a really good question. I am not sure if I take the traditional view or not from your perspective. But there is a difference between participating in the metanarrative of sin with total abandon, and struggling with the consequences of the fall as faithfully as possible. The metanarrative of sin pivots on the loss of consciousness of who God is. One could easily argue that someone this in touch with the causes and effects of their sexual identity as they pertain to their relationship to God is not the kind of people Paul is talking about here. In fact, they are the opposite ("and such were some of you, but...").

Edited by M. Leary

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I'm not sure the passage is quite that specific, though it's certainly more specific than "all non-Christian gentiles" or the like.

Why do you find this absolutely "certain"?

OK perhaps this was an unfortunate turn of phrase. What I mean is "to me it's certainly..."

I see nothing, textually, to believe that the passage has anything beyond a universal reach, particularly in how Paul turns it around. If it wasn't universal before, as soon as Paul makes his "O man" statement, it becomes a universal text describing fallen humanity. And, indeed, Paul's preface to the passage, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" similar suggests such a focus. At no point does it seem that Paul has contextualized his description as just as a specific and particularly loathsome segment of human society.
Universal reach possibly, but, personally, I don't see it has a universal footing.

Unfortunately I'm not really patient enough to go through a point by point response back and forth, and having done one post like that already today, I'm going to short change you here. Sorry. But my take on the section is as follows.

1 - It's from a letter Paul wrote to the Romans, he didn't know it was going to become part of our Bible, and he probably wrote it as part of an ongoing conversation of sorts that he was having with them. That we don't have their bit is quite an inconvenience and means it's all too easy to forget, but essentially even though this is now part of our Bible and by working out what it meant to them we can work out what it means to us (hence "universal reach"), we have to start with what it meant to them. (Just re-read that and it sounds a bit patronising - sorry it's not meant to, but for me I always try and unpick things to the original message to the original audience and go from there). And here it seems very much that Paul is responding to some communication to them. SO far so much conjecture, but that's how I see it!

2 - Then in verse 18 Paul starts off with, yes, two universal points. a - God has given everyone enough to know him by, and b - his wrath is coming (though I'm interested to note the way Paul defines it here is not what typically comes to mind when I hear about the "wrath of God")

3 - Paul then gets down to an example. I reluctantly agree that this is not as clear, certainly as I would like, but I do see it, because if this is a description of everyone (the only other option I can see) then it's a pretty poor one. Only a tiny minority of people today would tick all those boxes, and I have a hard time believing that even in Paul's day it summed up either most people he knew and most people he knew his audience knew.

An-y-way, what I think Paul does is pick an example. I have a strong hunch that Paul isn't so much choosing an example as dealing with the case in hand. "So let's take these irritating Roman idol worshippers". He then goes on to describe them with a very broad brush, perhaps like some Republicans in America might talk about liberal Hollywood Democrats for example. It's a heterogeneous group if you look up close, but also one whom you can paint with a broad brush and it's understood that you are stereotyping.

In doing so, Paul is actually setting a trap - perhaps like Nathan does to David (since he was mentioned above). We can agree that the behaviour of these lowlifes deserves God's wrath, can't we... etc.

4 - Then in chapter 2, it's BAM, but you (Jews? 2:17?) are just the same - also falling foul of God.

5 - When we look at the message to the (self-righteous) (Jewish?) Christians we can see that this is something as gentile-21st century-Christians also need to take on, just as we take on Jesus's "do not remove the speck from your brother's eye.

Now to return to the discussion that doesn't mean the example Paul uses in chapter 1 is also universal, and admittedly the lack of a clear transition from one mood to the other (it's the end of 1:20 for my money) is a problem, but my understanding is that this is an example of a group of people who Paul knows he and the Roman church can agree are Godless, in order to set up his point in chapter 2. If I'm right then there's no need or reason to universalise the verses in chapter 1, anymore than David ends his conversation with Nathan (after repenting) with "oh and you should really get me the name of that sheep stealer so I can get my men to bring him to justice").

By the way, it seems to me that what none of those of you who take the traditional take on this passage have done is explain why hugely committed, faithful Christians today (who most definitely don't reject God in order to worship idols) who despite years of prayer and repentance still have these same desires that Paul so clearly describes as being a result of rejecting God.

Every human being is guilty of the sin of idolatry. Even committed, faithful Christians. It might not precisely be bowing down to images, but one needn't read Paul's condemnation of idolatry as so simplistic, since Paul prefaces everything in Romans 1 with this: "For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but theybecame futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened." That, I'd suggest, is the key to understanding what Paul means by idolatry here. We're turning everywhere except to God.

I find that (and your subsequent comments to Greg) to be a very pessimistic take on humanity's position with respect to God. Are we all fallen? Yes. Do we all do the occasional thing in opposition to God? Yes, occasionally. Do we need his forgiveness and grace. Absolutely.

But is this the kind of thing Paul is describing? Ungodless, wicked, suppressing fools? I just don't think so. And even if you are right it raises the question why most of us don't fall prey to these things when Paul's allegedly universal description suggests that "all" of us do (though by "all" I think he means a significant majority).

So the Romans and not the Greeks?

Dunno. I'm not well versed enough in the specific cultures, but it could be just the Romans or it could be a combination of the two. The important point is that they knew who he meant, and it wasn't them. He's just getting them onside in order to catch them out in chapter 2.

Overall though I'm confused by your general answer. Earlier you seemed to be supporting the traditional take. then your points on Greeks and Romans and your context 1, 2, 3, * particularly seems to fit my take on the passage, though I'm not as sure as you seem to be that the recipients were "steeped in Roman imperial thinking" as I think they may have primarily been Jewish converts)

But then I'm not sure what you mean by the Hays quote and the bit afterwards. Are you agreeing disagreeing or just kicking it around a bit to see what you make of it?

I should end by saying that I'm never 100% sure of anything, and it could be that the position I've outlined above is wrong and this part of the Bible is anti-homosexual acts. For me, though, there is significant enough doubt to mean that I'm prepared to give homosexual acts in the context of a committed monogamous relationship the benefit of the doubt and treat them on a par with heterosexual acts.

Matt

Edited by MattPage

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This is false. Such generalizations inevitably dilute the text until everyone, everywhere is guilty of a little bit of everything .

Paul is the one making the generalization (see chapter 2), not I.

Paul is not issuing a general prohibition saying, in effect, "don't judge because we are all sinners". He's warning pointedly against hypocritical religious judgment. This was not theoretical. His religious audience was actually participating in the same set of sins as the pagan neighbors they so ardently judged.

Edited by Greg P

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Overall though I'm confused by your general answer. Earlier you seemed to be supporting the traditional take. then your points on Greeks and Romans and your context 1, 2, 3, * particularly seems to fit my take on the passage, though I'm not as sure as you seem to be that the recipients were "steeped in Roman imperial thinking" as I think they may have primarily been Jewish converts)

But then I'm not sure what you mean by the Hays quote and the bit afterwards. Are you agreeing disagreeing or just kicking it around a bit to see what you make of it?

I am not sure what you mean by the "traditional take," so I can't speak to that. The problem with talking about texts like Romans 1 is that we assume a lot of stuff about polytheism and sexuality in Paul's day that comes more from Fellini films than it does from whatever data about the period are available. The amount of distinct cultures, mythological systems, local cults, etc... that made up the empire is a bit mind boggling, and Paul came into contact with a great deal of them. Trying to say something like "The behaviors described in Romans 1 refer to 'X' and therefore we can say 'Y'" is sketchy at best, and can lead to misapplications of the text.

The mistake in saying something like the text refers to a bunch of Roman idol-worshipers, or temple prostitutes, or a Thessalonikan hair-styling mob, is that it often does unwitting violence to the text. These pronouncements create shades of distinction that may not actually exist in the text, they are often played like trump cards in legitimizing a certain reading, and can throw our understanding of related bodies of text off-balance. Think about how greatly the Qumran find affected our understanding of religion in 1st century Palestine, and you'll get a sense for why I am hesitant to toss out possible correspondences as the lynchpin for a given argument.

The hard thing about the biblical studies argument conducted in this thread is that we are talking about Greek letters written two thousand years ago by a well-traveled, rhetorically savvy, converted Jew who happened to be a Roman citizen to culturally diverse communities of neophyte Christians in cities that were very metropolitan racially and religiously. This doesn't mean we have to be agnostic about more obscure texts like Romans 1, we just have to be more responsible with them. Like I said above, the descriptive power of Romans 1 is something that needs to be wielded very carefully.

As far as the Roman imperial issue is concerned, that has been a hot topic in New Testament Studies for the past few years, and is pretty enlightening social science when it pertains to some of these issues. The whole "original audience of Romans" question is a tough one, but I like how some of the imperial cultus research lends depth to some of Paul's rhetorical movements in Romans. Would some readers of letters circulating as far west as Rome and east as Asian minor been influenced by the Roman cultus? Yes. The jury is still out on how much, and what kind of influence Rome would have had in some of these fringe areas. I tossed that in because I think it may be an interesting component of the movement from Rom. 1 to 2.

As far as the Hays' bit is concerned. I think you said something along the lines of "homosexuality predates the other sins." I don't think Paul has a chronological relationship in mind here. It is more abstract than that. And Hays has written well about that whether you agree with him or not.

I should end by saying that I'm never 100% sure of anything, and it could be that the position I've outlined above is wrong and this part of the Bible is anti-homosexual acts...

I also like Hays' idea that the NT is only morally prescriptive when making an actual moral claim in the form of an ethical commandment or guideline. As Paul is essentially telling a story (or creating a myth) in Romans 1, then this would not be a text from which we could form an ethical pronouncement. Whether the NT does this somewhere else regarding homosexuality is a different question.

Edited by M. Leary

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1 - It's from a letter Paul wrote to the Romans, he didn't know it was going to become part of our Bible,

No way! All the writers of the New Testament must have known they were gonna end up in the Bible... How else would St. John know to add in the part about not adding to or removing a word from a book that technically did not yet exist? Wait, what do you mean he was not talking about the whole Bible... but merely Revelation? :)

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1 - It's from a letter Paul wrote to the Romans, he didn't know it was going to become part of our Bible,

No way! All the writers of the New Testament must have known they were gonna end up in the Bible... How else would St. John know to add in the part about not adding to or removing a word from a book that technically did not yet exist? Wait, what do you mean he was not talking about the whole Bible... but merely Revelation? :)

Woah! My brain just exploded a little. Four years of steady debate back in my school days around that verse and that line of thought I don't believe ever even came up!

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1 - It's from a letter Paul wrote to the Romans, he didn't know it was going to become part of our Bible,

No way! All the writers of the New Testament must have known they were gonna end up in the Bible... How else would St. John know to add in the part about not adding to or removing a word from a book that technically did not yet exist? Wait, what do you mean he was not talking about the whole Bible... but merely Revelation? :)

Woah! My brain just exploded a little. Four years of steady debate back in my school days around that verse and that line of thought I don't believe ever even came up!

Whoa! Now my brain exploded a little. Four years of steady debate and that line of thought never even came up???

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1 - It's from a letter Paul wrote to the Romans, he didn't know it was going to become part of our Bible,

No way! All the writers of the New Testament must have known they were gonna end up in the Bible... How else would St. John know to add in the part about not adding to or removing a word from a book that technically did not yet exist? Wait, what do you mean he was not talking about the whole Bible... but merely Revelation? :)

Woah! My brain just exploded a little. Four years of steady debate back in my school days around that verse and that line of thought I don't believe ever even came up!

Whoa! Now my brain exploded a little. Four years of steady debate and that line of thought never even came up???

Well, not put in that way, no. There was lots of general debate surrounding that verse and it "proving" sola scriptura (e.g., how can an internal textual assertion prove itself?), and plenty of discussion about how, if the Bible as we know it today was "finalized" some many years after the last book was written, those later constructors came to agreement on these books. And I am referring to my 4 years in a private Protestant Christian school, so this is high school, not college. But I can't say Nezpop's line of thought there ever really registered before. And it seems SO obvious.

Sadly, my church history reading has been limited to next to nil since that time and much of what I had known off the top of my head in those days is now lost. I do enjoy the discussions here as they are my main source of reference these days.

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It may be a little silly to announce this since I have only contributed a couple of posts here, but I doubt I will contribute much more to this thread. In preparing my few thoughts here I have become all too cognizant of my own deficiencies in knowledge and wisdom concerning such deeply complicated matters. But I wanted to say I am grateful for each contribution to what I think has been a pretty enlightening discussion. Even though I will have to be content to leave unanswered a number of interesting questions and points raised, be assured each one of you has my deepest respect.

The note I would like to sound on my departure (though I will certainly continue to participate through reading; I have so much to learn) is that of Jacques Maritain:

The conviction each of us has, rightly or wrongly, regarding the limitations, deficiencies, errors of others does not prevent friendship between minds. In such a fraternal dialogue, there must be a kind of forgiveness and remission, not with regard to ideas — ideas deserve no forgiveness if they are false — but with regard to the condition of him who travels the road at our side. Every believer knows very well that all men will be judged — both himself and all others. But neither he nor another is God, able to pass judgment. And what each one is before God, neither the one nor the other knows. Here the Judge not of the Gospels applies with its full force. We can render judgment concerning ideas, truths and errors; good or bad actions; character, temperament, and what appears to us of a man’s interior disposition. But we are utterly forbidden to judge the innermost heart, that inaccessible center where the person day after day weaves his own fate and ties the bonds binding him to God. When it comes to that, there is only one thing to do, and that is to trust in God. And that is precisely what love for our neighbor prompts us to do.

Love for our neighbor, or the friendship of charity, does not merely make us recognize the existence of others, — although as a matter of fact here is something already difficult enough for men, and something which includes everything essential. Not only does it make us recognize that another exists, and not as an accident of the empirical world, but as a human being who exists before God, and has a right to exist. Love for our neighbor springs from our very faith, and it helps us to recognize whatever beliefs other than our own include of truth and of dignity, of human and divine values. It makes us respect them, urges us on ever to seek in them everything that is stamped with the mark of man’s original greatness and of the prevenient care and generosity of God. It helps us to come to a mutual understanding of one another. It does not make us go beyond our faith, but beyond ourselves. Faith in God is the root of neighborly love. And neighborly love is the core of genuine tolerance.

Blessings, friends.

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1 - It's from a letter Paul wrote to the Romans, he didn't know it was going to become part of our Bible,

No way! All the writers of the New Testament must have known they were gonna end up in the Bible... How else would St. John know to add in the part about not adding to or removing a word from a book that technically did not yet exist? Wait, what do you mean he was not talking about the whole Bible... but merely Revelation? :)

Woah! My brain just exploded a little. Four years of steady debate back in my school days around that verse and that line of thought I don't believe ever even came up!

Whoa! Now my brain exploded a little. Four years of steady debate and that line of thought never even came up???

Well, not put in that way, no. There was lots of general debate surrounding that verse and it "proving" sola scriptura (e.g., how can an internal textual assertion prove itself?), and plenty of discussion about how, if the Bible as we know it today was "finalized" some many years after the last book was written, those later constructors came to agreement on these books. And I am referring to my 4 years in a private Protestant Christian school, so this is high school, not college. But I can't say Nezpop's line of thought there ever really registered before. And it seems SO obvious.

Sadly, my church history reading has been limited to next to nil since that time and much of what I had known off the top of my head in those days is now lost. I do enjoy the discussions here as they are my main source of reference these days.

The contemporary Biblical debate over homosexuality is one reason (of many) that I'm beginning to think sola Scriptura (and even the Via Media of Anglicanism) may not be enough to settle the question. Don't get me wrong-- from what I see, the Bible itself is clear on the sinfulness of active, practiced homosexuality, but there are enough radically different interpretations of the relevant verses that I just don't know anymore if sola Scriptura is sufficient for this debate.

Now, I can already hear my Protestant mentors saying, "Well, of course, we don't read and study the Bible in a vacuum. We learn about the context and culture in which the verses were written, and we apply that knowledge to our exegesis." However, the problem is that different Biblical scholars do that exact thing, when it comes to the verses about homosexuality, and they still come to radically different conclusions.

When I see these deep disagreements about the sinfulness (or non-sinfulness) of practiced homosexuality-- even, now, among evangelical Protestants (who, until fairly recently, were agreed on the issue), it causes me to think that, quite likely, "the Bible alone as the final authority" is not even what God intended for Christians.

Edited by Christopher Lake

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