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Anti-gay "clobber" passages in the Bible

Introduction to Romans 1:26-27

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Overview of Romans 1:18-32:

The key passage from this section of Paul's writing reads (in the King James Version):

Romans 1:26-27: "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."

Other Bible translations, such as the American Standard Version, J.N. Darby Translation (1890), Hebrew Names Version, New American Standard Bible, New King James Version, New Living Translation, Revised Standard Version, Noah Webster Version (1833), Robert Young Literal Translation (1898), etc. do not differ significantly from the King James Version.

As stated in 2 Peter 3:15-17, we have to be very careful when interpreting the writings of Paul. The author writes:

"As also in all his [Paul's] epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction." (KJV)

As stated by Dr. R.S. Truluck:

"Paul's writings have been taken out of context and twisted to punish and oppress every identifiable minority in the world: Jews, children, women, blacks, slaves, politicians, divorced people, convicts, pro-choice people, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, religious reformers, the mentally ill, and the list could go on and on.  Paul is often difficult and confusing to understand.  A lot of Paul's writing is very difficult to translate.  Since most of his letters were written in response to news from other people, reading Paul can be like listening to one side of a telephone conversation.  We know, or think we know, what Paul is saying, but we have to guess what the other side has said." 2

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Some important words in Romans 1:26-27:

It is important to understand the precise meaning of certain key words in Verses 26 & 27, as expressed in the original Greek:

bullet

About the words "vile affections:" The Greek phrase translated as "vile affections" in the King James Version of the Bible has also been translated into English as:

bullet

"vile affections and degrading passions" (Amplified Bible)

bullet

"dishonorable passions" (English Standard Version)

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"degrading passions" (New American Bible, New American Standard Bible, & New Revised Standard Version)

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"shameful lusts" (New International Version)

bullet

"shameful desires" (New Living Translation)

bullet

"evil things" (Living Bible)

bullet

"shameful affections" (Rheims New Testament)

bullet "immoral, unnatural drives" (The Great Book: The New Testament in Plain English)

In the original Greek, the phrase probably does not mean "passions" or "lust" as people experienced in normal, day-to-day living -- the type of emotion that one encounters in a marriage or sexually active relationship. It seems to refer to the "frenzied state of mind that many ancient mystery cults induced in worshipers by means of wine, drugs and music." 2 It seems to describe the results of ritual sexual orgies as performed in many Pagan settings at the time. Paul seems to be referring here to Pagan "fertility cult worship prevalent in Rome" at the time. 4 Vestiges of this type of sex magic are still seen today in some Neopagan religious traditions. The Wiccan "Great Rite" is one example. However, in modern times, such rituals are restricted to committed couples in private.


bullet About the words "exchanged," "leaving," "change," and "abandoned:" These words are important, because they precisely describe the people about whom Paul is talking. From the text, he is obviously writing about women with a heterosexual orientation, who had previously engaged in only heterosexual sex, who had subsequently "exchanged" their normal/inborn behaviors for same-sex activities.  That is, they deviated from their heterosexual orientation and engaged in sexual behavior with other women. Similarly, he describes men with a heterosexual orientation who had "abandoned" their normal/inborn behaviors and engaged in same-sex activities. In both cases, he is describing individuals with a heterosexual orientation, who were engaging in same-sex behavior -- in violation of their natural desires. In normal life, these are very unusual activities, because heterosexuals typically have a strong aversion to engaging in same-sex behavior. However, with the peer pressure, expectations, drugs, alcohol and other stimulants present in Pagan sex rituals at the time, they appear to have abandoned their normal feelings of abhorrence and engaged in same-sex behavior.

bulletAbout the word "natural:" "The operative term in Paulís original Greek is "phooskos", meaning "inborn", "produced by nature" , "agreeable to nature". 1 This term, and the corresponding phrase "para physin" described below, are open to interpretation:

bulletTo many religious liberals, gays, lesbians, mental health therapists, and human sexuality researchers, homosexual and bisexual orientations are normal, natural, and inborn for a small percentage of human adults. For gays, lesbians and bisexuals with these orientations, opposite-sex behavior would be abnormal and unnatural.

bullet To most religious conservatives, and perhaps to Paul himself, all same-sex behavior is abnormal and unnatural, no matter by whom it is done and regardless of the nature of their relationship.

bulletAbout the word "against nature," "unnatural," etc: The Greek phrase "para physin" is commonly translated into the English as:

bullet"unnatural and abnormal" (Amplified Bible)

bullet"contrary to nature" (English Standard Version)

bullet"against nature" (King James Version, Rheims New Testament)

bullet"sin with each other" (Living Bible)

bullet"unnatural" (New American Bible, New American Standard Bible, New International Version, New Revised Standard Version)

bullet"immoral, unnatural drives" (The Great Book: The New Testament in Plain English)

These do not seem to be an accurate translations. They may demonstrate prejudice on the part of the translators. "Unnatural" implies that the act is something that is to be morally condemned. M. Nissinen defines "para physin" as:

"Deviating from the ordinary order either in a good or a bad sense, as something that goes beyond the ordinary realm of experience." 3

The word "unconventional" would have been a more precise word for translators to use. The phrase "Para physin" appears elsewhere in the Bible:

bulletIn 1 Corinthians 11:14, Paul uses the phrase to refer to long hair on men as unusual and not ordinary.

bulletIn Romans 11:24, Paul used it to describe God's positive actions to bring Jews and Gentiles together.

bullet About the phrase "just reward:" Romans 1:27 refers to the idolaters receiving a recompense or penalty for "their error which was due." (NKJ, ASV, etc). This appears to be a reference to the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) which was epidemic among such Pagan fertility cults at the time. The general availability of condoms would only occurr millennia in the future from Paul's era.

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The context in which Verses 26 & 27 appear:

It is important to analyze the preamble to the verses quoted above:

bullet Romans 1:7 says that Paul is writing his epistle "To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints...": That is, his letter is written to all of the Christians in Rome. Recipients of his letters would be submerged in the Roman culture, where homosexual behavior was both widespread and acceptable by society.

bulletRomans 1 is concerned with "Paul's vigorous denunciation of idolatrous religious worship and rituals." 2 This is not often mentioned today. Rather, verses 26 and 27 are broken out of the longer passage and cited by themselves to condemn same-sex behavior.

Verses 21 to 28 include the following topics:

bulletVerses 21-23: The people had once been Christians. But they had fallen away from the faith, and returned to Paganism. They made images of Pagan gods in the form of men, birds, animals and reptiles for their religious rituals. The latter were probably held in Pagan temples.

bullet Verse 24: Next, they engaged in heterosexual orgies with each other as part of these pagan fertility rituals.

bulletVerse 25: Next, they worshipped the images that they had made, instead of God, the creator. Paul is specifically condemning idol worship here.

bulletVerse 26: Because of these forbidden practices, God intervened in these fertility sex-rituals and changed the people's behavior so that women started to engage in sexual activities with other women.

bulletVerse 27: describes how God had the men also engage in same-sex ritual activities. They (presumably both the men and women) were then punished in some way for their error.

bulletVerse 28: Again, because they did not acknowledge God, then He "gave them up" to many different unethical activities and attitudes: evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, etc.

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Conclusions:

As in virtually all other "hot" religious topics, religious conservatives and liberals take opposite views on this and the other "clobber" passages in the Bible that are often regarded as referring to homosexuality:

bulletConservative view: The assertion of Bennett Sims, the former Episcopal bishop of Atlanta, is a good example of a viewpoint that is held by many conservative Christians. He believes that these verses have done more to form Christians' negative opinion of homosexuality than any other single passage in the Bible. He writes:
"For most of us who seriously honor Scripture these verses still stand as the capital New Testament text that unequivocally prohibits homosexual behavior. More prohibitively, this text has been taken to mean that even a same-sex inclination is reprehensible, so that a type of humanity known as 'homosexual' has steadily become the object of contempt and discrimination." 1


bullet Views by others: Many religious liberals, secularists, homosexuals, and others view this passage as an attack on heterosexual persons who were formerly Christians, who reverted to Paganism, and who engaged in ritual sexual behavior as a part of their newly adopted Pagan services. During these rituals, the Pagans were whipped into such a state of sexual frenzy that they went against their basic heterosexual nature and started engaging in sexual behavior with members of the same sex. Paul condemns such behavior. He concludes that Pagan worship will inevitably leads to other negative behavior:

"...unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, [and] unmerciful."

The beliefs that persons of other religions are all morally corrupt and that followers of one's own religion behave on a much higher moral plane was common in Paul's time. The same assertions have been made throughout history. Yet, modern-day studies indicate that followers of no one religion have a monopoly on good behavior. We are unaware of any religion, all of whose members exhibit consistently immoral behavior.

The passage deals with immoral behavior among heterosexuals who have converted from Christianity to Paganism and engaged in behavior which is against their nature. There is no real connection between:

bulletFormer Christians in the first century CE who have returned to Paganism and engaged in sexual orgies, and
bullet

Persons with a homosexual orientation who have entered into a loving, committed relationship or same-sex marriage and who may members of a Christian denomination, members of another religion, or persons with no religious affiliation.

Having lived in a pre-scientific era, Paul would not have had access to the research in human sexuality which started in the late 19th century and which only became widespread in the latter half of the 20th century. He would have been unaware of the concept of sexual orientation.

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
  1. "How to be true to the Bible and say 'Yes' to same-sex unions,"  at: http://drswiney.org/john/bennett.html
  2. R.S. Truluck, "The six Bible passages used to condemn homosexuals," at: http://www.truluck.com/html/ This article is often cited on the Internet, but apparently is not longer available online. However a 42 minute You Tube interpretation of the article can be seen at: http://www.youtube.com
  3. Quoted in: Bruce Hane, "'Natural' and 'unnatural' " at: http://www.newvisionsproject.org/ This website appears to be offline.
  4. "Free to be gay: A brief look at the Bible and homosexuality," Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, at: http://www.ualberta.ca/~cbidwell/UFMCC/ This is also offline, and a search for a copy was unsuccessful.

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Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-MAR-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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