May 12, 2015

The Bible and Homosexuality IX: Unnatural Acts

We now enter the New Testament and Paul’s exposition on sinful humanity. He argues persuasively for the fact that all are sinful in the eyes of God in Romans 1:18-3:20, as he will summarize it in Romans 3:9-20. In Romans 1 though we will see the depravity to which sinful humanity can sink if their thoughts and actions go on unabated and against the Lord. We also see the punishment which the Lord turns the unrepentant sinner over to in said situation.

Romans 1:26-27 - The Wrath of God & The Sinfulness of Humanity

Romans 1:26-27 ~ For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

Here in Romans 1 we get a vivid view of the pagan culture. It is a world that will directly influence the early Church with its depraved godless nature. Without divine grace and mercy to reverse a trending pattern, the people described here will continue to fall away from God. In keeping with the context of Romans it needs to be noted that Paul’s intent is not to specifically demonize homosexuality but to show how the whole of humanity is debased and corrupted by sin by rejecting God. 

To show how humanity is unable to get a favorable verdict in God’s judgment without God’s pardon through Jesus Christ (Bruce 77). The picture he paints here is damning and extremely bleak. We see a people who have rejected God in exchange for lesser things (v.23), so God gave them over to their sins (v.24). Because of this rejection of God, they received the penalty they deserved (v.27). In this case, being given over to their own sins is part of that penalty and judgment. We see people(s) that have consciously chosen to swim against God's ordained tide.

Unnatural Acts

The direct addressing of the sin of homosexuality comes in verse 26. It is the fallout of having first rejected God (v.23). Because of the self-indulgence mentioned, God gave them over (women) to the very degrading passions that corrupted them. They are given over to πάθη/passions/lust of ἀτιμίας /shameful/vile and those things that are παρὰ/contrary to φύσιν/nature or more specifically contrary to nature’s law/order (Harder 659, Wuest 35-36). The very word φύσιν/phusin denotes the world of Creation (Harder 659).

So what is Paul talking about here? First, Paul is not releasing males or females from their obvious guilt. First he indicts the females (v.26) and then the males (v.27) for unnatural acts (v.26 & 27) with their hearts (idolatry)/bodies (sexual) (v.24) that lead to shame and dishonor. We see lesbianism and pederasty. Paul also shows that where the mind leads, the body will follow.

Furthermore, a clear context of sexuality can be seen in verse 27 when the ἄρσενες / arsenes / males left the natural χρῆσιν /use (in a sexual sense) of θηλείας/thleias/women and instead they were ἐξεκαύθησαν/burning or literally burned-out with desire or appetite for ἀλλήλους ἄρσενες/another male. The startling thing about the words used here is the intensity of word choice by Paul. They had completely given over to their sinful natures.

Gender Distinctions

Paul’s use of male and female here is also interesting because he could’ve easily used the words ανδρος /andros for man/male and γυνή/gune for woman/female but he does not. He uses ἄρσενες/arsenos and θηλείας/theleias. Paul is being deliberate in is usage of gender distinctions to draw our attention to the fact he is specifically contemplating the sexual differences or contrast of gender in this sexual context (Brown-Vol.2 569-570, Wuest 35-36). He then says that they will be, “receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” The words “due penalty” are ἀντιμισθίαν/antimisthian or recompense. It is the idea that they are being rightfully punished for what they have earned through their indecent and unnatural acts. These acts are not elaborated on in the text but the inferences made from the text are clear. They are sexual in nature based on the use of the words ὀρέξει / lust, σώματα / bodies and ἀσχημοσύνην / aschemosunen / acts (indecent).

In other words, there is a consequence that can be expected as ordained by divine law. When one violates a law by choice, there will be a penalty in accordance with Scripture. These were not involuntary acts. There is no disambiguation here by Paul. The people here are purposely committing unnatural homosexual acts by choice and are clearly in error. There is a clear tone of condemnation throughout this entire passage. What’s more is that there will be consequences for their actions. There is always a trade-off when one ἤλλαξαν/exchanges or changes (v.25) the glory of God for the image of a mortal man. Instead of the truths of God, these people accepted themselves and their own lies. They made themselves their own sexual golden calves. We therefore see a twisted form of sexual idolatry.

In the context of idolatry we begin to see another reason why homosexuality is abhorrent to God and needs to be acted on so sternly. In rejecting God and a love for God, men (and women) literally turned to images of themselves (v.23 corruptible humanity), same-sex and all in a form of sexual and idolatrous narcissism (Gagnon 747). It is as if homosexuality is the ultimate form of idolatry. To make oneself (or another human being like the self) the sole object of worship, desire, love or lust. Homosexuals therefore not only reject God and His statutes, they end up adding insult to injury lusting and loving after the flawed created being (v.23) that has been given over to their sin (v.24). It is a self-perpetuating downward cycle of sin and depredation.

It then makes sense why they would heartedly approved of one another’s sins as they are literally in love with themselves or those like themselves and God is conspicuously absent from their lives. It seems as if it is a self-inbreeding sin that continues to reap rotten fruits. To pursue this course in vain is a clear sign of unrepentant behavior and unrepentant behavior eventually incurs the wrath of God. That wrath already begins to manifest itself right within the passage when we see that the perversion that these people commit becomes the very thing by which they are judged. They “receive the due penalty in their own persons (NIV: in themselves).” To be given over completely to one’s own sin becomes its own judgment.

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