Nature or Nurture (Romans 1)
It’s been argued that the first time homosexuals, or homosexual acts are addressed in the New Testament is in Romans the 1st chapter (mainly verses 26 and 27). That is if you disregard the two occasions that eunuchs are mentioned (sorry, that’s another Bible Study). And like other scriptures, this one has been misinterpreted, taught in error, and caused much spiritual and emotional harm to same gender loving people.
The thing most people who erroneously teach this scripture seem to forget is, when interpreting scripture, you cannot just take one or two verses of a chapter, build a sermon, teach it as “God’s Word” and live it as a doctrine. You have to carefully see what the scripture (and all others relating to it) is saying. It’s been advised that we read the chapter before, and after the chapter we are studying so that we can get some type of contextual view of what the author was talking about. In this case, we are dealing with Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. In fact, the text in verse 7 says it…”my dear friends in Rome” (New Living Translation). Since that’s who he was addressing, we have to infer that he was dealing with their situation. Am I saying that he couldn’t have any relevant truth for 21st Century America? Not at all. I AM saying that if we are going to correctly interpret what is being said, we need to understand that first and foremost, who Paul was addressing was 1st Century Rome. Let’s take a closer look and find out what that truth is.
The first thing we need to address is the cultural climate of biblical Rome. It was a societal norm for people to be bisexual. And with that being the “normal” sexuality that society ascribed to, it was expected for everyone to be that way. Since now we know that all people aren’t bisexual (in fact most are heterosexual), we can understand how pressured a heterosexual or homosexual person would be to engage in acts that weren’t “natural” for him or her. The definition of the word “natural” in this text comes from the Greek word “phusikos”, meaning instinctive or native disposition. If a person is a native to some place, they were born there. So, a native disposition would be how a person is born. The word “nature” in this text likewise comes from the Greek word “phusis”, which means production or lined descent; growth by germination, or native disposition. Just keep “instinctive/native disposition” in mind.
When Paul talks about the “natural use” of the woman, he is coming from several different places. First from a place of male dominance that thought that the only use a woman has is having babies to continue the man’s lineage. That’s all. A woman was a man’s property (paid for with a dowry)…his “baby maker” per se. So any sexual deviation that would produce offspring was not looked upon favorably. In fact, not until this century did some in the church start teaching that sex had more that just a procreative purpose.
Secondly, Paul was coming from a sexual orientation angle. He was not making a blanket statement of what is and isn’t “natural”. He couldn’t have been. Science has proven that in all species of animals, homosexuality is present (ref. “Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity” by Bruce Bagemihl). So, since homosexuality occurs in nature, it cannot be considered unnatural. And since most people are instinctively heterosexual and that is their native disposition, it IS highly unnatural for one to do otherwise. In this scripture, Paul is telling the Romans that it is unnatural for a person to go against their “native disposition” or what is “instinct” for them and do something else with their bodies to fit in. Now, we can jump on the ex-gay and DL thing right here, but we don’t have the space or time. But do you get the point? If your nature is heterosexual, be that. If you are born homosexual, be that. If you indeed are bisexual, then that’s you. Don’t try to change who you are to fit societal norms. It’s like telling God that He made you the wrong way.
Next, Paul was dealing with some religious issues as well. Paul in fact is saying homosexual activity is not a sin, but a punishment for idol worship and faithlessness. It is a result of heterosexuals not worshipping God but His creation. Turning the truth into a lie. Denying God. His argument is, if a man (being straight) is SO confused and faithless that he cannot discern who God is when creation even tells of His existence, then it’s not so far fetched that that same man (being straight) would be confused sexually and do what is unnatural for him to do. These verses couldn’t be an blanket indictment against homosexuality in that most of the most highly anointed, profound, gifted, talented, and FAITHFUL Christians are homosexual people.
Finally, Paul was dealing with what was going on in Rome from the standpoint of a Jew. There were just some things that were not customary or “natural” for a good Jew to do. Not to say that there are no homosexual Jews, there are. But one must remember that Paul was a very well educated and respected man in his time. He was a good Jew who knew and tried his best to live by “the law” according to the Torah. So to be in another land (not native to Israelites) and submerged into another culture (Rome) trying to live according to how Jews “customarily” or “normally” lived, it must have been hard to do since the society was so different.
So, is Romans 1.26-27 a blanket indictment against homosexuals? With the information we have, we can say no. Paul was more than likely addressing cultural, religious, and orientation issues in this scripture. Contrary to popular opinion, the theme of this text isn’t homosexuality. In fact it isn’t about sexuality at all. It’s about people keeping in mind who God is. It’s about understanding that humanity is without excuse when it comes to reverencing God in that creation itself tells of His glory. It’s about understanding the truth and the fact that it comes from God. And lastly, it’s about not being judgmental or hypocritical. Remember when we said that one should study the chapter before and after the text being focused upon? Well, Romans Chapter 2.1-7 Paul gets on people who are pointing at those who have forgotten God and saying how wicked they are, yet are doing the same things. Bottom line, God judges sin. It doesn’t matter who you are. Make sure you are right with God for yourself. Let God handle the rest in His own way.