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Romans 1

Of all the passages that are used against the LGBTQ community, this one can be the most challenging to understand. I do believe that there has been a lot of misuse of the first three chapters of Romans and I had to remind myself that this writing needs to be seen in its entirety, not with chapter and verse divisions.



James Brownson, Colby Martin, Dave Jackson and Kathy Baldock all inform my current understanding. One thing I have to keep going back to is that none of the passages represent equal status, consensual, monogamous, covenantal relationships that are represented within the legalization of same sex marriage in the United States.


I like the way Colby Martin paints a picture of the purpose of this passage. From 49-54CE, all Jews were expelled from the city of Rome. This would have included Jewish Christians and would have meant that the church in Rome would have been comprised of only Gentiles during that period. Chapter 1 addresses the Gentile Christians, listing some of the behaviors and excesses that can be found in Gentiles in Rome who are idolaters and who turn away from God.


James Brownson points out that Rome had recently seen the behavior of the Imperial House in which incest, rape, lust and violence was the norm. Gaius Caligula ruled from 37-41 CE and behavior in his court was “over-the-top lust, self-centeredness and greed.”


Colby Martin has an interesting take on Chapter One and describes it as an epideictic discourse, railing against the current environment. It would not be dissimilar to some of the political rants that are heard in media today where one side exaggerates all that the other side does. Not all is completely true, but the audience gets the picture that Gentiles in Rome who did not follow Christ conducted themselves in the fashion described in Chapter One.


Chapter Two is addressed to Jewish Christians with a strong admonishment against judging others, while Chapter Three wraps up the discourse indicating that none of us are without sin.


For the specifics of Romans 1:26-27 you need to check a variety of translations.


My father’s Scofield Bible from 1943 says “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 all the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.”


My Jewish Study Bible states, “This is why God has given them unto degrading passions; so that their women exchange natural sexual relations for unnatural; and likewise the men, giving up natural relations with the opposite sex, burn with passion for one another, men committing shameful acts with other men and receiving in their own persons the penalty appropriate for their perversions.”


And the Message paraphrase states: “Worse followed. Refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either—women didn’t know how to be women, men didn’t know how to be men. Sexually confused, they abused and defiled one another, women with women, men with men—all lust, no love. And then they paid for it, oh, how they paid for it—emptied of God and love, godless and loveless wretches.”


Of course, those who read this in the traditional, conservative and anti-LGBTQ manner, read this passage as condemnation of same sex behavior and therefore of all who are not heterosexuals.


I don’t think it is that clear. Think about it. The chapter is talking about the behavior of those who refuse to follow God. What about the Christian who realizes they are gay, who has never had a partner and who strives to follow God? What if they date and then choose to marry their same sex partner and they still follow God? How do they fit into this passage?


You will also read commentary that the “unnatural” in the passage refers to non-procreative sex. Maybe oral sex? Anal sex? Could it be “non-coital heterosexual intercourse” as James Brownson wonders? Kathy Baldock describes the positions of the penetrator and the penetrated and wonders if this condemnation is not of homosexuals, but of a man taking the lower role (penetrated) that belongs to a woman in this intensely hierarchal society.


The passage is not as clear as some would like to portray it. So, what do you do? Isn’t the Bible supposed to be clear?


That is where I turned to the overarching message of the New Testament.

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