Homosexuality, the Bible and the Church - Part 4
The following blog post is an adaptation of a sermon preached on May 24, 2015 and adapted June, 2017. Much of the ideas of this post arise from the following works – Albert Mohler Jr, “Homosexual Marriage as a Challenge to the Church: Biblical and Cultural Reflections” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ; Denny Burk, “Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful,” JETS, Volume 58, 1 (March 2015); Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Teach About Homosexuality?; Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice. As well as the following sermons:
John Piper (“The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality, Part 1 and 2,
Ligon Duncan, (“God Gave Them Over, 1 and 2,
This blog deals with Romans 1:18-32 as it relates to the issue of homosexuality. As we begin to deal specifically with this text, we need to note one thing immediately. Paul is not concerned directly with the issue of homosexuality. His concern is much bigger than that and thus it is applicable to ALL of us. Now this DOES NOT mean that this passage can be pushed aside regarding this issue. Not at all, for it is too pervasive and too clear a theme in these verses. But to hear Paul correctly we do need set the overarching theme as it applies to ALL of us so that we can see what Paul is teaching in general, and only then can we see Paul’s specific message regarding homosexuality.
The first 17 verses of Romans 1 are largely introductory in a manner that we would expect of an epistle, but they also introduce the gospel as the theme of the book of Romans. In vv 16-17 he gives a summarization of the gospel, the theme of the whole of the rest of his book; and he tells why he’s so excited about the gospel. But as Paul moves into v 18 he backs things up a bit. Before the gospel can be seen by all as the beautiful thing that it is, we need to understand depravity, and the deep, deep problem of sin. So from 1:18 all the way to 3:20, Paul will explain the problem of sin to us so that we see why we need the gospel. What Paul is doing is empirically demonstrating for us total depravity. One commentator has said rightly that total depravity is one point of Christian doctrine you can prove pretty clearly. You don’t have to accept it on faith. You can demonstrate it, and that’s exactly what Paul is doing in this passage. But more than that Paul is explaining why we are all sinners, and he’s explaining to us why we need the gospel so desperately. To do this with as much impact as he can, Paul is going to use as an example of the depths of sin a behavior and a lifestyle which has become quite normalized in our Canadian society – homosexuality. It is in this way, that Paul’s overall teaching about sin and depravity speaks loudly and clearly about homosexuality.
Now I’d like to look at vv 18-23 very briefly. In these verses Paul is saying a few very simple yet profound things:
Everybody knows God. He is clearly seen in the world around us (v 19); it is “plain” to all. And not just an esoteric sense of spirituality, but the personal God of Scripture himself and some of his attributes (v 20) are “clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
Everybody knows good from evil, right from wrong due to the moral law of God being written on every persons heart (1:32; 2:12-16)
Everybody knows that God judges evil. (Chs 1-3)
Nevertheless, though they know God, and though they know they ought to worship God, they don’t worship God. And when they don’t worship God, they worship anything. And among the anything that they worship are themselves, their own sinful desires, and even beasts, he says. They revert to idolatry. And that idolatry plunges them, Paul says, into the darkness of heart. Again, we see the issue of the glory of God playing the main role here. (vv 18-23)
THEREFORE, the wrath of God is revealed. How? In the handing over of humanity to even greater sin, to even deeper depravity. In other words, God’s punishment for sin, is more sin. More idolatry. More self-centeredness. Deeper depravity. Paul gives three examples, three sinful exchanges, that demonstrate the depravity which Paul has just described and God’s judgement of it, in a clear fashion. In vv 24-25 he gives example/exchange one. In vv 26-27, he gives example/exchange two. In verses 28 to the end of the chapter, he gives example/exchange three. The structure of these example/exchange passages is really quite simple. John Piper outlines these sequences of thought like this:
Step 1 - Human beings exchange God for what God has made; we prefer the creature to the Creator.
Step 2 - God hands us over to what we, in our sinfulness, prefer.
Step 3 - We act out externally and bodily in our sexual relations which is a dramatization of the internal, spiritual condition of the fallen human soul
The examples/exchanges then look like this:
Step 1 “They exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man . . .” (v 23).
Step 2 “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (v 24a).
Step 3 “. . . so that their bodies would be dishonored among them” (v 24b).
Step 1 “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (v 25). This parallels v 23 – they exchanged the glory of God for images.
Step 2 “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions” (v 26). That parallels v 24 – “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.”
Step 3 “. . . 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” (vv 26b-27). That corresponds to v 24b – “. . . so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” So the dishonoring of the body that Paul had in mind in v 24 is specifically homosexual behavior. ‘It is the clearest example on a horizontal plain of our vertical rebellion against God.’ (DeYoung)
Step 1 “They did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer” (v 28). That corresponds to vv 23 and 25 – they exchanged the glory of God for images and they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Here – they simply don’t want God in their knowledge any more.
Step 2 “God gave them over to a depraved mind” (v 28b). That corresponds to v 24, “God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity,” and v 26, “God gave them over to degrading passions.” This was God’s response to the universal exchange of God for the creature.
Step 3 “[He gave them over . . .] to do those things which are not proper” (v 28c). That corresponds to v 24b – “. . .so that their bodies would be dishonored among them,” and to vv 26b-27, where the women and the men are pursuing homosexual relations. So homosexual behavior is parallel with dishonoring the body and doing what is not proper.
I want to deal w/ two contrary arguments that have been made concerning and / or from this passage. For a more in-depth exegetical response to these and other issues raised out of Romans 1 see Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice.
Contrary argument #1 -- What Paul is denouncing in 1:26b-27 is heterosexual people forsaking what is natural for them and engaging in promiscuous homosexual relations which are unnatural for them. Paul writes, “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.” So, the argument goes, it is not unnatural when a homosexual person has homosexual relations, it is only unnatural when heterosexual persons have homosexual relations and (by implication) homosexual persons have heterosexual relations. The ungodly, then, that Paul has in mind were those who are bisexual, they are capable of heterosexual activity and are in fact oriented this way, yet they lusted after new experiences, and thus sought out homosexual encounters.
There are at least three major problems w/ this way of interpreting these verses.
The first one comes from the clear understanding of the layout of the Paul’s argument that we just over viewed. To argue this way is to read into the passage more than what is there. One simply cannot read this text and come to any other conclusion then that Paul sees homosexuality as sin - no matter the way you get there. Paul sees homosexual behavior as a sin, not according to who practices it or by what motivation they seek it, but b/c that act itself, as a truth-suppressing, self- glorifying exchange is contrary to God’s design for humanity. (DeYoung)
When Paul says in v 26, “For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature,” the phrase for “contrary to nature” is a stock phrase in Greek ethical literature of the time for homosexual behavior per se, not for homosexual behavior among heterosexuals - as though that’s what made it unnatural. We find many writers outside of the New Testament using this phrase to refer to homosexuality (DeYoung cites Plato, Plutarch, Philo, Josephus, Stoic philosophers and others; cf Robert Gagnon, The New Testament and Homosexual Practice) So it is very unlikely that Paul is arguing that what’s wrong and unnatural about these folks is that they are heterosexuals by nature and acting contrary to nature by doing homosexual acts. “Contrary to nature” in this text, as in most Hellenistic literature of the time, meant homosexual behavior per se. Paul regards as unnatural all homosexuality.
In v 27a Paul says, “the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another,” Now if these were men who were by nature heterosexual, and who were going against their natural desires, what is the meaning of “they burned in their desire toward one another”? It is a very strong term. Does a “natural” heterosexual burn with lust for another man? Not inthe way Paul describes here. And if not, it is very unlikely that what Paul is dealing with here is the subject of heterosexuals engaging in homosexuality.
In sum – “According to Paul’s logic, men and women who engage in same-sex sexual behavior – even if they are being true to their own feelings and desires – have suppressed God’s truth in unrighteousness. They have exchanged the fittedness of male-female relations for those that are contrary to nature.” (DeYoung, 55)
Contrary argument #2 -- The problems Paul identifies here are pederasty (homosexual relations b/n a man and a boy) or master-slave relationships or sexual abuse; anything but consensual homosexual relationships – These arguments are pervasive, but really amount to nothing, for they are indefensible without circ-de-sole exegesis. For example (from DeYoung and Gagnon), we have no historical examples of adult-youth sexual intimacy among women in the ancient world. We also cannot be speaking of forced or abusive homosexual relationships because of v 27 which states that both parties were “consumed w/ passion for one another.” Thus gender is the point, not orientation or exploitation or domination. The issue is exchanging the natural relationship b/n a man and a woman for unnatural same-sex relationships. This contrary argument simply does not stand up to even surface level exegesis.
As we end this series of blog posts, let me reiterate something which I have said before. The vocabulary comes from John Piper. The healing of the homosexual soul, as with every other sin stained soul, will be the return of the glory God to its rightful place in our lives. We must, as the Westminster Shorter Catechism states, seek to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Moving in this direction is a sinners only hope. This begins, with grasping the gospel in your life and holding onto it for dear life. Put your faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of all your sins and for the gift of God’s righteousness and for the fulfillment of all his promises to you. The only sinner who can successfully battle his sins is a justified sinner.
Let me also remind you that Covenant Reformed Church is committed to reaching out in love and truth to all people. We will never turn away anyone who contends biblically against their own sexual temptation and we will seek to assist everyone in their battle to do so. This means that no matter what sin you are battling, if you are battling it, you are welcome at CRC. Let’s do battle together.
Soli Deo Gloria