Understanding Romans 1:18-32

This is perhaps the hardest passage to dismiss because it is so clear. That, of course, has not stopped people proposing alternative interpretations. We will summarise the key teachings of this passage at the end of this section. In the meantime, let us consider some of the objections.

Objection: What does Paul mean by “unnatural” sexual

relationships?

The argument here is that homosexual men and women are not even being addressed in this passage, only heterosexuals who are indulging in homosexual practice i.e. who are doing what is unnatural for them. Homosexuality per se is not wrong. In fact, since homosexuality is natural for homosexuals it would be sinful for them to engage in heterosexual sex.

Response

There is a certain logic here but it is extremely weak, and fails when we look at the actual passage. It is another attempt to avoid what should be plain. Paul uses slightly unusual words here for men and women – words that speaks of men and women in a general sense and that emphasise gender. There is nothing in the text itself that suggests Paul was specifically talking about heterosexual men, but, rather, to all men and women. Furthermore, saying that these people “are inflamed with lust for one another” indicates that it is those who are attracted to their own sex who are being addressed rather than those to whom this really doesn’t appeal except for its sexual novelty. Contrary to the objection, Paul is talking about those who are same-sex attracted. In fact, Paul is saying that same-sex sexual acts are themselves unnatural. The natural thing is for men to have sex with women, not with other men or for women to have sex with other women. In any case, it is a strange argument that says that something condemned as sinful is not sinful for one group of people – specifically those people who find it natural. In this section, Paul lists numerous sins of which homosexual sex is but one. Presumably though, pro-gay proponents would not apply the same argument to those other sins. In other words, hopefully no godly person would say that, for example, God-hating (v.30) is not sinful if the God-hater finds hating God natural.

Objection: Paul’s concern in this section is idolatry.

Response

Paul does mention idolatry and it is linked to the sexual sins by the “therefore” at the beginning of v.24. The thought sequence is as follows. Note that Paul uses the pronoun “they” but we could easily substitute “we” since this is a diagnosis of the condition of all people apart from the grace of God. a. God will judge all godlessness and wickedness in human beings because… (v.18) b. People have ample evidence of God (vv.19-20) c. Nevertheless, they reject Him (v.21) d. They therefore become blind and confused (v.21) e. They forfeit the glory of the immortal God, instead worshipping idols (v.23) f. Therefore, God “gave them over” to the sinful desires of their hearts and to sexual impurity (v.24) g. They forfeited truth for a lie and worship created things (v.25) h. Therefore God “gave them over” to shameful lust (v.26) i. Contrary to nature, women have sex with women and men with men (vv.26-27) j. Rejecting God, God “gave them over to” a depraved mind (v.28) k. Their lives are full of all manner of evil (vv.29-31) l. They know what is right and continue to do wrong and to approve others doing wrong (v.32) When people (despite all that God has done to reveal Himself) reject God, they instead worship idols. The consequence is confusion and distorted thinking – spiritual blindness. People no longer see the truth. As a consequence, God takes His hands off us and allows us to deviate into sin of all sorts. We make the choices. God gives us that freedom. This is a general diagnosis of the human condition. There is no suggestion in this passage that Paul is referring only to sins committed in the context of cultic idolatry. When we reject God, all of life becomes idolatry. We worship things other than God and that leads us into serious sin. Homosexual acts are not the only sin mentioned here but, significantly, they are listed first and described at some length. Homosexuality is a prime example of the sinfulness that follows the rejection of God. And homosexuality (like all of the other sins listed here) is an example of idolatry – the idolatry of lust and defiance and sensuality and pleasure-seeking, above the worship of God. Again, consistency would require that we also agree that murder (mentioned in v.29) is only wrong if practised in the context of idolatry. Nobody could successfully argue that.

Objection: This passage refers to excessive or promiscuous

homosexuality.

Because Paul refers to these people as being “inflamed with lust for one another” some will argue that as long as they are in more ‘responsible’ relationships, it doesn’t apply to them.

Response

Again, nothing in this passage supports that interpretation. Paul simply talks about people indulging in these acts. He doesn’t specify how many partners are involved or the frequency. Homosexual acts, in whatever context, are sinful.

A Summary Of Romans 1

This is an extremely important passage for us to understand in the context of this issue. It is the most extended treatment in the Bible and it is not hampered by (supposed) confusion about the translation of words. Paul is very clear that he is talking about men having sex with men and women having sex with women. It is the only passage where lesbianism is specifically identified. It is also important in that it locates homosexual acts in a broader theological context of rebellion against God and its consequences. Note the following crucially important points a. Homosexuality is a consequence of rejecting God. It is a visible sign of human depravity. b. That rejection of God is defiant, not accidental. There is ample evidence of the character of God but people reject it. c. Homosexuality is an aspect of idolatry. It is a visible example of putting other things (lust etc.) ahead of God. d. Those who reject God become confused in their thinking. What is specifically said to be sinful, they see as being right and loving. The defence of homosexuality demonstrates confused, worldly thinking. Those who reject God do not understand spiritual things and cannot rightly interpret the scriptures. Everything looks different to them. They think they are wise but they are actually fools. e. Depraved thinking leads to depraved actions (v.28). f. People who reject God swap what is valuable for what is ultimately utterly useless. Note the references to what people have “exchanged”. (Please remember that this is not exclusively about homosexuals but all people who reject God.) All of those choices are incredibly sad. Cumulatively, they are absolutely tragic. Note the reality of the last choice listed. V.32 says that they know that doing the things listed in this passage results in death. Note also the reference to God’s wrath in v.18. And yet they continue to do them. How terrible is that? People choose judgement. They choose to face God’s wrath. It is unbelievable and yet the daily choice of billions. People would rather have temporary, sinful pleasure than eternal life. That is a terrible choice. g. Not only do they do these things themselves, they approve others doing them (v.32). In other words, they lead other people into God’s wrath which, in itself is a terrible sin. Jesus said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.  Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:6-7. See also Ezekiel 33) Given the biblical teaching, it is utterly confusing that churches would argue that homosexuality (or any of these sins) should be approved within the church. What is going on? Are we seeing the futile thinking and darkened, foolish hearts? How can these things be? Related pages Read the passage
v.21 Glorifying and thanking God Futile thinking and foolish, darkened hearts v.22 Wisdom Foolishness v.23 The glory of God Images of people and animals v.25 Truth A lie v.25 Worship of the Creator Worship of created things v.28 The knowledge of God A depraved mind v.32 Life Death.
© 2017 Peter Cheyne
A Christian’s Guide To Homosexuality
Truth In Love
Main sections Main sections

Understanding

Romans 1:18-32

This is perhaps the hardest passage to dismiss because it is so clear. That, of course, has not stopped people proposing alternative interpretations. We will summarise the key teachings of this passage at the end of this section. In the meantime, let us consider some of the objections.

Objection: What does Paul mean by

unnatural” sexual relationships?

The argument here is that homosexual men and women are not even being addressed in this passage, only heterosexuals who are indulging in homosexual practice i.e. who are doing what is unnatural for them. Homosexuality per se is not wrong. In fact, since homosexuality is natural for homosexuals it would be sinful for them to engage in heterosexual sex.

Response

There is a certain logic here but it is extremely weak, and fails when we look at the actual passage. It is another attempt to avoid what should be plain. Paul uses slightly unusual words here for men and women – words that speaks of men and women in a general sense and that emphasise gender. There is nothing in the text itself that suggests Paul was specifically talking about heterosexual men, but, rather, to all men and women. Furthermore, saying that these people “are inflamed with lust for one another” indicates that it is those who are attracted to their own sex who are being addressed rather than those to whom this really doesn’t appeal except for its sexual novelty. Contrary to the objection, Paul is talking about those who are same-sex attracted. In fact, Paul is saying that same-sex sexual acts are themselves unnatural. The natural thing is for men to have sex with women, not with other men or for women to have sex with other women. In any case, it is a strange argument that says that something condemned as sinful is not sinful for one group of people – specifically those people who find it natural. In this section, Paul lists numerous sins of which homosexual sex is but one. Presumably though, pro-gay proponents would not apply the same argument to those other sins. In other words, hopefully no godly person would say that, for example, God-hating (v.30) is not sinful if the God- hater finds hating God natural.

Objection: Paul’s concern in this section is

idolatry.

Response

Paul does mention idolatry and it is linked to the sexual sins by the “therefore” at the beginning of v.24. The thought sequence is as follows. Note that Paul uses the pronoun “they” but we could easily substitute “we” since this is a diagnosis of the condition of all people apart from the grace of God. a. God will judge all godlessness and wickedness in human beings because… (v.18) b. People have ample evidence of God (vv.19- 20) c. Nevertheless, they reject Him (v.21) d. They therefore become blind and confused (v.21) e. They forfeit the glory of the immortal God, instead worshipping idols (v.23) f. Therefore, God “gave them over” to the sinful desires of their hearts and to sexual impurity (v.24) g. They forfeited truth for a lie and worship created things (v.25) h. Therefore God “gave them over” to shameful lust (v.26) i. Contrary to nature, women have sex with women and men with men (vv.26-27) j. Rejecting God, God “gave them over to” a depraved mind (v.28) k. Their lives are full of all manner of evil (vv.29- 31) l. They know what is right and continue to do wrong and to approve others doing wrong (v.32) When people (despite all that God has done to reveal Himself) reject God, they instead worship idols. The consequence is confusion and distorted thinking – spiritual blindness. People no longer see the truth. As a consequence, God takes His hands off us and allows us to deviate into sin of all sorts. We make the choices. God gives us that freedom. This is a general diagnosis of the human condition. There is no suggestion in this passage that Paul is referring only to sins committed in the context of cultic idolatry. When we reject God, all of life becomes idolatry. We worship things other than God and that leads us into serious sin. Homosexual acts are not the only sin mentioned here but, significantly, they are listed first and described at some length. Homosexuality is a prime example of the sinfulness that follows the rejection of God. And homosexuality (like all of the other sins listed here) is an example of idolatry – the idolatry of lust and defiance and sensuality and pleasure-seeking, above the worship of God. Again, consistency would require that we also agree that murder (mentioned in v.29) is only wrong if practised in the context of idolatry. Nobody could successfully argue that.

Objection: This passage refers to excessive or

promiscuous homosexuality.

Because Paul refers to these people as being “inflamed with lust for one another” some will argue that as long as they are in more ‘responsible’ relationships, it doesn’t apply to them.

Response

Again, nothing in this passage supports that interpretation. Paul simply talks about people indulging in these acts. He doesn’t specify how many partners are involved or the frequency. Homosexual acts, in whatever context, are sinful.

A Summary Of Romans 1

This is an extremely important passage for us to understand in the context of this issue. It is the most extended treatment in the Bible and it is not hampered by (supposed) confusion about the translation of words. Paul is very clear that he is talking about men having sex with men and women having sex with women. It is the only passage where lesbianism is specifically identified. It is also important in that it locates homosexual acts in a broader theological context of rebellion against God and its consequences. Note the following crucially important points a. Homosexuality is a consequence of rejecting God. It is a visible sign of human depravity. b. That rejection of God is defiant, not accidental. There is ample evidence of the character of God but people reject it. c. Homosexuality is an aspect of idolatry. It is a visible example of putting other things (lust etc.) ahead of God. d. Those who reject God become confused in their thinking. What is specifically said to be sinful, they see as being right and loving. The defence of homosexuality demonstrates confused, worldly thinking. Those who reject God do not understand spiritual things and cannot rightly interpret the scriptures. Everything looks different to them. They think they are wise but they are actually fools. e. Depraved thinking leads to depraved actions (v.28). f. People who reject God swap what is valuable for what is ultimately utterly useless. Note the references to what people have “exchanged”. (Please remember that this is not exclusively about homosexuals but all people who reject God.) All of those choices are incredibly sad. Cumulatively, they are absolutely tragic. Note the reality of the last choice listed. V.32 says that they know that doing the things listed in this passage results in death. Note also the reference to God’s wrath in v.18. And yet they continue to do them. How terrible is that? People choose judgement. They choose to face God’s wrath. It is unbelievable and yet the daily choice of billions. People would rather have temporary, sinful pleasure than eternal life. That is a terrible choice. g. Not only do they do these things themselves, they approve others doing them (v.32). In other words, they lead other people into God’s wrath which, in itself is a terrible sin. Jesus said, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.  Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:6-7. See also Ezekiel 33) Given the biblical teaching, it is utterly confusing that churches would argue that homosexuality (or any of these sins) should be approved within the church. What is going on? Are we seeing the futile thinking and darkened, foolish hearts? How can these things be? Related pages Read the passage
v.21 Glorifying and thanking God Futile thinking and foolish, darkened hearts v.22 Wisdom Foolishness v.23 The glory of God Images of people and animals v.25 Truth A lie v.25 Worship of the Creator Worship of created things v.28 The knowledge of God A depraved mind v.32 Life Death.
© Peter Cheyne 2017.
A Christian’s Guide To Homosexuality
Truth In Love
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