Romans 1 and Human Sexuality

I have been troubled for some time about the way Evangelical Christians use Scripture when addressing moral issues. The recent fraught discussions over human sexuality are a case in point.

When we consider how to use the Bible to address contemporary morality, it is crucial that we consider the manner in which Scripture speaks of certain issues when we use biblical texts to address contemporary morality. Christians often cite discrete biblical texts (“verses”) and ignore the communicative situations of which they are part. Doing so turns biblical texts into weapons in the culture war with tragically destructive results.

Sadly, this has happened to biblical texts that mention same gender erotic relations.

I enjoyed a conversation recently with a friend about how to help pastors handle biblical texts like Romans 1:26-27. We talked about the contextual factors that need to be taken into account in understanding how this text could contribute to the discussion.

Because Paul refers to homosexual relations within the context of his overall presentation to the Roman Christians, it is important to take this larger communicative situation into account when Christians talk about issues related to human sexuality. I am referring to the thrust of the entire letter.

I plan to write several posts to elaborate each of these factors, but I thought it would be helpful to lay them all out in advance to indicate where I’m going with this.

  1. Paul names same-gender erotic relations as degraded human behavior in order to bait a group of Christians in Rome into having an aroused sense of satisfaction in God’s judgment on others (Rom 1:18-32);
  2. he does this so that he might then round on this group and expose the problem of passing judgment (Rom 2-3).
  3. This group sees itself as more committed to Scripture than are other Christians (Rom 2-3).
  4. Paul identifies God in Romans as behaving in a way that scandalizes Christians who think they are more committed to Scripture than are others, and are therefore worthy of judging other Christians (Rom 4:5).
  5. Paul indicates that when Christians pass judgment on other Christians they turn Scripture into a weapon in the hands of the cosmic powers of Sin and Death that aim to destroy the church (Rom 7:7-25).
  6. When Christians stop passing judgment on one another, Scripture is no longer a weapon of Sin and Death to destroy the church and becomes the means whereby the Spirit transforms the church (Rom 8:1-2).
  7. Paul commands the factions in the Roman church to resist passing judgment on one another’s opinions (Rom 14:1-15:8).
  8. The climactic command of Romans is for Christians of differing opinions about lifestyle practices to offer hospitality to one another, just as Christ has embraced both groups (Rom 15:7-8).

It seems to me that taking the larger thrust of Scripture into account would radically reshape the way Christians speak of human sexuality.

7 thoughts on “Romans 1 and Human Sexuality

  1. Pingback: scripture is rooted and grounded in the gospel « Jesus community

  2. Paul

    This post reminded me of the perspective on Romans 1:18-32 in a sermon I preached on this passage. In a conservative Seventh Day Adventist church the exegetical efforts of Brendan Byrne and Douglas Campbell were my inspiration for preaching the gospel out of this passage and applying it. I found inspiration in this passage from Byrne’s small commentary on Galatians and Romans:

    “What we have to keep in mind is that neither this frame of reference nor the view of God that it projects corresponds to what ultimately emerges from the letter. It will in fact be countermanded or at least drastically revised very shortly when Paul returns to a positive statement of what the Gospel reveals in 3: 21–26. Paul is actually entering here into the theological worldview of the teacher—possibly the worldview that he himself lived and worked out of during his persecuting years prior to his conversion to Christ and putting the teacher on trial, so to speak, within that rigorous frame of reference.”

  3. Donald Johnson

    I like what Doug Campbell has to say about Rom 1:18-32; that is it Paul putting words into the mouth of a hypothetical adversary, so that he can have a debate with that adversary in Rom 2:1ff and show him how he is wrong. I agree with his analysis in this case as I see Paul as a Torah keeping Jew all his life, per Acts 21, and the end of Rom 1 goes way beyond Torah.

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