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Romans 1:24-27

Passage IV: Romans 1:24-27

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,

25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural,

27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (RSV)

To understand what Paul is writing about we must look at the event as a whole and not isolate a mere portion of it. Each verse in this story gives us a glimpse into the situation.

Verse 24: “Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.” If we are painting a picture, it begins with the image of LUST.

Verse 25: “…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” Now there is a LIE as well as IDOLATRY involved (i.e. worshipping something other than God).

Verse 26: “God gave them up to dishonorable passions…” Now DISHONORABLE PASSIONS are presented. Looking back at this now we see this as a situation of lust, lies, idolatry, and dishonorable passions.

Verse 26 and 27 continue: “Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another…”

Looking at the men first will help to clarify the passage: “The men likewise gave up natural relations with women…” It is easy to overlook what this is saying because of the interpretation that has been ingrained into our minds through poor teaching, but read that carefully. They gave up natural relations with women, and then had sexual relations with one another. There is a movement from point A (having natural relations with women) to point B (giving it up, and having sexual relations with other men). The word translated as “gave up” is the Greek word aphente meaning: to give up, leave behind, forsake, or divorce. How can you give up something you do not have? How can you divorce something you are not bound to? These men, we see, divorced themselves from their own nature, that of heterosexuality (natural relations with women), and were consumed with passion for one another. Women did likewise. As we see, Paul is talking about heterosexual individuals filled with lust and engaging in homosexual sex, which is contrary to their nature.

Why would men do that? As any biblical scholar will tell you: “Context is everything.” This is a situation of lust, falsehood, idolatry, and dishonorable passions. In this account there are a number of men and a number of women. Both an accurate reading of this text, and a little historical knowledge would identify this situation as an orgy, wherein everyone is filled with lust and “dishonorable passions” having sex with whomever however. But why would Paul be talking about orgies? A little Old Testament research uncovers the pagan practice of “sacred sexual orgies.” Baal was the Canaanite deity that was worshipped with sexual orgies on Mount Peor in Moab, a pagan practice with which Paul would have been familiar. With this contextual understanding let us read this story again:

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error.“

Anyone who isolates verses 26 and 27 to condemn homosexual relations as unnatural is interjecting their own prejudice into these verses and reading this letter entirely outside of context. Even if we were to isolate that phrase it could only be used to condemn heterosexuals who go against their own heterosexual nature and engage in homosexual activity. As Peter J. Gomes, preacher to Harvard University, further clarifies in his book The Good Book, “It is not clear that Saint Paul distinguished, as we must, between homosexual persons and heterosexual persons who behave like homosexuals, but what is clear is that what is ‘unnatural’ is the one behaving after the manner of the other”(italics mine).