Paul on homosexuality

I have been corresponding with a friend on the subject of homosexuality. In our day and age, it is imperative that we have clear understanding of what the Bible teaches regarding this topic, because people are going to ask. A good place to start is Paul’s letter to the Romans, where speaks on this subject at length.

Rom. 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

Rom. 1:26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 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 and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

There is much that could be gleaned from these passages and Piper’s sermons (1, 2) on these passages are helpful. However, I would like to focus on the main point that Paul is making here and it is stunning. In verse 25, man has “exchanged the truth of God for a life” and “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator”. Here, man has given himself to idolatry, and has dishonored God. Even though God made us to worship Him and serve Him (Rom. 1:19-20), we have turned away from Him and given ourselves to idols and lies. Notice, at the root of all sin is self-pride and self-worship. Idolatry and self-worship is fundamentally unnatural. As a result of this, God gave us over to a sin that would be an outward display of our inward unnatural idolatry, namely our abandoning of our natural sexual functions for the unnatural (vs. 24, 26-27). And notice the tragic irony: Just as our idolatry is rooted in self-worship, so is homosexuality a form of self-worship, in that men are inflamed with lust for men, and women for women. All this is unnatural and a departure from God’s original created order from Genesis 1-2 that men and women are made to have sex with each other.

There are scholars that argue that Paul was referring to specific forms of homosexuality, such as pederasty (a sexual relationship between an older man and young boy), heterosexuals acting as homosexuals, or homosexual relationships that are not monogamous. Yet, knowing Paul’s Jewish background, I am not convinced by their arguments. Thomas Schreiner states it well:

Nevertheless, there is little doubt that Paul condemns all forms of homosexuality. Some in the Greco-Roman world defended and even celebrated homosexuality. But the Jewish tradition is unanimous in condemning it (cf. Gen. 19:1-28; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Deut. 23:17-18; Wis 14:26; T Levi 17.11; T. Naph. 3:3-4, Sib. Or. 3:596-600; Ag. Ap. 2.24, 37; Spec. Laws 3.7). No evidence exists to the contrary. The most natural way of interpreting Paul is to interpret him in continuity with his Jewish tradition. The burden of proof certainly lies on those who see some window for the acceptability of homosexuality in Paul. To read the text as if some exceptions exists is eisegesis. The text contains a general condemnation, with no indication that some forms of homosexuality are acceptable. Nowhere else in Jewish tradition, in the New Testament, or in Paul is there any hint that the practice would ever be admissible. (Schreiner; Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, p. 317)

Clearly, the apostle Paul teaches that all forms of homosexuality are sinful. Whether or not we believe he is right is another issue, at the very least, let us acknowledge that this is what he teaches!

Yet, when people ask what we believe, communicating this single point is not enough. Paul does not end his letter in Romans 1:25! Paul’s point in establishing Romans 1 (and 2-3) is to prepare the way for the Good News of Romans 3:23-26:

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

In communicating the sinfulness of homosexuality, we could make two terrible mistakes. First, we could fail to communicate the hope of the gospel. Our goal in speaking the truth about the sin in our lives is not to leave people condemned and hopeless in their sin. Our goal is ultimately to bring people to a place where they see their guilt before God, so that the news of a sin-bearing Savior will sound like the good news that it is. Second, we could fail by demanding change in the homosexual person before they can receive gospel. The forgiveness of the gospel must be held out freely, to be freely received without any pre-requisite change in the lives of sinners. Sanctification comes after justification. Obedience comes after faith. To expect otherwise would be a futile works-based righteousness. This is the pattern that we see in Paul. It is only after the gospel has been freely offered and received, that Paul gives this command to those who once gave their bodies to dishonor (Rom. 1:24):

Rom. 12:1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

Helpful resources: Thoughts on Homosexuality from Dan’s blog, (tons of thoughtful articles and commentaries), Desiring God, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ Resources

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