Paul and Homosexuality (LGBT 11)

I’ve been a little distracted lately with the Annual Council of SDAs, so I have had to set aside this series on LGBTIQ and the church for a while. It’s time to get back to it, an issue that is not going away and one where most Christians have shallow or distorted knowledge. God always wants to operate on the basis of truth, but on issues like this, truth is sometimes hard to come by. I know I still have a lot to learn, but what I have learned so far seems to be very helpful to people whose opinion I respect and trust. So let me continue looking at some key biblical texts.

The most explicit and seemingly harshest condemnation of homosexuality in the Bible is found in Romans 1. Here’s the crucial portion: “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 forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 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 themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Rom 1:24-28). Homosexual actions are here condemned as a “dishonoring of their bodies,” as “dishonorable passions,” as “contrary to nature,” and as “what ought not to be done.” Many take this passage as license to condemn those who are “different” in the harshest terms possible. If God pours out His wrath against homosexuals (Rom 1:18), we ought to do the same. But before we blindly follow that kind of reading, let’s take a closer look at this passage in its context.

First of all, in Romans 1 the wrath of God is not poured out because of homosexuality. Homosexuality is not the cause of God’s wrath, it is the outcome of God’s wrath. Notice Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” The core reason that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven is that human being suppress the truth about God. Even if they don’t have Bibles, nature itself is evidence enough that God exists and that He is powerful (Rom 1:19-20). And if that is true, then human beings should honor Him and be loyal to Him. But “although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” (Romans 1:21). Instead of honoring God they became fools and made images of the created world to worship instead (Rom 1:22-23). So the core reason that God’s wrath is poured out is human rebellion. Deep in their hearts human beings knew God, but they turned away from Him and lost their reason.

But what is the wrath of God? For Paul, it is not God’s violent response to human rebellion, it is His turning away from sinners and allowing them to reap the consequences of their own choices. Three times in the following paragraph Paul says, “Therefore God gave up. . . to impurity. . . .” “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. . . .” “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Rom 1:24, 26, 28). Why does God give them up? “Because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom 1:25). Homosexuality is not the cause of God’s wrath, it is the outcome of God’s wrath. It is clear that Paul holds a very negative view of homosexual activity. It is contrary to the order of creation and an evidence of human brokenness. But the core reason for the wrath of God is not homosexual activity, it is suppressing the truth about God and refusing to be thankful for what we have all received from God. So homosexual activity is condemned in Scripture as a result of God’s wrath, not the cause of it. When it comes to dealing with people who struggle with their sexual and gender identity, such distinctions are very important.

11 thoughts on “Paul and Homosexuality (LGBT 11)

  1. Javier Vanegas

    Can you please clarify what do you mean by homosexuality being “the result of God’s wrath”?
    To me the underlying reasoning seems somewhat labored and confusing.
    Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      I may not have stated it well, but that is just based on the text. God’s wrath is against those who hide the truth about Him and fail to be thankful. Those are the core sins that trigger His wrath, not homosexual activity.
      Some of the ugliest forms of Christian response to homosexuality arise from the conviction that it is somehow the vilest of all sins and Paul is not saying that. It is one of many tragic results of human rebellion against God, but that rebellion is the core issue.

      Reply
      1. Javier Vanegas

        So, it is safe to say that the concept is that homosexuality is one of the results of man’s sinful nature, not that God’s wrath brought homosexuality upon man as some sort of punishment or retribution.

        Reply
  2. Carol

    Nice try, but that does not explain the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah! Homosexuality is sin, pure and simple. And, God will destroy sin and unrepentant sinners. Homosexuals included.

    Reply
  3. Zsombor

    Can you please share some info about any possible cultural distinction between the unbiblical and ungodly lifestyle Paul and Leviticus adressed, and the topic we are discussing called today as “homosexuality”?

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      As later blogs have brought out, the writers of Scripture did not address issues of orientation in the way that we understand it today, so their condemnations of homosexuality is about actions rather than orientation. At the practical, relational level that distinction is extremely important.

      Reply
  4. MICHAEL RADUCANU

    With all the due respect, sir, I believe that you twist the meaning of these verses to look and sound politically correct. In my humble opinion you take these texts out of context and overlook one key point in Paul’s analysis: “Professing to be wise, they became fools” (v. 22). Yes, they didn’t believe anymore that God is the Creator and “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v 18). Yes, they became rebellious. And that rebellion continues today.

    So, what was the lie, please? Let’s take a look at v. 20: “For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so they are without excuse.” Is it possible, without a stretch of its meaning, to believe that “the things that are made” refers to man and woman as different beings, separately created for a certain purpose? Both humans, nevertheless. But not to “worshiped and served the creatures, rather than the Creator”. And because of all this, due to the fact that they “became fools”, and “worshipped the creatures”, and “exchanged the natural use for what is against nature, or men burned in their lust for one another men”…, God gave them up.

    Please do not separate the disobedience (“human rebellion”, as you call it) from the homosexuality, which is in fact a practice resulting from disobedience and rebellion, because then you start making excuses for them, nothing else. That practice is “vile”, “shameful”, “wickedness”, and so forth, according to Paul. Having compassion doesn’t excuse us for not calling what sin is, or trying not to see the truth when it is right there, in front of our eyes. Your last sentence is quite disturbing: “When it comes to dealing with people who struggle with their sexual and gender identity, such distinctions are very important.” To me you look like you are trying to make a lot of “distinctions” for these people, when the TRUTH deals with black and white. The grey part, between black and white, is our understanding, in a positive way, our acceptance, compassion, and love. Sin, rebellion, lie, disobedience, transgression need to be called by their real name. And you don’t do that, unfortunately. Respectfully, MR.

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      On the exegesis of Romans 1 I follow the best conservative scholarship which I subject to my own careful examination of the Greek text. It seems to me that you are reading the texts in English (or another modern language) and reading through a modern filter. That doesn’t make you wrong about Paul’s intention necessarily, but when you contradict careful study of the original it should cause you a bit of hesitation in your certainty. Keep studying and keep thinking.

      Reply
      1. MICHAEL RADUCANU

        Sir, I quoted New King James Version. If this is not a good translation and uses a “filter” of some sorts, then the Andrews Study Bible is kind of useless, right? (As you know, they used this translation) And reading the Bible scholars’ opinions, I though that this is one of the best Bible translations. Anyway, I’ve read again the whole text and the context on which you made that argument and I don’t think that I am in the wrong. As you said, not being a pastor or Evangelical professional, I will keep reading and thinking, trying not to be influenced at all by the political environment that is surrounding me. And I hope you will do the same. All the best, God bless!

        Reply
        1. Jon Paulien Post author

          Sounds like the right approach, Michael. None of the scholars who worked on the Andrews Study Bible were thrilled with the choice of NKJV, which is based on a relative handful of late manuscripts. Having said that, the essence of the gospel is clear enough to be found in any translation.

          According to my site, this is the first time you have written yet you refer to an earlier communication, so I may be a bit lost as to what you are saying here.

          Reply

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