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ROMANS 1 AND HOMOSEXUALITY - John Stott

ROMANS 1 AND HOMOSEXUALITY - John Stott

Commentary

By John R.W. Stott

Romans 1, "Verses 26-27 are a crucial text in the contemporary debate about homosexuality. The traditional interpretation, that they describe and condemn all homosexual behavior, is being challenged by the gay lobby.

Three arguments are advanced.

First, it is claimed that the passage is irrelevant, on the ground that its purpose is neither to teach sexual ethics, not to expose vice, but rather to portray the outworkings of God's wrath. This is true. But if a certain sexual conduct is to be seen as the consequence of God's wrath, it must be displeasing to him.

Secondly, 'the likelihood is that Paul is thinking about pederasty' (sex with a boy) since 'there was no other form of male homosexuality in the Greco-Roman world', and that he is opposing it because of the humiliation and exploitation experienced by the youths involved.2 All one can say is the text itself contains no hint of it.

Thirdly, there is the question what Paul meant by 'nature'. Some homosexual people are urging that their relationships cannot be described as 'unnatural', since they are perfectly natural to them. John Boswell has written, for example, that 'the persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual people'. Hence Paul's statement that they 'abandoned' natural relations, and 'exchanged' them for unnatural (26-27).3

Richard Hays has written a thorough exegetical rebuttal of this interpretation of Romans 1, however. He provides ample contemporary evidence the opposition of 'natural' (kata physin) and 'unnatural' (para physin) was 'very frequently used...as a way of distinguishing between heterosexual and homosexual behavior'.4

Besides, differentiating between sexual orientation and sexual practice is a modern concept; 'to suggest that Paul intends to condemn homosexual acts only when they are committed by persons who are constitutionally heterosexual is to introduce a distinction entirely foreign to Paul's thought-world', 5 in fact a complete anachronism.

So then, we have no liberty to interpret the noun 'nature' as meaning 'my' nature, or the adjective 'natural' as meaning 'what seems natural to me'. On the contrary, physis ('natural') means God's created order. To act 'against nature' means to violate the order God has established, whereas to act 'according to nature' means to behave 'in accordance with the intention of the Creator'.6

Moreover, the intention of the Creator means His original intention. What this was Jesus tells us and Jesus confirmed: 'At the beginning the Creator "made them male and female" and said, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." So they are no longer two, but one.' Then Jesus added his personal endorsement and deduction: 'Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.'

In other words, God created humankind male and female; God instituted marriage as a heterosexual union; and what God has thus united, we have no liberty to separate.

This three fold action of God established that the only context which he intended for the 'one flesh' experience is heterosexual monogamy, and that a homosexual partnership (however loving and committed it may claim to be) is 'against nature' and can never be considered as a legitimate alternative to marriage."

---The Rev. John R.W. Stott is an author and international Bible teacher. He was rector of All Souls Langham Place, London for more than 30 years. He is a leader in global Anglicanism.
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