In all of Scripture, is there a clearer condemnation of homosexual acts than Romans 1:26-27? In that brief but crystal clear passage, the Apostle Paul states categorically that homosexual copulation is unnatural, indecent, and sinful.
Some apologists for homosexuality – even some within the church – have tried to sidestep this denunciation by resorting to outlandish assertions.
In fact, it was a controversial sermon preached by the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dr. Ken Dunivant, that triggered this blog series in the first place. (See previous blogs here, here, here, here, and here.)
I will give Dunivant this: He’s gutsy. His text for the sermon that applauded loving homosexual unions was none other than Romans 1:18-32. Here are the three arguments he made concerning this passage:
(1) This is solely about idolatry.
“Paul is talking about people worshiping idols,” Dunivant said in his sermon. The implication is that the apostle is addressing homosexual acts committed in that context.
It is true that the apostle’s anti-sodomy invective is centered in his broader denunciation of idolatry. It is also true that pagan religions often included sexual acts – even homosexual acts – between temple prostitutes and worshipers.
But Paul turns to the subject of homosexual conduct as an expression of mankind’s idolatrous nature; he is not teaching that the only homosexual acts that are sinful are those committed in the course of pagan idolatry. In fact, there is no mention in Romans 1:26-27 of pagan religions or temples or prostitutes.
Paul’s condemnation is universal in its scope. Apart from the saving grace of God extended through the preaching of the gospel, all people reject the revelation of God in nature and all people tend toward idolatry. Moreover, this propensity toward idolatry is not merely religious in nature, and it manifests itself in all manner of sinful conduct – as evidenced by Paul’s list of various sins in vv. 28-32.
Surely Duinvant would not argue that sins like “greed,” “murder,” and “slander” are only sinful when committed in the context of idolatrous religious practices. Then why does Duinvant give homosexual acts a pass?
(2) This is a reference to pederasty, not homosexuality.
“[Paul is] talking about giving up natural acts for unnatural acts,” Dunivant said in his sermon. “Some scholars believe that what Paul is talking about is the Roman intention of using their gymnasium and baths for the sexual expressions of the men, where they would take on little boys – a pederasty kind of environment, where it was common for a man to have his wife and his concubines, but to [also] have his toys at the gym where he’d go and play with boys. This to be condemned.”
The Greek and Roman practice of pederasty consisted of homosexual activity between men and young adolescents. The English word “pederasty” comes from the Greek word paiderastia, meaning the “love of boys.” It is a combination of pais (“boy”) and erastes (“lover”).
This is important because if Paul wanted to specifically condemn pederasty, there was a word for that act. But he didn’t. The apostle does not even mention the word for boy or adolescent. Instead, he uses the Greek word arsen, which refers to grown men. The apostle couldn’t be clearer. The sexual acts that were committed and condemned was arsen en arsen – “men with men.”
(3) Paul was ignorant of homosexual orientation.
Dunivant then proceeds to construct a third, rickety argument. He begins by asserting that the Bible does not address the subject of sexual orientation at all. Its writers just didn’t know that some people were born gay or lesbian. When the Scripture addresses the subject at all, “it’s all talking about sexual behavior.”
After the Bible was written, he continued, we have come to understand “that there’s some predisposition that is a part of human nature … in terms of homosexuality. Some scholars point out that sexual orientation is innate.”
This would mean, he said, when men have sex with men, if they are truly homosexual by nature, then their sexual activity is natural.
In fact, Dunivant bizarrely declares that Paul’s condemnation of “unnatural” behavior in Romans 1 applies to homosexuals who would be forced into heterosexual relationships.
“If [homosexuality] is inborn,” he says, “then for a person with a same-sex orientation to participate in heterosexual encounters, then they are doing what for them is unnatural.”
There’s so much here that is patently false, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start with blasphemy. Dunivant essentially denies the inspiration of Scripture, but in doing so he is not just arguing that Paul was ignorant of homosexual orientation. He is declaring that the Holy Spirit was ignorant of it – since it was the Holy Spirit who inspired the biblical authors (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
What about the issue of sexual orientation? Does the Bible address more than just homosexual sex acts?
The answer is yes. In Romans 1:26, 27, Paul speaks of the homosexual’s “degrading passions” – or strong desires – themselves. He also mentions that they “burned in their desire toward one another” and then committed “indecent acts.”
These sinful homosexual acts were rooted in same sex lusts. But what are these strong desires rooted in? Lust is simply the unleashing of the attraction. One lusts after someone to whom he or she is attracted. Therefore the Bible does, in fact, speak to the concept of orientation, because orientation is, by definition, what attraction to one sex or the other means.
Finally, Paul’s discussion of natural versus unnatural has nothing to do with how a person feels. Lots of people get themselves in hot water by doing what feels good or feels right.
Instead, the apostle’s argument is rooted in what he calls “the natural function” of human sexuality. Natural sexual behavior is that which corresponds to the biological design of our bodies. Male and female sex organs are complementary, create pleasure between a husband and wife, and produce offspring.
Unnatural sexual behavior is that which does not correspond to the biological design of our bodies. While two homosexual men (or women) can give each other pleasure, their sex organs are not complementary and they cannot create life via the sex act.
When Paul brings up the issue of unnatural sex acts, this is the only thing he has in mind. It doesn’t matter if the sex act feels right simply because it aligns with the orientation. If the orientation is sinful – or, at the very least, broken – then the orientation cannot be trusted.
For the homosexual, however, all is not lost. Paul declares of the Corinthian Christians that they had formerly been sinners of all sorts – including homosexuals (1 Corinthians 6:9). Then he adds, “but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (vs. 11).
Some homosexuals are given the grace to change their orientation to become attracted to those of the opposite sex. Others, it appears, repent of their sinful desires, trust in Jesus Christ, and depend daily on the grace of God to resist the temptations resulting from a broken sexuality.
However, none of those trapped in homosexuality are helped when a pastor like Ken Dunivant keeps the chains locked, snug and secure.