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The Pro-LGBTQ faction argues with respect to Romans 1:24-32 that Paul was familiar with only two kinds of homosexual activity (1) wealthy Greeks would buy young boys as slave and sexually exploit them, and (2) part of the Greek-Roman world would go to male and female prostitutes as a form of fertility or mystery cult worship.   The conclusion is that these actions of Romans 1:24-32 bear no resemblance to “the loving, faithful relationships” of homosexual relationships.  (See Wilke presentation).   

It is critical to any interpretation of Scripture to factor in the comprehensive cultural and historical context of the passage.  The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics reads [in part]:

Article XV. We affirm the necessity of interpreting the Bible according to its literal, or normal, sense. The literal sense is the grammatical-historical sense, that is, the meaning which the writer expressed. Interpretation according to the literal sense will take account of all figures of speech and literary forms found in the text.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy reads [in part]:

Article XVIII. WE AFFIRM that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture. 

An examination of the cultural background information, reveals that the pro-LGBTQ faction is wrong to restrict the scope of Paul’s knowledge pertaining to homosexual practices.

In his book Homosexuality and the Bible  -Two Views, (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2003) which Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon co-authored with Dan O. Via, Dr. Gagnon wrote at page 81 (emphasis in original):

Every kind of homosexual union imaginable existed in Paul’s day.  We find glowing tributes to male-male love in the Greco-Roman world, with adult male same sex unions existing alongside man-“boy” unions (postpubescent; cf. Gagnon  2001a, 350-60; N94).  It was well within the conceptual framework of Paul’s time to distinquish between exploitive homosexual relations and caring ones.  Another problem for those pushing the exploitation argument is that Greco-Roman moralist generally regarded pederastic relationships as the less exploitative than adult homosexual unions.  The “softness” of the male adolescence made the violation of the stamp of  masculine gender – gender deviance – less pronounced for the receptive partners (N95).

In his book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, (Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 2001), at pages 350-60, Dr. Gagnon sets out a description of the Greco-Roman world when it comes to homosexual relationships.   I will not dive into the details, but Dr. Gagnon writes that, “moving statements about the compassionate and beautiful character of same-sex love can be found in Greco-Roman literature.”  See p. 350.  He then cites speeches in Plato’s Symposium, which contains a series of discourses on love (erōs) by various people during a time of light drinking after a banquet. In 416 B.C.E.  Speeches by Phaedrus, Pausanias, and Aristophanes show the existence of caring homosexual relationships.   According to Dr. Gagnon, in the Affairs of the Heart (ca. 300 C.E.) there is a lengthy defense of the love of boys.  Dr. Gagnon lists a number of cases that show man-boy homosexual relationships were well known.   See pages 355-357 of The Bible and Homosexual Practice.

At page 357 of The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Dr. Gagnon writes:

Mark Smith cites a series of examples of homoeroticism in antiquity that broaden the standard model of love between a man and a boy: those between young adult males, between adult males of unequal age, between adult males of roughly equal age, between adult males who alternate in the roles of “lover” and “beloved” and between bisexual and members of the same and opposite sex, with many of these relationships characterized as stable and even lifelong “marriages,”

Dr. Gagnon continues to write:

After citing the evidence for female homosexuality in antiquity (often “relationships of mutual consent without reference to active/passive distinctions or age differentiation or exploitation) Smith concludes that (Ancient Bisexuality, p. 246):

Paul probably did know of at least several different types of homosexual practices among both men and women.  He used general language in Rom. 1, because he intended his proscription to apply in a general way to all homosexual behavior as he understood it.  In context, then, homosexual activity, in all its manifestations (as understood by Paul) is evidence of God’s judgment on human sinfulness.

Clearly, a more comprehensive look at the cultural background shows that Paul had in mind caring and loving homosexual relationships (male-male and female-female) when he condemned all homosexual relationships when he wrote Romans 1:24–28 (NET):

24 Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones,27 and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done.

The fact that a homosexual relationship is “caring” and “loving” does not exempt it from the condemnation set forth in the above passage.  There is no question that the scope of Romans 1:24-32 encompasses all of homosexual practice.

Please send me any comments to steve@stevebelsheim.com or use the comments feature of the blog.

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