NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part XXIV)
German scholar John Bengel, considered the father of modern Biblical scholarship, in his work called, “Gnomen1 of the New Testament,” deconstructs this verse as follows: “The Truth – Which commands us to worship God as God. Into a lie – [That is, exchanged for a lie] the price of mythology. Worshiped – Internally. Served – Externally.”2 Today we might call this “stolen identity.” Using all the things belonging to God for our enjoyment and enrich the prince of this world.
H. A. Ironside also gives what he sees as evidence of what Paul is saying here: “Observe the downward steps on the toboggan-slide of idolatry – God thought of first as an idealized man, then likened to the birds that soar into the heavens, next to the beasts that prowl over the earth, and finally to serpents and other detestable creeping things, whether reptilian or insectivorous. Even the Egyptian worshiped the serpent and the scarabaeus,3 and yet back of all Egyptian mythology is hidden the original revelation of one true and living God! What degradation does this imply on the part of one of the most enlightened nations of antiquity!”4
Even in his day, preacher Charles Spurgeon lamented: “There are many preachers who have ‘changed the truth of God into a lie;’ and by their exaltation of man, they have ‘worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever.’ God save all of us from such idolatry as that! Amen.”5 As I have indicated in the translation of the text above, the truth was used to promote a lie, because it is impossible to transform the truth into a falsehood. It is a matter of using it for wrong purposes with misleading intent.
Albert Barnes has an interesting note on the way Paul ends this verse with an “Amen.” “This is a Hebrew word denoting strong affirmation. So let it be. It implies here the solemn assent of the writer to what was just said; or his strong wish that what he had said might be – that the name of God might be esteemed and be blessed forever. The mention of the degrading idolatry of the pagans was strongly calculated to impress on his mind the superior excellency and glory of the one living God. It is mentioned respecting the Honorable Robert Boyle,6 that he never mentioned the name of God without a solemn pause, denoting his profound reverence. Such a practice would tend eminently to prevent an unholy familiarity and irreverence in regard to the sacred name of the Most High.”7
Verses 26-27: Because people did those things, God allowed them to be overcome by their degrading and vile passions. Women exchange natural sexual relations for unnatural the same way men stopped having natural sex with women and began wanting each other all the time. Men did shameful things with other men, and in their bodies, they received the punishment for those wrongs.
There were times in the past when these verses were adopted as God’s commandments and were made part of man’s laws. While it did not stop such activities, it did place them in the category of being unnatural and therefore unlawful. However, today they are slowly being accepted as natural and as such cannot be considered illegal. This is being done under the covering of what is called, “civil rights.” Meaning, that society as a whole must now accept this as normal and give it their blessing. But this was not something the apostle Paul thought up on his own. He knew there were scriptures to back him up.8
John Calvin sees the sinister side of what happens when God allows mankind to exercise their own free will and chooses wrong over right, or bad over good. Calvin points out, that after Paul introduced God’s abandonment it as if it were an intervening clause, he now returns to what he had stated before on the judgment of God. Then he offers, as the first example, the dreadful crime of unnatural lust; and it, therefore, appears that they not only abandoned themselves to bestiality but became degraded beyond the beasts, since they reversed the whole order of nature. He then enumerates a long catalog of vices which had existed throughout the ages and then dominated everywhere without any restraint.9
Charles Hodge makes this point about how devastating a sign it was that Paul began with women: “This corruption of morals was condemned to no one class or gender. The description given by profane writers of the moral corruption of the pre-Christian ages is in all respects as revolting as that presented by the apostle. Paul first refers to the degradation of females among the heathen, because they are always the last to be affected in the decay of morals, and their corruption is, therefore, proof that all virtue is lost.”10 In other words, males have been known to exhibit very vile and corrupt tendencies and language. But when women adopt the same practices, it is a clear omen that things have gone from bad to worse.
Ambrosiaster gives his view on this subject: “Paul tells us that these things came about, that a woman should lust after another woman because God was angry at the human race because of its idolatry. Those who interpret this differently do not understand the force of the argument. For what is it to change the use of nature for purposes which are contrary to nature, if not to take away the former and adopt the latter, so that the same part of the body should be used by each of the sexes in a way for which it was not intended? Therefore, if this is the part of the body which they think it is, how could they have changed the natural use of it as if they had not been given this use to them by nature?”11
The cases of lesbianism were not as acute as was male homosexuality. However, the Jews did have their commentary on such practices. For instance, in their Talmud, we read where many Rabbi’s did not permit their daughters to sleep together. This was because Rabbi Huna said: “Women that commit lewdness with one another are unfit for the priesthood.”12 Also, Rabbi Solomon Jarchi, better known as Rashi, had this to say about Rebecca who, when the servant of Abraham first saw her, said: “She was very beautiful. She was a virgin; no man had ever had sexual relations with her.”13 Rashi writes: “No man had been intimate with her in an unnatural way. Since the daughters of the Gentiles would preserve their virginity but were promiscuous in unnatural ways, Scripture attests that she was completely innocent.”14 Scholars take this promiscuity in unnatural ways as being lesbian intimacy.
It goes as far back as Noah. There has always been the question of why Noah would curse Canaan, the son of Ham when it was reported to him that while he was laying intoxicated in his tent, it was Ham who came in and saw his nakedness? Without going into extensive detail, there are three words used in the OT for “naked. ” One is “arowm”, which means nude, and was used in Genesis 2:25. Another is “eyrom”, which means nakedness, as seen in Genesis 3:7. The third is “erwah”, which means nude by exposed genitalia, which is used in Genesis 9:22, where Noah’s nakedness was seen by Ham.
So that brings us back to why Canaan was cursed instead of Ham. We have a clue where it reads: “When Noah awoke from his wine, he found out what his youngest son had done to him.” 15 First, Ham was not Noah’s youngest son, he was the middle child, so the term “youngest” must have another meaning. All listings of Noah’s sons are: “Shem, Ham, and Japheth.”16 The word used by Noah for “youngest son,” (“beno haqqatan” in Hebrew) is also used to denote grandson. Therefore, it is easy to understand that it was Noah’s grandson involved here. So why was this not spelled out in the text? No doubt because it was a sensitive and embarrassing event that Moses did not want to record in detail. After all, what Lot’s daughters did to him while he was drunk with wine is apparently recorded because it was not of a sodomizing nature.17
So what was the curse Noah placed on Canaan? It reads: “Let there be a curse on Canaan! Let him be a slave to his brothers. Let the Lord, the God of Shem, be praised! Let Canaan be Shem’s slave.” We see this curse carried out when God called Abram, one of Shem’s descendants, to go to the land settled by Canaan and his descendants, and He would give it to him as an inheritance. Thus, when Israel came out of Egypt, they invaded Canaan and possessed it, and the Canaanites living there became subject to them. As we know from history, this land was taken away from Israel for an extended period, but in 1949 it was given back to them and is in their possession to this day.
But it appears that Canaan’s sin of sexually abusing his grandfather Noah stayed on in the genes of his descendants. This is exemplified in the story of what happened after Lot, Abram’s grandson was gracious enough to invite two angels to come to his house for a meal and to stay the night. We read: “That evening, just before bedtime, men from every part of town came to Lot’s house. They stood around the house and called to Lot. They asked, ‘Where are the two men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us. We want to have sex with them.’”18 Even though Lot was helpless against this mob, the angels themselves took over. It says: “The two men staying with Lot opened the door, pulled him back inside the house, and closed the door. Then they did something to the men outside the door—they caused all these evil men, young and old, to become blind. So the men trying to get in the house could not find the door.”19 They gave Lot time to arrange his escape after telling him: “We are going to destroy this city. The Lord heard how evil this city is, so He sent us to destroy it.”20 So the question is: If homosexuality is natural, then why did God react so strongly against it? In fact, what these men wanted to do to these angels became known as “sodomy.”
So, did things change after God gave Moses the laws He wanted His people to follow? No, they did not. God told Moses: “Men, you must not have sexual relations with another man as with a woman. That is a terrible sin!”21 But even what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah did not eradicate this unnatural tendency. We are told the story of a Levite who lived far back in the hill country of Ephraim outside of Bethlehem. During one of his travels back home from Bethlehem with a new housemaid, he stopped for a night in Gibeah. Next, we read: “While the Levite and those who were with him were enjoying themselves, some very bad men from the city surrounded the house. They began beating on the door. They shouted at the old man who owned the house. They said, ‘Bring out the man who came to your house. We want to have sex with him.’”22 Did the host say: Oh, yes, of course. I understand because he is so handsome? No! He went out and accosted them by saying: “Don’t do such an evil thing! This man is a guest in my house. Don’t commit this terrible sin.”23
1 Gnome (rhetoric) is a type of saying designed to provide instruction in a compact form.
2 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 218
3 The scarabaeid beetle Scarabaeus sacer, regarded as sacred by the ancient Egyptians. A representation of this beetle, such as a ceramic or stone sculpture or a cut gem, used in ancient Egypt as a talisman and a symbol of the soul.
4 Harry A. Ironside: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
5 Charles Spurgeon: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
6 Robert William Boyle was a British natural philosopher, chemist, physicist, and inventor. In addition, he devoted much time to theology and was once offered the provostship of Eton College if he were to become a minister, but declined since he believed his writings carried more weight coming from a layman.
7 Albert Barnes, On Romans, loc. cit.
8 Genesis 19:5, 11, 13; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13
9 John Calvin: On Romans, loc. cit.
10 Charles Hodge: On Romans, loc. cit.
11 Ambrosiaster: On Paul’s Epistles, loc. cit.
12 Babylonian Talmud: Seder Mo’ed, Masekhet Shabbath, folio 65a
13 Genesis 24:16
14 The Complete Jewish Bible with Rashi Commentary, Genesis 24:16
15 Genesis 9:24
16 See Genesis 5:32; 6:10; 7:13; 9:18; 10:1; 1 Chronicles 1:4
17 See Genesis 19:30-37
18 Genesis 19:4-5
19 Ibid. 19:10
20 Ibid. 19:13
21 Leviticus 18:22
22 Judges 19:22
23 Ibid. 19:23