NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part XXV)
Paul was very much aware that this degenerate form of immoral activity was still prevalent in his day. He had to warn the Corinthians: “Surely you know that people who do wrong will not get to enjoy God’s kingdom. Don’t be fooled. These are the people who will not get to enjoy His kingdom…men who let other men use them for sex or who have sex with other men… In the past some of you were like that. But you were washed clean, you were made holy, and you were made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”1 Paul also warned young Timothy: “We also know that the law is not made for those who do what is right. It is made for those who are against the law and refuse to follow it. The law is for sinners who are against God and all that is pleasing to Him… It is for those who commit sexual sins, homosexuals, those who sell slaves, those who tell lies, those who don’t tell the truth under oath, and those who are against the true teaching of God.”2
It is interesting that Paul puts this unnatural desire to be intimate with the same sex in the category of other unnatural instincts. So if one is allowed, what will keep the others from also becoming a natural way of living and conducting oneself? So it goes without saying, that such unnatural tendencies are to be resisted. And only when a person gathers the courage to resist doing what’s wrong and an abomination to God, will He then give them strength to gain victory. So the apostle Jude tells the community of believers: “Remember Sodom, Gomorrah, and the surrounding cities, following a pattern like theirs, committing sexual sins and perversions, lie exposed as a warning of the everlasting fire awaiting those who must undergo punishment.”3
The stoic philosopher Seneca was bemoaning the depraved condition of those in power who wallowed in immorality because of their lust and wealth. In one of his epistles he mentioned this: “Believe it or not, men live contrary to Nature who exchange the fashion of their attire with women.”4 Today this is more commonly referred to as cross-dressing or transgender attire. Also, Clement of Alexandria made this observation: “The fate of the Sodomites was judgment to those who had done wrong, instruction to those who hear. The Sodomites having, through much luxury, fallen into uncleanness, practicing adultery shamelessly, and burning with insane love for boys.”5
But this abuse of boys by men was also prevalent among the Greeks. In one of their documents we read: “Phaedo of Elis belonged to that famous Socratic band and was on terms of close intimacy with Socrates and Plato. His name was mentioned by Plato in that inspired dialogue of his on the immortality of the soul. This Phaedo, though a slave, was of noble person and intellect, and according to some writers, in his boyhood was driven to prostitution by his master, who was a panderer.”6 For those who bemoan these same conditions in the world today, it’s not new. The body of Christ has endured it before and will persevere again. The only admonition we need to remember is not to give in, for our Lord said: “The one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”7
One early church scholar who was a contemporary of the great Chrysostom, gives us his impression of what Paul is referring to here. He writes: “Paul did not say this lightly, but because he had heard that there was a homosexual community at Rome.”8 And Ambrosiaster speaks out by saying: “It is clear that, because they changed the truth of God into a lie, they changed the natural use (of sexuality) into that use by which they were dishonored and were condemned to the second death. For since Satan cannot make another law, having no power to do so, it must be said that they changed [existing law] to another order and by doing things which were not allowed, fell into sin. Paul says that the due penalty comes from contempt of God, and that it is wickedness and obscenity. For this is the prime cause of sin. What is worse, what is more harmful than that sin which deceives even the devil and binds man to death?”9
Reformist John Calvin has this to say about mankind’s condition after rejecting the truth and turning a blind eye to God’s creative glory: “They indeed deserved to be blinded, so as to forget themselves, and not to see anything appropriate for them, who, through their own malignity, closed their eyes against the light offered them by God, that they might not behold His glory: in short, they who were not ashamed to extinguish, as much of the glory of God as they could, which alone gives us light, deserved to become blind at noonday.”10
Albert Barnes gives evidence as to why the apostle Paul focused in on these homosexual activities among the pagans of Paul’s day. He writes: “It doubtlessly pervaded all classes, and we have distinct specifications of its existence in a great number of cases. Even Virgil speaks of the attachment of Corydon to Alexis, without seeming to feel the necessity of a blush for it. Maximus Tyrius says that in the time of Socrates, this vice was common among the Greeks; and is at pains to vindicate Socrates from it as almost a solitary exception.11 Cicero says, that ‘Dicearchus had accused Plato of it, and probably not unjustly.’12 He also says that the practice was common among the Greeks, and that their poets and great men, and even their learned men and philosophers, not only practiced, but gloried in it.13 And he adds, that it was the custom, not of particular cities only, but of Greece in general.14 Xenophon says, that ‘the unnatural love of boys is so common, that in many places it is allowed by public laws.‘15”16
John Stott also weighs in on this subject: “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, nor to expose vice, but rather to portray the outworking 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 only about pederasty’ 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.”17
Stott goes on to say: “There is the question of 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. Richard Hays has written a thorough exegetical rebuttal of this interpretation, however. He provides ample contemporary evidence that the opposition of ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’ was ‘very frequently used … as a way of distinguishing between heterosexual and homosexual behavior.’ 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,’ in fact a complete anachronism.”18
Here’s what Stott says in his conclusion: “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 which God has established, whereas to act ‘according to nature’ means to behave ‘in accordance with the intention of the Creator.’ Moreover, the intention of the Creator means His original intention. What this was Genesis 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 threefold action of God established that the only context which He intends 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 regarded as a legitimate alternative to marriage.”19
Douglas Moo also adds his insights on this subject: “Paul shows that the same ‘sinful passions’ that led women to engage in unnatural homosexual acts are also operative among men, with similar effect. Homosexuality among ‘males,’ like that among ‘females,’ is characterized as a departure from nature. As in the previous verse, ‘nature’ denotes the natural order, but as reflective of God’s purposes. Paul uses strong language to characterize male homosexuality: ‘they burned in their desire for one another, men with men doing that which is shameful and receiving in themselves the just penalty that was necessary for their error.’ In calling the homosexual activity that brings about this penalty an ‘error,’ Paul does not diminish the seriousness of the offense, for this word often denotes sins of unbelievers in the NT. In claiming that this penalty for homosexual practice is received ‘in themselves,’ Paul may suggest that the sexual perversion itself is the punishment. On the other hand, this could be a vivid way of saying that those who engage in such activities will suffer eternal punishment; they will receive ‘in their own persons’ God’s penalty for violation of His will. This punishment, Paul says, was ‘necessary,’ by which he probably means that God could not allow His created order to be so violated without there being a just punishment.”20
1 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
2 1 Timothy 1:9-10
3 Jude 1:
4 Lucius Annaeus Seneca: Moral Epistles, Translated by Richard M. Gummere, The Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1917-1925, Vol. 3, Number 122
5 Clement of Alexandria: The Paedagogus, Bk. 3, Ch. 8
6 Noctes Atticae by A. Cornelius Gellius, The Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927, Vol. I, Bk. II, Ch. 18:1-3
7 Matthew 24:13
8 Severian: Pauline Commentary from Greek church, loc. cit.
9 Ambrosiaster: op. cit., loc. cit.
10 John Calvin: On Romans, loc. cit.
11 The Dissertations of Maximus Tyrius: Translated from the Greek by Thomas Taylor, Published by C. Whittingham, London, 1804, Dissertation 10, Vol. I, p. 102, Tyrius mentions that a Thracian boy named Smerdies, who was a royal lad, was captured by the Greeks and given to the tyrant Polycrates as a gift, and Polycrates was very pleased. But this lad was also courted by the Teïan poet Anacreon. So Polycrates gave Smerdies gold and silver as gifts while Anacreon sang odes and praises to him.
12 Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations: Translated by Andrew P. Peabody, Boston, Little, Brown, and Co., 1886, On the Passions, Bk.4, Q. 34, p.243
13 Ibid., Bk. 4, Q. 33, p. 242
14 Ibid. Bk. 5, Q. 20, pp. 285-286
15 Xenophon: Symposium, 8:11
16 Albert Barnes: op. cit., loc. cit.
17 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
20 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 116-117