We follow Matthew Vine’s lead now [ matthewvine.com ] to consider Romans 1 in the question of whether the Bible consemns homosexuality. In order to be especially careful here, I will quote a good portion of the passage, which extends from 1:18-32. The basic message is that God has let humanity work out its own evil when turning away from God. I’ll quote just 1:22 -27.
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
The central issue seems to be idolatry and God’s response to it. Idolatry is the worship or service of that which is less than God. The worship of animal statues is the “entry” level of sin in this regard but in the perversity of the human heart there is a progression from the animals to humans. We can and do idolize one another. The ultimate end of this progression is not, in Paul’s view, merely the worship of statues but, perhaps surprisingly, homosexual behavior, exchanging natural for unnatural passion for another of the same sex.
Well, now, it seems, the case is finally closed. Even though the verses in Leviticus don’t apply to Christians, here we have Paul in the New Testament explicitly teaching the unacceptability, the sinfulness of same-sex relationships. And even though he only speaks of lustful behavior, and not of loving relationships, he labels same-sex unions unnatural. They are outside of God’s natural design, which was set forth in Genesis 1 and 2 and is exclusively heterosexual. So even if a same-sex relationship is loving and committed, it is still sinful. That is the traditional interpretation of Romans 1:26-27.
Then Vine goes on to ask, in a manner which reminds me of the serpent in Genesis 3, “How solid of an interpretation is that?” We know his answer, of course, and can already see the way he will evade the plain sense of the text. The Romans condemnation of homosexual behavior, Vine believes, only applies to “lustful behavior and not to loving relationships.” (Vine seems not to notice that his defense of loving, committed same-sex relationships leaves the vast majority of modern homosexual behavior undefended.) More specifically, the passage only applies to homosexual behavior by heterosexual people.
The key to understanding the Romans passage, says Vine, lies with the word “natural.” The Greek word is phusis, from which we get “physics.” Homosexual behavior is wrong when engaged in by heterosexual people because they are violating what is natural to them. The same thing applies in reverse: heterosexual behavior is wrong when done by homosexual people.
Paul is talking about the sweep of human sin but Vine wants it to be a discussion only of individuals. Humankind has a fundamental awareness of God which can only be affirmed or denied but not left unnoticed. And, just so, humankind has a fundamental awareness of the nature of sexuality. Vine, however, wants us to think in modern terms of individuals: Each person must obey his or her individual nature. He used the same modernist, individualistic way of thinking in learning from Genesis 2:18 that, since “It is not good for the man to be alone,” opposition to homosexual behavior is a violation of Scripture because it denies some people the right to marry.
So homosexual behavior (or abstinence) is the only ethical choice for people of homosexual orientation. The plain sense of Scripture has been reversed. Not only is homosexual behavior not condemned by this passage, it is actually condoned.
There is, of course, no morality left when we move from “The devil made me do it” to “My nature made me do it.” We are accountable to God for what we do with our nature. We do not owe obedience to our understanding of what is natural for us as individuals. If being ethical means nothing more than “to thine own self be true,” then each person decides for him or herself how to act. If “my nature” leads me to murder, beastiality, adultery or anything else, then that is perfectly moral, according to Vine’s reasoning.
[Next blog: more of Vine’s understanding of “nature]