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19 August 2006 @ 06:04 pm
Rehabilitating Paul's image  
smolder had a question about the prohibition against homosexuality in Romans. For those who'd like to see exactly what it says:
Romans Chapter 1, NIV

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

24Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.

28Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

There is a book. I owned it, and now I can't find it, and can't even remember the title. But it explained this passage in the context of the time it was written, and the society that Paul grew up in. So I'm going to summarize from what I remember. (If anyone knows what book this is, please say, because I want to buy it again.)

First of all, the inclusion of homosexuality in the long list above is a rhetorical device, commonly used at the time, where you threw everything dirty against the thing you were railing against and hoped some of it stuck. (Hmm. Seems familiar. ;) Paul isn't condemning homosexuals per se, he's using homosexuality as another one of Those Terrible Things that Those People Do.

The prohibition against homosexuality in Romans is based on the mores of Rome at the time. Most homosexual relationships were pedophilic, which was viewed as the best form of sexual relationship. There were no equal relationships-- either you were with your younger boy lover, or you were with your wife. But you couldn't spend too much time with your wife, because you'd be seen as "womanish." You didn't love your wife, you loved your lover. Your wife was just for making babies. She wasn't even supposed to leave the women's quarters. Outside society was male-only.

That's why Paul, who advocated loving your wife (Col. 3:19) and who honored women as part of the church (Rom. 16:1-16), and who advocated satisfying each other sexually (1 Cor. 7:3-4), is unfairly maligned when people call him a woman-hater. For his time, he was really liberal. Women in the church, rather than staying at home? Men having actual relationships with their wives, rather than treating them as brood mares? That was a big step forward for society of the day.

Anyway, so. There was no such thing as an equal male/male relationship in Paul's day. (Or if there were, they were unusual and kept out of sight.) So when Paul objects to male/male relationships, it is most probable that he's objecting to the relationships between adult men and prepubescent boys that were held to be the highest form of love.

In fact, an equal male/male or female/female relationship is much closer to the equality of marriage that Paul espouses than to the standard homosexual relationship of the time. Sadly, many Christians use the words to justify their own prejudice, and don't look at the context in which they were written. Now, I'm sure there are more people who are far more familiar with Roman society of the period and who can tell me where I'm wrong. I'm speaking in generalities here. There may be specific examples I'm unfamiliar with. If so, educate me!

(Also, I'll point out that while Paul says both male and female homosexuality is unnatural, he also says that the very nature of things shows us that men having long hair is disgraceful. Since naturally, if a man lets his hair grow, it'll grow long, I think Paul is using some sort of reading of "nature" that is not the logical reading.)
Kitarrakitarra on August 21st, 2006 05:28 pm (UTC)
You forgot something too.

When the bible talks about men laying with men as if with women... that was insulting.

Basically it was meant literally. It was insulting for a man to treat another man as he did a woman because that would mean he was treating him as a lesser. Someone to just have sex with and discard.

And at the time that was a great sin.
Elletheletterelle on August 21st, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)
True. Or treating him like a young boy, instead of a fully-grown man. :) Good point.

We can't apply 1st century Roman mores to 21st century modern life. It doesn't work.
Kitarrakitarra on August 22nd, 2006 03:46 am (UTC)
No it doesn't.

I think not understanding the culture leads to a hell of a lot of misinterpretation of the bible.