An Analysis of Romans 1:18-32, Part 2
A Giving Over to Lustful, Dishonoring, and 'Unnatural' Sexual Behavior
By Bruce L. Gerig

7.The first “giving over” (Rom 1:24-25): Heterosexual practices which dishonor the body.    Then Paul writes: “[24] Therefore God gave them up [i.e., these God-rejecters] in the lusts [epithymiai] of their heart to impurity [akatharsia, KJV-ABS: ‘uncleanness’], to the degrading [atimazō, KJV-ABS: ‘dishonoring’] of their bodies among themselves, [25] because they exchanged [metallassō, G3337] the truth about God for a lie [lit., “the lie,” see Van der Pool; Harrison in Gaebelein 10 1976, p. 25] and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen” (NRSV).    Because these Gentiles refused to worship the true God and thank him for their creation (Rom 1:18-20), they were left with the folly of worshipping their own man-made idols and gods (1:21-24), which were a fake.    But God also “gave them over” (NRSV, paredōken autous, G3860, G846) in three other ways: (1) to engage in sexual activities which ‘dishonored their bodies’ (1:24-25), (2) to exchange ‘natural sexual use’ for ‘unnatural sexual use’ (1:26-27), and (3) to create a social world of chaos and cruelty (1:28-31).    Yet Rom 1:24-27 is not easy to understand because Paul employs general, somewhat ambiguous terms; and one has to read the original Greek text very carefully to discover all of its clues.   

Epithymiai (G1939) is best translated as “lusts” (KJV-ABS 1962, Green 1986, UNASB 1995, ESV 2001), for although this Greek word could point simply to ‘strong desire[s]’ (Mark 4:19), most generally in the Bible it has negative (sexual) connotations—although the Bible does not depreciate the use of sex in proper ways.1    Akatharsia (G167) is usually translated as “impurity” (NRSV 1989, UNASB 1995, ESV 2001) or “uncleanness” (Green 1986, Van der Pool 2006).    In the Greek Septuagint, akatharsia appears in OT passages which declare menstrual blood and human semen “unclean” Lev 18:19; 15:16, 32) and which forbid the touching of a dead animal or the eating of certain forbidden meats (Lev 5:2, 20:25)2—although James Dunn notes that akatharsia here in Rom 1:24 has lost its earlier cultic connotations and simply carries a moral sense of “sexual immorality”3—although this meaning still remains frustratingly vague.        

Atimazō is usually translated as “dishonoring [of their bodies]” (cf. Green 1986, cf. UNASB 1999, ESV 2001, cf. Van der Pool 2006), or “degrading [of their bodies]” (NIV 1978, NRSV 1989).    Caught in the clutches of intense sexual passions, these people turned to what Paul considered “filthy [practices]” (NJB 1985, akatharsia), or doing “shameful [things with their bodies]” (CEV 1995).    But what kinds of specific things did Paul have in mind here—relating to heterosexual behavior, since 1:26-27 later seems to turn to homosexual behavior?    First, 1 Cor 10:7-8 and Acts 15:20 suggest that Paul’s biggest sexual problem in his churches were converts who continued to attend the free pagan temple feasts, which generally ended in heavy drinking and group debauchery (cf. the “drunkenness, orgies” in Gal 5:21; and “reveling and drunkenness . . . debauchery and licentiousness, Rom 13:13, NRSV), where prostitutes were also present.4   The Jewish historian Josephus tells of  the lady Paulina engaged in sex all night in the Isis temple precincts in Rome with Mundus, whom she thought was the Egyptian god Anubis (Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.3.65-80).5   Paul was aware of the sizable number of slaves in his churches (see ‘the lowly and despised things,’ 1 Cor 1:26, and cf. 7:20-21 and Rom 16); and he no doubt had heard wrenching stories of how good-looking, especially younger slaves, of both genders, were often sexually abused by their Roman masters and mistresses.6    Because these God-rejecters had “project[ed] the sexual license they desired onto their gods,” this left them “free to follow their own unbridled passions” in many and varied ways.7   When Paul visited the public baths, in some places he may have seen erotic scenes like those pictured in the dressing room of Suburban Baths in Pompeii, which showed: a woman mounting a man, a woman performing fellatio on a man, a man performing cunnilingus on a woman, two women copulating (apparently using a dildo), a threesome with two men and a woman, and a foursome with two men and two women, etc.8   As a Jew brought up to consider any display of the naked body as “an exposure of the most shameful kind,”9 Paul ‘had come a long way,’ to win Gentiles to Christ, in ignoring the Romans’ casual, everywhere picturing of nudity, sex and phalluses; yet he still felt that in many ways these people were dishonoring (or degrading) their bodies, treating them “in a way lacking [due] respect.”10 


8. The second “giving over” (Rom 1:26-27): An exchange of natural “use” for unnatural “use.”    Then Paul writes:[26] For this reason [the Gentiles’ rejection of their Creator God] God gave them up to degrading [or dishonorable] passions.    Their women exchanged [metellassō] natural intercourse [lit., KJV-ABS: ‘the natural use’] for unnatural [lit., KJV-ABS: that which is ‘against nature’], [27] and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse [‘the natural use’] with women were consumed with passion [lit., KJV-ABS: ‘burned in their lust’] for one another.    Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (NRSV).    A major phrase here reads in the Greek metēllaxan tēn physikēn chrēsin eis tēn para physin, i.e., these Gentiles “changed the natural use to the [use] against nature” (Green).    So, we have “natural use” (physikēn chrēsin, G5446, G5540) contrasted with “unnatural use” (para physin, G3844, G5449)—and “use” here is a euphemism referring to “sexual intercourse”11

One approach to understanding how Paul viewed “nature” here is to see how he speaks about this elsewhere in his letters.    For example, he writes of those being “uncircumcised” as being Gentiles ek physeōs (“by nature,” G1537, G5449, Rom 2:27, KJV-ABS), while the Jews are Jews (or circumcised) “by nature” (physei, G5449, Gal 2:15, KJV-ABS).    He notes also that idols “by nature” (physei) are not gods” (Gal 4:8, KJV-ABS) and that unbelievers, as “children of [God’s] wrath,” are sinful “by nature” (physei, Eph 2:3, NRSV).    All these references seem to point to a “cultural distinction12 or to an “inborn character13.    Then, amazingly, Paul writes that God has “cut [Gentiles] from what is by nature [kata physin, G2596, G5449] a wild olive tree” and has “grafted [them], contrary to nature [para physin, G3844, G5449]” onto “a cultivated olive tree,” i.e., he made them part of his people (Rom 11:24, NRSV, italics added)—and if the Almighty can do something “contrary to nature,” this can hardly mean “sinful per se.”14   Indeed, God sometimes acts in a way that is “more than” or “beyond” nature—and as Strong’s concordance shows, para (G3844) can mean “other than, more than” just as well as “contrary to, against.”    Then Paul also writes: “Does not nature teach you that if a man wears long hair [NEB: ‘flowing locks’], it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is for her glory?” (1 Cor 11:14-15, NRSV, italics added)—and the criteria for “nature” here seems to be “widespread social usage.”15    So in his letters Paul uses “against/beyond nature” or “unnatural” (para physin) as a synonym for “(seriously) unconventional16 or for something that is “surprising and out of the ordinary17.    So when we come to Rom 1:26-27, para physin is not about a violation of the order of Creation18—the word “nature” never appears in the Hebrew Bible—but it simply means that the Gentile world was no longer the world that it originally was.19   In the end, we are best to consider Paul’s “unnatural use” here as referring to something that is very “unconventional.” 

Yet, Paul here is writing to a primarily Gentile Christian community,20 and so it might be enlightening to see how secular philosophers (especially Stoic) specifically applied para physin.    For example, PLATO (c.429–c.347) wrote in his Laws (1:636C) that “When male unites with female for procreation, the pleasure experienced is held to be due to nature [kata physin], but contrary to nature [para physin] when male mates with male or female with female.”21   However, Plato was probably concerned here with pederasty, in the first case, even as the Roman philosopher PLUTARCH (50–125 AD) contrasted pederasty with marriage, viewing the former as para physin (“against nature”), because it was done “either unwillingly with force and plunder or willingly with weakness [malakia] and effeminacy [thēlytēs]” (Dialogue on Love 751C–E, 752A).22   However, the Greek Stoic philosopher EPICTETUS (55–136) criticized men who shaved off their body hair to transform themselves into women; such men act against their nature (physis) and behave like playboys (kinaidoi), whom he compares with the Corinthians (Discourses 3.1.27–37).23   Brooten notes that PHILO of Alexandria, a Jewish contemporary of Paul living in Alexandria, Egypt, used para physin (“contrary to nature”) three times in his On the Special Laws (3.7-82), where he applies it to: (1) intercourse between a man and women during her menstrual period, (2) intercourse between a man and a boy (pederasty), and (3) intercourse between a person and an animal (bestiality).    He also calls men who have sex with barren women (instead of divorcing them and remarrying) “enemies of nature.”24    Then later, ARTEMIDORUS of Daldos in Lydia (an Eastern Roman province in Asia Minor; 2nd century BC) categorized certain sex acts that could appear a dream as para physin (“against nature”), including self-fellatio, sex with an animal, sex with a corpse, and lesbian coitus—although he only described coitus between two men as “unconventional” (Interpretation of Dreams, chapters 78-80).25   One can see that although para physin was applied to male anal intercourse and women using dildos, it was also applied to a wide range of other unconventional kinds of sexual intercourse.  


9. What were the women doing (1:26)?    Then focusing on women, Paul writes (succinctly) that “even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature” (1:26b, KJV-ABS).    As noted, “use” (chrēsin, G5540) is a euphemism referring to sexual intercourse.    The text here provides us with basic clues:    (1) “Their women” points to a basic gender division here—these women were the men’s wives and daughters26—which probably had been crossed.    (2) “Women did change” characterizes these females as presuming to take up an active sexual role, becoming ‘agents of change’ in their sexual activity.27    (3) “Even,” at the beginning here (in NIV, but lacking in the NRSV), suggests that what they did was shocking.    (4) What remarkably is missing here in 1:26 is any specific wording like “Men . . . with other men” (NIV), which found in 1:27 ties the text here securely to homosexual behavior.    Therefore, David Frederickson holds that this verse refers to women who became the active sexual partner with their husbands.28    In fact, the Roman statesman SENECA THE YOUNGER (4 BC–AD 75) criticized women who “rival men in their lusts” and “although born to be passive,” have “devised so deviant a type of shamelessness, [to] enter men” (Moral Epistles 95.20-21).29    They may have entered men in the rear with strapped-on dildoes, since ancient texts mention dildoes and Greek vase painting shows women holding them (although none ever show a woman actually using one with another woman or with a man).30    Yet, Bernadette Brooten notes that ancient sources also believed that some women had an overly large clitoris with which they could enter another person.31   Alice Bellis and Terry Hufford also favor the view that this verse refers to women taking the active role in sex with their husbands or with other men, because for a woman to assume the active, male role in sex would truly have been considered “unnatural.”32   Christopher Bryan (2000) also holds that the wording here does not make it clear that Paul is addressing lesbian relations; and certainly some in Paul’s day would have considered “unnatural” various ways in which some women had sex with men, particularly assuming the active sexual role.    For example, the Roman poet OVID (43 BC–AD 17) wrote of how “experienced women” know “a thousand positions” to sexually please a man (Art of Love 2.679).    Meanwhile, EPICTETUS spoke contemptuously of men who, to please women, transform themselves into women (Discourses 3.1.27-37).33   Sarah Ruden thinks that this verse refers to women being anally penetrated by men34 , although later Jewish sources, at least, accepted this practice.35

Most interpreters see lesbian intercourse (of some kind) as the issue here36—although Martti Nissinen still warns that the textual evidence is “not conclusive.”37    Still, a strong male “hostility” existed toward lesbianism in ancient times38, and numerous ancient sources specifically condemned sexual relations between women as “unnatural,” including Plato, Seneca the Elder, Martial, Ovid, Ptolemy, and Artemidoros.39   The Roman epigrammatist MARTIAL (40–140 AD) mentions a woman named Bassa whom he considered to be completely chaste because he had never seen her copulating with men but always surrounded by women—until he realized that she was a fatutor (“fucker”), with a “monstrous lust [that] imitates a man” (Epigrams 1.90.8).    Martial dedicated two other epigrams to Philaenis, a tribas (Greek and Latin, “lesbian”) who was aggressive toward both boys and girls; and with latter she was “quite fierce with the erection of a husband,” battering up to eleven a day (Epigrams 67.1-3).40    Clearly female eroticism was viewed by the male Roman writers as “outrageous” (Nissinen).41    Robert Jewett notes how PLUTARCH also called lesbianism para physin (“beyond nature,” Amatorius 761e)—although para physin for the Romans really implied a failure to follow what common sense and ‘inner law’ (one’s conscience) dictated.42   Of course, PLATO considered sexual pleasure to be “natural” only when it could lead to childbearing within marriage (Phaedrus 835c-e)—yet there is no reference to procreation in Rom 1, nor does the unmarried and celibate Paul emphasize it elsewhere in his letters.    Jewett holds that Paul had lesbian activity in mind here, rather than women engaging in oral or anal sex with males, say—and Paul is confident that his audience will share his negative view.43    Yet, a weakness here is that Paul does not address the fact that Greco-Roman culture viewed ‘conforming to nature’ as defined by the group defining it.    And any reading of this passage as addressing women who have a lesbian orientation misreads Rom 1:24-27, since this passage deals with a corporate (societal) distortion of human activity, not with individual sins.44   In the end, Nissinen concludes that Paul would not have accepted women engaged in any kind of sex except with (and submitting to) their present or future husbands, and most scandalous for Paul would have been their crossing the gender boundary.45   The text speaks of women taking an active role sexually, but the vague “unnatural relations” may point to a number of types of unconventional sexual behavior. 


10. What were the men doing (1:27)?    Then Paul writes: “[27] and in the same way [KJV-ABS: ‘likewise’] also the men, giving up natural intercourse [KJV-ABS: ‘the natural use’] with women were consumed with passion [lit. KJV: ‘burned in their lust’] for one another.    Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error (NRSV).    Norman Kraus writes that although Paul’s cultural judgment here is broad and nonspecific, one can easily fill in examples of exploitative and hedonistic homoerotic behavior that were common in the Greco-Roman world in Paul’s day.46    Martti Nissinen feels that these specific concerns would been Roman men who had sex with their male slaves and who visited male prostitutes, and with homosexuality related with cult activities (note Paul’s repeated concern with believers in Corinth who still ran off to join the pagan temple feasts, which were followed by drunken orgies).    However, Paul also would have been disturbed by men who turned themselves into women and who assumed the passive role in sex, because he would have viewed these as serious transgressions of the gender boundary, which was so important in ancient patriarchal societies, both Jewish and Roman.    Also, he deplored the lust and debauchery.47    David Frederickson notes that chrēsis here (“use”) really means “[mis]use” of another person upon whom a sexual act has been performed, which often involved treating a boy like a woman.48    Mark Powell believes that the main issues here were having sex with prostitutes in the temples, the goings-on at the Romans’ orgies and sex parties, and their casual, promiscuous attitude toward sex in general.    Sex was often practiced in exploitative ways in the Roman society, involving minors, slaves, and prisoners.    Although Paul refers to  “unnatural” sex, one has to fill in specifically what he means by this.49   

But what about private Roman parties?    One Greek red-figured drinking cup (late 6th century BC) in the Louvre shows a group sex scene of men at a symposium (private drinking party) performing oral and anal intercourse with each other, with a female prostitute helping out.50   However, erotic Roman wall and vessel scenes depict only private sex encounters.51.    Yet Ben Witherington explains that the communal meal followed by a sacrifice, drinking, and sex-partying by Roman times had moved from the home dining-room to the temple precincts.    Still, private home parties, with lively conversation, excessive drinking and sexual dalliance, occurred in Roman times, as well, often including musicians and prostitutes.    These were generally all-male affairs, served by male slaves.    Wives and daughters might join at the beginning of the feast (although this was not all that common), but then would retire when the heavy drinking began.    The wine-server was expected to be especially young and attractive—and Seneca the Younger complained that this slave had to have his hair plucked out, dress like a woman, and take care of his master’s sexual needs, as well as his drinking needs (Seneca, Epistles 47.4).    In fact, A. Booth notes that these private male feasts were known as much for their ‘pleasures of the pillow’ as they were for their ‘pleasures of the palette.’52

Robert Jewett believes that Rom 1:27 was meant to apply especially to male slaves (remember all of the slave names in Rom 16) whom the master sexually abused whenever he felt like it—as well as to prostitutes (most of whom were slaves and had no choice but to serve their pimps).    This bodies-for-sale trade also supported the cruel practices of kidnapping boys (cf. “slave traders” in 1 Tim 1:10, NRSV)53 and of castrating slaves boys, to serve a special clientele demand.    Alice Bellis and Terry Hufford hold that Paul viewed male homosexual relations as “unnatural” because they crossed the male/female gender boundary, and the main area of transgression included the use of slaves and prostitutes.54

But what does it mean, that these God-rejecters “received in their own persons the due penalty [antimisthian, G489; Green: ‘reward’] for their error [planēs, G4106; Green: ‘straying’]    For antimisthian (G489), Green gives the translation of “reward,” and Strong’s concordance defines the term as “an exchange, penalty, recompense.”    Most translations choose “penalty” (NIV 1978, NRSV 1989, UNASB 1999, ESV 2001).    For planē, (G4106), Green gives the translation of “straying,” and Strong’s concordance defines the term as “error, delusion, deception.”    Most translations choose “error” (KJV-ABS 1962, NRSV 1989, ESV 2001, UNASB 1999), although some choose “perversion” (NIV 1978, NJB 1985, REB 1989), which is not an unsuitable meaning, if one views this as referring to heterosexuals who have turned to take up homosexual activities.

Robert Jewett views the “error” here as the pagans’ suppression of the truth of God’s revelation, and the “penalty” their dishonorable [sexual] relationships themselves.55   Stanley Stowers considers the “penalty” here the males’ loss of their maleness.56    James Dunn views it as the unnatural tastes that they have obtained in their bisexual society.57    Brendan Byrne notes that the “error” here refers to the Gentiles’ original failure to recognize the Creator God, and the “due penalty” for this is—not venereal disease, or AIDS, or even a fixed homosexual condition—but rather a “permanent uncontrollable desire to engage in the activity in question” (having an interest now in both heterosexual and homosexual sex).58    David Frederickson believers that Paul’s “error” here (Rom 1:27) refers to when natural love turns into insatiable erotic lust, which brings the lover into dishonor.59


11. What role does out-of-control passion play here (1:24-27)?    Yet, we need to look at the larger passage here again:  “[24] Therefore God gave them up [i.e., these God-rejecters] in the lusts [epithymiai] of their heart to impurity [akatharsia, KJV-ABS: ‘uncleanness’], to the degrading [atimazō, KJV-ABS: ‘dishonoring’] of their bodies among themselves, [25] because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!  Amen.    [26] For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions [pathē atimias, G3806, G819; NIV: ‘shameful lusts’].    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 [exekauthēsan en tē orexei autōn, G1572 . . . G3715; lit., KJV-ABS: ‘burned in their lust’] for one another.    Men committed shameless acts [tēn aschēmosynēn katergazomenoi, G808, G2716; lit. Green: ‘working shamelessness’] with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (NRSV).  

Now it is important to look more closely at the Greek here:    (1) For epithymiai (1:24), Jay Green in his super-literal translation of the Bible (1986) translates it as “lusts,” and Strong’s concordance (2001) defines it as “desires, longings, cravings (G1939).    The NRSV renders it as: “lusts.”    (2) For akatharsia (1:24), Green translates it as “uncleanness,” and Strong defines it as: “impurity, uncleanness, moral filthiness” (G167).    The NRSV renders it as “impurity,” and the KJV-ABS as “uncleanness.”    (3) For tou atimazesthai ta sōmata autōn (1:24), Green translates this phrase literally as “to be dishonored the bodies of them” or “their bodies to be dishonored,” and Strong defines the key word here atimazō (G818) as “to dishonor, to disgrace, to treat shamefully.”    The NRSV renders it as “degrading [of their bodies],and the KJV-ABS as “to dishonor [their own bodies].”    (4, 5) For the phrase pathē atimias (1:26), Green translates this as “passions of dishonor,” and Strong defines pathoi (G3806) as “sexual passions, lusts,” and atimia (G819) as “dishonor, disgrace, shame.”    The NRSV renders this phrase as “degrading passions,” the ESV as “dishonorable passions,” and the NIV as “shameful lusts.”    (6) For exekauthēsan en tē orexei autōn (1:27), Green translates this phrase literally as “burned in the lust of them,” or “burned in their lust,” and Strong defines ekkaiō (G1572) here as “to burn, to be inflamed [with a strong desire],” and orexis (G3715) as “lust, desire.”    The NRSV renders the phrase as “inflamed with lust.”    (7) For tēn aschēmosynēn katergazomenoi (1:27), Green translates this verb with direct object literally as “shamelessness working” or “working shame,” and Strong defines the key word here aschēmosynē (G808) as “shame, indecent act.”    The NRSV renders it as “indecent acts.”    All of this analysis may seem overwhelming, but in the end it clearly shows in this passage (1:24-27) that Paul uses no less than four words (epithymias, pathoi, orexis, ekkaiō) meaning “lust[s],” or “inflamed” with it; and three words (atimazō, atimia, aschēmosynē) meaning “to dishonor” or “to shamelessly use” the body.    This is in contrast to only two references to something para physin (“against nature”), in 1:26-27.   

The only word left out here is akatharsia (1:24), “uncleanness” or “impurity,” an OT concept; but elsewhere Paul refrains from “identifying physical impurity with sin or demanding that Gentiles adhere to that code.”60.    In fact, he writes in this very same letter, when his discussion turns to OT dietary rules, that “the Lord Jesus knows that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean” (Rom 14:14, NRSV; and cf. 14:20, 1 Cor 6:12-13).    Still, he surely thought that a lot of what went on in Greco-Roman sexual practice was “filthy.”    In fact, sexual practices in the first-century Roman world were such that even modern Americans (even most gays) would find them “astonishing.”61   One can remember the scene in Petronius’ Sayricon where the Quartilla, a devotee of Priapus, comes in with her band and they tie up Encolpius and Asclytus so that her men can “hump” the boys, while Quartilla instructs the younger Giton to go  deflower her seven-year-old servant girl, before she takes himself for herself. (2.17-25).    Or Paul could have considered heterosexuals turning to homosexual anal intercourse as being “defiling,” since that term is applied to the Levitival ban on homosexuality in Lev 18:22, 24).62

Relating to out-of-control passion, Stanley Stowers believers that “self-mastery” would have loomed very large in the thinking of Paul’s audience, in contrast to being enslaved to passions and desires;63 and Paul views Christ as the enabler of mastery over self.64    Yet, this was a gender issue, since it was men who were called to display self-mastery.    Masculinity had to be achieved, passions had to be controlled, and men were always in danger of succumbing to softness, femaleness, or servility.65    Instead, Paul admonished believers to order their life with self-control, like an athlete (1 Cor 9:24-27).66    On the other hand, slaves, women, and barbarians lacked control over themselves, and needed a (real) male over them to govern them.67    Men carried about the latent “feminine disease,” which stood for softness, weakness, susceptibility to emotion, uncontrollable desire, and lack of discipline.68    This is why it was so despicable for a male citizen to become the passive sexual partner for another man.69    In fact, David Frederickson believes that Paul’s primary concern here is a lack of control of one’s passion.70    Paul is not speaking about homosexual orientation here, but rather out-of-control lust, which is dishonorable.    SENECA THE YOUNGER once wrote that “error” occurred when natural sexual (controlled) desire is replaced with passion, which irrationally directs the way in which things are possessed (Moral Epistles 16.9).71   In fact, “in like manner” in 1:27 may refer to out-of-control passion, “error” to when natural (controllable) sexual desire is replaced by (irrational) passion, and “penalty” to suffering the consequences.72    Dale Martin agrees, that Paul’s (main) concern here is not “disordered desire” but “inordinate desire”73   Jack Rogers believes that the main issues, besides men leaving their proper gender roles, were out-of-control sexual passion and shameful sexual behavior.74

Relating to shameful acts, James Dunn thinks that terms like “shameless” and indecent” have to do with exposure of the sexual organs (especially in the Septuagint, cf. Exod 28:42, Lev 18 and 20).    This refers not to a homosexual tendency or desire, but in Rom 1:24-27 to genital acts,75 and more specifically to sexual desires and acts which lack both self-respect and respect for others.76    The problem here, of course, is that “shameful” acts are tied to a particular culture’s views, e.g., Roman wives felt it shameful to show their bodies in any light to their husbands even in the bedroom; and at the same time men bathed nude in the public baths, where they could plainly see each other’s genitals.    Meanwhile, the Jews would have considered any exposure of the genitals as “shameful.”77    Yet, God has clearly created sexual desire to propel the continuation of the species; and even though Israelite families arranged their children’s marriages in most cases, sexual passion is still present (cf. Jacob and Rachel, Gen 29:28-30, and David and Bathsheba, 2 Sam 11:2-5).    The Song of Songs is full of erotic body descriptions, consuming passion, and dreams of sex.    Yet, one often has some control of what he or she seeks sexually; and one does not have to entertain thoughts about sex with other men’s partners, young boys, and other acts that would be harmful to another person.    On the other hand, destructive Eros can appear suddenly, causing one to fall head-over-heels in love without reason—wrecking havoc with one’s state of mind, finances, and honor.78   For men the juices will flow, the heat will rise, and passion can consume like a forest fire.    Look what gay people have suffered in the past, driven to find that ‘forbidden love.’ 


Continued - An Analysis of Romans 1:18-32, Part 3 - Closing Issues in Romans 1:18-32


FOOTNOTES:     1. Gibbs, “Lust,” ISBE 3 1986, p. 187      2. Van der Pool, G167, p. 12.     3. Dunn 1988, p. 62       4. Witherington Cor 1995, p. 192      5. Witherington Cor 1995, p. 221         6. Williams 1999, pp. 31        7. Harrison in Gaebelein 10 1976, p. 25        8. Clarke 2003, pp. 116-133, Skinner 2005, p. 262       9. Gorman, “Nakedness,” NIDB 4, p. 217     10. Dunn 1988, p. 62     11. Brooten 1996, p. 245      12. Countryman 2007, p. 113     13. Nissinen 1998, p. 105      14. Countryman 2007, p. 114    15. Countryman 2007, p. 113     16. Nissinen 1998, p. 105; cf. Kraus in Kraus 2001, p. 97      17. Rogers 2009, p. 74      18. Rogers 2009, p. 74     19. Countryman 2007, p. 114      20. Oakes, “Rome,” 2009, p. 854      21. Quoted in Nissinen 1998, p. 82, italics added      22. Quoted in Nissinen 1998, pp. 84-85; and cf. Gagnon 2001, p. 170         23. Nissinen 1998, p. 86         24. Brooten 1996, pp. 246-247    25. Brooten 1996, pp. 175-176, 183; Nissinen 1998, pp. 76-77      26. Brooten 1996, pp. 240-241        27. Brooten 1996, p. 245       28. Frederickson in Balch 2000, p. 201       29. Quoted in Brooten 1996, p. 45        30. Brooten 1996, pp. 152-153       31. Brooten 1996, pp. 49-50         32. Bellis & Hufford 2002, p. 111      33. Bryan 2000, pp. 86-87         34. Ruden 2010, p. 54      35. Brooten 1996, p. 249, n. 99      36. Brooten 1996, p. 248; Bryan 2000, p. 86      37. Nissinen 1998, p. 108        38. Dover 1978, p. 172      39. Brooten 1996, pp. 249-250     40. Quoted in Brooten 1996, pp. 45-47       41. Nissinen 1998, p. 130        42. Jewett 2007, pp. 175-176      43. Jewett 2007, p. 176        44. Jewett 2007, p. 177        45. Nissinen 1998, p. 108      46. Kraus in Kraus 2001, pp. 263, 271      47. Nissinen 1998, pp. 109-110     48. Frederickson in Balch 2000, p. 204       49. Powell in Childs 2003, p. 27        50. Clarke 2003, fig. 15, p. 38        51. Clarke 2003, passim       52. Witherington, Cor 1995, pp. 192-194       53. Jewett in Balch 2000, pp. 239-240      54. Bellis & Hufford 2002, pp. 111, 113       55. Jewett 2007, p. 180       56. Stowers 1994, p. 95     57.Dunn 1988, p. 65     58. Bryan 1996, p. 70       59. Frederickson in Balch 2000, pp. 215, 222       60. Countryman 2007, p. 116      61. Countryman 2007, pp. 120-121      62. Rogers 2009, p. 75         63. Stowers 1994, pp. 42-43      64. Stowers 1994, p. 44      65. Stowers 1994, p. 42       66. Stowers 1994, p. 48      67. Stowers 1994, p. 49        68. Stowers 1994, p. 50      69. Stowers 1994, p. 51     70. Frederickson in Balch 2000, p. 208        71. Frederickson in Balch 2000, pp. 215, 222       72. Cf. Frederickson in Balch 2000, p. 215      73. Martin in Brawley 1996, p. 342       74. Rogers 2009, p. 104      75. Dunn 1988, p. 65      76. Dunn 1988, p. 64     77. Jewett 2007, p. 181        78. Frederickson in Balch 2000, p. 217    



Bellis, Alice Ogden, and Terry L. Hufford, Science, Scripture and Homosexuality, 2002.

Brooten, Bernadette J., Love between Women, 1996.

Bryan, Christopher, A Preface to Romans: Notes on the Epistle in Its Literary and Cultural Setting, 2000.

Bryne, Brendan, Romans, 1996.

Clarke, John R., Roman Sex, 100 BC–AD 250, photographs by Michael Larvey, 2003.

Countryman, L. William, Dirt, Greed, & Sex, 2007.

Dover, Kenneth J., Greek Homosexuality, (1978) 1989. 

Dunn, James D. G., Romans 1-8, 1988.

Frederickson, David, “Natural and Unnatural Use in Romans 1:24-27: Paul and the Critique of Eros,” in David Balch, ed., Homosexuality, Science, and the ‘Plain Sense’ of Scripture, 2000, pp. 197-222. 

Gagnon, Robert A. J., The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 2001.

Gibbs, John G., “Lust,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 3 1986, pp. 186-187.

Gorman, Frank H., “Nakedness,” in Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, ed., New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4 2009, p. 217. 

Green, Jay P., Sr., The Interlinear Bible: Hebrew–Greek–English, 1986.

Harrison, Everett F., “Romans,” in Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 10 1976, pp. 1-171.

Jewett, Robert, Romans: A Commentary, 2007.

Jewett, Robert, “The Social Context and Implications of Homoerotic References in Paul,” in David Balch, ed., Homosexuality, Science and the ‘Plain Sense’ of Scripture, 2000, pp. 223-241. 

Josephus, Flavius, The New Complete Works of Josephus, trans. by William Whiston with commentary by Paul L. Maier, 1999.

Kraus, C. Norman, “Making Theological and Ethical Decisions: Contextualizing the Bible,” in C. Norman Kraus, ed., To Continue the Dialogue; Biblical Interpretation and Homosexuality, 2001, pp. 256-279.

Martin, Dale B., “Arsenokoitēs and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences,” in Robert L. Brawley, ed., Biblical Ethics & Homosexuality, 1996, pp. 117-136.

Nissinen, Martti, Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective, 1998. 

Oakes, Peter, “Rome, Church of,” in Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, ed., New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 4 2009, pp. 853-855.  

Petronius, Satyricon, trans. with notes by Sarah Ruden, 2000.

Powell, Mark A., “The Bible and Homosexuality,” in James M. Childs, Jr., ed., Faithful Conversation: Christian Perspectives on Homosexuality, 2003, pp. 19-40.

Rogers, Jack, Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explore the Myths, Heal the Church, 2009.

Ruden, Sarah, Paul among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time, 2010.

Skinner, Marilyn B., Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture, 2005.

Stowers, Stanley K., A Reading of Romans: Justice, Jews, and Gentiles, 1994.

Strong, James, ed., The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, rev. John Kohlenberger III and James A. Swanson, 2001.

Van der Pool, Charles, The Apostolic Bible: Polyglot, including the Septuagint OT and the NT, in Greek with English translations, 2006.  

Williams, Craig A., Roman Homosexualities, 1999.

Witherington, Ben, III, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1995.


BIBLE TRANSLATIONS:    Contemporary English Version, 1995    English Standard Version, 2001    King James Version–American Bible Society, 1962    New English Bible, 1970    New International Version, 1978    New Jerusalem Bible, 1985    New Revised Standard Version, 1989    Revised English Bible, 1989    Updated New American Standard Bible, 1999



Photo: Fresco from the Tomb of the Diver, 470 BC. Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Italy

© 2012 Bruce L. Gerig

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