Category Archives: Defence

Understanding passages that some people think oppose same-sex relationships.

Romans 1 and Sound Bite Theology

Romans chapter 1:26-27 is sometimes taken to be a quick proof that all gay relationships are wrong.

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

If you take this New Testament sound bite out of context, it does seem to be pretty comprehensive in its condemnation. However, it isn’t nearly so general when you read it in context. First of all, the passage starts off describing people who abandoned god and became idol worshippers.

For 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. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles. (21-23)

And here these people, the idol worshippers from verses 21 to 23, have started to sin sexually.

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

And here, the idol worshippers extend their sexual sin to include same-sex activity.

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

These verses are not about a contemporary gay Christian couple. How could they be? The initial cause of the behaviour in verses 26 and 27 was idol worship, as mentioned in verses 21 to 23. The behaviour arose “Because of this”. Christians are not idol worshippers, so verses 26 and 27 are not about Christian gay couples.

You could say that the words used in verses 26 and 27 are so negative that you can extend them to cover all same-sex sexual activity: “shameful acts with one another”, and so on. But remember that the homosexual immorality described in these verses follows on from the sexual immorality of verses 24 and 25. That means that the sexual immorality in those verses was heterosexual immorality, and that immorality is described with equally negative words: “sinful desires”, “degrading their bodies”. It is clearly ridiculous to use verses 24 and 25 to condemn all straight relationships, and it is clearly ridiculous to use verses 26 and 27 to condemn all gay relationships. It is far more realistic to realise that verses 24 to 27 aren’t about all sexual relationships, just the immoral ones that arose out of idol worship.

When you read Romans 1:26-27 in context it is clear that it isn’t an anti-gay sound bite.

The Men of Sodom

When you read the any book you have to be careful to read what it says, not what you think it says. This is particularly true when it comes to books that people quote from, like the Bible. Snipping a quote out of context can often lead to a misunderstanding about what the passage actually means.

The story of Sodom is a good example of where misunderstanding can occur if you just look at the wrong verses.

In the story of Sodom, God sends two angels to visit Sodom, and the angels are invited to spend the night in Lot’s house. (Lot was the nephew of Abraham). An angry crowd forms outside Lot’s house. Genesis 19:4-5:

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

This is where the association between Sodom and homosexuality comes from, and many Christians believe that Sodom was destroyed because of homosexuality. But does the text actually justify this? Now, to the casual reader, that does seem like proof it was an all male crowd, looking to rape two men. But only to the casual reader.  Skip back a couple of chapters, to Genesis 17:23:

And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house;  and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him.

“Every male among the men” is a curious phrase. If the word men in the KJV means male adult human, then there is no need to specify “every male” among the men. The word men here is the Hebrew word enowsh (Strong’s Concordance, word 582 in the Hebrew and Chaldee dictionary)  which is more of what we would call a gender-neutral word today. It really means something like person. This explains the curious phrase in  Genesis 17. Abraham was told to circumcise “every male among his people”, not every “male among his men”. The word male here is zakar (Strong 2145).

So lets look at Genesis 19 again. The word translated as men is enowsh, the word that in Genesis 17 wasn’t specific enough to mean male men. In Genesis 19, it is used without any qualification. Genesis 19 doesn’t say “the males among the men of the city, even the males among the men of Sodom”, it just says “the people of the city, even  the people of Sodom”. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the crowd outside Lot’s house was all men.  Lot does address them as brethren in Genesis 19:7, but that is a term he could have applied to a mixed-sex crowd as well. (See Leviticus 10:6, for an example of brethren being used to address all Israel, not just the men of Israel.)

The people of Sodom used enowsh to describe the angels. You cannot use Genesis 19 to claim that the people of Sodom thought the angels were male. Even if they did think they were male, they described them as enowsh, showing that the people of Sodom were indifferent to the gender of the individuals they were about to rape.

So, in Genesis 19, rather than a crowd of men who wanted to rape two men, we had a crowd of people who wanted to rape two other people. This was a totally foul and detestable act, but there is no reason to associate it with homosexuality any more than there is to associate it with heterosexuality.

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