In recent days, we’ve seen the resurgence of conversation on whether one can be a Christian and be gay. Also, in recent days, Dr. Owen Strachan has commented on this subject with a helpful article I recommend you read explaining the Revoice Conference from a biblical worldview. Furthermore, Owen has written a fabulous article on 1 Corinthians 6 that I commend to you. In this article, my aim is not aim to retrace the helpful remarks of Owen, but rather to focus on Romans 1:26-27 and provide a biblical worldview analysis of how homosexuality fails to conform to a biblical sexual ethic.
One of the more controversial verses in the New Testament in recent days is Romans 1:26-27. While Matthew 7:1-2 may be the most used verse even by non-Christians, Romans 1:26-27 is quickly becoming the go-to passage for those seeking to qualify the truth of Scripture for their own means. According to one website that promotes a homosexually friendly reading of Romans 1:26-27, “Romans 1 has nothing to do with homosexuality because gays and lesbians are never mentioned in Romans 1.”[i] Noted Bible scholar Dr. Thomas Schreiner, commenting on Romans 1:24-32 rightly rejects that approach asserting, “Idolatry is “unnatural in the sense that it is contrary to God’s intention for human beings. To worship corruptible animals and human beings instead of the incorruptible God is to turn the created order upside down. Human beings were intended to have sexual relations with those of the opposite sex. Just as idolatry is a violation and perversion of what God intended, so too homosexual relations are contrary to what God planned when he created man and woman.”[ii]
Many who support homosexual behavior have a problem with this interpretation. With that said, the idea that the context doesn’t support what Schreiner saliently explained flies in the face of Paul’s larger point in the context of this passage. Romans 1:18-32 makes a clear distinction between the Creator and the creature. Paul focuses on God and His invisible attributes (Romans 1:20). Dr. Schreiner further elaborates that “Modern controversy over homosexuality has led to a reevaluation of this text. Some scholars argue that Paul does not condemn all forms of homosexuality but only homosexual acts practiced by people who are “naturally” heterosexual (e.g., Boswell 1980: 109-12). According to this interpretation, to act contrary to nature involves engaging in sexual activity that is contrary to the personal nature or character of the individual. Thus Paul should not be understood as implying that all homosexuality is contrary to what God intended from creation. He speaks only against homosexual acts that are practiced by those who are heterosexuals by nature.”[iii]
John Boswell, in attempting to reinterpret Paul’s words, attempts to claim that “The persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual: what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons. The whole point of Romans 1, in fact, is to stigmatize persons who have rejected their calling, gotten off the true path they were once on.”[iv] Dr. Schreiner notes, “This interpretation must be rejected since there is no evidence that Paul understood the “nature” of human beings in the individual and psychological sense that is familiar to people in the 21st century.”[v] Biblical scholars Richard Hays and David Malick note that, “Paul rejects homosexuality as contrary to the created order—homosexuality is a violation of what God intended when he created men and women.” (Hays 1986:192-94; Malick 1993:335). The Jewish historian Josephus (Ag. Ap. 2.24), declares that the marriage of a man is according to nature and proceeds from the Old Testament law. Both Philo (Spec. Laws 3.7; Abr. 26) and Josephus (AG. Ap. 2.35) specifically criticize homosexual relations. Schreiner affirms “there is no evidence that Paul reverses the unanimous Jewish conviction that homosexuality was sinful” (Gen. 19:1-28; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Deut. 23:17-18).[vi]
When one considers the context of Romans 1:18-32 is Romans 1:16-17, verses that focus on the righteousness of God and then Paul’s teaching on the Creator and the creature, it becomes evident that the interpretation of the homosexual community lacks warrant. Paul first gives the gospel then emphasizes God’s character to sinners, exposing their need for Jesus.
John Calvin once stated that the natural world is a theater of God’s glory. Romans 1:18-32 deals with how the Lord God has made Himself known to humanity but man rejected and replaced Him with other objects of worship. God delivered two judgments in response to this: one of homosexual behavior and another of an immoral mind, each which demonstrate His abandonment and wrath toward humanity’s rebellion.
The argument advanced by homosexuals that Romans 1:26-27 isn’t talking about homosexuality is ultimately found wanting. Paul’s argument begins in verse 19 where he declares that in the same way people naturally know God by instinct with creation itself demonstrating God’s existence through what He’s made, people naturally and instinctively know right sexual practice because of how the human body was made by the Lord.
Ultimately, when one considers both the context and what Romans 1:26-27 means, it becomes clear Romans 1 does talk about homosexuality. What matters is not what we think the passage means but rather what the passage says. Homosexual behavior in the eyes of God is a sin. Whether you believe that or whether you reject it is a matter of utmost importance and urgency. Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” All that matters is what God has said. When God who created man in His image and likeness speaks, a man or a woman must heed what He has said. To not heed what He has declared is to reject Him as He’s been revealed in His Word.
Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:11, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Here’s the good news. God as the Creator has the right to insist and demand what He wills of His creation. He can take away our lives or continue to sustain them. That is His right. Yet God in His mercy continues reaches out to mankind through the finished and sufficient work of Christ.
Paul, before his discussion on the Creator-creature distinction, provides the message of the gospel in Romans 1:16-17, namely when he talks about the righteousness of God. The righteousness of God refers to God satisfying His justice by putting the penalty of humanity’s sin fully on Christ. It is “revealed” to those who confess faith in Christ so that they might live faithfully. This means that while the homosexual community rejects the clear teaching of Romans 1, God still reaches out to them calling them to turn from their idolatry to Himself through the Lord Jesus who promises to credit sinners with His righteousness.
At the end of the day, homosexuals aren’t the worse of all sinners. Paul makes clear that all have sinned (Romans 3:23; 6:23) which means everyone is in need of the righteousness of God. Only the Lord Jesus can save, and He does through His finished and sufficient work. Look to Jesus, abandon your life of idolatry, and fall in love with a Lord and Savior in Jesus who is superior in every way to the idol of sexual perversion. Jesus can and does redeem people from sexual sin and makes them whole through His finished and sufficient work.
[ii] Thomas Schreiner, Romans BECT (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1998), 54.
[iii] Ibid, 95.
[iv] John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), Pg. 335.
[v] Thomas Schreiner, Romans BECT (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1998), 96.
[vi] Ibid, 96.