Dr.Manfred Brock and Dr. William Hertzog, II
at the American Baptist Assembly in Greenlake,Wisconsin
Part Two - Manfred Brauch
Created Order and Divine Purpose:
Genesis 1-3; Romans 1:26-27
The second text group that we are concerned about in this presentationand subsequent dialog and discussion is in general Genesis 1 to 3 and Romans1:26 through 27.
The straightforward, traditionally understood meaning of the Romans1 passage, that Paul condemns homosexual behavior, has become increasinglyquestions. Is Paul addressing homosexuality as we know it today (dultswho desire same sex intimacy with one another) or only pedarasty, adultmen with young boys or young men? Or is Paul condemning homosexual actscommitted by heterosexual people who thus contradict their own "truenature?" Is Paul's understanding of "nature" in tentionwith our contemporary understanding of homosexual orientation as a givenrather than as freely chosen? Does the passage function only to set upPaul's Jewish (self-righteous) readers without intending to point to homosexualacts as particularly objectionable?
These are serious questions and issues that must be answered and dealtwith. The following reflections deal with three areas: the theologicalcontext of Paul's thought, the structure and flow of the passage, and themeaning of critical terms in light of the Greco-Roman and Jewish historicalcontext.
A. Theological context.
The Romans text is perhaps the most important for a discussion for aBiblical view of homosexuality because Paul places the negative evaluationof homosexual behavior in an explicitly theological context, namely a theologyof creation. That Paul has the Genesis narrative of creation and fallin view can hardly be disputed: allusions to humanity's creation and fallare plentiful. -- "ever since the creation " (v.20); "thethings that have been made" (v. 20); "claiming to be wise theybecame fools" (v.22); an appeal to the Creator (v.25). Specificallythis theology is about God the Creator and the creation of humanity asmale and female. Human beings are created as relational creatures, forrelationship with God and for relationship with each other.
The general expression of that relational structure in God'simage is the polarity and complementarity of the male/female duality ofhumanity (Gen.1:26-27). The most particular expression of that male/femaleduality of humanity is the relation between man and woman in the covenantof marriage (Gen. 2:18 -25).
Both of these Genesis creation narratives present these "ordersof creation" as the result of divine creativity and purpose. By implication,and so all subsequent Jewish and Christian understanding confirms, thedivine intention excludes all expressions of human sexuality which falloutside the categories of: one, sexual complementarity (male/female) andtwo, covenant faithfulness (marriage).
Some have argued that the foundational Biblical norm for human relativenessis covenant and that therefore the expression of homosexual desire in sexualintimacy, if practiced in a covenant relationship, characterized by faithfulnessand permanence, is in keeping with the Biblical standard of morality.
However, in the Biblical structure of human reality, creation designpreceded covenants. That is, the design of creation, it's male/female polarityand complementarity, this order of creation provides the concrete structureof humanness, male/female, while covenant provides the divinely intendeddynamic reality within those boundaries.
B. The structure and flow of Romans 1:18 through 32.
romans 1:26-27 is part of a larger passage that is clearly a unit. Overagainst the "righteousness of God" (1:16) stands human and godlinessand unrighteousness (1:18). This ungodliness and unrighteousness is thengiven content. The universal rejection of God the creator, the suppressionof the truth about God's nature and glory as revealed in the created order(1:18-23), is expressed in three closely related areas of human brokenness,each introduced with the rhetorical repetition, "God gave them up."
This 3-fold analysis of the fallen human condition establishes an inherentconnection between
Within this scheme, same sex relations are singled out (1:26-27)as a most vivid image and unambiguous evidence that the rejectionof the creator has, as one of its most striking consequences, the rejectionof God's created order (since God created them male and female).
There is no question that Paul is one with the perspective of HellenisticJudaism (e.g., Philo, Josephus), which regarded same sex acts as representinga revolt against the created order.
Now the vast majority of commentators agree that Paul focuses on thetwo most vivid exemplars of gentile sin, idolatry and same sex behaviorbecause he is setting up his Jewish readers. They will whole heartedlyagree with his diagnosis of gentile transgression and their condemnation.And then he follows with the sting (2:1) following. You, he says, are equallycondemned. "Both Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin,"(3:9). "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,"(3:23).
This word of Paul declares all of us under God's judgment and thereforeall of us in radical need of God's mercy and grace. That word of bothwarning and hope must surely temper all of our discussions about homosexuality,particularly for those of us who share the conviction that homosexualityis out of keeping with God's loving purposes for human life.
C. Critical terms in Romans 1:24-27.
Much exegetical debate has centered on Paul's claim that women and menhave "exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural." Is Paul talkingabout individuals who make choices to engage in same sex relations eventhough they are, by nature, heterosexual and thus violate their "essentialbeing?" If so, then this categorization of homosexual behavior as"unrighteous" would not apply to homosexual persons who are"naturally" of homosexual "orientation."
Such an understanding of Paul and the meaning of the text must be seriouslycalled into question, I believe, on both exegetical and contextualgrounds.
Paul is not describing individual acts and choices, but the corporatehuman rebellion against God and the kinds of behavior which result. In1:23 and 25, he uses the word "exchange" to describe the movefrom worship of God to worship of idols. He is not saying that each gentilepersonally chooses idolatry over against theism. Rather, he is describingthe sweep of human history.
The term "exchange" is then used in our passage to describethe move from male/female to same sex relations (1:26-27). The point, itseems to me, is that same sex relations are a specific falsificationof God's intention for human sexual intimacy, emerging out of the generalfalsification of right thinking about God, idolatry. Paul is nottalking about individuals who deny their true nature, that is, heterosexualscommitting homosexual acts, but about humanity that both in general idolatryand in specifics in morality, has replaced the truth about God and thetruth about God's creative design with error.
Further, Paul's use and meaning of the terms natural and unnatural (physin/para physin) must be understood and interpreted in light of the usageof this terminology, particularly in discussions of male/female and samesex behavior in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish context. In numerous classicaland contemporary Greek texts, the expression para physin (unnaturalor contrary to nature), is the standard terminology for homosexual relations,as opposed to "natural" or (kata physin) relations betweenmale and female. This categorization of homosexual behavior as "contraryto nature" was particularly at home among Hellenistic Jewish writerssuch as Philo and Josephus, approximate contemporaries with the ApostlePaul. In contrast to their understanding of male/female sexual union askata physin, that is, according to nature.
Though Paul does not define the term nature, it is clear from his useof this conventional terminology in this context, Romans 1:26, thathe identifies "nature" with the created order as designed andintended by the Creator. Paul treats all homosexual activity assuch, (not just the common pederasty as his inclusion of female homosexualdemonstrates) as evidence of humanities tragic distortion and alienationfrom the purposes of God.
A final observation of the significance of this text is called for,because of the view of some that, since the modern understanding of homosexualorientation, as a given disposition, mostly not freely chosen, was notavailable to Paul and his contemporaries, their negative evaluation ofhomosexual behavior, cannot, therefore, be applied to today. While it mustbe freely granted that Paul and his contemporaries, did not have accessto modern insight into the various and complex (possible) causes of homosexualorientation, the concept of deep seated causes for human behavior whichare beyond individual control or choice is deeply imbedded in Pauline andJewish thought. Fallen humanity and it's tragic blindness, (Romans 1:21),is characterized by a whole host of orientations, desires and inclinationsand tendencies which, for Paul, fall under the power of sin, (Romans 3:9),and enslavement to sin, (Romans 6:6). As such, they are beyond our controland our choice.
From a Biblical theological perspective, our identity determinedby complex biological psychic and social forces, is not our behavioraldestiny. The whole point of the gospel of God's grace and transformingpower in Jesus Christ is that we can be set free from compulsions and orientationsthat drive us or we can be empowered to resist the behavioral incarnationsof compulsions and desire and orientations that, from the Biblical perspectiveor view of human nature and relationships can harm and destroy us and eachother.
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