Manfred Brock and Dr. William Hertzog, II
at the American Baptist Assembly in Greenlake, Wisconsin
Part Two - William Herzog
The Three "Exchanges" and Their
Consequences in Romans 1
In 1:23-23 Paul now proceeds to iddentify three "exchanges" and their consequences (therefore). Diagrammed, they appear as follows:
Each repetition intensifies and elaborates the pattern spelled out in 1:23-24. Note that human behavior is not the cause of God's judgment but the result of God's wrath in letting humans do whatever they wish after they have abandoned God's creative wisdom.
Idolatry and Creations, Romans 1:18 to 3:20.
The attempt to treat Romans 1 as a major text addressing homosexuality reminds me of the story of a tourist group that was taken on a guided tour of the one of the great museums of Europe, say the Alta Pinaquatec or the Grafizzi Palace. After viewing masterpieces by Rembrandt, Leonardo, Rubens, Michelangelo, and Picasso, and many others, the tour is over. "Do you have any questions, a docent asks?" "Yes, said a tourist, why kind of wax do you use to keep the floors so shiny? They are remarkable."
Romans 1:18 -3:30 is a gallery of theological masterpieces, a treasure store of the insight into the ways of God and the human condition. The passing comments in 1:26,-27, are little more than wax on the floor of the intricately related galleries of Paul's argument. Yet, we have fixated on it, so desperate are we to condemn gay and lesbian people. Yet, as I will argue, Romans 1 has nothing to do with the homosexuality that our Christian brothers and sisters are asking us to understand and accept.
Romans 1:26 to 27 is part of a much larger argument that begins in Romans 1:28 and extends through 3:20. This section of Romans contains Paul's retelling of Genesis 1 to 3, the creation and fall. But this time he will not use 2 representative people, Adam and Eve, but two representative ethnic groups, Judeans and gentiles, to tell the story.
We will focus most fully on Romans 1:18 to 32. Paul begins his creation account in 1:18 to 22. Here Paul declares that in creation, God has clearly and lucidly made known God's own eternal and divine nature. The very power in nature that had been revealed in the Gospel itself, 1:16 to 17. So, invisible though they are, God's nature and power are so evident as to be palpable to all. This means that everyone has been given a fair chance to know God and God's ways. And they are, therefore, without excuse if they depart from them. In this trial of Judeans and gentiles before the gospel, there can be no appeal to ignorance of the laws of creation.
And yet, Judeans and gentiles alike have ignored God's self-revealing love, which has lead to the darkening of their senseless minds because they refuse to honor the God who revealed the truth to them. The result is plain to see, claiming to be wise, they became fools. Wisdom itself became an expression of idolatrous and dishonorable folly.
You have a sheet I've handed out to you that will also accompany the videotape, called the 3 Exchanges and Their Consequences in Romans 1. If you'd turn to that please.
In 1:23 to 32, Paul proceeds to identify 3 exchanges and their consequences. You have the diagram before you.
Each repetition intensifies and elaborates the pattern spelled out in 1:23 and 24. They exchange the glory of God for idols. Note that the three sections labels A1, A2 and A3 are parallel to each other. Paul thereby equates idolatry with living a lie and both idolatry and living a lie with sexual abuse. Note also that human behavior is not the cause of God's judgment but the result of God's wrath in letting humans do whatever they wish after they have abandoned God's creative wisdom.
It is generally agreed that Romans 1:18 to 3:20 divides into 2 major sections, a section addressed to the gentiles, 1:18 to 2:16, and a section addressed to Judeans, 2:17 to 3:20. This means that the material we are examining is addressed to the gentiles as a group and will seek to stigmatize their whole culture by one of its most distinctive practices, just as he will later stigmatize Judean culture by its most distinctive practices, just as he will later stigmatize Judean culture by its most distinctive practice, the attempt to live out Torah. But what, in gentile culture, will Paul select? What practice is so - practices are so obviously sinful and powerfully pervasive? When Paul looks at gentile culture as a whole, he finds a culture of sexual abuse, the most obvious and widely prevalent characteristic that points to the wrath of God.
During the lifetime of Paul, the Roman empire still revered the ideals of Greek culture and one of the central values of that culture was pedarasty, the sexual use of prepubescent male children by adult males. Pedarasty assumed at least four forms in Greco-Roman culture.(1) Iit could be sublimated as an ideal of platonic love; (2) it could be practiced as the so-called voluntary sexual encounters between tutor and pupil in the gymnasia as part of the search for wisdom; (3) it could be forced on slaves as part of their degradation; and, (4) it could appear in the form of effeminate call boys who practiced pedarasty for money and apparently for pleasure as well.
Before, during and after Paul's time, there was a lively and continuing debate in Roman culture about pederasty. Its defenders promoted three basic arguments in its defense. They argued that pederasty (1) contributed to a youth's growing wisdom; (2) was more masculine than heterosexuality; and, (3) reflected practice more in accord with nature, (kataphysin). The opponents of pederasty argued that (1) the appeal to platonic love was a coverup for sexual abuse and humiliation, as the laws against it revealed; (2) they argued that pederasty was effeminate and lacked the mutuality appropriate to mature love between a man and a woman; (3) pederastic relations were impermanent, ending inevitably with the onset of puberty; (4) they encouraged greed in the youth so used because they came to expect gifts from their lovers for the services they performed;(5) led to jealous conflicts which demeans all parties involved; and, (6) they argued pedarasty was contrary to nature, (para physin).
By any token, pederasty was a major characteristic of gentile culture and as the writings of the rabbis of Palestinian Judaism and the writers of Hellenistic Judaism (Philo and Josephus), indicate, it was seen as a distinguishing evil in gentile culture. Therefore, when Paul turns his attention to gentile culture for the purpose of identifying a primal sin to stigmatize that culture, he turns to sexual abuse. Let's look at his language more closely.
Paul indicts both men and women in his brief. Their (the gentile's) women exchanged the natural sexual use, (physiken) for that use or function which is contrary to nature, (ten para physin). Although this is commonly understood as a reference to lesbianism, it may not be at all. Miller (Nov T XXXVII.1: 1-11. Jan 1995) has argued convincingly that the reference here is to heterosexual practice, in particular to forms of noncoital intercourse practiced in Roman orgies, that is anal and oral heterosexual intercourse. Given the general Roman silence, in fact, indifference, about Lesbian relations, this makes more sense than the proposal that the reference is to lesbian relations. It also signals Paul's concerns, that his concern is sexual abuse in both its heterosexual and homosexual forms.
The second indictment, 1:27, refers to males exchanging the natural sexual function with women and being consumed with lust for one another, committing shameful acts with each other. Here, the reference is clear. Heterosexual males abandon their natural sexuality to cross over and commit same-gender sexual acts. This activity is found in the context of the Roman orgy, perhaps in temple prostitution as well, but more importantly, it was the standard feature of pederasty, in which heterosexual married men enlisted the services of prepubescent boys, abandoning their natural sexual orientation to indulge their lust.
To illustrate his theological point, namely that idolatry leads to cultural decay, Paul has selected what was to his mind, most typical to Roman culture. One of its signatures, to condemn the whole, in light of the gospel. In order to be rhetorically convincing, his illustration has to be obvious and conceded by all. He is saying in effect, that gentiles exchange their knowledge of God to worship idols, with the result that they revel in sexual abuse and exploitation, a sure and certain sign of God's wrath being worked out in gentile cultural patterns. As examples of this abuse, he takes women's heterosexual excesses, and men's homosexual excesses.
The phrase para physin is critical. It means against nature, but in the sense of "in excess of" or "beyond the bounds of" nature or one's nature. Just as idolators exceeded their nature as creatures and sought to become the creators of the gods by fashioning idols, so in their cultural patterns, idolators exceed the bounds of their nature in their sexual relationships, producing distorted, abusive, and exploitive patterns of life, no less destructive than idolatry is to the genuine worship of the Creator.
But it needs to be said that in none of this has Paul spoken against homosexuality as it is known today. Paul speaks of heterosexuals abandoning their own sexual orientation to engage in homosexual acts, in the context of sexual abuse and misuse. Who wouldn't condemn such behavior? As Hultgren says so clearly, "Paul is speaking here of something beyond normal sexual desire; it is a lust that destroys the self and ends in abusive behavior."
Our mistake is to equate these abusive and dehumanizing sexual practices with homosexuality. There are no doubt abusive forms of homosexuality or same gender sexuality, just as there are abusive forms of heterosexuality. Romans 1 condemns them both as the consequence of abandoning God for idols. It is a profound theological analysis of human behavior and culture. But, to use Romans 1 to condemn homosexuality is to my mind as perverse a use of this text as the practices to which it refers.
[Brauch 1][Herzog 1][Brauch 2] [This is Herzog 2] [Brauch 3] [Herzog 3] [bridges-across TOC]