My daily exploration of the Bible, taking it one chapter at a time. If I do it everyday, it'll take 1189 days.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Romans 1

We're all a bit gay

Hi Romans. It's Paul, the Apostle of God's gospel about Jesus the man who was His Son. Mate, you guys have been faithful! I pray for you, and can't wait to come and preach the gospel in Rome.

Look, there's not excuse. God can be clearly seen from the very fact that there is a world. People have chosen to reject him, and have fallen into worshiping idols and homosexuality. People are evil, and know they deserve death.

Key verse:
16. I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes

My thoughts:
Wow, this is going to be different! We're in the letters! Until now everything's been either narrative or poetry (prophecy is pretty poetic). Fun times.

So Paul starts his letter in the standard form of the time. He has never been to Rome. Rome is without an Apostle, so Paul's initial goal in this letter is to tell the gospel. His whole introduction is focussed on the primacy of the gospel. His first point of the book coincides with the first truth I would tell someone when sharing the gospel. That we are sinners and we know we are. Paul is onto it.

So yea. Homosexuality. It just so happens that before I went to do this chapter, I was satiating my curiosity by reading about Fred Phelps. I stumbled across this video which is quite funny if you can handle the occasional men making out.

Fred Phelps is pretty screwed up, and has, of course, got things pretty darn wrong. The Bible is, however, absolutely clear, as in this chapter, that homosexual acts are sins. It is clear in the Old Testament, but more importantly, it is clearly reaffirmed here in the New Testament.

What does this mean? It means that if people choose to follow Jesus, then they should strive to stop sinning. If they have been struggling with/doing homosexual acts, then they shouldn't be content with that and should be stopping that, just like any other sins that anyone else may strive to stop.

Many people, of course, do not choose to follow Jesus. If they are gay, then I have no immediate desire to degay them. Rather, I want to introduce them to Jesus. Once they meet Jesus, I don't believe that I should have to convince them to change their lifestyle.

There's lots of controversy around legislation about sexuality. For me, laws about homosexuality and gay marriage aren't worth getting upset about. We believe that sex before marriage is a sin, but we don't expect the state to criminalise that! If society on mass decides that they don't want to be a society where homosexuality is allowed then that's fine. If they do that on a Christian basis, then sex outside of marriage should have an equal penalty. But a Christian minority shouldn't be too concerned with what the state decides to do. Of more concern to me, and what I feel should be of more concern to Christians, is the role of homosexuality in the church.

Within the church, representing the followers of Jesus, I believe that homosexuality, like other sins, should be clearly stated as a sin. It should not be justified or accepted as okay, like other sins. As for church leadership, open and proud practisers of homosexuality should as equally disallowed as open and proud adulterers. People who struggle with homosexuality should be considered for leadership equally as those who struggle with sex before marriage.

Okay, finally, some people will read this, and because of their world view will think that to consider homosexuality a sin is incredibly bigoted. They would say it is an unjustifiable belief, based on the idea that it is wrong to judge people on something they cannot change. I would not be able to justify the Bible's views on homosexuality if I did not believe that people can change (except if you got into predestination etc... never mind...). I believe that a 'gay' person can definitely change how they act, and to a certain extent change how they think. Is their sexuality to a certain extent influenced by unchanging genes? Probably, but so is violence in some people. That doesn't make it okay or unchangeable.

Will 'degaifying' oneself be easy and quick? Of course not. Will the feelings and attractions disappear? Maybe they will with a lot of time and with God's favour, but generally it won't be that simple. Will you be genuinely attracted to the opposite sex? Maybe, maybe not. There's no Biblical mandate to be in an active heterosexual relationship if you don't want to be.

In my view homosexual sexual desire is like heterosexual sexual desire. Heterosexual sexual desire has one place where it can be appropriately expressed. Homosexual sexual desire does not. Both groups, however, have to deal with inappropriate but naturally occurring sexual desire. Both groups have to choose to go against what may be called natural desires. Just because desires are natural, doesn't make them okay.

Anyway, that's my rant. Feel free to quote me, because I'm convinced of what I've written. Feel free to argue with me, cos I love that.


Anonymous Deane said...

After having examined the possible interpretations of Paul here, and the many alternative suggestions about what Paul is saying, I quite agree with you that Paul considered sexual acts between two men to be wrong; a sin. Paul not only considered homosexuality to be sinful, but he considered it to be unnatural - contrary to God's rules of nature itself.

And Paul also considered that nature itself told us: men with long hair are also bad. For Paul, men with long hair was JUST WRONG. He wouldn't even think a second thought about it, because it was just obvious to him - long hair on a man was as contrary to nature as, well, as short hair on a woman! Errrrgghhh!! Imagine that!! Yuck yuck, yuck! How manifestly deviant!!

In Paul's own words:
"Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him?"
(1 Corinthians 11.14)

Pete before:
some people will read this, and because of their world view will think that to consider homosexuality a sin is incredibly bigoted.

Ya think? How could people leap to such a conclusion from the 'straight'-up and benevolent comments of someone who just wants to "degaify" all homosexuals? It's really *them* who have the problem, isn't it?

5:15 pm

Blogger Pete W said...

Ok, you make two points, as far as I can tell.

1) The Bible condemns long hair on men in the same way it condemns homosexuality.

2) It is inherently obvious that to seek to "degaify" people is wrong. (You obviously think it's inherently obvious, because you didn't actually present an argument).

Here are my responses.

1) Firstly, if pushed I would rather go the way of saying that men having long hair is Biblically unsound, than saying that homosexuality is okay. I seek to live Biblically.

Secondly, homosexuality is referred to multiple times in the Bible. This is even one of the rare cases where the Old Testament references are relevant due to the conclusions of Acts 15. It is referred to in no uncertain terms in all cases.

Hair length is only really explicitly mentioned (as far as I can tell) in the passage you quoted. I believe that it is a simple argument saying that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul is stating contextualised rules. The same is not true when trying to and say that all passages on homosexuality are contextual only. 1 Corinthians 11 makes the most sense in terms of what was going on in the Corinthian Church. Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 6, on the contrary, are clearly talking about the general sin of humankind. In 1 Cor 11, Paul even calls on us to "Judge for yourselves". That phrase, admittedly, is not specifically referencing hair length, but I think it says a lot about the tone of the passage.

The stories of Samson and Numbers 6 (and even Absalom and John the Baptist maybe) mean that the Bible sheds at best a fuzzy picture about whether men can have long hair. Homosexuality has no such ambiguity. The closest (only because it's the most well known) is David and Jonathan, a relationship which though uses some sexual language in it's description (or maybe just in Saul's description), I still struggle to consider as serious candidate for a positively expressed homosexual relationship.

I believe that homosexuality was common in Paul's culture, and was accepted by many. I don't think that it was significantly different than now, and I don't think this can be seen as a cultural law.

2) If homosexuality is seen as truly unchangeable and is not seen as a sin, then to try and 'degaify' people would be wrong. These are assumptions however. They are common assumptions in our society however.

I am a bigot if you have those assumptions. But you wouldn't be one to judge people based on your assumptions, would you Deane?

Also, I want to make it clear that I only think it is appropriate to expect Christians to change their sexual conduct so that it is consistent with the Bible. Non-Christians I just want to introduce to Jesus, no matter what they've done or what they do.

8:56 pm

Anonymous Deane said...

Ok, you make two points, as far as I can tell.

1) The Bible condemns long hair on men in the same way it condemns homosexuality.

2) It is inherently obvious that to seek to "degaify" people is wrong. (You obviously think it's inherently obvious, because you didn't actually present an argument).

You tell wrong. In fact, I make neither of these points. My criticism was obviously too subtle. That is, I don't at all consider that the Bible's condemnation of same-sex sexual acts is the "same" as its condemnation of having long hair; they are different in many respects. And I don't at all consider it is "inherently obvious" that to seek to "degaify" people is wrong.

In respect of the Bible's condemnation of men with long hair, the only commonality I would want to draw attention to is that it bases its assessment on what is "natural". It is not merely socially or "contextually" grounded, but the basis for the ethical rule is grounded in nature itself. I agree that, to be consistent, you should say that long hair on a male is inherently wrong according to the Bible. You should repent of your long-haired days, Pete, and avoid such "unnatural behaviour" too.

But, what I really wanted you to consider was whether Paul's idea of what "nature" required was in fact socially conditioned. Did Paul's ideas of what goes against nature - same-sex sexual acts, men with long hair, women with short hair - in fact have nothing to do with "nature" whatsoever? Are his ideas, and his ascription of them to nature or God merely and to some extent ... "bigoted" (that is, culturally bound - being a matter of definition, not ethical judgment)? Moreover, in light of our knowledge of different cultural practices of same-sex relationships, and different hair lengths between cultures (including some cultures where males have long hair and females have short hair), what would we be doing if we fail to take account of the now-obvious shortfalls in Paul's statements about "nature"?

Pete before:
If homosexuality is seen as truly unchangeable and is not seen as a sin, then to try and 'degaify' people would be wrong.

(Actually, it was only your tone that I was questioning, not the substantive content of your opinion. I don't know how many gays you introduce to Jesus with the phrasing "degay" and degaify", but I'm suspecting you may annoy more than you convert. But maybe I'm wrong, and gays just enjoy ridicule. They are perverse after all, aren't they?)

I also point out that I don't consider it "is inherently obvious that to seek to "degaify" people is wrong". It is merely an ethical position; mere arbitrary whim, as are all ethical stances. I have no "assumptions" about ethical norms.

9:41 am

Blogger Pete W said...

Ok that's fine. I agree that there are similarities between Paul's description of homosexuality in Romans 1 and men with long hair in 1 Corinthians 11. In a secular sense you could argue that both passages represent socially conditioned views. But I don't care if you can argue that parts of the Bible are socially/culturally conditioned. That doesn't mean they're irrelevant! That's why I was talking about contextualised texts, within which a certain command is only applicable in a certain context.

But ultimately all that has little bearing on the clarity and unity the Bible has with regard to homosexuality.

Admittedly, using the words 'degay' and 'degaify' was perhaps a little bit tongue and cheek. I was more just saying it for lack of a better word. It certainly wasn't intended to ridicule those who practice homosexuality. I should say "encourage them to resist the temptation to sin by way of homosexual acts". As for whether that would turn off more people than convert, well as long as I am not watering down what it is to be a Christian, and I'm not being unnecessarily offensive (which maybe saying 'degaify' was), then I have no problem with whatever my turn off/converted ratio is!

There's little point converting people if you pretend like they don't have to deal with the sin in their lives in some way when they come to Jesus.

10:23 am

Anonymous Deane said...

So, just to clarify:

1. Is it in fact contrary to nature for a man to have long hair (1 Cor 11.14), or is the morality of hair length merely a matter of cultural preference?

2. Is it in fact contrary to nature for a man to have sexual relations with another man (Rom 1.27), or is the morality of sexual practices merely a matter of cultural preference?


10:10 am

Blogger Dave said...

I think you're overcomplicating the issue by putting far too much weight on individual words.

Paul says that having men long hair is wrong, but he only says this once, and there are other examples of people with long hair in the Bible portrayed favourably. This suggests that Paul's judgement is culturally based, and that long hair is not an important issue.

Pauls says that homosexuality is wrong. He says this several time in the epistles, and homosexuality is condemned in the Old Testament also. This suggests that homosexuality is immoral, regardless on context.

What exactly is confusing you?

4:58 am

Anonymous Deane said...


Don't you think we should take any notice of Paul when he writes something just once? Well, that would be one way to address the issue, I guess - simply ignore it.

But, whether or not Paul writes about other issues (such as same-sex sexual relations) more than once should not alter the fact that here Paul calls long hair on a male "unnatural". I add that the appeal to nature is behind most of Paul's argument in 1 Cor 11.3-10 as well, which appeals to the order of creation as the reason behind the subordination of women. For Paul, the differentiation in veiling between men and women is grounded in his view that Gen 1.26-27 applies only to men (11.7a, 8a, 9a), but Gen 2.18-22 applies to women (11.7b, 8b, 9b). So while man is the eikon (image: Gen 1.26) of God, woman is only the doxa (glory) of man in the sense of being the manifestation of man's attributes, being made from (ek) man in origin (Gen 2.21-22; 1 Cor 11.8a), and for (dia) man, as his helper, in status (Gen 2.18; 1 Cor 11.9a). But man is directly the doxa of God. The social relationship of shame-honour (from the inferior attributed to the superior) is based on the ontological relation of glory (from the superior, manifested to the inferior). The whole reasoning in 1 Cor 11.1-16 is deeply rooted in nature and cosmological reasoning. So, although you are quite right to point out that this is the only place that Paul speaks about the 'unnaturalness' of men having long hair, he does so here with an elaborate interpretation of the creation story in Genesis 1-2 that explores the 'nature' of men and women.

Then, Paul introduces the giving of a peribolaiou (mantle) by nature in order to show that it is natural for a woman to have something on her head - and so to support his argument that a women should also have a veil over her head.

So, it would be unwise to simply dismiss Paul's reasoning, from nature, that long hair on a male is "unnatural".

I agree that the fact that other parts of the Bible show that long hair on a man was not condemned is important. But, it is important for showing up, once again, the problem of Paul's own argument from nature. Once again, it shows that, despite Paul's belief that long hair on a male is contrary to nature itself, it is really only a matter of social custom.

I trust that assists your understanding of the passage.

10:31 am

Anonymous Mark said...

'Gay bomb' scoops Ig Nobel award

Pioneering research into a "gay bomb" that makes enemy troops "sexually irresistible" to each other has scooped one of this year's Ig Nobel Prizes...

10:53 am

Blogger Pete W said...

Hmmm... Deane... your strategy seems to be to write a bunch of detailed linguistic stuff about something you know about which is only tangently related, thereby making no-one else have any particular desire (or maybe ability) to respond!

But anywhos... I agree with your final point. The other parts of Bible make it clear that Paul is only referring to social custom with regard to hair length. The same can't be said about homosexuality.

Yea, the gay bomb is hilarious. I'd seen it before!

9:32 pm


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