• Paul on Homosexuality: PART FIVE

    February 10, 2012

    I feel as though for the first time in my life Paul’s letter to the Romans makes sense as a cohesive unit. When I tried making “Romans” chapter 1 about humanity’s metaphorical idolatry and homosexuality, nothing quite clicked. Once I understood the culture of Paul’s day and the circumstances within the early church in Rome which Paul must have been addressing, everything came into focus.

    It’s well known that there was discord in the early days of the Christian faith. Jewish followers found it difficult to believe and accept that God had made those dirty awful Gentiles equal recipients with the chosen people, the Jews, in the kingdom of heaven. Quite simply, the Jews were jealous and offended. For their part, the Gentiles were at times given to arrogance over their newfound access to a relationship with God. They boasted against the Jews who they saw as having been cast aside by God for their disobedience and unbelief.

    The apostle Paul sets about the task of writing a long and brilliant thesis on why there is no cause for jealousy or arrogance because there is no difference in God’s sight between Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:22-24; 10:12-13). The “Good News” is not just that people can be forgiven of their sins and restored to fellowship with the God of all creation. The “Good News” is that all people can have this experience. The Jew, yes, but also the Gentile. The circumcised and the uncircumcised alike. This seems obvious to us today. It was shocking and controversial early on.

    Paul begins in Romans 1, not (at least in my mind and the minds of many commentators) to discuss humanity’s metaphorical idolatries, but to describe the awful pagan idolatries of the Gentiles. He uses common imagery which the Jews would have seen around them in the culture of the day: the worship of creatures rather than the Creator, idols made in the form of reptiles, men, and women; pagan sex rites, orgies involving men and women, and emasculated male priests having para physin sex with men in order to transcend gender and become like the goddesses they worshipped. Paul does his best to make the Gentiles look truly awful in their fallenness. One can almost hear his Jewish readers saying, “Yeah! That’s right, Paul! Get ’em!”

    Of course the celebration ends abruptly in Romans 2 when Paul springs his trap on the Jews.

    ROMANS 2
    17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God\’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

    Why would Paul suddenly start staying, “Hey, you too,” to the Jews if he had already included them in Romans 1? If Romans 1 is all about the fall of humanity as a whole, there would be no need for chapter 2. It seems to me that Romans 1 is written to make the Jews feel that familiar sense of superiority that they’d enjoyed as God’s chosen people throughout the ages. Then Paul overturns their confidence with Romans 2 and indicts them as well. He says, in effect, “You who trust in the law and judge the law-breaking Gentiles … you’re just as guilty!”

    So all are under judgment for sin. All have fallen short of God’s glorious standard.

    ROMANS 3
    9 What shall we conclude then? Do we [Jews] have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin … There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

    So grace comes by faith, not by keeping the Old Testament Law, and that grace is available through faith to Jew and Gentile alike.

    In Romans 4 and 5, Paul shows how this theology is consistent with the Old Testament. Abraham was given the promise after the first Adam sinned. Now the second Adam (Jesus) has made good on God’s promise. In Romans 6 through 8, we are now released from the covenant (Old Testament Law) that leads to death and are inducted into a new covenant (the law of the Spirit) that leads to life. In Romans 9, we see that all of this is by God’s sovereign choice. Again, in Romans 10, there is now no difference between Jew of Gentile. The Lord of all is generous toward all who call on him.

    This might make the Gentiles a little boastful to suddenly find themselves in such favor with God. Paul says there is no cause for boasting.

    ROMANS 11

    17 If some of the branches [Jews] have been broken off, and you [the Gentiles], though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, 18do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” 20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

    The “Good News,” the Gospel, is that all are on the same level now before God. All must trust in Jesus’ sacrifice for sins. There is no other salvation.

    In Romans 12 – 16, Paul describes how God’s people should live in light of this grace provided. This final section of his letter, or thesis, builds on Jesus’ “new commandment” to love one another.

    ROMANS 13

    8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

    Did you catch that? “… Whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

    That’s it? That’s all I have to keep in mind? No more picking and choosing from the Old Testament laws? No more endless debates over whether this or that is sin? I simply need to ask myself, am I, in doing this thing or that, loving my neighbor as I would love myself? Could it really be that simple?

    We’ll return to this later, but first, let’s look at the other two brief references Paul makes to some sort of homosexual activity.

    Posted in: The Gay Posts

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