Sexuality and Slavery – Part Five

Back in the summer I began a series examining the Biblical passages around homosexual behaviour with a view to approaching the texts afresh to explore whether some of theology that I currently have was in any sense assumptive. You can read the first four parts of this series by clicking the links on the right hand sidebar where I have examined the New Testament cultural context, the argument over pais and the two “clobber words” used in 1 Corinthians 6.

I now want to turn our attention to Romans 1, and in particular to look at the arguments over what Paul means when he refers to “nature”. Specifically, it is Romans 1:26-27 where the discussion has its focus. Simplifying, the conservative understanding of the texts is that “nature” here refers to the natural order of how men and women should behave, i.e. heterosexually. So those who go against nature are behaving (and desiring) sexually in a way that they are not meant to. The revisionist response is that those who go against nature are going against their nature, so verses 26 and 27 they suggest refer to those who are naturally heterosexual and engage in homosexual behaviour.

Alternative Interpretations

There is one revisionist argument that we can dismiss immediately, and that is the idea that Romans 1 does not matter in the modern context because it is not referring to committed monogamous relationships. As we have seen in our discussion on the meaning of arsenokoites, there is a discussion to be had as to whether the specific words we are debating the meaning of only refer to a subset of homosexual behaviour. In this case however the argument about monogamous couples is not rested in an alternative translation of any specific words but rather an a priori assumption that the Pauline text is simply unaware of such couples. Of course, the argument can very quickly be removed by simply applying the same reasoning to other sexual behaviours that appear to be prohibited by Scripture. For example, we may suggest that although Scripture forbids incestuous relationships, since it is unaware of monogamous committed incestuous couples it cannot possibly refer to such unions. Or to push the argument provocatively to its limits, we might suggest that since Scripture is not aware of consensual ebophilic sexual relationships we should not immediately condemn such relationships, since Jesus’ words about “not causing one of these little ones to sin” obviously do not refer to such committed partnerships. And of course such an argument is absurd, but then by declaring that such relationships do not actually exist we fall into the very same fallacy perpetuated by some conservative speakers who suggest that there are no monogamous gay couples. On the contrary, monogamous gay couples do exist and similarly the kind of couples discussed above (monogamous incest, consensual ebophilia) also sadly exist.

A more robust revisionist argument is of this kind:

In Cybele’s Temple, castrated, transvestite Galli priests offered themselves sexually to male worshipers. This pagan same sex activity is what Paul describes in Romans 1:27.

This argument turns our attention to the text itself of Romans 1 because it asks us to consider what the specific words used in Romans 1:26-27 might actually mean. Is there anything in the text itself that might support the idea that Paul is condemning a specific homosexual behaviour, or is the condemnation a blanket ban on all homosexual activity?

The issue is not as easy to discern as it is in 1 Corinthians 6. In 1 Cor 6 we have a specific word which we have seen means “man who has sex with man”. In Romans 1 however we do not have a specific word that means “homosexual behaviour”. Rather we have a description of homosexual behaviour and then the usage of two phrases – phusikos meaning “natural” and pathos atimia meaning literally “passions disgrace”.

Natural – phusikos

The debate around “natural” is an argument whether natural refers to what is normal for a particular human being or what is normal / natural for all human beings. A good summary of this position is as follows:

Paul  criticized them because they were engaged in sexual activity which was unnatural for them. For a person with a heterosexual orientation, homosexual behavior is “shameful,” “unnatural,” “indecent,” and a “perversion.” The passage in Romans is not a condemnation of homosexual behavior. Rather, it disapproves of sexual behavior that is against a person’s basic nature (i.e. homosexual behaviors by people whose orientation is heterosexual).

To discover whether this is a correct interpretation we need to explore what the Greek words phusikos or phusis means. As in the past, we will look at its use in Scripture to determine whether there is a “normal” use of the word throughout the Bible.

Verse Meaning
Romans 2:14 following “by nature” (who they are as they have grown up) the Law of God
Romans 11:21 “natural branches” of Abraham’s genetic family (Jewish people)
Romans 11:24 as in Romans 11:21 – the “natural branches” of a tree
1 Corinthians 11:14 “nature teach you” – the natural order observed around us
Galatians 2:15 natural Jews (i.e. by birth and genetics)
Galatians 4:8 enslaved to “gods” who by their very nature are not gods
Ephesians 2:3 “by nature children of wrath” – reference to original sin and the soteriological consequences of that
James 3:7 “by mankind” – phusei te anthropine – lit. “natural humanity” (collective for whole of human race)
2 Peter 1:4 share in divine nature
2 Peter 2:12 raw nature (brute beasts)
Jude 1:10 raw nature

The first interesting observation is that there are no references to phusis or phusikos in the Septuagint Old Testament (though there are many usages of the words in the Apocrypha, specifically in Wisdom, Sirach and 4 Maccabees). This leads us to suggest that the linguistic or theological concept of “nature” is not found in the Hebrew Scriptures and is most likely a Hellenistic idea that Paul and the other New Testament writers (and those of the Apocrypha) adopt, even if the original texts (especially Sirach and Wisdom, though Wisdom is often understood to have been written in Greek with a Hebrew poetic style) were written in Hebrew. That however is not in and of itself a major issue, since the Johannine corpus uses the Hellenistic concept of the logos which is adopted quite happily by later Christian theologians (e.g. Justin Martyr). What it does mean though is that unlike the discussion over arsenokoites, we cannot refer to the Old Testament for an etymological explanation of the word’s meaning.

So returning to our original reason for examining these verses, we can see that the thrust of the meaning of phusis (nature) and phusikos (natural) is to point towards what is natural for all human beings (e.g. Eph 2:3, James 3:7) and not just what is natural for an individual human being. Even Romans 2:14 refers to a shared nature (phusis) of all Gentiles and not to individual natures. To therefore interpret phusikos in Romans 1:26 as referring to what is natural to an individual woman rather than to all human women is to impose a meaning on phusikos that is contrary to its usage through the rest of the Pauline corpus and the wider New Testament.

Indeed, such an approach is to impose upon Romans 1:26 a meaning to phusikos that is not found in the wider context of Greek philosophical thought. The preSocratic philosophers were known as physikoi because they pondered the truth about the natural order. Whether reading Platonic, Aristotelian, Epicurean, Stoic or any other kind of Greek philosophy it is impossible to find the idea that phusikos or phusis refers to the nature of a specific unique individual without it being explicit in the context. Rather, in all these strands of philosophy phusis is the nature of all the things being discussed.

For those who want to explore the meaning of phusis and phusikos further, and in particular whether the nature referred to is that of all humanity or particular individuals, there is this excellent article available online from the JETS

A specific sexual act?

We now turn to the second part of the revisionist assertion we quoted above, namely that it is a specific sexual act that is being condemned by Paul.

In Cybele’s Temple, castrated, transvestite Galli priests offered themselves sexually to male worshipers. This pagan same sex activity is what Paul describes in Romans 1:27.

The priests of Cybele were called gallus or galli, referring to their man-made eunuch status. They were physically castrated to further their sexual service to the fertility goddess. Male worshipers would engage in anal sex with the priests, as an offering to the goddess. This is the shameful activity Paul refers to in Romans 1:27.

An Archigalla was a head priest. “Galli, castrated, male, eunuch priests, were found in many goddess cults. They functioned as representatives of the goddess, offering themselves sexually to male worshippers. These religious practices flourished in first century Rome.

While it is absolutely true that such sexual practices occurred in Rome, there are two flaws in the argument that Paul is only addressing the cultic practices around Cybele worship and not using it as an example of a wider principle. Firstly, it would have been very easy for Paul to have referred specifically to the eunuchs in order to avoid any confusion over whether he was condemning this specific act or all homosexual behaviour. The word eunochos is used several times in the New Testament (Matthew 19:12, Acts 8) and there is no doubt that Paul could have been much more specific if he needed to be. But secondly, the revisionist argument here completely ignores the fact that the initial thrust of Paul’s argument is to do with female homosexuality which was not connected with Cybele worship. Indeed, female shrine prostitution for other females was unheard of in cultic environments and the role of female prostitutes was to provide a sexual outlet for men. In order for Romans 1:26-27 to be only about Cybele worship the second half of Romans 1:26 needs to be excised from the text to make the interpretation work.

That is not to say that Romans 1 very likely is using the context of Cybele worship to illustrate a wider point about incorrect sexual practice. There are clear similarities between what Paul lists as pagan practices and the manner of worship in the temples of Cybele. For example, this revisionist article lays out clearly the way Paul’s argument draws on this pagan behaviour.

21-22: They claimed to be wise but were foolish:

The galli claimed to tell people’s fortunes, but everybody thought were mad due to their frenzied dancing and self-mutilation. The Greek texts describe the “mania” of their rituals.

23: They made images of man and animals to worship:

The Cybele/Attis temple statues were primarily of Attis and/or Cybele, who were typically surrounded by images of other animals, particularly lions, birds and snakes. In addition, these temples were often filled with birds, because the galli believed they were too holy to touch, to chase them away.

26-27: They exchanged natural relations, etc:

One of the primary goals of the galli was to remove gender differences. This occurred through transvestitism, physically cutting off one’s genitals and the exchange of sexual roles. The male galli would serve sexually “as women” to male worshippers in the temple. Women had sex with men (and possibly with other women), but in order to avoid pregnancy, they would have anal sex, not vaginal, as indicated by early church writers such as Anastasius, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, and two apocalyptic texts.

The point is this – while it is likely that Paul is using Cybele worship as an example, his use of the phus root word shows that his critique is of the way the natural sexual use of human bodies has been distorted by this particular example (Cybele worship). The use of the phus root indicates that what he says is the natural sexual use of human bodies applies much further than just the adherents of Cybele.

Summary

Once again we find that the revisionists arguments are built upon suppositions rather than contextual hermeneutics. The argument that “nature” refers to an individual’s nature is rejected in the light of both the Scriptural use of the words and its use in Hellenistic philosophy before and during the period of the writing of the New Testament. Equally, the argument that Romans 1 refers to cultic prostitution is rejected in the light both of nothing in the text explicitly supporting such an argument and the inability of the limited cultic prostitution argument to interact with the clear meaning of the root word phus in the surrounding text.

In my next post I will examine the issue of Sodom.

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  • http://www.gaychristian101.com/Against-Nature.html Rick Brentlinger – GayChristian101.com

    1. Aristides, in AD 126, understood Paul in Romans 1 to be referring to shrine prostitution, as did Justin Martyr, around AD 150. Both men were native Greek speakers who lived within 100 years of the apostle Paul.

    They were intimately familiar with Roman culture and doctrinal currents in the early church. If anyone had insight into what Paul meant in Romans 1, it would be these two preachers, who understood Paul to be describing shrine prostitution in Romans 1.

    2. Clement of Alexandria, around AD 200, Anastasios, around the late 200s AD, Augustine, around AD 380, understood Romans 1:26 to be referring to women having non-procreative sex with men.

    Anastasios, an early Christian writer, wrote a marginal note in his copy of Clement’s book, Paidagogos, at the point at which Clement cites Romans 1:26.

    In his note, Anastasios dismisses the view that Paul was referring to lesbianism in his comments on Romans 1:26. He writes:

    “Clearly they (the females in v. 26) do not go into one another but rather offer themselves to the men.” -Brooton, Love Between Women, 1996, p. 337

    Augustine wrote in the fourth century:

    “But if one has relations (even with one’s wife) in a part of the body which was not made for begetting children, such relations are against nature and indecent. In fact, the same apostle earlier said the same thing about women. ‘For their women exchanged natural relations for those which are against nature.'” -Augustine, Marriage and Desire, 20:35

    3. Baptist Commentator John Gill, 1697-1771 held the same view about Romans 1:26, that it is referring to non-procreative sex between men and women.

    If the fact that gays disagree with your spin on Romans 1:26-27 makes them revisionists, then there were heterosexual “revisionists” in the early church.

    • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

      Proper debate – marvellous!!

      Let’s have some references please for Aristides and Justin Martyr. However, remember that the issue isn’t whether Paul is referring to Cybele worship, but whether he is ONLY criticising such cultic practices.

      If Anastasios and Augustine are correct then we still have to deal with the very clear activity in verse 27 of men having sex with men. As for Augustine, you have an incorrect reference – the citation is from 2:35 and the full text goes as follows:

      My answer to this challenge is, that not only the children of wedlock, but also those of adultery, are a good work in so far as they are the work of God, by whom they are created: but as concerns original sin, they are all born under condemnation of the first Adam; not only those who are born in adultery, but likewise such as are born in wedlock, unless they be regenerated in the second Adam, which is Christ. As to what the apostle says of the wicked, that “leaving the natural use of the woman, the men burned in their lust one toward another: men with men working that which is unseemly;” he did not speak of the conjugal use, but the “natural use,” wishing us to understand how it comes to pass that by means of the members created for the purpose the two sexes can combine for generation. Thus it follows, that even when a man unites with a harlot to use these members, the use is a natural one. It is not, however, commendable, but rather culpable. But as regards any part of the body which is not meant for generative purposes, should a man use even his own wife in it, it is against nature and flagitious. Indeed, the same apostle had previously Romans 9:26 said concerning women: “Even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature;” and then concerning men he added, that they worked that which is unseemly by leaving the natural use of the woman. Therefore, by the phrase in question, “the natural use,” it is not meant to praise conjugal connection; but thereby are denoted those flagitious deeds which are more unclean and criminal than even men’s use of women, which, even if unlawful, is nevertheless natural.

      From that it is unclear whether Augustine is referring solely to heterosexual anal sex or to lesbian sex, but note that if you take the anal sex line (which you seems to be doing) then the logical outworking is that Augustine condemns male anal sex and casts great doubt on any sex which is not by its nature procreative, which pretty well rules out all homosexual activity.

      And note Augustine’s subtle argument here – sexual acts are good not if they result in procreation but if they are the same “natural” act which can result in procreation. All other acts for him are not natural and therefore not what God intends us to do. So even with your interpretation Augustine still comes out against homosexual activity.

      So over to you – let’s have the references for Aristides, Clement and Anastasios.

      • http://www.gaychristian101.com/Romans-And-Shrine-Prostitution.html Rick Brentlinger

        Riding your anti-gay hobby horse, you cannot deflect what apparently is an innate characteristic – the irresistible urge to link homosexuals to child molesters .

        You are marginally more clever than some by cloaking your link in the guise of an ebophilic argument. How unsurprisingly dishonorable of you.

        Interpreting Romans 1:26-27 as condemning lesbians and gays is to ignore the cultural, historical and religious context Paul weaves into his Romans argument.

        I commend you for at least giving lip service to the fact that Cybele worship WAS a factor in Paul's argument, when you write:

        "it is absolutely true that such sexual practices occurred in Rome, there are two flaws in the argument that Paul is only addressing the cultic practices around Cybele worship and not using it as an example of a wider principle."

        "Romans 1 very likely is using the context of Cybele worship to illustrate a wider point about incorrect sexual practice. There are clear similarities between what Paul lists as pagan practices and the manner of worship in the temples of Cybele."

        "The point is this – while it is likely that Paul is using Cybele worship as an example…"

        First century Christians in Rome were familiar with Cybele's temple because it loomed above the Circus Maximus, clearly visible to hundreds of thousands of Roman sports fans. With five shrines to Cybele in first century Rome, with Cybele's likeness on Roman coins, with her exalted status as "the Protectress of Rome," and with the religious parades every spring, led by castrated galli priests, Cybele was well-known to most citizens of Rome.

        To insist that Paul was really addressing the issue of two women or two men who loved each other and wanted to spend their lives together but Cybele not so much, is a sad misunderstanding of history.

        Your slight argumentative twist, which acknowledges "it is likely that Paul is using Cybele worship as an example" but then insists that Paul's main intent was to slam those nasty lesbians and gays who by the way, are kinda like child molesters, gives us telling insight into the darkness of your heart.

        Click my name for the Aristides, Justin Martyr and more info…

        • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_Ould Peter Ould

          Rick,

          I'm note sure where to start, but let's try…

          i) At what point did I link homosexuality to child molestation? Where did that come from?
          ii) You haven't responded with any substance to any of the points I've mentioned. As for going to your website, I've done that but can't find the quotes. Perhaps you'd like to make it more explicit for us where to find them please.
          iii) Accusing me of having an "anti-gay hobby horse" is just a rather polemic way of not engaging with the issues. If your only response is to accuse me of being homophobic without ever responding to any of the issues of context and hermeneutics I'm raising, we're not going to get very far. There are plenty of people who take a pro-gay theological stance who comment here and don't have to descend to such depths of ad hominem. Please try harder.

          • http://www.gaychristian101.com/Romans-1.html Rick Brentlinger

            Aristides cite – http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1012.htm

            Anastasios/Clement cite – Love Between Women – Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, by Bernadette Brooten, page 337

            Peter asked: "At what point did I link homosexuality to child molestation? Where did that come from?"

            Methinks you are being intentionally obtuse.

            You've already described your argument as provocative.

            "Or to push the argument provocatively to its limits, we might suggest that since Scripture is not aware of consensual ebophilic sexual relationships we should not immediately condemn such relationships, since Jesus’ words about “not causing one of these little ones to sin” obviously do not refer to such committed partnerships."

            You compared homosexuality to child molesting but substituted ebophilic for child molesting, citing a scripture about "these little ones" so your readers would get the point of your comparison.

            When I pointed out your self-described "provocative" ad hominem argument (homosexuals are like ebophilic child molesters), you accused me of "a rather polemic way of not engaging with the issues."

            "Descending to the depths of ad hominem" indeed.

            • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_Ould Peter Ould

              OK, lets take those in reverse.

              At no point do I compare homosexuality to child abuse. Rather, what I do is apply the same form of argument used to support homosexuality to the example of a consensual ebophilic sexual relationship for the purposes of inquiring whether the argument is sufficient to support the pro-gay position. That has nothing to do with equating homosexuality with child abuse and everything to do with good robust debate. I am unequivocally not saying that "homosexuals are like ebophilic child molesters" and I resent the suggestion.

              At no point anywhere in this blog (which has been going now for three and a half years) do I equate homosexuality with child abuse. Indeed, at times I have criticised conservatives for making such links. If you can demonstrate anywhere on this blog where I have made the explicit connection you suggest then let me know, otherwise an apology will be in order.

              Now to the rest of your argument:

              Aristides – There is no reference in the piece you link to of the Roman pagan sexual practice that I can see. Perhaps you might want to give me the exact paragraph and line number or paste the quote in here?

              Anastasios/Clement – I don't have a copy of that Brooten book, so you will need to provide a link (or paste the text) of the section of Anastasios or Clement that you are referring to. If you want me to respond I need to know chapter and verse of the quote. Simply citing a footnote in a book isn't good enough – we need to be able to read the original quote in order to discuss it.

              • http://www.gaychristian101.com/Romans-1.html Rick Brentlinger

                Peter asked: "At what point did I LINK homosexuality to child molestation? Where did that come from?"

                Then you shift the language by stating: "At no point do I COMPARE homosexuality to child abuse."

                1. You deliberately chose an argument you described as provocative.

                2. You drew an analogy linking homosexuality to ebophilic relationships.

                3. Analogies compare things that are different to point out similarities between them.

                4. You self-defined ebophilic as meaning "little children" when in normal usage it refers to teenagers.

                5. Then you affect an air of injured innocence when you're caught linking/comparing homosexuality to sex with "little children."

                As for quoting Anastasios, you admonished me to "try harder." I trust you will accept the same admonition: Try harder. The quote from Anastasios has already been given in my first post in this thread, which I'll repeat here.

                "Anastasios, an early Christian writer, wrote a marginal note in his copy of Clement's book, Paidagogos, at the point at which Clement cites Romans 1:26.

                In his note, Anastasios dismisses the view that Paul was referring to lesbianism in his comments on Romans 1:26. He writes:

                "Clearly they (the females in v. 26) do not go into one another but rather offer themselves to the men." -Brooton, Love Between Women, 1996, p. 337"

                The Apology of Aristides, with numbered sections, can be found at: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1012.htm

                Aristides the Athenian Christian Philosopher says:

                Paragraph 2: "The Barbarians, indeed, trace the origin of their kind of religion from Kronos and from Rhea and their other gods"

                Aristides speaks of false religion, the religion of Kronos (which is the North African name from Molech, Lev 18:21, 20:2, 3, 4 , 5, in the context of the alleged prohibition of homosexuality).

                Aristides speaks of the religion of Rhea (which is another name for the fertility goddess known as Cybele, Protectress of Rome. The Phyrgians and Romans called her Cybele; the Cretans called her Rhea, according to Gordon Rattray Taylor, Sex in History, 1954, Book 3, Chapter 12).

                http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/ta… – see the tenth paragraph on that page.

                In section 3, Aristides refers to Paul's argument in Romans 1. Aristides free quotes verses in Romans 1 in his argument to the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

                Aristides, section 3 – "The Barbarians, then, as they did not apprehend God, went astray among the elements, and began to worship things created instead of their Creator; and for this end they made images and shut them up in shrines…"

                Compare Aristides' "began to worship things created instead of their Creator" to Romans 1:25 – "worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator…"

                Compare Aristides' "they made images and shut them up in shrines" to Romans 1:23 – "changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things…"

                In section 4, Aristides refers to Romans 1 when he says: "Let us turn now, O King, to the elements in themselves, that we may make clear in regard to them, that they are not gods, but a created thing…"

                Compare this to Romans 1:25 – "worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator…"

                Section 4, paragraph 2 – Aristides cites the earth because he is dealing with Rhea/Cybele, the fertility goddess whose worshipers engaged in male-male anal sex and male-female anal sex in their attempt to get the fertility goddess to have sex with her consort and thereby cause the earth to be fertile instead of unfruitful.
                My recent post Feb 2, How can I get my mother to accept that me being gay is not a sin?

                • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_Ould Peter Ould

                  1. You deliberately chose an argument you described as provocative.

                  2. You drew an analogy linking homosexuality to ebophilic relationships.

                  3. Analogies compare things that are different to point out similarities between them.

                  And that is where this argument fails. I did not draw an analogy. I used the same argument about consent and applied it to a different scenario. At no point did I say that there were similarities in practice or motivation.

                  I think your problem here is that you think I think that homosexuals are paedophiles. The fact that I don't think that seems to be the problem.

                  Anastasios – i don't want the quote from the modern author, I want the original quote from Anastasios. If you can't provide that then your argument is as robust as that from a conservative quoting Paul Cameron's "statistics" on the mortality of gay men. We need the original text in context, not what someone excises from that text.

                  Aristides – And this is exactly a case in point. The Apologies (I presume you are using the English translation from the Greek, as the Syriac has variants from what you wrote) while quoting Romans 1 never address the practices of the Romans (because if did it would mention them). The references are to the Barbarians (generic pagans) and the Greeks. So lets take your specific quotes.

                  Apol Arist 2 : I am perfectly happy with the fact that Rhea is another name for Cybele, but this paragraph does not address what the sexual practices of Romans 1:26-27 are so doesn't help.

                  Apol Arist 3 : Same again. A quote from Romans 1 but not addressing the nature of the sexual practice

                  Apol Arist 4 : Same again. A quote from Romans 1 but not addressing the nature of the sexual practice. Here is para 2 of section 4 in full (the translation you are using is from the Syriac):

                  Those then who believe concerning the earth that it is a god have hitherto deceived themselves, since it is furrowed and set with plants and trenched; and it takes in the filthy refuse of men and beasts and cattle. And at times it becomes unfruitful, for if it be burnt to ashes it becomes devoid of life, for nothing germinates from an earthen jar. And besides if water be collected upon it, it is dissolved together with its products. And it is trodden under foot of men and beast, and receives the bloodstains of the slain; and it is dug open, and filled with the dead, and becomes a tomb for corpses. But it is impossible that a nature, which is holy and worthy and blessed and immortal, should allow of anyone of these things. And hence it appears to us that the earth is not a god but a creation of God.

                  and just in case there's any doubt, the same from the Greek.

                  They erred also who believed the earth to be a goddess. For we see that it is despitefully used and tyrannized over by men, and is furrowed and kneaded and becomes of no account. For if it be burned with fire, it becomes devoid of life; for nothing will grow from the ashes. Besides if there fall upon it an excess of rain it dissolves away, both it and its fruits. Moreover it is trodden under foot of men and the other creatures; it is dyed with the blood of the murdered; it is dug open and filled with dead bodies and becomes a tomb for corpses. In face of all this, it is inadmissible that the earth is a goddess but rather it is a work of God for the use of men.

                  Now please tell us Rick, where in that paragraph (you can use the translation of the Greek or the Syriac, I'm not picky) does Aristides address the nature of the sexual activity referred to in Romans 1:26-27. Do you want the orignal Greek or Syriac? Would that help?

                  May I suggest that you have imposed your position as to what the sexual activity in Cybele worship is upon the Aristides text since there is nothing in the text which describes it?

              • http://www.gaychristian101.com/Romans-1.html Rick Brentlinger

                http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1012.htm

                Section 6, paragraph 1 – Aristides speaks of the sun god. Molech, whom Aristides has already mentioned (Kronos/Molech) was the Canaanite sun God.

                http://molech.com/

                Section 7, paragraph 2 – "O King, we are bound to recognize the error of the Barbarians, that thereby, since they did not find traces of the true God, they fell aside from the truth, and went after the desire of their imagination, serving the perishable elements and lifeless images, and through their error not apprehending what the true God is."

                Aristides' "they fell aside from the truth"

                Compare this to Romans 1:18 – "who hold the truth in unrighteousness"

                Aristides' "went after the desire of their imagination"

                Compare this to Romans 1:21 – "became vain in their imaginations

                Aristides' "not apprehending what the true God is"

                Compare this to Romans 1:21 – "their foolish heart was darkened"

                Section 8 – "The Greeks, then, because they are more subtle than the Barbarians, have gone further astray than the Barbarians; inasmuch as they have introduced many fictitious gods, and have set up some of them as males and some as females"

                Aristides hearkens back to his earlier statement about Kronos/Molech and Rhea/Cybele and points out about the Greek gods, that

                "some polluted themselves by lying with males."

                The context of Aristides' oration is false gods and their false sexual worship.

                Section 9, paragraph 1 – "Let us proceed further to their account of their gods that we may carefully demonstrate all that is said above. First of all, theGreeks bring forward as a god Kronos, that is to say Chiun (Saturn). And his worshippers sacrifice their children to him, and they burn some of them alive in his honour. And they say that he took to him among his wives Rhea…"

                Aristides returns to his theme of false worship of false gods, mentioning Kronos/Molech and Rhea/Cybele (section 11, paragraph 5) and Aphrodite, the Greek equivalent of Cybele (section 11, paragraph 3).

                http://department.monm.edu/classics/Courses/ISSI4

                Section 9, paragraph 3 – "By reason of these tales, O King, much evil has arisen among men, who to this day are imitators of their gods, and practise adultery and defile themselves with their mothers and their sisters, and by lying with males, and some make bold to slay even their parents. For if he who is said to be the chief and king of their gods do these things how much more should his worshippers imitate him? And great is the folly which the Greeks have brought forward in their narrative concerning him. For it is impossible that a god should practise adultery or fornication or come near to lie with males, or kill his parents; and if it be otherwise, he is much worse than a destructive demon."

                Section 16, paragraph 2 – "Take, then, their writings, and read therein, and lo! You will find that I have not put forth these things on my own authority, nor spoken thus as their advocate; but since I read in their writings I was fully assured of these things as also of things which are to come."

                Aristides drew his thoughts about false gods and true religion from the scriptures.

                Aristides, in the context of decrying the false religion of the Barbarians and the Greeks, points out their false religious practice of same sex activity which pagans practiced in imitation of the activity of their false gods, "lying with males."

                Men lying with men is only mentioned in the New Testament in Romans 1:27. Aristides, perhaps the most famous Christian preacher and philosopher of his day, can only be referring to Romans 1:27 when he makes these remarks.

                My recent post Feb 2, How can I get my mother to accept that me being gay is not a sin?

                • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_Ould Peter Ould

                  Nothing in this which has Aristides describing the actual sexual practices of Cybele/Rhea worship. My point still stands.

  • Neo

    Good post, as I would expect from you! I appreciate your digging into these issues. However, I did notice a minor mistake: under the heading “Natural – phusikos” you mention a summary of the “second position” even though that position is mentioned first.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_Ould Peter Ould

      Thanks Neo. Have corrected the error.

  • Blair

    Hello Peter and all,

    at the risk of being arrogant or dismissive, could I try and shift the debate a bit?

    If your basic argument is that the revisionist view which has Paul talking about people going against their own individual nature rather than 'nature' in a much broader sense, is wrong, I agree – that is indeed a poor argument. But it seems to me that there are far better 'revisionist' readings of Romans 1 which could be engaged with.

    For instance, Rowan Williams in The way forward? (pp15-16) says, "What makes this text [Romans 1] less than completely decisive for some contemporary Christian interpreters is that the 'phenomena' in view here are described in terms of considerable imaginative 'violence' – the blind abandonment of what is natural and at some level known to be so, and the deliberate turning in rapacity to others. To see this as an account of 'the phenomena of homosexual behaviour' is to beg the question somewhat, when it is cast as a self-conscious flouting of a truth already made known". I don't think this can be reduced to the argument that you counter above, Peter, and it seems to me important that he questions how Romans 1 is applied now – whether what we see described in Romans 1 is what we see if we observe how gay people behave. The two would need to be the same for a conservative interpretation to work, I'd suggest.

    OK, the comment thingy says my full comment is too long so I will stop there and post again!

    in friendship, Blair

  • Blair

    Here's the rest….

    I never did get round to summarising Gareth Moore's argument on Romans 1 – so will try briefly here (drawing on A question of truth , pp86 to 105). Moore reminds us that this portion of Romans 1 is a rhetorical attack on Gentiles, who have deliberately suppressed the plain truth about God. It is because of this (v24) that God has given them up "in the lusts of their hearts to impurity". So their same-sex desire and activity is a punishment for their original crime of idolatry – the same-sex desire and activity is not a sin to be punished, but itself a punishment. Moore notes that Paul uses the language not of sin but of uncleanness (the NRSV's word "impurity") to describe the 'homosexual' acts – Moore emphasises the distinction and concludes one section by saying that his analysis "does not show, of course, that same-sex practices are not sinful; nor does it show that Paul did not think them sinful. It does show, however, that he does not present them in Romans 1 as sinful. He calls them unclean, shameful and dishonourable, but not sinful. This is not a matter of mere words: the essential point is that he presents them not as practices provoking the wrath of God and calling for punishment, but as a result of the wrath of God" (p90).

    Moore agrees that it is highly unlikely that Paul is referring to individuals going against their own nature, but points out that this, and what 'against nature' might mean, are less important if his preceding argument is valid. Moore's argument continues through other sub-sections including one on v26, and his concluding section links us again to applying Romans 1 now. Supposing his reading of Romans 1 is wrong, and "that 1:26-7 really does amount to a condemnation of all homosexuality. Still it remains incontrovertible that for Paul in Romans the root of same-sex activity is the deliberate rejection of God". This makes using Romans 1 problematic in modern Christian debates, because "there are not inconsiderable numbers of Christians who wish to overturn the traditionally negative Christian attitude to homosexuality. A large percentage of these are themselves homosexual… There are, that is, plenty of people in homosexual relationships who have not wilfully refused to recognise God, but who gladly honour him" (p104). Moore goes on to say that "With gay Christians, the link that Paul fashions between recognition of God, sexual desire and behaviour, and way of life breaks down" (p105).

    Finally, there is James Alison's argument, available on the web, which takes Romans 2:1 as the starting point for reading chapter 1. Alison suggests removing the verse and chapter breaks to try and help us see that Paul's rhetoric in chapter 1 is building up for the 'puncturing' effect of 2:1, and that this is in the service of Paul's overall argument that all have fallen short and so no-one is in a position to judge anyone else. This makes it somewhat ironic that Romans 1 has been used to condemn a particular group of people. A little like Moore, Alison says that even if he is wrong and Paul is referring to homosexuality as we understand it now in Romans 1:26-27, the text cannot be used to judge gay people because Paul's overall argument could be summarised as, "'yes, yes, we know that there are these people who do these silly things, but that is completely irrelevant besides the hugely significant fact that these are simply different symptoms of a profound distortion of desire which is identical in you as it is in them, and it is you who I am trying to get through to, so don't judge them'". See http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/texts/eng15.html

    OK, that was a bit of a deluge I suspect – I hope I haven't totally smothered the conversation (or travestied the arguments I've referred to)….

    in friendship, Blair

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_Ould Peter Ould

      A little like Moore, Alison says that even if he is wrong and Paul is referring to homosexuality as we understand it now in Romans 1:26-27, the text cannot be used to judge gay people because Paul's overall argument could be summarised as, "'yes, yes, we know that there are these people who do these silly things, but that is completely irrelevant besides the hugely significant fact that these are simply different symptoms of a profound distortion of desire which is identical in you as it is in them, and it is you who I am trying to get through to, so don't judge them'".

      I'll comment more on what you've written tomorrow Blair, but for now let me just say that I think this gets to the heart of the issue.

  • Raycol

    I think that the debate around “natural” should be more than an argument whether “natural” refers to what is normal for a particular human being or what is normal / natural for all human beings. I would contend that “natural” in Romans 1:26-27 means custom/ culture as it does in 1 Corinthians 11:14, because both passages use “nature” and/ or “natural” to refer to gender (male and female) roles. (Fee agrees with the custom/ culture interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:14 – “The First Epistle to the Corinthians”: 527).

    For the Romans, “unnatural” sexual acts were those in which the participants contradicted or stepped outside the social order. Same-sex activity between females was thought of as unnatural in the Greco-Roman culture of Paul’s time because such activity involved one of the women having an active penetrative role, thus acting like a man. This contravened the cultural view that only men should be the penetrators and women should always be passive in sex. Paul and his audience shared this cultural view.

    Many ancient Greek and Roman non-Christian authors depicted sexual relations between females as unnatural. The authors include Plato, Seneca the Elder, Martial, Ovid, Ptolemy, Artimedorus, Pseudo-Phocylides. For details see Chapters 2, 4 and 6 of Bernadette J. Brooten, “Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism”.

    As Paul’s criticism of sex between women is culturally based and as Paul does not explicitly say “don’t do it”, it can be concluded that the criticism does not apply today.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_Ould Peter Ould

    As Paul’s criticism of sex between women is culturally based and as Paul does not explicitly say “don’t do it”, it can be concluded that the criticism does not apply today.

    If I were to reword your last paragraph to read the following, what would your response be?

    As Paul’s criticism of sex between family members is culturally based and as Paul does not explicitly say “don’t do it”, it can be concluded that the criticism does not apply today.

  • Raycol

    Hi Peter

    One cannot say “Paul’s criticism of sex between family members is culturally based” because such criticism is transculturally based.

    One way of determining whether a Bible text is cultural or transcultural is by finding the religious or practical reasons for the statements in the text or its attitude. If the reasons apply to the relevant Biblical culture (e.g. the Greco-Roman culture) but not to most of today’s societies, then the text’s statements or attitude is cultural. If the reasons (or similar ones) apply to both the relevant Biblical culture and most of today’s societies, then the text’s statements or attitude is transcultural.

    The Biblical prohibition of incest was made for the practical reasons of having stable families and societies, avoiding inbreeding and resulting birth defects, avoiding provoking family feuds, avoiding concentrating lands and riches in the hands of a few families, and ensuring clarity in parenthood and inheritance. These reasons generally still hold today and so the incest prohibition is transcultural.

    On the other hand, both Paul and his Roman audience believed that sex between females was unnatural and should not be indulged in, mainly because their culture thought it wrong for a female to act like a male during such sex. As this view is not held in many or most of today’s societies, Paul’s criticism of sex between women is culturally based.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_Ould Peter Ould

      I think that's a very narrow and impositional way of reading the Scriptures. For example, there is nothing in the Bible that explicitly says that the ban on incest "was made for the practical reasons of having stable families and societies, avoiding inbreeding and resulting birth defects, avoiding provoking family feuds, avoiding concentrating lands and riches in the hands of a few families, and ensuring clarity in parenthood and inheritance." I might be looking in the wrong place, but I can see that laid out anywhere in the 66 books. Rather, it looks as though you have imposed a position on the text which it doesn't itself lay out.

      You also posit a rather dangerous idea with your last paragraph. You write, "On the other hand, both Paul and his Roman audience believed that sex between females was unnatural and should not be indulged in, mainly because their culture thought it wrong for a female to act like a male during such sex. As this view is not held in many or most of today’s societies, Paul’s criticism of sex between women is culturally based." Your last sentence suggests that you would accept Paul's view if our culture also believed that sex between females was wrong. But that seems to present a cultural relativism where your primary moral frame of reference isn't Scripture but modern society. What if you were in a society that accepted the sexual abuse of children? Would you support such a practice, even if Scripture (in a limited historical environment) condemned it? If your answer to that question is "no", can you not see how that contradicts the basis of your argument.

      Surely a better way to approach the issues of transculturalism of the Law is to let Scripture tell you what is and isn't transcultural? We have several examples in the Bible of a clear demarcation of what was simple Law for the Jews and what moral conduct transcends the different Covenants (eg Mark 7:19, Acts 15:19-21). The moment you impose an external arbiter on Scripture as to what is and isn't morally relevant you become subject to your own societies mores rather than the will of God.

  • Raycol

    The purpose of determining whether some Bible texts are cultural or transcultural is to help decide whether they were only meant for their original audiences and cultures or whether they apply to everyone at all times. Obviously, one can make a determination only on a text written in a specific culture. One cannot make a determination on a concept which is not covered by a Bible text, e.g. adult/child sexual activity. This type of question would have to be decided on general biblical principles, e.g. does it express love of God and love (care) for our neighbour, does it cause no-harm, does it treat others as we would wish to be treated, what would Jesus do?

    Getting back to your original post, I note that you did not comment on the fact that women changed from having natural sex with men to (most probably) having sex with women and, similarly, men left having natural sex with women to having sex with men. You did obliquely cover this by concentrating on the meaning of “nature” but did not cover the significance of “changed” (or exchanged) and “left” (or abandoned).

    I realise that some commentators think that Paul was referring to societies rather than individuals in this passage. However sexual activities are carried out by individuals, and it is individuals who changed their sexual expression from male-female sex to female-female sex or male-male sex. One could logically argue that this passage applies fully today only to those people who similarly have changed their sexual expression from male-female sex to female-female sex or male-male sex (after having refused to glorify God). Nevertheless, I do accept that this passage shows Paul’s general criticism of sex between women and sex between men.

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