Printer Friendly

Romans 1:26-27 and homosexuality.

Lex semper accusat (the law is always accusing)--but whom is it accusing, and about what?

Although I do not know who the other authors in this tribute to Robert Smith are, I am sure that none of them has so many and such "ancient" points of intersection with the honoree as I have. While some of the contributors have surely shared with Robert an M.Div. from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and positions on the faculty there and at Christ Seminary-Seminex, and others have shared with him teaching at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley or the Graduate Theological Union, none has all of Robert's and my early connections. Both of us were from the East, were students and teachers at Concordia Collegiate Institute in Bronxville, New York, and pastors in the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Most unlikely to be matched: each of served as waterfront director at Camp Chickagami in the Poconos.

But it is in the years in which we have taught together in St. Louis and Berkeley that I have come to see Robert's outstanding gifts as a teacher beloved by students, as a colleague, an author, and a lecturer. He is always offering insights and perspectives that are solidly grounded in careful research and, at the same time, always presenting them with imagination and wit.

An example of that wit: many who, with Bob, question the continuing relevance of passages in the holiness code (Leviticus 17-26) that are used to denigrate homosexuals (Ley 18:22, for instance--"You shall not lie with a male as with a women; it is an abomination") point to other statements in the holiness code that are now disregarded by almost all, such as "nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials" (Lev 19:19). But who but Robert would note that that verse "seems to show God's clear preference for pure polyester"?

I have known few others who pursued so many diverse interests with such energy and discipline. Actually, the phrase under Robert's graduation picture at Concordia, Bronxville, sums it up quite well: "intelligent industry." Now that he is over 70 and has laid down the task of editing Preaching Helps in this journal, such intelligent industry has not skipped--and when he finally retires will not skip--a beat.

But back to "pure polyester." As a tribute to Robert I offer an item that I have talked about in my Paul and Romans courses at PLTS. It is offered as what it is, a transfer to paper and an elaboration, with a minimum of footnotes, of oral classroom presentations about Rom 1:18-32 (including references to Rom 1:26-27, the central biblical passage in the current discussion of homosexuality). These modest thoughts, inviting reflection and response, are my attempts to discuss the reason Paul wrote the words in 1:26-27. It is my assumption that that has potential relevance for the use of these words today.

Although I have often thought about and mentioned in class the issue this article talks about, the article was written after a trip to Philadelphia to participate in the National Approval Committee of the Extraordinary Candidacy Project. The Project was begun to work with Lutheran sexual minority candidates for the pastoral ministry and other rostered ministries who, although otherwise qualified, would not be approved in the ELCA candidacy process because the ELCA included in Vision and Expectations, a document to which the candidates are expected to conform their lives, a statement designed to exclude them: "Ordained ministers who are homosexual in their self-understanding are expected to abstain from homosexual sexual relationships."

As just about everyone knows, Paul's words in Rom 1:26-27, "Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another," play a large role in discussions in the church today about the morality of sexual relations among gays and lesbians. (Unless otherwise noted, biblical quotations in this article are from the NRSV; gender-specific language for God has been modified.) Those who reject same-sex sexual relations as "unnatural" are convinced that Paul's words are clear and as relevant today as they were then (Paul/God said it; I believe it, that settles it). Others, of course, see the issue differently.

So how are Paul's words understood by those who approve of same-sex relationships today while also wanting to treat Paul's words with complete seriousness? Some interpreters begin by trying to determine with specificity what it was these verses were condemning, given the context of the first-century Mediterranean world. Others point out that a modern understanding of human sexuality, which can speak of a person's "sexual orientation," puts the issue in a whole new context and makes it impossible simply to quote Paul and close the discussion. Would Paul understand the words "homosexual in their self-understanding"? And how might that phrase reframe the issue of what is "natural" and "unnatural" intercourse?

In a word, one issue in a discussion of the relationship between Paul's words in Romans 1:26-27 and homosexuality today is what might be a "faithful" and "authentic" modern appropriation of ancient words, including ancient words in the Bible, given the possible differences between Paul's thought world and ours on the issue under discussion. To me this issue is of great importance. It is not, however, the issue this article addresses. I want to frame the question about Rom 1:26-27 quite differently. Why did Paul write those verses? What is their role in the argument of Romans 1:18-32? of Rom 1:18-3:20? of Rom 1:18-11:36? of Romans as a whole? (1)

I begin with the role of Rom 1:26-27 in Rom 1:18-32. Before I quote 1:18-32 and ask you two questions about it, I need to make one observation pertinent to understanding this passage and its context. Paul, the Jew whom God called to be the apostle to the Gentiles (Rom 1:5, 13, 15:16, 18; Gal 1:16, 2:7-9), puts all of humanity into two categories, Jew and Gentile. Rom 1:16, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (emphases added), shows that Paul understands "everyone" to mean not Mark and Maria and Rufus and Thomas, etc., but "the Jew and the Greek" (the latter term here equals "the Gentile"; see also Rom 2:9-10, 3:9, 29-30, etc.).

Now the questions: As you read Rom 1:18-32, I invite you to answer two questions about it before you read further in the article: (1) Who is being condemned in this passage? and (2) What is the ungodliness/ wickedness/sin for which they are being condemned? Whom is the law accusing here, and about what?

1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. (19) For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (20) Ever since the creation of the world [God's] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things [God] has made. So they are without excuse; (21) for though they knew God, they did not honor [God] as God or give thanks to [God], but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. (22) Claiming to be wise, they became fools; (23) and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four footed animals or reptiles. (24) Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, (25) because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (26) For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, (27) and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error. (28) And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. (29) They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, (30) slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, (31) foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. (32) They know God's decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die--yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

So, what about question 1, Who is condemned/accused here? Before I give my answer, I can tell you the answers I usually get in class. Most students say "everybody," by which they mean every individual, all human beings up to that time (Paul's use of "everybody" in 1:16 to equal Jew and Gentile not yet having sunk in). By extension, of course, since the law keeps on accusing, those who say Rom 1:18-32 accuses everybody mean every person up to this very moment, including you and me. The other answer I sometimes get is "the Jews."

Neither answer is in my view correct. I am convinced that Paul in these verses is condemning only and exclusively Gentiles. The evidence for this can be shown in detail only by moving to the second question: Of what are they accused?

They are accused of suppressing the truth (v. 18), of not seeing fit to acknowledge God (v. 28), and, even though they knew God, of not honoring God as God or giving thanks to God (v. 21). And their suppression of the truth, their foolishness, culminated in what for Jews (including Paul) was the primal sin of Gentiles, idolatry: "they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles" (v. 23).

Some have said that the charge of idolatry here does not exclude Jews--consider the golden calf in Exodus 32. But the grounding in verses 19 and 20 for the assertion that the idolaters under discussion were without excuse, that they knew God through the things God has made, clearly shows that Gentiles are in view. Paul would not have said that about Jews, including those at Sinai, who knew God as the one who had called them out of Egypt to be God's own people, who knew themselves to be heirs of the promises to their ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Here, then, are the answers to both questions about Rom 1:18-32, Who are the sinners and What is their sin? The sinners against whom God's wrath is directed in this passage are solely Gentiles, and they are accused of one fundamental sin: failing to acknowledge the God they knew (should have known) by observing God's work in creation, instead making and worshiping idols.

But what about the sexual behavior Castigated in vv. 26 and 27 and the items listed in the stream-of-consciousness vice list in vv. 29-31? Are not these the sins that have evoked God's wrath? No, actually, they are not. Instead, they are the things to which God has "given the Gentiles up" (vv. 24, 26, 28), because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Notice the context for Paul's reference to the "degrading passions" he describes in vv. 26--27: "they exchanged the glory of God for images (v. 23) ... Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity (v. 24)... because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie (v. 25).... For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. " What is to explain the catalog of vices in vv. 29-31? This: "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done" (v. 28). (2) Or, as Ernst Kasemann puts it, "Moral perversion is the result of God's wrath, not the reason for it." (3)

To underscore my understanding of what Paul is saying in Rom 1:18-32, I turn to striking parallels in the Wisdom of Solomon. Some of the key themes and specific turns of phrase in Wisdom 13-14 are so close to what Paul says in Rom 1:18-32 that we might even imagine him having that text before him (mentally if not physically) as he wrote. Many commentaries assume the use of Wisdom by Paul in Rom 1:18-32. I am inclined to think that these commentaries are correct, but my argument does not depend on that; they could be texts making parallel use of a common tradition. (4) What the point I am trying to make does depend on is how close Rom 1:18-32 is to thoughts and words in Wisdom 13 and 14. Here are a few examples of their similarity:

1. In their foolishness the Gentiles failed to find God in created things, and for this they have no excuse:

Wis 13:1, 5, 8-9: (1) For all people who were ignorant of God were foolish by nature; and they were unable from the good things that are seen to know the one who exists.... (5) For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator.... (8) Yet again, not even they are to be excused; (9) for if they had the power to know so much that they could investigate the world, how did they fail to find sooner the Lord of these things? (Cf. Rom 1:22, 19-20)

2. Instead they fashioned and worshiped idols:

Wis 13:10: But miserable ... are those who give the name "gods" to the works of human hands, gold and silver fashioned with skill, and likenesses of animals (cf. Rom 1:23).

3. This idolatry is the cause of their immorality, sexual and all the rest:

Wis 14:12, 23-27 (12) For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life ... (2) For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs, (24) they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure, but they either treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery, (25) and all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury, (26) confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, defiling of souls, sexual perversion [in his Anchor Bible commentary, David Winston translates this phrase "interchange of sex roles"], disorder in marriages, adultery, and debauchery. (27) For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil (emphases added; cf. Rom 1:24-31).

Both in Wisdom of Solomon and in Rom 1:18-31, in remarkably similar language, a Jewish author is saying that in their foolishness the Gentiles (that is clearly who is under discussion in both texts) failed to find God in created things, for which they are without excuse. Instead they fashioned and worshiped idols, and this idolatry is the cause of their immorality, sexual (including homosexuality in both cases, if Winston's translation in Wis 14:26 is correct) and otherwise.

Another important thing that Wisdom and Paul have in common in the material already presented is that this is really not the main point that they want to make. All this talk about the idolatry of Gentiles and its consequences are commonplaces for them and their (Jewish) readers. And what they really want to say comes next. Wisdom 13-14 and Rom 1:18-32 are the "A" of both authors' argument, and it is in their "B" that they make the point they wanted to make all along. And it is the radical difference between the two "B's" that is a main point toward which this article has been pointing all along.

Wisdom's "B" comes at the beginning of chapters 15 and 16 and continues to the book's conclusion in 19:22. As I quote a few of the verses it will be immediately clear that a major point is how differently God has treated those idolatrous Gentiles and us Jews and how different we are from them (I have added to the NRSV translation emphases on all the words referring to the Jewish hearers/readers; that's clearly the way these words were meant to be heard):

Wisdom 15 But you, our God, are kind and true, patient, and ruling all things in mercy. (2) For even if we sin we are yours, knowing your power; but we will not sin [!], because we know that you acknowledge us as yours. (3) For to know you is complete righteousness, and to know your power is the root of immortality, (4) For neither has the evil intent of human art misled us....

Wisdom 16 Therefore those people were deservedly punished through such creatures, and were tormented by a multitude of animals. (2) Instead of this punishment you showed kindness to your people, and you prepared quails to eat, a delicacy to satisfy the desire of appetite; (3) in order that those people, when they desired food, might lose the least remnant of appetite because of the odious creatures sent to them, while your people, after suffering want a short time, might partake of delicacies....

The odious creatures sent to Israel's enemies, in contrast to the quail that fed the Israelites, are, of course, the frogs and other horrible creatures that plagued the Egyptians at the exodus. The image that shapes the rest of the book is the story of the exodus, which clearly shows how different we are from them, and how different God's treatment of those sinful idolaters is from the treatment accorded us, God's own righteous people ("For to know you is complete righteousness," 15:3).

So Wisdom's "A" is that the Gentiles failed to acknowledge God and instead fabricated and worshiped idols and that this idolatry is the cause of their unrighteous actions. The "B" is the Jews' reliance on God's favorable and gracious treatment of God's own people. The main point of Wisdom's "B" is how different we Jews are from those Gentiles. This way of thinking is quite understandable among the Jews in Egypt at a time in which they were a beleaguered minority in the midst of hostile Gentile neighbors.

Paul's "A" is identical to Wisdom's: that the Gentiles failed to acknowledge God and instead fabricated and worshiped idols and that this idolatry is the cause of their unrighteous actions. Before we look at Paul's "B," which begins in Rom 2:1, we note that in 1:32 he presents a transition between "A" and "B." He castigates those, whoever they may be, who, though they know God's righteous judgment, not only do what has just been castigated but even applaud those who practice such things. Although I am able to cite a parallel to the idea from the Testament of Asher 6:2, "They both practice evil and approve of others who practice it," I do not know to whom Paul is referring.

What, then, is Paul's "B'? In 2:1 he turns to those who disapprove of the Gentiles' evil, in contrast to those in 1:32, who approve of it. One would think that for Paul that would be a step in the right direction; he, after all, disapproved of it too. But, on the contrary, he makes of this disapproval a judging of "the other," since the judge is doing the very same things. And, paradoxically, while Paul's "B" is headed in exactly the opposite direction of Wisdom's, his wording seems to operate with the language in Wisdom 15:1. Here is Rom 2:14, supplying the Greek words it shares with Wisdom 15:1:

2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. (2) You say, "We know that God's judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]." (3) Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? (4) Or do you despise the riches of his kindness [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and forbearance and patience [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]? Do you not realize that God's kindness [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] is meant to lead you to repentance? (Cf. Wis 15:1: But you, our God, are kind and true [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], patient [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and ruling all things in mercy).

A Jewish reader of Rom 1:18-32 who knew the almost identical condemnation of Gentiles in Wisdom 13 and 14 (the "A") would expect it to be followed by Wisdom's "B," an appeal to God's kindness and truth, patience and mercy, on which God's own people can rely for safety and salvation. Instead Paul springs the trap, drops the other shoe, and offers a totally different "B": You too are without excuse [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--the exact same word used of the Gentiles in Rom 1:20]!

Now Paul's condemnation of the judge who condemns others can--and does--apply to anyone ("whoever you are") whose primary approach to sin is to zero in on someone else's, while at the same time doing the "same things." But Paul's "B," judging the judge, is fully understandable only in the context of his point in 2:1-3:20, that the Jew, as well as the Gentile discussed in 1:18-32, is guilty in God's sight. The main point of Paul's "B" is that we Jews are just like those Gentiles as far as sin is concerned. Paul's whole point in 1:18-3:20 is that all are guilty, as he says in 3:9 ("for we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks [Gentiles], are under the power of sin"). And 2:1-3:20 is about the guilt of the Jew. (5)

The guilt of the Jew is for Paul a much harder sell than the guilt of the Gentiles, and this for many reasons. It is not that the Jews thought of themselves as sinless; by no means. But their covenant with a gracious God, who forgave their sin, was felt to give them a certain pride of place in the sight of God. And many Gentiles felt the same way about the Jews' special place in God's sight. That's why a good number of the Gentiles who came to believe in Jesus were, prior to that faith, partial or full participants of the life of the synagogue. And Paul's own words could be quoted to show that "sinners" goes with "Gentiles" more readily than it does with "Jews": "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners" (Gal 2:15).

In short, Rom 1:18-3:20 is confirming the words in 1:18, "For the wrath of God is being revealed" (dreaded words, for "wrath" is not something one longs to associate with God) by showing the idolatry of the Gentiles (1:18-32), on account of which God gave them over to impurity, and by showing the Jew as a non-law-fulfilling judge of others (2:1-3:20). Stark and dreadful news indeed, about which two points need immediately to be made, one about 1:18-3:20, the other about 2:1-3:20.

First, about 1:18-3:20 as a whole. This utterly pessimistic picture of all humanity, Jew and Gentile united in sin, is itself only a "first shoe," an "A," the whole point of which is to lead to the "B," 3:21-11:36, the utterly glorious news that Jew and Gentile are united under God's righteousness, conferred through the atonement God effected through Jesus Christ, an atonement appropriated by faith. And this glorious news culminates in 11:32, "For God has imprisoned all in disobedience [even the Jew--cf. Gal 3:23, 'we (I and my fellow Jews) were imprisoned and guarded under the law ...'] so that [God] may be merciful to all [including the Jew]." Rom 12:1-15:13 shows the readers that they can (and urges them to) live out that righteousness in their communities of faith and life, especially by maintaining their oneness and by welcoming one another (15:7), even across lines of disagreement and mutual misunderstanding.

Second, about 2:1-3:20. Lest there be any misunderstanding, I do not for a moment believe that Paul is characterizing the Jews as any more judgmental of self-righteous than the Gentiles. Nor does he view them as the only group that is prone to think that it has a unique "lock" on God's favor. Indeed, in the rest of Romans it is more likely the Gentiles who seem to be in danger of thinking that they alone are the favored ones.

That is especially clear in Rom 11:17-32, a section explicitly addressed to the Gentiles: "Now I am speaking to you Gentiles" (11:13). While a temporary and partial "no" of the Jews to the good news of the gospel somehow played a role in the Gentiles' "yes," the Gentiles needed to reckon with [the Jews'] "full inclusion" (11:12). And despite the cutting off of some of the olive tree's branches (the Jews) and the grafting in of a wild olive shoot (the Gentiles) in their place to share the rich root, the Gentiles were warned, "do not boast over the branches (v. 18) ... do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps [God] will not spare you" (vv. 20-21). And lest the Gentiles "claim to be wiser than they are," God reveals to them that "all Israel will be saved" (vv. 25-26). God's intension is that the Jews "too may now receive mercy ... so that [God] may be merciful to all" [including the Jew] (vv. 31-32).

I close by indicating what I think the article as a whole might contribute to the use of Rom 1:26-27 in current discussions of homosexuality in the church.

1. Contemporary discussions of homosexuality seem to take it for granted that in these verses we have Paul's firm conviction that homosexual acts are sinful. Though Paul surely understands what he describes in vv. 26-27 to be reprehensible, the context shows that these acts are not the "sins" to which he is directing our attention. These verses are part of a demonstration by Paul that the Gentiles (they are the only people under discussion in 1:18-32) are sinful beyond measure. The sin of the Gentiles that evokes God's wrath is their failure to recognize God in the things God has created and to worship God, instead worshiping objects fashioned by their own hands. The Gentiles' impurity and degrading of their bodies (evidenced in vv. 26-27) and their debased mind and their doing of the things that ought not be done (evidenced in vv. 29-31) are the result of their idolatry. Paul shares this idea with the Wisdom of Solomon: "For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life" (14:1 and elsewhere). But Paul goes even further, stating that these are the things to which God has "given up [the Gentiles]"--1:24, 26, 28.

This leads me to ask of anyone who wants to be faithful to Paul's ideas in 1:26-27 what part of what he is saying must come along as part of his point. That if people commit homosexual acts this is because God, seeing their idolatry, has given them up to this behavior? That homosexuals in our congregations and seminaries are more idolatrous than other people in our congregations and seminaries?

2. There are many in the church who say that faithfulness to Paul's words in Rom 1:26-27 compels them to judge practicing homosexuals to be unfit for pastoral ministry, even those who in every other respect are qualified for and called to such ministry. While I impute to none of the "many" in the church who make this judgment the belief that they, themselves, are without sin (what Lutheran, say, would make such a claim?), with respect to 1:26-27 at least, they distinguish themselves from those described there, and regard themselves as more fit for pastoral ministry (if otherwise qualified and called).

Can those who believe that taking Paul's words in Rom 1:26-27 seriously means condemning homosexuality hear them in the context of his argument, in the world of "A's" and "B's," the world of Jew and Gentile? Rom 1:26-27 is in Paul's "A," shared by the Wisdom of Solomon: of sinful Gentile idolatry leading to perversions, including those in 1:26-27. Paul's "B," like Wisdom's, is about the only other group Paul knows, the Jews. Can those who believe that taking Paul's words in Rom 1:26-27 seriously means condemning homosexuality say which "B" about the Jews best matches their own attitude? Is it Wisdom's "B" of how different the Jews are, since they are under God's covenantal protection ("But you, our God, are kind and true")? Or is it Paul's "B" of how equally guilty the Jews are ("you have no excuse")? The point of Rom 2:1-3:20 is that the "B" group, who could think of themselves, in contrast to the "A" group, as God's own, are with regard to sin not different. Paul's words in 1:18-32 are in that sense a trap, meant to catch those who see themselves as God's special friends. In that sense Paul's "B" in 2:1-3:20 finds an analogy not in the Wisdom of Solomon but in Amos, where accusations against various foreign peoples climax in accusations against Judah and Israel: "Thus says the Lord: For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment.... For three transgressions of Tyre ... of Ammon ... of Moab ... of Judah! ... of Israel! ... (Amos 1 and 2). Once again the trap.

Though it is hard in the context of the church to find an exact analogy to Wisdom's, Paul's, and Amos's Gentile and Jew, could not the context be that some in the church think that certain others ("A") don't measure up for whatever reason and are thus outside our group ("B"), the community of God's favor? Actually, (almost) all of us in the church have that kind of attitude at times. The only thing that changes is the issue which in our minds lands certain others in the "A" group, thus not ours.

Whether or not you who have read this far think that anything I have said is pertinent to the use of Rom 1:26-27 to the current discussion of homosexuality in the church, I wish to add two points.

First, nothing I have said is meant to imply that Paul liked what he was discussing in 1:26-27. He surely did not. And so anyone who wants to take Paul seriously and to welcome homosexuals into the pastoral ministry will need to address the issue by, among many other things, pursuing what was mentioned near the start of the article: (1) trying to determine with specificity what it was these verses were condemning, given the context of the first-century Mediterranean world and (2) showing how a modern understanding of human sexuality, which can speak of a person's "sexual orientation," puts the issue in a whole new context and makes it impossible simply to quote Paul and close the discussion.

Second, as the discussion about this issue goes on in the church, what I proposed in note 1 as Paul's intention in Romans would be an excellent model for us--whatever our views--in our attitudes and actions toward one another: I claimed that a principal reason Paul wrote Romans was to encourage members of various Christian congregations in Rome, divided over issues they saw as vital to faith and life and worship, to welcome one another despite, and even before resolving, these differences, so that they might live in unity (cf. Rom 15:7, "Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God").

(1) I presented my understanding of a principal reason for the writing of Romans--to encourage members of various Christian congregations in Rome, divided over issues they see as vital to faith and life and worship, to welcome one another despite, and even before resolving, these differences (see Rom 14:1 to 15:13, and especially 15:7), so that, united, they might welcome Paul and speed him on to the end of the earth, to Spain (see Rom 15:14-33)--in "Rereading Romans: Ethnic Issues (or, 'How can I find a gracious community?')," Currents in Theology and Mission 25 (December 1998): 461-72. The same issue of Currents also has an article by David Balch titled "Romans 1:24-27, Science, and Homosexuality," 433-40).

(2) Throughout these quotations the emphases have been added by me.

(3) Ernst Kasemann, Commentary on Romans, trans, and ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 41.

(4) The Wisdom of Solomon, part of the Bible for many Christians today, was used as scripture by many Christians in the first centuries of the church's life. The text can be found in any modern translation of the Bible that includes the apocryphal/deuterocanonical books. Although there is no direct quotation of the Wisdom of Solomon in the New Testament, the Nestle-Aland edition of the Greek New Testament lists over 100 possible allusions to it. So Paul could have known and used it. The book was probably written in Egypt, within fifty years of, and either before or after, the start of the common era. David Winston, in the Anchor Bible commentary on Wisdom, argues for a date in the reign of Caligula (37-41 C.E.). If he is correct, that would make somewhat less likely, though not impossible, Paul's use of it in the mid 50s as he wrote Romans.

(5) Some interpreters of Romans claim that the focus on the guilt of the Jew starts only in 2:17, where the word Jew occurs for the first time. But I do not believe that this is correct, both because of the parallels I see to the Wisdom of Solomon, and because the argument of Rom 2:1-16 makes most sense in the context of a claim of special status before God for the Jews--whether that claim is made by a Jew or about Jews by Gentiles. Paul pursues his arguments in Romans 2 and 3 in discussion with a hypothetical dialogue partner.

Everett R. Kalin Christ Seminary-Seminex Professor Emeritus of New Testament Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary Berkeley, California
COPYRIGHT 2003 Lutheran School of Theology and Mission
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2003, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Kalin, Everett R.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Previous Article:"Worthy is Christ": a modern hymn and its apocalyptic pedigree.
Next Article:Mark and mystery.

Related Articles
Lambeth erred on gays, liturgist (Reverend Paul Gibson) asserts in book.
Holding It Together.
Gay OK, Thais say. (Thailand).
Essays in honor of Robert H. Smith.
Prime minister's peril.
Outing history.
Emotionally absent fathers: furthering the understanding of homosexuality.
Anti-Christian EU's religious test.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters