Romans: God is Not Fair (Romans 1, N. T. Wright on Homosexuality)

I wasn’t really meaning to spend much time on the homosexual controversy, but it’s hard to understand Romans 1 without delving into the topic, as Paul builds much of his case on the homosexuality that was prevalent in Greek society at the time.

Fortunately, N. T. Wright has taken the topic on. He was an Anglican bishop at the time, and of course, the Anglican/Episcopalian community has struggled with this issue in very public ways.

N. T. Wright explains,

The main thing to realize about Romans 1:26 and following is that it isn’t just a side swipe out of the blue. Paul’s argument at that point is grounded in the narrative of Genesis 1, 2 and 3. As often, he’s referring to it obliquely, but it’s there under the text. He’s drawing on it at various stages. He sees the point about being human as being to reflect God’s image, which he says in a number of places in his writings. He clearly sees that in Genesis 1 it is male plus female who are made in the image of God. He chooses the practice of homosexuality, not as a random feature of “look, they do all sorts of wicked things.” His point is that when people in a society are part of an idolatrous system — not necessarily that they individually are specifically committing acts of idolatry, but when the society as a whole worships that which is not the true God — then its image-bearingness begins to deconstruct. An obvious sign of that for Paul, granted Genesis 1, is the breakup of male-female relations and the turning off in other directions. Then it’s important to see how that is stitched into the argument that he mounts later on in the letter about how humankind is restored. When in chapter four he talks about Abraham, he talks about Abraham specifically did the things which in chapter one that human beings did not. In chapter one, they refused to know God, to honor God as God, to acknowledge God’s power and deity, and all the rest of it. This is the end of Romans 4. The result of Abraham acknowledging God and God’s power, recognizing that God had the power to do what he promised and giving God glory, which is the exact opposite word-by-word of what he said in chapter one, is that Abraham and Sarah were able to conceive children even in their old age. It’s a specific reversal, the coming back together of male plus female, and then the being fruitful, which is the command of Genesis 1: “Be fruitful and multiply.” This is why he can talk in Romans 5 of how in Christ, who has fulfilled the promises to Abraham, what God wanted to do through Adam has been put back on the rails.

(Typographical errors have been corrected.)

I agree. Paul’s point is founded in the Garden of Eden, which presents God’s ideal for sexuality. When husbands and wives are truly in the image of God, these principles govern —

(Gen 1:28b ESV) “Be fruitful and multiply.”

(Gen 2:23 ESV) “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

(Gen 2:24-25 ESV) 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.  25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

The husband and wife are thus to be a unity, “one flesh,” not just sexually but certainly sexually. Creating new life is to be in the image of God.

But “flesh of my flesh” suggests an even deeper unity — that the husband and wife are in a sense one person, being made of the same stuff. And this reminds us of the Trinity and the incomprehensible unity of the Godhead, which is a model for marriage.

This is Paul’s background. And he finds the homosexuality violates God’s purpose that man and woman be restored to the image of God, that is, the perfection of Eden.

Wright then takes on the theory that Paul’s criticism of homosexuality is limited to pagan temple prostitution and similar abusive relationships, rather than voluntary, “monogamous” relationships in the nature of marriage. (Italics are questions by an interviewer.)

As a classicist, I have to say that when I read Plato’s Symposium, or when I read the accounts from the early Roman empire of the practice of homosexuality, then it seems to me they knew just as much about it as we do. In particular, a point which is often missed, they knew a great deal about what people today would regard as longer-term, reasonably stable relations between two people of the same gender. This is not a modern invention, it’s already there in Plato. The idea that in Paul’s day it was always a matter of exploitation of younger men by older men or whatever — of course there was plenty of that then, as there is today, but it was by no means the only thing. They knew about the whole range of options there. Indeed, in the modern world that isn’t an invention of the 20th century either.

So the attempt to get around Paul’s language on homosexuality by suggesting that its cultural referent was different than ours doesn’t work? Yes.

Thus, Paul didn’t write unaware of less abusive forms of homosexuality or even unaware of fully consensual, committed homosexual relationships. Even Plato wrote about homosexual couples living in “longer-term, reasonably stable relations.”

So a Christian morality faithful to scripture cannot approve of homosexual conduct? Correct. That is consonant with what I’ve said and written elsewhere.

And I agree. I think Wright nails it theologically. He also considers in the same interview the impact of differing views on homosexuality among Christians on inter-congregational fellowship. It’s a good read.

Now, while Paul argues that Greek culture demonstrates their separation from God and sinfulness — not just due to their approval of homosexuality but due to their approval of many other sins — Paul would never condone hatred toward those engaged in homosexuality. In fact, he would urge us to demonstrate God’s attitude through love and compassion. After all, Jesus ate with prostitutes. He did not condone prostitution, but he loved prostitutes and so he ate with them before they repented. (See The Prostitute, the Pharisee, and the Prophet.)

I consider the implications of God’s condemnation of homosexual conduct in a series called Letter to a Gay Man in the Churches of Christ. It’s a difficult and important topic, calling for compassion and understanding. But at this time, we need to continue with Paul’s argument in Romans.

We should pause for just a moment to reflect on the gist of Paul is saying. The argument is that the Gentiles need a Savior. He’s building up to —

(Rom 3:23 ESV)  23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

But not just that all have sinned. The argument is that all have sinned and are accountable for their sins. Recall that in chapter 5, Paul points out that Adam and Eve weren’t accountable for laws of which they had no knowledge. They weren’t subject to death (a loss of eternal life) until they had knowledge of good and evil. God is fair in this sense: he only punishes for those sins that we are accountable for. This is the nature of God’s justice. Those who declare that ignorance of God’s law is no excuse haven’t read Romans (or Genesis) very closely.

Thus, Paul focuses on the accountability of the Gentiles. They may not have had the Torah, but they know it’s sinful to disobey parents. And surely they know that our bodies were designed for heterosexual sex. And while Paul focuses on homosexuality as particularly obvious, he mentions many other sins that even the Gentiles would know are sinful without the need for special revelation.

Therefore, he will argue, the Gentiles are accountable to God for sin — not all sins, because they have incomplete knowledge of God’s will — but enough to damn them. Therefore, they are justly damned by God. It’s fair to hold them accountable.

God only damns when it’s just to do so, and God only condemns sins when the sinner is accountable for the sin. That’s Paul’s point.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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20 Responses to Romans: God is Not Fair (Romans 1, N. T. Wright on Homosexuality)

  1. Price says:

    Adam and Eve were “naked and not ashamed.” Obviously, before the era of McDonald’s…

  2. rich constant says:

    “God only damns when it’s just to do so, and God only condemns sins when the sinner is accountable for the sin. That’s Paul’s point.”
    Jay:
    your jumping all over the place.

    Paul’s teaching point here is that BOTH Jew and Greek.
    ARE UNDER the’ condemnation of DEATH and it is JUST, from the point of view of gods righteous judgement. HE IS ,HOLY,and the unrighteous acts of the uncircumcised are not as bad as the unrighteous actions of the circumcised
    starting at 1:18.- 3:
    EVEN HOMOSEXUALS

    3:9 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 3:10 just as it is written:

    so then a ANOTHER TEACHING point which leads to gods graceious act of recincillation

    3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to

    those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be

    silenced and the whole world may be held accountable to
    God.

    3:20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.

    gods righteous truthfulnessas transcribed in scriptures…
    and how the blanket of death is removed from those of a GOOD HART AS JUDGED BY GOD. SO THAT LIFE IS GIVEN BACK THROUGH GRACE BY PERFECT OBEDIANT TRUSTING FAITHFULNESS. FOR ALL…

    3:21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed –

  3. rich constant says:

    I COULD DRAW OUT A LESSON for us . in principle god never changes…
    is gods name being blasphemed,because of our attitude toward and how we express our point of view to one another.

    might ought all of us think on that ?

    :23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by transgressing the law! 2:24 For just as it is written, “the name of God is being among the Gentiles because of you.”43

  4. rich constant says:

    by the by anyway
    god is no respecter of anyone so just as Adam and eve got death for one little transgression.

    GUESS WHAT
    “GOD IS FAIR”
    SO FOR EACH PERSON HOW MANY SINS DOES IT TAKE TO DESERVE DEATH (SEPARATION FROM GOD)
    IF AGAIN ADAM DIED FOR ONE LITTLE TRANSGRESSION.
    THAT IS WHY
    ROM:
    5:14 Yet death reigned from Adam until Moses even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam (who is a type of the coming one) transgressed.

  5. abasnar says:

    This time, Jay, I fully agree with you. Excellent post!

    Alexander

  6. rich constant says:

    which leads to THAT QUESTION JAY:
    AND THE ANSWER
    ROM:5:18
    CHRIST WAS DOING A RIGHTEOUS ACT FOR GOD!!
    GAL
    4 But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 4:5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we may be adopted as sons with full rights.

    GAL
    3:13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a CURSE FOR US (because it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)

    2ED COR
    5:21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.

    JAMES
    2:10 For the one who obeys the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

    1ST TIM.
    1:8 But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, 1:9 realizing that law is not intended for a RIGHTEOUS PERSON, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners

    ROM.
    8:2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 8:3 For God achieved what the law could not do BECAUSE it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

  7. rich constant says:

    THOSE VERSES
    would be all emphatic principles that lead to one conclusion.
    redemption because Christ’s perfect obedient faithfulness not by works of law.
    ROM.3
    GOD’S intrinsic righteousness EXPRESSED THROUGH CHRIST’S FAITHFULNESS subjective genitive

    3:21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 3:22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 3:24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

  8. rich constant says:

    so then you are right JAY
    GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF PEOPLE
    AND HE IS FAIR
    UNTO ALL THAT BELIEVE:
    AND WE ARE NOT THE JUDGE OF THAT.
    ALTHOUGH….
    :-)

  9. rich constant says:

    2 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,

    THIS IS TAKEN FROM:
    THE NIV 1984

    A LUTHER POINT OF VIEW

    FORENSIC RIGHTEOUSNESS AND OBJECTIVE FAITH.
    ANTHROPOLOGICAL VIEW OF SALVATION.
    ” MY FAITH IN CHRIST”

  10. rich constant says:

    P.S.
    AND THIS IS THE BOTTOM LINE

    for this
    I wasn’t really meaning to spend much time on the homosexual controversy, but it’s hard to understand Romans 1 without delving into the topic, as Paul builds much of his case on the homosexuality that was prevalent in Greek society at the time.

    THIS IS TAKEN FROM:
    THE NIV 1984

    A LUTHERAN POINT OF VIEW

    FORENSIC RIGHTEOUSNESS AND OBJECTIVE FAITH.
    ANTHROPOLOGICAL VIEW OF SALVATION.
    ” MY FAITH IN CHRIST”

    ALL I HAVE TO DO IS BELIEVE AND A RIGHTEOUS STATUS IS ACHIEVED FROM GODS POINT OF VIEW.

    SO MUCH FOR THEORIES OF JUSTIFICATION..

    OUTSIDE A CRISTOCINTRIC THEOLOGICAL
    TRANSLATION FOR ME.

  11. Alabama John says:

    Men preferring having sex with men and women preferring to have sex with women causes one good thing.

    Sure solves the abortion problem!!!!

    Biblical example:
    The solution of the Old Testament and part of the New Testament times was to create a new human called a Eunich.

    Done everyday here. Called a Gelding in horses and a Steer in cows.

    Never heard of one molesting children after being cut.

  12. David Newhouse says:

    Yes, God has created us as gods who can also create life. Screw around with that gift and responsibility too much and things really get in a mess.

  13. Paula says:

    I’ve lived almost a half century on this earth and have crossed paths with many people who love someone of their same gender. Although it hasn’t been proven that people are born with an attraction to the same sex, one fact that everyone has shared in common is that they’ve been “this way” as far back as they can remember. I have yet to meet anyone who has “chosen” a lifestyle that would only bring them violence, hatred, bullying, etc. And if loving someone of the same sex is so egregious, why didn’t Jesus speak out against it? Afterall, He’s the one who commanded us to love one another and didn’t qualify it to be ONLY with someone of the opposite sex. “Homosexuality” is not about sex, it’s about loving someone for who they are regardless of their gender. Peace.

  14. rich constant says:

    The most psychologist would agree that from the ages of about 1 and a half to 7 sexuality is formed.
    Generally speaking A strong modeling happens to a homo sexual where there is no father figure present.
    White honestly that’s why this family thing so screwed up this because of parenting models.
    It’s extremely difficult to instinctually image our family to see when you have no family model. and white matter when you have no strong male models in a family gender roles are skewed for a young boy. that’s where the the trap begins and then peer group structures takeover as the young boy gravitates more to an efeminate nature he gravitates more to a afimanate peer group structures

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Price,

    I’m confident that the willingness of many in this age to expose themselves would be taken by Paul as a sign that we are very far removed from God’s image and Eden.

  16. Sam Loveall says:

    Jay, re-reading this while prepping a sermon, I found what I’m thinking is a mis-statement (that I obviously missed the first time.)

    7th paragraph from the end — “Paul would never condemn hatred toward those engaged in homosexuality.” Maybe, as in 3 sentences later, you meant to use the word “condone” rather than “condemn”.

  17. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Sam, thanks. I’ve fixed.

  18. Bill says:

    Gosh, it seems like christians have SO many more important things to work on than obsessing on other people’s sex lives.

    If you find yourselves wondering why your faith is being abandoned in droves??????

    This is why.

    People are finding it difficult to observe christians, who, at a rate of nearly 50%, legally destroy their families so that they can go and start completely new ones with completely new heterosexuals, making moral judgments on other people and their families.

    Just so you know, from the outside looking in, YOUR sin and hypocrisy do not allow those of us on the fence to take you seriously at all.

    It just looks like bigotry. And the kids see it, too. And they see right through it. Hence why your faith is being abandoned.

    Before christians have even the slightest chance of making their point, they must repent and turn of their OWN sin:

    No more drive-thru divorce. Only 1 marriage per person allowed in a lifetime unless a spouse dies, laws against pre-marital sex, etc. Would you be willing to pass these laws in a civil society and force everyone, even those who have no belief at all in your faith, to live under them? And if so, what does that make you? You certainly wouldn’t support that if the religion in question was ANY religion besides the one you chose.

    To summarize, when christians don’t even follow their own religious rules, you can’t expect people who don’t even believe in your faith to do anything other than shake their heads and laugh. Or maybe even cry.

    Think about it.

  19. Larry Cheek says:

    Bill,
    It seems to me that you have missed the point in Christianity entirely. We as Christians cannot change any of our past, and no Christian can display a totally pure and perfect life to the world. If we could do that we would have no need for a savior or for forgiveness. As you look into the lives of humans in the world you also will not find an individual who lives a perfect and sinless life. What the world needs to see and understand is that all mankind can receive reconciliation with the Lord through Jesus. When that is accomplished a Christian is the result, not a perfect Christian but a forgiven Christian. It should be a great constellation to men in the world to know that they are forgiven by the judge of the earth, and that they will never be condemned when judgement is administered.
    This would be likened to a murderer who was destined for a life in prison, to be totally pardoned from the act of murder and the judgement required thereof because of his faith in a friend who actually suffered the punishment that was deserved by the murderer. If men in the world would see the Christians as they are redeemed sinners, they might decide that that is a very good position to be in.

  20. Larry Cheek says:

    Bill,
    You might also,” think about it.” If you or anyone would believe that a Christian must live a sinless life, he really does not have a chance, it cannot be done. Dedicating a life to the savior does not give an individual the ability to live a sinless life, but it it does obtain forgiveness for all sins except blasphemy.

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