Rom 1 and 11
In particular, Beck reminds us that we are Gentiles grafted by grace into the Jewish stock (Rom 11).
First, this recovery highlights the fact that we are not “by nature” children of God. We’ve been chosen and adopted. In the language of Paul we’ve been “grafted into” the tree of Israel. Second, this action of God, grafting in the Gentiles, highlights how the grace and election of God determines the people of God. We are not God’s children because of nature. We are God’s children because of election. This places election at the center of Christian notions of marriage (and celibacy) rather than a Darwinian focus on procreation. Marriage is grace, not biology. Finally, a recovery of our identity as Gentiles helps us understand why God’s actions toward the Gentiles was such a shock and offense to the Jews (both Christian and non-Christian). Importantly, this shock was very much focused on issues of holiness and morality.
The Jews in fact were shocked that Gentiles could be saved — elect, a part of Israel — without becoming Jews through circumcision, etc. The admission of Gentiles, by faith, is referred to by Paul as “contrary to nature” —
(Rom 11:24 ESV) 24 For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.
Genetically, Gentiles aren’t Jews and are not descended from Abraham, and yet God, contrary to their genetic natures, grafted them into Israel, the elect.
However, Rogers loses me in a couple of places. For example, he writes, “Importantly, this shock was very much focused on issues of holiness and morality.” Really? Where do we find this? In fact, in Rom 1 – 3, Paul condemns both Jews and Gentiles as immoral and needing a Savior. And Paul’s bitter fights with the Judaizing teachers were not about morality but circumcision, feast days, and food.
Certainly, there are plenty of passages where Paul describes the Gentile converts as having left behind highly immoral lifestyles, but they left those lifestyles behind. What they didn’t do was adopt Jewish identity markers, such as circumcision and kosher foods.
Beck also provides this argument from Rogers:
We are not God’s children because of nature. We are God’s children because of election. This places election at the center of Christian notions of marriage (and celibacy) rather than a Darwinian focus on procreation.
Huh? Yes, salvation is due to election. Sure. How does this move election to the center of marriage and celibacy? And who here is arguing Darwinian procreation? (I smell a strawman coming.)
The strawman is the argument, once made by many Christian defenders of exclusively heterosexual marriage, that marriage must be for the purpose of procreation or else it’s wrong. But this position would make it wrong to marry someone known to be sterile or to use birth control to avoid having any children at all or to adopt in preference to having biological children. This argument, therefore, has been dropped by most defenders of the church’s traditional view of marriage as indefensible — at least in such a simplistic form.
Next, Beck summarizes Rogers’ argument regarding the “standard” view of women, blacks, and Gentiles —
The standard argument was also applied to blacks in the American South during slavery and segregation. In particular, the black male had a voracious sexual appetite for white women. And blacks generally were considered to be more promiscuous than whites.
In both cases we see how immorality generally, and sexual licentiousness in particular, get attributed to natural kinds (e.g., race, gender). In the Old and New Testaments this same reasoning was applied to the Gentiles. As a natural kind the Gentiles were considered to be naturally prone to immorality and sexual deviance. Paul gives us the standard Jewish view of the morality of Gentiles in Romans 1: …
So I’m supposed to equate Paul’s words in Rom 1 with racial bigotry against blacks and gender stereotyping against women?? Paul’s description of the Gentiles is just a First Century example of racial stereotyping by a Jew? Really? I do not buy it.
1. This reflects a very low view of inspiration. If we aren’t agreed on the inspiration and authority of the scriptures, we really have nothing to talk about.
2. Paul is writing to the church in Rome, which appears to have been largely Gentile. Why would he speak in terms of sheer bigotry against Gentiles?
3. Paul says that the sinful behavior of some unconverted Gentiles is due to God turning them over to behave this way. It’s God’s will — or at least by God’s permission — that this happens. It’s not their natural state but what happens, contrary to their natural state, when they ignore God’s general revelation of himself.
4. Rom 1:18-32 reads more like a theological treatise than a declaration of Paul’s bigoted attitudes toward unconverted Gentiles. (Besides, there’s plenty of secular history to back Paul up in his characterization.)
So, no, since I believe Rom 1:18-32 to be the inspired word of God, I can’t buy the argument that it’s bigotry from Paul regarding Gentiles.
The important thing to note in this passage is that this is a description of the Gentiles as a natural kind. They are naturally depraved and deviant. Consequently, they engage in acts that are “contrary to nature.” In all this we see another example of the standard argument, an argument that has been applied to all sorts of despised groups. Women. Blacks. Jews. And homosexuals in our time. What is important to note in all this is that it’s not just that Gentiles do unnatural things. It is, rather, that they are morally inferior by nature.
This is just bad exegesis. Paul sees their anti-natural behaviors as sin. Sin is anti-natural because it takes humanity away from its created purpose as bearers of God’s own image. Anti-natural behaviors follow from forgetting God and the true nature of things. So the Gentiles in Rom 1 aren’t acting according to their natures but contrary to their God-given natures.
And Paul’s larger point is that both Jews and Gentiles fail to merit salvation and need a Savior and that salvation must be by grace — for all — not just Gentiles. All have left their natural condition as image bearers.
(Rom 3:9 ESV) What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,
(Rom 3:19 ESV) Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
(Rom 3:21-25 ESV) But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
Not only do Gentiles do unnatural acts, so do the Jews —
(Rom 2:17-24 ESV) But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
In fact, the unconverted Gentiles, sometimes by nature, do right —
(Rom 2:14 ESV) 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.
So, no, he’s not arguing that Gentiles by nature always do unnatural things (Paul is not capable of being so self-contradictory) but that both Jews and Gentiles sin — either because they forget God or fail to honor him — and so they do things contrary to nature — but not always. Paul is no bigot.
Does Paul know what he’s doing here? Is he intentionally pulling para phusin from Romans 1 to make a parallel to God’s grace in Jesus Christ? The Gentiles behave “unnaturally” and God, in his grace, does something just as “unnatural,” he overrides the category of natural moral kinds to create one body in Christ. Surely the readers of Romans would have heard the overtones between Romans 1 and Romans 11, that their biases about what is “natural” or “unnatural” have been unnaturally reconfigured in the Kingdom of God.
It’s hardly obvious that Paul means the same thing by “against nature” in Rom 1 and Rom 11, but let’s assume he does. He’s certainly capable of expecting his readers to pick up on parallels that are 10 chapters apart.
In 1:26, he says that homosexual sex is “contrary to nature” and thus evidence of the need for a Savior. In 2:14 he says that some Gentiles “by nature” do what the law requires. Then in 11:24 he says that Gentiles are grafted into the Jewish root stock “contrary to nature.”
So? God elected the Jews. Israel is the chosen people. God is able — because he’s God, after all — to take Gentiles who are behaving contrary to nature, redeem them, bring them to repentance, bring them to faith in Jesus, and contrary to nature, save them as a part of Israel. It’s called “irony.” The Gentiles’ violation of nature damns them whereas God’s violation of nature saves them — but only those who come to him in faith and penitence. Quite obviously, Paul is not saying that Gentiles may continue to live contrary to nature and be saved. That would be a gross misreading of Romans and not worth my or the readers’ time to deal with.
(Rom 13:13 ESV) Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.
And as is true in Galatians, “sexual immorality” was understood to include homosexual practices.
In fact, this whole exercise demonstrates the low view of scripture required to reach a pro-Christian gay marriage conclusion. And as much as I personally care about the gay men and women I know, I’m not going to surrender inspiration and authority of scripture to reach a conclusion that can’t be otherwise reached.