Vines: God and the Gay Christian, Part 4 (Romans 1)

We are considering one of the latest, and best reviewed, books supporting Christian gay marriage, Matthew Vines’ God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.

Rom 1

For most Christians, Romans 1 is the central verse dealing with homosexual acts. It seems to make homosexual conduct the very essence of godlessness — and removes all doubt as to whether the OT prohibitions continue in the NT. Vines is right to take Rom 1 on before he considers the rest of the NT verses.

Straight people acting gay?

Several decades ago, historian John Boswell contended that Paul condemned only same-sex behavior that was practiced by heterosexual people. According to Boswell’s reading, Paul denounced same-sex behavior because it was unnatural to the individuals engaging in it— that is to say, it went against their own heterosexual natures. But, Boswell suggested, Paul might have taken a different view of same-sex behavior practiced by those who were naturally attracted to those of the same sex. 7 There is something compelling about this view. In Romans 1, Paul described people who “exchange” or “abandon” opposite-sex for same-sex relations. So perhaps it’s reasonable to think that Paul was condemning, as Boswell argued, “homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons.” The argument makes sense to that point. But there’s a problem. As we saw in chapter 2, the concept of same-sex orientation didn’t exist in the ancient world. But this did not mean everyone was presumed to be heterosexual. In general, people were thought to be capable of both opposite-sex and same-sex attraction. Consequently, there’s no reason Paul would have viewed same-sex behavior as contrary to the innate inclinations of many. …

So I don’t think it’s consistent to say that Paul rejected same-sex behavior only when it didn’t come naturally to the people involved.

(pp. 101-102).

Kudos to Vines for conceding a point often insisted on by the pro-Christian gay marriage camp. The Romans scholars largely agree with Vines that Paul is not condemning only gay sex by straight people, although the scholars generally come at the question from different angles.

Excess passion?

Rather, Vines argues,

In this light, same-sex relations were not objectionable because the partners shared the same anatomy. Dio [Chrysostom] and others saw them as wrong instead because they stemmed from hedonistic self-indulgence.

(p. 105). Well, of course, the real question is why did Paul see same-sex relations as wrong in Rom 1. It is true that many of the Greeks and Romans thought in terms of excess passion, but that doesn’t really sound like Paul, does it? Paul was not the man who wrote, “Moderation in all things.” That’s just not how he thought.

Rather, as Richard Hays, one of the premier NT scholars of this age, a Methodist, and a professor at Duke University, exegetes the text,

The genius of Paul’s analysis, of course, lies in his refusal to posit a catalog of sins as the cause of human alienation from God. Instead, he delves to the root: all other depravities follow from the radical rebellion of the creature against the Creator (1: 24– 31).

Hays, Richard (2013-07-30). The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation, A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethic (p. 384). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

The underlying problem isn’t a lack of moderation (a pagan concern, not a Christian concern), but rebellion against God.

The way in which the argument is framed here is crucial: ignorance is the consequence of humanity’s primal rebellion. Because human beings did not acknowledge God, “they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened” (1: 21; cf. 2 Thess. 2: 10b– 12). Paul does not argue on a case-by-case basis that every single individual has first known and then rejected God; instead, thinking in mythico-historical categories, he casts forth a blanket condemnation of humankind. …

According to Paul’s analysis, God’s “wrath” against his fallen human creatures takes the ironic form of allowing them the freedom to have their own way, abandoning them to their own devices.

Hays, Richard  (p. 385).

Thus, the particular depravities catalogued in verses 24– 31 serve two basic purposes in Paul’s argument. (Notice that the failings listed in verses 29– 31 have nothing to do with sexual behavior.)

First, these various forms of “debased mind” and “things that should not be done” are seen to be manifestations (not provocations) of the wrath of God, punishments inflicted upon rebellious humanity rather as the plagues were visited upon the Egyptians in Exodus. Paul is not warning his readers that they will incur the wrath of God if they do the things that he lists here; rather, speaking in Israel’s prophetic tradition, he is presenting an empirical survey of rampant human lawlessness as evidence that God’s wrath and judgment are already at work in the world.

Second, the heaping up of depravities serves to demonstrate Paul’s evaluation of humanity as deeply implicated in “ungodliness and wickedness” (1: 18b).

(pp. 385-386).

Why then does homosexual behavior demonstrate God’s rejection and wrath?

Rebellion against this Creator who may be “understood and seen in the things that he has made” is made palpable in the flouting of sexual distinctions that are fundamental to God’s creative design. The reference to God as Creator would certainly evoke for Paul, as well as for his readers, immediate recollections of the creation story in Genesis 1– 3, which proclaims that “God created humankind in his own image… male and female he created them,” charging them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1: 27– 28).

Similarly, as we have noted in our discussion of divorce, Genesis 2: 18– 24 describes woman and man as created for one another and concludes with a summary moral: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Thus the complementarity of male and female is given a theological grounding in God’s creative activity.

By way of sharp contrast, in Romans 1 Paul portrays homosexual behavior as a “sacrament” (so to speak) of the antireligion of human beings who refuse to honor God as Creator. When human beings engage in homosexual activity, they enact an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual reality: the rejection of the Creator’s design. Thus, Paul’s choice of homosexuality as an illustration of human depravity is not merely random: it serves his rhetorical purposes by providing a vivid image of humanity’s primal rejection of the sovereignty of God the Creator.

(p. 386).

Vines, of course, rejects the notion that God’s creation reveals any theological importance in the difference between men and women, but Paul plainly disagrees. Paul’s argument is obviously one from design: that anyone can see from the created natures of men and women that they are designed for heterosexual relationships and that homosexual activities are contrary to God’s design — and hence contrary to God himself.

The other sins mentioned by Paul are similar. You don’t have to have a Masters in Theology to know that children should obey their parents or that gossip and slander are wrong. Paul is saying that certain behaviors are so obviously contrary to human nature — as made by God — that to indulge in such sins is to rebel against the Creator. And he mentioned homosexual activity most prominently for that reason.

Natural?

Vines points out that, in the ancient world, some writers declared homosexual sex unnatural but they also considered it “natural” that women live in extreme subordination to men. Does that mean that Paul has bought into every use of “natural” or “unnatural” by pagan authors when he uses those words?

Obviously not. Paul defines “natural” in context  in terms of God’s creation. He is explaining the consequences of the fact that the Creator can be known from what he has made. Hence, “natural” should not be read in terms of Plato or Plutarch but the immediate context.

Honor-shame?

Vines cites to those who see Paul as speaking in terms of Greco-Roman honor-shame culture. And while Paul sometimes does speak in terms of honor and shame, it’s always to redefine those concepts in light of a Christian worldview. He never simply adopts the pagan perspective.

Therefore, of course, it’s shameful or dishonorable to act contrary to God’s will, in Paul’s mind, but not because Greco-Roman standards of behavior are being violated. It’s dishonorable because it’s disobedient to God’s revealed nature.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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16 Responses to Vines: God and the Gay Christian, Part 4 (Romans 1)

  1. laymond says:

    “For most Christians, Romans 1 is the central verse dealing with homosexual acts. It seems to make homosexual conduct the very essence of godlessness ”

    Is this how Jesus said “Christians” should act , harp on their perceived view of failure in others ?
    Just how much time did Jesus spend talking about homosexual tendencies in others. I suspect not nearly as much as has been spent on this blog alone, not considering all the other blogs focused on the failure of their brethren.
    Why not focus on the christian failures in your own life so others might know the road to not follow. In other words focus on something you personally know about. None of us is any more perfect than the sinner across the aisle .

  2. Richard Hays’ exegesis of Romans 1 is one of the best I’ve seen. Thanks for sharing it with us. To tie “natural” and “unnatural” sexual relations to “what can be known of the Creator” through the creation itself is contextually and logically accurate. To suggest that the sins he mentions are illustrations of God’s wrath already at work is also contextually appropriate.

    Again, thanks for sharing this.

  3. laymond says:

    Jay, speaking of rebelling against the creator by the created, was Paul doing that very thing when he personally changed the purpose of man from populating the earth, to worshiping God. He said unmarried people made better Christians than married people. 1 Corinthians – Chapter 7 . I don’t see that anywhere else, and Paul admits it is from him, not the lord. If you bother to search you can find more rules that Paul made up, to fit his own life. I guess even back then there was a tendency to justify one’s own actions even when it was not following the spoken purpose of God.

  4. Monty says:

    Excellent post!

    Why is there this sudden(seemingly) onslaught of homosexual activity,whether or not it’s straight – gay or bisexuality? Is it because something has happened in the last 20 years to the male and female physiology? That is has whatever that has triggered this explosion of homosexuality, is it something biological or is it something that stems from what happens to men(and women) when they throw off the shackles of sexual repression imposed on them by a society(think sexual revolution of the 60’s) that holds (or at least has tried to hold to some degree) the norms of Scripture and the God of the Scripture? No. It’s not a gene or biological adaptation problem, it’s a spiritual problem of the mind that is evidenced in the rebellion against God’s natural laws and order. When a culture decides it no longer needs, chooses, seeks, follows, holds as an ideal, fill in your own words,—-God. Then like Paul says, this is what the logical physical and spiritual manifestation is, an abandoning of the natural creational laws for the unnatural and sinful. Not that we were ever at a time without sin but that we have now reached the time where the natural progression of our so called “enlightenment” has brought us.This time period in our nation’s history was predetermined and fixed when the mantra of sex without any rules or obligations was first ballyhooed. When you no longer believe in or worship a Creator who calls the shots, the only thing else you have is the created(someone, something, or myself). And who are you to say that the thing that you worship is better or more appropriate than what I hold as sacred? That’s being narrow-minded and hateful.

  5. John F says:

    Three times in Romans 1 Paul says that since mankind rejected Him, He “paradwken” gave them over. . . Rom 1:28 God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done.
    (from The NET Bible®,

    In essence God says, You choose not to acknowledge me. Go your own way. Why?
    Rom 2:9-10 There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil. . . .
    God is hoping that the futility of sin … “affliction and distress” will cause man to see that life outside His will is failure, leading to repentance.

  6. Gary says:

    I agree with Hayes that Paul is likely writing in “mythico-historical categories” casting “forth a blanket condemnation of humankind.” Individual gays, and especially Christian gays, simply don’t fit in any significant way into Paul’s blanket condemnation in Romans 1. If one believes, as I certainly do, that children are sinless until arriving at what we have usually called an age of accountability, then homosexuality as we know it today is not what Paul is condemning in Romans 1. Children do not have intrinsic evil desires. They may be taught to have them to be sure but it is not a part of their God-given nature. I know a gay man who is primarily and intrinsically attracted to other men’s feet and has been since he was a very young boy. As a child he would hang around the side of a police station at shift change to watch some of the officers who would sit on a low wall and pull their shoes off and massage their weary feet. This man has only been attracted sexually to men and their feet ever since.

    Who would seriously contend that this man’s homosexual foot fetish is evidence of the depravity of humankind? Only the details would vary from one gay man to another. Another gay man I know was fascinated with Tarzan movies long before he ever knowingly experienced sexual arousal. Practically every gay man can tell of such same-sex attraction being present years before the age of accountability. I can’t account for homosexuality biologically mainly because I am most certainly not a scientist. But I know from my own reason and experience that I had a heart for God from earliest childhood and that the immutable homosexual orientation that I had by puberty had nothing to do with sin or depravity. The homosexual attraction was not sinful and acting on it now in a loving committed relationship also has nothing to with sin or rebellion against God or the extreme depravity of humankind.

    The gay folks we know today simply are not within the scope of what Paul condemns in Romans 1. Despite Paul writing in “mythico-historical categories” individual gays have to apply the actual words Paul uses in Romans 1 to their own situations the best they can. Paul writes of those who exchange or give up their heterosexuality for homosexuality. Remember that it is the words themselves that are our canon of authoritative Scripture for today and not our supposition about what the author was thinking as he wrote those words. The words stand on their own. Otherwise there is no objective canon of Scripture for us today. Either Romans 1 does not apply to gays today on account of those words or the whole mythico-historical discourse in Romans 1 is too ill-suited for individual application to try to use it today in that way.

  7. Ellen says:

    It’s interesting that Matthew Vines said,”So I don’t think it’s consistent to say that Paul rejected same-sex behavior only when it didn’t come naturally to the people involved.”
    When I first heard of Matthew Vines, I saw a speech on YouTube by him. He impressed me as a sweet young man that really studied his material, though I don’t agree with his conclusions. I did feel an instant affection for him as I could almost imagine he was my son.
    In that speech, he made the opposite argument and it was my least favorite of his arguments. He did make me question my own beliefs for a time, until I found answers to my questions that made more sense to me.
    I still have to say, a person can only begin from where he’s at, and, one can only believe what he is convinced of. To be true to one’s own beliefs is the best anyone can do, as long as that person remains open to growing in knowledge and understanding.

  8. Gary says:

    To expand further on the nature of an authoritative canon of Scripture for the church, passages of Scripture may have applications and meanings beyond what the author was thinking when he wrote them. I have no doubt but that Paul thought that he was condemning the practice of homosexuality in every possible expression and context. But that is only my supposition. What Paul thought of homosexuality in general is irrelevant today when it comes to what is authoritative for the church. We can study and speculate all we want to get behind Paul’s words but it really doesn’t matter. That’s right: it really doesn’t matter at all. All that matters for us is what a reasonable, prudent person would understand Paul’s words to mean to borrow a legal standard. If we have to be able to correctly read the minds of Bible writers to apply Scripture to our lives today than we might as well not bother. Scriptural interpretation would be entirely subjective in that case. The words Paul uses in Romans 1 understood on their face only apply to those who exchange or give up their heterosexuality for homosexuality. That that understanding would never have occurred to Paul means nothing. We either have an authoritative canon of Scripture or we don’t. I believe we do. If that means anything it means we must adhere to the words themselves and not what we imagine the author really thought. It’s either the words of Scripture that are authoritative or we have no objective guidance for today in Scripture.

  9. Dwight says:

    Laymond, as they were from Paul, they were not law and Paul admits this every time as he makes the distinction between what he ssuggest and what God says. Thus Paul didn’t make celibacy a law. But then again marriage wasn’t a law either. IT was natural and intended for a woman to leave and cleave to a man as in wife and husband, but not law. It was law however to subvert this in acts of homosexuality and bestiality and incest and adultery for the men and women.

    Choice is what has happened to society and freedom to express thier choice, even choices that are sinful. In extremely free societies people can choose to do whatevert they want. May have chosen to be homosexual and many have been influenced in this due to pornography and the acceptance of this in society.

  10. Richard constant says:

    Absolutely amazing.
    But as I’ve said before and will say again.
    From Genesis 3 mankind is culpable.
    And that is what Romans 1 is predicated upon.
    that would be Genesis 3: 22
    and then finalized Romans 3 verses 1 through 19.
    Especially first one verse 1 then on Too verse 9 – 10Then 11 through 19.
    Jesus says to the Pharisees you’re just like your father the devil.
    and Jesus warns his apostles if they do that to him what do you think that they’re going to do to do them.

  11. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Laymond,

    Once again, if you want to question the inspiration of Paul, there are blogs that will welcome such conversations. This is not one of them.

  12. laymond says:

    Jay, how do you get that I said Paul was uninspired , what I said, and what Paul said was not everything Paul said came straight from God. Jesus was referred to as “The Word of God” do you think that means he had no thoughts by himself, do you think that he never spoke on his own. I can’t see Jesus saying after being asked a question “let me check and get back to you” neither can I see Paul saying “I will check on that” . If God could be convinced that he was wrong, and change his mind, I am pretty sure Jesus and Paul were not right every time they spoke.

  13. laymond says:

    Rom 7:17 Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.
    Rom 7:18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.
    Rom 7:19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
    Rom 7:20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

    Jay do you think I am tougher on Paul, than Paul is? “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing:” (God is good.)

    Jay how can you teach that Paul teaches “the indwelling holy ghost” I do believe Paul said he is influenced by the evil within, not the good within. If we were influenced by the “good within” we would not have to fight evil,

  14. laymond says:

    Dwight, do you really think being homosexual, is a deliberate choice ?

  15. John F says:

    What I believe the bible teaches is that actions / behaviors are to be subject to the will of God and his instructions / commands. IF homosexual inclinations (and yes, I believe they do exist, experience teaches us that) are “normal”, acting on them is no more acceptable than acting on heterosexual inclinations outside of marriage, and from a Biblical viewpoint both are condemned as sin. Actions /behaviors ARE a “deliberate choice”.

    To tell God that I cannot control myself is likely just an excuse to do what I choose rather than what God expects..

  16. Monty says:

    Many do in fact choose to be homosexual. But not all. I have a niece who was married to a man, they divorced, she took up with a lesbian(that’s a choice is it not)? At that time she claimed to have had same sex attraction since puberty. They were together for a few years until the true lesbian wanted a different woman. My niece a year or so later started dating men again(another choice). A lot of folks today are choosing to experiment with their sexuality. A lot of folks have identity issues, they just aren’t sure of who they are and what they want to be, they’re confused. When people are confused they make poor choices. When TV and pop culture is selling you hard on the way things are, you have to be very grounded not to get swept up into it and carried away by it. How many ministers have issues with pornography? Sexual sins are prevalent in our culture. There was a point in time(the sexual revolution) where the choices of many have greatly affected the outcome of today. Rust never sleeps.

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