EXAMINING ROMANS 1:18-32--Paul's View of Homosexuality
Written by Kevin L. Howard   

Outline of Paper:

  • Overview of Romans 1:18-23
  • Relevance of 1:18-32 in Romans
  • Relevance of vv. 18-23 to vv. 24-32
  • A Closer Look at Romans 1:18-23
  • The Progression of Evil in Rom 1:18-23 and vv. 26-27
  • Radical Voices on Romans 1:24-27
  • A Closer Look at Romans 1:24-27
  • Focus on "Against Nature" and "Natural Use"
  • Homosexuality as an Illustration
  • Conclusion


Original Outline of Thesis Chapter

Sermon Outline of Romans 1:24-27

Resources for Practical Details on Romans 1:24-32



The following paper is a modified version of chapter two in my M.A. thesis, "Paul's View of Male Homosexuality: An Exegetical Study."  I have shortened and simplified it to make the data more accessible (like deleting much of the overly technical details and transliterating the remaining Greek).  While my writing has improved since I originally wrote my thesis, I have left my wording the same except for a few minor changes.  I wrote my thesis before Robert Gagnon published his important work, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics.  My paper, however, can aid the average reader wanting more insight into the Romans 1 text.  May it bring much glory to Christ.


Overview of Romans 1:18-23

Romans 1:18-23 does not say anything explicitly about homosexuals, but it does lay the foundation for the discussion in vv. 25-26.  Therefore, an analysis of Rom 1:18-23 is needed in order to provide greater clarification on Paul's view of homosexuality.


Throughout the first half of Rom 1, Paul uses the second person plural pronoun to refer to his readers in Rome.  Then in v. 19, Paul shifts to the third plural to refer to those he describes as idolaters.  It is not until 2:1 that the second person pronoun is used.  Thus, in 1:18-32, Paul is apparently referring to a group other than his general audience in 1:1-17 and 2:1.  The context of 1:18-32 seems to indicate that Paul is referring to pagans (e.g., Gentiles).[1]  But he does not exclude his Jewish readers either.[2]  In the book of Romans, Paul took occasion to refer to pagans as well as Jews (2:17; 3:9).[3]


Those addressed in the first half of chapter one may or may not be Jewish.  It is likely that Paul is speaking generally to the recipients of his letter and not trying to distinguish the ethnicity of his audience in 1:1-17.  When he finally does come to v. 19, where he focuses on the pagan practices of idolatry, he mentions their practices to contrast the pagans with his readers. 


Throughout 1:18-32, Paul is not explicitly associating his readers with these idolaters.  However, at 2:1, almost picturesquely, Paul turns to his readers again and says that they too are guilty of such sins or, are at least, guilty of judging and are equally guilty of sinning.  The contrast between 1:18-32 and 2:1 does not imply that Paul's readers were mostly Jewish but that they, as believers, were addressed more specifically (2:1) than those referred to in 1:18-32.[4]  His audience in 1:1-17 and 2:1-16:27 likely consists of both Jews and Gentiles.


Relevance of 1:18-32 in Romans

Romans 1:18-32 shrewdly sets forth the doctrine that God is right when He pours out His wrath on sinners.  Specifically, idolaters get what they deserve for rejecting God as Creator.  They had evil hearts; the evil in their hearts led them to reject God.  God allowed them to pursue their own evilness and even poured out His wrath on them, not only by means of allowing them to reject Him but by casting them further into their perversion.  The perfect example of how they were perverted is shown in their homosexuality.  Homosexuality is only one example of their wickedness.


After 1:18-32, Paul turns back to his readers in 2:1, and tells them that they too are guilty of sin.  It is as though Paul's audience has been reading 1:18-32 and saying "amen" to the fact that God's wrath is being poured out on the wicked Gentiles, and then Paul sneaks up on them in chapter two and says, "Pagans are not the only ones who have to be justified through faith.  You too, whether Jew or Gentile, are (or at least were) in need of His saving grace."


So it can be said that 1:18-32 functions in the whole of Paul's letter to the Romans as a clever device for showing that God has every right to punish sinners; all of humanity stands guilty of idolatry and is in need of God's mercy.  Therefore, 1:18-32 is the bridge from the assertion in v. 17 that "the righteous shall live by faith" to the declaration in 2:1 that those who have passed judgment on the pagans of 1:18-32 have conceded to the sinfulness of humanity, thus, acknowledging that they too are guilty of sin.


Romans 1:18-32 is the foundation in this letter to establish man's guilt before God.  One of the key elements in Paul's argument is that homosexuality shows humanity's distorted view of God and creation; it also shows that God punishes sinners with their own sin (e.g., homosexuality).


Relevance of Verses 18-23 to Verses 24-32

Verses 18-23 give general information concerning the fact that pagans suppress the truth about God, and, as a result of suppressing the truth, these idolaters do not recognize Him for who He is.  Verses 24-32 tell how God responded.  He gave them over to their sin so that they might sin more and thus heap upon themselves greater condemnation.  Verses 24-32, especially vv. 25-27, paint a nasty picture of where rejecting God led them.  Since their minds were already corrupt, and they were already worshipping the creation rather than the Creator, God gave them over to homosexuality.  Along with the illustration of homosexuality, Paul catalogues many other sins that come about as a result of rejecting God. 


Therefore, vv. 18-23 serve as the introduction to God's wrath and humanity's failure to see Him for who He is. Verses 24-32 function to show the other sins that idolatry leads to as well as to list some of the specific sins that are part of God's wrath.  Stated differently, vv. 18-23 tell why God gave them up, and vv. 24-32 tell what God gave them up to.


A Closer Look at Romans 1:18-23

Verse 18 suddenly introduces the readers to the wrath of God.[5]  It is a bit surprising, considering that v. 17 discusses the righteousness of God and the need for people to live by faith. 


Interestingly, the wrath of God is not futuristic in this verse, but it is something that is presently revealed to (meted out on) all wickedness.  However, God's wrath is not actualized until v. 24 by means of "God gave them up."  The mention of ungodly and unrighteous people at this point is a preparation for a discussion of homosexuality.  In other words, Paul's treatment of homosexuality functions to fully illustrate the wickedness of humanity. 


In v. 19, God's wrath is revealed because what He revealed about Himself is clearly manifested to them, actually, in them.  "Is evident in them" (phaneros estin en autois) seems to hint at natural revelation evidenced in creation and accepted by the conscience (see 2:15).


Verse 20 tells how God made Himself known.  In spite of God's invisible attributes, He still revealed them to humanity.  Note the irony of God revealing Himself, being rejected, and then revealing His wrath.  What was clearly made known to humanity ever since humanity began was God's eternal power and His divine nature.  Since creation has obviously borne witness to the Creator, those who reject the God of the Bible as the true Creator are without excuse.  The evidence of creation stands as witness against those who refuse to acknowledge God as Creator. 


Verse 21 explains what is meant by "suppressing the truth."  This verse indicates that those who suppressed the truth did it by not honoring God, not giving thanks to Him. Suppressing the truth led to exchanging the true God for an idol, and exchanging the true God for an idol led to other perversions such as homosexuality.  Homosexuality is also a form of suppressing the truth.  Just as it is wrong to worship a rock, so it is wrong to have intercourse with a person of the same sex.  Paul has not yet spoken of homosexuality in his letter, but he will eventually move his argument to that place.  


Apparently these pagans only knew of God but did not have a relationship with Him.  The picture painted here is not one in which Jim, upon entering an art studio, discovers a beautiful vase that has recently been sculptured.  After seeing the tools, the leftover clay, the food wrappings, and the artist's name carved on the finished product, Jim assumes that a human molded the vase.  Yet, in spite of his assumption, he turns to the nearest piece of furniture and says, "You have done a magnificent job constructing this marvelous vase."  Instead, the picture Paul paints is more like the scenario in which Jim walks into the studio, sees the vase and the other human elements, yet in spite of all the data, he still concludes that the sofa really sculpted the freshly finished vase. 


The pagans referred to in Rom 1 are condemned because they examined the evidence of creation, and, because of their own futility, attributed the creation to an idol.  Likewise, they may have participated in homosexual activity thinking it to be a legitimate form of sexual expression.


Verse 22 does not tell how these pagans were professing to be wise.  "Professing to be wise" probably assumes that by worshipping idols these pagans thought they were doing what was right.  It was not their profession of being wise that made them foolish but their changing the glory of the incorruptible God for a corruptible idol that showed their foolishness. 


According to v. 23, these pagans thought they were worshipping the true God, even though they were "exchanging the truth for a lie" (v. 25).   They were in fact worshipping an idol.[6]  Although v. 23 does not necessarily imply homosexuality, homosexuality certainly illustrates the exchange of what is right for what is wrong.  Homosexuality served as their sin in which they indulged, as well as their punishment they received for their initial sin--rejecting God for who He really was.


The Progression of Evil in Romans 1:18-23 and Verses 26-27

1. God reveals Himself through nature.

2. Man, with a corrupt heart, considers the data.

3. Man, because of his corrupt heart, refuses to worship the true living God.

4. God lets them continue in their deception [part of God's wrath].

5. They worship false gods.

6. Their distorted perception leads them to perversions such as homosexuality [also part of God's wrath].


Radical Voices on Romans 1:24-27

The following comments are just a few of the more radical voices speaking about Paul's view of homosexuality.  Such opinions will help to set forth some of the issues at stake in the interpretation of Paul's writings. 


Nelson, says that one cannot conclude from what Paul says in this passage that acts committed between two people of the same sex, who love each other, are against their given nature.[7]  He also points out that Paul was ". . . a fallible and historically conditioned" person.[8]  Rash agrees that Paul condemns homosexuality in Rom 1, but then accuses the Apostle of lacking psychological insight.[9]


According to Treese, "The implication in the verses [26-27] under consideration is that this quality of love is possible only between persons of heterosexual identity.  Pondering this, one sees it is patently ridiculous, for it denies personhood and integrity to an entire segment of humanity."[10]


Edwards proclaims that, "From the liberationist perspective the appeal to what is 'natural' often conceals the imposition on the community of customs that disregard the interests of some to the advantage of others."[11]  He later argues that Paul did not necessarily speak his own thoughts in Rom 1:18-32 but that he spoke from his tradition.[12]  "The theology of gay/lesbian liberation calls for an end to a fire-and-brimstone God who designates homosexuals as objects of divine anger."[13]  He calls for correction to Paul's theology.[14]  Edwards also discounts what Paul says about homosexuality by asserting that, ". . . Romans 2:26f. serves a dogmatic or rhetorical function, rather than a purpose of moral exhortation (parenesis) deriving from Paul's basic theological outlook."[15]  And thus, according to Edwards, Paul's purpose is circumvented and his ethic is obscured.[16]


Furnish believes, "It is also clear that homosexual behavior does not necessarily involve the sexual exploitation of another person, and that it does not necessarily take the bizarre forms that were so evident in Paul's time."[17]  Furnish moves on to accuse Paul of being misinformed on the subject of homosexuality.[18]  Paul was not ignorant of homosexual practices of his time, just out dated by modern research, according to Furnish.  Paul's teaching alone should not be thought to be sufficient to answer today's questions of right and wrong.[19]  Furnish states that, "It is no longer possible to share Paul's belief that homosexual conduct always and necessarily involves all these [rebellion against Creator, lust, etc.] things."[20]  Yoder believes that the Bible condemns certain kinds of homosexual behavior as sin, but it does not follow that all types of homosexual behavior are wrong.[21] 


Such comments could go on forever.  Now, only a careful examination of Paul's words on homosexuality will tell whether or not modern radical commentators are justified when they speak.


A Closer Look at Romans 1:24-27

Verse 24 begins a new sentence and builds on the previous passage.  Verses 18-23 indicate why God's wrath has been revealed against those who defy Him.  Verse 24 starts with "therefore" (dio), which informs the reader that what follows will be the result of what preceded it.


Paul's point in vv. 24-32 is that "God gave them over" (paredoken autous ho theos)[22], and the phrase occurs in vv. 26 and 28.[23]  Moo points out that "gave over" (paredoken) springs from the LXX (Septuagint) in which the word is used to denote God handing over Israel's enemies to be defeated (Exod 23:31; Deut 7:23).  The word is also used when Israel is handed over to its enemies (Lev 26:25; Josh 7:7, etc.).[24] 


"God gave them over" (paredoken autous ho theos) stresses God's abandonment.  The clause joined with its complements emphasizes that to which God has abandoned them.  In all three cases, derogatory prepositional phrases follow the clause "God gave them over."  However, as Johnson states, these clauses are not referring to eternal punishment.[25]  Neither do the three occurrences of the "gave over" (paredoken) clause suggest three different stages of punishment.[26]


Stuhlmacher posits that God gives up these people ". . . to the effects of that which they themselves desire to do."[27]  Cranfield's biggest concern with "gave over" (paredoken) is whether or not this word indicates that God has given them up permanently or temporarily.[28]  Cranfield is not willing to concede that God has given them up permanently, but that ". . . God allowed them to go their own way in order that they might at last learn from their consequent wretchedness to hate the futility of a life turned away from the truth of God."[29]  Cranfield explains that ". . . delivering them up was a deliberate act of judgment and mercy on the part of the God who smites in order to heal (Isa 19:22), and that throughout the time of their God-forsakeness God is still concerned with them and dealing with them."[30] 


Paul emphasizes that God is righteous in demonstrating His wrath toward the ungodly.  Moo rightly states that, "Paul's purpose in this verse is to highlight the divine side of the cycle of sin . . . ."[31]  Murray stresses that, ". . . the penalty inflicted belongs to the moral sphere as distinguished from the religious--religious degeneracy is penalized by abandonment to immorality; sin in the religious realm is punished by sin in the moral sphere."[32]  Murray goes on to say that the antecedent sinfulness was not strictly in the religious arena.


God demonstrates His wrath by giving over evil people to their evil ways.  At this juncture, one wonders why God does not treat all humans as severely as those referred to in this passage.  After all, every human is sinful.  However, Rom 1 indicates that there is a point at which God vents His wrath.  The text does not specifically say at what point God turns people over to their own devices.  Nonetheless, the "turning over" seems to transpire when a person replaces God with an idol and will not repent. 


This text seems to imply that the act of God giving them over does not merely become passive but that He is actively judging them by plunging them deeper into the murky sea of their own depravity.  God's wrath is not only manifested in the act of turning them over to their sin; His wrath is also demonstrated in what He turns them over to (e.g., homosexuality).


In v. 24, God is handing over wicked people to the "unclean desires of their heart."   The state that God finds them in is that of lust.  "Their hearts" clarifies whose hearts contain "desires" ("lusts").  God has turned them over "to impurity" or "uncleanness" (see Wisd 2:16; 14:12; 2 Cor 12:21).


In v. 24, "impurity" might refer to either idolatry or to some other type of immorality.  In light of vv. 26 and 28, "uncleanness" seems to refer to immorality rather than idolatry (see Rom 6:19; Gal 5:19).[33]  God turned them over to dishonor their bodies among themselves.  They have been turned over to their uncleanness.   


Was God's giving them up a shame to them or was the conduct that they participated in, after He gave them up, that which was a shame?  It seems that since God is giving them over to their impurity, Paul has the last option in mind.  In other words, they would participate in activity that should embarrass and shame those who engage in such acts.  It would not be out of place to say that Paul has a dishonor in mind which is related to the misuse of the body (1 Cor 6:18).  Again, their conduct is degrading to these already un-virtuous people.


Paul seems to say that there is a greater disgrace to these people (or to their conduct) after God "gives them up" than there was before He gave them up.  There may be a greater disgrace because they engage in more sin after God gives them up than before He handed them over.  He gave them up so that [and therefore] they become even more perverse in the sins they commit.


Dunn does not give enough precedence to God's active role in their judgment when he explains that ". . . God does not retain control over those who do not desire it."[34]  But God is not merely passive; He is very active in turning them over to their sin.[35]


"God gave them over . . . to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them."  The pagans purposefully gave God up, and now He is giving them up so that they might fully engage in their sin.  In addition, if God gave them over to their impurity, then He gave them up so that they would sin.  However, this does not imply that God has contributed to their sin, only that He has given them more than what they bargained for.  These idolaters are given up to themselves (i.e., to their passions) so that they can give themselves even more to their God-defying ways. 


In v. 25, the people that God turned over (because of their idolatry) to themselves (so that they may further participate in other types of perversion) are the ones who exchanged or traded the truth of God for a lie.[36]  Verse 25 recaps vv. 19-23, which tell why God gave them up. 


Dunn claims that v. 25 is a stronger version of v. 23.[37]  He argues that "truth" in v. 25 expands upon "invisible nature" found in v. 23.  Furthermore, God's reliability seems to be in focus in v. 25, and according to Dunn, lack of faith toward God is the heart of their idolatry.[38]  However, Dunn's claim that v. 25 is a stronger rendition of v. 23 is hard to verify; it seems rather that v. 25 functions to remind the readers of what was said in v. 23.  Verses 23 and 25 say essentially the same thing, and the only difference between them seems to be in the fact that each verse looks at the issue from a slightly different angle.  In v. 23 the people are said to have exchanged the glory of God for an image in material form, whereas v. 25 says that the people have exchanged the truth of God for a lie.  Verse 23 sketches a simple picture of what their idols looked like, whereas v. 25 declares their worship to those same idols. 


It should be noted that v. 23 functions as the cause for v. 24, and in like fashion, v. 25 functions as the cause for v. 26.[39]  In other words, vv. 23 and 24 are parallel to vv. 25 and 26.


Murray lists three purposes that v. 25 serves: 1) it unfolds the character of the offense, 2) it reaffirms the ground upon which the judicial infliction rested, and 3) it vindicates the gravity of the infliction by emphasizing the religious perversity on account of which the penalty was imposed.[40]


In agreement with Cranfield, Moo interprets the "who" or "they" (hostines) as introducing an independent clause while maintaining that it connects v. 25 to the previous sentence.[41]  Cranfield and Moo's position is preferred, considering the structure of v. 23 "exchanged the glory" (allassan ten doxa) with v. 24 "God gave them over" (paredoken autous ho theos), and v. 25 "exchanged the truth" (metallassan ten alētheian) with v. 26 "God gave them over" (paredoken autous ho theos).  Again, I see a parallelism between vv. 23 and 25 and between vv. 24 and 26.


In vv. 26-27, the irony of the "exchange" becomes clear.  Those who refused to recognize God for who He really is were given over to their own devices.  In these devices, they "exchanged" their proper sexual function for that which was contrary to the way they were created.  Because they initially exchanged the truth for a lie (thinking that something other than God was deity) they continue to exchange the truth (intercourse with the opposite sex) for a lie (sexual activity with the same sex).[42]   The illustration of homosexuality makes Paul's point about idolatry in a shrewd way.  Distortions in the spiritual realm lead to distortions in the physical realm.  Specifically, a wrong view of God can lead to a wrong view of sex.  Regarding Rom 1, Thielicke comments that disarray on the vertical level is matched by perversion on the horizontal dimension.[43]


Without a proper view of the Creator one will ultimately have a wrong view of creation.  And if one has a wrong view of creation (e. g., idolatry), one will interact with it wrongly (e. g., homosexuality).  However, this of course does not mean that every one who has a drastically distorted understanding of God will be a homosexual.  But it does mean that every one who has a seriously erroneous theology will be affected by those clouded views.


Worshipping an idol solidifies a false reality in the mind of the worshipper, just as having intercourse with a person of the same sex confirms a false reality in the mind of the homosexual.  The false reality in each case is this--1) worshipping the idol is right because it is God; 2) intercourse with the same sex is morally equivalent as intercourse with the opposite sex.


Even though the homosexual conduct of vv. 26-27 does not necessarily imply the worship of one another's body, homosexuality is a form of idolatry in that it distorts what sex was created for and the way it was created to take place.  These pagans did not just worship the wrong thing but tried to be God by virtue of choosing their own sexual conduct as opposed to the conduct God created them for.  Just as man should not try to play the role of God, neither should men try to play the role of women (vice versa).  Homosexuality, as any sin, replaces any prior devotion to God and attempts to change what creation was intended to be.


In v. 26, "females" (thēleiai) uniquely emphasizes sexual distinction.[44]  It is debated if the females referred to here were committing homosexual acts or involved in "unnatural" forms of heterosexuality.  I believe it refers to homosexual acts. 


Murray posits that females were mentioned first to intensify the grossness of the sin of homosexuality.[45]  Murray states that the involvement of women in this sin would be more odd than men because the ". . . delicacy which belongs to the woman . . ." would clearly contradict the vice of homosexuality.[46]  But his point is not convincing.  Cranfield, via Kuss, suggests that Paul mentioned female perversion before male perversion to place emphasis on the latter.[47]  Nonetheless, it is difficult to know why Paul mentioned women first.  One possible suggestion given by Schmidt is that since Paul was using language from Gen 1:26 ("females" and "males" not "women" and "men"), he mentioned the female role in homosexuality first because the female was the first to sin (1 Tim 2:14).[48]


Focus on "Against Nature" and "Natural Use"

The "against nature" (para phusin) of v. 26 and the "natural use" (phusikēn chrēsin) of Rom 1:26-27 hold great significance in this discussion.  ("Phusin" can be transliterated as "fusin".)


"Nature" (phusin) occurs several times in the LXX (Septuagint).[49]  Besides Rom 1:26-27, the NT usages of "nature" basically fall into six of the following categories.


1. A type or kind of living being: Jas 3:7 ("species of animals . . . the human species"); 2 Pet 1:4 ("partakers of the divine nature").


2. The inclinations which are characteristic of a creature by virtue of its given makeup (e.g., instinct): Rom 2:14 ("instinctively do the things of the law"); 2 Pet 2:12 ("creatures of instinct"); Jude 10 ("the things they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals").


3. Aspects of creation that should appeal to the human conscience: 1 Cor 11:14 ("nature teaches").


4. The way things are or the results that follow events such as birth or creation: Rom 2:27 ("physically uncircumcised"); Gal 2:15 ("Jews by nature").

i. Rom 11:21 ("natural branches").

ii. Rom 11:24 ("cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree . . . was grafted in against nature . . . shall be grafted in according to nature").


5. The essence of an object: Gal 4:8 ("by nature are not gods").


6. The state of unredeemed humanity: Eph 2:3 ("by nature children of wrath").


Romans 1:26-27 could at least fit into either category number 3 or number 4.  Paul usually implements "nature" (phusin) to assert the way things are by virtue of existence.[50]  But this point is obviously highly disputed.


Lovelace says that "against nature" meant ". . . against God's intention for human sexual behavior . . ." (i.e., complementary function).[51]  The violation of what is natural refers to the Levitical code which is founded upon Genesis 1.[52]  Barth says that man, ". . . can only be genuinely human with woman or as a woman with man."[53]  Thus, to participate in homosexual conduct is to ignore, and therefore, violate the partnership that God has given humanity.


Boswell seeks to show that vv. 26-27 only condemn heterosexuals engaged in homosexual activity.[54]  Boswell thinks that "nature" refers to the personal nature of the pagans described.[55]  He contends that "nature" in Rom 11:24 indicates something "unexpected, unusual, or different" and that its usage in 11:24 may shed light on its usage in 1:26-27.[56]  Boswell writes that Paul's use of the phrase did not imply natural law.[57]  Also, he translates "para" here as "more than."[58]  But his interpretation of  "nature" and "against nature" in Rom 1:26-27 and 11:24 is hard to substantiate.


Hays counters Boswell's use of "nature" and exegesis of Rom 1.  Hays astutely asserts that Paul's mention of "Creator" and "creation" in Rom 1 would have reminded his readers of the creation order of Gen 1.[59]  According to Hays, this allusion to the creation order would have conveyed to Paul's readers the importance of the way human sexuality was meant to be, heterosexual not homosexual.  The context governs the way "against nature" (para phusin) should be understood; therefore, Hays contends, this usage in Rom 1 proves Boswell to be wrong about his interpretation of "phusin"[60] 


Cranfield states that by "against nature," ". . . Paul clearly means 'contrary to the intention of the Creator'. . . ."[61]  The misuse of the sex organs with the same sex is contrary to the appropriate way they were created to function in relation to the opposite sex.[62]


So, does Boswell rightly contend that Paul only condemns heterosexuals participating in homosexual conduct?[63]  His point is quite untenable.  Paul shows no evidence that he knows anything about heterosexuals practicing homosexual activity.  Boswell attempts to force a modern day discussion back into the first century.  Paul simply condemns homosexual conduct.  Thus, it is assumed that whether or not one was a "true invert" was irrelevant to Paul.  Paul does not assert what Boswell claims.


Homosexuality as an Illustration

Homosexuality is singled out by Paul for illustrative purposes, thus giving it more attention.  Even though idolatry is the main focus of Paul's passage, what he says (or omits) about homosexuality does not mean that Paul excluded homosexuality from his sin list.  Actually, the passage has every indication that Paul considered it a sin.


According to Furnish, what Paul says about homosexuality is a ". . . relatively incidental part of his argument that all people are sinners who stand in need of salvation."[64]  Furnish believes that, "It is mistaken to invoke Paul's name in support of any specific position on these [modern homosexual] matters."[65]  But Furnish's position does not take Paul's comments seriously enough, as should be clear by the details I have listed already.


In v. 28, for the third time, the drum of judgment sounds its dreadful beat.  Verse 28 provides a larger picture of vv. 23-28's overall structure.

Cause=v. 23 They exchanged the glory.

Effect=v. 24 God gave them over.

Cause=v. 25 They exchanged the truth.

Effect=v. 26 God gave them over.

Cause=v. 26 The women exchanged their natural [sexual] function, and

Cause=v. 28 They [men and women] did not see fit to acknowledge God.

Effect=v. 28 God gave them [men and women] over. 


In v. 32, those having known that God judges sin know that those who practice such things are deserving of death.  The "that" (hoti) explains what they know as well as the ordinance of God.


Dodd thinks "practicing" (prassōntes) refers back to the sins vv. 24-27.[66]  The same people whom God has turned over to a depraved mind are those who participate in the sins of vv. 29-31; but they also applaud such actions of other people.


The phrase "but also give hearty approval to" (alla kai suneudokousin) shows the force of their enthusiasm and expresses their involvement in rooting others on in sinful practices.  The way v. 32 ends places more stress on the last phrase.  Some contend that this verse proposes that those who applaud others' sins are just as guilty, if not more so, than those who flesh out their sins.[67]  But those who are here applauding unrighteousness are the same ones who have done, and continue to do, other forms of unrighteousness. 


Maybe Paul's point is this: the kind of depraved person who participates in the sins of vv. 29-31 is also the kind of person that will applaud when these same acts are committed by others.  Therefore, the stress is upon the progressive sinfulness that leads to applauding the sins of other people and not just upon those who applaud such actions.  Stated differently, Paul's thought is not, "Those who are applauding unrighteousness are worse than those practicing such sins," but probably more along the lines of, "People in this state of depravity get to the point that they begin to applaud sin."


It is unclear whether Paul was highlighting homosexuality as the ultimate sin in contrast to the sins of vv. 29-31 or whether he used the example of homosexuality because it perfectly illustrated his point of idolatry.  The last option is preferred, although it would not necessarily rule out the first.



The "natural use" (phusikēn chrēsin) in Rom 1:26-27 definitely puts the "against nature" (para phusin) of v. 26 on a functional level.  It seems difficult to examine the context of Rom 1:26-27, ancient writers, and Paul's usages of "against nature" (para phusin) without coming to the conclusion that Paul used "against nature" (para phusin) in Rom 1:26 to refer to that which was wrong--it goes against the functional design created by God.[68] 


Some people may claim to worship God while practicing homosexuality.  But if Paul views homosexuality as sin, then one cannot practice homosexuality and claim to be an obedient Christian.  These people forsook God by initially refusing to recognize His deity; therefore, God forsook them (v. 24).


Many try to weaken what Paul says about homosexuality by saying that Paul had idolatry in mind, and thus one may practice homosexuality without it becoming idolatrous.  But what Paul says in vv. 18-23 is that the people referred to here are guilty of idolatry, and their actions are proof and punishment of their idolatry.  Paul leaves no room for one to practice homosexuality without being guilty of idolatry.  These pagans were corrupt, and since they were corrupt in their hearts, they rejected God for who He was, and He gave them over to their corruption that already existed in their hearts, and the corruption that He gave them over to was such sins as homosexuality.



1 So Leander Keck, "Romans 1:18-23," Interpretation 40 (1986): 404.


2 M. D. Hooker, "Adam in Romans 1," New Testament Studies 6 (1960): 299.


3 Countryman, Dirt, 121, believes that Paul did not explicitly address his Gentile readers until 11:13, even though the Apostle speaks to the Jews in the third person in chapter nine.


4 See E. P. Sanders, Paul, the Law, and the Jewish People (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1985), 123, 129, in which he argues that Rom 1:18-2:29 is a synagogue sermon. According to Sanders, Paul's point in this passage is to exaggerate the sins of the non-Christian Gentiles, addressed in 1:18-32.  Whether or not this passage was part of a synagogue sermon is hard to say, but nothing in Rom 1:18-32 indicates that Paul was exaggerating the sins of the Gentiles.


5 For further study on the wrath of God, see Gunther Bornkamm, Early Christian Experience (London: SCM, 1969):47-70; S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., "Paul and the Knowledge of God," Bibliotheca Sacra 129 (1972): 64-67; G. H. C. Macgregor, "The Concept of the Wrath of God in the New Testament," New Testament Studies 7 (1960-61): 101-9; Frank Stagg, "The Plight of Jew and Gentile in Sin: Romans 1:18-3:20," Review and Expositor 73 (1976): 401-7.


6 See Hooker, "Adam in Romans 1," 297-306, in which she argues that "image" (eikōn) is reminiscent of Ps 106:20 and the Genesis creation account.


7 James Nelson, "Homosexuality: An Issue for the Church," Theological Markings (Winter 1975): 43.


8 Ibid, 44.


9 John Rash, "Reforming Pastoral Attitudes Toward Homosexuality," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 25 (1970): 444.


10 Treese, "Homosexuality," in Loving Women/Loving Men, 39.


11 George Edwards, Gay/Lesbian Liberation: A Biblical Perspective (New York: Pilgrim, 1984), 74.


12 Ibid, 86.


13 Ibid, 88.


14 Ibid, 93.


15 Ibid, 95.


16 Ibid, 96, 98.


17 Furnish, Moral Teaching, 80.


18 Ibid, 80-81.


19 Ibid, 81.


20 Ibid, 81.


21 John H. Yoder, "Is Homosexuality Sin? How Not to Work at a Question," in 1979 Consultation Papers: A Symposium on Human Sexuality with Particular Reference to Homosexuality, ed. John Mumaw (Harrisonburg, Va.: Mennonite Medical Association, 1979), 69; so David Field, The Homosexual Way--A Christian Option? (Downers Grove: IVP, 1980), 24.


22 See Acts 7:42; Rom 6:17; 1 Cor 5:5. The phrases "turned over," "handed over," "gave up," and "gave over" occur interchangeably throughout this paper to express the meaning of paredoken.


23 See M. D. Hooker, "A Further Note on Romans 1," New Testament Studies 13 (1967): 181-83, in which she argues persuasively that Rom 1:24, 26, and 28 are influenced by Ps 106:19-23.


24 Douglas Moo, Romans 1-8, The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1991), 105.


25 S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., "God Gave Them up," Bibliotheca Sacra 129 (1972): 130.


26 William Sanday and Arthur Headlam, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, International Critical Commentaries (New York: Scribner's, 1896), 45.


27 Peter Stuhlmacher, Paul's Letter to the Romans, trans. Scott Hafemann (Lousiville: Westminster, 1994), 36.


28 C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, International Critical Commentaries (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1975), 121.


29 Ibid.


30 Ibid.           


31 Moo, Romans 1-8, 106.


32 John Murray, Romans, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980 reprint), emphasis original, 43.


33 The emphasis is on sexual immorality but not necessarily limited to just that. See Cranfield, Epistle to the Romans, 122.


34 Dunn, Romans 1-8, 63.


35 See Moo, Romans 1-8, 106.


36 Cranfield, Epistle to the Romans, 123, thinks that there is a break between vv. 24 and 25 rather than between vv. 25 and 26.


37 Dunn, Romans 1-8, 63.


38 Ibid.


39 So Moo, Romans 1-8, 108.


40 Murray, Romans, 45.


41 Moo, Romans 1-8, 107.


42 Other options besides female homosexuality were considered in the original thesis chapter.


43 Thielicke, The Ethics of Sex, 279.  For a more thorough summation of Thielicke's views, see Don Williams The Bond That Breaks: Will Homosexuality Split the Church? (Los Angeles: BIM, 1978), 95-99.


44 Cranfield, Epistle to the Romans, 125.  See Gen 1:27; Mark 10:6; Gal 3:28.


45 Murray, Romans, 47.


46 Ibid.


47 Cranfield, Epistle to the Romans, 125. 


48 Schmidt, Straight and Narrow?, 81.


49 Wisd 7:20; 13:1; 19:20; 3 Mac 3:29; 4 Mac 1:20; 5:7-8, 25; 13:27; 15:13, 25; 16:3.


50 BAGD, 869.  For "against nature," see Helmut Koester, s.v. "phusin," in TDNT, 9.262-67.  For the Pauline usage of "nature," see Ibid, 9:271-75.


51 Richard Lovelace, Homosexuality and the Church (Old Tappan, N.J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1978), 92.  Cf. Wayne Dynes, ed., Encyclopedia of Homosexuality, vol. 2 (New York: Garland, 1990), 881.


52 Williams, The Bond that Breaks, 76.


53 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, vol. 3, ed., G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1961), 166.


54 Boswell, Christianity, 109; so James Nelson, Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1978), 186; Walter Barnett, Homosexuality and the Bible: An Interpretation (Wallingford, Pa.: Pendle Hill, 1979), 16; Edwards, Gay/Lesbian Liberation, 88-89; Arthur Ide, Gomarrah and the Rise of Homophobia (Las Colinas, Tex.: The Liberal Press, 1985), 46; see Gerald Sheppard, "The Use of Scripture within the Christian Ethical Debate Concerning Same-Sex Oriented Persons," Union Seminary Quarterly Review 40 (1985): 26, in which he finds himself in agreement with Boswell concerning Paul's use of "nature" (i.e., it does not refer to natural law).  For articles which are critical of Boswell's research and which disagree with much of what his book, Christianity, asserts, see Lynne Boughton, "Biblical Texts and Homosexuality: A Response to John Boswell," Irish Theological Quarterly 58 (1992): 141-53; Richard J. Neuhaus, "In the Case of John Boswell," First Things 41 (1994): 56-59; Bruce Williams, "Homosexuality and Christianity: A Review Discussion," Thomist 46 (1982): 609-25; J. Robert Wright, "Boswell on Homosexuality: A Case Undemonstrated," Anglican Theological Review 66 (1984): 79-94.  For further reviews of Boswell's book, see pages 89-90 of the last source cited in this footnote.


55 Boswell, Christianity, 111.


56 Ibid, 112.


57 Ibid.  For an article which deals with natural law, see Helmut Koester, "NOMOS PHUSEOS: The Concept of Natural Law in Greek Thought," in Religion in Antiquity: Essays in Memory of Erwin Ramsdell Goodenough, ed. Jacob Neusner, Studies in the History of Religion 14 (Leiden: Brill, 1968), 521-41.  Cf. Richard Horsley, "The Law of Nature in Philo and Cicero," Harvard Theological Review 71 (1978): 35-59.


58 Ibid, 111.


59 Richard Hays, "Relations Natural and Unnatural: A Response to John Boswell's Exegesis of Romans 1," Journal of Religious Ethics 14 (1986): 191; so George Brunk, III, "Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Homosexuality," in 1979 Consultation Papers, 165.  For further study into the possibility that the Creation story lies behind this passage, see Niels Hydahl, "A Reminiscence of the Old Testament at Romans 1:23," New Testament Studies 2 (1954-56): 285-88; so Hooker, "Adam in Romans 1"; Also see David Wright, "Early Christian Attitudes to Homosexuality," Studia Patristica 18 (1989): 329-34.  See Bernadette Brooten, "Paul's Views on the Nature of Women and Female Homoeroticism," in Homosexuality and Religion and Philosophy, vol. 12, ed., Stephen Donaldson and Wayne Dynes (New York: Garland, 1992), 68, where she connects Rom 1:18-32 with 1 Cor 11:2-16 and states that Paul was concerned in these passages with the order of creation.  For an article which deals with a few excerpts from the Genesis creation account and asserts that homosexuality is against the created order, see Samuel Dresner, "Homosexuality and the Order of Creation," Judaism 40 (1991): 309-21.  See Darrell Doughty, "Homosexuality and Obedience to the Gospel," Church and Society 67 (1977): 12-23, in which he devotes a larger portion of his article toward trying to debunk the idea that the order of creation stood behind this Rom 1 passage; see Joseph Kotva, "Scripture, Ethics, and the Local Church: Homosexuality as a Case Study," Conrad Grabel Review 7 (1989): 57, where he posits three rather weak points to say that "para phusin" could not have been used by Paul to refer to the permanent created order.


60 Hays, "Relations Natural and Unnatural," 199.  See Bernadette Brooten, "Patristic Interpretations of Romans 1:26," Studia Patristica 18 (1983): 289, where she questions Boswell's thesis because homoerotic "love" between women was never accepted by the church.


61 Cranfield, Epistle to the Romans, 125; so Gordon Wenham, "Homosexuality in the Bible," in Sexuality and the Church, ed., Tony Higton (Hockley, Essex: Action for Biblical Witness to Our Nation, 1987), 34; so Grenz, Sexual Ethics, 206.


62 See Pim Pronk, Against Nature?: Types of Moral Arguments Regarding Homosexuality, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993), 216,  where he argues that the biological structure of the sex organs (i.e., they fit best heterosexually) does not prove that it is immoral to use them homosexually.  But his position does not allow Scripture the authority to determine the usages of the sex organs.


63 Boswell, Christianity, 109.


64 Furnish, Moral Teaching, 79.


65 Ibid, 79.


66 Dodd, Romans, 28.  Paul most likely referred to the sins listed in vv. 28-31 when he used "practicing" (prassōntes) in v. 32, but the context of vv. 24-27 seems to imply that Paul thought that such sins merited death for the practitioners.  See Furnish, "The Bible and Homosexuality," in Homosexuality in the Church, 29, concerning Rom 1:24-32, in which he says that Paul is not listing specific sins but listing some ". . . representative consequences of sin."


67 So Cranfield, Epistle to the Romans, 133-34; contra C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans, The Harper's New Testament Commentaries (New York: Harper/Row, 1957), 41; Cf. 1 Clem 35:6.  For a more mediating position, see Moo, Romans 1-8, 116.  For parallels of v. 32's final clause in extra-biblical literature, see Kasemann, Commentary on Romans, 52.


68 I examined ancient writers and Paul's usage more thoroughly in the original thesis chapter.


Original Outline (With Greek transliterated)


            Part 1: An Analysis of Romans 1:18-23

                        Relevance of 1:18-32 in Romans

                        Relevance of vv. 18-23 to vv. 24-32

                        Romans 1:18-23

                        The Progression of Evil in Rom 1:18-23 and vv. 26-27

            Part 2: An Exegesis of Romans 1:24-32

                        Rom 1:24-32

                                    Ancient Writers and phusin

                                    Scriptural References to phusin

                                    Modern Commentators and phusin

                                    Interpreting Rom 1:26: Hetero or Homo?

                                    Greco-Roman or Jewish Sources?

                                    Pederasty or Adult Male Hmlty?

                                    Hmlty as an Illustration




Sermon Outline of Romans 1:24-27

I. God gives over evil people to their polluted lifestyles (24a)

A. The consequence (24b)

1. specifically

2. generally

B. The cause (25)

II. God gives over evil people to their shameful passions (26a)

A. The cause (26b-27a)

B. The explanation (27b)

C. The penalty (27c)

1. specifically

2. generally



Resources for Practical Details on Romans 1:24-32

I am suggesting sermons, text or audio, by John Piper at DesiringGod.org. 


The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality, Part 1 (Romans 1:24-28).

The Other Dark Exchange: Homosexuality, Part 2 (Romans 1:24-28).

Doing and Endorsing Evil (Romans 1:28-32).


Also see Robert Gagnon's, Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views.  Check out his site, http://www.robgagnon.net/.


(posted 12/26/08)



For another paper of mine on this topic,

see The Old Testament and Homosexuality.