The Star-Crossed Christian Pt III – Re-Examining The Anti-Gay Rantings Of St Paul in Romans 1

This is Part III of this series, read Part I here, and Part II here.

I could write an entire post on why I will never own a copy of the King James Bible, perhaps I will, but for now I will spare you the details and briefly explain how it has been altering Christian thought for over 400 years.

The KJB/KJV was completed in 1611, and published because, according to Dr John Reynolds, “those which were allowed in the reign of King Henry VIII and King Edward VI were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the original”. Ironically, the some parts of the KJV were not even translated from the original languages of the Bible – Paleo Hebrew in the Old Testament, Koine Greek in the New Testament with Aramaic quotes – some were instead translated from the Latin Vulgate.

It contains many inaccuracies, and many verses appear to have been changed to reflect the political views of the King. An example of which, is Deuteronomy 23:17

 There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.

As stated in part I, the correlation between the destruction of Sodom and homosexuality was not made until the end of the 4th century CE, and Genesis was written approx 14th Century BCE. Those dates are so far apart, they don’t even fit on this timeline!

timline-giff

courtesy of dailybiblereview.com

In the much more accurate, but still imperfect, New American Standard Bible (+ interlinear), this verse states

לֹא־תִהְיֶ֥ה קְדֵשָׁ֖ה מִבְּנֹ֣ות יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְלֹֽא־יִהְיֶ֥ה קָדֵ֖שׁ מִבְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵל ׃

yiś·rā·’êl    lō-     ṯih·yeh    qə·ḏê·šāh  mib·bə·nō·wṯ  yiś·rā·’êl     wə·lō     yih·yeh  qā·ḏêš    mib·bə·nê

None of the daughters of Israel shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a cult prostitute.

Just like Leviticus 18:22, this verse is about “sacred prostitution” and the worship of Baal, the pagan god of weather and fertility, not homosexuality.

In fact there is no mention of homosexuality, until 34 books later – in Romans. 

During this time – most believers were Jews, and house churches would have certainly embraced a culturally Jewish experience. Unfortunately, the Jews were expelled from Rome in 49CE  by then-Emperor Claudius, and only began trickling back in around 57CE. 

Most scholar agree that the Book of Romans was drafted by St Paul The Apostle sometime between 55-59CE, in the midst of all of this tension. This book is an epistle (formal letter) to the Church authorities in Rome, and like most of the New Testament, it is written in Koine Greek (the official language of the Roman Empire, at the time). 

The expulsion of the Jews had a great impact on the identity of the Church, as Gentiles (non-Jews) now made up majority of the membership and Christianity was incidentally, no longer being recognised as a sect of Judaism but as a separate faith altogether. 

Consequently, Paul’s writing served the purpose of teaching doctrine and proclaiming that salvation was/is received through Yeshua.

Which brings us to the popular anti-gay verses, Romans 1:26-27

Διὰ τοῦτο παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ Θεὸς εἰς πάθη ἀτιμίας αἵ τε γὰρ θήλειαι αὐτῶν μετήλλαξαν τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν εἰς τὴν παρὰ φύσιν

dia    theos    paredōken  atimias    pathē    thēleiai    metēllaxan    phusikēn  chrēsin  para

For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,

ὁμοίως καὶ  ἀφέντες φυσικὴν χρῆσιν θηλείας ἐξεκαύθησαν ὀρέξει εἰς ἀλλήλους κατεργαζόμενοι ἀσχημοσύνην ἀπολαμβάνοντες ἑαυτοῖς ἔδει ἀντιμισθίαν πλάνης

omoiōs    kai    aphentes    phusikēn    chrēsin    thēleias   exekauthēsan   orexei   eis    allēlous katergazomenoi    aschēmosunēn    apolambanontes    eautois    edei    antimisthian    planēs

and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

The entire chapter of Romans 1 is written condemnation by Paul. In typical ultra-religious fashion, Paul launches a tirade against the actions of the Gentiles, even going so far as to call them “theostugeis” (haters of God) in Romans 1:30.

What did the Gentiles do to warrant such harsh criticism?

When we read Romans 1 26-27 it seems unmistakably clear that Paul is discussing homosexuality. That’s not the case however, when we take the surrounding verses into account – Just because the Bible is inspired, does not mean we shouldn’t consider the historical or cultural context. Understanding the environment in which this letter was written, is vital to gaining full understanding.

Before Paul became Paul, he was known as Saul Of Tarsus – A very religious ascetic Jew, who persecuted believers in Christ. Saul’s birth place of Tarsus was a hub for ritually unclean practises, and his adherence to the Torah is likely why he developed such a strong disdain towards idolatry. The worship of Cybele (the Phrygian name for Aphrodite, who can also be known as “Astarte” and “Ishtar”) was particularly prevalent within this area; and he continued to encounter these heathen cults in the eastern Mediterranean during his 34-45CE Christian missionary trips.

In fact, Paul was residing in Corinth in Greece completing missionary work, at the time that he wrote to the Romans. Examining historical artefacts and documents, we know that Corinth was home to a large Aphrodite cult temple, where prostitutes (called “hetairas” meaning “female companion”) and priests (called “gallais”) regularly gathered and engaged in toe’vah practises. These included flagellation, castration and same-sex group relations.

B.Z. Goldberg, author of Sacred Fire: The Story of Sex in Religion, states of Aphrodite – “She is both male and female – a bearded face with full maiden breasts; in female dress yet with a sceptre in her hand, the lingam symbol of a man. Aphrodite knows no sex, but sexuality. They who come to worship her must hide their sex. Males come in female attire and females in the clothes of males. The greatest glory they can bring to Aphrodite is to physically efface their sex”

Furthermore, Greek and Phrygian mythology records something interesting about Aphrodite’s helpmate Attis. After Attis reportedly became unfaithful, Aphrodite caused him to become so mad that he castrates himself.

For this reason, B.Z. Goldberg goes on to add – “The high-priest drew blood from his arms and presented it as an offering. And the inferior priests, wrought to the height of passion by the wild, barbaric music of cymbal, drum, and flute and by the profusion of blood around them, whirled about in furious dance. Finally, overcome by excitement, frenzied, and insensible to pain, they savagely thrust the knives into their bodies, gashing themselves in violence to bespatter the altar with their spurting blood…Then, insensible to pain and oblivious of everything, they ran through the streets of the Sacred Ring, waving the bloody pieces and finally throwing them into a house they passed. It became the duty of the households thus honored to furnish these men with female clothes, and they, made eunuchs in the heat of religious passion, were to serve their goddess for the rest of their lives.”

Translation and exegetical interpretation are important, because just like the Canaanite Baal worshippers discussed in Part II, the hetairas and gallais’ sin was not a committed homosexual relationship, but idolatry and the worship of other gods.

Stay tuned for Part IV, where we will discuss 1 Corinthians 6:9-10!


Sources:

Daniell, D. (2003). The Bible in English. New Haven: Yale University Press.

King James Bible,. (1611) (v. Deuteronomy 23:17).

New American Standard Bible (NASB),. (revised edition 1995) (v. Deuteronomy 23:17, Romans 1:26-27, Romans 1:30, Acts 9, Acts 22:3). Lockman Foundation.

Walters, J. (1993). Ethnic issues in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International.

Nash, R. (2003). The gospel and the Greeks. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.

Goldberg, B. (1931). The sacred fire. The story of sex in religion. London.

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