What the Bible Still Says About Homosexuality (Part 3)

After looking at Helminiak’s argument regarding Genesis 19 and the Sodom narrative, today we turn to the next phase in his argument. One of the things I noted in yesterday’s post is Helminiak’s failure to provide contextual, consistent exegesis based on the original languages. We’ll see again today that this is a problem that isn’t isolated in the least.

After complaining that the church has turned sexuality into a litmus test, Helminiak turns to Romans 1:26-27. Here we will see again how Helminiak relys on “proof by assertion” to buttress his argument regarding the normality of homosexuality.

The longest biblical passage on male-male sex is Romans 1:26-27: “Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.”

The Greek term para physin has been translated unnatural; it should read atypical or unusual. In the technical sense, yes, the Stoic philosophers did use para physin to mean unnatural, but this term also had a widespread popular meaning. It is this latter meaning that informs Paul’s writing. It carries no ethical condemnation.

Compare the passage on male-male sex to Romans 11:24. There, Paul applies the term para physin to God. God grafted the Gentiles into the Jewish people, a wild branch into a cultivated vine. Not your standard practice! An unusual thing to do — atypical, nothing more. The anti-gay “unnatural” hullabaloo rests on a mistranslation.

Besides, Paul used two other words to describe male-male sex: dishonorable (1:24, 26) and unseemly (1:27). But for Paul, neither carried ethical weight. In 2 Corinthians 6:8 and 11:21, Paul says that even he was held in dishonor — for preaching Christ. Clearly, these words merely indicate social disrepute, not truly unethical behavior.

To be honest with you, Constant Reader, this argument is so jacked up that it’s hard to know where to start! I’ll note a few things, however, in the hopes of penetrating to the root of Helminiak’s argument.

First, you should note that Helminiak is not producing a new argument here; this one has been around since Boswell published Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality back in 1980. But his argument regarding Paul’s use of para phusin (παρὰ φύσιν) is incredibly weak, as he argues that the phrase “carries no ethical condemnation”. Helminiak’s errors here could be easily caught by a first-year Greek student who slept through the majority of the course.

First, Helminiak either forgets or just simply omits the issue of semantic range. Words can take a variety of meanings, and just because uses the term “dishonorable” in one non-ethical context doesn’t mean that the word never carries an ethical sense. For instance, I might say that you are a terrible person. I could also say that the pizza I ate last night was terrible. In the first case “terrible” has an ethical force; in the second it doesn’t. Most pro-homosexual apologists flee at this point to 1 Corinthians 11:4, but in doing so they’re guilty of crossing contexts.

Second, Helminiak isn’t paying attention to the local context of the passage. The immediate context of Romans 1 tells us exactly how interpret the phrase para phusin (παρὰ φύσιν). Beginning in Romans 1:18, Paul is explaining how the unregenerate “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”, specifically regarding the truth about God that is revealed in nature. He also demonstrates how the unregenerate “exchanged the truth for the lie” by inverting the Creator/creature distinction and relationship. In both cases, Paul’s argument is that they have “believed the lie” which prevents them from seeing reality as it truly exists. In the very next verse, he singles out homosexuality as “against nature” (παρὰ φύσιν); it is an act that is entirely in violation of God’s design. Furthermore, his reference to Stoic philosophers is meaningless. It doesn’t matter what the Stoics thought, what matters is what Paul means. He isn’t writing from a background of Stoic philosophy, but is writing as a Second Temple Jew.

Lastly, the most egregious error on Helminiak’s part is how he cut the passage off. He ends with v. 26, when in reality, the sentence continues on into v. 27. I cannot help but think that this is an intentional omission, since v. 27 is the death-blow to his argument that Paul doesn’t have ethical condemnation in mind. Verse 27 reads,

…and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Paul states that those persons who have abandoned the natural relationship between male and female for homosexual relationships have committed “shameless acts” and “received in themselves the due penalty for their error”. If this isn’t an ethical failure, then we are dealing with a capricious God who punishes those who have done nothing wrong. That is clearly not the God who is revealed to us in Scripture.

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"I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve." (Romans 16:17-18) Please read "The Comments Policy."

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