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Hermeneutics 3 -- Romans 1

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  • nyguy_1225
    Romans 1:26-27: Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2004
      Romans 1:26-27:
      "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their
      women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same
      way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were
      inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts
      with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their

      The apostle here is ridiculing Gentile religious rebellion in
      typical Jewish polemic, saying that they knew God but worshipped
      idols instead of God. He illustrates with the unnatural practices
      of fertility cults involving sex among priestesses and between men
      and eunuch prostitutes such as served Aphrodite (the goddess of
      fertility, love and beauty) on the hill high over Corinth, right
      from where Paul was writing his letter to the Romans! Their self-
      castration rites did result in a bodily "penalty" (v27). All Paul
      had to do was look up to the hill from where he was writing and he
      could see the temple and he was well aware of the grisly practices
      of the fertility cults. German Evangelical theologian Helmut
      Thielicke says, "Paul's conception of homosexuality was one which
      was affected by the intellectual atmosphere surrounding the struggle
      with Greek paganism." Says Victor Paul Furnish of SMU, "Homosexual
      practice as such is not the topic under discussion." Says, biblical
      scholar Robin Scroggs, "The illustrations are secondary to [Paul's]
      basic theological structure," (cf 3:22b-23, Paul's own summary).

      Since those who claim the Bible speaks against all homosexuality
      today take this Romans passage as their biggest weapon, I'll go into
      more detail here. But I warn you before you read on you will need a
      strong stomach; it isn't a pretty picture. Paul knew the
      Mediterranean world and he knew exactly what he was doing in
      selecting this illustration for his ridiculing of idolatry.

      Writing on "The Apostle Paul and the Greco-Roman Cults of Women," in
      The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Catherine
      Kroeger makes the following comments about "the deliberate sex
      reversal practiced in some of the cults." She asserts, "Sex
      reversal was a specific distinctive of the Dionysiac cult and by the
      second century AD was considered to be indispensable to the
      religion. Men wore veils and long hair as signs of their dedication
      to the god, while women used the unveiling and shorn hair to
      indicate their devotion. Men masqueraded as women, and in a rare
      vase painting from Corinth a woman is dressed in satyr pants
      equipped with the male organ. Thus she dances before Dionysus, a
      deity who had been raised as a girl and was himself called male-
      female and 'sham-man.'" Kroeger continues: "The sex exchange that
      characterized the cults of such great goddesses as Cybele, the
      Syrian goddess, and Artemis of Ephesus was more grisly. Males
      voluntarily castrated themselves and assumed women's garments. A
      relief from Rome shows a high priest of Cybele. The castrated
      priest wears veil, necklaces, earrings and feminine dress. He is
      considered to have exchanged his sexual identity and to have become
      a she-priest."

      Both "prostitution and lesbianism were associated" with the Temple
      of Aphrodite above Corinth. Aphrodite was another name for Cybele.
      Says B.Z. Goldberg, author of the four-volume book Sacred Fire: The
      Story of Sex in Religion, says of Aphrodite: "She is both male and
      female -- a bearded face with full maiden breasts. ...They who come
      to worship her must hide their sex. Males come in the female attire
      and females in the clothes of males. The greatest glory they can
      bring to Aphrodite…is to physically efface their sex." Says another
      scholar [Grant]: "Hermaphrodites congregated in [Aphrodite's]
      temple." Whether worshippers called her Aphrodite, Cybele, Astarte,
      or Ishtar, they practiced erotic flagellations, same-sex orgies, and
      climaxing castration rites in her temples all along the sea coasts
      of Paul's missionary journeys. Goldberg gives a colorful
      description of the rites of Aphrodite: "When the human being reaches
      the stage in which he is neither man nor woman, then he is closest
      in tune with the spirit of the great goddess of love..."

      Meanwhile, Attis -- Aphrodite's son and sometime consort -- was said
      to have castrated himself and committed suicide. Goldberg describes
      the rituals of his Galli or young priests of the pine groves. At
      the beginning of the "erotic blood-letting" rites, one of the young
      priests resembling Attis or Adonis would be found stabbed to
      death. "The sight of the dead priest…aroused others to give of
      their own life fluid for the sake of the son of their goddess. 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 symbol, 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. The frenzy and hysteria of the priests spread to the
      worshippers, and many a would-be priest fell into the wave of
      religious excitement. He sacrificed his virility to the goddess,
      dashing the severed portions of himself against her blood-besmeared
      statue. ...[Onlookers joined in.] With throbbing veins and
      burning eyes, they flung their garments from them and with wild
      shouts seized the knives of the priests to castrate themselves upon
      the very spot. …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. ...The priest…who castrated himself in religious
      frenzy assumed feminine dress not without purpose. He continued in
      the service of the temple and like the priestesses served man for
      the required fee. They were," says Goldberg, "male priests serving
      males in the temples of all the gods."

      Doesn't this all sound like what Paul had in mind in the beginning
      of his letter to the Romans with an attack on pagan idolatry? What
      was it he wrote? "Even their women exchanged natural relations for
      unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural
      relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.
      Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in
      themselves the due penalty [castration] for their perversion."
      Doesn't this better describe these cultic rites of his day than it
      does the mutual love and support in the everyday domestic life of
      committed gay couples today?

      At any rate, even in this illustration -- whether of these sickening
      cultic rites of the pagan temples or, if you insist, homosexuality
      as such, -- we must be careful to note that Paul was just setting up
      his self-righteous readers for his theological kill that comes at
      chapter 2 verse 1: "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass
      judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other,
      you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the
      same things."

      Paul wants us all to know we are not to condemn each other. We are
      all guilty of doing the same things we accuse others of doing, says
      Paul. But Paul's great message of Romans is grace. Grace in
      exchange for guilt. Grace for living graciously with everyone
      else. Grace to live the Golden Rule. Grace to love others as we
      love ourselves.

      Do Christians really grasp this grace when we try to dump ancient
      texts about gang rape, prostitution and idolatry onto the heads of
      our gay and lesbian neighbors? The clear commandment is this: Do
      unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbor
      as you love yourself.
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