Homosexuality: Rebellion Against God
A scholar of Paul explains how the great Apostle understood--and decried--homosexuality.
Continued from page 2
In I Corinthians 6:11, Paul asserts that the sinful behaviors catalogued in the vice list were formerly practiced by some of the Corinthians. Now, however, since Paul's correspondents have been transferred into the sphere of Christ's lordship, they ought to have left these practices behind: "This is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." The remainder of the chapter, then (I Cor. 6:12-20), counsels the Corinthians to glorify God in their bodies, because they belong now to God and no longer to themselves.
The I Timothy passage includes arsenokoitai in a list of "the lawless and disobedient" whose behavior is specified in a vice list that includes everything from lying to slave-trading to murdering one's parent, under the rubric of actions "contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel."
One other possibly relevant passage is the apostolic decree of Acts 15:28-29, which rules that Gentile converts to the new Christian movement must observe a list of minimal purity prohibitions in order to have fellowship with the predominantly Jewish early church.
If, as seems likely, these stipulations are based on the purity regulations of Leviticus 17: 1-18:30, then they might well include all the sexual transgressions enumerated in Leviticus 18:6-30, including homosexual intercourse. This suggestion about the Old Testament background for Acts 15:28-29 is probable, but not certain.
The most crucial text for Christian ethic concerning homosexuality remains Romans 1, because this is the only passage in the New Testament that explains the condemnation of homosexual behavior in an explicitly theological context. The substance of Paul's exposition begins with a programmatic declaration in 1:16-17: the gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, `The one who is righteous will live by faith.'" The gospel is not merely a moral or philosophical teaching that hearers may accept or reject as they choose; it is rather the eschatological instrument which God is working out in the world.
Paul is undertaking in his own way to "justify the ways of God to men" by proclaiming that the righteousness of God (dikaiosyne theou) is now definitively manifest in the gospel. As a demonstration of his righteousness, God has "put forward" Jesus Christ, precisely in order "to prove at the present time that he himself (i.e. God) is righteous" (Rom. 3:25-26). For Paul, the gospel that proclaims God's justice is also a power, "the power of God for salvation" reaching out graciously to deliver humanity from bondage to sin and death.