Homosexuality: Rebellion Against God

A scholar of Paul explains how the great Apostle understood--and decried--homosexuality.

BY: Richard B. Hays

 

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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.

The genius of Paul's analysis lies in his refusal to posit a catalog of sins as the cause of human alienation from God. Instead, he delves to the root: all other depravities follow from the radical rebellion of the creature against the Creator (1:24-31). In order to make his accusation stick, Paul has to claim that these human beings are actually in rebellion against God, not merely ignorant of him. The way in which the argument is framed here is crucial: ignorance is the consequence of humanity's primal rebellion. Because human beings did not acknowledge God, "they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened." The passage is not merely a polemical denunciation of selected pagan vices; it is a diagnosis of the human condition. The diseased behavior detailed in verses 24-31 is symptomatic of the one sickness of humanity as a whole. Because they have turned away from God, "all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin." The aim of Romans 1 is not to teach a code of sexual ethics; nor is the passage a warning of God's judgment against those who are guilty of particular sins. Rather, Paul is offering a diagnosis of the disordered human condition: he adduces the fact of widespread homosexual behavior as evidence that human beings are indeed in rebellion against their creator. Homosexuality, then, is not a provocation of "the wrath of God" (Rom. 1:18); rather, it is a consequence of God's decision to "give up" rebellious creatures to follow their own futile thinking and desires.

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