Romans 2: Paul’s Bait and Switch

Have you ever noticed that Romans 1 was not legislation?  Romans 1 contained no advice for the church in the city of Rome or any other.  Romans 1 was a rhetorical device.  That is to say, enlisting the disproval of a critic in order to blindside him with an accusation of the same misdeed.  If we use Romans 1 as legislation — which it clearly is not — we fall into the same trap Paul set for his critical Christian readers.

As I mentioned in the previous post (Romans 1: What Was Paul Ranting About?), we must be careful to note that in the first chapter of Romans, Paul was just setting up his self-righteous readers for his theological kill that comes at the beginning of the second chapter.  After entrapping his readers into criticizing  pagans who behave unrestrainedly and engage in these idolatrous ritual orgies, Paul slammed them at the beginning of chapter 2:

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.  You say, “We know that God’s judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth.”  Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?  Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:1-4)

Snap goes the mousetrap!  Their disgust at the pagan idolatrous orgies or immoderation was the cheese.  From this point on, Paul makes no further mention of these rituals in Romans, except for a generic reference in Romans 13:13.  The motif had served its only purpose.

So what were the “same things” that Paul charged these critics with performing?  What best fits the bill is not anything sexual.  What fits best is a combination of insufficient gratitude to God combined with excessive passions in other departments of life — evidently material greed from the sparse examples that Paul supplies.  Consider the following passages from the end of his letter:

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9)

Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another?  It is before their own lord that they stand or fall.  And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.  (Romans 14:4)

Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister?  For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then, each of us will be accountable to God. Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.  (Romans 14:10-14)

Do you think Paul had “homosexuality” in mind at that point?  Some Christians argue that in Romans Paul prohibits homosexuality and homosexual relationships.  However, a close and fully respectful reading of Romans 1 and 2 together — or of the letter as a whole — shows us something entirely different.  Paul is not interested in prohibiting “homosexuality”.  Paul is, however, quite concerned to discourage judging other people.  Might we at some point pay attention to the Apostle?  It’s time we stopped abusing Paul’s letter to the Romans and abusing others with it.


About Alex Haiken

Born to a Jewish family in New York City, I came to faith in Christ in 1982 after trying to disprove the Bible. I found so much evidence in support of the claims of Jesus and the Bible that it required more faith to reject it than to believe it. I hold a Master’s degree from Westminster Theological Seminary and among other things am a lecturer, teacher, blogger and conference speaker. I came out as gay at a young age but was taught when I came to faith that I could not be both Christian and gay. I served for a time as a leader of an ex-gay ministry but shifted my views after recognizing that when the few passages generally appealed to in this debate are examined more closely and in context, the traditional anti-gay interpretations do not hold up to scrutiny. I learned that the ex-gay route is a scripturally unsound mirage, a specious illusion that deceitfully draws people not to a life-giving oasis but to a deeper and deeper spiritual desert. Seeing the immense need for education in this area, I began to speak and write about my experience and new-found convictions. I am also passionate about helping the Church better understand her rich Jewish roots; helping other Jewish people understand Jesus as their Jewish Messiah; and helping other gay people integrate a theologically sound, committed Christian faith with their sexuality. It is my hope that the reflections in this blog will prompt you to explore the paths they suggest, leading to your own more eloquent thinking, exploration and action. If you want, visit the “Contact” page and let me know what you think.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Romans 2: Paul’s Bait and Switch

  1. Andinho. says:

    Unfortunately people use Roman and its verses as a clobber passages, but people don’t know that Paul was such worried about these principal things:
    1 – Idolatry
    2 – Prostitution (in and out of temples)
    3 – People changing their nature (homosexuals and heterosexuals) to sex-cults
    4 – About people judging the others.
    These are things that I supposed to think when I read. But you Alex made me open up my mind about this issue, I think that’s very clear and of course it’s right in front us and people don’t have the reading view, as you told one, people read with ‘moderns eyes,’ they don’t reading trying to make a search about the places, historical ages, sink in the time back; and withing the history they don’t enjoy. Nowadays my neighbors tells that what nature is doing it’s the end of the world sign and Jesus is coming back to take their followers away. What followers? If they’re always judging people with their prejudice. However I love history and understand the ancient folks, I am gay and I’m really not worried about religious bigotry, but your blog made me feel such happy because your information is clear. In my country doesn’t have anybody that could give a marvelous information as you do… When we have meeting to discuss gay right, there are always people talking about the Bible scriptures, and they use the Bible as clobber passages. Sometimes I say my view and every other people agree and disagree, as you meant, e.g. ‘if 25 people read one sentence, 25 people will declare different interpretation (view).’
    Thank you so much for you posts and I will always keep reading.
    Alex, I want you to read my post about Homosexuality and the Bible and please could you write down your comment ’bout I wrote? Follow the link below. Please!

    Thanks a lot.

  2. Alex Haiken says:

    Andinho, remember that what I argue here on this blog is that the Bible not only does not oppose what we know as homosexuality but also does not even recognize its existence. There was no such thing as “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” per se. Those categories were not even on the radar screen — so they were never what was being discussed. To insist otherwise is to squirt our later-day prejudices into the biblical text, wearing the fig leaf of biblical authority.

    And as I replied in your last comment, we also have to be careful about we read into Paul’s use of the terms “natural” and “unnatural”. We now know from linguistic studies that in Paul’s day the terms natural and unnatural simply referred to what was or was not expected. The example I gave: Paul also applied the same phrase “unnatural” (“para physin” in the Greek) to God’s action in Romans 11:24, when God engrafted Gentiles onto the Jewish olive tree — and there “para physin” was an appreciation, not a reproach. So, if same-sex coupling is, in Paul’s terms “unnatural”, so too is one’s salvation. The Bible is vast, complex, and multi-layered. To apply it reliably means we have to do our homework

  3. Keith Wadley says:

    Hey Alex,

    I appreciate the fresh perspective. I agree that Paul was setting them up. I do not agree that the sins he listed are not sins. But let me go even further, I totally agree that people have no idea what life has been like in the past societies, especially Jewish society. I have been overseas in a few places and seen cultures that are stuck hundreds, if not thousands, of years in the past. I have seen Arabs, dedicated holy men of their faith, say “women are for procreation, boys are for pleasure.” That would appall anyone – homo or hetero. (Not sure what terms are offensive, so forgive me if I use something that isn’t right and let me know so I don’t do it again). Then I read passages like Matthew 19:1-12 and believe that none of us have a clue as to what God desires from mankind regarding sexual stuff. The disciples thought that being married to only one woman and never being able to divorce her unless she commits adultery was preposterous. That gives you some insight into their mindset.

    Speaking as someone who has struggled with pornography on numerous levels, and as a heterosexual who loves the opposite sex with a lust that is as sinful as a serial killer, I have to deny myself what I desire because I believe it is holy, acceptable, and pleasing to God. Did God not make me? Are my desires not the natural out-crying of the Creator’s mark on my life? I do not believe they are. I believe it is what Paul talks about as the war between the flesh and the Spirit. With the flesh being the sin nature that is born inside of me upon me being formed in my mother’s womb.

    What do you do with the enoch passage in Matthew 19? I can’t wrap my head around that.


  4. Alex Haiken says:


    You misunderstood me. I did not say the sins Paul listed are not sins. They are most definitely sins and Paul did not take sin lightly. The question at hand is whether the sin(s) Paul is talking about in Romans 1 is homosexuality per se, or whether he is addressing something else altogether. Increasing numbers of scholars conclude the latter. They belive he is addressing pagan idolatry and the associated gruesome and licentious cultic practices the pagans practiced.

    Remember our job in doing exegesis (which comes from the Greek word that means “to draw out”) is to draw out from the text the true meaning of a Bible passage. It means getting out of the text what it originally meant to the author and to the original intended audience, without reading into the text the many traditional interpretations that may have grown up around it. Hence the previous post: “Romans 1: What Was Paul Ranting About?”

    I share your sentiment about seeking holiness. Throughout the Bible we find instructions to shun sexual immorality and seek the highest moral standard that reflects the Spirit of Christ (e.g. Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Cor. 6:13-20 and 7:1-3; Eph. 5:1-5; Col 3:5-17, to cite a few examples). However, the fact that the violation of others is strongly condemned does not mean that all homosexual behavior warrants such censure any more than all heterosexuals are to be condemned for their sexual behavior by association with the sins of pedophilia, lust, rape, fornication or adultery. The few verses in Scripture that proscribe sexual union between men all seek to address sins of idolatry, rebellion, self-indulgence, abuse, or grossly irresponsible behavior. The point is that homosexual people, like heterosexual people do not need to repent of their sexual orientations, but rather of their sinful responses to them.

    Fact is if we could stand Moses and Paul before us — the only two biblical authors who have been attributed as having said anything pertaining to or about homosexuality — and applaud or ridicule them for their condemnation of homosexuality, they would almost certainly stare at us in blank incomprehension. Why? Because homosexuality per se simply isn’t anything they’d ever been aware of. No kidding.

    I would suggest you read my post: “Why No One in the Biblical World Had a Word for Homosexuality.” I know this is tough to grasp at first as no one assimilates these notions on the first pass. But sometimes we need to try to get past what we think we already know to find out what we are looking at.

    I beleive the post: “Leviticus 18: What Was the Abomination?” will also shed some helpful additional light on this for you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s