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.