Greece Pictures Added

I have added a page of pictures from Greece that features sites of biblical or historical interest. The cities included are Thessaloniki (home of the recipients of 1 and 2 Thessalonians), Philippi (Philippians), Berea (whose residents are mentioned in a positive light in Acts 17:10-15), Vergina (near where Philip II of Macedon is buried), Delphi (famous for its oracle at the Temple of Apollo), Athens (see Paul’s sermon there in Acts 17:16-34), and Corinth (recipients of 1 and 2 Corinthians).

I traveled to Greece and Rome this past January with a great group of students (and a faculty colleague) from Taylor University. Dave, Elizabeth, and David Sparks were our excellent guides and teachers.

Look for the “Pictures of Greece” page at the top of the home page, or follow this link.


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Epistle to the Trojans

Students in my Pauline Epistles class formed groups and wrote letters from the apostle Paul to Taylor, as an in-class exercise (each group had 20-25 minutes to write a brief letter).

The letter written by Brennan, Brittany, and Will earned the most votes, and so we are posting their words here – enjoy!

Prayer chapel at Taylor University

Epistle to the Trojans

Paul, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the people of Taylor University, may grace and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you for the abundant feast of Chicken Cordon Bleu (editor’s note: from Taylor’s Dining Commons). Although I am aghast at the technological advancements I see at your university, I am impressed about the learning you emphasize in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Your love for one another has been an encouragement to me. Every day I am encouraged in my thoughts about you and remember you in my prayers always. When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, be sure to admonish one another as well as encourage, as you have always done. Continue to pursue the wisdom of the elders who have been appointed before you by the power of our God and Father.

I have heard said of Taylor that you say, “Ring by spring.” But I say, there is no appointed time for a ring that you can know. Until that time, continue in God’s grace for one another, not focusing upon this goal but the goal of following Christ. I am saying this not to bind you in any way but that you may know the true love that Christ has for you.

Now you who bleed purple and gold, continue to love one another as you have always done. Pray continually, greet all brothers with a holy high-five, remain with one another even after God’s time for you at Taylor, and abstain from every evil. Be sure to admonish one another in love for each other in the name of our Lord. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always. Amen.

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Integrating Faith and Learning, Truth and Life

Thinking rabbitStudying the Bible in an academic context provides a great opportunity to explore the broad relevance of a number of Biblical themes. What are some potential ways the Bible relates to other areas of learning or significant issues in our world?

The Trinity – worship, purpose, full relationships with God and others, how Christianity is distinct from other world religions.

Creation – the sciences, creation care, beauty/order/design in the world, stewardship of resources/gifts/life, fruitfulness, culture, creativity, sexuality/marriage/family, the wisdom of God.

Image of God – the value of human life, living as representatives of God, identity formation, vocation and calling.

Incarnation and physical resurrection – the value of the physical world and physical bodies, physical presence/touch and relationships, the “embodied” life and communication/social media, benefits and dangers of technology to human interaction and growth, medical ethics.

The kingdom of God – power structures and their relationship to God, justice/righteousness/shalom, what God’s reign looks like now and in the future in our world, kingdom ethics applied to various areas of life.

Christian virtues – cultural analysis, sexual morality, business ethics, hospitality, generosity to the needy, other humanitarian issues.

The cross/death of Jesus – “cruciform living” in an indulgent and selfish world, the depths of sin/evil/suffering and brokenness in a fallen world, the power of forgiveness – with God and others.

The church – how Christians are distinct from the world, how Christians should engage with the world, reconciliation and unity within the church, church planting and missions – contributions from various gifted people, ministries to the poor/needy/oppressed.

Justice and judgment – restorative and punitive justice, temporary and final judgment and their functions, divine and human justice, social justice in various arenas, reconciliation between political/social/tribal enemies, war and pacifism.

Biblical covenants – mission and purpose in light of the new covenant, middle east politics in light of the old and new covenants, church and state, living as strangers and exiles.

Union with Christ – identity formation, growth and maturity as disciples, sharing in Christ’s suffering, the persecuted.

New creation – worship and vocation, human flourishing, the value of the physical, beauty, creativity.

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Series Conclusion – the Bible and Same Gender Sexual Activity


Christian congregations (particularly in Europe and North America) exist within cultures that are rapidly changing in their moral norms. In the years and decades to come, Christians will need to combine a wise and compassionate pastoral approach with biblically informed doctrine when we encounter people inside and outside the church who experience same-sex attraction.

Thankfully, God has given sufficient revelation to guide us in our theological convictions. The topic of same-gender sexual activity is addressed indirectly and directly in Scripture, as we have seen in this blog series.

Very early in the biblical story, marriage is defined explicitly as being between a man and a woman. This definition is maintained (though not always practiced) throughout the rest of the Bible. Genesis 2 establishes God’s clear intention for marriage – between one man and one woman. Jesus affirms this definition in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. Paul reiterates this definition in Ephesians 5. Marriage between man and woman is invested with deeper meaning in these passages, as signposts to God’s eternal plans in creation and redemption.

Same-sex practices are portrayed in a negative light and/or spoken against in both the Old and New Testaments. Often, “righteous” and “unrighteous” behavior is divided clearly in these passages, with same-sex practices being listed under “unrighteous” behavior.

Same-sex practices surface in the “wicked” cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

The Law God gave to Moses (the Law that reflected God’s holy character and specified how the Israelites were to be his holy people) prohibited same-sex practices, along with other sexual activity that fell outside the bounds of a faithful marriage between a man and woman. While the new covenant in Jesus nullifies ceremonial aspects of the Law as well as specific penalties, there is no indication that God’s demands for moral purity in heart and actions have been discarded.

Jesus did not speak specifically about same-sex practices (probably since his Jewish audience already rejected such behavior because of Leviticus 18 and 20), but he did affirm male-female marriage as God’s design (Matthew 19 and Mark 10). Jesus is also clear that immoral behavior (as opposed to customary rituals) makes a person truly defiled before God (Mark 7:14-18, Matthew 15).

Paul associates same-sex practices (between men and between women) with immorality that characterizes people groups that have denied the knowledge of God in Romans 1.

Paul insists that same-sex practices are among the behaviors that are incompatible with Christian belief and participation in the kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians 6, and he groups same-sex practice with other forms of lawless and ungodly behavior in 1 Timothy 1. But as is the case for all of us, these passages remind us that because of the good news of Jesus Christ sin need not have the final word in our lives. Jesus Christ came to save sinners and re-shape our lives into his image, by the Spirit.

Thus concludes this series. Here are the links to the rest of the posts in the series:


Section 1 – Overview


Section 2 – Marriage in Genesis, the Gospels, and Ephesians


Section 3 – Sodom and Gomorrah throughout the Bible


Section 4 – Leviticus 18 and 20


Section 5 – Romans 1:18-32


Section 6 – 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1


Section 7 – Matthew 7:15-20 – A Tree and its Fruit

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Trees and Fruit in Matthew 7:15-20

Fruitful tree

In this post (see intro to the series here) we take a step back to ask a broader question: what makes a teaching harmful or helpful for a Christian? If a teaching is determined to be biblically faithful, is that enough? Or does the legitimacy of a teaching come under suspicion when it creates hardship for those seeking to live according to it?

Matthew Vines uses Matthew 7:15-20 to suggest that any doctrine or teaching should be evaluated according to whether it harms or helps the person who tries to obey the doctrine. He claims that teachings that wound people by imposing relationally unhealthy restrictions on a person (and thus preventing human flourishing) are bad teachings, since they produce bad fruit. Apart from this being a very subjective measure for identifying truth (who defines “unhealthy” vs. “flourishing”?), it does not seem to do justice to the tree/fruit analogy in Matthew 7:15-20 either.

The context of the passage is the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). A parallel passage is found in Luke 6:43-44. Jesus is speaking to his disciples and the crowds (5:1; 7:28). The gist of the passage is that the people need to be on guard against false prophets, and there are ways of recognizing these false prophets.


Tree and fruit imagery

Jesus explains that disciples will recognize prophets by their fruits. The imagery of fruit is common throughout the Old and New Testaments. Most frequently good fruit describes good works, actions, and deeds that arise out of being faithful to God. Bad fruit is linked to disobedience and moral impurity.

In Matthew fruitfulness is “predominantly an ethical metaphor, based on the assumption that true loyalty to God will issue in appropriate behavior by his people” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, 291). Matthew 3:8 and its parallel in Luke 3:8-14 establish the basic meaning of “fruit,” from John the Baptist’s preaching: “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” In Luke 3 John the Baptist provides specific examples of what this looks like: being generous to the needy, not cheating others financially, and not abusing power. This shows that “fruits” are actions that are congruent with a repentant heart.

The passage that follows the tree and fruit teaching (Matthew 7:21-23) confirms the idea that people’s actions must match the will of the God they claim to serve. People who claimed the name of the Lord and did works in his name would be rejected by God as workers of “lawlessness.” Why? Because the kingdom of heaven belongs to “the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus says this of the false prophets: “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16, repeated in 7:20). Then, in three different ways in Matthew 7:16-18, Jesus explains that trees never produce fruit that is contrary to the tree that produces it. So, in the analogy of the tree and the fruit, what is the tree? The tree is not the teaching being taught by the prophet, but the true nature of the prophet.  Jesus is encouraging his hearers to discern the true nature of the prophet by examining the fruit the prophet produces.  What fruit does Jesus have in mind? Let’s take a look at how false prophets are described elsewhere.


False prophets

Matthew 7 uses the tree/fruit analogy as a test to measure the true nature of false prophets. What did Jesus mean to describe when he used the label “false prophet”?

In Matthew 12:33-35 the same tree/fruit imagery used against the Pharisees, who had just attributed the works of the Spirit (through Jesus) to Satan. In this case, the bad fruit consists of the words of the Pharisees (their resistance to Jesus and the Spirit’s work through him). They were condemned with warnings that such sin would not be forgiven. After the tree/fruit imagery, he again warns of judgment against arrogant words spoken against Christ and the Spirit. The key issue at this point in the Gospel is the rejection of Jesus by the Pharisees. The Pharisees, in spite of their apparent good fruit (in the people’s eyes and in their own eyes – Matt 23:3, 23:28), were bad trees because of their words against God’s work through Jesus, and Jesus was exposing them as such. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Elsewhere in Matthew (24:11, 24) false prophets in the last days lead people astray and deceive others through false signs (by turning them away from Christ). See also Mark 13:22. The same picture emerges in 2 Peter 2:1 and 1 John 4:1.

Note that in all of these passages the false prophets are not simply teaching wrong philosophies or doctrines, but are giving false information about how God is at work (specifically about whether he is or is not at work through Jesus). These false prophets, whether they are Jesus’ contemporaries (Pharisees) or prophets in the last days, are those who reject Jesus as the Christ and lead others astray.

Likewise, false prophets in the Old Testament deceived people about how God was working in their midst. The false prophets would often prophesy positive things when God wanted to proclaim judgment instead:

  • Isaiah 30:9-10: “For these are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the LORD’s instruction. They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!’”
  • Lamentations 2:14: “The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity.”
  • Ezekiel 13:9-10: “My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. . . . Because they lead my people astray, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace . . .”
  • Luke 6:26: “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”
  • See also 1 Kings 22:13, Jeremiah 14:13-15, Jeremiah 23:9-16, Ezekiel 22:28, and Micah 3:5-7.

These passages provide evidence that false prophets are guilty primarily of promoting a casual attitude towards obedience to God’s commands (in the Old Testament) or leading people away from Jesus as the Messiah (in the New Testament). They produce bad fruit by pointing people away from God’s perfect plans.


Ravenous wolves

In Matthew 7:15 the false prophets are said to be ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing. The metaphor describes the true nature of the false prophet, despite outward appearance. It also indicates the ill intent of the prophet and the harm he causes. Could this language envision the destructive teachings Vines describes?

Wolf imagery surfaces in a similar context in Acts 20:29-30, where Paul says “fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.”

What is clear in Acts 20 is implied in Matthew 7, in conjunction with the description of false prophets elsewhere in the Gospels: wolves are dangerous because they deceive people into following them instead of Christ. The wolves subvert the heart of faith – devotion to Jesus as the Christ. There is no indication of their being ravenous through imposing restrictions that are seen to prevent human flourishing in general.



Matthew 7:15-20 uses tree/fruit imagery to warn against false prophets and their agendas.

The logic of the passage is that the tree (the true character of a prophet) is revealed by the fruit (the actions and teachings of the prophet – either acknowledging the identity and works of Jesus or opposing him). The tree is not the teaching of the prophet, and the fruit is not the perceived effects of that teaching.

False prophets can be recognized when their disobedient actions and opposition to Jesus do not match what would be expected from a “good tree.” Good trees live in harmony with revealed character, will, and work of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Though the prophets are characterized as “ravenous wolves,” it is not because they are placing unreasonable restrictions on the people (such as denying them the option of finding fulfillment in a relationship) but because they are leading people away from Jesus, the Christ.

A careful look at this passage supports the fundamental idea that God’s wisdom determines the beauty and goodness of a teaching, whether it is a teaching that immediately blesses us or whether it is an extremely challenging teaching that requires our wholehearted trust to carry it out (such as the call for someone with same-sex desires to either pursue chastity or cultivate a sexual relationship within a marriage with an opposite-gender spouse). God’s revealed truth in the Bible is the only sure way forward for how to live our lives. True prophets instruct others in God’s character, his teachings, and his Son. False prophets diminish people’s confidence in God’s character, his teachings, and his Son.


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Sin and Gospel in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-17

Christ carries cross

(An overview of this series on the biblical teachings that address same-gender sexual activity is found here.)

Christians acknowledge the reality and presence of sin in our lives and world. But we also point to the power of God to save us, forgive us, and conform us to the image of Christ.

These two passages in Paul’s letters (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-17) use terms that are typically translated to describe same-gender sexual activity. In both cases, the words show up on lists of those who practice behavior that is sinful and in conflict with godliness.

Neither passage ends with a negative tone though. Both point ahead to the transforming effects of the gospel message – the good news that Christ died for sinners and by his Spirit cleanses us and helps us experience his work in our lives.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV): Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor the idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality (malakoi and arsenokoitai), nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Timothy 1:8-10 (ESV): Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality (arsenokoitai), enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.


Lexical information (what the words mean)

The words malakoi and arsenokoitai  (in 1 Corinthians 6:9) are often paired together to designate both the so-called passive and active participants in same-sex activities (BDAG, 613).

Μαλακός – though this word has a broader meaning of “soft,” BDAG rightly defines the word in this context as “pertaining to being passive in a same-sex relationship, effeminate,” BDAG, 613.

ἀρσενοκοίτης = “a male who engages in a sexual activity with a person of his own sex, pederast,” BDAG, 135. This word also makes an appearance in 1 Timothy 1:10.

Note that the first half of this word (ἄρσην) refers to a male, while the second half is for sexual relations (see Romans 13:13 for Paul’s use of κοίτη to refer to illicit sexual activity). Though a compound word cannot always be understood as the sum of its parts, in this case, with a previously unseen combination (before Paul), the word would be understood from the obvious pairing of meanings from its component parts.

To add to this likelihood, some have posited that the proximity of ἄρσην and κοίτη in Leviticus 20:13 (and Leviticus 18:22), the two passages in the Mosaic Law that speak against same-sex activity, led to the origin of the compound word. The one word became a convenient way to explain this particular vice.

The old Latin and Syriac translations (from the Greek) are the oldest known translations (they are from the second century) of the New Testament. Coptic is not far behind (third century). They provide early evidence for how this term was understood in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. The early Latin, Syriac, and Coptic translations of the New Testament attest to the meaning of sex between males for ἀρσενοκοίτης (Gagnon, 322).


Modern translations – 1 Corinthians 6:9 (malakoi and arsenokoitai)

ESV, NIV, HCSB, CEB – They use one all-encompassing phrase for both participants (malakoi and arsenokoitai). For instance – “men who practice homosexuality” (ESV).

NASB – “effeminate” and “homosexuals,” with footnote “effeminate by perversion”

NET – “passive homosexual partners” and “practicing homosexuals”

NKJV – “homosexuals” and “sodomites”

NLT – “male prostitutes” and those who “practice homosexuality”

NRSV – “male prostitutes” and “sodomites”

The Message does not capture the precise meaning of the words with its overly-free translation (vague mentions of sex and its abuses).


Modern translations – 1 Timothy 1:10 (arsenokoitai )

ASV – “abusers of themselves with men”

CEB – “people who have intercourse with the same sex”

ESV – “men who practice homosexuality”

HCSB, NASB – “homosexuals”

NET – “practicing homosexuals”

NIV – “those practicing homosexuality”

NLT – “those who practice homosexuality”

NRSV – “sodomites”


Contextual information – 1 Corinthians 6

The terms describing sinful behavior are all grouped under the category of person known as “the unrighteous.” These unrighteous are said to have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.

There are a variety of serious sins mentioned in the list, including four that relate to sexual behavior. The list begins with a general term for sexually immoral people (πόρνοι), which is a cognate term for porneia: “This Greek word and its cognates as used by Paul denote any kind of illegitimate – extramarital and unnatural – sexual intercourse or relationship” (Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 871). The list that follows adds adulterers and the two terms for men involved in same-sex activity.

What is the nature of this stern warning? In light of 1 Corinthians 5:5, which prescribes church discipline for sexual sin as a way of helping the offender avoid eternal punishment, the warning in 1 Cor 6:10 is probably intended to point to the possibility of eternal judgment for those whose actions are completely in opposition to God’s kingdom values. This passage is meant to show the serious nature of the sins listed.

That leads us to 1 Corinthians 6:11 (“And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” NIV). The tone and logic of the passage suggests Paul’s dual purpose to reassure the Corinthian believers of their salvation and identity in Christ while still establishing the expectation that they will leave any of these old sinful practices behind in their growth in Christ. The implication is that those who persist in blatantly sinful behaviors have not experienced the cleansing work of Christ in their lives and are thus outside God’s kingdom. But the good news is that those who have been washed, sanctified, and justified in Christ will experience God’s work and exhibit fruit in keeping with their transformation.


Contextual information – 1 Timothy 1

1 Timothy 1:10 lists ἀρσενοκοίταις with other types of sinners that need God’s law in its proper use. The proper use of the law is to expose sin, not to reform sinners. The introductory condemnation is “for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane.”

Paul shows that God’s (Old Testament) Law is beneficial for sinners, to reveal their sin (in preparation for repentance and reception of the gospel – see 1 Timothy 1:11-16). The Law is not for “the just,” because the Spirit is the one who now brings believers from their past and their old selves, which were characterized by these (and other) vices. The Spirit empowers the believer to put on the new self and bear fruit for God, in ways that are in stark contrast to the old ways of life “for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane.”

The specific offenders mentioned are lawless in areas that correspond to laws found in the OT (including disobedience to parents, murder, sexual immorality and same-sex activity among males, bearing false witness, and possibly, stealing/kidnapping). See Gagnon, 334-335.

Thus, in Paul’s descriptions of two kinds of people (the lawless/ungodly and the righteous), people who practice same-sex sexual relations are counted among the lawless/ungodly, who nonetheless have opportunities for new life through the gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 1:14-16). In verse 15 Paul summarizes the gospel with the words, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” Paul believes in a holy and gracious God who both opposes sin and saves sinners.


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Romans 1:26-27 – The Kingdom of God Revealed and Rejected

The Apostle Paul

Biblical restrictions against same-gender sexual activity may seem incredibly counter-cultural. Certainly, this charge is leveled against other biblical teachings as well. Many people find the prohibition against premarital sex to be unrealistic, and contributing money regularly to a church strikes people as foolish, and the idea that Christ is the only way to God can appear to some as intolerant. Biblical teachings reflect the values of God’s kingdom and show us what life should look like under God’s reign. But God’s kingdom has always been in tension with the kingdoms of this world. Romans 1:18-32 paints a picture of what it looks like to resist God’s reign.

(See previous posts on this topic here, here, here, and here).


Literary Context of Romans 1:18-32

After the apostle Paul greets his readers, introduces himself, and articulates his gospel message (Romans 1:1-17), he devotes several chapters (Rom 1:18-3:21) to demonstrating that all humanity, both Jews and Gentiles, are sinful and therefore deserving of God’s judgment (“that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God” – Romans 3:19). Paul introduces this section of his letter with the pronouncement of God’s wrath against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness” (πᾱσα ἀσέβεια καὶ ἀδικία). These are words that shape our understanding of what follows – sinful rejection of God and sinful behaviors. “Unrighteousness” (ἀδικία) stands in contrast to the “righteousness” (δικαιοσύνη) revealed in the gospel (1:16-17).

Romans 1:19-23 speaks of Gentiles’ rejection of God’s general revelation and their descent into idolatry. The focus is not on each individual Gentile’s experience with idolatry, but with idolatry as characteristic of a Gentile world that denies the knowledge of God.

Romans 1:24-25 is a transitional verse that introduces God’s “handing over” of idolaters into immorality. The immorality is described as “the desires of their hearts resulting in impurity (ἀκαρθασία) and the dishonoring of their bodies among/in themselves.” “Dishonoring (ἀτιμάζω) of their bodies” is not defined here but anticipates the description of “dishonorable” (ἀτιμία) same-sex practices in the verses that follow. The prepositional phrase at the end of Romans 1:24 (ἐν αὐτοῖς) could be interpreted as “among themselves” (as a culture-wide phenomenon) or “in themselves” (with a possible parallel in 1 Corinthians 6:18).

Romans 1:26-32 describes the “dishonorable passions,” with 1:26-27 focusing on male-male and female-female sexual activities.

This passage should not be read as Paul’s musings on the psychology of same-sex attraction and behavior. Paul does not set out to prove that for a given individual the experience of same-sex attraction or the practice of same-sex activity is caused by rejecting God.  Paul’s purpose is more general: to argue that “idolatry leads to social disintegration, particularly in the form of sexual confusion, as God hands people over to the consequences of their sinful desires” (Frank Thielman, Theology of the New Testament, 351).


The Text of Romans 1:26-27

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural  relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

“For this reason” – see verse 25 – the reason is the rejection of God for idolatry.

“God gave them up – repeats the language of verse 24 and is repeated again in verse 28. God releases idolaters to their lusts (ἐπιθυμία), passions (πάθος), and debased minds (ἀδόκιμος νοῡς). The verse does not indicate the cause of immorality but describes the unchecked reign of these immoral desires and activities.

  • “Dishonorable” (ἀτιμία) – “a state of dishonor or disrespect,” (BDAG, 149).
  • “Passion” (πάθος) – “experience of strong desire, passion,” (BDAG, 748). This is used in a negative way in 1 Thessalonians 4:5 and Colossians 3:5 as well.

“For” (γάρ) – explains the way in which the passions are dishonorable.

“The women” – Paul describes the prevalence of sexual activity between females before turning his attention to the males.

  • The inclusion of women in descriptions of same-gender sexual activity invalidates the argument that Paul is denouncing only abusive sexual relationships in which one participant is an adult and the other is not (such as pederasty – sexual activity between an adult male and a younger boy). Schreiner notes that “there is no evidence that older women victimized younger girls, and so this theory does not account for the indictment of female sexual relations” (Thomas Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, 661).

“Exchanged” is the same word as 1:25 (exchanging the truth of God for a lie) and is related to 1:23 (exchanging the glory of God for images). The pattern reflects exchanging what is true and good for what is false and wrong.

In this case (verse 26), the charge is that people exchange “natural relations” (φυσικὴν χρῆσιν) for “those that are contrary to nature” (τὴν παρὰ φύσιν).

  • φυσικός is “pertaining to being in accordance with the basic order of things in nature,” (BDAG, 1069).
  • χρῆσις is the “state of involvement with a person, relations, function, especially of sexual intercourse,” (BDAG, 1089).
  • φύσις is “the regular or established order of things, nature,” (BDAG, 1070).

In summary, “their women” are said to exchange sexual activities that align with the natural order of things for activities that are against the natural order of things.

For Paul “natural” and “contrary to nature” are categories that are both transparent from observation (male and female differentiation, which is evident to all) and in alignment with God’s creative design from Genesis 1-2. This connection between God’s creative design and observed order is affirmed in Romans 1:20 (God’s attributes are perceived “ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”) Additional corroborating evidence that male and female distinction is what is “natural” is found with the pairing of “women and men” or “females and males” (θῆλυς and ἄρσην) in this passage (see the LXX version of Genesis 1:27, Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:6, and Galatians 3:28). In summary, Paul uses “natural” and “contrary to nature” to describe actions “in accordance with the intention of the Creator” and actions “contrary to the intention of the Creator” (C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, 1:125).

  • Paul likewise appeals to “nature” or φύσις in 1 Corinthians 11:14-15, where observed design from creation (“nature”) is used to condemn the practice of men looking like women or vice versa. (Note that in that passage, the confusion of genders was culturally expressed and pertinent to that particular culture, but the basis for not having confusion in the first place was timeless and grounded in creation-determined differentiation between men and women).
  • Natural and unnatural is not determined inwardly, according to the person’s orientation, but according to God’s design in creation. In other words, a person may protest that certain actions are in fact natural to that person’s inclinations, but the Bible does not accept those as natural if they conflict with God’s revealed will.

Some of the same language from verse 26 is applied to men in verse 27. The men’s “natural use” (φυσικὴν χρῆσιν) is “departed from/abandoned” (ἀφίημι- see BDAG, 156). This time though, the parallel to “contrary to nature” (which is opposite of “natural”) is spelled out more specifically. The men were “consumed with passion for one another, men carrying out shameful acts with men and receiving in/among themselves the penalty which was necessary for their error.”

  • “Consumed” (ἐκκαίω) is defined as “have a strong desire for, be inflamed” in BDAG, 303.
  • “Passion” (ὄρεξις) describes “a condition of strong desire, longing,” (BDAG, 721).
  • Note that this is a description of misdirected passion rather than excess passion. The emphasis is on the passion that is not according to “nature.” The disordered passion results in committing same-sex acts. From the men’s perspective, the actions were aligned with their passions, but from God’s perspective, the actions were contrary to nature.
  • Contrary to Vines, 105 (Paul “was condemning excess as opposed to moderation”), Paul is criticizing disordered (contrary to nature and God’s will from creation) passions as opposed to ordered (in harmony with nature and God’s will from creation) passions.

The behavior between “one another” is immediately restated as “men in/with/among men” (ἄρσενες ἐν ἄρσεσιν).

These men were “carrying out” (κατεργάζομαι – BDAG, 531) “shameful acts” (ἀσχημοσύνη), which is defined as “behavior that elicits its disgrace” (BDAG, 147).

These men (same grammatical subject) also were “receiving” (ἀπολαμβάνω) “the penalty” (ἀντιμισθία – “requital based upon what one deserves, recompense, exchange,” BDAG, 90), which “was necessary” (ἔδει) for their error (πλάνη) – “wandering from the path of truth; error, delusion, deceit, deception” (BDAG, 822). These men received this penalty “in/among themselves,” which is similar language to Rom 1:24 and could mean either among them broadly or within each sinner (with a nod to the personal nature of sexual sin – 1 Corinthians 6:18). The same-sex acts themselves are the penalty for denying God’s natural revelation (not some penalty on top of the same-sex acts), recalling that the language is parallel to “acts contrary to nature” in Rom 1:26.

Why did Paul highlight these vices (women having sex with women and men having sex with men) in particular? For one, it was shocking to the Jewish mindset, which Paul sought to identify with at that point in the argument. But two, Paul likely sees a connection between rejecting the revealed knowledge of God in nature with the distortion of the natural manner of sexual intercourse. Both involve abandonment of the naturally revealed knowledge of creation and its creator. See Gagnon, 264-268 for further examination of connections between the idolatry and same-sex practices as they are described in this passage.


Other considerations

Romans 2:1, where Paul abruptly confronts the Jewish moralist for his/her sin, reveals more of Paul’s agenda for Romans 1-3. His purpose is to show that all people are sinners and accountable to God (see Romans 3:19-20). Even though Romans 2:1 serves as a “gotcha” moment for the Jewish readers, Paul still presents points he sees as valid in Romans 1:18-32 (as seen in the transition from the righteousness found in the gospel – Romans 1:16-17 – to the unrighteousness of humanity introduced in Romans 1:18). This resembles the familiar OT prophetic pattern of denouncing both the nations and the Jewish people for their sins (before promising a future hope through God’s saving work).

There is a close association between this passage and Wisdom of Solomon chapters 13 and 14. They have similar critiques of Gentile idolatry and immorality. Wisdom of Solomon may mention same sex relations in 14:26 (γενεσεως ἐναλλαγη), though this is debated.

Could same-gender sexual activity within a committed marriage fall outside of the negative characterization of same-gender sexual activity within this passage? Paul does not indicate the legitimacy of any exception to the rule. And any such practice, whether inside or outside a marriage, would still seem to involve activity that is in opposition to the “natural function” Paul describes in the passage. As John Stott notes, the Bible does not support the idea that “love is the only absolute, and that whatever seems to be compatible with love is ipso facto good, irrespective of all other considerations” (Issues Facing Christians Today, 350).

This brings us back, full circle, to the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom is abundant life, even “human flourishing,” with the key qualifier that this is life lived under God’s reign, according to his perfect wisdom. As difficult as a biblical teaching may sound, we can trust that God’s perfect wisdom will lead us into paths of life, both now and for eternity.


Filed under Bible Study, Discipleship, Greek, New Testament