Romans 1 Part 3: Bible Silent So Lesbian Relationships Are OK!

A post by Neil Hart on Homosexuality, LGBT, lesbian and gay stuff and the Lutheran Church of Australia.

Before we start, if you havent already, you might want to read my previous post. This provides the context for the whole section and serves as a necessary backdrop to this verse.

Romans 1 Part 2: Context, Castration and Cybele the Great Mother

Now, on to the question of Lesbians and Romans 1.

One of the most striking factors about the Bible’s attitude to homosexuality is that there is no reference what-so-ever to lesbian relationships. Let me say that again so that it sinks in. Coz i know, reader, that sometimes you and I see stuff with our eyes but not with our brains engaged.

Ready? Brain switched on?

The is no reference in the Bible to lesbian relationships. 

It occurs to me that even those who continue to stubbornly oppose male gay relationships, (against all the relevant biblical and extraneous material)  must surely concede that lesbian relationships are OK. Even these Biblical literalists would acknowledge that where the Bible is silent,  they must be silent.

“Ahhh”, I hear you say….”What about Romans 1: 26-27.”

26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. (King James Version)

“Surely THIS is a prohibition of lesbian relationships!”

Well, no its not!

Lets have a another look. But lets make it a good look, not a cursory glance filled with uninformed assumptions. Lets be careful not to read  into the verse those things that are not actually there.

Female to female sex acts are nowhere mentioned in the text. They must be assumed by the reader and any such assumption has very little basis in fact.  The key question is…What does Paul mean when he says that the women acted “against nature”? The key greek phrase is παρὰ φύσιν  Happily, early Christian literature has much to say to help us understand what Paul meant by “against nature”.

Jeramy Townsley in an excellent article referenced below (1) investigated this question thouroughly. I quote some of his paper…

“Romans 1:26b is the only passage in the Old or New Testaments that has been interpreted to refer to female homosexuality.  However, this has not always been the interpretation of this passage”

Early church leaders interpreted this passage to refer not to female homogenitality, but to non-procreative, heterosexual acts. Clement of Alexandria (c200 CE) is one example.  In “Discussion on Procreation” (Paedagogus 10) he explains that due to excessive lusts, the hare grows a new rectum every year due to heavy sexual use, and both male and female hyenas develop a special passage (non-vaginal, non-anal) for sexual penetration.  In the latter case, Clement believes that this explains why conception is rare among hyenas: sperm is diverted from the passage designed for pregnancy, and thus παρὰ φύσιν (“contrary to nature,” 86.1).  Clement then ties this discussion directly back to Paul by quoting Rom 1:26-27 (86.3), concluding his discussion with the following (87.3)”:

It is clear that we should reject sex between men, sex with the infertile, anal sex with women, and sex with the androgynous.  We should obey nature’s prohibition through the genital structure—real men discharge semen, not receive it.   As Jeremiah said… “The hyena’s cave has become my home,” … as a skilled allegory condemning idolatry. Otto Stahlin, Clemens AlexandrinusProtrepticus und Paedagogus (Leipzig: J.C. Hinrichs, 1905) 210

Similarly, Augustine seems to hold a non-homogenital view of this passage, describing this context as non-procreative, heterogenital intercourse.

 For this reason, when anyone is united by these same members even to a prostitute, the relations are natural, though they are not praiseworthy, but sinful.  But if one has relations even with one’s wife in a part of the body which was not made for begetting children, such relations are against nature and indecent.  In fact, the same apostle earlier said the same thing about the women, For their women exchanged natural relations for those which are against nature (Rom 1:26). Augustine, Marriage and Desire 20.35 (trans. Roland Teske; ed. John E Rotelle; Answer to the Pelagians, II; New York: New City Press, 1990), 75-76.

“Brooten quotes an early Christian commentator on Clement, Anastasios, further strengthening this position.  In a marginal note on the above passage, he explicitly dismisses the view that Paul was describing female homogenital (“lesbian”) acts, specifying the women were not going to each other, but would “offer themselves to men.” Bernadette Brooten, Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 337”

Alex Haiken in his post referenced below (2) also describes the female sex acts referred to in Romans 1:26 as ritualistic effacing of their sex in order to please the goddess and not a reference to lesbian relationships.

“Writing on “The Apostle Paul and the Greco-Roman Cults of Women” in The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Dr. Catherine Kroeger, New Testament scholar, noted expert on Ancient Greek culture, and professor of classical and ministry studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary from 1990 until her death in  February 2011, made the following comments about “the deliberate sex reversal practiced in some of the pagan cults.”

“Sex reversal was a specific distinctive of the Dionysiac cult and by the second century A.D. was considered to be indispensable to the religion.  Men wore veils and long hair as signs of their dedication to the god, while women used  the unveiling and shorn hair to indicate their devotion.  Men masqueraded as women, and in a rare vase painting from Corinth a woman is dressed in satyr pants equipped with the male organ.  Thus she dances before Dionysus, a deity who had been raised as a girl and was himself called male-female and ’sham-man.’”

We know from a myriad of credible sources that cult prostitution was associated  with the Temple of Aphrodite in the high hill above Corinth.  Corinth, of course, was precisely where Paul wrote his letter to the Romans.  Aphrodite was another name for Cybele.  B.Z. Goldberg, author of the four-volume “Sacred Fire: The Story of Sex in Religion,” says the following of Aphrodite:

“She is both male and female — a bearded face with full maiden breasts… They who come to worship her must hide their sex.  Males come in the female attire and females in the clothes of males.  The greatest glory they can bring to Aphrodite … is to physically efface their sex.” (2)

The historical record shows that the reference to women acting “against nature” speaks of the type of male/ female sex the women participated in as cultic temple prostitutes. Either they used artificial penises in order to penetrate the males or, more likely, they themselves are penetrated anally. More specifically, the “against nature” references are to do with sex that does not deposit semen into the vagina.

In this way both the male and the female temple prostitutes become receptors for worshipping males. The worshipper by engaging in the sex act with the temple prostitutes received the essence and power of the deity.  The  temple prostitutes, for their part, through their identification with the goddess figure transcend their gender to be more like the deity they served and represented to the worshipper.

This section makes no reference to loving and committed lesbian relationships. In fact the ancient literature is silent on this matter. The very recent assumption that Romans 1:26 refers to lesbian relationships comes from an illegitimate reading of modern social norms back into an ancient culture. As we have seen, dear reader, that is not the way to study the Bible. That is a sure way of completely missing the context and therefore the intended message.

Pauls message is clear. And it was poetically expressed by Clement of Alexandria in reference to the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah…

 As Jeremiah said… “The hyena’s cave has become my home,” … as a skilled allegory condemning idolatry. (refer above).

The problem is not and never has been gay and lesbian relationships. The problem is Idolatry. This has been the public face of human rebellion against God from the beginning. It is the central theme of the 10 commandments and the  Old Testament law. It was central to Pauls writings especially the letter to the Romans and continues to plague humanity to this present day.

When the Apostle Paul sat down to write his letter to the people in Rome the most obvious and completely unavoidable example of this idolatry was the goddess cult with the παρὰ φύσιν (against nature) sex acts performed on the female temple prostitutes and the ecstatic castration rituals and corresponding male to male sex of the galli (see the previous post). This picture of ancient cybelian worship fits directly and perfectly into the Romans passage…

26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:

27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. (King James Version)

To ignore this obvious cultural and scriptural context is tunnel visioned and stinks of prejudice. The assumption that loving and committed homosexual relationships form the cultural context to this passage is a nonsense. It is forced, to say the least and leaves more questions than the answers it seeks to provide.

Phheewww! Thank goodness our church is correcting its statements on homosexuality! We wouldnt want our modern prejudices to effect our reading and interpretation of the Word of God, now….would we?

More to come on Romans 1. Stay Tuned.

(1) http://www.jeramyt.org/papers/paulcybl.html