Romans 1 & 2

–from Zach Gleason

Romans 1 & 2

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse…

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another…

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness… Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Before the chapter break, Paul is quite clearly passing judgment on others. But then in Chapter 2 verse 1 we get, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else…” Why isn’t it “I”? Why doesn’t he write, “I, therefore, have no excuse, I who pass judgment on someone else…”? It is simply because verses 18-32 are a rhetorical device. He is putting his own version of his opponents’ argument on the page, so that he can rip it apart in the next few chapters piece by piece.

The appeals to natural theology are just as anti-Paul as is the Galatian church’s falling into the Law adherence. Paul instead looks to Christ for revelation about what can be known about God and God’s will. The reason verses 18-32 feel so out of place is that Paul has deliberately crafted them to feel foreign. Douglas Campbell in his extensive scholarly work on this matter gives many details about just how ‘non-Paul’ this passage truly is.

Now, that may all start to sound like the makings of a negative argument – a plugging of a potential trouble spot for inclusion. But look again. Paul’s description of his opponents’ argument is extensive. But what does he give the most attention to? Natural law and sexuality. What two themes best characterize those who opposed Paul? Natural law and sexuality. And what two themes characterize the case for the exclusion of the LGBTQ community?

We can get lost in the details, but how is it that a supposedly biblical stance against the “sin of homosexuality” can so heavily depend on the two things that so well characterize the ideology to which Paul was opposed (and by extension to which the Bible is opposed)? Do we not hear it all the time? “It’s unnatural…” That’s an appeal to natural law or natural theology – something which Paul had no time for. Paul instead looked to the supernatural law, the supernatural theology of Christ incarnate, crucified, and risen.

And is it even necessary to examine the second obsession of Paul’s opponents? The focus on sexual purity is a distraction from life as redefined in Christ. Look at Paul’s teachings on sexuality overall. They correspond pretty well with Jesus’ thoughts on the matter. It’s best to simply be celibate. Sexuality gets in the way of the important things. If it becomes a big deal that can’t be avoided, then go ahead and be sexual. Do it in the least distracting way possible. Keep it from becoming a problem. Maybe get married if you have to. In today’s language I hear the teaching of the New Testament as pertaining to sexuality to be: get over it as best you can.

But then there is another point that needs to be made. What about the inclusion side of the controversy? Don’t they make a big deal about sexuality when the Bible teaches us to quietly sweep that stuff under the rug? No, for the most part the movement for inclusion is not making a big deal about sexuality at all. They are making a big deal about justice.

Just as Paul must from time to time bring up issues pertaining to sexuality, so must the prophetic voices within today’s church. These voices rise, with Paul’s, in response to sexual injustice. We are not expected to remain quiet as injustice is being done – as Christ’s body is dissected to accommodate anti-Paul (and so anti-biblical) sexual mores.