This is being written as a comment to post at The Cloak Room in response to a commenter there.
So, what is going on and who is being spoken to and about in Romans 1? The book was written as a letter by Paul somewhere between 54 to 58 AD while he was living in Corinth. It was carried by Priscilla to the church in Rome; Paul would not even visit Rome himself for another five years. The letter was written about twenty five years after the death of Jesus. Amongst the one million people in Rome were: Jews, Jews who had converted to Christianity and Gentiles who had converted to Christianity. Jerusalem was about 1,500 miles away, a fair distance for a church plant.
It is believed that both Jews and converted Jews were meeting in the same synagogues and competing for voice and space in the time following the death of Christ. They were arguing and fighting (just as they did back in Jerusalem.) Discussions and tensions over observances of the Law, what to eat, what not to eat and controversy over inclusion of Gentiles escalated to great distur-bances amongst the Jews and Jewish Christians. The on-going fighting resulted in the issuance of the Claudian Edict of 49 AD. Jews, converted Jewish Christians and Gentiles “that lived as Jewish Christians ” were expelled from Rome. This left behind the Gentile converts that were meeting in house churches. The remnant was the weakest of the believers. These were the ones who remained in Rome. These were the ones spoken to and of in Romans 1:18-32.
So imagine, both your family and the ancestors before you had participated in idolatry and god worship and you have now converted to this religion of one God with all new ways of approaching Him. Your spiritual leaders had been evicted from the city and you had been trying to live out this one-God faith in the midst of many-gods Rome. It would be easy to slip back into the old ways?
Traditional worship and cultural behaviors in Rome clashed with the expectations of the believers in the newly introduced Christianity. Romans deified more than 20 types of gods, goddesses and spirits. They worshiped natural things-animals and trees, gods and godesses, State leaders and they were tolerant of other cultural influences from Greek and Egyptian spiritual practices. Idolatry, indecency and other acts socially unacceptable to a Jew were common within the Roman society.
Verse 26 we quote as condemnation on lesbians. But is it? The people being spoken to and about had known God; they were without excuse, they had experienced conversion. Now, they were worshiping nature, natural things and the gods of the State again. They were involved (again) in idol worship and some of it had sexual expressions. They also participated in culturally acceptable practices to a Roman, but, not to a Jewish Christian. It was what they had known before. They lacked the modeling and support of the converted Jews and the stronger Gentile Christians who had been evicted.
Because of this, God gave them over to their own desires. What is the “this“? What were they doing that forced a Holy God to let go of them? They had turned from God, having known Him, and returned to their idolatrous worship. Because they had known God and turned their back on Him and returned to pagan worship, God let them go.
And what kinds of actions were they doing once they turned back to their old ways? The Word says women had exchanged the natural use of their body for an unnatural use. Please look at the verse for yourself. Does it say women were having sex with women? It could mean that, but it simply says women were doing something unnatural with their bodies. Remember this was Paul writing and it is his view as a Jewish convert as to what is unnatural or beyond the ordinary. It could have been sex with other women, sex during menstruation, oral sex or sex with an uncircumcised man. Any or all of those. All of these behaviors were “unnatural” to a Jewish Christian.
Maybe you still dont’ get that the crux of the sentencing that follows is turning from God after professing Him. If we reduce the verses to what the traditional view is, let’s look at the words and see if just the actions of men having sex with men, or women having sex with women is enough to garner God’s eternal damnation. Some Bibles will translate “shameful lusts” as “vile affections” and that does sound bad. You can only get a better concept of this by looking at original language and not translations. “Vile” comes from the Greek word “atimai” which means infamy, indignity, dishonor, reproach and shame and we further see that it is subjective. That seems interesting, why is that subjective?