Romans 1:26–27 contains the clearest teaching in the New Testament on homosexuality. In this section Paul described the practice as “shameful,” “unnatural,” “indecent,” and as a “perversion.” By contrast, the Greco-Roman society of Paul’s day tolerated homosexuality with considerable ease. Among some advocates it was viewed as superior to heterosexuality.
Barclay notes that “fourteen out of the first fifteen Roman Emperors were homosexuals.”
In Jewish culture, however, it was regarded as an abomination. Barrett comments that “no feature of pagan society filled the Jew with greater loathing than the toleration, or rather admiration, of homosexual practices.” The Old Testament specifically prohibits homosexuality. Leviticus 18:22 says, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable.” The penalty for both participants was death (Lev 20:13). In 1 Cor 6:9–10 Paul specifically said that “homosexual offenders” will not “inherit the kingdom of God.”
Against this background it is difficult to understand why some contemporary teachers—even some who claim to be biblical—make allowance for a practice clearly condemned in both the Old and the New Testaments. Achtemeier writes that the kind of life Paul described in vv. 26–27 “cannot be understood as an alternative life-style, somehow acceptable to God” but rather as “a sign of one of the forms God’s wrath takes when he allows us free reign to continue in our abuse of creation and in our abuse of one another as creatures.”*
Paul’s statement is veiled and reticent, more so about the females than about the males. The females abandoned the natural use of the female organ for the unnatural one; they violated even nature. How they did this Paul does not care even to indicate except that by speaking of females by themselves homosexuality is implied. “The natural use” disregards the question whether the legitimate use in marriage or the illegitimate use in adultery and fornication is referred to. The females viciously violated even nature in their bodies. It was bad enough to sin with males, vastly worse and the very limit of vice to sin as they did. Let us say that this and the following vileness is defended to this day as not being immoral in any way. In 1931 a book came off the press which fully corroborated Paul, for this book propounded a code of sexual ethics that was uncontrolled by God. Let go of God, and the very bottom of filth will be reached. Even the most unnatural will be called quite natural. The lie about God who made nature then lies about even this nature.+
This passage has become exceedingly controversial in recent years because of the movement for gay rights. Paul does not set forth a detailed prohibition against certain homosexual acts, but rather he isolates homosexual behaviour as the supreme example of the loss of human dignity. When the knowledge of God is suppressed, the nature of man suffers, and it manifests itself in gross, unnatural acts. Homosexual behaviour is here extrapolated in the text as an example of an unnatural human relationship that brings dishonour and a loss of dignity to the human race.#
*R.H. Mounce, Romans. The New American Commentary.
+R. Lenski, The interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans.
#R. Sproul, R. C. The Gospel of God: An Exposition of Romans.