Romans 1: Idolatry or Homosexuality?

Dancing before the Golden Calf
Image Credit: Groundwork

I watched some lectures some days ago by John Corvino, a Gay Christian apologist who is a masterful, entertaining advocate for gay marriage and the right of the LGBT community to love as they please. I find him to be an insightful intellectual whose presentation of his case for gay marriage and gay rights will move some Christians to think through their views against homosexuality.

One argument that he makes regarding Romans 1 is that the text refers to idolatry, not homosexuality. This argument is all too common in discussions of Romans 1 today and, while it points out idolatry as the problem, it doesn’t remove the fact that homosexuality is a consequence of idolatry and a sign of the divine punishment against humanity – thus making homosexuality an affront to the Creator.

Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s approach the evidence first.

Romans 1 and Homosexuality

In Romans 1:23, Paul says that those who dishonor God “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (NKJV). Yes, this is idolatry, an act of taking away the glory that belongs to God and ascribing glory to humanity, birds, and creeping animals. Man doesn’t just ascribe glory to animals; he also ascribes glory to fellow humanity, like himself, which doesn’t make sense on a logical level. If God is greater than humanity, and “it is He that has made us and not we ourselves” (Psalm 100:3), then it’s blasphemy to ascribe glory to that which is like him or that which is beneath him (animals and creeping things). It only makes sense to ascribe glory to another, one who is like him but superior to him, greater than Him – that is, God alone.

In Romans 1:24, it says “Therefore,” the word that refers to the actions before it. “Since mankind has stopped worshipping God and has turned to worshipping humanity and the animal kingdom,” certain things are happening, Paul says. What did God give humanity up to? “uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:24-25).

Yes, I agree that idolatry is being discussed; I think one would have to overlook or intentionally misread the text to come at another place. Those who are guilty of idolatry are given up to “dishonor their bodies among themselves.” Surely, one can’t misread this statement to think it’s something good. What is this “dishonoring,” though? It is a word that doesn’t mean what follows is good.

Romans 1:26-32 shows the outworking of idolatry into human life: “For this reason, God gave them up to vile passions.” The phrase “for this reason” piggybacks off of the previous statement. God gave humanity up to vile passions (“vile passions,” in and of itself, refers to wickedness, evil, dirtiness) because of what reason? Humanity has worshipped the creature instead of the Creator. Since humanity has turned away from God, God has given humanity dirty, wicked passions. Since man has turned his affection away from God, God has muddied his own affections for humanity. Without proper affection and a heart toward God, man lacks proper affection and love for each other because “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16) and “love is of God” (1 John 4:7).

So while idolatry is the initial action that defies God, God turns man over to other sins because man desires to be lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. He turns away from God, which results in a turning from all that God designed in this world. Leviticus 20:13 is more than an isolated verse to be discarded; it argues for the divine design, which has been since the beginning of time.

The word “lust” in Romans 1:27

When we get to Romans 1:27, we discover that this improper ordering of affections, humanity’s pull away from and lack of affection toward God results in a disorder of affections toward mankind: now, men are engaged in sexual relationship, as are women, and both “abandon the natural use” of the other gender. We know that homosexuality is being referred to here, but some debate the use of the word “lust.”

The word “lust” has been utilized in the homosexuality debate in the church with advocates of homosexuality claiming that “the word refers to a non-affectionate, non-committed relationship.” Some have said that the men and women in Romans 1:26-27 are leaving their own natural affections, having sex with the same sex despite their heterosexual inclinations, but that’s an awful lot to assume from the text. The text doesn’t assume their sexual desire and sexual acts are different; rather, it says that these men and women are engaging in homosexual acts, “burning in their lust” for the person they’re engaged with.

The “lust” word draws objections from homosexuality advocates, who say that the issue here in Romans 1 is not “loving, monogamous, committed marriages” but instead, one-night stands and just random sexual activity. But we don’t see that here; instead, we see that they are leaving heterosexual relationships for homosexual ones. These individuals have “left the natural use” of the other gender, the woman leaving the natural use of the man, the man leaving the natural use of the woman. These men and women are also “committing what is shameful” (v.27) and “receiving…the penalty of their error” (v.27). The words “shameful,” “penalty,” and “error”  do not imply that God has divinely ordained what they’re doing. In fact, God is highly opposed to it.

Some say that homosexual marriages today are made in love, not lust, but one cannot “love” in a relationship that is outside of God’s Word and plan. Homosexual marriage cannot be about love, even if it appears to be so, because God is love, and thus, the only relationships that are in love are those that are done God’s way. This isn’t just a statement against homosexuality; it’s also a statement against common-law spouses (who aren’t married but live together and share life together), as well as polygamy and bigamy, among other sinful forms of sexuality.

Romans 1: Idolatry or Homosexuality?

The question is, “Does Romans 1 refer to idolatry or homosexuality?” The answer is “both”; Romans 1 refers to both idolatry and homosexuality. For humanity, in its idolatry, its turning away from God, has been given over to that which is against God’s sexual order (homosexuality). As Paul has said earlier in Romans 1, “what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).

How has God made the world? He created them male and female (Genesis 1:27; 5:2). And, if Romans 1 is right, male and female has been God’s sexual design and order since the beginning of the world; God’s plan for sexuality and His gender design hasn’t changed, not one bit. Jesus confirms the same in Matthew 19:

The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”

And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:3-6, NKJV)

Idolatry may be the sin that moves God against man, but homosexuality is a consequence of idolatry. I find it hard to believe God would give homosexuality as something “good” when idolatry itself is bad and an affront to the Lord and homosexuality is treated in Scripture as a “dishonoring of the bodies” (Romans 1:24).