Romans 1 – Thanksgiving and Prayers & Homosexuality in the Ancient World

Finger Pointing Up

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God has frowned on homosexuality from the beginning of time.  He made it very clear when He created us, that sex would be practiced ONLY between a man and a woman (Lev 18:23, Lev 20:13).

Throughout the entire New Testament Paul speaks strongly against fornication, but in the following chapter He speaks against homosexuality (vs. 22-32) and there is no question of what he is saying.

I figure since we’re in the Book of Romans, tomorrow we’ll start a 12 day study on…

Romans 1
Thanksgiving and Prayers

1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

2 Two men and a woman

2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;

4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:

5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:

6 Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:

7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.

9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;

10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.

11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.

3 Sappho
Sappho was an enormously influential musician and lyric poet (Plato called her “the tenth Muse”) who flourished around 600 B.C. on the island of Lesbos off the coast of Asia Minor.
She composed in the Aeolic dialect, an eastern form of Greek that dropped the “h” sounds from the beginning of words and often used long ᾱ where Attic Greek had η.

In general, Aeolic sounded more archaic, stately and musical than Attic Greek, somewhat like the English spoken in the Deep South of the United States in comparison with the standard pronunciation used in the broadcast industry.

Sappho has always been famed for her love poetry, but she was first and foremost a musician of genius, and we have it on good authority that she invented the Mixolydian mode, which modern blues and rock guitarists use for the majority of their music, in the guise of the pentatonic scale with the addition of the “blue note” or flatted fifth.

So it is possible to trace a musical influence from Sappho to Led Zeppelin, traveling through Africa and Mississippi along the way.

13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.

14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

1:16-17 – verses 16 and 17 is the theme for the entire book of Romans.

17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

1:18-3:20 – in developing the theme of righteousness from God, Paul sets the stage by showing that all have sinned and therefore need the righteousness that only God can provide.  He shows the sin of the Gentiles and the sin of the Jews and then summarizes the sin of all.

1:18-20 – no one, not even one who has not heard of the Bible or of Christ has an excuse for not honoring God because the whole created world reveals Him. 

For example, if you don’t know the laws and you break them you will still be punished – “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

“Wrath of God” – not a petulant, irrational burst of anger, such as humans often exhibit, but a holy, just revulsion against what is contrary to and opposes His holy nature and will.

“Is revealed” – God’s wrath is not limited to the end-time judgment of the wicked (1 Thes 1:10; Rev 19:15, 20:11-15).  Here the wrath of God is His abandonment of the wicked to their sins.

19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

4 Hadrian
Hadrian 24 January, 76 AD – 10 July, 138 AD) was Roman Emperor from 117 to 138.
He re-built the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. He is also known for building Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the northern limit of Roman Britain.

Hadrian was regarded by some as a humanist and was philhellene in most of his tastes. He is regarded as one of the Five Good Emperors.

21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

23 And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.

24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves:

1:24, 26, 28 – “God…gave them up” – or “God gave the over.”  God gives us freewill, therefore He must allow sin to take place, but it will run its course and the end result is a devastating judgment.

25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

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

27 And 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 recompense of their error which was meet.

Homosexual practice is sinful in God’s eyes; it is a personal attack against Him because it mocks His creation. 

5 Aristophanes
Aristophanes was a known Greek playwright who specialized in comedies. He was able to write a total of 40 plays and 11 of these plays have survived and remained intact as complete manuscripts.
He is feared during his time because of his sharp writing style that ridiculed and pilloried known Athenians.

If you go to a restaurant and order steak and the waitress comes back with a hamburger would you be content?

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;

“A reprobate mind” – the intent precedes the act.

29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,

30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,

31 Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

“Knowing” – their outrageous conduct was not due to total ignorance of what God required but to self-will and rebellion.

“Have pleasure in them that do them” – the extreme of sin is applauding, rather than regretting, the sins of others.

Homosexuality in the Ancient World

6 Young man
Young man and teenager engaging in intercrural sex, fragment of a black-figure Attic cup, 550 B.C.–525 B.C.
In classical antiquity, writers such as Herodotus, Plato, Xenophon, Athenaeus and many others explored aspects of same-sex love in ancient Greece.

The most widespread and socially significant form of same-sex sexual relations in ancient Greece was between adult men and pubescent or adolescent boys, known as pederasty (marriages in Ancient Greece between men and women were also age structured, with men in their 30s commonly taking wives in their early teens).

Though homosexual relationships between adult men did exist, at least one member of each of these relationships flouted social conventions by assuming a passive sexual role.

It is unclear how such relations between women were regarded in the general society, but examples do exist as far back as the time of Sappho.

In Rom 1:24-32 Paul described the depravity of the Gentiles. He cited homosexuality as the prime example and proof of their reprobation.

In this behavior they demonstrated the reality that rejecting God leads to a perversion of everything that is good and right.

Indeed, widespread homosexuality remains irrefutable proof that a culture stands under divine judgment.

Today, however, many interpreters assert that reading Rom 1 in light of the cultural backdrop of the Greco-Roman world reveals that Paul was not really condemning homosexuality itself but was reproving a particularly lustful, promiscuous version of this sexual inclination.

In other words, according to these scholars homosexuality in the context of a caring, loving relationship is not only acceptable but outside the realm of Paul’s concern.

This interpretation is based upon a distortion of what we know of ancient practices and beliefs.

Homosexuality was extremely common in the Greek world and by New Testament times had become widespread in the Roman world as well.

Then, as now, there were homosexual orgies, but many other varieties of homosexual behavior were practiced as well, and we cannot say with certainty that pagan homosexual behavior was strictly of the orgiastic type.

Greek men often engaged in homosexual relationships with adolescent boys; many, in fact, regarded this as a coming-of-age experience. 

Some homosexual attraction was described in highly romantic terms; both male and female poets celebrated their love for members of their own sex (Sappho, c. 630 B.C, was the most famous poet of this genre, although the precise nature of her relationship with the women of her poems is debated).

The Roman emperor Hadrian was so overcome with passionate love for a young man named Antinous that when the object of his affection drowned, the grief-stricken emperor decreed that he be worshiped as a god.

The Jews, by contrast, regarded homosexuals as by nature depraved – an attitude founded upon Biblical texts such as Lev 18:22.  

Jewish writings of this period treated homosexual activity as meriting death and damnation.

Paul, far from dissenting from this viewpoint, rigorously endorsed it (1Cor 6:9).

It is important to note, however, that neither Paul nor his Jewish contemporaries distinguished between lawful and illicit homosexuality.

For them, such a sexual preference was by nature wrong in any context.

7 Heroic portrayal
Heroic portrayal of Nisus and Euryalus (1827) by Jean-Baptiste Roman: Vergil described their love as pius in keeping with Roman morality.
Same-sex attitudes and behaviors in ancient Rome often differ markedly from those of the contemporary West.

Latin lacks words that would precisely translate “homosexual” and “heterosexual.” The primary dichotomy of ancient Roman sexuality was active/dominant/ masculine and passive/ submissive/”feminized”.

Roman society was patriarchal, and the freeborn male citizen possessed political liberty (libertas) and the right to rule both himself and those of his household (familia). “Virtue” (virtus) was seen as an active quality through which a man (vir) defined himself.

The conquest mentality and “cult of virility” shaped same-sex relations.

Evidence exists that even the Greeks may have been aware that this behavior was deviant. Aristophanes, the Greek comic poet, mocked homosexual behavior (even as he employed it as a comic device).

For example, in Women at the Thesmophoria he ruthlessly ridiculed the notorious homosexuality of the poet Agathon.

It would be an overstatement to claim that Aristophanes opposed homosexual practice, but his comedy betrayed uneasy conscience about such behavior1 in the culture he inhabited.

Plato, on the hand, in his earlier dialogues spoke approvingly of homosexual behavior.

Yet near the end of his career he observed in his Laws that homosexual intercourse was widely recognized to be unnatural.

That would be the same as watching someone pick up a glass of wine laced with poison and instead of telling them you watch them choke and die.

…the Romans.

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