9: How Matthew Vines’ Video Misrepresents Romans 1
Romans 1; questionable assumptions and not regarding the text as authoritative
The presenter introduces this passage by admitting that “… even if a same sex relationship is loving and committed, it is still sinful. That is the traditional interpretation of Romans 1:26-27.” He then basically makes 2 broad points about this passage. Lets look at them one at a time:
1. He claims that the verses that mention homosexual sex are in the context of a narrative about idolatry, and that the pattern of the broader message (swapping honouring god for honouring idols) likewise applies to the references to homosexuality. IE he says the passage is referring to heterosexuals who swapped that sexuality for acting homosexually instead. The presenter claims that because they were heterosexuals, this behaviour was unnatural for them, and therefore sinful. While the content of first half of the video appears fairly logical and reasonable to your average Christian, fatigue can settle in for the viewer by this point and so it can be easy to miss that various elements that appear to be conjecture, suddenly start getting presented as though they are undisputed fact. EG this claim that Romans 1 only refers to heterosexuals behaving homosexually. How do we know that this verse is talking of individuals who stopped having heterosexual sex and started having homosexual sex, rather than of people who engaged in homosexual sex their whole lives? Or from the other perspective, how do we know that the accusation of “abandoning natural sexual relations” was not in the sense of abandoning what people in general normally do? According to Gagnon, Bernadette Brooten, a lesbian New Testament scholar, disagrees with the presenter on this point. The presenter’s interpretation is not an argument that is explicit in the text, and not one that people interpret naturally. But if the presenter is wrong on this point, his argument about this verse collapses.
Also, the presenter states that the author of Romans 1 “speaks only of … casual [sexual] behaviour”, but the presenter offers no proof for this interpretation. The author of this article, who appears to take a middle ground on the issue, disagrees with the presenter on this point, as does the gay-relationship-affirming author of this article. Likewise, Gagnon recognises that the passage is about more than lust. Gagnon (The Bible and Homosexual Practice, chapt. 1, p. 122) recognises several links in Romans 1, back to Leviticus, suggesting that Leviticus 18 and 21 are the basis for Romans 1. And we can see from the wording of Leviticus 18 and 21, that lust was irrelevant to the fact that homosexual relations were declared out of bounds. This suggests that likewise in Romans 1, whether the sex was with a casual parter, is immaterial.
The presenter also claims that Romans 1 would not be referring to homosexuals as presently defined, because sexual orientation of gay people is “permanent”. But academics have pointed out that claims of sexual orientation being truly immutable like this, are based on shoddy science. The presenter neglects to consider the variability of sexual orientation, especially of teenagers, and that many homosexuals/bisexuals (but not all) from recent decades follow a pattern of marrying someone of the opposite sex, having sexual relations with them, but then deciding they are gay, abandoning heterosexuality long-term for homosexual relationships instead (EG1, EG2, EG3, Ref. 4, or this study). And the reverse happens too, EG LGBT “person of the year” Kerry Pacer eventually entering heterosexual marriage, EG2, Ref. 3. And it’s been found that statistically, older people are less likely to identify as GLBT than younger people. Even Alfred Kinsey, several generations ago, believed that sexuality is not always fixed for life, as has been confirmed by recent research too. The semi-common reality of shifting from heterosexual sex to homosexual sex is not “casual behaviour”, but seems to fit with the Romans 1 description. And again, if Romans 1 is not about casual behaviour, the presenter’s argument crumbles. (Apparently he made much the same mistake in his 2014 book.)
The presenter attempts to reinforce the argument that the author of Romans one believed homosexuals to be heterosexuals with excessive lust, by claiming that his interpretation matches understandings of homosexuality at the time the New Testament was written. I refute that here. According to the book A Little Gay History, three centuries later, we more evidence arises of the ancients perceiving homosexuals as being more than simply heterosexuals with a high sexual appetite, when the Kamasutra illustrates them as having a “third nature”.
We should note too, that the presenter’s basis for claiming that homosexuality was thought to be an excess of lust for heterosexuals, and that Romans 1 would therefore not be referring to homosexuals as currently understood, is based on materials from outside of the Bible.
To embrace the argument that the author of Romans believed homosexuality to simply be an excess of lust on the part of heterosexuals, is to say that Paul did not understand that homosexuals are not heterosexually attracted. IE it’s to claim that people who authored the Bible did not understand the reality of human sexuality. That claim brings into question the standard Christian notion that the entire New Testament was “god breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), ie that god guided the authors in what they wrote. That level of doubt is not be a new position; it’s Biblical liberalism. But the presenter claims he’s an evangelical. In the presentation he generally treats the Bible as authoritative, but not Romans 1. And if Paul doesnt know what he’s talking about here, is it reasonable to take the rest of the epistles as authoritative, especially on matters unseen such as the afterlife? Why does the presenter even bother treating the Bible seriously at all? He’s being disingenuous, especially since he has claimed that his arguments conform to “the highest view of the authority of Scripture.” He finishes his presentation by claiming that the Bible does not condemn committed same-sex relationships, when in actual fact, his argument is partially based in a position of believing that what the Bible states doesnt matter, because the writers didnt know what they were writing about. His low regard for the authority of Scripture is further revealed his more recent work; The Reformation Project, where the Statement of Faith refers to the Bible as the Word of God and as inspired, but makes no mention of it being infallible, inerrant, or as being of ultimate authority.
2. The presenter goes on to make another point about Romans 1. He claims that the descriptions of homosexual lust and sex as being ‘unnatural’ and ‘shameful’, have the same meanings as used in 1 Corinthians 11 where they refer to hair length for men, and that both passages are culturally specific. IE that homosexual sex, and long hair for men are both only unnatural and shameful for the cultures that were initially addressed; the Christians in Rome and in Corinth respectively. Well, at present my knowledge of the Greek language is too limited for me to comment directly on the meaning of the Greek words, although others who are more familiar, disagree (ref. 2, ref.3) with the presenter’s claim. But I do know that in the 4th century, Christians were using a word meaning ‘nature’ to describe homosexual sex as sinful, as detailed here.
Ian Paul writes in his booklet Same-sex Unions, that when Paul talks about ‘nature’, what he is referring to is:
…the way the world was meant to be, as created by God; his categories are theological, not psychological and corporate rather than individual. It is ‘the order intended by the creator, the order that is manifest in God’s creation.’ In the same way that Ps 106 tells the corporate story of the failure of God’s people. Paul is telling here the cosmic story of the failure of humanity. And he is not simply referring to culture; he does appear to think (in 1 Corinthians 11:14) that women having long hair is the way that God intended it. Instead he is borrowing terms from existing ethical thinking (particularly in Stoicism) about what is ‘natural (kata phusin) and what is unnatural (para phusin), which therefore rejects God’s intention in creation (p.25).
We should note also, that when the presenter quotes from Romans 1, he includes only part of the passage. In the NIV translation, verse 28 starts with the word ‘furthermore’, continuing the passage through to verse 32, which states “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.” If verses 26 & 27 mean what the presenter claims, then what decree is verse 32 referring to? But if the meaning of verses 26 & 27 is the standard interpretation, the answer is fairly obvious to me – Leviticus.
And not only does he downplay what comes after verses 26 & 27, but also what comes before. Ponder verse 25, which states in part; “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator”. This could be a very good description of an active homosexual who seeks to replace the truth of the Bible. IE they exchange the truth about God (IE a well translated Bible) for a lie (EG a translation that conforms to the presenter’s manipulation of the Greek), in order to lustfully worship members of their own gender, rather than to worship the creator. This is what the presenter is doing. He’s saying the goal that is most important to him is to not be a single man all his life. He’s worshipping the idea of being able to enter a gay relationship. He places that goal as a higher priority, than a straight-forward honest interpretation of the Bible, and accordingly, he exchanges the truth about God, for a lie, in order to achieve his goal.
The presenter’s argument for Romans 1 just doesnt fit well, even when historical considerations are made. The passage makes much more sense if it’s simply saying that homosexual lust and sex are not permitted for any Christian.