Error #8 – The Words Females and Males
Contrary to what most English translations have, Paul did not use the words “women” and “men” in verses 26 and 27. Rather, a better translation would be “For their females exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females . . .”
The use of terms that specifically speak of their gender highlights the fact that Paul is concerned here about something that has to do with their gender. You can say something about women that has nothing to do with their gender. But it is very difficult, if not impossible to say something about a female that has nothing to do with their gender. Doing something in an excessive manner, as J. Brownson holds, does not necessarily have anything to do with gender. But dealing with exchanging heterosexuality for homosexuality does require dealing with people at the level of their gender. If excess was Paul’s sole concern, as Dr. Brownson holds, he would more than likely have used more general terms like “women” and “men” or even perhaps more likely, “people.” The fact that he uses very specific terms takes the focus off a general aspect like excess and focusses on something more specific. If Paul’s concern here was the matter of excessive or self-seeking behavior, that would be addressed at the level of humans. It does not require consideration of humans as females and males.
J. Brownson doesn’t deal with the fact that the terms females and males are used in these verses. These are key facts involving key terms in the passage and he should have covered this.
Error #9 – Verse 26b and “Nature”
The ESV is fairly typical of English translations of verse 26b:
"For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature . . ."
A more precise translation of the particular Greek words Paul used in the verse is:
". . . for even their females exchanged the natural use (of the male as regards sexual intercourse) for that which is contrary to nature (i.e., implied sexual intercourse with other females) . . .”
By way of a quick overview, the purpose of this section is to examine if verse 26b argues against the position that the four words James Brownson cites as proof of only excessive acts are being prohibited in Romans 1. Verse 26b does not deal directly with one of those four terms, but as a key part of the context of those four terms, if it prohibits same-sex eroticism across the board, then the context of Romans 1 argues against reading the four terms as James Brownson advocates.
The church has historically understood natural relations to be heterosexual acts. A critical part of J. Brownson’s position is his claim that what is natural is what is natural for each individual. It must be noted that verse 26b does not read, “For their women exchanged their natural relations for those that are contrary to their nature.” (Italicized words added.)
In this regard, Brownson quotes Boswell who says, “A possessive is always understood with ‘nature’ in Pauline writings: it is not ‘nature’ in the abstract, but someone’s ‘nature,’ the Jews’ ‘nature’ or the Gentiles’ ‘nature’ or even the pagan gods’ ‘nature.’ . . . It cannot be inferred from this [i.e., Rom. 1:26-27] that Paul considered mere homoerotic attraction or practice morally reprehensible, since the passage strongly implies that he was not discussing persons who were by inclination gay and since he carefully observed, in regard to both the women and the men, that they changed or abandoned the ‘natural use’ to engage in homosexual activities.” (J. Brownson, page 228)
Dr. James Brownson then goes on to say, “In other words, Boswell claims that when Paul describes men as acting ‘against nature’ by engaging in sex with other men in Romans 1:27, Paul is envisioning heterosexual men who act against their own nature and disposition. Boswell thus concludes that this passage says nothing about homosexual men, because their same-sex behavior is in accordance with – and does not violate – their own nature or inclination.” (Ibid.)
The particular words the Apostle Paul chose to use in verse 26b are quite specific in indicating what Paul was saying is prohibited. The wording of the ESV as an example is rather general in nature. It reads, “For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature . . .” Below it will be shown that the words physikos and chresin in the passage communicate a more precise meaning. It can be translated as: “. . . for even their females exchanged the natural use (of the male as regards sexual intercourse) for that which is contrary to nature (i.e., implied sexual intercourse with other females) . . .”
“A possessive is always under-stood with ‘nature’ in Pauline writings . . .” – at first glance this sounds like it might be plausible, but what is this based on? Is there any other example like there in theology where a concept is “always understood to be possessed by a person”? First, for a concept to belong to a person, typically that is indicated by the grammar of the inspired text. There is no possessive in the Greek here. Second, Romans 1 does not speak of a noun, nature, rather it uses the adjectival form, natural. In the phrase την φυσικην χρησιν (“the natural use”) the word φυσικην (natural) is an adjective modifying “use.” There is nothing grammatically indicating it is the nature of the women.
As it stands, the statement by Boswell is a statement of opinion. It doesn’t include anything in it to verify its validity. It goes contrary to accepted lexicons such as Kittle and BAGD.
Is this typical of the arguments for same-sex marriage – they are based more on opinion than solid biblical exegesis?
Since James Brownson’s interpretation of verse 26b does not stand up under scrutiny, the conclusion is that this verse does in fact prohibit all lesbianism. As such, it is contextual evidence against his claim that the four words, lust, passions (verse 26), consumed and passion (verse 27) indicate only excessive acts are prohibited by Romans 1.