FIRST: NATURE AS ONE’S INDIVIDUAL NATURE
Dr. Brownson refers to Romans 2:14, Galatians 4:8 and Ephesians 2:3 and from them concludes that the word nature/natural in Paul refers to what comes natural for a given individual.[i] The word nature in those passages modifies people (Rom. 2:14 and Eph. 2:3) or beings (Gal. 4:8 – who were not God).
On the other hand, historically Romans 1:26-27 shows that the word nature/natural modifies relations, not people. Therefore, since Romans 1 says there are natural and unnatural relations would it be more straightforward to read those relations as being universal, the same for all men and all women, rather than natural relations being somehow dependent on the desire of an individual?
Romans 1:26b reads, “For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature . . .” not their natural relations. If the verse was worded that way, it would more clearly agree with Dr. Brownson understanding of nature. Instead, in this verse, the use of the term natural is not used to modify the women being spoken of, but their relations. Paul is writing about “natural relations” and “unnatural relations.” “Natural relations” is referring to relations that are expected to be a universal norm in the natural order. Natural relations for women would be the same for all women everywhere. If that is in fact true, Brownson’s conclusion that Romans 2:14, Galatians 4:8 and Ephesians 2:3 prove Paul uses nature to refer to an individualistic trait in Romans 1 is an incorrect conclusion. One of the most widely accepted lexicons of New Testament Greek (by Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker) confirms the view that “nature” is used differently in Romans 1 than in Galatians or Ephesians.[ii] That lexicon also says that in Romans 2:14 nature might refer either to a natural order or to a personal trait.[iii] Therefore, these passages do prove that the word nature/natural can be used in that way, but they do not prove that the word can only be used in that way, which is what Dr. Brownson states.
We can further test his interpretation by inserting synonyms for his proposed individual natures of heterosexuality and homosexuality in the verses of Romans 1. The insertions will show explicitly whether a person of same-sex orientation is being considered in the verse, or a heterosexual person. Professor Brownson maintains that what is prohibited in Romans 1:26-27 depends on whether a person is heterosexual or homosexual. According to his interpretation heterosexual people are prohibited from going contrary to their nature and homosexual people are prohibited in that passage from going against their nature. The added words are in italics and the replaced words are in parenthesis. First the verses will be given as found in the ESV. Next they will be given with the audits.
“For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature . . .” (verse 26b ESV)
In this first instance, let’s replace “women” and “natural relations” with “heterosexual women” and “heterosexual relations.” This is done because Dr. Brownson believes Romans 1:26-27 does not contain a universal principle that is the same for all women, but a principle that applies one way for heterosexual women and a different way for homosexual women.
“For their heterosexual women exchanged heterosexual (natural) relations for homosexual (those that are contrary to nature) . . .”
With this wording, which expresses Dr. Brownson's interpretation of nature/natural, the verse makes sense, both in the original and the edited verse. In either version the heterosexual women could be said to be going against their individual nature.
This also could work when we insert words for women with homosexual orientation, and look at it through Dr. Brownson's “individual nature” filter.
“For their homosexual women exchanged homosexual (natural) relations for heterosexual (those that are contrary to nature) relations . . .”
We have been dealing with verse 26 which deals with women. Verse 27 deals specifically with men.
“. . . 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (verse 27 ESV)
In this first instance, let’s replace “men” with “heterosexual men” and “natural relations” with “heterosexual relations.” Remember, Dr. Brownson believes these verses contain a principle that applies one way for heterosexual men and a different way for homosexual men.
“. . . 27 and the heterosexual men likewise gave up heterosexual (natural) relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
If one assumes Dr. Brownson’s interpretation, this could be said to make logical sense.
Now let’s insert the words specifying men of homosexual orientation. To do this we’ll replace the general “men” with “homosexual men” and the general words “natural relations” with “homosexual relations.” Once again, keeping the individualistic viewpoint in mind, we have:
“ . . . 27 and the homosexual men likewise gave up homosexual (natural) relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
The question at this point is inevitable, “Does that interpretation make sense?” Ultimately the reader must decide for himself or herself concerning Dr. Brownson’s interpretation. Most people would agree that this wording is illogical. First, there is no such thing as "homosexual relations with women..." Second, “ . . . 27 and the homosexual men likewise gave up . . . homosexual relations . . . and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men . . .” Again, this is logically self-contradicting. If the men gave up homosexual relations they couldn’t be committing acts with men.
The inclusion of the word “women” in verse 27, "and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women," is enough to rule out Dr. Brownson's interpretation of "natural." The position that what is “natural” can be different from one individual to another, rather than being a universal principle, relevant in the same way for all men and all women, does not fit Romans 1:26 and 27.
Dr. Brownson claims the church should accept monogamous marriages between members of the same sex. He bases this on the definition of “nature” as being individualistic, and, using that definition, claims that Romans 1 does not prohibit it. By testing the definition as we have done above, his interpretation is called into question. When the valid meaning of the word “nature” is examined, does Romans 1 prohibit same sex marriages or allow them?
[i] Brownson, page 226-27.
[ii] Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, The University of Chicago Press, page 869.