“UNNATURAL” AS HETEROSEXUAL NON-PROCREATIVE ACTS
Dr. Brownson includes in his book two sources stating that their understanding of “contrary to nature” for women in verse 26 was non-procreative heterosexual activity (heterosexual activity not intended to result in conception).[i] The two sources he quotes to back this up are Clement of Alexandria and Augustine, two prominent leaders in the early centuries of the church. If this is the only definition of unnatural in verse 26, then it removes that verse from consideration as far as homosexual activities are concerned.
Traditionalists do not believe the above definition of "contrary to nature" is correct. There are at least five reasons for this.
The first reason has to do with a key term at the beginning of verse 27 which is translated “likewise.” That word links the content of verse 26 to that of verse 27. Dr. Brownson states that Paul “probably uses” this word (also translated "in the same way") to make it clear that the behavior of these males is another "exchange," like the three already quoted earlier in that passage.[ii] In this connection reference Dr. Brownson’s table quoted earlier.
Specifically with respect to the word "likewise," Dr. Gagnon has this to say:
For the "likewise" of 1:27 to be appropriate, both the thing exchanged and the thing exchanged for must be comparable. Hence, sex with members of the same sex, not non-coital sex, is the point of comparison between 1:26 and 1:27.[iii]
The second reason involves going into further detail on these two verses where Dr. Gagnon makes the following statement:
The expression "natural use of the female (as a sexual partner)" in 1:27 suggests that the implied objective genitive for "natural use" in 1:26 is "natural use (of the male as a sexual partner)," which in turn implies that the converse "that which is contrary to nature" refers to the unnatural use of females as sexual partners. The continuation of 1:27 makes clear that the exchange for a man is not that of coital intercourse for non-coital intercourse but rather an exchange of sexual relations with women for sexual relations with men.[iv]
The third reason has to do with multiple uses of a single word. Louis Berkhof made a statement relative to the multiple uses of words in a single context. For anyone not familiar with Berkhof, theologian Wayne Grudem has called Berkhof's Systematic Theology "a great treasure-house of information and analysis [...] probably the most useful one-volume systematic theology available from any theological perspective." [v] This is quite a compliment coming from a theologian who himself has written a systematic theology. This is also a testament to the continuing value of Berkhof’s writings.
Berkhof states, “If a word is used in the same connection more than once, the natural assumption is that it has the same meaning throughout.” [vi] Therefore, when verse 27 very specifically identifies “natural” as being heterosexual in nature, the evidence weighs heavily in favor of “natural” in verse 26 also referring to heterosexuality as opposed to the more specific coital heterosexuality. In order for anyone to hold to the definition of unnatural as referring to non-coital heterosexual intercourse they are then obliged to produce a reason why that word is used with two so very different meanings in these two verses.
The fourth reason involves another Greek word which is used here. Very closely connected to the English word “likewise” is the use of the Greek word te. Dr. Brownson has this to say:
At the same time, there is a more qualified parallel between Rom. 1:26 and 27 in that both deal with sexual issues that are “natural” or “unnatural,” and the two verses deal in contrasting ways with males and females. This lesser parallelism/contrast is evident in the repeated use of the Greek particle te in these two verses, a common device in Greek for making comparisons or contrasts.[vii]
Professor Brownson says “the two verses deal in contrasting ways with males and females.” Three authoritative lexicons state that te indicates close unity, inner bond, close connection etc.[viii] As far as contrasts are concerned, it is true that one key lexicon states, “3. a. usually of the same kind or corresponding as opposites.”[ix] Now it must be noted that this lexicon refers to “opposites” not contrasts. There is a difference between those two. Professor Brownson does not give a source for the definition of contrasts. Where does that meaning come from? If the two verses refer to opposites, and verse 26 speaks of non-coital heterosexual intercourse, what would the opposite of that be? It couldn’t be coital homosexual intercourse. It would appear to be the case that the two are connected by a close unity, an inner bond etc. based on the usage of the Greek te . . . te kai.
The Blass, Debrunner and Funk lexicon states that the words te kai connect words, not whole clauses.[x] This being the case, the words te . . . te kai would connect the words females and males given the immediate positioning of those words after the te and te kai.
So on what basis does Dr. Brownson say that Romans 1 contrasts males and females? And how does he refer to that relationship as a lesser parallelism/contrast? With the definitions given in the lexicons for the words te . . . te kai there is not a lesser contrast, but rather a rather clear unity there. Therefore, as was the case with the word translated “likewise,” these Greek words also indicate that there is a close unity between what was natural and unnatural for both women and men. Since verse 27 makes it clear that what was unnatural for men was same-sex erotic activity, then what is unnatural for women is also same-sex erotic activity; it is not non-coital heterosexual activity.
The fifth reason involves looking at this from another perspective, shown in I Corinthians 7:9:
But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
The reason marriage resolves the burning with passion is because of the fact that they will be engaged in intercourse. That is then not necessarily, or not only, intercourse for the sake of procreation. What is referenced here is intercourse specifically for the purpose of relieving the burning with passion. If a couple marries because they cannot exercise self-control, that difficulty with this self-control is quite likely to be there after the children are born as well as before the marriage. Therefore, the Bible itself is advocating non-procreative heterosexual intercourse. How can that then be considered unnatural, or somehow bad? Prof. Brownson deals with this passage in I Corinthians in five places in his book. However, he does not address the matter of whether or not this passage teaches that non-procreative heterosexual intercourse between spouses is being advocated by the Scriptures here.
Therefore, even if two theologians from the first 300 years of church history held to that definition, Scripture itself rules it out as a possibility.
For the above five reasons, is the position right or wrong that the unnatural, the undesirable, intercourse referenced in Romans 1:26 is bad because it is not for the purpose of procreation?
Take a quick survey to add your thoughts to the dialogue:
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[i] Brownson, pages 207-208.
[ii] Brownson, page 224.
[iii] Gagnon, pages 298-99.
[iv] Gagnon, page 298. Dr. Gagnon also goes into further detail concerning the Greek words used which justifies his translation of "natural use of the female (as a sexual partner)".
[v] Grudem, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994, pg. 1225
[vi] L. Berkhof, Principles of Biblical Interpretation, Baker Book House, page 77.
[vii] Brownson, page 224.
[viii] Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker, page 807; A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, Broadman Press, page 1178-79; Blass, Debrunner and Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament And Other Early Christian Literature, The University of Chicago Press, page 203.
[ix] Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker, page 807.
[x] Blass, Debrunner and Funk, page 230.