The Grand Rapids East Report #3
Pederasty And Prostitution Motivated Paul's Understanding
"Some scholars recognize that while Paul is not necessarily speaking here only of pederasty, prostitution, or purely exploitative conditions for same-sex intercourse, nonetheless the existence or prevalence of these conditions in the ancient world informed and motivated Paul's understanding of same-sex intercourse as inherently degrading (for example, see Loader and Nissinen)."
It is reasonable to think that the original recipients of Paul's letter, all too familiar with the widespread practices of temple prostitution, would have viewed this first and foremost as a condemnation of such practices. That's not to say other same-sex practices would have been excluded, necessarily, just that this would have been front and center in the minds of the original hearers. ... Is the text a sweeping condemnation of all same-sex practice or does it speak to the predominant practices of the time, especially temple prostitution, ... pederasty, and the sexual services required of slaves? ... [H]ow would we modern readers understand Paul's condemnation of same-sex practice if widespread and widely accepted institutions like temple prostitution, pederasty, and slavery had shaped our view of it? When reading Romans 1, would we think of two men or two women who have formed their own family unit, having made commitments to each other, and are now raising children together? Arguably not. ... [I]t's much more likely that Paul's argument ... is offered in a shared context dominated by same-sex acts characteristic of pederasty, temple prostitution, and slave sex, which were grossly perverse, demeaning, and exploitative (2014, 63-66, 68)."
The historic understanding sees two problems with the Statement. 1) To suggest that Paul could only be prohibiting the forms of same-sex acts that he was acquainted with is to limit the message of the inspired Word of God to the limitations of human understanding. Doesn't such a position really restrict the ability of God's Word to speak? If the message of God's Word could only contain truths that the human authors comprehended?, then it would not be possible for the Scriptures to contain any wisdom that exceeds the human understanding of 2,000 years ago. Can we really hold to the inspiration of God's Word, the infallibility of the Bible if we accept this position? I, for one, do not see how that could be possible.
2) There are known examples of loving same-sex relationships during the days of the New Testament. In his book Brownson points to the Emperor Caligula as one of the paramount examples of one who committed excessive and abusive same-sex acts. Yet, Caligula was also involved in a loving same-sex relationship with a man named Lepidus (Mark D. Smith, "Ancient Bisexuality and the Interpretation of Romans 1: 26-27," Journal of the American Academy of Religion 64, no. 2 (1996). So Paul was very likely familiar with examples of loving same-sex relationships. Therefore, it is not established as true that Paul only knew of pederasty and prostitution when it came to same-sex acts. It is quite likely he was well aware of a full range of acts committed by people of the same gender.
Of various possible considerations, again, the guideline of necessary versus possible inferences can be very helpful. What does the passage say? As we look at these various considerations, we need to be careful we do not cross the line so that our understanding of Romans 1 shifts away from what the text says and to what someone thinks the text should say. If the text actually states for all men everywhere, and for all time, that engaging in same-sex erotic acts is shameless, sinful, then to say something like, since the majority of instances of same-sex acts Paul knew were violent, Paul must have been writing only about them, would be wrong. That his words have to be limited only to violent acts is going beyond what the text states. If the Holy Spirit wanted the message to be restricted to only some same-sex acts, the Spirit would have guaranteed that restriction was properly communicated in the text.
Does the specific wording of Romans 1 prohibit all instances, or doesn't it? The previous emails proposed the specific wording does prohibit all same-sex acts and no alternative understanding has come forward to challenge that.