Grand Rapids East Report #6

Statement For Same-Sex Marriage: Romans 1 Contains Cultural Norms

“Some scholars also note that male same sex intercourse is described as “shameful” while female same-sex intercourse is not, reflecting cultural norms that same-sex intercourse brings dishonor to a man by “feminizing” him (for example, see Brownson).”

As soon as the above quote moves from the consideration of shameful to feminizing the Scripture reference moves from Romans 1 to Leviticus 18. Even though the primary focus here is on Romans, since the above quote ties feminizing into the concept of cultural norms, the relevance of Leviticus will be covered here as well. In support of his view of feminizing Brownson has the following to say:


“If violations of biological gender roles constituted the primary moral logic underlying the prohibition, one would expect the corresponding injunction against female same-sex eroticism as well. But it is absent. The absence of any concern about female-female sex in Leviticus suggests that it is not gender as an abstract or biological concept that these prohibitions have in mind; instead, to the extent that these passages are concerned with gender at all (beyond a concern with pagan cultic practices), they have a more specific focus that we can also see in the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Levite’s concubine — that is, the preservation of male honor. From the perspective of Leviticus, to “lie with a male as with a woman” is to reduce a male to the status of a female, which inherently degrades him and fails to honor his divinely given status as a male. For a male to willingly accept such degradation makes him equally culpable in the Leviticus author’s mind. Sex between females is not mentioned simply because there is no such degradation operative in these cases. This suggests that, in addition to a concern with cultic practices, the Levitical prohibitions should be read in light of assumptions regarding honor and shame that were shared throughout the ancient world.” (Page 272.)



Response: Romans 1 Contains Biblical Norms

The first two points below critique the claim that Romans 1 only contains cultural norms. Then, points three through seven critique the claim in Brownson’s quote. In that quote Brownson states that the absence of a specific prohibition against female same-sex eroticism in Leviticus is evidence that some kind of violation of biological gender roles is not the focus of that prohibition.


First, in Rom. 1 verse 27 does specifically speak of men committing shameless acts with men. Verse 27 starts out by saying “. . . the men likewise gave up natural relations with women . . .” From the presence of the word “likewise” we can see that the women’s acts of verse 26 were essentially the same as the men’s acts in verse 27. This word directly connects the women to the concept of same-sex acts being shameless.

Second, verse 26 starts out by saying God gave them up to dishonorable passions and then goes on to say the women gave up heterosexual acts. This is also a direct statement linking the female-female acts with the description of dishonorable passions. Dishonorable passions and shameless acts are in so many ways synonymous.

Third, to say something is a cultural norm is to downplay it in significance. This is in keeping with Brownson’s position that the prohibition contained in Lev. 18:22 is only temporary or limited in scope. However, Leviticus 18 contains 19 prohibitions of incest, one against adultery, offering children to Molech, and bestiality. Verses 24-30 say that because of these things God removed the previous inhabitants from the land of Canaan and the people are warned not to commit them because they would also be removed. Lev. 20:13 gives the punishment for the act of male-male sex – death. This isn’t the context of temporary cultural norms nor is the punishment appropriate to such norms. Is the protection of honor given the death sentence anywhere else in the Bible?  These facts indicate that what is at stake here in verse 22 is far more significant than something one culture in ancient history may have considered dishonorable. It has to do with what God identifies as sin.

Fourth, Brownson concludes that the absence of stated concern about female-female sex indicates that what is at stake here is male honor. For Brownson to successfully demonstrate that his interpretation stands on a solid foundation, there is one thing he must do. He needs to show how this supposed significance of the absence of a prohibition of female-female sex fits into the context of the fact that verses 6-20, a fairly extensive statement, only prohibits males from engaging in incest. The phrase to uncover the nakedness of someone carries the meaning of engaging in sexual intercourse with that person. In this connection reference Keil and Delitzsch’s coverage of Leviticus 18:6-18. They also list Ezekiel 16:36 in this regard. All of the prohibitions in verses 6-18 are of the form “you shall not uncover the nakedness of a female relative.” Therefore, the vast majority of this chapter consists of prohibiting men from engaging in certain acts. Does this somehow indicate that male honor is what is at stake? That would seem to be quite a stretch. Or does this prohibition for men only indicate women are allowed to engage in incest??? We must note that by explicitly prohibiting males from engaging in incest the passage also absolutely prohibits any female from engaging in incest. It is simply impossible for any female to engage in incest when all males are not involved in it. To support his position Brownson needs to show how it fits in with the fact that the majority of the chapter deals only with men.

Fifth, Lev. 18:22 specifically prohibits male same-sex intercourse. When verse 22 prohibits males from engaging in same-sex intercourse the principle of the prohibition of same-sex intercourse is taught. Verses 6-18 teach that incest is wrong. Likewise stating specifically male-male sex is wrong is a statement that same-sex erotic acts are wrong. The principle taught here is that all same-sex acts are wrong. This is confirmed in the whole of Scripture when Romans 1 explicitly rules out female same-sex acts. To lean heavily on the reasoning that something is taught by the silence of Scripture is a very weak argument. The act of same-sex intercourse was prohibited using males as the example, just as the act of incest was ruled out using males as the example. The principle at stake here is same-sex intercourse. Not male vs female considerations. Does Brownson have any biblical evidence he can cite that the focus here is on something about males (his reference to male honor) as distinct from females and the focus is not on the act that is stated in the text? Verses 6-20, with their specific listing of males is evidence God references males here simply in a secondary manner in order to make His main point. He focuses on the acts cited here and He does so simply referencing males as the means to demonstrate the principle.

Sixth, if the message of Leviticus 18:22 was about male honor we could fully expect the Spirit to have made that clear. He could have inspired wording such as, “Do not treat another male like a female as that dishonors him.” Instead, this entire chapter makes no reference to honor. What it does explicitly state is that a male is not to engage in sexual intercourse with another male. Therefore, this passage explicitly prohibits homosexuality, it has nothing to do with honor.

Seventh, the context is another piece of evidence that the message of this verse is the prohibition of same-sex intercourse and not something about male honor. The entire chapter deals with unlawful sexual relations. Now, it is not impossible for a different topic to be taken up in the middle of a chapter dedicated otherwise entirely to one particular matter. However, in order for us to know that to be the case it certainly requires good, clear biblical evidence. It is not possible to accept such an otherwise out of context meaning simply based on a personal opinion.


The first two aspects above indicate that Paul teaches female-female sex acts are shameful. Points three through seven indicate that the prohibition of all same-sex erotic acts is the focus of the passage in Leviticus and that Brownson’s statement, “Sex between females is not mentioned simply because there is no such degradation operative in these cases” is in error. This point needs to be considered false.

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Does Romans 1 Only Contain Cultural Norms?