b’ 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
UNNATURAL AS EXTREME
Dr. Brownson also claims in his book that the word “unnatural” in Romans 1 refers to what is done to the extreme[i]. In this regard Professor Brownson gives a table in which he states the connection between the word “unnatural” in verse 26 and “were consumed” of verse 27 is demonstrated.
|1:23 They exchanged||the glory of the immortal God||for images resembling a mortal human being or animals.|
|1:25 They exchanged||the truth of God||for a lie.|
|1:26 Their women exchanged||natural intercourse||for unnatural.|
|1:27 In the same way also the men, giving up ||natural intercourse with women,||were consumedwith passion for one another. |
With this understanding of unnatural Dr. Brownson proposes that Romans 1:26 does not prohibit some activity that goes contrary to a universal standard, rather, it prohibits activities that are done to the extreme (violent etc. etc.). Consistent with this, he then advocates that two people of the same sex who love each other and want to build each other up etc. should be allowed to get married.
It is true in the above table that the word “exchanged” is common to the first three rows. However, there are also some imbalances to the table. For example, the “giving up” in the first column and the last row does have a similar meaning to the word “exchanged,” however, it is a different Greek word. Secondly, you will notice that verse 24 is not included. Third, in the first three rows the primary verb (italicized and in bold) is in the first column. In the fourth row, however, the primary verb “were consumed” is in the third column. Primary verbs are very important when it comes to understanding the real import of the various words in sentences. This is a significant imbalance. Fourth, with the omission of vs 24 the statements about God giving them up are not included. This pertains to vs. 26 as well as vs. 24. The matter of God giving up on them is an important aspect of this passage, on a par with them exchanging one practice for another. The two are directly connected and inter-twined. Attempting to analyze the meaning of the verb “were consumed” without including one of the two primary concepts in the passage appears to be a very risky approach.
Lastly, when one takes a quantitative look at Dr. Brownson’s table an interesting fact comes to light.[ii] When one checks the words in verses 23-27 one will find that there are 130 words total. The number of words not included in the table is 80. Therefore, 61% of these verses are not listed in the table. Why were those sections omitted?
Let’s take a look at both concepts of humans exchanging and God giving people up. In Greek a certain balanced progression was quite often used in writing. By “balanced” is meant that there would be “x” number of statements made (ref. a-e below), then the main thought would be given (ref. f), then there would be the same quantity of “x” statements given after the central thought (ref. e’-a’ below). The first statement made would have a certain correspondence to the last (i.e. a-a’ below), the second would to the second to the last (b-b’ below) etc. until finally the statement immediately preceding the central statement would correspond to the one immediately after it (e-e’).[iii] Reference Romans 1:18-32 below as laid out according to this literary device.
a 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
a’ 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
There is a fair amount of evidence supporting this particular analysis of the passage.[iv] Three of the five pairs of lines (such as a and a’) contain the same or closely related words or phrases. The center of the literary device (f) summarizes both halves of the passage.
From this literary structure one can see that the words in verse 27 (c’) referring to the men being consumed correspond in a significant way to verse 22 (c) “Claiming to be wise, they became fools . . .” This is a stronger connection then the “were consumed” and “unnatural” as given initially in the table above by Dr. Brownson. This shows that in Paul’s mind there was not necessarily a correspondence between “being consumed” and “unnatural” but that there was a relationship between the two phrases in verse 27 “being consumed” and “receiving . . . the due penalty” and verse 22, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools.”
Dr. Brownson, as noted in the table at the beginning of this section, focusses on the word translated “exchanged.” In the structure proposed immediately above, it will be noted that those words are located in d, d’ and f. These three sections are perfectly symmetrical. Verse 23 references all men/people (anthropon) to whom God has revealed Himself, as is verse 23's allaxan and verse 25's metallaxan. Verse 26 then references women in particular, perhaps to show that they are indeed included in the original anthropon of verse 18. Could it be, then, that when Paul finally gives the summary of all of it in verse 27 by saying that in this choosing of the unnatural over the natural, and the ways of men over the ways of God, it is an abandonment of God's blessed intentions for us and a choosing of our own damnation (and its inherent results)?[v]
Therefore, from this we can see that the proposal Dr. Brownson makes, namely that “unnatural” in this passage carries the meaning of “extreme” does not necessarily have a basis in this passage. Dr. Brownson does not offer any other Scriptural evidence for that proposal either. As a result, the position that unnatural meaning extreme limits the prohibition of Romans 1 to only acts that are extreme, can that position be maintained?
Take a quick survey to add your thoughts to the dialogue:
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[i] Brownson, page 224.
[ii] The words in orange in the quotation of the passage below are the words Dr. Brownson includes in his table. The words that are not highlighted are the words his table omits.
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and theyexchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.
[iii] Those who study Greek refer to this as a chiasm. That word comes from the Greek chi which is the Greek equivalent of the letter X. The example given shows how chiasms are typically laid out in print. You can see where the letter X is used to refer to this literary device as it models at least the left half of X.
[iv] Evidence in support of the chiastic reading:
- Vs. 21 (b): “they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him” parallels the wording in vs. 28 (b’): “they did not see fit to acknowledge God”
- Vss. 23, 25 and 26b all contain the primary verb exchanged; vss. 23 (d) and 26b (d’) are symmetrical about verse 25, the center of the chiasm
- Verse 25, as the center of the chiasm is concluded with the word, “Amen!” which helps in giving emphasis
- The theme of exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images of creatures is the primary focus of the first half of the chiasm. The second half of the chiasm describes what happens to humans when they don’t acknowledge the glory of God; they end up doing unnatural things and ultimately are caught up in all kinds of sin (vss. 29-32). Verse 25 (f) gives a summary of this section; 25a, “. . . because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie . . .” is a restatement of the first half of the chiasm. Verse 25b, “. . . and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator . . .” summarizes what people did as spelled out in further detail in the second half of the chiasm
- The first part of the chiasm (a) initially introduces this theme of not honoring God.
That is the theme of the first half of the chiasm. The last part of the chiasm (a’) gives the result of not honoring God, which is the theme of the second half of the chiasm.
- Vs. 24 (e) starts with the word “Therefore” and 26a (e’) starts with a phrase of similar meaning, “For this reason”
- Both vss. 24 and 26a have the same subject and the primary verbs “God gave them up”
- Vs. 24 contains the word dishonoring and 26a has the word dishonorable which comes from the same root word
[v] Email from Pastor Stan Drenth dated 10/4/15.
e’ 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.
b 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
e 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
d 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
c’ 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.
f 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
c 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
d’ For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;