Romans 1:26-27 reads (KJV), “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.” [You can click this link and change it to any number of different versions if you want, but most read very similarly.]
I’ve read this passage in numerous versions, in pondering this topic, and most basically say the same thing: the women turned a natural thing into an unnatural thing, and in a similar way so did the men, leaving the natural use of women, and began lusting after each other, committing homosexual acts. A couple of versions, those which do not pretend to be literal translations, but rather intentionally take the literal words and turn them into what the author thinks the original meaning was, outright say that this means, “women started having same-sex relations, and the men did also.” Any time I’ve encountered this passage, no matter what the version, that has been what the preacher or expositor says it means — it’s a condemnation of homosexual relations, whether female or male.
To be honest, I can certainly understand where that came from, and it may indeed be the correct way of looking at it, and I may be totally off-base. But something (and I can’t remember what) got me to thinking about this and looking at it in a different way, and wondering if the common understanding is the correct one, or if people misunderstood the “natural vs. unnatural” and the connection between “the women having unnatural relations” and “likewise also the men”.
So here’s how I’m wondering how it can be taken: the “changing of the natural use into that which is against nature” may refer not to the unnatural manner of female same-sex sexual relations, but rather be referring to anal sex.
Yes, it may be that two women together may be rightly considered as “against nature”; after all, what is natural is males with females and sex ultimately creating children. Not only is female-female unnatural, but it is a sterile form of sexual relations by its very nature, and as such could be said to be “against nature”. But then, so is anal sex. The “lower alimentary canal” (large intestine, rectum, anus) is naturally used by the body for elimination of undigested and indigestible food and toxins and all other sorts of stuff that would be bad for the body to retain. What could be more unnatural than using this excretory system/organ(s) for sex? [Plus, there are all sorts of diseases that can afflict the participants in anal sex (passing of STDs and other germs), and sex can damage the anus, rectum, and lower bowel because it is not designed for sex, and sex can tear the delicate lining of the bowel, leaking toxins, fecal matter, and other germs into the interior of the body, where it is not supposed to go.]
Backing up a little bit in the Bible to add context, Paul says that even the ungodly, heathen sinners are “without excuse” (v. 20) because they shoulda, coulda, woulda been able to recognize God and His rules by nature, except for the fact that they didn’t want to. They refused to glorify Him as God, and became idolators, worshiping other gods and making images of these false gods, using things in creation as their model, rather than retaining the worship of the Creator. So, God turned them over to their own imagination and lust; and because of their lust and idolatry (and wicked imagination) they began to commit strange sexual practices. [This much, I think pretty much everyone agrees the passage means.] And if I’m right, these strange and unnatural sexual practices included anal sex, which led to male homosexual relations. So, the “likewise the men” would not mean, “the women entered into same-sex relations, and so did the men”, but rather, “the women allowed unnatural anal sex, and then the men did too, leaving women entirely and began lusting after other men, engaging in homosexual (anal) sex”.
Again, pretty much everyone agrees that the end result of whatever the women did “and likewise the men” was unnatural and anti-God homosexual sex, which brought a greater and just curse upon the participants. (The only ones I know who would disagree are those who want to rewrite the Bible and pretend that homosexual relations are not condemned in the strongest terms throughout the Bible.) The only question is does this passage condemn lesbian sex, or is it more proper to use it to condemn anal sex?
I can see it going either way. Using the understanding I’ve outlined above, it seems pretty easy to step from “men started having anal intercourse with women” to “men started having anal intercourse with men” — as if once they accepted non-vaginal or anal intercourse with women, it became even easier to start lusting after other men and having anal intercourse with them. But using the common, perhaps even near-universal understanding, it could also be easy to understand this as “both women and men started having homosexual relations”.
After writing the above but before hitting “publish”, I read what Dr. John Gill (eminent Baptist preacher from the 1700s, whose Exposition of the Whole Bible my husband has in our library) has to say about it, and he basically says what I say above — the first option he gives is that it is referring to the practice of sodomy (male-to-female anal sex, perhaps as prostitutes) “and likewise also the men” (male-to-male anal sex); while he gives as other possibilities the women sexually gratifying themselves or each other without men (and as I read it, I’m uncertain whether Dr. Gill was saying that these women were sodomizing each other and/or themselves [by use of sex toys, I suppose, or other such objects], or whether he was referring to other non-anal sexual practices of a lesbian or self-gratifying nature). So, if I’m wrong, at least I have good company, since that seems to be the same line of reasoning and train of thought that one of the greatest theologians had 300 years ago.