Romans 1:26-27 and Homosexuality

by Matt Slick

"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error." (Rom. 1:26-27, NASB).

Some argue that Romans 1:26-27 does not condemn homosexuality per se but is instead condemning unnatural love.  In other words, the verses condemn the act of going against what a person's natural sexual orientation really is.  So, if it is natural for a person to be attracted to someone of the same sex, then it would be "unnatural" for that person to go against his/her homosexual orientation.  Is this argument sound?  No, it is not. 

Let's take a look a closer look at these two verses.

"For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural [phusikan] function [xrasin] for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire [orexis] toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error." (Rom. 1:26-27, NASB).

The passage has several important words worth looking at, but for our examination we'll look at the words “natural function” ("natural use," KJV).  Let's take a look at how different Bibles translate the Greek into English.

  • "natural function"--NASB
  • "natural relations"--ESV, NIV, RSV
  • "natural use"--ASV, Darby, GNT, KJV, NKJV, YLT
  • "natural sexual function"--ISV
  • "natural intercourse"--NRSV

We are not talking about a person's alleged natural sexual orientation.  Instead, we are talking about "natural function," natural use.  If the text only said "natural" and not "natural function/use," then the homosexual's argument might be stronger.  But, the text doesn't help them.  If the word "natural" in this context means "natural sexual orientation," then why does Paul add the word "function" and not something like "preference" (Rom. 12:9, NASB) or "choice" (Rom. 9:11) or "inclination" (1 Cor. 11:16) or "desire" (Rom. 1:27; 10:1)?  Furthermore, verse 27 says that the "men abandoned the natural function of the woman."  By definition, "men" and "woman" are gender specific words.  What is the man's natural function of the woman?  Sex!  Is Paul saying the natural function of the man with the woman is really about natural desire of men with men?  That would be ridiculous.  Instead, the words are used in the context of sexual activity--a man's natural function with the woman (v. 27).  "Function" and "use" here are not about preference but about sex.

The Greek Says . . .

The Greek for "natural function" are φυσικὴν χρῆσιν,  phusikan krasis.

  • “natural”--phusikan, 1) produced by nature, inborn, 2) agreeable to nature, 3) governed by (the instincts of) nature1
  • “function”--Only two instances in N.T. Rom. 1:26,27.  χρῆσις, εως, ἡ use made of anything, usage; more specifically of sexual intercourse function, sexual use (RO 1.26, 27)2

The issue is not one’s natural orientation or one’s natural preference but of natural function.  Preference is internal.  Function, in this context, is biological and is related to design, which is why Paul tells us that the men gave up the natural function (“use” KJV) of the woman and burned for other men.  There is nothing here about sexual orientation.  It is about sexual function where the norm is male and female--not male and male or female and female.

  • 1. James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order. (electronic ed.; Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996), G5446.
  • 2. Timothy Friberg et al., vol. 4, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Baker's Greek New Testament library, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2000), 410.

 

 

 

 
 
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