Understanding and Using the Bible
Paul's Context and Ours
The simple fact is that the types of homoerotic behaviour Paul saw in his world are far removed from those in our world. We do not see homoeroticism as a punishment for idolatry (as Paul did), indeed lesbian and gay Christains are, by definition, monotheistic. We do not conceive of sexual behaviour in terms of patriarchy and power as the Romans did. We don’t see it shameful to play a particular role in sex – nor do we see sexual roles as being definitions for life as Romans did – to be seen as the passive partner in male homoeroticism was incredibly shameful.
Whatever Paul meant is very different from the patterns of lesbian and gay behaviour in our contemporary world which, more and more, reflect the wider heterosexual patterns of behaviour.
Paul clearly felt that the behaviour he condemned was unnatural. It is also obvious from reading other writings that he thinks that having women preach in church, or to be ministers is wrong, (because it was a woman who led Adam astray in the first place) and that they will only be saved by childbirth (1 Tim 2:9-15). Paul states in his first letter to the Corinthian church (11:14) that it is unnatural for men to have long hair! In this last passage Paul uses the same Greek words (para phusin) as he does when condemning Lesbians and Gays.
If traditional churches wish us to understand Paul's words here as applying to contemporary lesbians and gays, then they will also have to condemn men with long hair, women ministers, and state that women will only get to Heaven if they have babies (I think someone should have told Mother Teresa!).
Until the main Christian churches start preaching Paul properly I see no reason why we can't say that he was heavily influenced by the prevailing sexism, homophobia and patriarchy of his background as well as his understanding of humanity’s fall from monotheism. This means his words should be taken with a pinch of salt (albeit a very large one!).
Read on to "Other Letters".