Understanding and Using the Bible
Idol Worship & Slaves
Paul, like all Jews of his age, understood that humanity was once monotheistic but had turned away from God to worship idols. Jews saw sexual depravity as a sign of this idolatry.
Many contemporary Christians think that Paul’s meaning in Romans 1 is about humanity’s fall into sin and is an allusion to the Genesis account of creation. But Paul doesn’t mention creation or Genesis. Instead, he is writing about humanity’s fall from monotheism – something that all Jews in Paul’s world believed happened.
You can see a parallel to the Romans passage in the Book of Wisdom chapters 13 – 15 where the link is made between idolatry and sexual immorality. No one now believes that humanity was once uniformly monotheistic and then fell into idol worship. Instead it seems that there was a move from polytheism to monotheism. So the myth underlying Paul’s condemnation of this behaviour is not one we’d use now.
Another interesting aspect of this passage is the word “use”. The women gave up the “natural use” of their sex. In this passage there is clearly a sexual overtone to his. But in the letter to Philemon Paul uses the term about the slave Onesimus who had been “useful” to him and would be useful to “Philemon”. In an age when masters had total sexual rights over their slaves it’s interesting that Paul sent a slave back to his master, particularly using the term “use”.
If Paul was making a general condemnation of homoeroticism then the Gospel could not have been good news for slaves who had to engage in homoerotic behaviour with their masters.
Read on to "Paul's Context and Ours".