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Romans 1:26-27 by Robert Dean
God brings three increasingly harsh judgments on idolatrous cultures. The second and third relate to sex role confusion: same sex perversion and gender role confusion and distortion. This fits within the pattern of sin and judgment since the Fall. This lesson explores the causes and circumstances.
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 2 secs

Consequences on Gender Relations
Romans 1:26–27
Romans Lesson #020
May 19, 2011

What we have been seeing in Romans chapter one is pretty much a pathology of human viewpoint culture. Human viewpoint culture is defined as a culture that rejects the revelation of God, whether we are talking about general revelation or special revelation, and substituted some other metaphysical system. (Meta is a Greek word that means beyond; physical means the physical world. So metaphysics has to do in philosophy with understanding that which eye cannot see and ear cannot hear; it the study of that which goes beyond the empirical and the physical. It usually relates to whether or not there is some kind of supreme being, deity, or something other than what we can see on the basis of science, etc.) So what Paul teaches is: a) that everybody knows God exists; b) that everybody rejects that and suppresses that truth in unrighteousness; c) they exchange that for another idea. That means that everybody is religious; everybody is worshipping something as God, even if it is their own ability and they are worshipping themselves through their own arrogance. Self-deification is putting ourselves over God; it is putting the individual in the center as the ultimate determiner of truth.

We have seen that there are certain patterns that occur in terms of the sin nature. This sin nature is driven by a lust pattern which is emphasized a number of different times in these verses, starting in verse 23: that as the human being as a culture rejects God and replaces Him with some other deity, no matter what that deity may be, what God does is begin to give them over. We have seen that that is not just a passive idea that God is just letting people reap the consequences of their decisions, but He is going to orchestrate how those negative consequences develop. He is going to give them over to lust patterns so that their lusts become more and more uncontrollable. This degenerates within a culture and there are three stages in this passage of God giving them up: vv. 24, 26, 28. So there are these successive stages of degeneracy, perversion and rank immorality. 

When we look at the text here all of the verbs from verse 24 down through the end of the chapter are all aorist tense verbs. There is some debate as to the sense or nuance of those aorist tense verbs: Is this a historical aorist or is this a gnomic aorist? There is nothing objective in the text to distinguish between those two. If it is a historic aorist then what Paul is talking about is a pattern of degeneracy that was evidenced historically. It could be seen between Adam and Noah and it could be seen again between Noah and the tower of Babel, and eventually to Sodom and Gomorrah. Or is he talking gnomically, which means these are general or universal principles that are characteristic of all people at all times.

We think that in the structure of the argument here, which is where we have to go, Paul is talking in this chapter about the underlying problem that the human race faces. Then he is going to critique them in terms of two different categories of persons, starting in chapter two. Chapter two addresses the moral person who thinks that in his relative righteousness he can garner approval of God. Then starting in the middle to late part of chapter two he is going to switch over to the religious person who thinks that somehow in his religion (following the Law of Moses) he can garner the approval of God. So since the structure of his thought here suggests that he is not thinking in terms of a gnomic or universal principle but is talking about the historic manifestations of the rejection of God, negative volition and idolatry historically.      

Romans 1:24 NASB “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” The clause “their bodies would be dishonored among them” certainly indicates perhaps that he is talking about sexual sin, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that that is all that is in view here. Lust is not restricted to just sexual lust, it is just this desire to find meaning and purpose and value in life through something in the creation. You can even have a lust to sleep, though there are times when a lust for sleep isn’t necessarily sinful. This is all manner of different lusts, and uncleanness also is not a word that is sometimes related to sexual sin but that is not true here, we haven’t had that brought into the context yet. What is focused on here is the idea of sin, and uncleanness is a word that is used for any kind of sin that separates man from God. Any sin can render a person separated from God. The word “uncleanness” was used numerous times in the Mosaic Law in terms of ritual uncleanness. God was teaching how pervasive sin was and that there are many, many things that we don’t even think of as sin that is indeed sin. So God gives them up to uncleanness, He begins to take the restraint or ‘take the governor off the motor’ and allow the person to ratchet up their rpm’s a little bit so they become a little more sinful.

He does this to those who have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” And here in Paul’s thinking he clearly accepts the fact that there is one truth. It is God’s Truth with a capital T. God defines truth because God as the creator is the one who defines reality. When we exchange truth for a lie what we are doing is trying to create our own reality and we are going to try to live our life on the basis of that fantasy. “… and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.” And it doesn’t matter who you are discussing they are serving and worshipping some aspect of creation; they are inherently religious; they are worshipping that instead of God.

Then we come to the second stage. Romans 1:26 NASB “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.”

God gave them up to “vile” [NKJV] passions. The fact that an adjective of this type is added to “passions,” which is simply a word for lusts, relates to the category of lusts that motivate from the core of the sin nature. The description is intensified here by the use of this adjective ATIMIA, which basically means that which is dishonorable. It describes a state of shame, dishonor or disgrace. It is used here with pathos, “passions,” indicating dishonorable, disgraceful, or shameful lusts. God gives them over to this. Then we are told how this is manifest. It is manifest in the next phrase “for,” indicating an explanation: “…their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural.” It is interesting that Paul deals with this in terms of women first. It is put this way because women are responders. What we see here is that this becomes manifest because the men have failed to be men. They have either abused their authority or they have rejected or abdicated their authority, in which case the women have nothing left to respond to and so they turn from their men to women. The word translated “exchange” is the word METALLASSO, which indicates to exchange one thing for another. It is similar to another Greek word KATALASSO, which is the word for reconciliation. So by adding the prefix meta it changes the meaning to the idea of exchange. This is the same word that is used in verse 25, “exchanged the truth of God for the lie.” So what they are doing is redefining reality.

In the early years of the Soviet Union they tried to experiment with role reversals among men and women having the idea that men and women are just interchangeable parts. They did completely away with traditional male and female roles within Russian society. It led to a collapse in the family and in the work place because men need to be men and women need to be women. They had to go back to the more traditional roles. When women reached certain levels of responsibility and authority within the Russian culture the men just quit. Women have a unique area of creativity, and that is in the womb. Men are designed by God to have a unique area of creativity as well, and that is in the realm of work and labor. And when women become involved in those areas of creativity the men need to have a very unique involvement and unique leadership. This is one of the reasons God distinguishes roles for men and women in the Scripture.

So we see that the women exchanged the natural function for what is contrary to nature. Here we have the Greek word PHUSIKOS, natural in the sense of God’s normative design. The word is used a number of different ways by Paul but here it has the idea of that which was the intent of God. God intended by the creation of a man and a woman to have heterosexual relationships and not homosexual or same-sex relationships.

There are some in the modern arguments and discussions about homosexuality, nature versus nurture, and what does the Bible actually say, who try to claim that this verse isn’t talking about homosexuality, it is talking about things that are wrong within a heterosexual relationship. That is proved to be a wrong interpretation by the beginning of the next verse which begins with the Greek word HOMOIOS, which means “likewise” or “in the same manner” or “similarly”—“ the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another.” So of verse 27 and verse 27 are analogous then verse 26 has to be talking about same-sex relationships between women. Romans 1:27 NASB “and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function [PHUSIKOS] 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.” The word translated “burned” is a word that indicates being inflamed. The word that is used for “men” here is an antiquated Greek word, arsen. There is also an antiquated word for “women” in the passage, but these are the words used for male and female in the Septuagint (LXX) in Genesis 1. So Paul uses those particular words—not the words normally used for male and female in the New Testament—because he is talking about what happened from the beginning after the fall in Genesis chapter three. “…receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error” indicates that there is a physical consequence. It doesn’t define what that is but there will be physical consequences that will come as a result of same-sex activity.

What we see here at the very least in this passage is that when men and women succumb to idolatry and they begin on a downward trajectory in terms of their rejection of God and their arrogance, God takes them over. He takes the restraint off of the sin nature. The way that He does that is primarily within the realm of male and female relationships. This is a really important observation here. It is that when a culture or a society really begins to go out of control it manifests itself by divine design within male and female relationships.

Let’s just pause and think about what has happened within the history of western civilization going back to the early part of the nineteenth century. We started to see in the 1830s and 1840s the rise of the feminist movement. We will never hear people talking about its relationship to bad theology but it had a bad theological foundation. It came out of the Unitarian transcendental utopic views that dominated both Finneyism that dominated evangelicalism, which was a quasi-liberal sort of approach to man and mankind which minimized sin, and it was wedded to transcendentalism and bringing in a utopic society. And what happened on the side of liberalism was that they believed that man was basically good. Finney was often touted as a great evangelist in this period but he didn’t believe in total depravity. He believed that every human being is born without sin just as Adam was created without sin; he didn’t believe in a substitutionary atonement of Christ; and it is doubted that he ever understood the gospel. He may have at one point but then he distorted it in his writings and his theology. He believed that man was perfectible, and if man is perfectible then society and culture is perfectible. And he was post-millennial—the church in terms of Christendom would bring in the millennial kingdom. So there was an affinity within the non-Christian version of the transcendentalists and the Christian version of the Finneyites.

They identified four or five basic societal sins. The idea was if we can just clean up these sins then we will have the perfect society, the perfect country. The first sin, of course, was slavery, the second was women’s suffrage, the third was temperance and prohibition, the fourth had to do with labor, the fifth was child labor. If we think about the history of the United States and social action from the 1830s on the first thing to go was slavery, then there was dealing with temperance and women’s suffrage, later the rise of labor unions which then became influenced by communism and socialism, the social gospel, liberal Christianity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So that theological matrix that came out of the 1830s really set the social action agenda for the next 150 years. We have been suffering consequences from that ever since. One of their big things had to do with the role of women in society because according to the US Constitution originally women were not given the right to vote. There was a reason for that. It was because in the vision of the founding fathers the country was made up not of individuals, which is how we think of the US today; it was made up of family units and the head of the family was the man. The man voted because he represented a family entity. They understood that it was the family that was the core cohesive element within a nation, and that if you break down the family, if you break down marriage, you break down the culture. They came from that perspective. Once you have a nation shift away from a biblical God, which begins in the early 19th century, then you begin to see deterioration historically that affects the role of men and women, and how men view men and women view women.

God designed human beings to operate together as a unit, as a team, in marriage and then a family. It is a team concept. The emphasis in Genesis 1:26 is that God created man in the image and likeness of God; male and female He created them. So men and women are equally in the image and likeness of God and together they were to exercise rulership: a dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds in the sky and the animals of the field. It was a team operation, so in the pre-fall condition the standard for God is a couple who together complement one another in the outworking of God’s plan of man ruling over creation. The primary purpose here is that they could serve God better, so there was a role distinction here. The man is the leader and the woman is the assistant. There are a lot of women who don’t like that idea but that is because they have been influenced probably by the human viewpoint thinking of our culture that somehow being an assistant is bad. The Hebrew word that is used there is ezer, which means a helper or assistant, one who comes along and enables the first person to get the job done. The only other entity in the Bible who is described as an ezer is God. Think about this theologically. If we say it is somehow demeaning to be a helper we have just committed blasphemy against God. We have just said it is a demeaning thing to be like God and to be a helper. The fact that only women and God are called ezers puts women in a pretty high position. Unfortunately that hasn’t always been recognized or had much of an impact on how men treat women.

When sin came along that really muddied things up. As a result of sin God said that there was an impact on these roles. Genesis 3:14 starts with the judgment upon the serpent; verse 15 deals with the enmity between the serpent and the seed of the woman. Then verse 16 starts dealing with the woman. These are consequences, not the penalty for sin. The penalty for sin was spiritual death, so the man and the woman are standing there before God and have already experienced the penalty. How do we know that? As soon as God showed up they ran and hid and then tried to cover themselves up with fig leaves. They are already spiritually dead. That is the penalty for sin; this is the consequence of the penalty for sin. Genesis 3:16 NASB “To the woman He said, ‘I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.’” The idea is: You were going to have babies before but now it is going to be painful. The point is in the last clause: “your desire will be for your husband.” There are a lot of people through the ages who have said that is an emotional or sexual desire. This isn’t talking about either; it is talking about power lust. What it is telling the guys is that your wife wants to wear the pants in the family. Through grace, doctrine and spiritual growth that may not be an issue but what this is saying is that the trend of the woman is that she wants to be the power player and the authority in the marriage. That relates to her original job to be the helper. In sin she is going to want to be the driver. “And he will rule over you”—the Hebrew word here, mashal, indicates a trend toward a domineering, tyrannical sort of rule. So in those two lines we have the war of the sexes; it goes right back to the fall. The ladies want to wear the pants in the family and the man wants to exercise his authority in an unreasonable, tyrannical fashion; and therein lies a lot of history.

We know that that word for “desire” has that connotation because in the next chapter God warns Cain who is jealous about Abel. God said, “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you.” It pictures this ravenous wolf who wants to consume you. So this isn’t a nice, sweet, passionate desire, it is something evil and voracious. The only thing that can reverse that is the Word of God and grace. This works itself out negatively in a lot of ways. The principle that we are seeing here is that a culture that rejects God is going to be given over to certain consequences by God in terms of judgment and discipline upon that nation, upon that culture, upon that people, and it is going to play itself out in role relations between men and women.

Romans chapter one describes how in an idolatrous culture one of the first areas where the judgment of God is felt is in male and female roles, how they get reversed and how they get screwed up; and we see it from Genesis chapter three all the way through the Bible. The only way to reverse this is by understanding the Word of God and humbling ourselves under the Word of God, to obey the Word of God and to follow it. It doesn’t mean what a lot of things that people think it means, that women just become doormats and everything else; that is just another distortion of the text and a false viewpoint. What it means is that women were designed to do some things and men are designed to do some things, and what one is designed to do isn’t demeaning to the other. When the world comes along operating on a human viewpoint system of Darwinism then individuals become totally interchangeable and it really doesn’t matter, and it just wipes out all of the moral standards, family and marriage, and the end result is cultural collapse. Then you have the anarchy like the period at the end of Judges.