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John Piper on homosexuality

"John Piper on homosexuality" Continued...

There are at least three major problems with this way of interpreting these verses. I will mention them because the last one will take us into the overall exposition of this section of Romans. The first problem is that in verse 27 Paul says, “The men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another.” Now if these were men who were by nature heterosexual, and who were going against their natural desires, what is the meaning of “they burned in their desire toward one another”? It is a very strong term. Does a natural heterosexual burn with lust for another man? If not, it is very unlikely that what Paul is dealing with here is the subject of heterosexuals engaging in homosexuality.

There is such a thing as a bisexual, who seems to have desires for both men and women. But if that were in Paul’s mind, the interpretation we are talking about wouldn’t work either, because then the burning of a man for a man and a woman would both be natural (according to this interpretation), and Paul would be unjust to denounce either one. But he does denounce this unnatural burning and the acts that follow. So the argument doesn’t work that says, Paul is only denouncing homosexual acts by heterosexual people.

The second reason the argument doesn’t work is that when Paul says in verse 27b, “Their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,” the Greek phrase for “that which is unnatural” (ten para phusin) is a stock phrase in Greek ethical literature of the time for homosexual behavior per se, not for homosexual behavior among heterosexuals—as though that’s what made it unnatural. So it is very unlikely that Paul is arguing that what’s wrong and unnatural about these folks is that they are heterosexuals by nature and acting contrary to nature by doing homosexual acts. “Contrary to nature” in this text, as it most Hellenistic literature of the time, meant homosexual behavior per se. That’s what Paul regards as unnatural.

The third argument against this kind of interpretation is the most significant, because it takes us into the deeper meaning of this text. But before I develop it, let me explain where we are going in these two weeks. My aim today is to give as sound and faithful an exposition of Romans 1:24-28 as I can, which will leave me little time for application. That is why I plan to continue the message next week. We will need to broaden our biblical base and to tackle some practical issues next week.

Pray for Biblical Balance

My prayer for both weeks is that we as a church, and I in particular as the preacher, will find a biblical balance between clear conviction about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, on the one hand, and patient compassion to come alongside those of you who have homosexual desires, and your friends and relatives, and seek your good. I have no desire to drive homosexual people away. On the contrary, I would like to be able to say of our congregation what Paul said to the church in Corinth: After mentioning “fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers,” he says in 6:11, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

I would like us to be a church like that—justified sinners battling together to walk in purity, with all of our differing genetic, hormonal, environmental disorders that incline everyone of us, in varying ways, to do sinful things. We will talk more about that next week. It’s a very important issue. But the point for now is simply this: We want to be a church where homosexual people can either overcome their sexual disorder, or find the faith and courage and help and love and power to live a triumphant, joyful, celibate life with the disorder.

Triple Repetition of Three-fold Sequence of Thought

Now we turn to the third reason for rejecting the interpretation of Romans 1:26-27, which says that Paul is not denouncing homosexuals who do what comes naturally, but rather he is denouncing promiscuous heterosexuals who act unnaturally by doing homosexual acts. The reason is that the overall argument of the passage assumes another viewpoint.

Let’s look at it. Three times in this passage Paul repeats a three-fold sequence of thought. The three-fold sequence of thought goes like this:

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