Views of Homosexuality in Ancient Rome

This is a good article, with some good facts about some views of homosexual people in ancient Rome – Biological Influences on Same Sex Attraction According to Rome.

We often hear people say that the apostle Paul or other biblical authors didn’t understand the biological causes of homosexuality (or even transgenderism) and therefore whatever the Bible says about them doesn’t apply.  But as this article points out, there were writers of the time thinking about people being born with different desires.  They thought about possible biological causes or a possible soul defect.  Of course they didn’t understand the biological truths we know today.  But the idea that there was something ingrained about homosexual or transgender desires was around.

I like the author’s conclusions about the ramifications for biblical interpretation concerning this.  It is not fair to say that if Paul knew about the true causes of homosexual desires, that he would not have condemned homosexual behavior as sinful.  The fact is, many of the views surrounding homosexuality today were also around back then, and yet Paul still condemns homosexual sexual acts as sinful.


12 comments on “Views of Homosexuality in Ancient Rome

  1. Don says:

    To me it does not matter what Paul personally understood. He was writing God’s Word. In the context about where Paul is writing about men with men and women with women, he is not giving his opinion, he is writing what God told him to write.

    There are instances in Paul’s writing that he is very clear about who is talking. When he was talking about wether to marry or not, he goes out of his way to say, “this is God speaking not me”, or “this is me speaking, not God”.

    We must assume that unless he specifically states that he is speaking for himself, or in any context, as when he is greeting the reader’s of his letters or closing a letter, that we know when he is speaking personally or inspired by God.

    We can safely assume that when he is writing for God, then it does not matter how much he knows about the subject.



  2. thorin25 says:

    I agree Don, though not everyone feels that way. Paul was very clearcut when it came to condemning homosexual sex between people of the same sex. If we believe the Bible is God’s Word, there is not a way around that.


  3. Ralph says:

    Bear in mind, though, that Paul sometimes explicitly stated that he was speaking his own personal opinion as distinct from God’s command; likewise there were other times he explicitly stated he was speaking God’s message directly. Most of the time he didn’t say one way or the other, but we do know that he freely admitted inserting his own personal opinion into his letters. Should we take his instructions for women to sit down and shut up as God’s divine instruction for us today? Or was that his personal feeling on the matter? Or was it directed not so much at churches globally for all time, but to address a specific problem at a specific church in Corinth where services were being disrupted?

    On the one hand, I’m inclined to take Paul with a grain of salt at times (such as with his views on women). On the other hand, that leads me down a road I try very hard to avoid and warn others against — cherry-picking which parts of scripture you think do and do not apply to the world today. Once we feel free to do that, we can take ANY scripture and discard it on the grounds that it doesn’t apply.


  4. thorin25 says:

    Ralph, I think all of Paul’s letters were his opinions, other than those times you mentioned that he knew he was speaking for God. That said, the church has always recognized that Paul’s letters as well as the entire rest of the Bible is inspired by God, even though most of the authors didn’t know it. So “Paul’s opinions” are in fact more than that, they are the very words of God for us.

    So yes I believe we have to follow everything Paul said in the biblical letters. The troubling passages you mentioned have to be read the same as all other passages in biblical letters. Tat is they have to be understood in historical and cultural context. Everything Paul said applies to us today in principle, though the cultural application may be different. There was a specific reason Paul told only 1 church to not have women speak, and the principle for us to follow may be as simple as not being disruptive during worship, though the cultural application for that 1 church was that the women were the ones being disruptive by their talking. Whereas, in other places Paul affirms women speaking in church.

    I have a blog post coming up on 1 Cor. 11 that will hopefully offer some good teaching about applying ALL of Paul’s letters, but knowing how to apply them correctly and not in a foolish way.

    So just to make sure my comment is understood – I don’t believe we can say that any verse of the Bible doesn’t apply to us. It ALL applies to us in some way, but in different ways. The Bible is made up of many literary genres and types of writing. A verse about the sacrifice of Christ, and a verse about Jesus telling me to love my neighbor both apply to me, but in different ways. One tells me what to do, one tells me about what Christ did for me. Paul has commands about people bringing him a cloak and commands about how to be the Church together, they both apply to me but in different ways. I won’t be bringing Paul his cloak though that verse still teaches me something about service, about Paul’s role as apostle, etc.


  5. Aaron Saltzer says:

    You’re talking about Romans 1:26-27, aren’t you?


  6. thorin25 says:

    Yes Romans 1 is one of the passages in which Paul talks about homosexual behavior, but it’s not the only one.


  7. Aaron Saltzer says:

    I think it was idolatrous heterosexuals engaging in homosexual activity (Romans 1:27). It wasn’t talking about homosexuals, which most I don’t think left “the natural use”.


  8. thorin25 says:

    Actually Romans 1 is talking about all people in the world total. The argument of Romans is that both Jews and Gentiles as whole groups of people, are guilty of sin and therefore deserving of God’s wrath (Romans 3:23). Paul goes on to talk about how then we can only become righteous through faith in Christ. The first 8-9 chapters of Romans is 1 long argument about humanity’s guilt and need for salvation in Christ.

    Romans 1 is talking about the various types of sins that humans fell into, including homosexual behavior, but this it not to say that every person committed homosexual acts, just as not every human has worshiped statues of birds, just as not every human has murdered.

    So Romans 1 is setting up the situation that all people are sinful (in these many various ways) and so we deserve God’s wrath and can only be saved by faith in Jesus. This also means that Paul is not in fact targeting homosexuals for God’s wrath. They are no more deserving of it than every single other person, who commits all sorts of the various sins that are listed. Romans 3:12 – there is actually no person who has done good. we are all sinful.


  9. Aaron Saltzer says:

    Where does it talk about homosexuals? Homosexuals are naturally attracted to the same sex. Some even know from a young age that they are. How is that “Exchanging the natural for the unnatural”?


  10. Aaron Saltzer says:

    Not to mention that it talks about idols in Romans 1:23 and Romans 1:25. These were idolatrous heterosexuals. Not homosexuals, who have never “Left the natural use of the woman”, when their natural use was never for the woman.


  11. thorin25 says:

    Clearly you didn’t read my comment. Please go back and read it again. Don’t skim it. Read it carefully. I agree that it’s not specifically talking about homosexuals. It is talking about “everyone” everyone that exists ever. It’s talking about the many different types of sins that humans fall into, including homosexual behavior, among many other things. The whole purpose of Romans 1 is Paul setting up his argument that all people are sinful, deserving of God’s wrath, and we need forgiveness and salvation through faith in Jesus and what he did for us.


  12. Aaron Saltzer says:

    It does not say “everyone”. It is specifically talking about idolaters by the context. Those of which were clearly heterosexual and engaged in homosexual acts as a result. It wasn’t about love either. It was about sex and idolatry.


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