Romans

Robinson cites the text of Romans 1:20-28, which the King James Version reads:

“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” – Romans 1:20-28 KJV

In his commentary on this passage, Robinson writes:

“The Romans passage states that God has turned his back on the ungodly and wicked – most especially those who have given up the one true God for idols . . . In particular, he [Paul] is singling out the misguided practice of idolatry, rampant in the ancient world and contrary to God’s will, in which ‘they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.’ In response to their devotion to idols, says Paul, ‘God gave them up to degrading passions.’ Paul would have been very aware that some idolatrous cults practiced temple prostitution as one of their devotional activities. Temple prostitutes were used for sexual acts – by both men and women – as a symbol of devotion to the idol. It is not clear that this is what Paul was referring to, but it is a practice that would have been familiar to him and denounced by him.”1

Robinson is suggesting that Paul’s writing in Romans 1 is focused on two elements: idol worship and temple prostitution. A bit later, Robinson writes “what is clear is that these practices are related to the worship of idols – and clearly not what we are talking about today.”2 Does Robinson’s argument stand the test of exegesis? Let’s take a look.

Robinson only cited verses 20 through 28, but let’s encompass a few more verses to gain some critical context (additional context highlighted in blue):

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” – Romans 1:18-32 KJV

The question to keep in mind is this – was Paul only addressing idol worshipers? Or was Paul including idol worshipers as an example? In verse 18, Paul prefaces his entire text with “for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” In the following verses, Paul consistently uses several third-person pronouns: they, their, and them. The key is who is they? These individuals are identified in verse 18: “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” It is not a singling out of idolaters.

To be consistent if Paul is only speaking of the immorality of homosexuality in the context of idol worship via prostitution, and therefore non-idolatrous homosexuality is acceptable, then the other sins listed by Paul must be acceptable provided they are not connected with idol worship. Does this make sense? From verse 29 and on, Paul mentions several sins: unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, debate, deceit, etc. Is Paul saying that these sins only apply to idolaters? Again, of whom is Paul speaking? Go back to verse 18. We find that Paul is clearly not singling out idol worship, but rather he is making a blanket statement regarding God’s wrath toward all ungodliness.


1. Robinson, God Believes in Love, pp. 85-86
2. Robinson, God Believes in Love, p. 87