Posted by: chuckbumgardner | November 24, 2007

Exegetical Gymnastics in Romans 1

As I continue through David L. Balch’s article, “Paul, Families, and Households” (Paul in the Greco-Roman World: A Handbook, ed. J. Paul Sampley [Trinity Press, 2003]), I find some astonishing exegetical gymnastics.  In commenting on Paul’s attitude toward sexuality in Romans 1, Balch interprets the term “natural” (fusikos, 1:26-27) not in terms of heterosexuality (vs. homosexuality), but in terms of a moderation of sexual activity: “When desire is insatiable, addictive, it is ‘against nature'” (278).  Balch claims that what Paul has in mind here is limiting the pleasure of sex by satisfaction, just as a wise person with a full stomach limits eating.  “This use of ‘natural’ does not raise the question of the gender of either the subject or the object of sexual desire” (277).

It is striking, I think, that Balch never discusses the significance of Paul’s contrast in Romans 1:26-27 between men and women as the objects of sexual desire!

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

I fail to see the point of Paul’s contrast if Balch’s understanding is correct.


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