The Table Briefing: Sexuality And Paul’s Transcultural Message In Romans 1:18-32 -- By: Darrell L. Bock
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The Table Briefing:
Sexuality And Paul’s Transcultural Message In Romans 1:18-32
Mikel Del Rosario
Darrell L. Bock is Senior Research Professor in New Testament Studies and Executive Director of Cultural Engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas. Mikel Del Rosario is cultural engagement assistant.
Entering into a conversation about same-sex sexuality in the public square can seem like an intercultural experience for many Christians. In a context where the church is under more and more pressure to conform to cultural views of sexuality, believers must be equipped to understand the Biblical view of this important topic.
On an episode of the Table Podcast called “The New Testament View of Same-Sex Sexuality,” Jay Smith, Joe Fantin, Darrell Bock, and Robert Chisholm discussed key New Testament passages, including Romans 1:18-32. When it comes to understanding a Christian perspective on sexuality, this is one of the most discussed texts in the New Testament. Here, Paul frames the conversation in terms of God’s original intent, presenting a transcultural argument for the idea that all people are in need of the Gospel. In order to appreciate the force of his conviction in this passage, it is important to see the contrast between his view, rooted in Judaism, and Greco-Roman views of natural and unnatural sexual expression. How did Paul’s first readers tend to think about sexuality?
Cultural Views of Sexuality
While Rome was one of the most sophisticated cultures, it was also one of the most depraved; where hedonism was rampant. Indeed, many forms of sexual expression were commonplace which were outside the norm of Paul’s Jewish background. How did Paul’s readers understand
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sexuality within their cultural context?
Rather than defining sexuality in terms of heterosexual or homosexual contexts, Greco-Roman society focused more on which partner took either an active or passive role in the sexual experience. In this, many perceived one’s social status as a more important factor than one’s gender. For example, only certain kinds of people were expected to take either an active or passive role in the sexual experience. Fantin explains:
Fantin: A Roman male citizen could only be an active individual, whereas a woman really could only be a passive individual. . . . In addition to women, you could have slaves—both men and women--that could be passive and . . . boys as well; usually, they wouldn’t be citizens.
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