Clobber Passage: Romans 1:26-27

Romans 1:26-27 is one of the most popular Clobber Passages ever. I’m sure many of you have received emails with the verses pasted in, as though you had never read them before. Sometimes fourteen verses are pasted in, verses 18-32. People apparently think that no comment is required, that the verses speak for themselves.


Dialogue with Charlotte

Howard:  Charlotte, can we talk?

Charlotte:  Sure, Howard.  I was hoping we would talk again.

Howard:  I’m sorry, but when I think about homosexuality, I always have to go back to Romans 1.

Charlotte:  That’s understandable, Howard. It is a central chapter for you guys. Plus, Romans really is a terrific book. It’s very, very deep.

Howard:  Okay. What do you do with Romans 1:26-27? Let me read it to you. “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.  Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”

How do you get around that? That is very clear to me.

Charlotte:  I don’t try to get around scripture, Howard.  I just read it as carefully as I can. Do me a favor, okay?  There’s something strange in that verse. Maybe you can explain it.

Howard:  Okay.

Charlotte:  Can you explain this part? It says the men “received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” What’s that about? What is the “due penalty” for their error?

Howard:  Well, I think AIDS fits that.

Charlotte:  So you think AIDS is a judgment from God? AIDS didn’t exist in humans until the 1970s. I thought you guys gave up that line a long time ago.

Howard:  Okay, so it didn’t have to be AIDS. It could be any venereal disease.

Charlotte:  Alright, but even straight couples can get STDs. So I still don’t know what Paul’s thinks is the “due penalty” for same-sex relationships.

Howard:  It doesn’t have to be STDs.  You know how gay guys are, all flambouyant and talking with a swish.

Charlotte:  A swish? You mean a lisp? You don’t really think that speech impediments are a penalty, do you? A penalty from God?

Howard:  What’s that got do do with anything?

Charlotte:  Well, you are quoting the verse, and I was just asking you what it meant, but apparently you don’t.  But it’s okay that you don’t know what it means, that thing about “due penalty.” You know what? I don’t either!

Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s going on in Paul’s mind, to know exactly what he means.  Plus, this was written 2,000 years ago, you know, in the middle east. There are a lot of differences in culture and language between now and then. It’s impossible to understand everything in the Bible perfectly. It wasn’t written in English, after all!

Howard:  Yes, but that’s just a minor thing. A penalty is a penalty, no matter what the penalty is. What’s important is to realize that these verses were written to prove that homosexuality is a sin.

Charlotte:  But Howard, that’s not really true.

Howard:  What? Of course they were!

Charlotte:  Howard, if you really want to know why Paul wrote this, you have to read it in context. Look at the beginning of chapter two. Read the first several verses of chapter two. Notice the “You, therefore.” I think that’s talking to you.

Howard:   You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?”

Hmm, I never read that before. But I’m not gay, Charlotte. It says, “you who pass judgment do the same things.” I don’t do the same things they do–it doesn’t apply to me.

Charlotte:  Really?

Howard:  C’mon, Charlotte. You think I’m gay?

Charlotte:  No, but do you think you’re in a position to judge gays and lesbians just because you’re not gay?

Howard:  I don’t judge anybody. I just go with what the Word of God says.

Charlotte:  Howard, do you know how many “sins” are listed in Romans 1? I count 28. Nice, easy number to remember: 25 sins of the depraved mind, plus idolatry, fornication, and homosexuality. So there are 28 sins in Romans 1, and all we hear about is one of them, homosexuality. What’s with that?

Howard:  That’s not totally true. I hear plenty about fornication, But homosexuality is different from those other sins.

Charlotte:  How so?

Howard:  It’s a perversion. The Bible says it’s an abomination.

Charlotte:  Worse than idolatry and fornication?

Howard:  Yes. Uh, no, not exactly. We know that all sins are equal in the sight of God. But some have worse consequences than others.

Charlotte:  So why did you first say yes, that homosexuality is worse than idolatry and fornication?

Howard:  Because the sins in Romans 1 get worse and worse. Idolatry leads to fornication, which leads to homosexuality.

Charlotte:  Which leads to the sins of the depraved mind?

Howard:  Yes, which leads to the sins of the depraved mind.

Charlotte:  Do you remember what those sins are?

Howard:  Well, there’s wickedness, murder, depravity. You counted twenty-five, right?

Charlotte:  Did you know that gossip is on that list? Gossip is a sin of the depraved mind.

Howard:  I see what you’re getting at. But gossip is different from homosexuality. There’s no way you can compare them.

Charlotte:  And why is that?

Howard:  Homosexuality is a sin against your own body. People were stoned for being homosexuals. Gossip is not an abomination.

Charlotte:  Okay, so homosexuals should be executed? You don’t think that, do you?

Howard:  Du-uh.  No, not today. We live under grace now. We don’t execute people.

Charlotte:  But homosexuality is still worse than gossip. So we don’t execute gays and lesbians, but it’s okay to kick them out of a church if they refuse to repent, right?

Howard:  It’s always hard to disfellowship someone, but there are times when it is necessary. If we don’t maintain Biblical standards, then why bother at all?

Charlotte:  Howard, have I ever heard you gossip? Does anyone in your church gossip?

Howard:  I try not to gossip too much, but you’ve probably heard me gossip. And there are a couple of people in my church who really gossip. I avoid talking to them. But if you’re trying to compare gossip and homosexuality, there’s just no way. Apples and oranges.

Charlotte:  I’m sorry, Howard, but I am not comparing apples and oranges. You just need to read Romans 1 for yourself instead of just accepting what you’ve heard it means.

Howard:  Okay, where am I wrong this time? I’m sure you’ve got it there somewhere.

Charlotte:  Howard, please don’t feel that way.  I’m not trying to prove that you’re wrong and I’m right.  It’s just that I know you try to live according to the Bible, and I know you wouldn’t deliberately hurt people.  You okay?

Howard:  Yes, I’m okay. (pause) Keep going.

Charlotte:  Howard, it says there in Romans 1 that people who gossip deserve to die. This verse comes after 25 sins of the depraved mind. Read that last verse.

Howard:  (pause) “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.”

Charlotte:  Howard, you’re guilty of a capital crime, and so are those two really bad gossips in your church. This verse says all three of you deserve death.  Have you ever repented of gossiping?

Howard:  Well, I feel bad about it. But that’s not the same as repenting, I know.

Charlotte:  And what has been done about the two people you mentioned?

Howard:  Well, nothing. One’s about my age, and then there’s an older woman–you know, she’s too old to change.

Charlotte:  So you attend a church where sins of the depraved mind are tolerated. You tolerate them, you more or less tolerate the sin in yourself.  You’re guilty of capital offenses, even though you know that those who do such things deserve death. But we don’t execute people today, we just kick them out of our churches.

Howard:  (pause) Yeah.

Charlotte:  And why do you tolerate gossip.  I know why I tolerate gossip, but why do you tolerate gossip?

Howard:  (pause)  Probably because I gossip myself sometimes, and I know that some people just can’t change. Or won’t change. They’re not evil, they just gossip. The gossip bothers me, but I cut them a little slack, I guess.

Charlotte:  Howard, this is the real reason Romans 1 was written, to get the Christians in Rome to stop judging people. You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself.

When Paul’s specific intention was to get us to stop judging and condemning one another and we turn around and use those very verses to judge and condemn people–talk about perversion. We pervert the very Bible we say we believe.

So why can’t you cut gays and lesbians the same slack you cut for yourself and the people in your church?

Howard:  I’m not really sure.  Let me think about it.

Charlotte:  That’s fine.  You’re not accountable to me, Howard.  I’m just your friend.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

[For more posts on the Clobber Passages, click here.]

About Ron Goetz

My first wife used to say, "There's nothing so sacred that Ron won't pick it apart." My desire to be a pastor -- that was a temperamental mismatch. She was so patient. If my birth mother had lived somewhere else, maybe I would've become a cold case detective. But I would have had to be J instead of a P, I think. And that mid-life reevaluation, starting adolescence as a GARB fundamentalist and transitioning to a non-theist, that gave me an unusual skill set.
This entry was posted in Clobber Passages, Dialogue with Charlotte, Gay Christians, Gay Marriage, Homosexual Marriage, Homosexuality, Homosexuality and the Bible, Marriage Equality, Paul Gays, Paul Homosexuality, Romans, Romans Gays, Romans Homosexuality, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Clobber Passage: Romans 1:26-27

  1. rjwalker918r says:

    The “clobber passage” begins with a pronoun: “24 Therefore God gave them over…

    Who is “them?” Pronouns refer to previous nouns, not subsequent.

    Thus, “them” refers to godless idolaters. It doesn’t refer to Christian in the first place.

    “Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” So for a woman who is born homosexual, “natural sexual relations” would be with other women–unnatural would be with men.

    Since checking to see who “they” are doesn’t support the understanding of many people, they just don’t even think about that factor in accurate reading of this passage.


  2. John says:


    I’m not sure I follow your reasoning: You said, “‘Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.’ So for a woman who is born homosexual, ‘natural sexual relations’ would be with other women–unnatural would be with men.”

    Romans 1:27 clarifies that for men, natural relations are with women, and unnatural relations are to be “inflamed with lust for one another.” This verse begins with “In the same way…” referring to the previous verse about women’s unnatural relations. What’s true for men is verse 27, is also true for women in verse 26: Natural relations are opposite sex relations. Unnatural relations are same sex relations.


    I think Paul is taking Romans 1 to point out that Gentiles are sinners. He addresses the Jews in Romans 2 to point out that they are also guilty of sin. By chapter three he’s gotten to the point that we’re all sinners according to God’s law, leading to his further argument that there is now a righteousness by faith apart from the law. So, rather than telling Christians not to judge, he’s making the argument that Jewish people and pagans are all sinners who fall short of God’s glory, but can be justified through Jesus Christ.

    As Christians we are called to do righteous works, as fruit of the righteousness we’ve received by grace through faith. We are called to stop gossip and sexual immorality, and to live a life of repentance. Can one person’s sin, in or out of church, be used to justify someone else’s sin? I get the sense that you’re trying to argue for that.

    Just something to think about.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      John, you’re following the traditional, theology-centered outline for Romans, which is fine. Let me focus for a moment on who is talked to, and who is talked about.

      First, it is the Christians in Rome who are written to: “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people.”

      In verses 18-32, Paul talks about Gentiles.

      In Romans 2:1 Paul speaks to the Christians in Rome, “You, therefore, have no excuse, whoever you are who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.”

      Gentiles are talked about, Christians are personally talked to. Paul is meddling with Christians, not with Gentiles. In this passage, Paul warns the Roman Christians to repent, he doesn’t personally address the unsaved at all–they’re not reading the letter.

      John, Romans 2:1 contains the key word for understanding Romans 1, and the word is “therefore.” The word “therefore” explains the reason for everything that came prior. In official documents it works like this, “Whereas… Whereas… Whereas… Whereas… Therefore, be it resolved…”

      Romans 1: 18-32 is a lengthy “whereas,” Romans 2:1 is a “therefore” which is followed by another whereas (verses 1-5). This warning to Christian believers (not to gentiles) ends with, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”

      So I would differ with you about chapter 2 being a discussion directed toward Jews. It’s directed toward you and me.


    • Ron Goetz says:

      One more thing, John. As I said, in Romans 2:1-5 the focus is on my own sin, my own habit of judging and condemning others. Paul is exhorting me to stop judging, to refrain from condemning others–that’s pretty obvious. There’s no talk here of justifying anyone’s sin.


  3. John says:

    Although the opening of the letter is addressed, “to all in Rome who are loved by God…” could not Paul also be speaking to others at different points in his letter? Although I commend you for the personal application of Romans chapter 2, I maintain that Paul is speaking, at least hypothetically, to his Jewish brethren. The “you” of verses 1-5 becomes singular in Greek at this point. Paul addresses a hypothetical Torah observant (in that person’s own estimation), circumcised Jewish person, who relies on his own righteousness to judge those Gentiles talked about in chapter 1.

    From verse 17 through the end of the chapter this becomes clear:
    If you call yourself a Jew
    if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God
    If you know his will and approve of what is superior because
    you are instructed by the law

    Look at verse 27:
    The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

    God is not storing up wrath for you and me, if we’re Christians:

    Romans 5:9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!

    1Thessalonians 1:8 The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia — your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

    1Thessalonians 5:9 For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Also, in Romans 2:
    7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8 But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.

    “Eternal life” is juxtaposed with “wrath and anger” in this verse. This is Good News for the believer! We are not appointed to suffer God’s wrath! We are now implored to live a life worthy of the calling we received, which includes putting gossip, sexual immorality and other works of the flesh to death.

    To say that Paul is exhorting you to stop judging others is pretty universal. Are there any exceptions? Are we not called to judge brothers, sisters and situations within the body of Christ? I know that I’m a gossip sometimes, and I repent when the Spirit and others make me aware. I have the intention of never doing it again. But about those who willfully, habitually, enjoyably sin, or deny that their activity is sin, there are guidelines in God’s Word for dealing with those people – although lovingly, carefully, prayerfully, and humbly!

    “Therefore” does in fact provide a key for understanding Romans 1. “Therefore, you Jewish people who would judge the Gentiles by your righteousness, your righteousness is nothing either…” is the sense I get from it. Sometimes traditional turns out to be true.


    • Sheree says:

      John. Thanks for a succinct response. I have really been struggling with the issue of homosexual “marriage” and the claims of bigotry that are being aimed at Christians who support keeping marriage as defined between a man and a woman. I think it is a real stretch under any interpretation to believe that homosexuality is not a sin. While all have sinned (in various ways) and fallen short of the glory of God, the main difference I see here is the attempt to justify homosexuality and thus refuse to repent and seek the forgiveness that God so freely gives. As Christians, we are called to live righteous lives and we do so to honor Christ. We will fall down in our sinful nature repeatedly, but we will seek forgiveness at the leading of the Holy Spirit. So, should Christians avoid the controversy and the bigotry label by just laying low and essentially condoning gay marriage in the guise of loving everyone as Jesus would have loved? I don’t think so. Jesus loved the money changers in the temple, but demonstrated his disagreement. Time and again, he demonstrated love for the sinners, but called them to repentance for forgiveness of their sins. The media has given our children such a distorted view of life now that “anything goes”. Condoning gay marriage is just one more step further away from the life God intended for his children. Still, I struggle with how to handle these issues with the same love that Jesus would have shown. What so many seem to miss is that it doesn’t do much good to quote scripture to a non-believer, since the Bible holds no authority to them.


  4. Pingback: What happens when you ask God or legislators to discriminate? | Susan Campbell

  5. Neal Grose says:

    As a biologist, my understanding of this goes back to verse 22:

    22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

    23 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.

    24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:

    Paul is reflecting the traditional Jewish understanding that we Gentiles have gay sex BECAUSE we worship idols and have an excess of sexual lust. These peole witnessed their domestic animals engaging in homosexual acts – particularly cattle, which are almost universally bisexual.

    I think he is wrong. I have seen too many children that I know to be good and moral people grow up knowing that they are homosexual. That homosexuality is intrinsic to who they are. I want them to have a whole life. Part of that wholeness means that they share love with a partner and soul-mate.


  6. Isa Kocher says:

    natural. unnatural. in koine greek natural and unnatural referred not to aquinas natural law. natural referred to local culture. so flying would be unnatural. toothepaste would be unnatural. under the law of rome a man who was sexually penetrated by another man lost his rights to procreate or own property or pass property on in inheritence. paul clearly refers to men who were heterosexual. men putting aside social responsibility. paul doesn’t say sinful. he says unnatural. those who choose to read it as sinful and unforgiveable pervert romans whereby everything can and is forgiving even acting outrageously and irresponsibly. rip away the 2 or 3 hundreds of years of homophobic diatribe and all reference to “homosexuality” a concept foreign to koine greek, disappears.


  7. Isa Kocher says:

    as for abomination leviticus is even further removed from any concept of “homosexuality” and whatever is described by sleeping in your wife’s bed it is not a gay relationship because the hebrew uses two distinctly different nouns referring to householder male with coitus rights and a nonhouseholder male with no rights. it’s not gay relationships in any case. god knows what it was but we sure in heck don’t.


  8. There are several other ways to reply to this, I’ll give it a shot. When Howard first brings up AIDS, I think the better response would be a wicked heart, which leads to going to hell. That’s a pretty different course of action.


So what are you thinking?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s