The Unnatural Lusts Of Those Who Suppress The Truth

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Following a brief greeting and thanksgiving, Paul describes the punishment that God has reserved for those who suppress the truth: they have been "given up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever" (Rom 1:24). Three times Paul states that they were "given up" (paradidomi) by God to lust. God "gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity," "gave them up to dishonorable passions" (Rom 1:26), and "gave them up to a base mind" and "to do the things which are improper" (Rom 1:28). Their first mistake was refusing to recognize and honor God, resulting in futile thinking and foolishness, for they chose to worship "images resembling a mortal human being, or birds, or animals, or reptiles" rather than the immortal God (Rom 1:23). Therefore, God abandoned them to their desires, they have become consumed with dishonorable passions, they engage in "unnatural" sex,67 and they are filled with "all manner of injustice, wickedness, greediness and vice" (aSikia, novhpta, nleoveXia, kakia). The wrath of God has already been revealed, they are already experiencing the consequences of their idolatry, and those consequences are largely sexual: abandonment by God leads to "unnatural" sex and uncontrolled desire.68

The affinities between this description of corruption and traditional representations of the vices of the gentile idolaters are obvious.69 Gentiles were commonly associated with porneia, lust, adultery, incest, ho-moerotic sex, and bestiality. Paul never actually identified the target of his condemnation as "the gentiles," yet the stereotypical character of the accusations—especially the claim that they "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles" (Rom i:23)70—suggests that Paul expected his audience to think of gentiles here.71 Paul did not need to identify the targets of this invective because his audience would readily recognize the typical list of accusations against gentile idolaters. Judean authors frequently condemned the Egyptians for their worship of animals.72 As already noted, idolatry was persistently linked to fornication in Jewish literature from the Hebrew Bible to the Talmud.73 Paul reconfigured this common polemic—gentile idolaters are enslaved to lust—in order to further his argument that gentiles without Christ could not attain either salvation or self-mastery. The corrective Paul recommended for the pandemic state of gentile corruption was Christ, that is, joining the movement he supported.74 Paul began his letter to the saints in Rome by describing the degradation of the world in sexual terms, with desire (£TCi0U|mla), dishonorable passions (na0h aTi|mla~), and "unnatural" intercourse constituting the symptoms of the perverse world and God's just abandonment of it. By contrast, he identified those "in Christ" with purity and self-control, ascribing impurity and out-of-control lust to gentiles as a group. This tendency to formulate the break between Christ followers and the world in sexual terms can be found throughout the letter.

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