Romans – The Gospel of God (Part 54)

For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” Romans 1:26-27

In our last part of this study, we looked at Paul’s claim that the human race had made a terrible “exchange” by changing the glory of God for an image made like corruptible man and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things and by changing the truth of God for “the lie.”

In today’s study, we will begin looking at some of the bad results from what the Apostle Paul described as “foolish.”

δια τουτο παρεδωκεν αυτους ο θεος

This is the second time in Romans that Paul has used the phrase “God gave them up.” In verse 24, Paul wrote – “Therefore God also gave them up to to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.” In verse 26, he wrote – “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions.”

The “uncleanness” that God gave them up to resulted in “lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves.” He called this lust and dishonor “vile passions.”

παθη ατιμιας

“vile passions” is a translation of the Greek words παθη ατιμιας. The word παθη (passion, emotion) comes from πάσχω, which means “to feel heavy emotion, passion.” The word ατιμιας (disgrace, dishonor) comes from ἄτιμος, which means “without honor, despised.”

Translators have used many English words to describe παθη ατιμιας –

  • sinful desires
  • shameful lusts
  • dishonorable passions
  • shameful things
  • vile affections
  • degrading passions
  • degrading lust
  • evil desires
  • vile lusts
  • passions of dishonor
  • shameful affections
  • shameful passions
  • disgraceful passions
  • evil things
  • vile pursuits
  • wrong things
  • passions of shame

All of them agree with the basic meaning of the Greek words: God gave people up to a life of expressing the worst kinds of evil with each other – evil that is disgraceful, shameful and degrading. What would the worst kind of evil expression be between people?

The Evil Exchange

τε γαρ θηλειαι αυτων μετηλλαξαν την φυσικην χρησιν εις την παρα φυσιν

“For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.”

One literal translation into English – “both indeed females of them changed the natural use into that contrary to nature.”

Another literal translation into English is – “even for females of them changed the natural use to the use against nature.”

Why Paul’s continued emphasis on “changed” and “exchanged” in this context? The theme of this part of Paul’s letter to the Romans concerns the wrath of God revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. Even though people knew the truth, they suppressed the truth “in unrighteousness.” Paul reached back in time to the “creation of the world” and how God’s invisible attributes were clearly seen, “being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”

The word μετηλλαξαν means “change, transform, alter, exchange.” This is the third time Paul has used the word:

vs 22-23 – “Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”

vs. 25 – “who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”

vs. 26 – “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.”

People changed the “glory of the incorruptible God” into an image made like corruptible man, birds, four-footed animals, and creeping things (e.g. idols) and exchanged the “truth of God” for a lie. God responded by giving them up to uncleanness to dishonor their bodies among themselves and to vile passions.

We need to return to Genesis 1 & 2 for a moment to understand where this is headed.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” That’s where everything begins. God existed before anything – time, space, heavens, earth, people. He created the heavens and the earth and everything in it. God created time and space – and people.

Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:26-28

We see in these early verses of Genesis that God did something quite remarkable. He created human beings (male and female) in “Our image, according to Our likeness.”

Notice that God first said “Let Us make man in Our Image, according to Our Likeness.” That is significant in light of what He said about creating matter and creatures prior to man. In the previous creative process, God said – “Let there be.” With the creation of man, God said – “Let Us make.”

  • “Let there be light”
  • “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters”
  • “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place”
  • “let the dry land appear”
  • “Let the earth bring forth grass”
  • “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens”
  • “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures”
  • “let birds fly above the earth”
  • “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind”
  • “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness”

God changed His language during the creative process, I believe, to express the “personal” relationship He would have the humans who He would make in “Our image, according to Our likeness.”

The Hebrew reads –

כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ אָדָ֛ם נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה

The Hebrew word for man, אָדָם, transliterates as adam.

God first said “Let Us make adam in our Image, according to Our likeness;” then He said “let them have dominion.” That’s the Hebrew word  וְיִרְדּוּ֩ (plural). Who is “them”?

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them …”

Genesis 1:27 continues the creative explanation by stating that God created adam (man – אָדָם), in His own image (צֶ֫לֶם); male (זָכָר – zakar) and female (נְקֵבָה – neqebah) He created them. The “man” God created is male and female. God created adam (man) in His (Our) image and likeness and that image was male and female. As we know now and the ancients knew then, male and female are sexual distinctions. Boys and girls are different. Men and women are different. How? The primary difference between the male and female adam is their reproductive and sexual anatomy. This is important to our understanding of what Paul presents in Romans 1.

We see the “image” and “likeness” of God when we see male and female together. How did God demonstrate this to the male who He created first?

And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’ Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.” Genesis 2:18-20

God said that it was not good that man should be alone – (בַּד – bad), which means “separation, apart.” Because God created adam in His (Our) image and likeness and that image and likeness was male (zakar) and female (neqebah), God brought every living creature to the male adam and told him to give them names. The male adam saw that the cattle, birds and beast of the field came before him in pairs (male and female) and would have seen that he did not have a helper (עֵ֫זֶר – ezer) comparable (נֶ֫גֶד – neged) to him. God put the male adam to sleep and created the female adam from the male’s rib. God brought the female to the male and the male said –

“This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” Genesis 2:23

Some scholars believe the Hebrew words zō’t happa‘am (זֹ֣את הַפַּ֗עַם) have an exclamatory nature – “This is now!” The male saw the female and realized they were a completed pair even as he had seen the animals in pairs.

The next words of the text demonstrate an understanding from the earliest time that sexual union was understood to be between male and female in a marriage relationship –

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Genesis 2:24

It’s interesting to see that the word “female” is neqebah and the word “comparable” is neged. There is a special comparability/suitability with male and female in God’s purpose and design. Important to remember that male and female together are how God made man (adam) in His (Our) image and likeness.

Even as the male named all of the living creatures God brought to him, he named the female adam God brought to him. He named her “Woman” (נָשִׁים – ishshah – wife) because she was taken “out of Man” (זֹאת לָקַח אּישׁ – zoth laqach ish).

As we continue to read Paul’s words in Romans 1, we must remember that the image of God is male and female together. That  will guide us in understanding why Paul wrote what he wrote.

God gave humans the highest position on the earth He created. They would have “dominion” (רָדָה – reign, rule) over the fish, the birds, the cattle, the earth and every creeping thing.” They would co-rule the earth with God. That’s the plan God had for humans.

God created humans to reproduce through sexual union – “Be fruitful and multiply.” Genesis 2:24 reads, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The words “be joined” come from the Hebrew word  דָּבַק (cling, cleave, keep close). This joining together included physical, sexual, emotional, mental and social closeness (“one flesh” – echad basar). God’s idea of creating humans to have dominion over the earth and everything in it would include a closeness that included all aspects of who they were as humans. 

God’s words to the male and female (הָאָ֖רֶץ אֶת־ וּמִלְא֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ פְּר֥וּ) tell us much about the type of relationship God intended for male and female to have together as they represented the image of God on earth. The word parah means “to bear fruit, be fruitful.” The word  rabah means “multiply, grow great, increase, make large.” The word mala means “be filled, to fill.” The word erets means “land, earth.” God commanded the male and female to be fruitful, multiply in number and size, and fill up the land (earth). What mechanism did God create within the male and female to accomplish this command? Sexual intercourse leading to pregnancy and birth of new males and females. The sexual relationship male and female have together is interwoven into their design as being the image and likeness of God. They become

Why This Is Important to God

Look again at what God said about creating humans – “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” God created the heavens and the earth; He created angels and animals, birds and fish. Yet, the only created being that would share in the “likeness” (דְּמוּת – likeness, similitude) was humans. The Hebrew word comes from the root דָּמָה which means “be like, resemble.” 

When a man and woman (male and female) come together as husband and wife, they are expressing the image of God on earth. When they have a sexual relationship that brings new males and females into the world, they are being fruitful, multiplying and filling the earth.

Look at Romans 1:24-25 again –

Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever

Can you imagine anything more honoring than for the Almighty God to create a living being that would be in His “likeness”? Can you imagine anything more dishonorable than for humans to “exchange” that great honor for something as demeaning as worship and service for idols and dishonoring their bodies among themselves? 

God created humans for the greatest experience imaginable – being made in the image and likeness of God and ruling the earth with Him – and how have humans repaid His great honor? by worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator and dishonoring their bodies among themselves.

How have humans done that?

Against Nature

Paul began with a description of what women did with each other in ways that he described as “against nature.”

He chose to use the word θηλειαι for “women.” It comes from a root word for the female breast and means “to suckle.” It speaks to the sexual “function” of a woman, not sexual “desire.” Only a female is designed to give birth and suckle a child.

This is important to note for multiple reasons. One is how that word is used in the Greek New Testament. Another reason is that there are other words for “women” in the Greek that Paul did not choose to use. Paul was a highly educated person and knew Greek and Hebrew very well. He was a wordsmith and selected the right word for each situation.

The word θηλειαι is used five times in the New Testament –

And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Matthew 19:4-6

And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” Mark 10:5-9

“For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.” Romans 1:26

“Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” Romans 1:27

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

All other uses of the word “woman” and “women” in the New Testament come from these Greek words:

  • γυνή (a woman, wife, my lady)
  • γυναικάριον ( a woman, a poor weak woman, a silly woman)
  • πρεσβῦτις (an old woman)

Paul chose to use a specific word for “women” (θηλειαι) that specifically addressed their function for childbearing (including childrearing) within the human race.

What did Paul say the females did?

They “changed” (exchanged – μετηλλαξαν) the “natural use” (φυσικην χρησιν) for “what is against nature” (εις την παρα φυσιν).

We’ll look at what that means in the next part of our study on the Book of Romans.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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