Heterosexism and the Interpretation of Romans 1:18-32

In: Biblical Interpretation
Dale B. Martin
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This article, concentrating on two articles by Richard Hays, critiques recent interpretations of Rom. 1:18-32. Modern interpreters, influenced more by particularly modern forms of heterosexism and its construction of homosexuality, desire, and "nature" than by a straightforward historical-critical reading of Paul's letter, portray Paul as referring to the "Fall" of Genesis 1-3 in Romans 1. Paul, it is assumed, takes homosexuality to be a sign of "humanity's fallen state." These interpreters, therefore, inscribe homosexual desire into universal fallen humanity in a way that Paul does not do. For one thing, Paul is referring not to the Fall in Romans 1 but to the invention of idolatry and polytheism by the Gentiles; homosexual intercourse is therefore not a symptom of "the Fall" but of Gentile polytheism. For another, Paul is not giving an etiology of homosexual desire, which for him as for most ancients was not different from heterosexual desire, but an etiology of homosexual intercourse. Furthermore, modern scholars misconstrue Paul's references to "nature" and acts "contrary to nature" because they import into Paul's discourse particularly modern notions of "natural" and "unnatural" not available in the ancient world. Heterosexist scholars interpret Paul the way they do not because they are simply and objectively "reading the text," as they claim, but because of their implication in homophobia, a particularly modern ideological system that constructs desire, "nature," and sexuality in particular ways.

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