[26] For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,
[27] and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.

These verses form a single sentence, connected directly to the preceding words by for this reason. Paul does not depart from his theme at this point. These verses are not some separated, a-contextual leap into another subject. The theme continues without a break. But here Paul teaches that because of the idolatry of mankind God gives men over to degrading passions (NASB), shameful lusts (NIV), vile passions (NKJV). However the phrase is translated, it is obviously referring to desires and passions that are dishonorable and indicative of Gods judgmentupon those who indulge in selfish, lustful behavior.

Paul then gives a particularly fitting example of these degrading passions, one that illustrates twistednessat the very core of human identity. He first mentions lesbianism, describing, clearly, adult, mutual lesbian activity. This is seen in the description given in both verses 26 and 27, for verse 27 begins with and in the same way,indicating that the description of male homosexual activity in that verse is parallel to the lesbian activity in verse 26. Hence, the description of lesbianism as against naturein verse 26 would apply to male homosexuality as well, and the description of mutuality and indecent acts in verse 27 would apply to lesbian activity as well.

There is a note of sadness in Pauls words, “for even their women….” The female, as a result of the twistedness of sin, exchanges the natural sexual function (the most basic meaning of the words Paul uses) for that which is against nature. This is a voluntary act. These women exchangethe natural function for that which is against nature. There is choice involved here, a choice that expresses the twistedness of the rebellion against the Creator that Paul is illustrating. The natural sexual functionis still known to these women, but they choose to exchange it. Paul uses the very same term he had used in the preceding verse, “exchanging the truth of God for the lie,” so obviously this exchange carries the same negative character: the exchange of Gods truth for a lie is the same as exchanging the natural sexual use for the unnatural. The choice is purposeful in the first, and it is in the second as well.


The meaning of against nature is defined by the context. The word translated sexual function is not ambiguous or questionable. The conjunction of the word for natural is likewise clear, and the resulting phrase natural sexual function is easily understood both by Pauls original audience and by any unbiased person today. He is referring to the way God created human beings, male and female, and the sexual union that takes place between a man and a woman. This is what has been exchangedin the downward spiral of sinfulness. God created women with a natural sexual function. When one rebels against Gods truth and exchanges it for a lie, that lie impacts everything else in ones life. The natural function is exchanged for that which is against nature, that is, unnatural, against the created order.

Verse 27 is a continuation of the same thought. It begins in the same way, tying the two verses together without question. Verse 26 spoke of the women, and verse 27 begins the men. The men abandoned or leftthe natural use of the woman. Paul uses the same words here he used of lesbianism: these men have abandoned (another word of choice) the natural sexual use of the woman (natural relations, NIV). Gods intention in the sexual expression of His creatures is to be between a man and a woman, just as it was with Adam and Eve. This is the natural sexual function. But these men abandon this. They know what it is, but they reject it, they leave it.

Paul’s description of homosexuality is clear and without compromise. They burned in their desire toward one another (NASB) is rendered by the NIV, “were inflamed with lust for one another.” Both terms speak clearly of sexual lust and desire. These desires are consuming. Such would point us toward an on-going lifestyle, not a single incident of sexual debauchery. And these desires are mutual. The desire goes both ways, one homosexual man desiring another, and vice-versa. This point is important to remember in reference to revisionist attempts to blunt the force of this passage.

The mutuality of this desire is emphasized by the phrase men with men. The apostle leaves no doubt as to his reference: adult homosexuals. And these are activemen. They act upon their desires, accomplishing what Paul identifies as literally the shameful deed, or as it is rendered by the NASB and NIV, indecent acts. The term comes from an old word that referred to something as “deformed,” and hence flows into the concept of perversion and deviation that is part and parcel of this section of the chapter. There is no possible way of reading this term as referring to anything neutral or simply unusual or out of the norm. Paul views homosexual activity as shameful or indecent.

This fact is further proven by the final phrase of verse 27. He writes, and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. Man cannot expect to engage in deviant activity without receiving the due penalty. While interpreters differ over the extent and meaning of the penalty and how it is received in their own persons, a number of facts are beyond question. First, the fact that a penalty or punishment is attached to the error of performing these shameful deeds reinforces the understanding that these are sinful deeds, worthy of retribution. Second, this is a due or necessary punishment. It is fitting that such deeds receive a penalty: God’s justice demands that the twisting of His created order receive a punitive response. And third, their error is not merely a miscalculation as we might use the term error today. Indeed, a better rendering of this term, which often is used in the New Testament to refer to being misled or drawn from the right path, is perversion, just as the NIV renders it, the due penalty for their perversion.

As to what it means that they receive the penalty due to their error in their own persons, opinions differ. Some believe, along with John Chrysostom, one of the leading commentators of the early Christian Church, that the penalty referred to in this passage is the sexual perversion itself. It becomes a cycle, the sin degrading the sinner who is trapped by his or her own lusts. Others would believe this to refer to their final punishment, that they will receive in their own personsthe penalty due their blatant violation of His will. Of course, with the spread of the AIDS epidemic many have attempted to connect this passage with the disease, however, AIDS impacts non-homosexual offenders as well, and not everyhomosexual offender receives this punishment, and surely from Pauls perspective, whatever this punishment is, all those who engage in this behavior receive the due penalty for their perversion.
The Same Sex Controversy, pp. 116-121.

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