- For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet. (Romans 1:26-27)
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections:
For what cause? Who did God give up? Obviously, this verse cannot stand on its own because it is simply incomplete. The surrounding verses give insight into who and what Paul was referring to.
- For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
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.
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 1:18-25 KJV)
for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
Contrary to popular belief, this verse actually makes no reference to lesbian sex whatsoever. Instead, it states that the women altered the natural use of sexual intercourse. In Paul's day, the "natural" order in sex involved a male taking the dominant role and a female or a younger male taking the submissive role. A common practice of sacred prostitution in its day was to practice the role of the opposite sex in order to defy gender norms in service to their gods (this practice was forbidden in Deuteronomy 22:5). The Galli*, for example, were men who dressed themselves like women, slathering on makeup and wigs and even openly castrating themselves for others to see. The female equivalent would wear men's armor to achieve a similar effect (though it was not as shameful to society as the men) and would position themselves as dominant over the submissive males.
However, the phrase "against nature" [para physis in Greek] does not exactly refer to defying the natural order of things. In fact, para actually means "beside" or "beyond." The phrase para physin refers to something that is beyond nature, or beyond the natural use, rather than something completely contrary.
Paul may have been directed by the philosophical idea of his time that homosexual sex (particularly male/male sex) was an extended form of male sexuality. Males, according to several Greek philosophers, were attracted to both sexes, but sex with another male was seen as excessive and driven only by lust. This would explain his use of the more subjective term atimia, meaning "disgraceful" or "dishonorable" rather than "vile" in an ethical sense, and aschēmosynē, meaning "shameful" in a sexual sense. Paul's use of para physin could very well illustrate that these men were engaging their lust so much that they were willing to transcend their nature to commit lewd, indecent acts in public without feeling a morsel of shame or regret.
In conclusion, although Paul seemed to have formulated some of his own views on homosexuality due to the ideas of that time, that does not seem to be the focus of this passage. The point he appears to be getting across is that abandoning God and denying his power and authority will lead to great consequences and severe moral degradation. Gays and lesbians are neither condemned nor mentioned in the passage; it primarily refers to the participants in sexualized cults.