Since several people asked me to look at this passage, I'll try an
exegesis of it. If you find problems with my analysis, go ahead and give
my analysis your worst going over. On the other hand, if you want to
abuse me for even suggesting an alternative translation, please do not
post your flames to the list: if you must, send complaints to me personally.
Dia touto paredOken autous ho theos eis pathE atimias, hai te gar
thEleiai autOn metEllaksan tEn phusikEn khrEsin eis tEn para phusin;
homoiOs te kai hoi arsenes aphentes tEn phusikEn khrEsin tEs thEleias
eksekauthEsan en tEi oreksei autOn eis allElous, arsenes en arsesin tEn
askhEmosunEn katergazomenoi kai tEn antimisthian hEn edei tEs planEs
autOn en heautois apolambanontes.
"Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women
exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men
also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust
for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received
in themselves the due penalty for their perversion." (NIV)
Boswell (1980) argued that the passage was not mistranslated, but merely
misunderstood: that the people mentioned here are heterosexuals, since
they have a heterosexual nature to "exchange" and "abandon" before
pursuing homosexual-looking acts; thus their sin would be abandoning
their true natures as heterosexuals and that if the people in question
were intended as ordinary 100% homosexuals, Paul's argument about
"exchanging natural relations" and his broader point about people abandoning
original positions would collapse.
Richard Hays (1986) took issue with the interpretation of nature in this
passage. I will ignore his thesis, since I am satisfied it is wrong
(unless anyone wants to argue it), esp. because it is an argument with
little foundation in the Greek language of the text per se.
I argue contra Boswell that the passage is in fact mistranslated as well
as misinterpreted, and I think the correct translation casts more light
on the issues involved.
The first phrase is _Dia touto paredOken autous ho theos_ "On account of
this God handed them over." The "this" refers to the Gentiles' idolatry.
The word _paredOken_ seems to have been almost a legal term, for assigning
someone to an officer of the court to be taken to their punishment (John 19:16;
cf. Matt. 5:25--26). It does *not* refer to the punishment itself, which
is a mistake that leads Hays to assume that the following sins are
themselves God's punishment and judgment. The present tense in Rom. 1:18
"God's wrath is being revealed" is actually referring to the storing up
of God's wrath for the day of wrath (Rom. 2:5), that is, the *future*
Judgment Day, when God's actual punishment will be administered. Until
then, the sinners are simply in custody, having been "handed over."
The NIV takes quite a bit of liberty with rendering _pathE atimias_ as
"shameful lusts." Lusts, or covetings, are a favorite subject of Paul's,
as _epithumia_, a kind of Ten-Commandments-style greediness with only an
optional sexual-desire dimension. Here though we have _pathE_ which
refers to passion alone. _PathE_ both in etymology and usage are
*passive* feelings, feelings that happen *to* one, not feelings one sets
out to have; in more general Greek usage _pathE_ can refer to events that
happent *to* one. Boswell (1980) showed that _tim-/atim_- in NT usage
are equally passive: they are the honor or dishonor given to a person by
a community, regardless of the reason (Paul once refers to Christianity
as dishonorable in this sense - that it outrages the community). I would
render the phrase "dishonorable passions" or "dishonorable
emotional-reactions" ("passion" in English still implies too much
volition and deliberation: people "develop passions for gardening" in
English, whereas "pathE" in Greek more routinely refer to outbursts like
rage after an insult).
I'm taking this translation slow and easy, so I'll post the rest in
stages. Comments and relevant criticism welcome.