[Parental Warning For PG13 Content]
I always interpreted that Romans 1:26 described various lesbian activity. But Patristics indicates that some church fathers thought that the passage describes something else. This brief essay considers if the verse refers to the Old Testament prohibition of bestiality.
Consider Romans 1:24–27 NRSV:
 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves,  because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural,  and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.These verses refer to pagans who worshiped creatures instead of God and consequently became dominated by degrading passions that resulted in the pagans degrading their bodies with sexual immorality. Romans 1:26 refers to women who "exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural. Then 1:27 refers to men who "committed shameless acts with men," which clearly implies promiscuous anal sex among men.
Parallelism might indicate that Romans 1:26 referred to illicit female homosexual activity because 1:27 clearly indicated illicit male homosexual activity. However, patristics never agreed on the interpretation of 1:26.
Bernadette J. Brooten in "Patristic Interpretations of Romans 1.26" documents that the church fathers rarely commented about the degrading female activity in Romans 1:26 while the few who commented were divided between two interpretations. For example, Clement of Alexandria and John Chrysostom said that the degrading female activity was lesbian sex while Pope Anastasius and Augustine said that the degrading female activity was some type of illicit heterosexual sex.
I propose a third possible interpretation. Romans 1.26 referred to a type of degrading sexual activity explicitely prohibited in the Old Testament. For example, the Old Testament never prohibited or mentioned any type of lesbian activity while Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 specifically prohibited illicit practices of anal sex among men. Also, 18:23 and 20:15–16 specifically prohibits both males and females from bestiality, which is unnatural intercourse with animals. If Paul in Romans 1:26–27 referred to Old Testament prohibitions, then 1:26 could not have been a reference to lesbianism but possibly a reference to bestiality.
Does anybody agree or disagree?
Bernadette J. Brooten "Patristic Interpretations of Romans 1.26," Ninth International Conference on Patristic Studies, Oxford, September 1983 (published in Studia Patristica XVIII: Papers of the 1983 Patristics Conference. Vol. I: Historica-Theologica-Gnostica-Biblica, ed. Elizabeth A. Livingstone, Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian, 1985, 287–291), http://people.brandeis.edu/~brooten/Articles/Patrisitc_Interpretations_of_Romans_1_26.pdf.
Copyright © 2014 James Edward Goetz
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.