E. P. Sanders on Paul’s views about Sex and Homosexual Activity (Part 1)
I have always wanted how E. P. Sanders interprets the controversial passage of Romans 1: 25-7. In my reading of his new book, “Paul: Apostle’s Life, Letters and Thought” (Fortress Press, 2015), Sanders writes the following about Paul’s understanding of human sexuality and sexual relations:
“The most striking aspect of gentile sexual immorality was the ‘exchange’ of the ‘natural’ sexual connection between male and female for same-sex relationships (Rom. 1:25-7). ‘Natural’ sexual relations are those that could lead to conception.
For the modern reader, the elements of Paul’s vice lists that most require explanation are those that point to homosexual activity…If the statement in Rom. 1:26, that gentle women ‘exchange natural intercourse for unnatural,’ stood alone, this might mean that women performed anal or oral sex with men, rather than vaginal, but the following verse indicates that Paul had homosexual activity in mind:
“in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for another” (1:27).
Male homosexuality is also condemned in 1 Cor. 6:9, where Paul refers to pornoi, which we have already seen can appropriately be translated “the sexual immoral,” and to malakoi and arsenokoitai, which the NRSV translates “male prostitutes and sodomites.”
Pornoi (“the sexually immoral”): all those people of whose sexual behavior Paul disapproves
Malakoi (“catamites”: males who are the passive recipients of anal intercourse
Arsenokoitai: males who penetrate catamites” —Sanders, “Paul,” 343-4)