Thursday, July 23, 2009

φυσικὴν χρῆσιν?

Today, I read part of another chapter in J. Paul Sampley's Paul in the Greco-Roman World titled 'Paul, Families, and Households' by David L. Balch. So far it's been very interesting and good read overall, but I knew somewhere down the line I would run into something that would raise my eyebrows and today was it:

"Another key text for understanding Paul's attitude toward sexuality is Rom 1. Focusing on Greco-Roman philosophic and literary ways of conceptualizing sexual matters, Fredrickson concludes that 'in Romans 1:24-27 Paul points to the problem of passion without introducing the modern dichotomy of homo-hetero-sexuality.' Like his contemporaries, Paul writes about 'natural use' (φυσικὴν χρῆσιν) and 'unnatural use' (χρῆσιν … τὴν παρὰ φύσιν) of sexual desire (1:26, 27), which was thought to be analogous to the natural use of hunger. The pleasure of sex, then, is to be limited by satisfaction, just as a wise person with a full stomach limits eating. As we saw above, this use of 'natural' does not raise the question of the gender of either the subject or the object of sexual desire. Plutarch (Advice to Bride and Groom 144B) also refers to the wife's 'use' of the husband, to which Paul probably refers in Rom 1:26... which is not then a reference to lesbian sexual activity... Fredrickson agrees with Martin: by 'against nature', Paul means not 'disoriented desire' but 'inordinate desire.'" (Sampley, 277-278)

While the argument seems cogent enough, it seems to me that if we properly read Rom. 1:25 that establishes the Διὰ τοῦτο ("for this reason") in 1:26, it cannot be understated that the indictment found in this section is rooted in creation (e.g. serving the creation more than the Creator). Here's what a few people have said regarding this paragraph:

C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary, 35:
"By 'natural' and 'contrary to nature' Paul clearly means 'in accordance with the Creator's intention' and 'contrary to the Creator's intention', respectively. It is not impossible that Paul had some awareness of the great importance which 'nature' had in Greek thought for centuries; that he was aware of it use in contemporary popular philosophy is very likely. But the decisive factor in his use of it is his biblical doctrine of creation."

Douglas Moo, Romans (NICNT), 114-115:
"Paul generally uses the word 'nature' to describe the way things are by reason of their intrinsic state or birth, and in these cases there is no clear reference to divine intention. Some scholars in recent years especially, noting this, have argued that Paul does not here brand homosexuality as a violation of God's will... But Paul's use of the word 'nature' in this verse probably owes much to Jewish authors, particularly Philo... Sexual sins that are 'against nature' are also, then, against God, and it is this close association that makes it probable that Paul's appeal to 'nature' in this verse includes appeal to God's created order.

I'm just very skeptical that Balch is pushing for Paul's reference to Plutarch over against Philo and other Jewish writings...

What do you guys think?


Anonymous said...

Hey there - this is very interesting: I've just been doing some work on the use of nature as an argument in relation to sex. It seems to me that it's commonly used (eg Philo, Josephus, Musonius Rufus) as describing the 'natural' distinction between the sexes - indeed Paul uses it this way in 1 Corinthians 11, where he says "nature itself" teaches that men and women should be different in appearance.

The writers I mentioned above (but not Paul in 1 Cor) then explicitly give the subsequent implication that only sex between a man and a woman is "natural".

Certainly this isn't the only way people could talk about 'nature', but it's definitely there in early Jewish & Roman writings.

Anonymous said...

hey again... sorry to bombard you with comments, but here are a few quotes that might relate:

Pseudo-Phocylides: Sentences, 190-194

Do not transgress natural sex [eunas phuseōs] for irregular passion [Kupron athesmon]:
The beasts themselves are not pleased with homosexual intercourse [arsenes eunai].
Do not let women imitate the sexual role [lechos] of men.
Do not let yourself become an uncontrollable torrent [reusēs akathekton] toward your wife.
For Eros is not a god, but a passion [pathos], destructive of all.

Josephus: Against Apion, II, 199

And what of the laws concerning marriage? The law sees sex only as that according to nature [kata phusin] with a woman; and this for the production of children. But that of a man with a man it abhors, and punishes with death those who partake in it.

Josephus: Against Apion, II, 273

The people of Elis and Thebes [were led to condemn] that which was against nature [tēs para phusin] and unrestrained homosexual intercourse [arrenas mixeōs].

Josephus: Against Apion, II, 275

The Greeks attributed to the gods homosexual intercourse [arenōn mixeis], and, for the same reason, marriage of brother and sister, that these might be a defence of their indulgence in unspeakable and unnatural pleasures [para phusin hēdonōn].

Gaius Musonius Rufus: Dissertationum a Lucio digestarum reliquiae, Discourse 12

But of all sorts of intercourse it is the adulterous that are most unlawful [paranomōtatai], and of these, none is more immoderate than that of men with men [arrenas tois arresin], because such a reckless thing is against nature [para phusin].


Mike S. said...

Matt: I appreciate all your comments, you can bombard me anytime you want! :)
Anyway, thanks for all these references in your 2nd post. I noticed that you are doing your doctoral study under Thiselton for 1 Cor. Sounds interesting, how far along are you in your studies there?

Anonymous said...

Yep, I'm a couple of years into it, so I expect it to take one more year. Thiselton is a very relaxed and encouraging supervisor so it's been an enjoyable experience so far.

Mike S. said...

Matt: That's very good to hear, I'm also very interested in getting into a doctoral program in the U.K., so hearing from guys like yourself that are enjoying the experience thus far is always encouraging.