Romans 1:24-28 (New International Version)
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
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.
Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.
Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: ...
Working backwards from the “Wherefore”, or the “Because of this” as it also appears in other translations, the beginning of the passage actually starts at 1:16.
Paul was trained as a scholar of Greek classics and Hebrew literature, and his style may seem obscure to some. He thoroughly explains the factual assumptions and rationale behind his condemnation of the behavior described here.
In verses 16 and 17 Paul describes the Gospel: “it is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes.” Then he gives the reasons for that in 17, “a righteousness from God is revealed” and that this righteousness comes by faith in the Gospel. Righteousness means being right with God from having faith in the Gospel (that Jesus died for our sins and was raised from the dead.) One could say that Righteousness does not come by heterosexuality, nor is it prevented by homosexuality. Righteousness is not earned.
The next thing Paul describes are people who have no faith in God. These are people who reject the Creator for a lie. Paul was speaking of both men and women in verse 18 in the phrase; “godlessness and wickedness of men,” anthropos. They chose to worship and serve created things rather than the Creator. They exchanged the glory of God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. This clearly describes idols and idol worship.
In verse 24, he’s still saying ‘they and them’ connecting back to the anthropos in verse 18, as he refers to the temple prostitution acts between men and women, so when they were given to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another... this was both homosexual and heterosexual sex. The point of the passage is not homosexuality, but it is the condition of people who turn from God.
When following the passage step-by-step, Paul is moving through a logical progression. He is talking about people who:
• Refused to acknowledge and glorify God. (21)
The type of homosexual behavior Paul was addressing is temple prostitution and/or religious-ritual sex; and people who, in an unbridled search for pleasure (or because of religious rituals associated with idolatry), went against their own in-born sexual orientation, and participated in promiscuous sex. In other words, heterosexuals engaging in homosexual sex against their own nature, because “they exchanged” metyllaxan (or metallasso) refers to a substitution of one thing in place of another. So when “God gave them over” paradwken, He allowed the natural course of events to occur in pursuing their idol worship.
This is further supported by the word physikos Paul used, which was translated into “nature/natural” but which is closer to “produced by nature.” It means “the realities of nature.” and is concerned with what is of our nature and not with what is defined as acceptable. In other words, Paul is addressing acting against the very nature of who God created a person to be—the idea of a same-sex sex act in which at least one of the two are not attracted to someone of the same sex.
The things Paul describes in verses 29-31: fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, and unmerciful; describe many heterosexuals. Some homosexuals also fit that description, but not all homosexuals do those things and neither do all heterosexuals. They describe things that violate the three principles: loving God, loving your neighbor, and loving yourself.
The phrase “shameful lusts” in some translations the word “affections” (also passions) in 1:26 is the same word pathos (Strongs 3806) used to speak of the suffering and death of Jesus in Acts 1:3. Eros (erotic love) does not appear in the New Testament, and the word in 1:26 most likely refers to the frenzied state of mind that many ancient cults induced in worshippers by using wine, drugs or music. This had nothing to do with pair-bonding or love relationships, but Paul was instead describing religious ritual sex.
The most likely cult that Paul was referring to was the Cybelean/Attic which was one of the most prominent cults in Rome. The priests and priestesses, called galli, attempted to achieve gender neutrality in service to their god/dess. The goal was to transcend gender in order to become more like Attis (the father God, son/lover of Cybele) and Cybele (the mother goddess).
Verse 21-22: they claimed to be wise but are foolish...
Verse 23: they made images of man and animals to worship...
Verse 24: dishonour their own bodies...
Verse 26-27: exchanging natural relations, ...
This type of ritual/religious transvestitism does not resemble modern transgender people who have gender reassignment surgery. The latter are ones who make their physical body conform to their true gender. The former were forsaking their true gender, exchanging their inborn, natural relations for something against their own nature, as Paul made clear in verse 24 through 27.