Original Research - Special Collection: Gender Justice and Health and Human Development

What could Paul have meant by ‘against nature’ (παρὰ φύσιν) as written in Romans 1:26? Striving for the well-being and health of all people

Andries G. van Aarde
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 77, No 2 | a7060 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v77i2.7060 | © 2021 Andries G. van Aarde | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 10 August 2021 | Published: 28 October 2021

About the author(s)

Andries G. van Aarde, Focus Area: Gender Justice, Health, and Human Development, DVC Research and Engagement, Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa


The point of departure of this article is postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault’s ‘archaeological analysis’ of the history of sexuality, seen from the lens of the South African philosopher Johann Beukes. Foucault points out that since the circulation of the so-called handbooks on penance in the 6th century CE, same-gender sex was seen as a punishable sin. With regard to perspectives before this period, Foucault reflects specifically on the contribution of the Christian theologian Augustine (354–430 CE), and particularly Augustine’s interpretation of the Greek expression para phusin (παρὰ φύσιν) as ‘against nature’ as written in Paul’s letter to the Romans (1:26). He argues that this interpretation by Augustine represents a trend in contemporaneous thinking of non-Christian writers such as Plutarch and Themistios. The aim of this article is to demonstrate that a much more influential stimulus from another non-Christian thinker, namely Artemidorus of Daldis (2nd century CE), created a common context that influenced Augustine’s views and subsequently those on same-gender sex, sexual identity, and heterosexual marriage within the Christian tradition.

Contribution: The article shows how modern-day homophobia and aversion in same-gender sex do not have its primarily ground in Paul’s use of para phusin, but that Augustine and present-day homophobes in the Christian (including the Reformed) tradition do have their roots in a non-Christian conviction without realising its intercultural and non-Christian origins.


gender justice; same-gender sex; pluriform sexual identities; heterosexual marriage; procreation; onanism; Artemidorus of Daldis; Augustine of Hippo


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