The author admits that the question is pretentious, but is effective, especially against those who are "eager to wield the Bible as an authoritative weapon" and especially "those who have read it only in translation."
Well, I have to admit that I felt it was pretentious, even pompous, the sort of trick that someone with a knowledge of Greek (no matter how little) would use to show his readers or hearers how smart he is, and to tell them to submit to his authority. I've heard preachers and debaters do this many times: throw out a few Greek words, and even better, references to Greek grammar which make little if any sense to the uneducated. (I confess that I've even done it myself a few times.)
[By the way any reader of an English translation would understand that Paul was speaking directly to the person referred to as "O Man." One need not be a grammarian to understand the address or the use of the vocative or the second person, though he might not understand the labels. The English does just fine.]
After reading the challenge at the beginning of the article, I immediately scrolled down to the blurb giving us the author's qualifications. Among other things, he's "a former Christian fundamentalist" who is "completing his Ph.D. in classical studies."
So, as one who has a bit of working knowledge of the Greek New Testament, I felt I needed to say a few things about Dr. Burrows' argument. I feel that I may be qualified for this task as one who has been reading the Bible "in translation" for nearly 60 years and as one who has been reading and studying it in the original languages for 40 years. I, however, only have a Master's degree in theology with a major in New Testament. I also am, as he is, "a former Christian fundamentalist," though I still consider myself an evangelical and I like to think of myself as a fundamentalist in recovery.
The argument of the article is that Romans 1:18-32, with its offending verses (26, 27) about homosexuality is not original with Paul, but rather "boilerplate"; Paul is here simply presenting standard "Hellenistic Jewish material" attacking Gentiles. We're told it "does not represent Paul's views and doesn't fit well here as part of Paul's argument, except as some sort of lead-in to his address to his (self-righteous Jewish?) readers in chapter 2, whom he addresses in the vocative case.
I would concur with Dr. Burrows that what Paul is saying in Romans 1:18-32 would be agreeable to a Hellenistic Jew of his day, and I suppose that similar thoughts can be found in contemporary Jewish writings. But I can't see where Paul in any way disagrees with these thoughts.
Paul and other New Testament writers frequently used the "straw man" tactic, putting words in the mouths of their readers, so that they could refute thinking with which they disagreed. But usually they give us some indication that they are doing so, often using "but" or some other adversative ("All things are lawful to me, but not all things are profitable" - 1 Corinthians 6:12). There is no adversative, however, at either end of Romans 1:18-32. In fact, Paul introduces the section with "for" (gar), which is a conjunction used to indicate cause.
Paul tells his readers earlier in chapter 1, that he is "eager to preach the gospel in Rome" (1:15). This statement is followed by a series of statements, each introduced by the word "for" (gar)."For I am not ashamed of the gospel," (verse 16a)
"for it is God's power ... " (verse 16b)
"for God's righteousness is revealed in it ... " (verse 17)
"for God's anger is revealed from heaven ... " (verse 18)
There is a smooth flow of argument here. He continues with a "because" (dioti) and a "for" (verse 20) and a "because" (verse 21).
And then we come to 2:1, the passage that has that scary "vocative." However, it does not begin with the vocative, but with a "therefore" (dio), an inferential conjunction. The implication would be something like, "what I just said in the previous applies to you" (the person addressed in the vocative).
We should notice that Paul uses the word translated "without excuse" (anapologetos) in both 1:20 and in 2:1. If I may paraphrase, "these heathen are without excuse for their behavior, and you 'O Man' are also without excuse," because as Paul says, " ... you who judge do the same things!" (2:1b)
Dr. Burrows points to Paul's "similar conclusion" in Romans 14:13, in which he finds similarities to 2:1. I'll agree that there is a similarity, but 14:13 is near the close of Paul's argument, while 2:1 is near the beginning. Romans 14:13 is not in the vocative case, but in the subjunctive mood. It is an exhortation, which includes Paul himself ("let us"). And there's a lot of argument in between.
Paul's argument in the first chapters of Romans is a blanket condemnation of the whole human race, Jew and Gentile. He wants all to recognize their need so that they can freely receive God's free gift of His righteousness in Christ. He states in 3:9:
"When then; do we (Jews) excel? Not at all! For we have previously accused (proaitiaomai) both Jews and Greeks to be under sin."
But it is in 1:18-32 that Paul had "previously accused" the Gentiles! If we omit this passage from his argument than he has not accused the Gentiles as he claims. 1:18-32 is a necessary part of his argument.
So I suspect that not only would most of Paul's 21st century English readers see 1:26 and 27 as a condemnation of homosexual behavior, but his first century Greek readers would as well.
But I do also believe that this passage (1:26, 27) is not meant to be a "clobber passage." A few points need to be made:· First, Paul speaks of homosexual sex as an "exchange," as an act that is "contrary to nature." As such it is used as an illustration or metaphor for man's "exchange" of the revelation of God in nature for something else - idolatry. The word "exchanged" is used in this way in verses 23 and 25.
· Homosexual acts are not singled out as the most degraded acts, as many of my conservative friends seem to believe. They are seen as only one manner of behavior that results from God's giving humankind over to the consequences of their rejection of Him! See the phrase "God gave them over" in verses 24, 26 and 28.
· The list of condemned behaviors does not include sexual acts only; there are enough listed here to hit every one of us: lust, impurity, dishonoring of bodies, a debased mind, greed, envy, murder, gossip, slander, etc., etc. We all find ourselves here! We are all "without excuse."
Paul does not give this list in order to condemn any one particular group of sinners, but to point out that we "all have sinned and are falling short of God's glory" (3:23).
And he tells us this to show us our need for a right relationship with God through simple faith in Christ. " ... even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all who believe; for there is no distinction" (3:22).
And I agree, that "Paul goes on to offer advice on healing the rifts between Jew and Gentile," as he finally attempts in chapters 14 and 15. But this is only after his readers have recognized their needs for faith and commitment, which occupies much of Paul's argument in the intervening chapters.
I suppose the above thoughts will not be satisfactory to those on either side of the issue of homosexuality. I make no apologies.