Was the Apostle Paul Gay?

What accounts for Paul's self-judging rhetoric, his negative feeling toward his own body? An Episcopal bishop mulls the issues.


11/09/2012 09:44:56 PM

I have had this same interpretation for many years now. I am so excited to find others that also have come to this conclusion! I believe that God has called certain people to the high standard of being celibate and unmarried so that they can be more fully devoted to Him. Jesus says that some were born that way and that some were made that way by men (eunuchs).... Thank you for such an insightful and well-written article!


02/03/2011 01:07:46 AM

Spong's article comes across as an astonishing example of how to read into a text one's preconceived ideas


12/20/2010 04:08:56 PM

COntinued frome below: That being thought out, I think their are 4 things the thorn could be based on sins that the devil could taunt with in the mind: stealing, substance abuse, murder or something sexual. Stealing - yes there are people who are aroused by the act and premeditate it more due to the feeling than the object. Paul could have been a klepto - though I think unlikely because that is usually created by acts of stealing beforehand and Paul had adhered to the law. Paul could have been a sober drunk - again something he would have had to have exposed himself to at some time which does not make sense with his background as a pharisee. He could have been a murderer (he did kill a lot of people) but generally those really obsessed with killing people are pretty rare and psychologically have issues Paul didn't seem to have. So we are left with a sexual sin - not that controversial a theory and many have surmised such in the past. FInally, if it is sexual thoughts and Paul has a proclivity for sexual bodily sins why didn't he marry? He urges those who burn to marry so it would seem he didn't burn. If left here we are really confounded by the thorn! Except if homosexuality comes into play - here we have a sin that fits the mold! If Paul did struggle with homosexual thoughts, that is something I am sure the devil would have thrown in his face and I am also sure that this particular sin would have the ability to allow Paul never to become to high on his own righteousness which was the purpose of the thorn and why God wouldn't remove it. I think that to understand grace the way Paul did he had to be acquainted with how depraved he really was in his flesh. I think it would be just like God to have a person that struggled with what is considered to be the worst of sins to be his instrument for claiming grace to the world, and only someone who truly understands the depths of their own depravity can understand the depths of God's grace - and no apostle understood grace better than Paul. To those that say that Paul knew the depths of God's grace because of his sinful past again is ridiculous. I do not think Paul lived in some sort of guilt for past sins - he is the one who proclaimed that there is now NO CONDEMNATION, and understood his sins were forgiven to a degree others did not - this is not a man plagued by guilt from condemnation of himself. God's grace is for the sinner we are even after we are saved not just for our past sins, and Paul obviously had something reminding him of sinfulness, though living what appears to be a fairly sinless life, reminding him always of his need for more of God's grace.


12/20/2010 04:08:28 PM

I think it is very likely that Paul had homosexual thoughts, and I think that they were his thorn and something he struggled with though did not act upon. I say this as a person who loves Paul, has thoroughly studied his writings, and I do think homosexuality is a sin. But Paul's thorn was a sin. To those that think Paul suffered from some sort of physical malady, common sense should lead you to not make this assumption. In every work of Paul he has to defend his apostleship against those that tried to discredit him. His detractors used everything from him not being a great speaker to him supporting himself as signs that he was not sent by God. Now, if you were trying to discredit Paul these are pretty lame attacks, so his opponents are really grasping at straws, and Paul chooses to confront them though to me they wouldn't have me convinced and seem to be weak claims. However, if Paul was physically afflicted in some way, believe me he would have had to defend why he couldn't heal himself, and he never has to defend this kind of attack on himself. That would be an attack with merit, if you are really from God why can't you heal yourself? If Paul suffered from some sort of permanent disability (The text as far as an affliction in Galations does seem to be physical in nature, but it also has a temporal reference and I do not think refers to some ongoing affliction) his detractors would have used it to discredit him, which occurs nowhere in his writings. Further, the thorn is described as being used by Satan to torment him and God does not take it away so he does not become too prideful in his spirituaity. A physical disability does not fit with with this. Paul's thorn being a sin is pretty widely accepted among many theologians and goes in line with the other teachings in the Bible as well as Paul's own words on his struggle with sin in Romans 7. Now since Paul's thorn is a sin, what sin? I think that Paul had to live a pretty sinless life on the surface when spreading the gospel of grace in order for it not to be hindered, so I don't think he was actively sinning. So whatever plagued him was at the level of his mind, where the devil is operating to torment him. Now as far as sins go, what sins do we have a mental connection to. Do we think about wanting to envy? Do we think about wanting to lie? Do we think about wanting to be angry? Do we think about wanting to be jealous? The devil can't throw those at us on a mental level, in fact we don't even see this sins until we catch ourselves in them! Feeling jealous and angry are not really comfortable to go through, they are hardly things we would desire and shame ourselves for desiring?


07/18/2010 12:53:46 AM

I think that Paul could very well have been gay. In a world of theories, it's as good as any. Self-loathing gay people have done more to distance gays and lesbians from the human table than anything else I can think of. Between Paul and King James, gay people never stood a chance. Just reading the comments on this thread is proof enough. Believers talk about gay people as some sort of "condition" or "enemy" and why shouldn't they, for the bible tells them so. They cling to these texts as justification for that distancing. I do admit confusion as to why the gay-hating continues unabaited when so many other biblical instructions have long since been abandoned. That really does cause me to scratch my head. After all the knowledge gained about human sexuality, gay people to this day continue to be murdered, harrassed, beaten and in some countries, stoned to death because of this cosmic injustice. The horrors taking place in Africa is a direct result of evangelical generals and their "ex-gay" footsoldiers. I call myself a reactionary athiest, because it was beleivers that drove me away. The only tie I have left is an all too human and immature lust for some sort of justice for all the victims of righteous beliefs. Cheers.


03/31/2010 08:57:52 PM

Praise God for your thoughtful analysis and speculation. But please know that being "gay" is not the only plausible solution to these writings. Paul could have been an alcoholic, a drug abuser, a gigilo, a transvestite, or simply a heterosexual woman abuser for all we know. All of these scenarios would equally fit neatly into the context of Paul's words-- certainly the alcohol or drug abuser scenarios. I think your entire commentary does not take into account the characteristics of Paul when he was Saul. Could he have been gay and been the brute murderer of Christians that he was? Remember, he prided himself on being a serious adherent to the law! Hypocrisy was never Paul's (or Saul's) strong suit and being a closet homosexual does not add up given all we know of Paul. Recall the great conversation to the Romans concerning grace and sin. Someone asked, "Maybe we should sin more to achieve more grace?" Paul's response was, "God forbid. That is not how it works nor should that be the ambition of the child of God." I strongly believe that none of us (saints) is perfect. I also believe that the atonement work of Jesus Christ absolutely is the only thing that saves us. I also believe that we honor Christ by trying to live as He would have us live; and our testimony to the truth of God's love is our day-to-day actions that get evaluated by the world. I believe the church is called to encourage one another in the faith, not condemn, but accept and love all persons no matter where they are in their walk with God. I believe that our own perfection is hinged to our ability to love others and God's grace extends through us in this regard. Finally, I believe that advocating that Paul must have been gay, a drunkard, or a drug abuser is immaterial to the context of the scriptures-- God abhors all sin, lies, thievery, fornication, abuse, hate, murder, adultery, etc. Only sinful men and women impart gradations to these absurdities and conversations concerning what specific sin anyone of us commits does nothing to grow our faith. I close with the words of Christ in the book of John-- "I did not come to condemn the world (we were already condemned); but i came that the world through Me might be saved." I thank God for the Apostle Paul; I thank God for you and your readers; I thank god for Christ! Happy Easter. Ambassador Ross


09/22/2009 01:46:22 AM

Funny I should find this article tonight, I was the lone dissenting vote on our ELCA Church council to "disassociate" yesterday. It is interesting watching a group of 10 fairly well-off suburban people swallow a charismatic pastor's insistence on the "inerrantcy" of scripture, rabidly quoting all of Paul's condemnations... In sermon yesterday, the Pr. used that exact scripture, the "thorn." Except, he went on to explain to the rapt congregation, that in the original Greek the item Paul was describing was considerably larger than a thorn... he called it a "stake." My IMMEDIATE gut reaction was: "That's it - Paul had to have been gay." As far as I'm concerned, its a done deal; He was describing the appendage that haunted him in as allegorical a manner as he could. Psychology 101. That would also be JUST such a thing that this paradox called Jesus The Christ would do... He defied all logic; He blew out the Pharisee's vision of "what a Messiah would be" - and accepted with the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor, the vilest of the vile - and blew everyone's mind by hanging out with prostitutes, tax collectors, people who didn't wash their hands before they ate... and this, THIS would simply have to be the most ultimate irony, that he would build his Church by the works of the most "vile sinner" of his day - a homosexual. Quite frankly, I think it is PERFECT. Of course Paul had to condemn himself! He felt guilty as hell! Look at the times he was living in! But - the work he did was his saving grace, and he knew it. To say that he "preached abstinence" means nothing more than "do not as I do," because he knew that it was a burden that was almost unbearable and in an era where being found out meant certain death. He was simply trying to save others from his plight! I personally am not gay... but - I do have a gay daughter, and I love her unconditionally. I want to accept all people and I know that the Creator does too. This made my day. Thank you. The thought of this possibility, being revealed to certain "professional stewards of God's Mercy" - on Judgment Day, literally makes me laugh out loud. One thing is for certain - We can trust that indeed, the Lord most certainly works in mysterious ways!


11/07/2006 12:16:32 AM

Even if Paul wasn't gay, I believe that we need to be open enough to be able to discuss the possibilities without narrow mindedly scourning at wonderful people like the Bishop who give these educated guesses. Well done Bishop, Allan.


03/17/2006 07:34:39 PM

I think the Bishop may be right on. He can't stand it that it is an impulse that he truly feels every moment, but can't act on. Thank goodness religion is adapting. Self-loathing is the worst thing in the world. If you can't be yourself, what good is religion really? I don't want a G-d that creates me with certain desires and then says not to act on them - or that I am an abomination. Really. That can't be my G-d of love. I have a better relationship with G-d now that I ever did married to a man. Thank you very much! :)


10/18/2005 12:09:16 AM

Paul was probably the best chariot sales man that ever walked the earth:however I see no reason why he would be gay. Perhaps he had an ego the size of Texas, and was being reminded of this.Paul had to think of a plan to get through to their immorality. He had to break up their practices of sexual orgies and, the likes of big Greek pride. I can not buy the gay issue. more like one big walking errection from his over abundant love for the Lord!


10/07/2005 10:39:20 AM

There is one element being overlooked in these discussions. Even if Paul was gay, he apparently believed in gay celibacy, which is not on the agenda of today's homosexuals. In this sense Paul would be positioned exactly where most evangelical Christians are -- that being gay is not sinful but gay practice is.


06/08/2005 04:02:23 PM

firefountain, if you've never heard this theory before, then you haven't read much about the topic. Google Apostle Paul and gay and you will find that Spong is neither the only one nor the first. What do YOU think Paul's spiritual "thorn in the side" might have been? Give Gor Vidl's "Live From Golgotha" a read for some enlightening (and entertaining) thoughts on the matter.


03/18/2005 07:49:45 PM

rmcwilson I really enjoyed your post. I thought it was well written and well thought out. I'm clear that you were using the child molestation idea to underscore the randomness of Bishop Spong's theory. Honestly until I read Bishop Spong's article today I had never heard a theory like this one before. I found both Bishop Spong's article and your response to be quite fascinating. Thanks


03/16/2005 12:46:06 PM

rmcwilson, You said: "One must admit that the only rationale for such manipulation is to somehow legitamize homosexuality by an association with an apostle." Spon is not trying to rationalize anything. Homosexuality exists (whether you like it or not, whether you "agree with it" or not) and needs no "rationalization". What a heinous thing you wrote: "What if someone said that Paul's thorn was a tendency towards child molestation??" Homosexuality as we know it today concerns acts between consenting adults - usually loving, caring and committed relationsihps. It has nothing to do with child molestation. Child molestation not only is NOT consenting, it causes real live HARM. I consider you post to be hate speech.


02/07/2005 11:56:29 PM

(continuation) Spong says: "Paul felt...guilt and shame...homosexuality would have created this response." And so would a thousand other sins to one who knew God's holiness! Paul said it was "Thou shalt not covet" that convicted him the most. (Romans 7) Listen to Spong:"nothing else accounts...as well as the possibility that Paul was...gay" NOTHING? How about that he was a lustful, heterosexual male? One who knew that to fulfill the calling and struggles that he had to endure, it would be cruel to bring up a family? Paul explains celibacy-to serve the Lord without distraction. (I Cor 7:32-35) Finally, Spong refers to "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." He says: "The passion that burned so deeply in Paul did not seem to be related to the desire for union with a woman." Paul speaks of physical passions that easily take over. Touching leads farther. Paul's lament is the same cry that all believers have. As we see God's holiness more, we become more disgusted in the falleness of our own nature.


02/07/2005 11:29:29 PM

To what end or to what purpose is such speculating? One must admit that the only rationale for such manipulation is to somehow legitamize homosexuality by an association with an apostle. What if someone said that Paul's thorn was a tendency towards child molestation?? Can you disprove it? Based on Spong's method I can justify that spurious position. Let's review some of his claims: 1. Spong refers to Gal 4:13 about how well they received Paul in spite of some condition. Spong's claim that this may refer to homosexuality is absurd. First, Paul would have been rejected, and not received as an apostle. Second, if, as Spong suggests, he kept it hidden, there would have been no trial to the Galatians! Two verses later Paul speaks of the condition, an eye disorder, (Myopia can cause grotesque deformation in the eye region)that accounts for the "large characters" he had to write with, and clarifies that some would, if possible "pluck out their own eyes" and give them to Paul. (more to follow)


12/04/2004 10:24:08 AM

Gnostic Christianity is to orthodox or scripture Christianity what Tantric Buddhism is to Sutric Buddhism. They teach the secret practices that accomplish the goal that scripture alludes to… ascending the ladder. You start at the lowest rung and wrestle with the angel if you succeed you witness the face of God Genesis 32:24-30


12/03/2004 06:49:07 PM

2nd Corinthians 12:7 "By reason of the exceeding greatness of the revelations, that I should not be exalted excessively, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, that I should not be exalted excessively." The Gnostic spiritual practice that Paul engaged in which yielded the revelations did so by liberating and circulating the spirit energy within his body. The revelations appeared as the spirit was drawn to the crown of his head and his gaze uplifted toward heaven as dead. The power of the Holy Spirit is such that it permeates the entire nervous system, upper and lower. Every time Paul circulated the Holy Spirit an unintentional side effect was an erect phallus, a thorn in the flesh. The adversary (Hasatan) sent him a message to bring him down to earth and let him know that the desire body was still intact. Paul wasn’t a homosexual; he was a sexual being that passionately wanted to transcend physical being and awaken as a spiritual being. Gary


12/02/2004 02:19:50 PM

I really don't understand how any self-respecting, and I mean RESPECTING, woman can abide listening to Paul.


09/30/2004 04:19:30 PM

(continued from above) I hope this make sense. I would suggest, to post more positive and important article that would invite one to Christianity...apologetic answers about controversial subjects rather than creating controversial subjects and confusing people.


09/30/2004 04:18:26 PM

Hmmm, I read some of the posts...and I see the pros and cons..although I tend to agree more with "miklostj." I also understand what "Balsam" said...and that's a good argument for those that know a lot about Paul and understand the Bible...but for those that are knew and don't know much about the Bible can be very confusing. It could be used against Christianity...forward homosexuality and other things as well. I don't think we need to have blind faith, we need to question things, know and learn but from a firm base, God's word, w/out that knowledge...it's a scary and shakey ground to stand on. What I'm trying to say is that it's good to motivate thinking for growth for Christians...but to post this type of article in such public and open media, you may be the stumbling block for the weak brother.


06/13/2004 09:10:08 PM

Speculating? O.K. Speculate this: PAUL WAS A WOMANIZER!! He chased every Burka in sight WHILE he WAS married! Now, THERE is a thorn in the flesh of a married man!!!!!


05/27/2004 02:10:50 PM

"Paul had nothing to do with Jesus and missed Jesus' message almost completely. " Hmm Paul was chosen by chirst him self apointed by the early christians and approved by the aposltes. But I appriciate your humble but athoritive opion on what the "message" of jesus was.


04/07/2004 08:09:29 PM

kimrdhbsms: It's not the subject of homosexuality that disturbs me. I have nothing against gays. It's the fact that this guy is trying to make this link when there is no such evidence. His reasoning is entirely specious and sophistic. He deliberately takes Pauls statements out of context to support this absurd claim. And he draws rash conclusions based on a Freudian perspective. I've been ardently defending Paul on all of these articles and I've provided alot of insight and evidence to defend him as a champion of the faith. Now, Why don't you give us some examples to support your audacious claims that Paul had nothing to do with Jesus and missed Jesus' message almost completely. be blessed, Mik


04/07/2004 07:20:45 PM

Spong says this is speculation and we'll never know for sure -- what are you guys so upset about? Can't you even bear to THINK about it? You Paulist fanatics are a hoot! Paul had nothing to do with Jesus and missed Jesus' message almost completely.


04/07/2004 05:40:54 PM

Homosexuality was rampant in the Greco/Roman world. There would have been more suspicious in that context. People would have noticed if Paul got a little hot and bothered around some Greek Adonis. But we never see that. His ministry would not have been as effective. The bishop also says "Paul felt tremendous guilt and shame, which produced in him self-loathing." to support his case. Wake up call Spong! Paul had the blood of St. Stephen on his hands. As a 1st century pharisee, he also had the blood of Christ on his hands. Maybe that was the cause of his guilt and shame. This guy is a crock and liberal moron. I'm personally sick of seeing advertisements for this clown everywhere on B-net.


04/07/2004 05:38:01 PM

Uggh! This is what happens when bishops try to play "sigmund Freud". Where does this guy come off speculating that Paul was gay? Since Spong is Episcopalian, this article is obviously meant to bolster the new Episcopal stance on homosexual bishops. It's like this: Paul was gay so why can't bishop "so and so" be. He's trying to use Paul gayness to support Episcopal gayness. There is absolutely no evidence to support this theory. Spong twisted Pauls words on celibacy to infer that he wasn't attracted to women! But Paul was in love with a man named Jesus Christ. He was sold out for Christ, he was "crucified with Christ". He understood that succumbing to fleshly desires separates one from God.


04/07/2004 12:08:19 PM

I'm a heterosexual man, who likes flowers. Some might wonder, armed with the knowledge that I like flowers, using speculation, that I might be gay? I think, a better word for speculation is 'judge.' I think Sponge knows the Bible says, judge not. His speculation, which is judgment in the truest Biblical sense of the Word, is as ridiculous as someone judging me to be gay because I like flowers. His is nothing but a character assault on the Apostle Paul.


04/07/2004 09:05:32 AM

remeredyth, I have no problem with a scholar setting forth a hypothesis. What the Bishop does here is speculation, by his own admission, which is a step or two prior to hypothesis. It just has the flavor to me of someone talking about someone possibly being gay when it's fashionable to talk about such things, as it is now.


04/06/2004 02:36:31 PM

Having read Pauls words many time and wondering what the thorn in the flesh was, and why he did not avail himself to marriage and family. I think this is perfectly plausible consideration. So what if Paul was a man who had homosexual feelings, would that make his words any less powerful. I don't think so. I think it only adds a deeper understanding to what Paul must have endured for the years he preached his message. It did not make him a bad man at all, why is this so upsetting to consider? King David was committed adultery and killed an innocent man but God forgave him. Paul apparently didn't act on his feelings if he was gay, but was tormented by his feelings. I think it is perfectly pausible myself. And does not detract from Paul faithful work. Mrs. Baker North Carolina


04/06/2004 02:23:53 PM

Rsponse to Tess et al. - What the Bishop presents and admits to is an hypothesis . While it is well reasoned and documentably so, it remains hypothesis which is simply well reasoned conjecture not "gospel".Why condemn discussion and thought?


04/06/2004 12:11:19 AM

what's that song? I think it's called tunnel vision! Looks like round two for the prophets of Jesus Christ. His house needs cleaning! ..imagine that..because of the abundance of revelations Paul was coming into..he was given the message that he was gay!..whatever happened to spiritual conflict. Paul buffeted his flesh and did all he did to increase the kingdom of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The power of Christ is in the weakness of self. I'm sure the thron was a burden, in whatever form it took..but he was not despised for the 'short-time' it was a burden unto others to care for him. The devil never held him down, in my opinion.


04/05/2004 04:52:30 PM

Well, Bishop, that's about as positive as I've ever heard from you regarding the "Gospel". The Gospel did indeed save Paul's life. On the other hand, YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING! This article proves the truth to the old adage: "If the only tool you have is a hammer, pretty soon all you see is nails." Sure, we all have our a priori assumptions when it comes to reading and studying the Bible, but your speculations are downright fantastic! Furthermore, they are just that--speculations, not fact, as you seem to think they are. Oh yes, the fact is that Paul most likely was married at one point in his life. Widowed? Divorced? Who knows? But Paul was a Pharisee, and the Pharisees were expected to be married, so it was far more likely than not that Paul was, at least at some point in his life, married. Many of your previous articles have ticked me off and (better yet) made me think--thank you for that. But this one just just makes me say, "Give me a break!"


04/05/2004 03:11:42 PM

I think this is a very good, very plausable explanation for the hangups of Paul. Tess -- what makes you think you know better than a well-educated bishop?


04/05/2004 12:35:37 AM

oh, an an addendum: Spong is a bishop. Of the Episcopal Church. He just isn't someone 'who owns a bible'.


04/05/2004 12:18:07 AM

It is easy to be critical when one is so mentally boxed in and surrounded by concretized concepts developed 2000 years ago. What is refreshing about Bishop Spong is that he thinks outside of the box and questions the relevance of orthodox structure. We should all challenge those who want us to turn off our ability to think, reason and confront "the Apostles and their successors [who] are the interpreters and teacher of the truth."


04/03/2004 03:06:50 PM

This kind of drabble is why the Cathoic Church teaches that we should not interpret what the Scriptures say on our own, but look to the early fathers of the Church and the Magisterium. You need to be a student of scripture to understand what Scripture is saying. Since the first century, the Apostles and their successors are the interpreters and teachers of the truth. Any fool can read what they want into the Scriptures, and I dare say this is what is happening in this distasteful, uninspiring, entirely incorrect interpretation of Paul's writings. Just because one owns a Bible, it doesn't mean their interpretation is correct. Who can argue with the fact that self-interpretation is very dangerous - just look at Martin Luther's recanting of his thought that the Bible was it's own interpreter. This stuff from Bishop Spong is pure crap.