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.
Excerpted from "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism" with permission of HarperSanFrancisco.
Nothing about Paul was moderate. He was tightly drawn, passionately emotional, filled with enormous feelings of self-negativity, seeking to deal with those feelings in the timehonored way of external controls, unflagging religious zeal, and rigid discipline. He could not, however, master the passions that consumed him.
What were these passions? There is no doubt in my mind that they were sexual in nature, but what kind of sexual passions were they? Searching once again through the writings of Paul, some conclusions begin to emerge that startle and surprise the reader. Paul's passions seemed to be incapable of being relieved. Why was that? Paul himself had written that if one "could not exercise self-control" that person should marry. "For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (1 Cor. 7:9). But we have no evidence from any source that Paul ever married. Indeed, he exhorts widows and the unmarried to "remain single as I do" (1 Cor. 7:8). A primary purpose of sexual activity in marriage, according to Paul, was to keep Satan from tempting people "through lack of self-control" (1 Cor. 7:5). Why, when Paul seemed to be so consumed with a passion he could not control, would he not take his own advice and alleviate that passion in marriage? He did write that marriage was an acceptable, if not ideal, way of life. Still, however, marriage never seemed to loom for him as a possibility.
Paul has been perceived as basically negative toward women. He did write that "it is well for a man not to touch a woman" (1 Cor. 7:1). The passion that burned so deeply in Paul did not seem to be related to the desire for union with a woman. Why would that desire create such negativity in Paul, anyway? Marriage, married love, and married sexual desire were not thought to be evil or loathsome. Paul's sexual passions do not fit comfortably into this explanatory pattern. But what does?
Obviously there is no way to know for certain the cause of Paul's anxiety prior to that moment of final revelation in the Kingdom of Heaven. But that does not stop speculation. The value of speculation in this case comes when a theory is tested by assuming for a moment that it is correct and then reading Paul in the light of that theory. Sometimes one finds in this way the key that unlocks the hidden messages that are present in the text. Once unlocked, these messages not only cease to be hidden but they become obvious, glaring at the reader, who wonders why such obvious meanings had not been seen before. Some have suggested that that Paul was plagued by homosexual fears. This is not a new idea, and yet until recent years, when homosexuality began to shed some of its negative connotations, it was an idea so repulsive to Christian people that it could not be breathed in official circles. This is not to say that our cultural homophobia has disappeared. It is still lethal and dwells in high places in the life of the Christian church, and it is a subject about which ecclesiastical figures are deeply dishonest, saying one thing publicly and acting another way privately. The prejudice, however, is fading slowly but surely. With the softening of that homophobic stance we might consider the hypothesis that Paul may have been a gay male. We might test that theory by assuming it for a moment as we read Paul. When I did this for the first time, I was startled to see how much of Paul was unlocked and how deeply I could understand the power of the gospel that literally saved Paul's life.