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.
When I suggest the possibility that Paul was a homosexual person, I do not mean to be salacious or titillating or even to suggest something that many would consider scandalous. I see no evidence to suggest that Paul ever acted out his sexual desires and passions. He lived in an age and among a people that cloaked the way he would have viewed this reality with layer after layer of condemnation. But for a moment assume the possibility that this theory is correct and look with me again at the writings of Paul and, more important, at the meaning of Christ, resurrection, and grace in the life of this foundational Christian.
Paul felt tremendous guilt and shame, which produced in him self-loathing. The presence of homosexuality would have created this response among Jewish people in that period of history. Nothing else, in my opinion, could account for Paul's self-judging rhetoric, his negative feeling toward his own body, and his sense of being controlled by something he had no power to change. The war that went on between what he desired with his mind and what he desired with his body, his drivenness to a legalistic religion of control, his fear when that system was threatened, his attitude toward women, his refusal to seek marriage .as an outlet for his passion-nothing else accounts for this data as well as the possibility that Paul was a gay male.
Paul's religious tradition would clearly regard gay males as aberrant, distorted, evil, and depraved. When discovered, gay males were quite often executed. The Law stated: "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination" (Lev. 18:22). Do not defile yourself by these things, the Torah continued, for God will cast out those who defile themselves. God will punish, promised the Law, and the land will vomit out those who are thus defiled (Lev. 18:24ff). To do these things is to be cut off from the people of Israel (Lev. 18:29). Later in the Torah death is called for as the penalty for homosexuality. "If a man lies with a man as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death" (Lev. 20:13). Paul was a student of the Law. If homosexuality was his condition, he knew well that by that Law he stood condemned. His body was a body in which death reigned. He lived under that death sentence. What Paul knew himself to be, the people to whom he belonged and the Law to which he adhered called abominable, and Paul felt it to be beyond redemption. Is it not possible, even probable, that this was the inner source of his deep self-negativity, his inner turmoil, his self-rejection, his superhuman zeal for a perfection he could never achieve? Could this also be his thorn in the flesh, about which he wrote so plaintively? With this possibility in mind, listen once more to Paul's words: "And to help me keep from being too elated by the abundance of revelation, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I sought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness' " (2 Cor. 12:7-9).