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).

On another and perhaps earlier occasion, Paul had written, "You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first; and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus" (Gal. 4:13). The word angel can also be translated messenger. Paul is the possessor of a condition that he believes to be incurable. It is a condition for which people might scorn or despise him. I have heard and read of commentators who suggested that this physical condition was some kind of chronic eye problem. This is based, I suspect, on Paul's words to the Galatians that they would have "plucked out their eyes and given them" to Paul (Gal. 4:15). But chronic eye problems do not normally bring scorn or the activity of despairing, and through the eye, which Paul called "the window of the body," life and beauty as well as death and pain enter the human experience. Paul, in these words to the Galatians, told them that he had now "become as they are," one in whom "Christ has been formed," and assured them that they "did him no wrong" (Gal. 4:12, 19). That refers to an inner healing not an external healing.

Others have suggested that epilepsy was the condition from which he was not free. Epilepsy was thought of as demon possession, but it was a periodic sense of being possessed by an alien spirit, not a constant malady. Also, in the biblical narrative the epileptic elicited a sense of pity, or at times fear, but seldom did it elicit despising or loathing. Epilepsy does not appear to me to account for the intensity of the feelings that Paul expressed. The realization that he was a homosexual male does. It is a hypothesis that makes sense of the data and accounts for the tone, the fear, the passion, and the behavior.

If this hypothesis is correct, it also illumines in powerful ways Paul's experience of conversion, his understanding of Jesus, his view of resurrection, and his move toward universalism. Furthermore, it provides us with a means to step into Christ as Paul did and to see the Christ experience outside the context of limited words and in the context of a universal human experience. It thus becomes for us a point of entry into a universal spirituality inaugurated by Christ that may endure into the unlimited future in a way that the narrow and brittle religious forms from our Christian past no longer seem capable of doing.

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