Talking about sex with St. Paul

27 06 2008

Now, just because the Son of God came on the scene a couple of thousand years ago (give or take a few decades either way) with all this talk of liberation everyone being on a equal playing field, we are not being left off the hook that easily. For now we have none other than St Paul to deal with, who is responsible for supplying us with most of the New Testament. There are three texts (all NRSV) in particular to deal with:

Romans 1:26-27 … For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

I Corinthians 6:9 … Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

I Timothy 1:9-11 … This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave-traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

Well, that seems pretty clear doesn’t it? Not when you look closely and especially at the original Greek and the context within which these texts were written .. . Remember, God is a God of surprises…. Jesus was the biggest surprise of all, come to think of it …

No passage of the Bible may be taken in a vacuum. Indeed, in order to really understand where the authors (and to a large extent, God) was coming from, you have to take into consideration the audience for whom it was being written and the cultural context of the day. Paul wrote this letter to the Church in Rome, the seat of imperial and religious authority. The church in Rome was no doubt exposed to all sorts of different religious and sexual practices, many of them going hand in hand.

What Paul really is getting at in Romans 1, I believe, is idolatry … when people worship the created rather than the Creator. We see this happening even today as people worship money, power, even the Bible. In explaining the idolatrous practices of Rome, he points specifically to the cultic sexual practices of Rome … specifically how the cultic prostitutes would dress up and take on the roles of gods and goddesses, even the most devout of the pagans going so far as to castrate themselves or take on identities other than how they were created. PLEASE NOTE THIS DOES NOT MEAN DRAG QUEENS OR TRANSGENDERED AS WE SPEAK OF IT TODAY. Basically, what I believe Paul is saying is that basically people knew God, turned away from him, and embraced idolatry. He used the fertility religions and other cultic sexual practices because they suited his purposes for illustration. In no way, shape or form, does he talk about two people of the same gender giving themselves to each other in unconditional love. He does not talk about an orientation. What Paul is doing here is very complex (which is typical!) but at bottom, he is using the practices of pagan religion as an illustration, an example. He is taking an extreme to highlight the fallenness of humanity.

In I Corinthians and I Timothy we have a couple of words which have been troubling people since the day they were written….malakoi and arsenokoitai. They don’t really appear anywhere else in the texts of their time. Perhaps Paul made them up? This is not so far-fetched as we make up words for ourselves everyday. Most likely, he was talking about pederasty and sexual abuse of power. The men who indulged in their pet boys would most likely have wives to perpetuate the race and boys on the side as slaves in their households. This is hardly the picture of the modern gay/lesbian couple (whatever that is), but it IS the picture of what happens when society or religion forces a homosexual to engage someone in marriage when they are not oriented to opposite-gender attraction. Compare all those people who are either ex-gay or have suppressed their homosexual/bisexual/transgendered orientation to “do the right thing” and marry someone in the traditional sense. On the side, they have boys, girls, lovers, mistresses….this is the thing that Paul was speaking out against. Far better to live in honesty and integrity.

In other words, what Paul is speaking out against is not same-sex attraction and same-sex intercourse per se, but he is speaking against what happens outside of a covenant or sacramental agreement between two people, regardless of gender.

To sum up everything we have been talking about, we can the say Bible is an empty closet, to coin Ralph Blair’s turn of phrase. Even when we look at instances of David and Jonathan or Ruth and Naomi, the Bible does not address same-sex affection as we know it today. Even given the two examples of above, those couples were forced by society to live lives alien to their nature assuming they were homosexual. Everything that was written in the Bible cannot be taken simply at face value. As John-Julian said, every translation we have is interpretation upon interpretation. Above all, our commandments upon which every Rule of Life is based is grounded in love … love of God, love of neighbor, and love of each other.

To quote Hillel, everything else is just commentary.



9 responses

27 06 2008

Depending upon which scholar you follow, an overwhelming majority do not attribute Timothy to Paul, as it came much later, and is pseudo-anonymous.

Just to add, as in any form of extraction, one can’t take these quotes out of context as one must always keep in mind the occasion of the letter.

28 06 2008

Short on time but long on compliments- this is fantastic.

You are doing an amazing job here. Thank you!!

28 06 2008
Paul in ABQ

Thanks, RB, for taking the time to share your journey in this way. It parallels my own (decades earlier) but I have not had the energy or inclination to retell my journey back in the 60s and 70s. I met Ralph Blair once when he was in Los Angeles and Troy Perry (founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, for those who might not know this) was for a while my next-door neighbor.

Being torn between one’s deep identity as a Christian and one’s innate identity as gay is horrid. It is, indeed, a joyous day when the two aspects of one’s own self merge and are at peace. A former rector surmised it might be a form of resurrection. I was initially shocked to hear him say that but have come to realize he was right.

28 06 2008
John-Julian, OJN

I had a gay friend who commented on the Romans passage (“…the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.”) He said quite simply: “That doesn’t apply to me. I never gave up ‘natural intercourse with women’ because I never HAD intercourse with women — only with men!”

Actually his comment was fairly deep because it is obvious that the Romans passage assumes that the “men” described are straight – that is, that their “natural intercourse” IS with women. It just does not describe men for whom “natural intercourse” is with men!

28 06 2008
John-Julian, OJN


I didn’t put that stupid “happy face” in there — I don’ know how it got there!

28 06 2008

I do hate it when glbt Christians give Paul the brush off as being “homophobic”. It’s a whole lot more nuanced, and interesting, than that.

Sharing this information is vital, as every day, there’s a glbt believer somewhere, hidden, beginning to wonder what God has wrought, and enters “gay and Christian” in their internet search just to take a “peek” at what can become an amazing adventure.

29 06 2008

I am so glad you are doing this but my fear is that you are preaching to the converted.

30 06 2008
Grandmère Mimi

…my fear is that you are preaching to the converted.

DP, it’s good that RB says it anyway. Is this an open blog, or by invitation only? If it’s open, you never know who’s reading.

5 07 2008


We’ve just started a new team blog surrounding the bible and being gay, was wondering if you wanted to come onboard?

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