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The Gay St. Paul: A Bit Of Unneeded Sloppiness From Spong

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Spong recounts scriptures and perspectives that places St. Paul in a certain perspective--one which he supports to a degree but far from conclusively--that St. Paul was a repressed gay man. Spong goes beyond stating this as a possiblity, however, establishing the perspective and subsequently speaking as if it is established that St. Paul was gay. Spong (Reclaiming the Bible) writes:


"Imagine rather the power of the realization that we Christians have received our primary definition of grace from a gay man who accepted his world's judgment and condemnation until he was embraced by the Jesus experience and came to the realization that nothing any of us can say, do or be can place us outside the love of God. Paul, a deeply repressed gay man, is the one who made that message clear."


This seems to be fairly close to a "just so" approach to the biblical literature and, frankly, sloppy and almost irresponsible as far as biblical interpretation goes. Spong is usually pretty good at interpretation, however it seems here his agenda gets in the way of the interpretive task. Bringing up a possibility is not the problem. Proceeding as if it is the truth and a springboard for further interpretation certainly is.



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I tend to agree with you, Keith. Everyone is entitled to their opinions. But we should be cautious in stating our opinions as fact, historical or otherwise.


I read "Reclaiming the Bible" about 5 years ago and, perhaps like you, find Spong's ideas about this interesting, but unsubstantiated. And I often question Spong's exegetical skills. For instance, he says that Paul felt that nothing we can do can place us outside the love of God. Without arguing over word meanings, Paul (or someone claiming to write in his name) does say that "homosexual offenders" will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9,10). So I don't find the view represented in this particular passage to be quite that affirmation of God's love and acceptance that Spong might. But, then, I don't consider the Bible to be the actual words of God either.


Spong's book did help me. I think he is a challenging thinker and passionate about his love for God, the church, and the world. I admire that. But, yes, I do think he can sometimes get sloppy with his exegesis. Whether he is doing this out of sincere interpretive study or as a form of shocking his readers/listeners into thinking in new ways, I don't know. I've read Paul for 40 years. He doesn't come across as gay to me, though I am reticent to say "how" a gay person would come across. I would find Paul to be more misogynistic myself. But that is my opinion, and certainly not historical fact.

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My two cents worth:


Spong is free to make this claim as any author who comes to an opinion is. Naturally this leaves Spong open for criticism if his statements are proved wrong or even considered dubious. In the case of Paul's homosexuality (or not), I don't think one could be definite either way. However there's more to elude to a homosexual orientation for Paul than a hetero one, but whether you could convict Paul on those grounds, I'm not sure. So it's probably just as wrong to say with conviction that Paul WAS NOT gay, as it is to say with conviction that he WAS gay. Spong's conviction is that Paul was gay - that's up to Spong.


My other point is that I think there is a difference between God's love and inheriting the kingdom of God. I interpret this passage as saying that if one does/experiences things that don't contribute to bringing you closer to God, then how can you experience God's kingdom here on earth. As BillM alludes to, there is controversy over whether this verse actually refers to homosexuals or not, but clearly the list of offenders, which certainly doesn't seem exhaustive by any means, seems to point to persons experiencing life in a shallow or harmful way:


9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.


It would seem to me that this list identifies people who are living a life not to the full, not loving wastefully, not experiencing God's love, and therefore are not likely to be inheriting a life of experiencing the kingdom of God. I don't think it means an afterlife.


That's just my view.




Edited by PaulS
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I should say that I definitely don't think the term 'sodomites' in the above verse refers to gay men. I believe it refers to what the story of Sodom actually discusses - i.e. not gay male sexual intercourse but the nastiness, ungratefulness, inhospitable nature of the majority of the people of Sodom (as told in the biblical story).


If it is that narrow then it would seem that homosexual women are okay though.

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I think only Paul knew if he was a repressed gay male. :rolleyes: I have to agree with the OP. Very sloppy indeed, enough to make me think twice about reading anymore of his books. I am open to any committed lifestyle choice someone practices, but to make a comment like that with no proof is a tad preposterous. I am not a fan of literary grasping at straws to find a way to support your point if the information is simply not in the cards (no relevant facts). Correct me if I am wrong but, Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, was he not? Is not one of the requirements that he be married?


Heck for that matter we could all be repressed gays and lesbians to some extent. Where do you draw the line? How do you know?

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Well, I think what is so disappointing about this is that Spong is an intellegent fellow with a lot of very good points to make. Such mis-exegesis at times really distracts from his work. Moreover, it leaves the reader wondering just what the motivation is. Is it publicity? Pushing an agenda at the cost of overreaching and tarnishing his work. Only Spong knows this, I suppose.

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Well, I think what is so disappointing about this is that Spong is an intellegent fellow with a lot of very good points to make. Such mis-exegesis at times really distracts from his work. Moreover, it leaves the reader wondering just what the motivation is. Is it publicity? Pushing an agenda at the cost of overreaching and tarnishing his work. Only Spong knows this, I suppose.


Keith, it seems to me that Spong puts across a more thorough argument than the one-liner your OP presents. Chapter 32 of that book (from where this line comes) is dedicated to this issue and it presents Spong's reasons for deciding that he thinks Paul was most likely a repressed gay man. It's not just a shot in isolation, he discussed his thoughts at length. I think any reasonable reader would be able to weigh up Spong's reasons and decide for themselves. I don't think anybody should take anybody else's thoughts as their own without considering all the available evidence.

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Hello all,


A couple points in this conversation caught my eye...



BillM, said:

I would find Paul to be more misogynistic myself.



Bear in mind, there were "two Pauls." By this I mean there is the apostle Paul, and there are those who wrote in his name, but were not themselves Paul (pseudepigraphic works). I think this is a very important distinction to make because "Paul" collectively wrote a very significant percentage of the New Testament (13 of 27 books = 48%). This being the case, I for one really want to know which books are thought to be written by the apostle Paul, and which are known not to be writtten by the apostle (to a high degree of probability - which is the best we can say of any ancient literature).


There are differences in opinion, of course, but generally I find the following to reflect the normative assessment:


Undisputed letters of Paul, written between 51-58 ce, listed chronilogically; (7 of 27 = 25%):


First Thessalonians
First Corinthians
Second Corinthians


Disputed letters of Paul (modern scholarship seems to be about equally divided):


Second Thessalonians


Known NOT to be letters of Paul (thought to be pseudepigraphic by most modern scholars):


Pastoral epistles (these are clearly of a later date; formal church hierarchy exists)

First Timothy
Second Timothy




(Additionally, there is the book of Hebrews, which never claims to be written by Paul -or anyone else for that matter- but which was very early asserted to have been written by Paul - most likely so as to be included in the canon. One would be hard pressed to find any modern scholar who thinks Paul wrote Hebrews.)


Personally, I only accept the "undisputed" letters of Paul as being written by Paul.


When I read the evidence against the other letters, I find it to be convincing. However, it is possible there was a "Pauline School" and letters of Paul were in a sense managed by him, but not written by him. In addition, there are surviving "circular letters" which have blanks spaces into which the city/church being addressed was to be added at a later date. So there was clearly some kind of "industry" producing copies of the letters of "Paul." There is not an obvious answer to this question of authorship. One must weight the evidence and draw one's own conclusions.


The letters known to be written by the apostle Paul actually are very supportive of women, and include recognition of women as deacans and as highly involved in the church. This may be due to the likelyhood that early "churches" were located in private homes, and in the Greek culture of that time the home was largely the sphere of influence of the woman of the house. I personally find that more likely than the observation that Jesus' following included presumably well-to-do women who were among his followers and supporters from Nazareth, because I'm convinced there was no direct contact between Paul and Jesus, and not even any early contact between Paul and the Disciples of Jesus (I favor Paul's testimony in this regard over the author of Luke/Acts).


It is also possible Paul personally held women in far higher regard than most of his day. He does seem to express the idea that all are one in Christ, and that apparent differences seen in this life will soon be of no consequence or importance. Most likely of all, in combination with this point, is I think, that Paul saw little reason to worry about such matters. If his letters are accurate reflections of his thoughts, Paul was convinced the second coming of Jesus Christ was near. He fully expected to be alive to see it. This is the same reason he said to remain married if you were already married, and not to marry if you were unmarried (although he also observed if you couldn't stop your sexual desires, it was then better to marry).


So for these reasons, I do not read Paul himself as a misogynist. However, some of those who wrote in Paul's name (or wrote forgeries, if you like) were quite clearly misogynist. But I believe these developments took place after Paul's death, after the church had taken on a formal structure (part of which would tend to preclude equal treatment of women, given the 1st-2nd century culture).




Perperual Seeker, said:

Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, was he not?



Most scholars deem Paul was a former Pharisee. His writings (the letters in the New Testament) are the only early examples of this group, although it must be noted, his surviving writings are more specifically from the perspectice of an ex-Pharisee.


My understanding is the evidence for Paul being a member of the Sanhedrin is thin.


Consider the source: if we are to believe that Paul more clearly understands his travels and when he spoke with the Disciples of Jesus, we must then find the books of Acts to be lacking in accurate detail (clearly, at least one of these authors is mistaken); so why would we think Acts is more accurate with regard to correctly identifying Paul as a member of the Shanhedrin? It seems pretty clear that Acts was written without a great regard for what its author considered minor details.


Reading Acts Ch. 23, I find the evidence turns on a single word, that of calling members of the Sanhedrin as "brothers." But this may simply mean "men." It does not mean that Paul identified himself as a member of the Sanhedrin. I rather doubt it, for were this the case would he not have said as much? In the same text (Acts Ch. 23) he identifies himself as a Pharisee, and a son of Pharisees.


This is also an example of the importance of looking to the original language (Greek in this case) when trying to pin a meaning on the turning of a single word. Doing so is always a precarious perch, IMO. Not only need we deal with sorting out the various meanings of the word given in the text, we have to consider alternate words which may have been substituted over time. To my mind, such a close reading -turning on a key word- is always suspect, and we should also consider the context of the text. And even doing this, there is always some doubt. (This works both ways of course - we might use this logic to argue in support of the conclusion Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin. Which is why in this case, I also ask mself, were this the case, would not Paul have made a declaration to this effect, as he did with regard to his being a Pharisee?)


With regard to sorting out the major groups -Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes- I think this web page I stumbled across might be useful:




The other major group which is not mentioned on the above web page is the Zealots. The Jewish historian Josephus states that the Zealots “agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord" (Antiquities 18.1.6). It was the Zealots who led a rebellion against Rome when the Romans forced imperial cult worship upon the Jewish people. Thus began The Great Jewish Revolt (in 66 ce). This revolt was ultimately crushed by Rome, resulting in the destruction of Jerusalem and of the Temple in 70 ce.


And with the destruction of the Temple, the Saducees came to an end, along with priestly cult worship - no Temple, no sacrifice. From these ashes the Pharisees grew in influence (being based upon an oral tradition, as opposed to Temple sacrifice) and in the view of many scholars, rabbinic Judaism was born.



With blessings,


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I never thought of Paul as gay, but what are your opinions of Jonathan and King David? This was brought up on another forum I'm on, and I do kinda think their relationship was a bit more than brotherly love, or it may of been I don't know. King David says his love for Jonathan surpasses that of any woman, I never dwelled into

this before but now rereading all the verses it just really sounds like it may of been.

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I personally suspect Paul was gay but there is (IMO) no way to prove it for certain. In the end what if he was? What if he was not? I think it is only important when one considers how some of the said (true or otherwise) quotes from Paul have been used to give gay people a hard time over the years and still do in many churches. I am therefore not surprised that many conservatives want to defend there view of Paul and to try to suggest Bishop Spong has lost the plot because if Paul could be proved to be gay then it would make all biblical suggestion that being gay is due to God giving them over to such natures a nonsense and show how unloving they have been to gay people.

The fact that homosexuality is found in many places in nature bares (IMO) testimony that it is nonsense but conservatives seldom want to acknowledge this in my experience and prefer instead to challenge any voice like Bishop Spong's that challenges them.

After all what does it matter except to conservatives if Paul was gay or not? I just do not see it matters.

Edited by Pete
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