I Have a Profound Appreciation for the Writings of the Apostle Paul

In Spite of Not Believing in the Authority of the Bible or the Existence of God

Progress & Conservation🔰
4 min readJun 19, 2023
Photo by Liviu Florescu on Unsplash

St. Paul is actually my favorite biblical author because he is by far the most radical, egalitarian and liberal. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”(Galatians 3:28) His whole doctrine of justification by faith, rightly understood, was an egalitarian message of anti-racism, anti-casteism, and anti-patriarchy. In 1st-Century Judaic thought, to be “righteous” or “just” was synonymous with being Jewish because righteousness is obeying the Old Testament biblical law, and non-Jews were unjust/sinners by default (because you obviously can’t follow a divine law that was never revealed to you). Women were also regarded as of a lower status than men within the community because woman can’t keep the whole law since they can’t undergo circumcision (and also menstruation renders them impure). Women and slaves were regarded as subservient to the fully Torah-observant Jewish men within the patriarchal community. St. Paul takes this idea of the dichotomy between the “righteous Jew” and “gentile sinner” up in Galatians 2:15, and elsewhere, only to argue that true righteousness (as a covenantal status, i.e. being among God’s chosen people) is not determined by ethnicity, class, or caste but rather by “faith working through love.”(Galatians 5:6) And, he argues, that not only non-Jews (gentiles) but also women and slaves become equal members of the body of Christ through faith.

But what about the misogynistic statements of Paul in his letters? The source of “Paul’s” patriarchal comments about women not speaking/teaching is 1 Timothy, a book that is universally regarded as a forgery by scholars and textual critics. The real St. Paul never said that a woman shouldn’t speak in church. He did, however, say that “there is neither male nor female.” Bart Ehrman’s book “Forged” explains pretty well why 1 Timothy cannot possibly have been written by the historic Paul. The reality is that only 7 of the 14 Pauline Epistles in the New Testament are actually authentic. The fact that half of the Pauline corpus is forged makes it hard to get a clear picture of Paul from a simple reading of the Bible. Most of the things that people hate about St. Paul is either shit that is only taught in the forged letters or stuff that is being totally misunderstood (like justification by faith).

Caveat:

My appreciation of the Apostle Paul is limited, of course. I reject the entire scheme of redemption espoused by Paul because it requires a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation narrative — and such an interpretation requires one to adopt an essentialist epistemology that assumes all things fit into rigid categories. Each thing in this world is what it is because it mimics an Ideal Form in the mind of God. There is an ideal form of treeness which all individual trees mimic. That is what makes them trees. Everything was “created according to its kind.” This creates a rigid and dogmatic essentialist worldview the precludes the possibility of biological evolution or of sex, gender, and sexuality as existing on a spectrum rather than being clearly defined. This is part of the reason, I believe, why Paul fell in line with the sort of homophobic bigotry that was typical within his religious culture.

Liberal Christians struggle to explain away the hateful statement about homosexuals in 1 Corinthians 6:9. They will argue that the term ἀρσενοκοῖτης was a neologism, a word that Paul invented, and likely referred to temple prostitutes rather than homosexuals. However, there’s not really any evidence to substantiate that claim. The word ἀρσενοκοῖτης here may be a neologism but it’s pretty clearly one drawn from Leviticus 18:22 in the Greek Septuagint translation: καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός, where the context is condemning homosexuality. The intended meaning seems to clearly be “men who have sex with men.” Unfortunately, Paul inherited prejudices from his cultural and religious background.

Sure, Paul is also condemning temple prostitution and other forms of “sexual immorality” in the greater context of the passage but the word here seems to mean “men who have sex with men” with no connotation of whether or not that is in the context of a committed relationship or of prostitution. It wouldn’t have even made sense for Paul to create this neologism to refer to temple prostitutes because there were already words for that in Greek and Paul clearly is familiar with those words because he uses them, one of which he uses in the same sentence as this neologism. He created the neologism “arsenokoites” and used it alongside the word for temple prostitutes, presumably because he wanted to expand upon this and clarify that he believed homosexuality itself to be sinful, even apart from prostitution. It seems like he’s intentionally trying to condemn homosexuality in addition to temple prostitution and sexual immorality in general.

Any attempt to liberalize Christianity must start with a recognition that the Bible is a book written by fallible men with prejudices and flaws like all other men. I disagree with Paul’s homophobic bigotry but I’m fairly certain that homophobic bigotry is precisely what is on display here in 1 Corinthians.

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Progress & Conservation🔰

Radical centrist, functional finance, universal healthcare, social dividend, universal basic income, land value tax, nominal GDP targeting, social democracy