Gospel of Thomas and St Paul’s Letters to the Romans

The four Synoptic Gospels do not directly reference the moral question of homosexuality. However, we do see references appear in the New Testament, through the apostle Paul. The orthodoxy uses a section of Paul’s letters to the Romans to argue that Jesus disapproved of homosexuality. It is not the aim of 77th Pearl: The Perpetual Tree to erode the integrity of the Bible authors. However, it is necessary to analyse the context of the rhetoric we are presented with in these texts. Stepping back and looking at the big picture can be difficult, when we feel that it might denigrate the truth of something we want to be of a spiritual basis. This kind of objective analysis is necessary, particularly when we know that the text in question has caused harm to individuals or groups. To begin, let us look at what Romans 1:25-29 states:

‘…because they exchanged God’s truth for a lie and have worshipped and served the creature instead of the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

That is why God abandoned them to degrading passions:

why their women have exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural practices; and the men, in a similar fashion, too, giving up normal relations with women, are consumed with passion for each other, men doing shameful things with men and receiving in themselves due reward for their perversion.

In other words, since they would not consent to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to their unacceptable thoughts and indecent behaviour.

And so now they are steeped in all sorts of injustice, rottenness, greed and malice; full of envy, murder, wrangling, treachery and spite.’

Paul was a Pharisee, initially a persecutor of those who believed in Jesus. Being a Pharisee, he would have also been a servant of the Jewish Law. Paul was not a direct apostle of Jesus but became a champion of Jesus as the Saviour for the gentiles, by faith. Paul argues the stature of the gentiles through the grace (free, unmerited favour of God) Jesus attained by His sacrifice. We should note that none of the New Testament was actually written by a direct apostle of Jesus. For example, Mark, an apostle of Peter, wrote the first gospel 70-90 years after Jesus’ death. Much of what we see in Paul’s letters is a theological struggle—how could he reconcile the Jewish Law for Jewish followers of Jesus and include the gentiles, who were outside of the Law (uncircumcised and unschooled in dietary practices and moral conduct). Galatians 2:21: ‘I am not setting aside God’s grace as of no value; it is merely that if saving justice comes through the Law, Christ died needlessly.’And in Galatians 5:4: ‘once you seek to be reckoned as upright through the Law, then you have separated yourself from Christ, you have fallen away from grace.’

If we read Galatians 4:3, ‘…as long as we were still under age, we were enslaved to the elemental principles of this world’, we see how Paul deconstructs Jewish Law as a device which was ultimately created by ethereal beings, known as Stoicheia. This is a Greek term which can be interpreted as demonic angels or beings, that control elements within the physical realm. Paul concludes that the Stoicheia were to blame for creating the Jewish Law, which he surmised heightened the effectiveness of sin. Galatians 3:10: ‘…all those who depend on the works of the Law are under a curse, since scripture says: Accursed be he who does not make what is written in the book of the Law effective, by putting it into practice.’He comes to this conclusion by observing how the laws are associated to physical parameters, which are difficult to adhere to, all the while recognising the conundrum that all sin was forgiven through Jesus’ sacrifice. Interestingly, the reference to malevolent spirit beings reflects the Gnostic thesis. This is evidence of how the gospel authors were influenced by Greek mythology. In Galatians 4:9 Paul reiterates: ‘whereas now that you have come to recognise God—or rather, be recognised by God—how can you now turn back again to those powerless and bankrupt elements whose slaves you now want to be all over again?’ It would seem that Paul did indeed familiarise himself with the Greek myths, probably to argue a position using concepts the Gentiles could understand. His discourse attempted to give the Gentiles a sense of importance, by suggesting that they are the chosen ones, just as much, if not more (in Galatians), than the Jewish people.

Paul affirms the Gentiles importance. He proposes that Sarah, Abraham’s very old wife, allegorically represents the mother of the lineage that would have claim over the other Jerusalem, which is not of this world (Galatians 4:21-27). In this way the servant of Abraham, Hagar, gave rise to the nation who claims Jerusalem on Earth—her child’s conception was purely physical. Since Sarah’s child was conceived in her old age, through Gods help, it follows that the Gentiles would be brought into grace through Jesus’ intervention in this world. Galatians 3:16-17:

‘Now the promises were addressed to Abraham and his progeny. The words were not and to his progenies in the plural, but in the singular; and to your progeny, which means Christ. What I am saying is this: once a will had been long ago ratified by God, the Law, coming four hundred and thirty years later, could not abolish it and so nullify its promise.’

Paul makes a strong case for the Gentiles being the chosen people (‘and to your progeny, which means Christ’), rather than the Jews, who saw themselves as the chosen progenies. He suggests that the promise was made for one, not many, by pointing out the use of the singular—progeny. Of course, most contemporary scholars accept that Jesus was not the lineage of David, because He was known as Jesus of Nazareth. It was the author of Luke who engineered the story of a census. The story sees Jesus born in Bethlehem, fulfilling the prophecy relating to His lineage. As mentioned previously, there is no evidence of such a census happening. The question arises: would it even be feasible for a heavily pregnant woman to travel such a distance on a donkey? These facts should not denigrate the importance of the man we know as Jesus. However, it does show us how the gospel authors tried to place Him into the Old Testament prophesies. Indeed, it was Jesus Himself who used the prophecies to gather a following, but His definition of the Saviour was very different to that of His Jewish contemporaries.

The letters to the Galatians, by Paul, were an attempt to curb the influence of the Jewish apostles of Jesus, who preached a Jewish form of Christianity. The Jewish followers of Jesus would have suggested that one had to become Jewish, circumcised, and follow dietary and moral laws to be saved. In Galatians, Paul constructed a strong argument against this position. In doing so, Paul put himself in a position where the Jewish Christians started to resent him. Scholars have suggested that Paul, being aware of the negative feelings toward his discourse with the Galatians, turned his attention from Jerusalem to Rome.  It is generally believed that the apostle Peter was not necessarily the instigator of the Christian movement in Rome, but that it started in small independent groups. It was these groups that Paul wanted to embrace, as they were gentiles and, at that point, were free of a patriarch. At the same time, Paul needed to demonstrate that he was not antinomian; therefore, we see him attempt to retract his erroneous rhetoric about the Law (Romans 3:30-31). This was achieved by restating the importance of the Jewish moral laws in the letters to the Romans. However, this is not what we see in Romans 1:25-29. Here, we see an opening observation about the people in Rome, who were not believers of the Christ or of one God.

The Jewish Law had much to do with moral codes of conduct. Paul was seen to be arguing the Law created a place for sin to breed. For this reason, people were suggesting Paul was implying they should give in to sinful urges. This is evident in the text Romans 3:8: ‘…the slanderous report…that we teach that one should do evil that good may come of it. In fact such people are justly condemned.’ In the letters to the Romans, particularly after Chapter 1, Paul restates the importance of moral laws. In Romans 1:25-29, Paul talks about the Romans, who did not believe in the one, true God. Indeed, we do know the Romans of this period were polytheist and experimental in their sexual practices, to say the least. What is written in Romans 1:25-29 is not an intentional condemnation of the Gay Community, but rather a warning about loose morals and practices, which can lead to disease and social corruptibility. Paul is saying that if one follows a hedonistic lifestyle, without moral codes of conduct, one will endure physical and mental anguish. This is not anything we do not know to be true in the twenty-first century. We have seen how sexually transmitted diseases can destroy lives if unhealthy behaviours are not curbed through responsible practices. This caution can be extrapolated to all activities in the physical world when we consider how over-indulging in food, alcohol, or even wealth accumulation, can cause people to become physically and or mentally unwell.

Ultimately, Paul needed to mesh together the necessity of the Jewish Law and the concept of grace given to all through Jesus’ sacrifice. This necessity, as shown here in a brief commentary, came from a need for diplomacy in order to maintain a tenuous position within the seminal Jewish and Gentile Christian communities. It is important to look at Paul in this light, since he is considered the reason for Christianity being what it is at the early part of the twenty-first century. Protestant reformers Calvin and Luther saw Paul’s letters as evidence for why dogma is damaging to Jesus’ message—love of God, above all else. If we take the sayings in the Gospel of Thomas as the only real intentions of Jesus, we can understand how Paul’s letters could be damaging to the truth Jesus wanted the world to embrace. The Gospel of Thomas is free of narrative or political influences—this makes it reliable. For the seeker, it is important to examine these things personally. It is difficult to do this in the context of these commentaries, beyond what is absolutely necessary to illustrate a point. In this instance, we see that words, when put into context, suddenly have layers of new meaning, disarming seemingly toxic verses.

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