In his first letter to the Corinthians he cites Jesus’ own words about marriage to tell the zealots that there is no question of not getting married or of married couples abstaining from sexual relations. This may have been the first time the issue of sex raised its head in the Church, but it certainly was not the last. St Paul then, as the Pope now, simply refers to Christ. Christ had, however, said nothing about the state of converts married to unbelievers, but Paul intelligently applies the teaching there – despite the calls of the zealots that unbelievers should be put away, that ran contrary to Christ’s general teaching; he then goes on to provide solid reasons why a believer should stay with an unbeliever
We can see an equally strong commitment to the teaching of the Lord in Paul’s ideas on ministry. Paul emphasises the kenotic nature (the self-emptying nature) of the Christian ministry. In Galatians and Corinthians he talks about the need to love and serve each other and thus fulfil the ‘law of Christ’. Romans 12:14 is Paul repeating the words that would appear in Matthew 5:44. The great hymn to love in 1 Corinthians 13 is a threnody on Christ’s words, giving us one of the clearest and most beautiful explanations of why Christ commanded us to love one another.
One might push this further. There are those who have pointed out that of the four Gospels, it is only John’s which places so much emphasis on love, but in Paul we see that that message was there in the earliest Christian writings. Indeed, we might reflect that the Church would have done better if Paul’s successors had behaved more like the convert Paul and less like the persecuting zealot Saul.
Like his Saviour, Paul was criticised for consorting with the sort of folk pious Jews avoided. He insisted that we come into a right relationship with God not through observance of the law and works, but through faith. The notion that Paul was a misogynist is one tenable only by graduates of atheism 101, who ignore the facts and cleave to their man-made myths. He writes of his female co-workers with great affection, and even where, as in 1 Corinthians 11 where he says things which feminists rage over, if they’d read it in context, they’d see he is simply trying to keep order in a congregation by reminding them to create no occasion for scandal.
Lastly we come to the passages about homosexuality. If we take Romans 1 he could not be clearer. Homosexuals do not abandon natural desires; they abandon natural functions: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another…” (1:26-27)
The Greek word kreesis, translated “function” in this text, is used only on these two occasions in the New Testament, but is found frequently in other literature of the time. According to the standard Greek language reference A Greek/English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, the word means “use, relations, function, especially of sexual intercourse.” Paul is not talking about natural desires here, but natural functions. He is not talking about what one wants sexually, but how one is built to operate sexually. The body is built to function in a specific way. Men were not built to function sexually with men, but with women.
Jesus clarified the natural, normal relationship: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh?” (Matthew 19:4-5) Homosexual desire is unnatural because it causes a man to abandon the natural sexual compliment God has ordained for him: a woman. That was Paul’s view, and it was Paul’s because it was Christ’s.