A Gay Centurion
The short answer is that scripture is important and what we believe, based on scripture, is important. For centuries, the organized church has insisted gay people are never presented in the Bible in a positive light.
Many Christians refuse to believe that God would include a positive story about a gay Centurion in the Bible. In recent centuries, many openly gay Christians have been excluded from the spiritual life of the church.
Our goal is to examine the available evidence. If the evidence and a faithful, believing approach to scripture supports the understanding that this story is about a gay centurion and his pais-same sex lover, that dramatic fact should be public knowledge.
The Roman marriage ban lasted until AD 197, when Septimius Severus ended it. This ban may have encouraged same sex relationships in the first century Roman Army.
Those who believe that the Centurion’s pais was only a servant and not the same sex partner of the homosexual Centurion, cite Greek lexicons to prove their case. Since most Biblical Greek lexicons do not mention beloved or same sex lover as possible meanings of pais most nongay Christians insist same sex lover could not possibly be the meaning of pais.
Is there cultural, historical and linguistic evidence which indicates that beloved or same sex lover is the probable meaning of pais in Matthew and Luke’s story of the centurion?
Pais conveyed the idiomatic meaning of same sex lover. The idiomatic meaning of words derives from the way a particular culture uses a word. First century Greek and Roman culture often used the word pais with the meaning of "same sex lover."
Idiom refers to a way of using words that is natural to native speakers of a language but which does not convey the literal meaning of the words. An idiomatic expression uses a word in a way different than its literal meaning, such as using the word for servant to mean something more than servant, like same sex lover. Servant is a literal meaning. Same sex lover is the idiomatic meaning. For example:
Just so, the Greek word pais carried an idiomatic meaning for native Greek speakers for many centuries prior to Matthew writing his Gospel. The well-known, widely recognized idiomatic meaning of pais was "beloved or same sex lover."
That Matthew and Luke possibly used pais with the meaning of same sex lover raises the interesting possibility that Jesus met and blessed a gay centurion who was honest enough to tell Jesus he was gay.
Remember, in our story, the Centurion uses the word pais to describe his sick "servant." He is an utterly honest man and refuses to insult Jesus by asking for healing under false pretences. The gay Centurion openly admits to Jesus that he is a gay Centurion by using the Greek word pais to describe his servant.
What if you were in Jesus' place and the gay Centurion came to you, asking healing for his pais-beloved-partner?
Would you get in his face and tell him "You're going to roast in hell like a marshmallow if you don't stop being gay?"
Would you tell him "Sure I'll heal your partner if both of you promise to join Exodus International and become Ex-Gay"?
Or would you do like Jesus did and simply heal the beloved partner of the gay Centurion and affirm his remarkable faith in God?
Eupolis, a playwright, 446-411 BC, references Agathon, an exceptionally good-looking man who, in his late teens, was the paidika or pais of Pausanias. Their same sex relationship continued to flourish when Agathon was in his thirties.
Aeschines, 390-314 BC, Athenian poet, in Against Timarchos, charged rival politician Timarchos with having lived off his relationships with older men. In such relationships, the older man was called the erastes or the lover, and the younger man was called the eromenos or paidika or pais, the boyfriend. Paidika is derived from pais.
“If a state or an army could be formed only of lovers and their beloved, how could any company hope for greater things than these, despising infamy and rivaling each other in honor? Even a few of them, fighting side by side, might well conquer the world." And again, “Love will make men dare to die for their beloved - love alone.”
Callimanchus, 305-240 BC, Greek poet and Chief Librarian of the famed Alexandrian library, wrote about the pais as same sex lover in his literature.
Ancient Alexandria, Egypt was a cosmopolitan city of Jews, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, a prosperous trade center for East and West. Its library encouraged the mingling of different cultures and spiritual traditions. For a time Alexandria was the greatest center of learning in the ancient world.
Alexandria was also the center of pagan mysticism and the birthplace of the most celebrated schools of gnosticism. The Alexandrian library was the most famous library of the ancient world. It was part of a complex called the Alexandrian Museum or Temple of the Muses. The library and museum were founded in the 3rd century BC and maintained by a long succession of Ptolemies, rulers of ancient Egypt.
An auxiliary library was established about 235 BC in the Serapeum, a temple dedicated to the god Serapis. The Alexandrian library systematically collected the knowledge of the ancient world and at its peak is estimated to have held 400,000 to 700,000 scrolls and papyri. In AD 272 the Alexandrian museum and main library were destroyed in the civil war under the Roman emperor Aurelian.
[The] "Sacred Band of three hundred chosen men... composed of young men attached to each other by personal affection... a band cemented by friendship grounded upon love is never to be broken, and invincible; since the lovers, ashamed to be base in sight of their beloved, and the beloved before their lovers, willingly rush into danger for the relief of one another.”
Why does this factual information surprise so many modern Christians?
In ancient Greece, the word pais was widely used and understood as referring to someone in a same sex relationship. It was not unusual for Roman Centurions and Roman soldiers to have male servants with whom they had a sexual relationship.
Remember that Roman Law prohibited heterosexual marriage for serving Roman soldiers in the first century AD. From an historical perspective, a gay Centurion or a Centurion in a same sex relationship is not an unusual thing.
Remember too that the Bible deals with the culture as it finds it. In the first century, referring to a Centurion's servant as his pais was like saying:
Those words, either in the Greek idiom of the first century or the American idiom of the twenty first century, convey information about one's sexual orientation.
We conclude that God can and does bless loving homosexual relationships like the one between a gay Centurion and his pais-beloved, as long as those relationships are within the Biblical moral framework - committed, faithful, noncultic.