Thursday, March 15, 2012

Gay centurion: Jesus heals a soldier’s boyfriend in the Bible

“Traces of His Presence” by Eric Martin

Jesus praised a gay soldier as a model of faith and healed his male lover in the gospels, according to many Bible experts. The soldier, a centurion in the Roman army, is highlighted here today (March 15) for the feast day of Longinus, a centurion at the crucifixion of Jesus.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Gay centurion: Jesus heals a soldier’s boyfriend in the Bible

by Luc Viatour
Both Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10 tell how a centurion asked Jesus to heal the young man referred to in Greek as his “pais.” The word was commonly used for the younger partner in a same-sex relationship. It is usually translated as boy, servant or slave. In recent years progressive Bible scholars have concluded that the centurion was in a homosexual relationship with the “slave who was dear to him” in the gospel story.

Jesus was willing to go into the centurion’s house to heal his lover, but the centurion stopped him, saying, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Jesus marveled and told the crowd around him, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith!” To the centurion he said, “Go; be it done for you as you have believed.” And his boyfriend was healed at that moment.

Scholars believe that “boy” was the centurion’s sex partner not only due to the word “pais,” but also because it is unlikely that a soldier would care so much about an ordinary slave. It was common in Greco-Roman culture for mature men to pair up with a young man as his lover in “erastes-eromenes” pederastic sexual relationship.

This interpretation is promoted by LGBT-friendly church groups such as on billboards stating “Jesus affirmed a gay couple.” For more info, see my previous post, Billboards show gay-friendly Jesus.

The centurion’s story has gotten surprisingly little attention throughout history considering that Jesus himself was impressed by his faith. But the Roman soldier has always been an unlikely role model. Jesus’ contemporaries were probably shocked that the great healer would praise a military man who enforced Roman occupation of their land. Today people may find the centurion unappealing because he may have been queer, or a slave owner, or both. It was just like Jesus to take someone disreputable and praise them as holy.

Detail from “Healing the Centurion’s Servant” in Mother Stories From the New Testament by Anonymous, 1906

While the faithful centurion himself is rarely mentioned, his words do live on in a prayer used in many Catholic and Protestant eucharistic liturgies. For example, the prayer immediately before communion at Catholic mass paraphrases his words: “Lord I am not worthy to receive you under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Saint Longinus, whose feast day is today (March 15) is the centurion who pierced Christ’s side at the crucifixion and declared, “Truly this man was the son of God.” It’s possible that he is the same faithful gay centurion whose beloved boyfriend was healed by Jesus.

“Crucifixion” by Christopher Olwage (oil on canvas)

Gay New Zealand artist Christopher Olwage pictures the centurion and his “pais” with Jesus at the cross in his 2015 crucifixion painting. The scene is framed by a male couple: the Centurion on the left and the man “who was dear to him” on the right. The nude painting includes two other men who may have had male-male sexual relationships with Christ: John, who is most often identified as the Beloved Disciple and Lazarus. For more info, see the previous post Gay Jesus painting shown in New Zealand.

Jesus’ healing interaction with the same-sex couple has fascinated artist Eric Martin so much that he created two works based on their story. Martin is a gay poet, artist, and church organist in Burlington, North Carolina. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.

“Traces of His Presence” at the top of this post uses fluid lines and bold red to reveal the face of Christ in the holy space between the centurion and his beloved.

“The Visit” by Eric Martin

Martin takes a more realistic approach in “The Visit.” A rainbow arches behind Jesus as he gazes at the centurion and his pais. Their varied expressions draw the viewer deeper into the drama.

Books that explore the homosexuality of the centurion include:

Jonathan Loved David: Homosexuality in Biblical Times by Tom Horner

Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians, and Everybody Else by John McNeill

The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships by Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley

What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak

The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament by Theodore Jennings

“Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant” by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) (Wikimedia Commons)
Related links:

A gay centurion comes out to Jesus (Gay Christian 101)

Jesus and the centurion (Wild Reed)

Gay centurion (My Queer Scripture)

The centurion of great faith (Homosexuality and Scripture by Pharsea)

Jesus, the centurion, and his lover (Jack Clark Robinson at Gay and Lesbian Review)

When Jesus Healed a Same-Sex Partner by Jay Michaelson (Huffington Post)

The Gay Gospel? (The L Stop)

El centurión gay: Jesús cura al novio de un soldado romano en la Biblia (Santos Queer)

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.


Anonymous said...

Queering The Church also has a post on The Gay Centurion

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks for the additional link. I checked and the content seems the same as the link I posted from one of Terrence Weldon’s other blogs, My Queer Scripture.

Earthbound Spirit said...

The story of the centurion and his "lad" is explored at some length in 'The Man Jesus Loved' by Theodore (Ted) Jennings. [Jennings was my Gospels prof in seminary...] It's a story I plan to use in a sermon, someday...

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks, Earthbound, for reminding me of the reference to “The Man Jesus Loved.” It’s one of my favorite books. Writing about the healing of the centurion’s “lad” was on my to-do list here for years. When I set my mind to actually do it, I was blessed by rediscovering and deepening my knowledge of this inspiring incident. Let me know if you post your sermon online!

Beau said...

If we surmise from Matthew 8 and Luke 7 that gay relationships are granted tacit approval by Jesus, then by the same logic, are we not missing a far more obvious interpretation of these passages: that SLAVERY is granted tacit approval by Jesus.

Fortunately, human moral behavior is finally beginning to outgrow the need for "Biblical defense", although (if we begin counting from the spread of Christianity) it's taken us the better part of 2000 years to renounce the slavery of captives and all women.

As humans begin to value loving, committed relationships without sexual prejudice, why look to the bible for moral defense? In the biblical view of marriage, the wife is the slave to the husband.

You can argue that with both slaves and wives, the New Testament urges owners/husbands to "love" their slaves/wives, but loving relationships (especially sexual relationships) should always be suspect in the context of ownership.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Beau, you raise an important point. The Greek word “pais” can be translated several different ways and does not necessarily mean a slave or a gay lover. It can also mean “child” or “son.” Jesus didn’t require people to be perfect or to be in perfect relationships before he offered healing.

Anonymous said...

Pais can mean either male or female servant, and since the entire encounter is gender neutral the Centurion could just as easily been referring to a young girl. Jesus then went on to say that this Centurion had great faith, and the word used there was pistis and not just faith, but tosoutos pistis, vast unmeasurable faith which translates to moral conviction. Remember Matthew 5:17-18, Jesus didn't come to change the law but to fulfill it. And we also know about the relationship between the Centurion and the servant because of what Christ did not say. When someone was in a sinful situation Jesus would love then and aid them, as we all should, but then remind them "go and sin no more."

Fred said...

You all seem to avoid the most obvious here. According to this story the boy, servant and/or lover was also a slave owned by a military commander who was part of a conquering oppressive government. So if Jesus condoned the homosexual life style of the commander and slave Jesus also condoned slavery, the military, and countries conquering and oppressioning others. If you notice that he doesn't speak out against it. In another story he even says to give unto Caesar what is Caesars. So that also mean to follow the laws of the conquerors.