Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, in a book published yesterday, speculates that the Apostle Paul, an unmarried man plagued by an unnamed weakness, was a secret homosexual.

"Nothing else," Spong wrote, "could account for Paul's self-judging rhetoric, his negative feeling toward his own body and his sense of being controlled by something he had no power to change."

Spong said in a telephone interview from his diocese in Newark, that Paul's words about "the war going on inside of him is a fairly classic description of what I have come to understand in repressed gay males."

The provocatively liberal bishop stirred a firestorm through the denomination more than a year ago when he ordained a homosexual man to the priesthood, which resulted in his censure by fellow bishops in a close vote last summer.

The Rt. Rev. Edmond L. Browning of New York, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, said in an interview that he has not read Spong's book, "Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism", and could not comment on its content. But Browning predicted three types of reaction to Spong's thesis:

"For some people, that kind of courage offers them a hope. {Some} . . . will find it offensive. For those opposed {to endorsing homosexual behavior}, it will be more fodder for their guns."

One strong critic of liberal trends in the Episcopal Church said he thought many Christians would quickly dismiss Spong's arguments.

"As far as I know there is no scholarly opinion that Paul was a homosexual," said the Rev. Jerome Politzer of Monterey, Calif., who recently stepped down as president of the Prayer Book Society.

Paul condemns erotic same-sex relations in his writings, but mainstream New Testament scholars have varied opinions on what he specifically had in mind, his cultural assumptions and what his words mean for church teaching today.