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The below two paragraphs often pop up when one discusses/debates about Biblical stance towards homosexuality.

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10).

“But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted” (1 Timothy 1:8–11).

For the homosexual, Paul used the word "Arsenokoitēs", which, according to gay-friendly websites, is not referring to homosexual as we know it today, because there already was a word "androkoitēs" to describe the real homosexual activity.

So, what did Paul have in mind, when he wrote about and condemning "Arsenokoitēs"? Did he condemn homosexuality-- the kind of gay love without social or economic exploitation that is usually associated with men prostitutes back in the days of the Romes--- as we know it today?

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6 Answers 6

The classical Greek word ἀρρενοκοίτης (or ἀρσενοκοίτης in Koine Greek) means "sodomy" according to its usage in antiquity (please click here, and note its use and translation in paragraph 686, line 5, where the direct reference are to those Arabs who lie with other men for sexual intercourse). So there is no ambiguity of the use of this word in 1 Cor 6:9-10 and 1 Tim 1:8-11, which refer to "sodomy" (sexual contact between men).

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ἀρρενοκοίτης appears exactly once in Greek literature, in an epigram celebrating a battle of the Byzantine Emperor Basil in 872 CE. This word is therefore not only less attested than Paul's ambiguous neologism but appeared centuries later. It offers no insight to this question. –  Schuh Mar 10 at 2:58

Homosexuality is an invention of the 19th century. Before then, people had words for specific sexual acts (sodomy etc.), but they did not have the concept of any inherent or acquired “sexual orientation”. This concept originated in modern psycho-pathology. To translate ἀρσενοκοίτης as “homosexual”, as some modern Bible translations do, is an anachronism, if not a deception.

The literature on this is enormous. For a start you could read Foucault, Histoire de la sexualité. Then, for the meaning of ἀρσενοκοίτης, any Greek dictionary, for example:


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Please explain more and cite some of these works where relevant. Develop this more. This is the beginning of a good answer, but much more could be said. I.e. show your work. Show me how your sources use this term. You've shown me a later French work, not a Greek one, and a link to a lexicon entry that proves this word means "sodomite." That doesn't appear to prove your point. Go through specific quotes and break them down. A good answer here takes time and effort. As it stands, this has my downvote. –  Dan Mar 7 '14 at 13:20

The term Paul used that is translated 'homosexual(s)' came directly from the two Greek words in the Greek translation of the Levitical passage (i.e. the Septuagint, which Paul quoted regularly) condemning homosexuality. Paul "coined" the compound word, but it did not come from a vacuum. The Septuagint's translation of the Levitical passage says, in effect, "Don't 'bed' [koite] a 'man' [arseno] like you would a woman." Hence, arsenokoites.

Neither did Paul contextualize the act confining it to prostitution or child abuse or pagan idolatry. If he did, and if the author of Leviticus did as well, then a consistent hermeneutic requires that the neighboring sins these texts condemn would only be prohibited in the same context, but would be acceptable otherwise. So incest, murder of a child, adultery, and bestiality are permissible as long as they are practiced outside of the context of prostitution or pagan idolatry. This is obviously an untenable position.

See Romans 1:26-27 where the condemnation of homosexuality does not depend on the translation of a word coined by Paul in his other writings. In the Romans passage, Paul lists men and women abandoning the natural sexual act (heterosexuality) for what is unnatural (homosexuality) as an example of man's abominations resulting from abandoning the truth of God in exchange for a lie, as Paul describes it.

Some have suggested over the years that Paul was referring in Romans to people abandoning their sexual orientation, and that the word "natural" refers to what is natural for those individuals and not natural in the context of the created order. But this notion is defective, since the plain structure of the Greek words Paul chose forces the translation of "the" natural function rather than "their" natural function. In other words, there is no possessive usage (i.e. "ho autos physikos") which would translate "their natural..." but instead a direct non-possessive syntax ("ho physikos") is used.

Furthermore, the idea that in the Romans passage Paul was describing "sexual orientation" and therefore what is natural to the individual as opposed to the created order, is defeated by the claim coming from the same sources that sexual orientation as we "know" it today is a concept Paul was unfamiliar with.

Paul clearly condemned homosexual practice singularly regardless of the context in which it may be practiced. Paul may not have been aware of the concept of loving committed same-sex relationships, but that is only relevant if you reject the claim that he was writing God's Word under God's wisdom, inspiration, and guidance. If the Christian claim that Paul was writing what God intended is true, we must consider whether God in his omniscience was aware of the modern concept we are discussing. If one regards the Biblical text as the eternal Word of God as most Christians do, it is reasonable to give credence to the idea that the text would address future possibilities and clear up what would certainly be a potent question for our day.

If the reader is not a Christian, it would be inappropriate to expect credence to the idea of Biblical inspiration. However the question above is "was Paul condemning homosexuality as we know it today?" so the idea of Biblical inspiration given to Paul based on the timeless wisdom of God is a relevant consideration. If it's not, then whether Paul condemns homosexuality or not is of no consequence beyond purely academic or historical interest.

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One can argue a biblical prohibition applies to new and different settings, but not on the basis divine inspiration. Your first paragraph is on point, asserting that arsenokoitai is rooted in Leviticus. Then what? How is Israel’s experience of homosexuality similar to same-sex relationships today? Do they share the same intents, values, purposes, ethical concerns? Are the different ‘life situations’ sufficiently similar that one can reasonably equate them, without an appeal to inspiration? Such a rationale, or hermeneutic, would strengthen your answer. –  Schuh Mar 10 at 4:37

It seems that many people want to quote the lexicon and be on there way, however in this case the lexicon does not tell the whole story.

While the lexicon clearly indicates that the word Arsenokoites came to mean sodomy, it is not at all clear that this is what Paul meant it to mean. Unfortunately, this word has no established context prior to Paul's use of the word and it appears for the first time in the texts in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11. As such, we do not know if this word was co-opted or corrupted from its origional meaning.

In fact, what is surprising is what we do not find in the text. Were Paul to use one of the many existing terms to describe homosexual activity, we would expect to see the use of arrenomanes; dihetaristriai; eromenos, erastes or paiderasste; or lakkoproktoi.

Instead, Paul chooses to coin a new word. This is presumably because the word is either a slang term that was en vogue and had not yet been recorded in academic texts (which is not unexpected - you wouldn't turn in an English paper which uses "legit", "jelly", "selfie", or "adorbs" for example) or there was no existing vocabulary to properly capture Paul's intent (or perhaps both situations.)

Due to the above, many have attempted to deconstruct Arsenokoites (a compound word) and define it's parts and then act as if this implicitly and obviously has a prima facie meaning. While the word does break down into parts with aseno- meaning "men" and -koites being the root of the English word coitus which implies (in both Greek and English) that a bed was shared in a sexual manner, the idea that this instantly reveals Arsenokoites to convey a meaning of only sodomy does not stand up to scrutiny.

Take for example the English word "understand". This word does not mean to stand under something.

What may help to elucidate the meaning of Arsenokoites is the use of μαλακός (Malakos) shortly before the condemnation of αρσενοκοίτης (Arsenokoites) in the sin list in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. This word technically means "effeminate" and older translations will use this word, but more modern translations will translate malakos as "Male Prostitutes." and has a sense of the victim being younger, weaker and/or dominated in the relationship.

If this is an accurate rendering of Malakos and Arsenokoites and Malakos are related, then it may be that Arsenokoites refers to the aggressor in the Arsenokoites/Malakos relationship. In other words, this would render the reading of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 as:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor gigolos, nor pimps, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

This would be consistent with the practice of pederasty in Paul's time which is not to be confused with pedophilia. In Pederasty, while there was an age difference between the partners, it was not significant and it was always with a boy who was regarded as a consenting adult. The difference is that by modern standards, the age of consent is much higher. While the relationship might be lecherous, it is not pedophilia.

Furthermore pederasty was often interrelated with the apprenticeship system in Rome. During the time of Paul, this had devolved into full blown prostitution in many instances. It may be that Arsenokoites/Malakos relationship founded on money was in contrast to the erastes\eromenos relationship founded on love.

I have also toyed with the idea that this would also be somewhat consistent with the tone of the sin list Paul gives in which we move from more moral sins, to more economic sins. This makes Arsenokoites the center-point for both being immoral and causing economic injustices. The only contraindicators here are that we have covetous, drunkards, and revilers between thieves and swindlers, though perhaps these have more economic implications in the original Greek. If any readers have more information on this or arguments as to why these class of people would represent economic sins, I would welcome comments or edits along these lines.

This is also consistent with 1 Timothy 1:8-11 in which the Arsenokoite appears next to kidnappers. It is not as if Pimps and prostitution do not have a long history of sex trafficking.

As such, there are some very strong indicators that this text deals not with homosexuality, but instead male prostitution. Many will say that tradition and the Weslyan Quadrilateral (ie, the wisdom of historical scholarship) dictate that we regard this to mean prostitution, but the exegetes who came before us did not have the benefit of the vast information and search-ability internet and it is not as if the church does not have a history of discrimination. Furthermore John Boswell makes a pretty strong case that the church (and historical religious academia) did not, in fact, condemn homosexuality.

What is clear is that if the texts of Corinthians and 1 Timothy are your sole basis for condemnation of homosexuality, you stand on a weak foundation, are forgetting the temperance, curtailment and context that Paul provided immediately after the text 1 Corinthians 6:11:

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Because Paul is saying here and elsewhere in the texts that whomever his readers are, there is forgiveness from condemnation and the reader's sin through Jesus.

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Please remain focused on the text in its original context. Moving beyond this to applying it to contemporary religious movements belongs at Christianity or Mi Yodeya. Please don't "preach" at readers. Instead, describe your perspective without prescribing it. We're looking for lectures rather than sermons. Please keep in mind that not all of your readers here are Christians. My edit helps this stick to the text and its original context to its original audience –  Dan Aug 30 '14 at 22:05
Dan, the original text was in the NT written to a church. I think it might be safe to assume they were Christians and the book had a Christian message. Furthrmore, while I might have linked in Jesus, it was Paul's words, not mine in Vs. 1 Cor 6:11. –  James Shewey Aug 31 '14 at 2:50
I re-worded a smidge and dialed back a bit, but the fact is that 6:11 is part of the pericope and it says what it says (and so does Paul) So I have reverted most changes. I also reconstituted the bits about historical scholarship's view on the issue because they elucidate the meaning of a text. If the early church and scholars like Origin and Augustine did not view this as sodomy, that is important to finding the original meaning, which makes Boswell's work critically important. (Which is basically what the Quad concerned with, though it is considered theo and does go beyond mere hermaneutics) –  James Shewey Aug 31 '14 at 3:17
That's easy enough to fix. Changed the subject in that final sentence. –  James Shewey Sep 1 '14 at 19:48
On ‘gigolo’ and ‘pimp’: The pairing of malakoi with arsenokoitai is key to understanding both unique words. That was the opinion of the eminent Corinthians scholar Gordon D. Fee who told me, in conversation, that he interpreted the pair as “young male prostitutes and the men who fuck them.” He insisted Paul intended passive/assertive homosexual prostitution and was purposely graphic. If that's too course, perhaps a better word-pair for your purpose would be ‘rent-boys and their tricks’, or similar. –  Schuh Mar 10 at 5:27

Louw 88.280

88.280 ἀρσενοκοίτης, ου m: a male partner in homosexual intercourse—‘homosexual.’ οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι … οὔτε μοιχοὶ οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται … βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομήσουσιν ‘don’t you know that … no adulterers or homosexuals … will receive the kingdom of God’ 1 Cor 6:9–10. It is possible that ἀρσενοκοίτης in certain contexts refers to the active male partner in homosexual intercourse in contrast with μαλακόςb, the passive male partner (88.281).

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Be sure to take our site tour to learn more about us. We're a little different from other sites. While this answers the question, it would be preferable to elaborate more here (summarize the relevant portions of the resource that answer this question), and provide the source for reference, rather than just copying and pasting from a lexicon. –  Dan Mar 11 '14 at 22:24
you really should cite (preferably in a link) sources for your claims - though this looks like the start of a good answer –  warren Apr 8 '14 at 17:06

First let us look at what is commonly held as the closest translation to the word 'Arsenokoitēs'. St. John The Faster is one of the most modern usages of the word, in which he used to refer to anal sex between both women and men. It was not an exclusively homosexual act. http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/canons_fathers_rudder.htm#_Toc78634065

In Greek the word very seldom appears. The exact spelling actually only occurs in the Bible. Similar words appear in texts that revolve around economical exploitation. This site "http://www.clgs.org/arsenokoit%C3%A9s-and-malakos-meanings-and-consequences" better explains it, but this term could really have alluded to prostitution, rape, or sodomy. A commonly held view is it referred to the common practice at the time of having paid sex with young, feminine looking boys.

Of course, Leviticus does explain that homosexuality is a sin along with masturbation, anal or oral sex with a woman, bestiality, certain foods, and many other taboos that are a sin. Most Christians would assume homosexuality, along with most these sins, can be forgiven by Christ albeit we must account for all sins in the end. (Reference: Read all of Leviticus; last part, John 3:16.)

I could go more into the aspect of homosexuality, but I believe that is all that matters.

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Where does Leviticus say that masturbation, anal or oral sex are sinful? –  curiousdannii Nov 5 '14 at 10:40

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