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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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Any "re-definition" of "arsenokoites" must be judged as an anachronism, since they have attributed a new meaning to a word which was well understood before the current cultural climate has 'changed' it's meaning(and it's prohibitions) in scripture. –  Tau Mar 16 at 2:39

5 Answers 5

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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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 at 13:20

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 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 at 17:06

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 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 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 at 3:17
thanks for dialing it back. The issue is when you go past the original audience to saying there is forgiveness of 'whomever we are'... our sin - you are clearly applying it to us - not just the original audience. But now it is only one line rather than a major thrust towards the end, so I'll leave it be - but do keep in mind that this constitutes prescription (it could be reworded by simply removing 'our' in the last sentence and it will then be an accurate descriptive statement about Paul's teachings). You could also qualify it, i.e. "from a Christian perspective, ... we... our...." –  Dan Sep 1 at 18:45
That's easy enough to fix. Changed the subject in that final sentence. –  James Shewey Sep 1 at 19:48

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 at 10:40

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