In two texts in The Bible, the word αρσενοκοίτης (Arsenokoites) appears.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

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 μαλακός (Malakos), nor αρσενοκοίτης (Arsenokoites), nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 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. (NASB)

and 1 Timothy 1:8-11

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 αρσενοκοίτης (Arsenokoites) 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. (NASB)

αρσενοκοίτης (Arsenokoites) seems like slang term and it appears to be written for the first time in this text. The word is often deconstructed into parts, aseno- meaning "men" and "koites" meaning coitus and implying that a bed was shared in a sexual manner.

While the meaning of the parts of compound words in English can lead to an obvious understanding of said word, there are other words in English which cannot be deconstructed in this manner - for example understand does not mean to stand under something. Are there any examples in Greek in which deconstruction of a compound word does not reveal meaning in the same way that understand cannot be deconstructed in English? If so, are there any specific reasons why αρσενοκοίτης (Arsenokoites) would not fall into this category?

  • See also this related question. – Susan Aug 23 '14 at 4:11
  • As Susan says, we have discussed this exact question before. Can we keep it all on the same page? – fdb Aug 23 '14 at 11:29
  • I'm not sure if it's exactly the same, but one of the answers there does discuss the relationship between these two words. @JamesShewey, could you take a look and edit to clarify if/how this question is distinct? – Susan Aug 23 '14 at 13:02
  • OK, I added some commentary to the related question and made this more specific/different. – James Shewey Aug 29 '14 at 0:05
  • 3
    Since this is a vaguely linguistic question I need to object to your claim of “"koites" being the root of the English word coitus”. Greek koitēs is from the verb keimai “to lie down” (not necessarily in a sexual sense), while Latin coitus is from co- plus a form of verb ire “to go”, thus “going together, mating”. The resemblance of the koitēs and coitus is pure coincidence. – fdb Sep 3 '15 at 18:23

An examination of Greek compound words used to translate Hebrew may be especially helpful in sorting the meaning of Paul’s αρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoites). In using this apparent neologism – only extant in 1Cor.6:9, 1Tim.1:10, and in references back to these verses – Paul seems to have purposely avoided the available Greek vocabulary for idolatry, prostitution, and homosexuality, the context he provided in these uses.[1] Translations have therefore varied widely.

Recent scholarship suggests, however, that Paul’s word may draw on Hebrew precedent.[2] The two Greek words which compose αρσενοκοίτης are ἄρσενος (‘male’) and κοίτην (‘bed’), and these words appear side-by-side in Leviticus 20:13 in the LXX:

“καὶ ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι θανατούσθωσαν ἔνοχοί εἰσιν.”

Of course the making of compound words is not as simple as juxtaposition. Lacking in Hebrew, compound words were plentiful in Greek, and this presented both opportunity and challenge for translators. In his analysis of compound words in the LXX, Emanuel Tov found Greek compounds typically combine closely related Hebrew word pairs, very often adjective/noun or adverb/verb, though not always to best effect.[3] The choice to translate a Hebrew word pair using an available composite rather than separate Greek words was a stylistic choice, Tov writes, and “such stylistic motive must have been particularly strong when the translator coined a new compound” (p.135).

In Lev.20:13 the LXX did not use or create a compound for ‘male’ and ‘bed’ but left the words separate. This is likely because in their literal rendering the words are not paired. The object of the verb κοιμηθῇ (for H7901, ‘to sleep’) is the noun κοίτην (for H4904, ‘bed’). In both Hebrew and Greek the verb and noun are from the same root, suggesting the figura etymologica “If he sleeps [with a male] the sleeping [of a woman]...” Aρσενος and κοίτην appear next to each other but are not a syntactic unit, not a word pair. Tov's analysis suggests that Paul's αρσενοκοίτης is not a direct rendering of the Levitical prohibition.

But the LXX reading remains suggestive, and it may well have influenced Paul's more creative, stylistic word choice. If so – and this is often overlooked – locating the origin of (or influence for) αρσενοκοίτης in Leviticus automatically loads the word with the Hebrew, rather than the Greek, experience of homosexuality, a history not contained in two verses of Leviticus alone but Israel’s full and colorful history of male temple prostitution.[4] Paul draws on this same idolatrous history in fuller form in his other reference to male homosexuality, Romans 1. This may explain his need to avoid the available Greek vocabulary and instead use a unique, compound word that points to the Hebrew experience.

.

Notes:

[1] Gordon D. Fee, Corinthians, New International Commentary on the New Testament; Eerdmans, 1987; p.258.

[2] For example, Richard B. Hayes, The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics; San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1996; p.382.

[3] As an example of potential problems, Tov cites Isaiah 58:9 where the available Greek compound, χειροτονίαν, was a literal translation of the Hebrew (‘to point a finger’) but carried a different meaning in Greek (‘to vote by show of hands’). Emanuel Tov, The Greek and Hebrew Bible: Collected Essays on the Septuagint, Volume 72; SBL, 1999. http://tinyurl.com/pu4v8e6

[4] “Homosexual cult prostitution appears to have been the primary form in which homosexual intercourse was practiced in Israel.” Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics; Nashville: Abingdon, 2001; p.130.

  • ἄρσενος goes with the preposition μετὰ, but κοίτην is the object of the verb κοιμηθῇ and is qualified by the genitive γυναικός. Although ἄρσενος and κοίτην stand next to each other they are not a syntactic unit, and consequently do not correspond semantically to the compound αρσενοκοίτης. – fdb Feb 26 '15 at 10:46
  • I read the phrase as "If he sleeps with a male as [he] beds a woman ...," in which case κοίτην functions as a verb. Regardless, you've put it well, "Although ἄρσενος and κοίτην stand next to each other they are not a syntactic unit." Thanks! – Schuh Feb 26 '15 at 18:32
  • 1
    κοίτην does not function as a verb. Rather κοιμηθῇ κοίτην is what we call a figura etymologica: a verb taking a noun from the same root as its direct object, “sleeps the sleeping of woman”. – fdb Feb 26 '15 at 18:50
  • This is very helpful, fdb. I've amended my answer to incorporate your comments. Thank you! – Schuh Feb 26 '15 at 20:33

protected by James Shewey Aug 7 at 3:38

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.