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).

The NASB uses 'homosexuals' for Paul's 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 condemned "Arsenokoitēs"? Did he condemn the kind of sexual activity associated with male prostitutes back in the days of the Romans or gay love as we know it today?

  • I would recommend you visit www.aomin.org. This is the website for the apologetics group "Alpha and Omega Ministries". (I am not affiliated with them in any way, except as a fan.) On the site, James White (director) has several lengthy webcast programs where he deals with this topic. As someone who has taught NT Greek and Hebrew at the seminary level, he is qualified to answer your question, and he goes through a large variety of topics, including answering your specific question. Basically, he argues that the only logical conclusion is that Paul created a compound word out of the context...
    – mbm29414
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 11:57
  • Of Leviticus 18 and 20 in the Septuagint. Here's a link to a couple of his webcasts that are responses to Matthew Vines, in which he does detailed analysis and provides a lot of detailed discussion of a lot of points, which includes an answer to your specific question: aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2012/05/23/gay-christianity-refuted
    – mbm29414
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 11:58
  • @mbm29414, can you please summarize the blog post and post it as an answer?
    – Graviton
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 0:06
  • Not really. I posted a link to 2 webcasts, which are over 5 hours together. And that's just a small sampling of the work that James White has done on the issue of homosexuality and biblical Christianity. While a lot of this is interconnected, he does paint a compelling picture that Paul clearly coined this term out of Leviticus 18 and 22.
    – mbm29414
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 0:12
  • Argh. I clearly meant Leviticus 18 and 20, not 22. Sorry.
    – mbm29414
    Commented Jul 6, 2015 at 0:19

6 Answers 6


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.

  • 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
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 4:37
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    Regarding your second paragraph, Verse 19 of Leviticus 18 says "You must not approach a woman in her menstrual impurity to have sexual intercourse with her." Lev. 20:18 says that the punishment for this is excommunication. If we are to have a consistent hermetic, would this not be required of Christians too? Commented May 6, 2015 at 4:05
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    @JamesShewey Re: consistent hermeneutic - Not necessarily. We are no longer under the Mosaic Law as Christians. Therefore, anything you read in Leviticus is not automatically binding upon us as Christians. Unless you can find good evidence that such a commandment accords with God's eternal righteous nature, or can find New Testament continuation of a command (if, in fact, you see those as different issues), by what right would you impose it? The first question to ask is: "Why did God give this commandment to Israel?"
    – mbm29414
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 18:03
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    the answer says that IF the word does not broadly mean homosexuality, THEN "incest" "bestiality" "murder" would be "permissible". That's bad logic. A single verse can't possible condemn EVERYTHING that's wrong. Therefore, it's entirely possible it could mean within the context of shrine prostitution... or something else. It's also worth noting that "pederasty" was more commonplace than men-to-men sexuality. Paul could have used common words to condemn pederasty. However, he had to create a NEW word to condemn man-to-man sexuality, aka, arsenokoitai
    – user12711
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 0:11

It seems that many people want to quote the lexicon and be on their 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 how Paul meant it to be understood. 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 and is a dis legomenon therefore making it significantly more difficult to translate with certainty. As such, we do not know if this word was co-opted or corrupted from its intended original 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. There are (presumably) three reasons for choosing to coin a new word. Either:

  • 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)
  • There was no existing vocabulary to properly capture Paul's intent (or perhaps both of the above.)
  • This is a reflection of the fact that Greek was a second language for Paul (he would have spoken Aramaic) and reflects his discomfort and unfamiliarity with the language. Perhaps he simply was not fluent enough with the language to know the greek terms for pimps (πορνοβοσκός) and prostitutes (ἑταῖροι, a term never used in scripture or πόρνοι; though the latter seems unlikely - similar conjugations and grammatical genders of πόρνοι are used by Paul, albeit in later dated epistles) It is not uncommon for non-native speakers to make up words (especially compound words) particularly when their available vocabulary lacks a desired gloss (for example, if the existing terms did not adequately capture a perceived victimhood and predatory nature that might be perceived), just as non-native English speakers often struggle with pronouns. Perhaps a lack of fluency is the reason that Paul chose to use a scribe in writing some epistles.

Due to the fact that αρσενοκοίτης (Arsenokoites) is a dis legomenon, many have attempted to deconstruct αρσενοκοίτης (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- (αρσενο-) meaning "men" and -koites (-κοίτης) 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 αρσενοκοίτης (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 αρσενοκοίτης (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. In contrast, more modern translations will translate μαλακός as "Male Prostitutes" despite ἑταῖροι being the correct and more common term for male prostitutes and μαλακός has a sense of the victim being younger, weaker, and/or dominated in the relationship.

If this is an accurate rendering of Malakos and assuming that 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 closer to:

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 culturally 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 according to Roman thought and practice.

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 and a pure intent.

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 and the pederasty system. Many will say that tradition and the Weslyan Quadrilateral (ie, the wisdom of historical scholarship) dictate that we regard this to mean homosexuality, 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
    Commented Aug 30, 2014 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. Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 2:50
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    This is an otherwise great answer.
    – Dan
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 18:55
  • 1
    That's easy enough to fix. Changed the subject in that final sentence. Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 19:48
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    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
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 5:27

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
    Commented Mar 10, 2015 at 2:58

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites

1 Corinthians 6:9 (NRSV)

fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching

1 Timothy 1:10 (NRSV)

A common assumption by scholars is that malakos and arsenokoites referred to partners in a pederastic context, the malakos as passive and the arsenokoites as the active partner.

The following English Bible translations reflects this meaning of malakos:

“Passive homosexual partners” (NETBible)

“Catamites” (NKJV)

Male prostitution is another probable meaning of the Greek word malakos in 1 Corinthians 6:9.This meaning is seen in NRSV,NIV, WEB and ISV.

Another probable meaning of the Greek word arsenokites is “sodomites” in the sense of “rape” (coercion not with consent).

“sodomites” (NRSV,YLT)


Evangelical Christian (TULIP & 5 Solae believers) site says:

There is no overt mention of anal sex in the Bible. In the account of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19, a large group of men sought to gang rape two angels who had taken the form of men. The reasonable presumption is that the men of Sodom wanted to have forcible anal sex with the angels. The men’s homosexual lust is obvious, but again, anal sex is not mentioned in the passage. The words sodomy and sodomize come from this biblical account. Sodomy is, literally, “the sin of Sodom.”

In modern language, the term sodomy has acquired a broader definition than what is biblically warranted. Today, “sodomy” often refers to any form of non-penile/vaginal sexual act, which includes anal sex and oral sex. If the biblical text is used as the basis for the definition, though, “sodomy” cannot include oral sex or, technically, even anal sex. The strict understanding of sodomy, based solely on the events of Genesis 19, would have to be “forcible anal sex, with one male homosexually raping another male anally.” (source).


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, from any Greek dictionary, for example: Greek Word Study Tool.

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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
    Commented Mar 7, 2014 at 13:20

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
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 10:40

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