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.