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Homosexuality in the Christian Scriptures
One of the "clobber passages"

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

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I Corinthians 6:9:

The passage: In his first epistle to the church at Corinth, Paul lists many activities that he believes will prevent people from inheriting the Kingdom of God (heaven). Robertson's Word Studies refers to this passage as: "a solemn roll call of the damned even if some of their names are on the church roll in Corinth whether officers or ordinary members." 1

Unfortunately, the Greek original from which many English language Bibles have been translated, is ambiguous about two of the groups who are condemned.

The King James Version of the Bible translates verse 9 and 10 as:

bullet"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." (Emphasis ours)

This verse has been translated in many ways among the 25 English versions of the Bible that we have analyzed. Unfortunately, many of the translations do not differentiate between:

bullet Persons who are sexually attracted to others of the same-sex, but who are celibate and do not act on their desire, and||

bulletPersons who are are sexually active and who act on their sexual attraction to others of the same sex.

The two activities of interest -- shown above in bold -- have been variously translated as:

bulleteffeminate (KJV, NASB): In the English language, this covers a wide range of male behavior such as being unmanly, lacking virility. One might think of the characters "John," the receptionist on NYPD Blue, or "Jack" on Will and Grace.
 
bullethomosexuals, variously described as:
bullet"men who practice homosexuality," (ESV);
bullet"those who participate in homosexuality," (Amplified);
bullet"abusers of themselves with men," (KJV);
bullet"practicing homosexuals," (NET Bible). This translation would refer only to persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation who is sexually active with persons of the same sex. It would not include persons who are sexually attracted to persons of the same sex, but who are celibate.
bullet"homosexuals," (NASB, CSB, NKJ, NLT, The Great Book: The New Testament in Plain English); 
bullet"homosexual perversion," (NEB); 
bullet"homosexual offenders," (NIV);
bullet"liers with mankind," (Rhiems); and
bullet"homosexual perverts." (TEV)
bullet"passive homosexual partners." (NET Bible)

Although "homosexual" is a very common translation, it is almost certain to be inaccurate:
 
bulletIf Paul wanted to refer to homosexual behavior, he would have used the word "paiderasste." That was the standard Greek term at the time for sexual behavior between males.
 
bullet The second term is "arsenokoitai" in Greek. The exact meaning of this word is lost. It seems to have been a term created by Paul for this verse. "Arsen" means "man" in Greek. So there is no way that "arsenokoitai" could refer to both male and female homosexuals. It seems that the English translators gave in to the temptation to widen Paul's condemnation to include lesbians as well as gay males.

Unfortunately, the term "homosexual" is commonly defined in two different ways: as a behavior (engaging in same-sex activity) or as a sexual orientation (being sexually attracted only to members of the same sex). Most of the biblical translations appear to refer to behavior rather than orientation.
 

bullet male prostitutes, also described as "men kept for unnatural purposes." The term "male prostitutes" (NIV, NRSV, CSB, NLT) can be interpreted in modern times as men who are paid to have sex with men only or with women only or with men or women. Again, the original Greek appears to refer only to male-male contact.
 
bullet catamites, or boy prostitute. This is a young male -- often a slave -- who is kept as a sexual partner of an adult male. (Jerusalem Bible, NAB, James Moffatt). These translations provide another example of a theme that runs throughout the Bible: the transfer of guilt and punishment from guilty perpetrators to innocent persons.
 
bulletpederasts: male adults who sexually abuse boys; an abusive pedophile (an adult who molests young children) or abusive hebephile (an adult who molests post-pubertal teenagers).
 
bulletperverts: a person engaged in some undefined activity that is one of the dozens of sexual activities that some consider to be perversions. (Phillips, The Great Book: The New Testament in Plain English)
 
bullet sodomites: This used to refer to inhabitants of the city of Sodom which is described in Genesis 19. It is now used as a "snarl" word to refer to men who have sex with men. InGenesis 19, the men of the city appear to want to anally rape some male angels who were visitors to Sodom. Many Christians interpret this as a blanket condemnation of all homosexual behavior, whether rape or consensual; whether a one-night stand or within a committed relationship; whether manipulative or mutually agreeable; whether by two men or two women. (NRSV, NKJ, NAB).
 
bulletother terms:
bullet The Message refers to "Those who ... use and abuse sex," which is probably the broadest translation ever, and would include a very large percentage of the human population.

bulletBBE translates it as "or is less than a man, or makes a wrong use of men."

 

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Comparing the beliefs of religious conservatives and liberals:

Conservatives and liberals often interpret this passage very differently.

bullet Conservatives often use the New International Version (NIV) or King James Version (KJV) versions of the Bible, although the popularity of the New King James Version (NKJV) and English Standard Version (ESV) translations is growing rapidly. They generally interpret passages literally, and believe that Paul was inspired by God to write epistles which were inerrant.  The KJV condemns "abusers of themselves with mankind", which criticizes male-male intercourse. However, the NIV appears to go well beyond the content of the original Greek by attacking "homosexual offenders" -- that is, both gay males and lesbians.  Fundamentalist and other Evangelical Christians generally believe that this verse condemns all homosexual activity. They view it as valid today as it was in the first century CE. Verse 6:11 seems to imply that once gays and lesbians become saved, then they will no longer wish to engage in homosexual activities. They will presumably become heterosexuals.

From a forum on homosexuality and the Bible in the Philadelphia Inqurier: 2

bulletA. Mohler: 'I believe it explicitly relates to homosexuality. It has been understood that way in the Christian Church from the earliest era.'
 
bulletT. Crater: 'It [malakoi] can have a meaning that's not carnal. But the way it's used -- it's embedded in the same context with adultery -- it's pretty clear what the meaning is...A hallmark of Evangelicals is that we take a literal, normal, face-value interpretation of the Bible. Some people attempt to keep some form of Christianity and hold on to homosexuality, too. It leads to strange interpretations of the Bible.'
 
bullet Liberals generally do not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. They believe that Paul was writing from his own knowledge and experience. Further, they often believe that only some of the epistles attributed to Paul were actually written by him; they regard other epistles as later forgeries. During the 1st century CE, even an educated person like Paul would know very little about human sexuality, compared to present-day sexuality researchers . From the same forum:
 
bulletJ. Nelson: 'Paul used the Greek word malakoi. They translate it as effeminate and so on. It could mean that; it might not. It can mean soft. Paul was a Jewish theologian. Someone from a Jewish background would consider that behavior unacceptable. Many Greeks did not.'
 
bulletD. Bartlett: 'There's considerable debate over what the Greek words mean. We just don't know. I've read most of the debate, and I don't know.'
 
bulletK. Stendahl: 'When people come to me -- deeply Christian people -- and say, 'This is the way I am created. This is how God made me, how He makes me feel love,' I have to respect that. We know many things people [like Paul] did not know at that time. One should read the Bible with some kind of reason.' 2

About "malakoi:"

The original Greek text describes the two behaviors as "malakoi" (malakoi). -- some sources quote "malakee" -- and "arsenokoitai" (arsenokoitai).

"Malakoi" is translated in both Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25 as "soft" (KJV) or as "fine" (NIV) in references to clothing. It could also mean "loose" or "pliable," as in the phrase "loose morals," implying "unethical behavior." In the early Christian church, the words were interpreted by some as referring to persons who are pliable, easily influenced, without courage or stability. Non-Biblical writings of the era used the world to refer to lazy men, men who cannot handle hard work, and cowards.

[John] Wesley's Bible Notes defines "Malakoi" as those:

"Who live in an easy, indolent way; taking up no cross, enduring no hardship. But how is this? These good-natured, harmless people are ranked with idolaters and sodomites! We may learn hence, that we are never secure from the greatest sins, till we guard against those which are thought the least; nor, indeed, till we think no sin is little, since every one is a step toward hell." 3

One knowledgeable but anonymous reviewer of our web site said that "Malakoi" really means:

 "... men not working or advancing ideas so as to concern themselves with love only. Not working for the good of the whole....Our present culture has all sorts of connotations associated with the word 'effeminate' that simply don't apply [to Paul's era]." 4

It would seem that the word "effeminate" can only be regarded as a mistranslation.

About "arsenokoitai:"

This word appears to have been coined by Paul himself.  The first use of the word is found in his epistles. Its precise meaning is unknown. It has variously been translated into English as homosexuals, masturbators, pimps, etc. See a separate essay for an analysis of this word.

References used:

  1. "Robertson's Word Studies - 1 Corinthians 6," at: http://www.godrules.net/
  2. Fred Tasker, "What does the Bible say about homosexuality?", Philadelphia Inquirer, 1997-JUL-13. The article was based on an earlier survey of religions opinion of 6 theologians and religious leaders covering the range from conservative to liberal thought:
    bulletDavid Bartlett, professor at Yale Divinity School
    bulletRev. Timothy Crater of the National Association of Evangelicals
    bulletReuven Kimelman, professor of near Eastern and Judaic studies at Brandeis University.
    bulletR. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Seminary
    bulletThe Rev. Jill Nelson, pastor of the Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church
    bulletKrister Stendahl, ex-dean of Harvard Divinity School.
  3. "Wesley's Notes: 1 Corinthians 6," at: http://www.godrules.net/library/
  4. Personal Email to the coordinator of this web site

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Copyright © 1996 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-APR-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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