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 homosexuals,nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor 6:9-11 NKJV)
knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, (1Tim 1:9-10 NKJV)
Today we are looking at two passages together because they deal with the same concept and Greek words; malakoi and arsenokoitais. Let’s start with the 1 Timothy passage. Justin R. Cannon, an Episcopal Priest and the founder of Inclusive Orthodoxy, covered the topic so well I am going to simply share what he wrote in his article, The Bible, Christianity, and Homosexuality:
1 Timothy 1:8-10
“Now we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine…” (RSV)
Let us keep in mind that the word translated sodomites is the Greek word arsenokoitai. Our question right now should be, “What is this talking about?” In order to answer this question, we will begin by breaking up the phrase into its structural pairs. You will see these groupings reflected below in the English as well as the Greek. (The New Testament, by the way, was originally written in Greek)
1 Timothy 1:9-10 (ENGLISH, RSV)
A: Lawless and
B: Ungodly and sinners C: Unholy and profane D: Murders of fathers / murders of mothers / manslayers E: Immoral persons / sodomites / kidnappers F: Liars / perjurers / and whatever else
As we see in the English there seems to be a relationship between the words in each rows A, B, C, D, and F. What about row E, though? What do “immoral persons, sodomites, and kidnappers” have in common? To answer this question we will need to explore the Greek. The three Greek words present in line E are: pornoi (pornoiV), arsenokoitai (arsenokoitaiV), and andrapodistai (andrapodistaiV).
Some commonly read Bible translations include King James Version (KJV), New International Version (NIV), New King James (NKJ), Revised Standard Version (RSV), and New English Bible (NEB). These words were, respectively, translated in the following manner:
pornoi arsenokoitai andrapodistai KJV: them that defile whoremonger themselves with men-stealers mankind NIV: adulterers perverts slave traders NKJ: fornicators sodomites kidnappers RSV: immoral persons sodomites kidnappers NEB: fornicators sodomites kidnappers
As we see there is no clear-cut agreement as to what these words mean, though the above translations agree on the general sense of such words. To determine the precise meanings, a lexicon will be used. A lexicon is a scholarly dictionary used to determine the meaning of biblical words. A search through the online Greek lexicon available at searchgodsword.org gives the following information on the Greek term pornos, which is the stem of the word pornoi, the first of the three words:
Pornos derives from the verb pernemi meaning “to sell” and the following three definitions are given:
- a male who prostitutes his body to another’s lust for hire
- a male prostitute
- a male who indulges in unlawful sexual intercourse, a fornicator
Andrapodistes, the stem of the word Andrapodistai, the third word, returns the following definitions:
- slave-dealer, kidnapper, man-stealer
- of one who unjustly reduces free males to slavery
- of one who steals the slaves of others and sells them.
Arsenokoitai, as previously indicated, is made up of the Greek words for male (arseno-) and beds (koitai). In Greek, the word koitai, literally meaning beds, is commonly used as a euphemism for one who has sex. Arseno- is an adjectival prefix, thus literally we could translate this as “male bedder.”
We should now be able to derive an exact understanding of the word arsenokoitai based on the two words that surround it. We have, first of all, the enslaved male prostitute, the “male-bedder” (arsenokoitai), and the slave dealer. The New American Bible offers a footnote that might shed some light on the historical context of the time:
“The Greek word translated as boy prostitutes may refer to catamites, i.e. boys or young men who were kept for the purposes of prostitution, a practice not uncommon in the Greco-Roman world. In Greek mythology this was the function of Ganymede, the “cupbearer of the gods,” whose Latin name was Catamus…” (NAB)
There was a common practice in which men of Paul’s time would have slave “pet” boys whom they sexually exploited. These boys were prepubescent and without beards so they seemed like females. Today, this practice is referred to as pederasty. Regardless, however, the pornos is clearly a prostitute.
Keeping this in mind, let’s look back at what we have so far: the enslaved male prostitute, the “male-bedder” (arsenokoitai), and the slave dealer. This contextual dynamic leads one to understand arsenokoitai as being the one who sleeps with the prostitute, the man who literally lies on the bed with him. It is as if Paul were saying, “male prostitutes, men who sleep with them, and slave dealers who procure them…” Not only does the syntactical and historical context point to this understanding, but also the very literal sense of the word arsenokoitai itself.
If this translation of arsenokoitai is correct, it should also make logical sense where it is also used in 1 Corinthians 6:9, either confirming or refuting our understanding of this word.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (RSV)
The term translated “sexual perverts” in RSV is actually two different words. The first word is malakos, which is the singular form of the word malakoi, and the second term is arsenokoitai.
Some commonly read translations include…
malakos arsenokoitai KJV: effeminate abusers of themselves with mankind NIV: male prostitutes homosexual offenders NKJ: homosexuals sodomites RSV1952:
RSV1977: sexual perverts RSV1989: male prostitutes sodomites Jerusalem Bible: catamites sodomites
The term malakoi, as an adjective, literally means “soft.” In Matthew 11:8 it has been used as an adjective in reference to clothing. In this text, however, it is used as a noun and its meaning is debated. Does our understanding of arsenokoitai as revealed in 1 Timothy 1:10 as “men who sleep with male-prostitutes” make sense next to this word malakos which is translated by both NIV and RSV as male prostitutes? The Jerusalem Bible even translates the term malakos as catamites, those young soft prepubescent “pet” boys mentioned earlier. The syntactical and historical context of 1 Timothy 1:10 reveals the meaning of the word arsenokoitai as men who sleep with prostitutes, and the fact this also fits the context of 1 Corinthians 6:9 seems to confirm that we have found the meaning of these obscure words. It makes perfect sense that Paul would rebuke not only the prostitute, but also the “male-bedder” or the man who sleeps with that prostitute.
It is also worth noting that the second edition of Tyndale’s New Bible Commentary points out some people believe the Greek word arsenikoites, which some Bible translations say is homosexual, might be “restricted” to male prostitutes. Leon Morris, in the Tyndale New Testament Commentary on 1 Corinthians observes, “The inclusion of idolaters may point us to the immorality of much heathen worship of the day.” Charles Errdman, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians indicates, “The practice of impurity formed a feature of idolatrous worship.”
The Catholic Study Bible also indicates that these verses may be in reference to religious prostitution or as a symbol of any sexual relationship that conflicts with Christ’s claim over us. These verses are a call to gay and straight Christians to maintain only relationships that strengthen their relationships with God. Any relationships, be they sexual or non-sexual, that weaken our bonds with Christ should be terminated. Relationships at work that harm our connection with God need to be changed.
In conclusion I believe that these scriptures are best explained by Rev. Cannon’s work which would have the 1 Timothy read like this,
Now we know that the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, male prostitutes, men who sleep with them, and slave dealers who procure them, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine…”
And the 1 Corinthians passage read like this,
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes or the men who sleep with them, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.”