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Same gender sexual behavior in the Christian Scriptures:
The "clobber passages"

Meanings of the Greek word "arsenokoitai"
(1 Corinthians 6 & 1 Timothy 1)


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The options open to a Christian:

A Christian has two options with regard to the Christian Scriptures (New Testament):

  1. To accept a favorite English translation as accurately containing the words of the original authors. This is a simple and straightforward approach because biblical passages related to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBT) in English Bibles are universally condemning. No further effort is needed.

  2. To base the interpretation of these passages on the most ancient available Greek manuscripts of 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. These is as close as we are able to get to the original autograph copies written by the author(s). This option is much more demanding, and made even more difficult because the precise meaning of some of the Greek words are unknown and can only be inferred. Even worse, a convincing case can be made that 1 Timothy was written by a second century forger, many decades after Paul was executed.

The word "arsenokoitai" in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy:

"Arsenokoitai" is a Greek word that appears to have been created by Paul when he was writing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. No record remains of any writer having using the term before Paul. It has been translated as "abusers of themselves with mankind" in the King James Version (KJV):

"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)

The KJV was finished 1611 CE when there was no single word in the English language that referred to homosexuals or homosexuality. The translators were forced to use this awkward phrase. The term "homosexual" was only created in the late 19th century. More recent versions of the Bible translate arsenokoitai here as:

  • "homosexuals," (NASB);
  • "homosexual perversion," (NEB);
  • "homosexual offenders," (NIV).

In doing this, they appear to have little respect or attention to the actual meaning of the original Greek verse. By using the term "homosexual" the translators changed the scope of the verse. The original Greek refers to men only; the English translation refers to both males and females; i.e. to gays and lesbians. We suspect that the temptation to attack lesbians overcame the translators' desire to be accurate.

The author of 1 Timothy also used "arsenokoitai." The KJV translated it similarly:

"Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine." (Emphasis ours)

Christian theologians generally agree that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians circa 55 CE. However, they differ on the authorship and date of the three Pastoral Epistles -- 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus.

  • Conservative Protestants generally believe that Paul wrote the Pastoral epistles during the interval 62 to 64 CE just before his death.

  • Liberals generally believe that they were written up to 85 years after Paul's execution, circa 100 to 150 CE by an unknown person who pretended to be Paul.

What does "arsenokoitai" really mean?

Nobody knows for certain.

"Arsenokoitai" is made up of two parts: "arsen" means "man"; "koitai" means "beds."

Although the word in English Bibles is interpreted as referring to homosexuals, we can be fairly certain that this is not the meaning that Paul wanted to convey. If he had, he would have used the word "paiderasste." That was the standard Greek term at the time for sexual activity between males. We can conclude that he probably meant something different than people who engaged in male-male adult sexual behavior.

Many sources have speculated about the meaning of "arsenokoitai:"

  • "Homosexual offenders:" The NIV contains this phraseSuppose for the moment that Paul had attacked "heterosexual offenders" or "heterosexual sexual offenders." We would not interpret this today as a general condemnation of heterosexuality. It would be seen as an attack only on those heterosexuals who commit sexual offences. Perhaps the appropriate interpretation of this verse is that it does not condemn all homosexuals. Rather it condemns only those homosexuals who engage in sexual offences (e.g. child sexual abuse, rape, unsafe sex, manipulative sex, coercive sex, etc).

  • Male prostitutes in Pagan temples: One source states that the Septuagint (an ancient, pre-Christian translation of the Old Testament into Greek made between the 3rd and 1st century BCE) translated the Hebrew "quadesh" in I Kings 14:24, 15:12 and 22:46 into a Greek word somewhat similar to "arsenokoitai." This passage referred to "male temple prostitutes" -- people who engaged in ritual sex in Pagan temples. 1 Some leaders in the early Christian church also thought 1 Corinthians was referring to temple prostitutes. Some authorities believe that it simply means male prostitutes with female customers - a practice which appears to have been a common practice in the Roman empire.

  • Pimp: Another source refers to other writings, written later than 1 Corinthians, which contains the word "arsenokoitai:" This includes the Sibylline Oracles 2.70-77, Acts of John, and Theophilus of Antioch's Ad Autolycum. The source suggests that the term refers "to some kind of economic exploitation by means of sex (but not necessarily homosexual sex)." 2 Probably "pimp" or "man living off of the avails of prostitution" would be the closest English translations. It is worth noting that "Much Greek homosexual erotic literature has survived, none of it contains the word arsenokoitai." 3

  • Masturbators. At the time of Martin Luther, "arsenokoitai" was universally interpreted as masturbator. But by the 20th century, masturbation had become a more generally accepted behavior. So, new translations abandoned references to masturbators and switched the attack to homosexuals. The last religious writing in English that interpreted 1 Corinthians 6:9 as referring to masturbation is believed to be the [Roman] Catholic Encyclopedia of 1967.

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  • Abusive pedophiles: Many would consider "malakoi" -- the word preceding "arsenokoitai," in 1 Corinthians -- to refer to a catamite: a boy or young male who engaged in sexual activities with men. Such boys were often slaves, owned by rich men as sex partners. The second term might then refer to the men who engaged in sex with the catamites. That is, they were abusive pedophiles or hebephiles. The New American Bible contains a footnote which reads:

    "The Greek word translated as 'boy prostitutes' [in 1 Cor. 6:9] designated catamites, i.e. boys or young men who were kept for purposes of prostitution, a practice not uncommon in the Greco-Roman world....The term translated 'practicing homosexuals' refers to adult males who indulged in homosexual practices with such boys."

    In their footnote, the translators recognize that the term refers to abusive male pedophiles, but apparently cannot resist the temptation to attack all homosexuals -- both gays and lesbians, non-abusive and abusive.

    Harper's Bible Commentary (1998) states that the passage refers to:

    "... both the effeminate male prostitute and his partner who hires him to satisfy sexual needs. The two terms used here for homosexuality... specify a special form of pederasty that was generally disapproved of in Greco-Roman and Jewish Literature."

    Many religious liberals might agree that the center portion of 6:9 might be accurately translated as: "male child abusers and the boys that they sexually abuse." i.e. the two behaviors probably relate to male pedophiles who are also child rapists, and the male children that they victimize. The verse would then refer to the crime of child sexual abuse and has no relation to homosexuality in the normal sense of the term: i.e. to consensual sexual relations between adults of the same gender.

  • Male prostitutes: Justin Cannon has provided an interesting analysis of 1 Corinthians. 4 He noticed a pattern in verse 9 and 10. They are composed up of pairs or triads of related groups of people:
    • The lawless & disobedient: two near synonyms
    • The ungodly & sinners: also two near synonyms
    • The unholy & profane: two synonyms
    • The murderers of fathers & murderers of mothers & manslayers: three kinds of murderers
    • Whoremongers & "arsenokoitai" & menstealers
    • Liars & perjurers etc.: again, two near synonyms.

    From the repeated pairs or triads made up of synonyms or near synonyms, one might expect that whoremongers, "malakoi arsenokoitai," and menstealers are interconnected with a common theme -- just like the other pairs and triads in the list.

    • In the original Greek, the first of the three words is "pornov." An online Greek lexicon 5 notes that this is Strong's Number 4205, and was derived from the Greek word "pernemi" which means to sell. Its meanings are:
      • A man who prostitutes his body to another's lust for hire.
      • A male prostitute.
      • A man who indulges in unlawful sexual intercourse, a fornicator.
    • The second term is "arsenokoitai" which has not been given a Strong Number because it is a made-up word that is almost never found in the Greek language other than in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians.
    • The last of the three words is "andrapodistes," the stem of the word andrapodistai. It is Strong's Number 405 which means:
      • A slave-dealer, kidnapper, man-stealer -- one who unjustly reduces free men to slavery or who steals the slaves of others and sells them.

    If we assume that the three words refer to a common theme, as the other five groups are, then we have to look for some sense which the words have in common. Cannon suggests:

    • "pornoi" refers to an enslaved male prostitute.
    • "arsenokoitai" refers to a man who forces sex on an enslaved male prostitute
    • "andrapodistes" refers to a person who kidnaps and enslaves people.

    The common theme is slavery. Cannon suggests a translation: "It is as if Paul were saying, 'male prostitutes, men who sleep with them, and slave dealers who procure them'." 1 That is, all three words deal with slavery. They are unrelated to homosexual behavior in the modern sense of the term i.e. consensual sex between persons of the same sex.

  • A boy sex slave: An alternative interpretation, following Canon's analysis, could be:
    • "pornoi" refers to an enslaved male prostitute.
    • "arsenokoitai" refers to a boy, generally a slave, who is kept by an adult male for sexual purposes.
    • "andrapodistes" refers to a person who enslaves others.

    Again, the common theme is slavery.

    Translating "arsenokoitai" as a boy who is kept as a sex slave has some support in at least two Bible translations:

    • As noted above, a footnote in the New American Bible (NAB), interprets "arsenokoitai" as a " boy prostitute."
    • The Jerusalem Bible translates the triad in 1 Timothy as: "those who are immoral with women or with boys or with men." (Emphasis ours). In 1 Corinthians 6:9 the same word "arsenokoitai" is translated as "catamite."

    A possible translation of 1 Timothy 1:10 would be: "...male prostitutes, boys who have sex with men, and slave dealers who enslave them both."


Jesus and homosexuality:

It is worthwhile to check the words attributed to Jesus by the author of the Gospel of Matthew. He also had a list of sins that could bring doom on a person: Matt 15:18-20: "...those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man..." It is worth noting that homosexual behavior is not one of the behaviors that is mentioned in this passage. One might conclude that:

  • Jesus did not consider it a sin, or
  • That he viewed it as a minor sin not worth mentioning, or
  • That he viewed it as a major sin, but one that affected so few people that he didn't bother mentioning it.
  • That he viewed same-gender sexual behavior as a form of fornication, and thus was already covered in his list.
  • That the author of Matthew did not fully record all of Jesus' categories.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Paul Thomas Cahill, "An investigation into the Bible and homosexuality," at: http://www.christianlesbians.com/
  2. "How to be true to the Bible and say 'Yes' to same-sex unions,"  at: http://members.aol.com/DrSwiney/bennett.html
  3. "Celebrating diversity: texts recently applied to homosexuality," at: http://members.tripod.com/~uniting/resource/bible.html
  4. Justin Cannon, "The Bible, Christianity and Homosexuality," at: http://www.truthsetsfree.net/study.html Copyright © 2005 All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
  5. "New Testament Greek Lexicon," Search God's Word, at: http://www.searchgodsword.org/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-MAY-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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