1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy
HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE BIBLE:
PAUL AND HOMOSEXUALITY
By Bruce L. Gerig
2. Corinth, the destination of this letter. After being destroyed by Roman forces in 146 BC, Julius Caesar ordered in 44 BC that the city of Corinth and its environs (Achaia) be rebuilt as a Roman province; and the first settlers were ex-slaves from Greece, Syria, Judea, and Egypt, who had everything to gain. Although they began by robbing tombs to make a living, the strategically placed site had so much economic potential that within fifty years a number of its citizens were millionaires. The city contained temples and shrines dedicated to numerous deities, including Apollo, Athena, Aphrodite, Asclepius (Asklepios), Demeter, Isis and others; and the biennial Isthmian Games held nearby (which Paul might have visited, cf. 1 Cor 9:24–25) drew many special tourists to the city.6 Demeter was associated with Cybele the Syrian Mother Goddess; Aphrodite was goddess of beauty, fertility and sexual love; and Apollo was associated with the arts (music and poetry).7 Demeter’s being a fertility goddess may have provided a justification for sexual play at her shrine (Witherington);8 and several other interpreters have imagined that male beauty, glorified in the nude statues of Apollo, “fired his male worshippers to physical displays of devotion with the god’s beautiful boys” (Pollock, Day).9 In fact, when Corinth was rebuilt, the great temple that stood in the center of the city near the agora (central marketplace and public square) was restored and dedicated to Apollo; and surrounding the agora stood shrines for Aphrodite, Apollo, Hermes (messenger of the gods, also usually depicted nude), Tyche (Fate or Luck), and other deities.10 In the fifth and fourth centuries BC Corinth was such a sexually liberated city that Athenian writers coined terms like korinthiazesthai (“to fornicate”), korinthiastēs (“a pimp”), and korinthia (“a female prostitute”), based on the city’s name (Korinthos), although these slang terms never found widespread usage. The sacred prostitutes earlier attached to Aphrodite’s temple on the Acrocorinth (a rocky peak that overlooked the city) were probably not as numerous (one thousand) as the historian–geographer Strabo (c.63 BC–AD 23) claimed (Geography 8.6.20c),11 although Ben Witherington believes that later in Paul’s time “one should not underestimate the place of sexual expression, not only in some pagan religious festivals . . . but also in some pagan temple precincts.”12 Yet, if any female sacred prostitutes still served Aphrodite in the Corinth of Paul’s day, we have no record of it; nor does anything remain of her famous temple.13 Still, with two ports—Cenchreae to the east (on the Saronic Gulf) and Lechaeum to the north (on the Corinthian Gulf, leading westward to the Adrian Sea)—Corinth was a major connecting point for ships traveling between Asia and Ephesus (to the east) and Italy and Rome (to the west), especially for captains who wished avoid the treacherous waters south of the (Grecian) peninsula.14 Here small ships were wheeled along a 3.7 mile road between the two ports, or cargo was transported from one ship to another.15 Corinth was always filled with sailors, merchants, soldiers, religious pilgrims, slave traders, and sportive tourists in town for the games, who looked forward to enjoying their time ashore and spending money at Corinth’s bars, and on prostitutes of both sexes.16 Here one found a live and let live philosophy. As Gordon Fee writes, “Sexual sin there [in Corinth] undoubtedly was in abundance; but it would have been of the same kind that one would expect in any seaport where money flowed freely and women and men were available [as prostitutes].”17
3. Ephesus, the origin of this letter. Paul founded the church in Corinth during his second missionary journey, evangelizing and teaching in that city for eighteen months (Acts 18:1–18, note v. 11), during 50–51 AD. Then he visited Ephesus briefly, returned home to Antioch in Syria, his home base; and then he began his third missionary journey (Acts 18:23ff), arriving in Ephesus again, where this time he stayed about two years (Acts 19:1–20:1, note v. 10), during 52–54 AD. His previous letter (“I wrote to you”) to the church in Corinth, which already introduces the subject of ‘sexual immorality’ (1 Cor 5:9, NRSV), is then followed with another letter known in the Bible as “1 Corinthians,” written in response to numerous reports and questions which Paul had received from various church members there.18 For example, “Chloe’s people,” who had visited Paul (1 Cor 1:11), were probably business agents, perhaps freedpersons or slaves who served Chloe, a wealthy businesswoman in Corinth (Thiselton).19 Meanwhile, Ephesus as capital of the Roman province of Asia (now western Turkey) was not only a large, prosperous city but the location of the world-famous Temple of Artemis, a popular goddess whose influence had spread to Greece, Rome, Egypt, Arabia, and elsewhere (McDonald).20 Later, the craftsman Demetrius, who made silver shrines honoring Artemis, instigated a riot against Paul because of his attack on the goddess in Ephesus, which forced Paul to leave the city (Acts 19:23–20:1). Burge, Cohick and Green estimate that the population of Corinth in Paul’s day was around 80,000, with another 20,000 living in the surrounding countryside;21 and Erdemgil believes that the population of Ephesus was even larger.22
As Selahattin Erdemgil, director of the Ephesus Museum, explains, Artemis of Ephesus represented the extremely fertile Mother Goddess, who ruled everything. She was known as Isis in Egypt, as Lat in Arab lands, and as Cybele, Hepa, and Artemis in Anatolia (now Turkey); and in Pessinus (a town in the region of Phyrigia, now in central-eastern Turkey) she was worshipped as a meteorite that had fallen from heaven.23 The great statue of Artemis Ephesia (as she was known) shows a woman with two dozen or so “breasts”—or rather bull testicles, since they have no nipples and bulls’ testicles were offered to Artemis in sacrifice.24 She also was covered with small, full-breasted animals (lions, bulls, and sphinxes), since she was honored as the protector of animals.25 Although a fertility goddess, she was served by virgins and eunuchs (the latter group led by the Megaysos, or head priest); and her servants performed dances and acrobatics in her rites. Her priests, priestesses, and guards numbered in the hundreds.26 In Paul’s day her impressive temple measured 344’ by 180’ (115 by 60 yards) and contained a U-shaped altar in front.27 As with other large Roman cities, Ephesus contained a central agora, gymnasiums where boys were schooled and trained in athletics, temples and theaters, public baths where slaves washed and massaged their masters, and public lavatories and brothels.28 The limited archaeological remains include handsome male nude statues which once adorned the city’s architecture and fountains, along with a Herm column topped with a youthful male head and displaying an erect phallus, Priapus figures with gargantuan phalluses, and one marble table leg chiseled in the form of a nude Dionysus.29 No evidence documents, however, that Artemis’s servants (virginal or eunuch) engaged in sacred prostitution.
4. Sexual mores in Greece and around Corinth. Some sense of the sexual outlook and loose mores that prevailed in Roman times in Greece and around Corinth can be obtained from a comic work called The Golden Ass (or Metamorphoses). The author Apuleius (c.122–c.160) was born to a wealthy family in North Africa, he studied in Carthage and Athens, and while in Greece he apparently participated in many rituals and cults before he returned home and was appointed a priest in the cult of Aesculapius (Greek: Asklepios) for the region around Carthage (xi). The story of The Golden Ass is narrated by Lucius, who has come from Athens (1.4) to Thessaly, in northern Greece, on business (1.2). Arriving at the town of Hypata, he enters the house of Milo, for whom he has a letter from Demeas in Corinth (1.21–22); and there he falls in love with the servant-girl Photis, with whom he begins an intimate relationship (2.16). Photis continues to delight Lucius, giving him “the gift that young boys give [anal sex]” (3.20); and then she reveals to him that her mistress, Pamphile, is a magician (3.17–18) and she plans to change herself into a bird that very night. As the two spy through a crack in the door, Pamphile rubs herself all over with an ointment, mutters words, and indeed is transformed into an owl (3.21). Lucius is so intrigued that he persuades Photis to bring him some of the magic potion to try on himself; but being brought the wrong jar, he is changed instead into an ass (3.22–25). Photis urges Lucius not to panic, however, because if he eats some rose pedals, he will be changed back into human form (3.25). However, before Lucius the ass (who still retains his human consciousness) is able to find any rose pedals, he is stolen by robbers (3.28) and trotted off; and so begins his incredible string of misadventures.
At one point (chapter 8), Lucius the ass is sold to a eunuch in the service of the Syrian (Mother) Goddess, and he is then taken home to meet all of his “girls” (8.25–26). The slave there who plays the reed pipe for the eunuchs’ processions is a “fairly hard-bodied young man” and he also plays the “prostitute” at home, being forced to perform “love-works at all levels.” He is delighted with the arrival of the ass, which he hopes will finally give his “long-aching, now exhausted loins” a badly needed rest (8.26). The next day the sacred eunuchs (Galli), clad in many colored garments and with their faces painted with cosmetics and their eyes kohl-rimmed, lead Lucius the ass bearing the goddess statue through the streets, carrying along huge axes and swords (8.27). When they reach the estate of a rich landowner, they begin shrieking, rolling their heads, swinging their dangling curls, and slashing their flesh with the blades. One eunuch takes out a whip and begins flagellating himself, until blood pours forth from his many lacerations. At last, when the eunuchs have become exhausted by their self-butchery, onlookers give them gifts of wine, milk, cheese, flour, and coins, which the galli stuff into bags and pile on Lucius (8.27–28). On their way home, the eunuchs demand a ram from a farmer to satisfy the hunger of the Syrian Goddess. Then, bathed and prettied up, they bring in a local lad, “a strong and strapping young man, well equipped in the power of his loins and groin,” to be their dinner guest. Yet, before they’ve barely tasted the food, they “go wild” and “driven by their unspeakable itches and urges,” they stripped the youth of his clothes, “laid him back on his back, and surged upon him in waves from every direction, demanding his services with their unspeakable mouths.” Shocked by this “outrage,” Lucius the ass begins braying as loud as he can, until some men from the street break open the door, catch the eunuch priests “red-handed,” and rescue the lad. Losing face, the galli then gather their things together, pile them onto Lucius the ass, and sneak out of town at midnight (8.29–30).
Eventually Lucius is bought by a new master and brought to Corinth, where he is made to perform tricks. At one show a woman who can find no cure for her lust bribes Lucius the ass to accompany her home. In her residence four eunuchs lay out pillows on the floor and then shut the door as the lady cried out, “I love you, I long for you, you are all that I want . . .” and then she held onto Lucius until she “took me in, absolutely all, and I do mean all” (10.19–22). His master then decides to present Lucius the ass in a sex act with a woman in his amphitheater (10.23). However, as they are setting up for the show, Lucius sees that he has been left unguarded and so he bolts out of the door, galloping as fast as he can until he reaches the port city of Cenchreae (cf. Rom 16:1), where he hides (10.34–35). The Queen of Heaven, hearing Lucius’ desperate cries, is moved by his misfortunes and so she appears to him, telling him that in a procession dedicated to her he will find a priest carrying a wreath of roses, which he is to eat. Then he will be returned to human form (11.1–4). After this happens (11.13), Lucius becomes a devotee and slave to Isis (11.24). As translator Joel Relihan notes in his Introduction, in spite of its satire (and exaggeration) this folktale still clearly describes a shallow main character who inhabits a world full of violence, cruelty, and low-life vulgarity,30 as well as sex. Now if one thinks that eunuchs having sex or even desiring it in real life was an impossibility, sex historian Vern Bullough notes that if the testicles are removed after puberty (which was the case with these self-castrated Galli priests), such a eunuch could still feel strong sexual desires and even experience an erection, since (although he is sterile) he continues to receive testosterone from his adrenal glands. And of course all eunuchs could receive anal pleasure, leading to a certain kind of diffuse climax.31
5. 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 and its literary context. In 1 Cor 6:9–10 we read, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators [NIV: ‘the sexually immoral’], idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes [malakoi, Strong G3120; KJV: ‘effeminate (males)’], sodomites [arsenokoitai, G733; Lamsa: ‘men who lie with males’], thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers [NIV: ‘slanderers’], robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God” (NRSV). Now, let it be said at the outset that the meanings of the two italicized Greek words above, which are usually related to homosexuality in one way or another, are heavily debated, for their meanings are “not at all clear,” and understanding these elusive terms is not helped by the fact that they appear here only in a list (Rogers).32
Paul begins chapter 6 with a condemnation of some believers in Corinth who are dragging other believers before secular judges (6:1–8) and ends with a condemnation of others there who are visiting prostitutes (6:12–20); and then these two sections are joined by a list of types of people, each heavily involved in a certain kind of behavior, who will “not inherit the kingdom of God” (6:9–11). The “kingdom of God” here may refer to God’s rule which was activated in a new way after Jesus’ death and resurrection in the hearts of those who have been made a “new creation” in Christ (Waetjen),33 or it may refer to the future, final consummated rule of God (Scroggs, Coleman).34 Later in this letter Paul will explain that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable . . . [but at Christ’s coming in the Rapture] we will all be changed” (1 Cor 15:50–51, NRSV; cf. 1 Thess 4:16–17)—which points to a future kingdom. Now the first part of 1 Cor 6 (vv. 1–8) clearly raises the issue of “injustice,” which some interpreters (Grimsrud, Waetjen) believe carries over into the vice list, so that it offers primarily a range of victimizers who are set on dominating and exploiting others.35 In fact, David Lull believes that adikoi (G94) in 1 Cor 6:9 (NRSV: “wrongdoers,” NIV: “the wicked,” CEV: “evil people,” UNASB: “the unrighteous”) is best translated as “the unjust,” the first meaning given adikoi in Strong’s Greek–English dictionary (2001 ed.)36 and which appears in the NEB, Jay Green, NAB, and Charles Van der Pool translations. Paul presents examples in his vice list then (mostly) of people who are treating others unjustly.37 Lull further suggests that malakoi may refer to “those who lack the moral strength to control their desires” and arsenokoitai to “[heterosexual] males who pursue unrestrained sexual desires by having intercourse with males.” Yet, the noun “homosexual” is not a term that fits Paul’s intellectual time.38 Now Paul advises Christians to stay away from the Roman judicial system (6:1–8) because it really belongs to the wealthy, well-born, and well-connected males (who offer bribes to gain special favors), rather than providing just and fair decisions for ordinary people (Witherington).39 Ironically, while modern-day Christians often become fixated on malakoi and arsenokoitai, they entirely ignore Paul’s directive that Christians should not bring civil lawsuits against one another, but instead have their disputes settled within the church (Bellis and Hufford).40 Also, why do Fundamentalists not treat people in their congregations who are “greedy” or who ‘slander’ others with the same outrage that they display toward gay people (Schroeder, Lull)?41
If one looks more broadly through Paul’s letter here, it is interesting to note that slavery is repeatedly mentioned, revealing that slaves had joined the church in Corinth (1 Cor 7:21–24, and note also “Chloe’s people” in 1:11 and the “household of Stephanas” in 1:16, 16:15, NRSV). This suggests that Paul was aware and grieved that probably some of them (or their slave-children) had been or were still being sexually abused, as was common practice in Roman households. Paul surely knew that before Roman men married, they were expected to ‘sow their wild oats’ with prostitutes and their slaves; and after marriage they often continued having sex with a pretty slave boy (Williams).42 Paul at least can assure those slaves in the Corinthian church that they are not viewed as slaves by the Lord, but as “free” in him (7:22). In a second passage, Paul calls it a “disgrace” for men to wear long hair (1 Cor 11:14), showing that he is disturbed by persons who cross the traditional patriarchal gender divide, including men who assume an effeminate look. He would have agreed with ‘Pseudo-Phocylides,’ a Hellenistic Jewish poet (late first century BC on) who wrote, “let women not imitate the sexual role of men” (192) and “long hair is not fit for boys, but for voluptuous women” (210–212).43 Then in a third passage, Paul urges the followers of Christ in Corinth to “flee from the worship of idols” (10:14) and eating of “food sacrificed to idols” (10:19), for believers “cannot drink the cup of the Lord [at the Communion table] and [also] the cup of demons” at pagan feasts (10:21, NRSV). Paul opposes those church members in Corinth who feel that their “freedom” in Christ—which Paul preached (Gal 5:1; Rom 8:1–2; 1 Cor 9:1, 19)—gives them the right to continue attending the temple feasts, where meat was first offered to honor pagan gods and then served as part of a free meal (Witherington),44 accompanied by heavy drinking and sexual orgies (cf. Gal 5:19–21, especially v. 21, NIV).
Brian Rosner especially investigates the section following the vice list here, in 1 Cor 6:12–20, where Paul answers some believers in Corinth who are saying, “All things a lawful for me” (6:12, NRSV), meaning that they feel they should be allowed to join the temple feasts and consort with the prostitutes there.45 Or as Burge, Cohick and Green note, “The Corinthians argued that sex was a natural function of the body. As the body needed food, so the body also needed sex (6:13).”46 But Paul asks, “Should I therefore take the members of Christ [i.e., the members of his church] and make them the members of a prostitute [pornē, G4204, ‘a female prostitute’]? Never! . . . Shun fornication [porneia]! . . . Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you . . . . [T]herefore glorify God in your body” (6:12–20, NRSV). Now the standard view of this passage is that it deals with sexual immorality in general,47 yet what this passage really says is that some men in the Corinthian church are visiting prostitutes.48 In response to this, Paul offers his only direct command against this; and “Shun fornication!” here (6:18, NRSV) should really be translated as “Shun prostitution [porneia]!” (Rosner).49 But what kind of prostitution was going on here, sacred or secular? The fact is, there is no solid evidence that sacred prostitution existed in Corinth in Paul’s day. “Sacred prostitution was never a Greek custom” (Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, 1985),50 although Herodotus (c.484–c.425 BC) earlier had reported sacred prostitutes at Corinth and on the island of Cyprus (1.199) and Strabo (64/63 BC–AD 24) later claimed that such existed in southern Italy and on Sicily (6.2.6), the island farther south. Yet the geographer and traveler Pausanias (second century AD) never mentions this in his description of the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth, which is telling because he was especially interested in peculiar religious practices (Younger).51 Rosner notes that “sacred prostitution” refers to religiously condoned intercourse in the vicinity of a temple in order to increase fecundity and fertility and/or to raise funds for the temple. While some prostitutes might have given some of their income to certain temples or shrines in Roman Corinth, we must not draw too much from Strabo’s statement, writes Rosner. On the other hand, secular prostitution is well documented in places like Corinth in Paul’s day.52 Whether these secular prostitutes attended feasts held in the sanctuaries of Demeter or Asklepios or in a temple connected to the Isthmian Games or in other locations, we simply lack information.53 Yet, activity with prostitutes was very common at pagan cultic events. Rosner labels this activity “temple prostitution,”54 but this may still be confusing; so we prefer to speak of secular prostitutes who plied their trade at the sex parties that commonly followed the temple feasts, which also included heavy drinking.
Overall, one cannot deny that prostitution rests heavily on Paul’s mind in 1 Cor 6, especially in verses 12–20, but also implicitly in long passages elsewhere where he warns members in his churches not to participate in the pagan temple feasts, nor join the orgies and prostitutes there (1 Cor 10:1–22, Gal 5:13–21, and cf. Acts 15). Therefore, malakoi and arsenokoitai might relate in some way to prostitution, perhaps 1 Cor 6:10 alluding to male prostitutes, while 6:15–16 specifically mentions female prostitutes; at least Norman Kraus sees prostitution as “the controlling metaphor for unholiness” in this passage.55 Moreover, repeated references to slaves in Paul’s churches surely related to an agony Paul felt over how slaves were often sexually abused by their masters and with impunity in the Roman world, a cruel example of treating people “unjustly” if there ever was one. Yet also his concern with gender issues (men wearing long hair, 1 Cor 11:14) suggests that Paul may have been recalling the effeminate cinaedi, who offered themselves to be penetrated like a woman and who could be identified by their long hair (Seneca the Elder, Controversiae 7.4.7),56 or the galli, devotees of the Mother Goddess who had castrated themselves and then appeared in women’s clothes and with long hair (Apuleius, The Golden Ass 8.25–30).57 Yet, Paul also displays archaic, unscientific, and inaccurate views related to homosexual orientation and transgender orientation, which raise serious questions about some of his basic assumptions.
6. Bible translations of malakoi and arsenokoitai. So who are these two groups of people (King James Version, Oxford Standard Text: “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind”) whom the Apostle Paul says will not be admitted to the final Kingdom of Heaven (1 Cor 6:9–10)? Setting the stage for later English translations of the Bible was the Latin Vulgate, an early, elegant rendering made from the original Hebrew and Greek texts of Scripture into everyday (vernacular, vulgate) Latin and translated by the priest-scholar Jerome (born 340) in Bethlehem, who dedicated himself to this effort between 386 and his death in 420. This would become the official Roman Catholic Bible; and later it would be translated into English at an English college in France (which drew also from some preceding English translations), with the NT published in 1582 in Rheims and the OT in 1610 in Douay.58 The explosion of printed copies of English translations of the Bible from the fifteenth century on was made possible by the invention of movable type, credited to Johannes Gutenberg in Germany; and the Gutenberg Bible (1455–1456) is recognized as the first printed Bible.59 Now the Latin Vulgate rendered malakoi and arsenokoitai in 1 Cor 6:9–10 as molles (‘soft, slack, effeminate, or weak’) and masculorum concubitores (‘male concubines,’ or passive male sexual partners);60 yet how is one to explain this unusual second translation? Born in Strido(n), now in Croatia, Jerome studied at Rome and then lived for a while in Antioch in Syria (and as a hermit in the Syrian desert for 4–5 years) before settling in Bethlehem where he founded a monastery in 386 AD.61 Now a contemporary, John Chrysostom (c.347–407), bishop of Constantinople and educated in Antioch,62 described homoerotic relations as being rampant in the Christian society in fourth-century Antioch, noting that church leaders there “do not consort with prostitutes as fearlessly as they do with young men [in the church]. The fathers of the[se] young men take this in silence . . . [and] no one blushes” (Adversus oppugnatores vitae monasticae 3.8). John Boswell noted that the main concern here appears to be the seduction of boys, i.e., pederasty.63 Yet, it should be noted that the Latin Vulgate NT past the Gospels was probably translated after Jerome’s death, by another hand64 perhaps in his monastery. Still, Boswell notes that during these early centuries of the Christian Era there seems to have been very little hostility toward homosexual behavior; and many prominent and respected Christians—some even canonized saints—were involved in passionate homosexual relationships, sometimes physical and sometimes romantic only.65 Therefore, within a historical context, it may be suggested that molles in the Latin Vulgate referred to older men who lacked moral character and the masculorum concubitores to their young male lovers. However, Martin Luther’s later German Bible (1534) would switch these meanings around, offering Weichlinge (“sissy boy”) for malakoi and Knabenschänder (“boy-molester”) for arsenokoitai.66 And John Wycliffe’s earlier Bible (1380) emphasized excessive sexual behavior here, with malakoi translated into Middle English as “letchouris ayen kynde” (lecherous in kind [in nature, with themselves or with women?]) and arsenokoitai as “thei that doon letcheri with men” (they who do lechery with men). Yet, the majority of translations in the sixteenth century would render malakoi simply as “weaklings” (with different spellings), as seen in William Tyndale’s NT (1526), Miles Coverdale’s Bible (1535), Matthew’s Bible (1537), the Great Bible (1539), and the Bishops’ Bible (1568). However, the Geneva NT (1557) would offer “wa[n]tons” and “bouggerers” for these two terms—“bugger” being an affectionate Middle English slang word for a fellow or lad; and “buggerers” then came to refer to “sodomites” or males who have anal intercourse with other males.67 In our survey of Bible translations, it is the Rheims NT (1582) which switches to “effeminat [males]” for malakoi, a view that will then dominate translations down to the first decade of the twentieth century.
In today’s familiar and still popular King James Version, 1 Cor 6:9–10 condemns the “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind.” However, in our survey William Tyndale’s NT (1526) is the first translation where “abusars of them selves with the mankynde” appears, which then was carried over into King James’s Authorized Version (1611) as “abusers of themselues with mankinde,” while the Rheims NT (1582) offered the more simple “liers vvith mankinde.” (To view the real, original text of the Authorized [or King James] Version, see online http://openlibrary.org/books/OL7092789M/The_Holy_Bible). The wording “with mankinde” here clearly connects to “Thou shalt not lie with mankinde, as with womankinde : it is abomination” in Lev 18:22 (AV 1611), but from where comes the idea of self-abuse? It should be noted that from the Middle Ages (c.500–1453) on the sexual sin given greatest stress in the penitentials (books which specified acts of penance to be done by Christians for committing various sins) was placed on masturbation, even more so than on fornication, sodomy, or bestiality (Taylor).68 Peter Damien (1007–1072), an ascetic monk devoted to strict mortification of the body,69 in his treatise Gomorran Book provided the first official definition of sodomy, relating it (expansively) to masturbation, mutual masturbation, copulation between the thighs, and anal penetration (Jordan).70 Generally in the eyes of the Church all sexual pleasure came to be viewed as dangerous and was frowned upon, even within marriage and leading to procreation. (Penance was also required for involuntary night emissions.) The Church sought support for its strict condemnation of masturbation from ‘Onan’s sin’ in Gen 38:9, although the issue here was not masturbation or even interrupted coitus per se but Onan’s refusal to fulfill his family duty to give the childless widow of his deceased brother an heir.71 Anyway, the Tyndale and Authorized Bible translations view the penetration of another male as another example of self pleasure, and therefore self-abuse.
Relating to the origin of the King James Version, under the order of James I of England (1604) forty-seven scholars from Oxford, Cambridge, and Westminster began work to produce a new English translation of the Bible.72 Since this was done before English spelling was standardized, the text looks very different from that found in King James Bibles today (even though they may read “1611” on the title page), including spellings and typesettings like “mankynde,” two v’s used for a “w,” and use of the ‘long s’ (which looks like an f without the crossbar) which is rendered in this text as a normal “s.” This translation, finally published in two copies in 1611, was at first simply called “the new translation.” Later it would popularly become known as “King James’s translation” or “King James’s Bible,” then as the “Authorized Version” in England and the “King James Version” in the United States. However, numerous typographical errors were corrected and spelling, grammar and punctuation were modernized in F. S. Parris’s Cambridge revision (1762); then this text was improved in Benjamin Blayney’s Oxford Standard Text (1769), where “the printed text was settled” so that it served as a standard for other Bible publishers at the time. Yet in the next century the English Revised Version (1885) would incorporate new scholarly findings; and an American Standard Version (1901) followed, replacing “LORD” (for the Hebrew YHWH) with “Jehovah,” although this change did not find widespread acceptance. Earlier F. H. A. Scrivener’s Cambridge Paragraph Bible (1873) would restore some of the earlier text, yet make a further attempt to modernize spelling and make the text more consistent. So Hendrickson Publishers’ Pew Bible–KJV (2007) would use Scrivener’s text as its primary source, although rejecting its paragraph form.73 The popular American Bible Society’s KJV Bible does not explain inside how its exact text came into being; however, a staff person there explained to me in an email (June 3, 2011) that “our text is the product of some ten years of research conducted by a Biblical scholar committee organized in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Our standard edition of the KJV Bible was first issued in 1932 and was slightly revised in 1962.” Apart from slight modifications in italics and capitalization, the only difference between these two texts in 1 Cor 6 relates to the spelling of “among” (ABS) versus “amongst” (Hendrickson) in verse 5. Yet, all these revisions over time (many very minor) would not change the basic translation for malakoi and arsenokoitai in 1 Cor 6:9 (KJV)—that is, until “homosexuals” and “sodomites” appeared in the New King James Version (1982), unfortunately a more problematic translation than the old (see below).
In historical context, it might be noted that the homosexuality of James I (born 1566, and king of England and Ireland 1603–1625) was well-known. He entered into his first romance with his French cousin, Esmé Stuart (some twenty-four years his senior), who the clergy charged “foully misused his [James’s] tender age” with “disordinant desires.” Later, his greatest love was George Villiers, whom the bishop of Gloucester called “the handsomest man in England” and to whom the king wrote letters addressed to “Sweetheart” or “Sweet Steenie.” It is a rich irony, of course, that James’s authorized Bible translation would so often be invoked to condemn homosexuals, for this ‘effeminate homosexual’ was clearly an intelligent man, a capable leader, and an accomplished writer (Young).74 Yet, this case reveals again the paradox between legal positions and actual practice (Patai),75 between ancient law and real life. Actually James cautioned his young son Prince Henry against acts of sodomy; yet no one dared question the king’s conduct openly, even though Sir Simonds D’Ewes once described James I as infected with the “sin of sodomy.”76 This was also an age when many female roles in the English theater were performed by boy actors, in drag.77 Yet also it should be remembered that earlier, during the reign of Henry VIII (1509–1547), the English Parliament had passed the “buggery” act of 1533, which turned sodomy into a civil crime, then allowing the Protestant King Henry to expropriate Catholic monasteries in England, which his investigators declared were sodomical centers. This new law called for the death penalty and seizure of property “for the detestable and abominable Vice of Buggery committed with mankind or beast.”78 Yet, not only did James I openly entertain his male favorites, but Sir Francis Bacon (1561–1626) lived unabashedly in sexual intimacy with his manservants, Christopher Marlow (1564–1593) produced his play Edward the Second which describes the love of King Edward II (1284–1327) for his favorite Piers Gaveston, and the first 126 sonnets (of a total of 154) by William Shakespeare (1564–1616) were addressed to a young man called “the Master Mistris of my passion.”79 In fact, the sodomy law was seldom enforced, since it focused narrowly on anal penetration.80 Still, the connection of copulation with another male with self-abuse (orgasmic pleasure) would persist in English Bible translations for the next three centuries and beyond. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, besides “effeminate” for malakoi and ‘abusers of themselves with mankind’ for arsenokoitai, there would also appear for the second Greek term “buggerers” (cf. Anthony Purver’s Bible, 1764) and “sodomites” (cf. John Worsley’s NT, 1770), the latter of which would become a favored translation down to our own time.
Coming into the twentieth century, for malakoi the Twentieth Century NT (1904) recalled Wycliff’s idea of lechery (1380)—sex out of control—with its “licentious [person],” while Edgar Goodspeed’s NT (1923) condemned the “sensual,” as did Charles Williams’ NT (1937); and the French Jerusalem Bible (1974) called them the dépravés, and the New Jerusalem Bible (1985) the “self indulgent.” Earlier, William Newcome’s NT (1809) had translated both terms as “abusers of themselves”—and from around 1700 onward a number of theologians and medical quacks had begun describing and warning against various emotional and physical consequences that resulted from masturbation and night emissions, including acne, feebleness, spinal cord decay, gonorrhea, blindness, and insanity81—complete nonsense that was only discarded after Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948) thoroughly refuted such claims.82 Other general but desultory terms not present in 1 Cor 6:9–10 also began appearing, such as “any who are guilty of unnatural crime” (for both terms) in Richard Weymouth’s NT (1903), as well as infâmes (the infamous) for arsenokoitai in Louis French’s Bible (1910) and “pervert” in J. B. Phillip’s Letters to Young Churches (1956), carried over then into the New English NT (“perversion,” 1961) and into William Barclay’s NT (“perverts,” 1969).
Yet after the appearance of “catamites” (i.e., passive male sexual partners who are anally penetrated by other males) and “sodomites” (i.e., their active male penetrators) in James Moffatt’s NT (1913), the meanings of malakoi and arsenokoitai for many translators became more closely linked and in a sexual way; note this pair of terms also in the English Jerusalem Bible (1966) and the Inclusive Language NT (1994). Then, it was not long before the Revised Standard Version NT (1946) and Ronald Knox’s Epistles and Gospels for Sundays and Holydays (1946) introduced the term “homosexuals” to cover both Greek terms. This is interesting since the noun “homosexual” and other word variations were slow to enter the vocabulary of even educated people in England and the United States and did not find popular usage until after Kinsey’s 1948 volume was published (Halpern).83 Yet, Kinsey’s study raised another awareness that likely affected translations, i.e., his observation that a sizable number of males, most of them basically heterosexual, had also experienced some homosexual activity at some point in their lives.84 Therefore, we find wording like “those who participate in homosexuality” appearing in the Amplified NT (1958) and “partakers in homosexuality” in the Berkeley Version (1959). While Derrick Bailey in his ground-breaking Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition (1955) clearly distinguished between the pervert (a heterosexual person who turns to homosexual behavior, perhaps because females are unavailable to him, or he needs money, or out of curiosity, etc.) and the invert (a person who possesses a deep, abiding psycho-sexual attraction toward members of the same sex),85 this distinction would be largely ignored by translators—although, interestingly, the designation “sexual perverts” (RSV 2nd ed., 1972) does suggest persons who have turned from their natural inclination to another path. Then, no doubt influenced by the views of Robin Scroggs (1983),86 the New American NT (1986) introduced “boy prostitutes” for malakoi, while the New Revised Standard Version (1989) referred to “male prostitutes” (cf. also the New Living Translation, 1996; International Standard Version, 2000; Today’s New International NT, 2002; and World English Bible, 2005). At the same time, no Bible translation narrowed the meaning of arsenokoitai simply to refer to these prostitutes’ customers (so Scroggs), but rather they remained with more general terms like “sodomites” or “homosexuals”—even though “sexual orientation” as we understand it today was unknown in Biblical times (Powell).87 Eugene Peterson was so puzzled by these two terms that he simply translated them as “[t]hose who . . . use and abuse sex” (The Message, 2002).
Of course, it should be noted that no Hebrew or Greek word appears in the original Biblical texts for “sodomite[s],” (although found in the JB, NKJV, NJB, NRSV, ILB, NAB, OSB), even referring to residents of Sodom (Furnish);88 and besides the sexual sin perpetuated at Sodom is presented as the male gang-raping of foreigners (Schroeder),89 hardly an issue in 1 Cor 6:9–10. The term “pervert[s]” (found in Phillips, Barclay, RSV2, GNB, REB, CEV, cf. NEB), defined as someone or something “altered from its original course,”90 no doubt derives from Paul’s discussion in Rom 1:26–27 about pagans who have turned from their ‘inborn or individual sexual state’ to another state (Nissinen).91 So here in 1 Cor 6:9–10 this is not an inappropriate term (see Bailey above), if thought to refer to heterosexuals who have turned to take up homosexual acts; in fact, most men in Roman times who engaged in sex with their slave-boys or male prostitutes were married men or males who intended to marry (Williams),92 although this fact gets lost in Bible translations. Also, as Martti Nissinen (1998) noted,93 we should resist reading the modern concept of “homosexuals” back into Paul’s first-century texts (but find in the NASB, Barclay, LB, NKJV, Green, NLT, UNASB, ISV, TNINT, WEB, Blair, Van der Pool, OSB). Earlier William Petersen (1986) argued against David Wright’s view that arsenokoitai should be translated as “homosexuals” (1984),94 because the latter is a modern concept; instead Greek and Roman society viewed male sexuality as polyvalent (multi-directed) and “a man could be characterized sexually only by describing his sexual acts.” All forms were acceptable, except transvestism.95 Paul never addresses the modern question of homosexual orientation (Keener),96 and “no one in Paul’s day thought that a person had a same-sex orientation or sexual identity” (Lull).97 Neither malakoi nor arsenokoitai here in 1 Cor 6:9–10 should be equated with “homosexuals” (Countryman).98
Overall, in this survey of sixty-six Bible translations spanning eighteen centuries (see Table 1: “Bible Translations and Commentary Views on Malakoi and Arsenokoitoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10,” end of article), it becomes clear that malakoi and arsenokoitai in 1 Cor 6:9–10 may be two of the most elusive and difficult terms in the Bible to translate. As we have seen, English translations of malakoi begin with ‘morally weak’ (William Tyndale’s NT, 1526), then turn to ‘effeminate males’ (Rheims NT, 1582), and then (as these two Greek terms become more closely linked in many translators’ minds) to sexual terms like “catamites” (James Moffatt’s NT, 1913) or “homosexuals” (Ronald Knox, 1946), or more narrowly to “boy prostitutes” (New American NT, 1986), “male prostitutes” (New Revised Standard Version, 1989), or even “transvestites” (George Blair’s NT, 2006). Other translators preferred more general but derogatory meanings, like “sensual” (Charles Williams’ NT 1937), dépravés (French Jerusalem Bible, 1974), “self-indulgent” (New Jerusalem Bible, 1985), or “pervert” (Contemporary English Version, 1995). Relating to arsenokoitai, the Latin Vulgate’s view that this term referred to young male sexual partners is replaced in English translations with ‘abusers of themselves with mankind’ (John Wycliffe, 1380; and Authorized Version translations, 1611 on), recalling Lev 18:22 and 20:13 and referring to men who anally penetrate other males, and offering wording that will dominate translations into the early twentieth century. Yet, some translations began moving away from the Medieval view of orgasmic pleasure as sexual abuse in favor of renderings like ‘buggerers’ (Geneva NT, 1557), ‘liers with mankind’ (Douay-Rheims Bible, 1610), and ‘sodomites’ (John Worsley, 1770). With arsenokoitai, some translators also preferred wording with more general but derogatory meanings, such as “any who are guilty of unnatural crime” (for both terms, Richard Weymouth, 1903), infâmes (Louis French, 1910), or “pervert” (J. B. Phillips, 1956)—although these translations follow a more subjective path.
Most translations from James Moffatt’s NT on (“catamites,” 1913) came to view malakoi as conveying a sexual meaning, along with arsenokoitai, as found with the pair of males addressed in the Levitical ban (18:22 and 20:13), which “catamite” and “sodomite” do seem to parallel. Most translators also read malakoi and arsenokoitai as a general condemnation of all homosexual activity—although phrases and terms like “unnatural crime [or, vice],” “pervert[s],” “sodomites,” “homosexuals,” and “transvestites” all present problems in definition and application. Interestingly, “effeminate” almost entirely disappears as a translation for malakoi after 1960, because most “[c]ontemporary scholars would be rightly embarrassed to invoke effeminacy as a moral category today” (Rogers)99—although this designation still appears in the Updated New American Standard Bible (1995), carrying a footnote reading “by perversion,” whatever that means in this case. Likewise, “practicing homosexuals,” which recently began appearing (Today’s New International NT, 2002; George Blair’s NT, 2006), seems to say that some people have a fixed homosexual orientation, but still they should not act on their basic sexual desires—an idea that comes out of Robert Gagnon (2001) and from the playbook of the Ex-Gay movement. Even “sodomites” (see Orthodox Study Bible, 2008), pointing to males who have anal intercourse with other men, is problematic—because male prostitutes in Paul’s day, whether they were called upon to offer active or passive sexual service, had no choice but to do their pimps’ and customers’ bidding. Likewise, Roman men viewed anal penetration (being a catamite) as what a good-looking slave boy was for (Ruden).100 So, would this keep such slaves who wanted to come to Jesus out of the kingdom of God? This hardly seems to fit the view of the Apostle Paul, who wished to “win as many as possible” to Christ (1 Cor 9:19). In the end, not only is there continuing disagreement among translators over how to render these two Greek words, but translations often reflect their own historical context, while even the preferred meanings—“passive, effeminate male sexual partners” and “men who have anal intercourse with males”—lack many conditional nuances of meaning that the first-century historical context offers, leading readers to simplistic and false conclusions about Paul’s most likely and more detailed thinking on these matters.
7. Modern commentators’ views on malakoi and arsenokoitai. As we have seen, a survey of Bible translations for these two Greek terms over the centuries reveals a broad (and disheartening) range of meanings. So now we turn to survey forty-four Bible commentaries and articles (see Table 1), from 1730 on but primarily from the last sixty years, where we find expanded discussion and more helpful insight. Sometimes in writing on 1 Cor 6:9–10 commentators simply ignore these two Greek terms entirely and the taboo subjects which they might suggest (e.g., Charles Hodge, 1860; Marcus Dods, 1898; Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, 1911).101 However, Christian Kling’s commentary on 1 Corinthians (translated from German 1868) places emphasis on gender transgression here, referring to qui muliebria patiuntur, those “who allow oneself [to be used] like a woman,” and then other males “who used them in an unnatural way.”102 Albert Barnes (1841) also writes in such an historically-grounded manner that his remarks remain perceptive even today: he held that malakoi points to those who give themselves up to “a soft, luxurious, and indolent [lazy] way of living; who make self-indulgence the grand object of life; who can endure no hardship and practice no self-denial in the cause of duty and of God.” Yet, he recognized that classical writers also applied this term to cinaedi or catamites who give themselves up “to wantonness and sensual pleasures, or who are kept to be prostituted by others.” Then arsenokoitai he identified with “pederasty” and “sodomites.”103 Heinrich Meyer (1883) also believed that malakoi pointed to “effeminate, luxurious livers,” and John Lias (1886) to “self-indulgent” individuals.104
Coming into the twentieth century, some commentators continued to hold that malakoi simply referred to the “morally weak,” with arsenokoitai then given a variety of meanings. For example, John McNeill (1976) pointed to ‘those who are morally weak, or lacking in self control’ and to ‘male prostitutes,’105 although in a later edition (1993) he wrote that the second term referred “most likely [to] anal intercourse” and any male who did this.106 John Boswell (1980) similarly referred to the “morally-weak” and “active male prostitutes,” the latter capable of servicing both males and females.107 Richard Horsley (1998) refers (more specifically) to “masturbators” and “male prostitutes,”108 Daniel Helminiak (2000) to “unrestrained [individuals]” and “men who have penetrative sex with men,”109 and David Lull (2007) to “[males] who lack the moral strength to control their desires” and “males who pursue unrestrained sexual desires by having [anal] intercourse with other males.”110 However, in the second half of the twentieth century, a larger number of commentators selected meanings for malakoi which emphasize effeminacy in one way or another, as with: ‘effeminate males’ (Tom Horner 1978, Alice Bellis and Terry Hufford 2002), ‘effeminate boys or youths’ (Hans Conzelmann 1975, Peter Coleman 1989), ‘effeminate male prostitutes’ (Gordon Fee 1987, Elisabeth Fiorenza 2000, Joseph Fitzmyer 2008), or ‘effeminate passive homosexuals’ (Gagnon 2001).111
However, with James Moffatt’s use of “catamites” and “sodomites” in his translation (NT 1913, Bible 1922), some Bible commentators came to view malakoi and arsenokoitai as a pair of sexual partners, as seen in the texts of Derrick Bailey (1955) with “catamites” and “sodomites”112 and Frederik Grosheide (1953) with “passive homosexuals” and “active “homosexuals.”113 This emphasis on the active and passive roles in a sexual liaison was continued by Brian Blount (1996) with ‘the more passive homosexual partners’ and ‘their more active homosexual partners’114 and Bernadette Brooten (1996) with “men who assume a passive role with other men” and “other men who have sex with men.”115 James De Young (2000) referred to ‘passive homosexuals’ and ‘active homosexuals,’116 and Joseph Fitzmyer (2008) to the ‘effeminate, passive same-sex partner’ and his ‘active male same-sex partner.’117
Yet other commentators searched for more narrow, historically-grounded meanings, and their thinking went in two directions: pederasty and prostitution. For example, Hans Conzelmann in his commentary on 1 Corinthians (translated from German 1975) pointed to “the classical role played by erotic relationships with boys,” including the ‘passive, effeminate boy (or male)’ and the ‘violator of boys.’118 Tom Horner (1978) carried this idea over with ‘passive, effeminate homosexual partners’ and ‘pederasts,’119 and Peter Coleman (1989) with ‘those youths who play the passive role in bed’ and ‘those who take the active sexual role’ with them.120 Wolfgang Schrage (1991) pointed to the ‘younger pederastic partner’ and his ‘active same-sex partner,’121 Ben Witherington (1995) to the ‘passive partner’ and the ‘leading partner, in a pederastic tryst,’122 and Herman Waetjen (1996) to ‘youths before they grow a beard’ and the ‘pederasts who pursue them.’123 Raymond Collins (1999) describes ‘passive sexual partners, often young boys’ and ‘male homosexuals,’124 and David Schroeder (2001) “the passive (soft) partner in a homosexual relationship . . . most often boys” and “[the man] lying with a male,” recalling Lev 18:22 and 20:13.125 Craig Keener (2005) writes of the ‘passive male sexual partner, usually a boy,’ and his ‘active male partner,’126 and Nigel Watson (2005) of the “passive partner in a same-sex liaison . . . usually a youth” and the “active partner in such a relationship,” although one should not use the terminology “homosexual[s]” here.127 In some of these cases, however, while malakoi was identified as pointing to pederastic relationships, arsenokoitai was left to be more widely applied to any male who anally penetrates another male, drawing from the Levitical ban (Lev 18:22 and 20:13).
Herman Waetjen believes that literature and art of the Mediterranean world of antiquity strongly suggest that malakoi (“soft ones”) in 1 Cor 6:9–10 referred to pederasty, “to boys or young men between the ages of eleven and seventeen, who because they had not yet grown a beard or pubic hair bore a likeness to young women and were attractive to older men.” Arsenokoitai (“male” and “bed”), which Paul himself may have coined and which derived from the Levitical ban, then referred to the older males who pursued these youths. However, the pederastic ideal that Pausanias described in Plato’s Symposium was seldom achieved (i.e., a love focused on leading the youth to wisdom and virtue, 184e–185b); rather unequal power and adult exploitation usually characterized such a relationship. The youth was required to be submissive and passive while the older male obtained his self-gratification; and generally the relationship ended when the youth showed signs of growing a beard, at which time the erastēs (“lover”) began searching for a new erōmenos (“beloved”) or malakos. Then, in time, the youth himself would assume the role of an erastēs, seeking sexual relations with boys; and so the cycle of pederasty would continue.128
However, a second group of commentators found meanings for these terms in male prostitution, which was common in ancient Roman cities (Younger).129 Robin Scroggs (1983) applied malakoi and arsenokoitai to the “effeminate call-boy” and the “active [male] partner” who paid for his services;130 and Victor Furnish (1985) followed suit with ‘effeminate, adolescent, passive males’ and “their customers”131—although in a later edition (1994) Furnish wrote that the second term also could refer to any ‘male who has intercourse with another male.’132 Gordon Fee (1987) referred to a “male prostitute,” who was a “consenting homosexual youth” (note the emphasis here on free youths, as opposed to slaves bound to serve their masters) and his “active [male] partner,”133 and Elisabeth Fiorenza (2000) to “effeminate male prostitutes” and “the male partner who hires him [the male prostitute] to satisfy his sexual needs.”134 Martti Nissinen (1998) felt that these terms might refer to the ‘effeminate, girlish cinaedi’—traditionally effeminate male dancers who were known to wiggle their buttocks in performance and who frequently offered their bodies for sexual use (Younger)135—and ‘males who sexually exploit other males.’136
John Boswell noted that already in the Roman Republic (508–26 BC) homosexual prostitution was common; e.g., the Roman statesman Cicero (106–43 BC) remarks that Clodius the politician always had a number of male prostitutes accompanying him (Pro Milone 21).137 Very strong censure was placed on any Roman citizen who became a prostitute, because this trade was viewed as the lowest of professions, even slaves visited the brothels, and the Roman male looked with utter horror on the possibility of another male citizen sexually servicing a slave. However, no stigma was attached to the use of prostitutes (as passive sexual partners). Very large numbers of prostitutes were recruited from the lower classes, foreigners, and slaves; they were “highly visible,” and even prominent persons fell in love with them. In addition to the male brothels, male prostitutes frequented dark alleys and building archways; and many public places in Rome (and no doubt in other large cities in the Roman Empire as well) were pickup locations for male prostitutes, who also hung out in the public baths to attract customers.138
Another twist in the reading of arsenokoitai came with Dale Martin (1996) who asserted that, while malakoi referred to ‘effeminate males,’ arsenokoitai was used too vaguely in early Christian texts that followed Paul’s letter to give this second term any reading beyond ‘those who economically or sexually exploit others, through rape, sex, pimping, or other like means.’139 Martti Nissinen (1998) held that in this context (1 Cor 6) both malakoi and arsenokoitai must point to “examples of the exploitation of persons.”140 Alice Bellis and Terry Hufford (2002) refer to “effeminate [males],” along with “sexual exploiters” of males.141
At the same time, a growing number of modern commentators seem unable to decide on a single meaning for either malakoi or arsenokoitai, but instead offer a range of options. For example, William Countryman (1988) noted that malakoi could be applied “to any male who was seen as less than upstanding or respectable” (e.g., Philo applied this term to a man who remarries his former wife, On the Special Laws 3.30–31).142 On the other hand, “the classic form of same-sex partnership was pederastic, the love of an adult male (erastēs, lover) for a youth (erōmenos, beloved)”—although “[i]n the Roman era, the beloved was more commonly a slave and entirely at his master’s bidding,” and “there were also male prostitutes who serviced both sexes.”143 The Romans simply “assumed that most human beings are attracted sexually both to their own and the opposite sex.”144 Yet malakos could also refer to the masturbator who is “so devoted to the pursuit of private pleasure as to be devoid of responsibility,” and arsenokoitēs could refer to a pederast, or a male prostitute, or “the male, slave or free, who used his sexual attractiveness to ingratiate himself with a rich and elderly lover in the hope of receiving a substantial legacy, thus replacing more legitimate heirs.”145 John McNeill (1993) wrote that malakoi probably referred to those who are “loose, morally weak, or lacking in self control.” Yet, the use of this word by later Church Fathers suggests that it might also have referred to “masturbation” or “effeminacy,” although the latter “has no necessary connection with homosexuality.” Arsenokoitēs then might refer to an “obsessive corruptor of boys,” to “male prostitution,” or to any “[male penetrator in] anal intercourse.”146
David Fredrickson (2000) tied malakoi with “excess or greed and lack of self-control,” which could apply to “men who were too interested in having sex with women,” to “adulterers,” and to “males who used other males.” Arsenokoitēs probably referred to the pederast, to the ‘one who has a boy as an erōmenos (beloved)’ and disgraces him by penetrating him; although it also could refer to any male who engages in ‘unjust or violent sexual behavior.’147 Robert Gagnon (2001) held that malakoi may refer to “prostituting passive homosexuals” (passive male prostitutes) or to “effeminate heterosexual and homosexual males.” This group could also include the cinaedi or passive males who had “a desire to be penetrated by other men,” as well as those castrated “cultic functionaries” who were so condemned by Philo (On the Special Laws 3.41–42).148 Then arsenokoitēs referred to “the man who lies with a male,” who has “homosexual intercourse” with him.149 Mathew Kuefler (2001) also believed that these two terms related to the Levitical ban and so referred to “the male who is penetrated” and the “male who penetrates [another male].”150 Yet he notes, one must not forget Philo’s condemnation of the effeminate eunuch priests in Alexandria, Egypt, who served the Mother Goddess, whom Jerome later (ca. 400) would describe in Latin as the effeminati, “the ones who are nowadays at Rome the servants of the Mother” (Commentariorum in Osee 1.4.14). So, the “effeminates” here must surely include, if not be directed primarily against, these “eunuchs and their cult” and the castration practices “with which they dishonor[ed] their own bodies,” and who thereafter dressed in female vestments.151 J. Paul Sampley (2002) wrote that malakos could include “a man who was not adequately ‘manly,’” or the more passive homosexual partner (frequently a boy and sometimes a slave), and also “boys who solicited sex with their elders for pay. Then arsenokoitēs referred to “the more active male” sexually in a same-sex liaison or to that older male, often heterosexual and married, who “kept a boy for their [his] pleasure.”152
Yet, could it not be that Paul meant for both malakoi and arsenokoitai to refer to more than one kind of exploitive, degrading behavior (as he viewed the ancient Roman world); and to allow for this, he purposely chose broad, categorical (although at the same time ambiguous) terms? As David Greenberg suggests with regards to malakoi, “Paul . . . deliberately chose a term that was derogatory but not precise. . . . He assumed that his readers had a pretty good idea of what sorts of behavior were out of bounds.”153 And perhaps also with arsenokoitai. Paul felt assured that the recipients of his letter to Corinth would clearly understand what he meant by these Greek terms, because he no doubt had specifically addressed these behaviors while ministering and teaching in Corinth earlier for a year and a half (Acts 18:11). In fact, pornoi (G4205), in 1 Cor 6:9 is another categorical, sexual, yet ambiguous term, which refers broadly to “inappropriate sexual behavior.” Although usually translated as “fornicator[s]” (KJV–ABS 1932, NASB 1960, NKJV 1982, Green 1986, NRSV 1989, REB 1989, UNASB 1999, Van der Pool 2006), it sometimes has also been rendered as “the sexually immoral” (NIV 1978, NJB 1985, ESV 2001, Strong 2001). In different passages porneia, “fornication” (G4202) is applied to incest (1 Cor 5:1), visiting prostitutes (1 Cor 6:16–18), adultery (Matt 5:32), and sex between two unmarried persons (Matt 15:19).
As David Lull (2007) writes, Paul’s vice list in 1 Cor 6:9–10 should be taken seriously (even though some of its details are unclear), since members of Christ’s community should be “free of the injustices found outside it.”154 Pederastic practices should be criticized because they promote child abuse, misuse of (unequal) power, lack of mutual adult consent, and corruption of minors. Yet, at the same time, Paul knew nothing about “homosexual orientation,” which is now known to be heavily influenced by genetic and other biological factors (Wilson and Rahman).155 Nor did he understand, as researchers do today, that “transgender orientation” in many cases also originates in the womb (Brill and Pepper).156 Also, a deeper theme in Paul’s letters is doing what love requires (Lull).157 Other issues here are not so black and white either, since many, if not most, prostitutes in Paul’s day had been forced into servitude, then sold to brothel pimps or other slave owners to whom they owed whatever sexual services were requested. Even the effeminate male issue may have seemed blurry to the observant Paul as he must have recognized that some heterosexual males display a more gentle, ‘womanish’ demeanor in contrast to other macho, aggressive, domineering types. For example, it is interesting to note with Aquila and Priscilla (or Prisca for short), husband and wife and missionary associates of Paul, that in four out of the six verses where their names are mentioned Priscilla is named first (Acts 18:18, 26; Rom 16:3; 2 Tim 4:19; but not in Acts 18:2 or 1 Cor 16:19), perhaps “signaling her more prominent role in the early church” (Scott Spencer)158—or perhaps her dominant personality compared to her more passive spouse. Also, Derrick Bailey (1955) reminds us that classical literature shows us that many males in Paul’s day who engaged in homosexual acts were simply “dissolute heterosexuals.”159
Yet, various issues can be consolidated and simplified: By using malakoi Paul in the world in which he lived probably had in mind: (1) effeminate males who have forsaken their biological (genital) gender designation, looking and dressing like women and some even castrating themselves; (2) males who disgrace themselves by seeking the feminine sexual position to be anally penetrated; (3) males who freely decide to become prostitutes, offering their bodies for money to older men; and (4) more broadly those who lack self-control in general or in sexual matters, which no doubt would have been viewed as including the above. Then by using arsenokoitai Paul probably had in mind: (1) males who seduce youths (in Roman times the latter were primarily slaves) and then use them sexually like a woman; (2) males who anally penetrate other males and so degrade them, treating them as a woman; and (3) customers who visit or keep prostitutes. Now it is interesting to note that in four of the seven categories above the primary issue was gender transgression (males disgracing manhood by forsaking expected gender roles). As Martti Nissinen (1998) explains, it was fundamental throughout the whole ancient Near East that men be the active, penetrating sexual partners and women the passive, receiving partners; and transgressions of this gender boundary were (with a few exceptions) severely condemned, since the male was viewed as superior to the female.160 Thus, as John Elliott (2004) notes, in this patriarchal world, so male oriented and male dominated, “effeminate males” were scorned.161 Besides this, then, the other issues here for Paul, relating to male sexual abuse (and often engaged in by heterosexual and married men), were pederasty (sex with minors), prostitution (free youths who offer sex for sale and those who visit prostitutes), and other forced sexual acts (like sex with older slaves).
In summary, Part 1 here noted how Corinth in Paul’s day was a port city where prostitutes of both genders were readily available, to visitors and residents. However, in Ephesus, where Paul also did extended missionary work and he wrote “1 Corinthians,” his rival was the great cult of Artemis, the Mother Goddess served by self-castrated priests. The vice list in 1 Cor 6:9–10 is directed against persons committed to certain behaviors that show them to be unworthy to enter the final kingdom of God; but the meanings of malakoi and arsenokoitai here are debated. Earlier in the chapter (6:1–8) Paul instructs believers in the church not to bring civil lawsuits against each other before secular judges, where they will rarely find justice; and the vice list that follows (vv. 9–11) points to types of people who primarily cause harm in other dehumanizing ways. Then in the final section (vv. 12–20) Paul addresses some church members in Corinth who want to continue attending the free temple feasts, which led to heavy drinking and sexual orgies with secular prostitutes—a point which Paul later expounds (1 Cor 10:1–22). Also in the larger context, Paul’s referring to slaves in the Corinthian church shows his deep concern for their plight (1 Cor 7:21–24), which included sexually satisfying their masters on demand. Paul’s command for males not to wear long hair (1 Cor 11:14) shows a distress over crossing the gender boundary, do doubt recalling the despised effeminate cinaedi youths, who liked to be anally penetrated, as well as the galli priests of the Mother Goddess, who also dressed effeminately and displayed long hair. Bible translations of malakoi and arsenokoitai have been frustratingly varied. Yet King James’s Bible early on associated arsenokoitai with wording in the Levitical ban (‘abusers of themselves with mankind,’ i.e., a man who anally penetrates another male), which set its primary understanding. In 1913 Moffatt influentially linked both terms here sexually, as “catamites” and “sodomites,” although for malakoi other translators still preferred ‘[moral] weakings,’ ‘effeminate [males],’ or ‘male prostitutes.’ Modern commentators have followed similar interpretative pathways, but with many finding more historically explicit meanings related to pederasty and prostitution. Also, commentators have increasingly urged that “homosexual[s]” is not appropriate in translation since the ancients had no scientific understanding of this—nor of transgenders. Probably Paul meant for both malakoi and arsenokoitai to be viewed as ‘categorical’ terms covering a range of specific exploitive sexual behaviors, including the abuse of enslaved and free youths, freely becoming a prostitute or visiting the same, and the perceived disgrace of any male through feminization or being anally penetrated.
FOOTNOTES: 1. Rogers, p. 73. 2. Keener 2005, p. 54. 3. Nissinen, p. 123. 4. Powell, pp. 19, 27. 5. Richardson, p. 140. 6. Murphy-O’Connor, pp. 733–734. 7. New Oxford American Dictionary, “Demeter,” “Aphrodite,” and “Apollo.” 8. Witherington 1995, p. 18. 9. John Pollock, 1982; quoted in Day, p. 108. 10. Papahatzis, pp. 49, 55; cf. R. Smith, fig. 69; Witherington 1995, p. 16. 11. Murphy-O’Connor, p. 733; Papahatzis, p. 64. 12. Witherington 1995, pp. 13, 17–18. 13. Ibid., p. 13 and n. 29; Papahatzis, p. 64. 14. Fee, p. 3. 15. Madvig, p. 772; Thiselton, “Corinthians,” p. 739; Murray-O’Connor,” p. 733; Papahatzis, p. 28. 16. Witherington 1995, p. 18. 17. Fee, p. 3. 18. Thiselton, “Corinthians,” p. 740. 19. Thiselton, “Chloe,” p. 594. 20. McDonald, p. 276. 21. Burge, Cohick and Green, p. 297. 22. Erdemgil, p. 19. 23. Ibid., pp. 6, 26. 24. Ibid., pp. 13, 28; Turcan, p. 51. 25. Erdemgil, pp. 28, 67. 26. Ibid., p. 28. 27. Ibid., p. 32. 28. Ibid., pp. 86–89, 35, 41–48, 89, 68, 70, 82–83. 29. Ibid., pp. 52, 133–135, 141, 121, 124, 128, 129. 30. Apuleius, The Golden Ass, trans. and introduction Relihan, xv–xvii. 31. Bullough, pp. 4, 10. 32. Rogers, p. 70. 33. Waetjen, p. 110. 34. Scroggs, p. 105; Coleman, p. 79. 35. Grimsrud, p. 243; Waetjen, p. 110. 36. Strong, G94 (adikoi). 37. Lull, p. 50. 38. Ibid., p. 52. 39. Witherington 1995, pp. 163 and 164, n. 10. 40. Bellis and Hufford, p. 110; also cf. Lull, p. 54. 41. Schroeder, p. 65; Lull, p. 58. 42. Williams, pp. 46–49. 43. Pseudo-Phocylides; quoted in Nissinen, pp. 96–97. 44. Witherington 1995, p. 229. 45. Rosner, p. 346. 46. Burge, Cohick and Green, p. 303. 47. Fee, p. 250. 48. Rosner, p. 338. 49. Ibid., p. 345. 50. Ibid., p. 347. 51. Younger, p. 110. 52. Rosner, p. 348. 53. Ibid., p. 349. 54. Ibid., p. 351. 55. Kraus, p. 26. 56. Younger, p. 31. 57. Apuleius, The Golden Ass, pp. 172–175. 58. Cf. Brake, pp. 740, 748. 59. Ibid., p. 743. 60. Levine, Latin Dictionary, mollis, concubitus, and masculus; and cf. Boswell 1980, p. 348, n. 36, and Elliott, p. 29. 61. Cross and Livingstone, “Jerome,” p. 731. 62. Ibid., “Chrysostom, St. John,” p. 285. 63. Chrysostom, translated by and with comments in Boswell 1980, pp. 131–132, 362–363 and n. 23. 64. Brown, p. 245. 65. Boswell 1980, pp. 133–135. 66. Cf. Ibid., p. 338, n. 7. 67. Random House Dictionary, “bugger.” 68. Taylor, p. 54. 69. Cross and Livingstone, “Peter Damian,” p. 1072. 70. Jordan, p. 829. 71. Taylor, pp. 51, 54, 57–58. 72. Norton, p. 54. 73. Ibid., pp. 134–135, 162, 166–167, 180; Kohlenberger’s Preface in Holy Bible, King James Version (Hendrickson Publishers Edition). 74. Young, pp. 5–6. 75. Patai, p. 152. 76. Kahan, pp. 491–492. 77. Minwalla, pp. 876–877. 78. Katz, pp. 46–47. 79. Weller, pp. 281–282. 80. Janes, pp. 275. 81. Sussman, p. 59. 82. Kinsey 1948, pp. 497–516, especially 512ff. 83. Halpern 2000, p. 451. 84. Kinsey 1948, p. 650. 85. Bailey, pp. x–xi. 86. Scroggs, p. 108. 87. Powell, p. 19. 88. Furnish 1994, p. 19. 89. Schroeder, p. 63. 90. New Oxford American Dictionary, “pervert.” 91. Nissinen, p. 105. 92. Williams, pp. 46–49. 93. Nissinen, p. 118. 94. Wright, pp. 133, 139, 144. 95. Petersen, pp. 187–188. 96. Keener 2005, p. 54. 97. Lull, p. 52. 98. Countryman 2007, p. 118. 99. Rogers, p. 71. 100. Ruden, p. 65. 101. Cf. 1 Cor 6:9–10, in Hodge, Dods, and Robertson and Plummer. 102. Kling, p. 126. 103. Barnes, p. 116. 104. Meyer, vol. 1, p. 172; Lias, p. 100. 105. McNeill 1976, pp. 52–53. 106. McNeill 1993, p. 53. 107. Boswell 1980, pp. 340–341, 344. 108. Horsley, p. 87. 109. Helminiak, pp. 108–110. 110. Lull, p. 52. 111. Horner, p. 97; Bellis and Hufford, p. 109; Conzelmann, p. 106; Coleman, p. 81; Fiorenza, p. 1081; Fitzmyer, pp. 255–256; Gagnon, p. 308. 112. Bailey, p. 39. 113. Grosheide, p. 140. 114. Blount, p. 33. 115. Brooten, p. 260. 116. De Young, p. 198. 117. Fitzmyer, p. 256. 118. Conzelmann, p. 106. 119. Horner, p. 97. 120. Coleman, p. 81. 121. Wolfgang Schrage 1991; in Gagnon, pp. 312, n. 98; 330, n. 127. 122. Witherington 1995, p. 166. 123. Waetjen, pp. 109–110. 124. Collins, p. 236. 125. Schroeder, p. 64. 126. Keener 2005, pp. 54–55. 127. Watson, p. 58. 128. Waetjen, pp. 109–110. 129. Younger, p. 108. 130. Scroggs, p. 108. 131. Furnish 1985, p. 72. 132. Ibid. 1994, p. 24. 133. Fee, p. 244. 134. Fiorenza, p. 1081. 135. Younger, p. 31. 136. Nissinen, pp. 117–118. 137. Boswell 1980, p. 72. 138. Ibid., pp. 77–78. 139. Martin, pp. 123, 128. 140. Nissinen, p. 118. 141. Bellis and Hufford, pp. 109–110. 142. Countryman 1988, p. 117, n. 26. 143. Ibid., p. 118; cf. 2007 ed., pp. 117–118. 144. Ibid. 2007, p. 117. 145. Ibid. 1988, pp. 118–119, 202; cf. 2007 ed., pp. 117–118. 146. McNeill 1988 and 1993, pp. 52–53. 147. Fredrickson, pp. 219–221. 148. Quoted in Gagnon, p. 175. 149. Ibid., pp. 308, 310, 315. 150. Kuefler, p. 166. 151. Ibid., pp. 256–257, 252. 152. Sampley, pp. 858–859. 153. D. Greenberg, p. 213. 154. Lull, pp. 52–53. 155. Wilson and Rahman, pp. 145–146 and passim. 156. Brill and Pepper, pp. 14–15 and passim. 157. Lull, pp. 59–60. 158. Spencer, p. 211. 159. Bailey, pp. 39–40. 160. Nissinen, p. 129. 161. Elliott, p. 33.
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Wright, David F. “Homosexuals or Prostitutes? The Meaning of ΑΡΣΕΝΟΚΟΙΤΑΙ (1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 1:10).” Vigiliae Christianae, 38 (1984), pp. 125–153.
Young, Michael B. James VI and I and the History of Homosexuality. Houndmills and London: Macmillan Press, 2000.
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BIBLE TRANSLATIONS (indicated by codes in main text) – Authorized Version, 1611. Contemporary English Version, 1995. English Standard Version, 2001. Good News Bible, 1976. Inclusive Language Bible, 1994. International Standard Version, 2000. Jerusalem Bible, 1966. King James Version (American Bible Society), 1932. King James Version (or Pew Bible, Hendrickson Publishers), 2007. New American Bible, 1995. New American Standard Bible, 1960. New English Bible, 1970. New International Version, 1978. New Jerusalem Bible, 1985. New King James Version, 1982. New Living Translation, 1996. New Revised Standard Version, 1989. Orthodox Study Bible, 2008. Revised English Bible, 1989. Revised Standard Version, 2nd ed. 1972. Today’s New International New Testament, 2002. Updated New American Standard Bible, 1999. World English Bible, 2005.
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