Homosexuality and the Bible: The Clobber Passages—Part 4

First and foremost, this blog is a safe place for all people to discuss the topic of Christianity and homosexuality. That being said, I get a lot of questions about what I think the Bible does or doesn’t say about the topic. Since the “What We Believe” section of the website is one of the most visited pages, I thought it might be constructive to do a 4-part series on the clobber passages—the six passages of the Bible most often used to condemn homosexuals. A portion of the material I will use comes from Dr. Rembert Truluck, simply because I think he does a fantastic job at hashing out these passages. As always, discussion is encouraged!

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As we begin the last segment of this series, let’s take a look at the texts we will be discussing:

I Corinthians 6:9: “The unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. So do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the realm of God.” 

I Timothy 1:9-10: “Law is not made for a righteous person but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and fornicators and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound (healthy) teaching.” 

At first reading, these passages sound pretty cut and dry. For decades upon decades, these two verses have been used to condemn LGBT people. But as always, we must consider translation discrepancies. The bottom line here, is that the word that was translated as “homosexual” does not mean homosexual; and the word translated as “effeminate” does not mean effeminate. It should also be pointed out here that the word homosexual is a composite word, made up of one Greek word (homo: “same”), and one Latin word (sexualis: “sex”). The word homosexual is actually of modern origin. Its first known appearance is found in a 1869 German pamphlet 143 des Preussischen Strafgesetzbuchs und seine Aufrechterhaltung als 152 des Entwurfs eines Strafgesetzbuchs für den Norddeutschen Bund (see this article for more information). There is no word in biblical Greek or Hebrew that is parallel to the word “homosexual.” No Bible before the Revised Standard Version in 1946 used “homosexual” in any Bible translation.

The two Greek words up for discussion in these passages are malakoi and arsenokoitai. Let’s take a closer look at both of these:

Malakoi is translated as “effeminate” in the King James version. Other translations include the terms: “male prostitutes”, “homosexuals”, and “men who have sex with other men”. All of these translations are far removed from the original meaning of the word malakoi. To determine its intent, we must look at other places of usage in Scripture. Malakoi is used in Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25 to describe soft clothing. Additionally, in Matthew 4:23 and 9:35, the word is used to refer to illness or sickness. These four verses are the only other places that malakoi is used—none of which hint at or reference sexuality in any way.

So, what does malakoi mean? Looking at the context and usage of the word from the additional verses from Matthew and Luke, the most accurate translation would be “soft” or “vulnerable”. So what does it mean in the context of 1 Corinthians 6:9? It seems to me that malakoi in this context most likely means “soft in spirit” or “weak”. For example, it could refer to someone who is easily influenced, or who does not think for themselves. It could refer to someone who is undisciplined or self-indulgent. However, given the textual clues from the Gospels, I do not believe it means “effeminate” or “homosexual”.

Arsenokoitai is most commonly translated as “sodomites”, “men who defile themselves with other men”, or “those who practice homosexuality”. This term has not been discovered in any writings prior to Paul’s letter. One prevalent theory is that Paul may have even invented the word. When broken down, the word seems to be a conjunctive term made up of two words: “male” and “bed”. When we look at it this way, arsenokoitai could have several potential meanings. It could refer to the customers of male prostitutes, as male prostitution was a very common practice in Rome during Paul’s time. Additionally, assuming the two literal meanings of a conjunctive word can be dangerous, as well. For example, the word “lady-killer” in English means neither a lady who kills nor a person who kills ladies but a man who knows how to charm women. (*1) Finally, arsenokoitai could refer to same-sex intercourse. However, the only known instances of same-sex intercourse in Paul’s time was that of pagan ritual worship, or as a means of domination and humiliation to victims in warfare. We must remember that Paul lived in a patriarchal society. There was nothing worse for a man in Paul’s time than to be demoted to the position of a woman. I believe it is for this reason that homophobia so often originates from the hatred of women. Paul could not have known same-sex relationships as we know them today. In his time, these practices were acts of violence, hatred, and pagan rituals.

So, what is the conclusion? What happens when we read our Bible and it clearly reads “homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of heaven”? We must remind ourselves that yes, this is what the Bible reads, but it is not what it says. We must remember that the Bible as we know it today has passed through many hands and has been translated in many languages. Yes, it is inspired. Yes, it was written by the anointed. But it is simply not inerrant. Why? Because it was written by human hands in a foreign culture, in a distant time. Several Biblical accounts were written hundreds of years after the events they were recording.

In closing, the Bible—this sacred text by which we measure our lives—should come with a warning label: “Handle with great care and great caution. Use this book not to condemn, judge, discriminate, or exclude; but use it to show the power of divine Love, compassion, mercy, grace, and inclusion.”

*1. Miner, Jeff (pastor of the Jesus Metropolitan Community Church in Indianapolis, Indiana), John Tyler Connoley (who recently completed a Masters in Biblical Studies at Earlham School of Religion-A Quaker University) The Children are Free, Indianapolis, Indiana, Jesus Metropolitan Community Church, 2002, page 19.

4 responses to “Homosexuality and the Bible: The Clobber Passages—Part 4

  1. Before my shocking awareness, I had a time when I wanted to understand homosexuality more in relation to scripture. I always wondered, “Why would anybody deliberately make that choice?” I felt there must have been more to this tabu topic, so I pulled out my giant Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and flipped to the H’s and could not find the word homosexual anywhere. It frustrated me! This was my only source that I had for seeking insight into homosexuality (I wasn’t about to be caught in public looking for resources). I didn’t even know where the passages were located without time-consuming search.

    Now, after many resources and much study, it makes sense why my Hebrew and Greek dictionary did not have the word homosexual. There is no real Hebrew or Greek word for homosexual. And I’m glad!!

    I’m learning that the Greek and Hebrew words that are translated to homosexual can be translated in many ways. As pointed out above. And I’ve noticed that depending on the Biblical Greek scholar who has written a book on the topic, the translation will be angled toward his/her perspective. As well as any other person who researches the topic…..

    So, is it fair to dismiss one translation or another?

    I think it is fair to consider all the views and not make a judgment by mere appearances. In this way, taking caution to the much needed warning label.

    Good job Mandy!

  2. X-Gay Apologist

    The thinking here is pretty simplistic. Just because a ‘word’ is not used in the Bible doesn’t mean the ‘concept’ isn’t there. It’s like the biblical teaching on the Trinity. The ‘word’ isn’t in the scriptures, but the ‘concept’ is all through them. We use the word ‘homosexuality’ to refer to same-sex desire and activity, and that ‘concept’ is in the Bible, whatever ‘word’ you want to use to call it by. And the ‘concept’ is always viewed in disparaging terms. As for the interpretation of the words ‘malakos’ and ‘arsenokoites’ (these are the singular forms of the words used above in the plural), the conclusions drawn above apparently have not taken into consideration how these Greek words were used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the OT used in NT times) or how they were commonly used in extra-biblical Greek writings. Neither does there appear to be and reference to the best Greek lexicons. If you consult these three sources, you will find that the explanation of the words given above is not as convincing as you present it to be, to say the least.

    • Thanks for your reply. We are all on a journey here—myself included—so I appreciate the discussion. I agree that simply because a word was not used in the Bible doesn’t mean the concept isn’t there. The reason I mentioned that the word “homosexual” didn’t exist before the 1800’s, is because I want to draw attention to the fact that Biblical translators had to use some degree of their own inference when deciding what word to use. I agree that same-sex acts are mentioned in the Scriptures. However, there are only 6 verses that are ever used to condemn homosexuals, and in my personal study and research, they are often taken out of context. Just as some individuals in our history used the Curse of Ham as a means to support slavery (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_and_mark_of_Cain), some people use any passage they can find to exclude individuals for any reason. I believe these “clobber passages” are often taken out of context. The same-sex activity Paul refers to is related to pagan fertility rituals, temple prostitution, men having sex with underage boys, etc.

      By no means do I claim to have all of Scripture figured out. Our walk with God is a journey, and learning what God’s Word says is part of that. But one thing I cling to, is that we must learn to love one another above all. As 2 Peter 3:16-18 says, we must not use Paul’s letters as a means of destruction. So when it comes down to it—no matter what you believe—it’s better to use the Scriptures for love not hate… for inclusion not exclusion.

      • Since this discussion has gone from seeking to understand scripture, to the concept of inclusion, I am reminded of one of my most favorite stories of inclusion that is found in scripture.

        If I’m not mistaking, the Ethiopian eunuch is the first recorded convert in scripture. I think this is significant. (Acts 8:26-40)

        The eunuch was trying to understand scripture. Philip was sent to the eunuch. He asked Philip to explain. Philip shared with him the good news about Jesus.

        People use the eunuch’s response to make a point about being baptized as soon as possible as the eunuch says, “Look, here is waters. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

        But perhaps this is more of a question of inclusion. Philip could have used scripture to promote exclusion as Deuteronomy 23:1 says, “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.”

        This eunuch probably knew that verse very well. So when he learned about the good news of Jesus he had an understanding that he can indeed be included to the Kingdom of God.

        The man was a different race, ethnicity, color, and to top it off, his sexuality was not the same representation as Adam as he could not produce children…. So, is this question about the urgency of being baptized or about the JOY of inclusion?

        Like Mandy said, we are all on a journey here…..doesn’t this story teach us something more than the urgency of being baptized…sin is not even discussed in this passage, is it?

        Seems like this was a significant and deliberate act of the Spirit to demonstrate what the Kingdom of God is about. Right?

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