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!
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.