Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Homosexuality, arsenokoites, and 1 Corinthians 6

I've been having a long discussion over the past few days with a few friends and family members about homosexuality. Specifically, our response as Christians to people who are gay. One of the questions that will always come up, is what do we do with "such and such" specific passage that we've interpreted as a proof text against relationships between 2 men or 2 women.

Personally, I wonder whether it matters if homosexuality is a sin or not. I think that perhaps what really matters is our response to people who feel beaten up (and if we're honest) spiritually raped & worse by Christian culture for the past few hundred years for being attracted to someone of the same sex.

But I also know that when I was trying to figure out how I should respond to someone who is gay, my mind went to the same place, "What do I do with these verses?" So how hypocritical would it be of me to try to ignore that concern from others, when I have experienced the same myself? I hope on putting up a post about each "clobber passage" against homosexuality in time...periodically.

You've been warned.

So here's the first one

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (New Living Translation, bold added)
Don't you know that those who do wrong will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, who are idol worshipers, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, abusers, and swindlers--none of these will have a share in the Kingdom of God.

The bolded "clobber-word" used is v9 is arsenokoites in Greek. It is translated sometimes as "abusers of themselves with mankind," "homosexual offenders," "sexual perverts," among others based upon whichever version of the Bible we're using.

The word arsenokoites is an incredibly difficult one. The word is basically a compound noun based upon the Greek words meaning "male" and "bed" and carries a sexual connotation. What makes it difficult is that it's not the primary word that was used to define homosexuality, that word was androikoites. Androikoites was used nearly universally throughout Greek culture and there are incredibly few references to arsenokoites in antiquity.

However there are a few references and they are pretty in agreement, aresenkoites (the word we have in the Bible) is most understood by scholars to refer to coerced, non-consensual, non-procreative sex., with no actual regard to the gender of the parties involved. Philo used the word as a reference to forced temple prostitution in the 1st Century. John IV used the word in the 6th century in a sentence that is translated "In fact, many men commit the sin of homosexuality (arsenokoites) with their own wives."

Modern Gay Relationships

The word arsenokoites has little to do with a modern relationship between two men or two women. "Homosexuals" is an unfortunate translation of the word...but it's what we have.

What the passage is referring to is a forced sexual encounter, probably one man forcing himself onto another. Frankly, the word puts a connotation in my mind of prison rape. That can hardly be argued to be equivalent to a modern relationship between two people who love each who happen to be of the same gender. The confusion and similarities between arsenokoites and modern gay relationships disappear once we deal with the original text in the original language.


There you go for my understanding of 1 Cor 6:9-10 as it relates to homosexuality. Obviously I'm no scholar, and this is not exhaustive...but thanks for reading it anyway!

You could spend a long time on the interwebz researching it further. If you're that interested, Wikipedia is probably a good place to start.