On the Noun “Homosexual” in 1Corinthians 6:9 and 1Timothy 1:10

[Note: Below are some notes I compiled as part of a broader discussion about how Christians ought to think about homosexuality. The argument was made that the Bible does not really speak clearly to the question of homosexual behavior. In response I offered a brief account of Paul’s language in 1Cor 6:9 and 1Tim 1:10].

In 1Cor 6:9 and 1Tim 1:10 Paul condemns the “αρσενοκοιται” (arsenokoitai). The standard definition (Bouer, Arnt, Gingrich, Danker) is “a male who practices homosexuality, pederast, sodomite.” This is the way the word was understood in early Christian, post-canonical usage though it occurs in the same sense in the Sibylline Oracles (6th cent BC) ii.73. See Moulton and Milligan s.v.

Of course we want to avoid the etymological fallacy (deducing the meaning of a word by adding up its letters or component parts) because it does not always work and can produce misleading results but in this case it works because usage confirms what adding up the letters suggests. αρσην (arsen) = male and κοιτης (koites) = bed or euphemistically for sexual relations.

However uncomfortable it makes us late moderns, the text of 1Cor 6:9 is quite clear:

“Or do you not know that the unjust (αδικοι) will not inherit the kingdom of God? Neither will you who deceive (πλανασθε) nor the sexually immoral (πορνοι) nor idolaters (ειδωλολατραι), nor adulterers (μοιχοι), nor the effeminate (μαλακοι), nor homosexuals (αρσενοκοιται).”

I translate μαλακοι as “effeminate” because of the way it’s used in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Scriptures) for the “soft parts” and is used elsewhere in the sense of “effeminate, of a catamite, a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness, 1 Cor. 6:9” (BAGD, s.v.).

Paul was quite familiar with Corinth as a fairly depraved, cosmopolitan port city and he was well aware of the sorts of sexual immorality that were openly practiced there as elsewhere (e.g., Ephesus had pornographic graffiti that would make us blush). It seems clear that one thing, effeminate men who submit themselves to sexual abuse, perhaps homosexual prostitutes, led him to the last category, homosexuals.

Paul is announcing God’s judgment on several classes of sinful behaviors and warning those who commit them impenitently (without sorrow or struggle) that they must acknowledge their sin for what it is and turn to and put their trust in Jesus the Savior who obeyed and died for heterosexual and homosexual sinners and who offers free acceptance with God on the basis of faith (trust) in Jesus, the gracious Savior of helpless sinners.