We are nearing the end of my study of “the 7 references” in the Bible to homosexuality. Today, I want to consider two Pauline texts — 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. To do that, I have pasted a copy of Mel White’s writing on these two passages — not because I necessarily agree with everything White says, but because I think he outlines the interpretive and language/translation issues well.
Monday, I will be posting about “the 8th & 9th References” (you will have to wait to see what they are) and then next Friday I will briefly look at some other passages that provide some principles that are important to consider. Finally, a week from Monday (I think that will be March 15th — the Ides of March) I will post my own conclusions from this study.
In the meantime… here is what Mel White writes about 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10…
WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS — AND DOES NOT SAY — ABOUT HOMOSEXUALITY (excerpt)
by Mel White
Now what do the writings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 say, first, about God, and then about homosexuality? These are the last two places in the Bible that seem to refer to same-sex behavior. We can combine them because they are so similar.
Paul is exasperated. The Christians in Ephesus and Corinth are fighting among themselves. (Sound familiar?) In Corinth they’re even suing one another in secular courts. Paul shouts across the distance, “You are breaking God’s heart by the way you are treating one another.”
Like any good writer, Paul anticipates their first question: “Well, how are we supposed to treat one another?” Paul answers, “You know very well how to treat one another from the Jewish law written on tablets of stone.”
The Jewish law was created by God to help regulate human behavior. To remind the churches in Corinth and Ephesus how God wants us to treat one another, Paul recites examples from the Jewish law first. Don’t kill one another. Don’t sleep with a person who is married to someone else. Don’t lie or cheat or steal. The list goes on to include admonitions against fornication, idolatry, whoremongering, perjury, drunkenness, revelry, and extortion. He also includes “malokois” and“arsenokoitai.”
Here’s where the confusion begins. What’s a malokois? What’s an arsenokoitai? Actually, those two Greek words have confused scholars to this very day. We’ll say more about them later, when we ask what the texts say about sex. But first let’s see what the texts say about God.
After quoting from the Jewish law, Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth that they are under a new law: the law of Jesus, a law of love that requires us to do more than just avoid murder, adultery, lying, cheating, and stealing. Paul tells them what God wants is not strict adherence to a list of laws, but a pure heart, a good conscience, and a faith that isn’t phony.
That’s the lesson we all need to learn from these texts. God doesn’t want us squabbling over who is “in” and who is “out.” God wants us to love one another. It’s God’s task to judge us. It is NOT our task to judge one another.
So what do these two texts say about homosexuality? Are gays and lesbians on that list of sinners in the Jewish law that Paul quotes to make an entirely different point?
Greek scholars say that in first century the Greek word malaokois probably meant “effeminate call boys.” The New Revised Standard Version says “male prostitutes.”
As for arsenokoitai, Greek scholars don’t know exactly what it means — and the fact that we don’t know is a big part of this tragic debate. Some scholars believe Paul was coining a name to refer to the customers of “the effeminate call boys.” We might call them “dirty old men.” Others translate the word as “sodomites,” but never explain what that means.
In 1958, for the first time in history, a person translating that mysterious Greek word into English decided it meant homosexuals, even though there is, in fact, no such word in Greek or Hebrew. But that translator made the decision for all of us that placed the word homosexual in the English-language Bible for the very first time.
In the past, people used Paul’s writings to support slavery, segregation, and apartheid. People still use Paul’s writings to oppress women and limit their role in the home, in church, and in society.
Now we have to ask ourselves, “Is it happening again?” Is a word in Greek that has no clear definition being used to reflect society’s prejudice and condemn God’s gay children?
We all need to look more closely at that mysterious Greek word arsenokoitai in its original context. I find most convincing the argument from history that Paul is condemning the married men who hired hairless young boys (malakois) for sexual pleasure just as they hired smooth-skinned young girls for that purpose.
Responsible homosexuals would join Paul in condemning anyone who uses children for sex, just as we would join anyone else in condemning the threatened gang rape in Sodom or the behavior of the sex-crazed priests and priestesses in Rome. So, once again, I am convinced that this passage says a lot about God, but nothing about homosexuality as we understand it today.