I Corinthians 6:9-11 & 1 Timothy 1:8-11

I Corinthians 6:9-10

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (NIV)

I Timothy 1:8-11

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. (NIV)

There are two Greek words in these passages of Scripture which form the basis which fundamentalist Christians use in their condemnation of homosexuality.  Those two words are malakoi and arsenokoites.  Both words are found in the Corinthian passage and only one, arsenokoites, is used in the Timothy passage.  In order to better understand the context of these words and their true meaning we must first recognize the culture and the audience which Paul is addressing.

Let’s first take a look at the city of Corinth and the Corinthian culture.  Corinth was a seaport town. It was known as a city of pleasure where immorality was widespread. Sex was glorified with brothels, both male and female, all around the city.  Pagan temples, shrines, and altars to the various gods were prevalent.  Idolatrous worship was regularly performed and sexual activity was routinely a part of these worship practices.

The Christian church in Corinth was immature and largely influenced by the loose Corinthian culture.  It was in light of this corrupt culture that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church. He wrote primarily to instruct them in areas of weakness, which was due to the outside influences, and to address the divisions that were caused by those engaging in the immorality of the culture; idolatry, prostitution, adultery, and fertility worship among others.

In I Corinthians 6:9, Paul speaks specifically about those who will not inherit the Dominion of God.  He refers to those who are engaging in gratuitous activities associated with the looseness and immorality within the culture and he lists those of whom he speaks about. Among those to whom he refers are malakoi and arsenokoites.  These two Greek words are the basis of condemnation of homosexuality.  The problem, however, lies in their translation.

As we take a closer look at these two words it’s significant to note that their translations have been highly debated and scholars have found it difficult to correctly interpret them. In fact, their translations vary among the various versions of the Bible.  For example, three of the most common versions of the Bible translate as follows:


New International Version – male prostitutes

King James Version – effeminate

Revised Standard Version – homosexuals (1952) and sexual perverts (1971)



New International Version – homosexual offenders or perverts

King James Version – abusers of themselves with mankind

Revised Standard Version – sodomites

Given the variations in translations it’s reasonable to assume that the translators could not adequately determine what St. Paul’s original intent was in using these particular words.  Was he referring to male prostitutes, or effeminate people, or sexual perverts (which could refer to a host of things involving heterosexual or homosexual activities). With this in mind, let’s examine them a bit further.

The first of the two words, malakoi, is a common Greek term whose literal meaning is ‘soft’, as in fine clothing.  This same Greek word is used in Matthew 11:7-8 and Luke 7:25, both referring to fine clothing.

In a moral context, it can mean “licentious,” “loose,” or “wanting in self-control,”.  (Boswell, pg. 106) It can also mean effeminate, in reference to ‘soft like women’. In ancient time being seen as soft like a woman was a negative trait in men. It referred to those men who liked to dress nice and primp themselves to be more attractive to women.  It also referred to those who were loose or malevolent.

In other Greek writings when used in a moral context, malakoi meant ‘morally weak’. So, it is logical and reasonable to say that Paul could have been referring to those who were morally weak when he used this word in I Corinthians 6:9.

Noted historian John Boswell says, “At a broad level, [malakoi] might be translated as either “unrestrained” or “wanton,” but to assume that either of these concepts necessarily applies to gay people is wholly gratuitous. The word is never used in Greek to designate gay people as a group or even in reference to homosexual acts generically, and it often occurs in writings contemporary with the Pauline epistles in reference to heterosexual persons or activity.”

Of malakoi, Daniel Helminiak concludes that “malakos simply does not refer to same-sex activity. I Corinthians 6:9 uses malakos to make a general condemnation of moral looseness and undisciplined (and perhaps also lewd, lustful and lascivious) behavior. The New Jerusalem Bible presents this accurate meaning by translating malakos as “the self-indulgent.”

The logical conclusion is that malakoi simply does not refer to homosexuality, but to behavior that is loose, lewd, wanton, unrestrained, and irresponsible.

Arsenokoites is the second word Paul used in I Corinthians 6:9. It’s interesting to note that this word appears only twice in all of Scripture. Here, and in I Timothy 1:10. So its meaning is ambiguous at best.

The word was formed from two Greek words – arseno meaning male or men, and koites meaning bed or bedroom, referring to ‘lying with’ or ‘having sex with’ someone. In particular, it refers to the active partner in sexual intercourse, the one who penetrates.  Thus, the literal English translation would be “man penetrator”. (Helminiak, pg. 109)

There is no way of knowing exactly what the word, “man penetrator” means because it is not clear where the emphasis is – whether “man” in this translation denotes the gender, that is, a man who penetrates, or the object, a man being penetrated.  Thus, the question becomes, does arsenokoites imply a man who has sex with others, (man who penetrates), in which case it refers to either male or female, or does it denote someone who penetrates men (a man who has sex with men)?  Putting it in better perspective, let’s look at the English expression, ‘lady killer’.  Taken at face value it’s meaning is unclear.  Does “lady” refer to the gender, that is a lady who kills, or the object, one who kills ladies?  In actuality, this expression is oftentimes used to describe one who knows how to charm women.

It is difficult to know specifically whom Paul was referring to when he used this word. What is known is that various scholars differ on its interpretation.

According to noted historian John Boswell, it was most likely that Paul was referring to a “male prostitute”. (pg. 107).  Male prostitutes were common throughout the Hellenistic world in Paul’s time and they were available for sex with either male or female.  This activity was reprehensible to Paul.

Daniel Helminiak, in his book “What the Bible Really says About Homosexuality,” suggests that Paul could have been referring to abusive sex or sexual practices.  In first-century Rome moral decadence was rampant. Men sought out boys and other men for sex.  This was in the face of abundant female prostitution and so it was seen as a novelty to have sex with boys or other men.  Boys and girls were kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery.  Men kept these slaves for their own gratification. Critics viewed this as abusive, exploitative, and lustful behavior.  Consequently, when they condemned same-sex practices they were condemning the abusive nature of what was happening with these first century Roman practices.

Because of these corrupt situations in Rome, the same-sex activity that Paul would have encountered here would have been associated with idolatry, pederasty, or prostitution; idolatry in the way of sexual practices in worship to the various gods, pederasty as men seeking young boys for sexual play, and prostitution which included both male and female for the purpose of cult worship.

Moreover, there were a number of other Greek words that Paul could have used that more clearly describe homosexual relations. If he really meant homosexuality, then the question becomes, why didn’t Paul use any of these other words and why would he have chosen to use this particular word that is so ambiguous? (pg. 345-346).

The fact is that Paul was writing to provide instruction for the church and to encourage them to keep away from the corrupt activity which surrounded them.  He lists vices to emphasize the behavior that is evil and corrupt.  Prostitution or sexual abuse of any sort were of great concern for Paul, and it is most likely that this is what he was referring to when he wrote this passage of Scripture.

Now, let’s take a look at the use of arsenokoites in I Timothy.  I Timothy was written by Paul to Timothy regarding the church in Ephesus. Ephesus was a major commercial center, and like Corinth, there was much corruption, lewd conduct, and pagan temple worship.  The Christian church was growing, however, there were heresies in the church with false teachers of the law and false doctrines moving in.  Paul’s main purpose in writing I Timothy was to refute these false teachings and to provide instruction in the development of the church.

In I Timothy 1:8-11, Paul begins by warning the church about the heretical teachers and their false teachings.  He makes reference to the law and how the law was being used and abused by the lawbreakers. His whole point was to encourage the people to be good people. In trying to get his point across he reminds them who the lawbreakers are.  He does this by listing their vices.  Among these vices is the reference to “arsenokoites”.  Now, scholars predominantly agree that this list of vices were not Paul’s own, but he borrowed them from a stock list from others who wrote of the corrupt practices of the culture at large.

While it is still unclear who this list of vices was referring to in reference to arsenokoites, even if the term did refer to male-to-male sex, it did not encompass homosexuality in general. In 1st century Rome and amidst the Roman Empire, male-to-male sex was associated with exploitation, sexual abuse and lewd conduct. If arsenokoites did in fact refer to male-to-male sex, it was in this context.

This type of behavior is never ok.  Just as the Bible’s opposition to adultery, incest, or prostitution does not forbid male-to-female sex in general, the references found here in regards to male-to-male sex does not forbid homosexuality in general. It forbids the abuses and exploitation of the sexual activities.

Boswell states that St. Paul, whose commitment to Jewish law had taken up most of his life, never suggested that there was any historical or legal reason to oppose homosexual behavior; if he did in fact object to it, it was purely on the basis of functional, contemporary moral standards.

Helminiak adequately sums it up as he concludes, “Across the board in sexual matters, the Bible calls for mutual respect, caring and responsible sharing – in a loaded word, love.  The violation of these, but not sex in general, is what the Bible condemns. The lesson in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 is that this principle applies equally to hetero- and homo- sexuality.” (Helminak pg. 115)


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