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Arsenokoitai and Homosexuality

Updated: Oct 26

A good work which deals with this subject more extensively than I can in a short blog post is James White's The Same-Sex Controversy


Introduction

There has recently been an extremely popular argument on social media which argues for the morality of homosexuality from the biblical text. The argument is usually made by those with little to no knowledge of exegesis or the original languages and has been something repeated ad nauseum until it has gotten to the point where younger people believe it to be the infallible interpretation of the biblical text. I have had the argument leveled at me time and time again, and in this article, I will present and refute this argument. Lord willing, this will be a useful tool to those who wish to pull others out of this madness. Here it is in syllogistic form:


Whereas, the first translation to include the word homosexuality was the RSV

Whereas, the Lutherbibel used the word “boy molester” Knabenschander

Whereas, the Germans didn’t add “Homosexual” into the Bible until 1983

Whereas, Pederasty was practiced in the ancient world

Whereas, the church fathers taught that these verses were not speaking of homosexuality

Whereas, “The RSV committee decided the word ‘homosexual’ was an inaccurate translation of malakoi and arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and replaced it with ‘sexual perverts.’”[i]

Therefore, the Bible does not speak of homosexuality but speaks of child sexual abuse

Therefore, Homosexuality is a moral good


There it is, the main appeal in these videos are that there is a “mistranslation” which has occurred, and this mistranslation is only a recent invention in the 1940s to propagate “homophobia” (I wish I was making this up, but there are myriads of “Christians” online that believe and argue for this).


Examination of the Logic

The conclusion drawn clearly does not follow from the premises. Even on the supposition that 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 are not speaking of homosexuality, the conclusion that “Homosexuality is a moral good” does not follow. This logic ignores the fact that there are both, a. Other prohibitions present in the biblical text, and b. Other positive formulations (such as the regulations of marriage and sexuality as a whole) which would exclude homosexuality as a moral good.


Further, this would be an argument from silence. Let’s say I make the claim “the bible never prohibits necrophilia, therefore it is a moral good!” By the logic above, I could make this claim, but that logic ignores two facts, a. The scripture isn’t exhaustive in its explicit moral prohibitions and b. we may draw good and necessary consequences from principles in the biblical text, i.e. I can infer the hypostatic union from the fact that Christ is identified as man and God.


Translation

A brief note on how translation works will be helpful to understand the critiques which I am making, to shows the foolishness of the arguments brought forth. Though I am by no means an expert, I have spent the last two years of my life studying New Testament Greek and can translate with a degree of proficiency.


Words are used as signs which signify to the mind certain realities, for example, the word “boat” is a verbal sign which signifies the reality of a floating thing which carries people in the water. The same is true for each language’s version of “boat.” Where things get complicated is that certain languages have the need for multiple words for “boat'' which conveys its own specific nuance, think of our word “dinghy” which conveys a different nuance to “boat.” These nuances can be extremely difficult to capture in translation, especially when you tack on context and other variables.

Another consideration is that of idiom. If you have ever traveled to a different area which speaks your language or read a different era of literature, you may notice that the way they phrase things sounds “weird’ to you. They use different phrases to convey different notions. The phrases they use do not always convey the same sense as the words contained. Due to this fact we cannot just “plug and chug” our translations, taking exactly what the literal meaning of the words convey, and then giving them to the reader. The phrases, idioms, and word order would be completely foreign. Therefore, we need interpretation, which can be stricter to the words given or can be more in reference to the perceived meaning of the words given (in extreme cases, called a “paraphrase”).


From this, we can see why the main premise of the argument above fails. It is critiquing the usage of “homosexual” as something completely novel. In this it is correct, the term is completely novel. But, the task of the translator is to communicate the verbal signs written by the original author to a contemporary audience. So, even though we accept that the translation of the original into that term is novel, the translation of that concept has been the constant witness of translators in the last two millennia.


The RSV Translation

First, is the claim that “the first translation to include the word homosexual was the RSV.” This in itself is a true claim, no bible translation before the RSV used specifically the word “homosexual.” But, this is clearly a misleading claim, for, the word “homosexual” did not exist until the year 1868,[ii] if we assume the same logic as the argument given, then we may safely say that no homosexual existed until the year 1868 because the word did not exist. We may also say that most things did not exist until the English language was fully developed in the mid-16th century just because our modern words for them did not exist before then.[iii]


Clearly, the logic which leads to this conclusion is foolish. The truth of the matter is this, that words that are synonymous with our modern terminology were used before the word “Homosexual” was invented and gained wide popularity, such as in the King James, “abusers of themselves with mankind” (1 Cor. 6:9), or “Sodomite” (Deut. 23:17). What one would need to prove for this to be a valid argument is that the concept of homosexuality wasn’t the reference of these verses, which the rest of this article will seek to prove.


There is then the claim that “The RSV committee decided the word ‘homosexual’ was an inaccurate translation of malakoi and arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and replaced it with ‘sexual perverts.’” First, the supposed letter exchange is between one member of the translation committee, and a seminary student, one member of a translation committee saying that there is a mistake in the translation means absolutely nothing. Second, 1 Timothy 1:10 in the future revision still uses the term “Sodomites,” a clear idiom that refers to homosexuality. Third, there is still the retention of the idea of homosexuality present in the other passages (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13, Romans 1).


The Lutherbibel

Concerning the translation of the Lutherbibel, it is correct that Luther used the word “Knabenschander,” but it is foolish to accept the man’s words and not the concept which he believed to be translating. For, in a strictly literal sense, yes, the word “Knabenschander” is referring to child molestation. But, it is equally as clear, that the word has an idiomatic usage. It would be akin to an English scholar 500 years from now, claiming that the word “Nice’ means that we are calling someone a fool, due to the fact that the strictly etymological formulation of the word nice is from the Latin “nescius,” meaning fool. For, the Lutherbibel is an extremely idiomatic translation, the purpose of Luther’s translation work was one which would sound like contemporary German, not a strictly technical analysis of the underlying languages, more NLT, less NASB. For, Luther believed the Bible to be at odds with homosexuality, as is clear from his many condemnations of it:


"The vice of the Sodomites is an unparalleled enormity. It departs from the natural passion and desire, planted into nature by God, according to which the male has a passionate desire for the female. Sodomy craves what is entirely contrary to nature. Whence comes this perversion? Without a doubt it comes from the devil. After a man has once turned aside from the fear of God, the devil puts such great pressure upon his nature that he extinguishes the fire of natural desire and stirs up another, which is contrary to nature."[iv]

The likelihood of an idiomatic usage is furthered by the attitude of Germany at the time towards the sin. It was a shame to even directly speak of the sin. Various idioms grew, such as “sodomy (sodomia), sinning "against nature" (contra naturam or wider die nature), heresy (ketzerei), and florencing (florenzen),”[v] Puff comments, “For a long time it was the “unspeakable sin,” but when it was discussed in Reformation discourse, it took on a variety of names.”[vi]


For, one could see how the word “Knabenschander” could have gained idiomatic usage, with pederasty and homosexuality historically (and today) being so closely linked. This assertion is supported by The New and Complete Dictionary of the German and English Languages ... - Johann Ebers - Google Books, an 18th-century dictionary which incudes “Sodomite” and “Buggerrer” within its semantic range (possible usages), and Grimm’s Satiren und Pasquille aus der Reformationszeit - Google Books claims the same thing.


Even on the supposition that one could find a handful of translations that strictly and solely referred to pederasty in those verses, so what? First, translations can be wrong. Second, our knowledge of Greek and Hebrew are lightyears ahead now compared to then (this is akin to someone referencing a 16th-century scientist for an authoritative scientific judgment). Third, the other passages outside of 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, still are understood as having reference to Homosexuality. Fourth, natural law still told them and tells us, it is wrong. Fifth, the abundance of other translations vindicates the concept of homosexuality being present.


History of the Translation of Arsenokoitai

Here is a quick sampling of the Translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10:

  • The Latin Vulgate, a translation of the early church father, St. Jerome, which will become the most important translation for a millennium in the West, “masculorum concubitoribus” “neque masculorum concubitores

  • “Those who lie/have sex with men”

  • The Wulfila Bible, a Gothic translation of the 4th century, “horam

  • Just the general term for sexual depravity

  • The Peshitta, a popular bible from the early centuries of the church, “- ܐܘ ܠܐ ܝܕܥܝܢ ܐܢܬܘܢ ܕܥܘܠܐ ܡܠܟܘܬܗ ܕܐܠܗܐ ܠܐ ܝܪܬܝܢ ܠܐ ܬܛܥܘܢ ܠܐ ܙܢܝܐ ܘܠܐ ܦܠܚܝ ܦܬܟܪܐ ܘܠܐ ܓܝܪܐ ܘܠܐ ܡܚܒܠܐ ܘܠܐ ܫܟܒܝ ܥܡ ܕܟܪܐ” and “ܘܠܙܢܝܐ ܘܠܫܟܒܝ ܥܡ ܕܟܪܐ ܘܠܓܢܒܝ ܒܢܝ ܚܐܪܐ ܘܠܕܓܠܐ ܘܠܥܒܪܝ ܥܠ ܡܘܡܬܐ ܘܠܟܠܡܕܡ ܕܐܝܬܘܗܝ ܣܩܘܒܠܐ ܠܝܘܠܦܢܐ ܚܠܝܡܐ”

  • Both literally translate “Liers with men” from pre-1940’s translations, and the literal sense of the text

  • The Bohairic version of the bible, an early Coptic translation, (I could not find a font which was compatible, so here is a pre-1940’s translation from Horner, the original text can be found on Internet Archive from Horner), “Nor effeminate, nor sleeper with male,” “for the sleepers with male,”

  • The Sahidic version of the bible, an early Coptic translation, (I could not find a font which was compatible, so here is a pre-1940’s translation from Horner, the original text can be found on Internet Archive from Horner), “Nor sleeper with male” “for the sleepers with male.”

  • The Wycliffe Bible (1395) “neither they that do lechery with men,” “to them that do lechery with men” or “to them that trespass with males against kind”

  • Hungarian Károli, a 16th century Hungarian translation reads, “se házasságtörõk, se pulyák, se férfiszeplõsítõk,”

  • “Abusers of themselves with mankind”

  • The Tyndale Bible (1526), “nether weaklinges nether abusars of them selves with the mankynde” “to them that defile them selves with mankynde”

  • The Douay-Rheims Bible, done in 1582, “Nor the effeminate nor liers with mankind,” “them who defile themselves with mankind

  • The 1588 Beibl William Morgan, the first Welsh translation of the bible reads, “gwrywgydwyr” which was a term used in Welsh to describe those who had sex with males, and to this day is still a technical term for “Homosexual”

  • The Geneva Bible (1599) “nor buggerers,” “to buggerers”

  • A 17th-century Arabic translation by the Congregationis de Propoganda Fide, مَأْبُونُونَ وَلاَ مُضَاجِعُو ذُكُورٍ،

  • “ones who are sleeping with males”

  • The 1611 King James Version, “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,” “ for them that defile themselves with mankind

  • The 1637 Statenvertaling Dutch Translation, “noch die bij mannen liggen” “die bij mannen liggen”

  • “those who lie with men”

  • The 1649 Italian translation of Giovanni Diodati, “nè i molli, nè quelli che usano co’ maschi;” “a quelli che usano co’ maschi”

  • The phrase “those who use with men” is used

  • The 1724 Osterwald French translation, “ni les efféminés, ni les infâmes,” “les abominables

  • The phrases “the infamous” and “the abominable” are used

  • The Webster Bible (1833), “nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,” “them that defile themselves with mankind”

  • The Darby Bible (1890), “nor those who make women of themselves, nor who abuse themselves with men,” “sodomites”

  • Translation by João Ferreira de Almeida, done in 1898 in Portuguese, “nem os efeminados, nem os sodomitas,” “os sodomitas

  • The word “Sodomite” is used

  • The Weymouth New Testament (1903), “nor any who are guilty of unnatural crime,” “Sodomites”

  • The 1910 French version, “ni les efféminés, ni les infâmes” “les infâmes

  • The phrase, “the infamous” is used

  • The 1927 Italian Riveduta Version, “né gli effeminati, né i sodomiti,” “per i sodomiti,”

  • The word “Sodomite” is used

  • A 1930 Norwegian bible reads, “eller bløtaktige eller de som synder mot nature”

  • This reads “those who sin against nature” again, a common idiom for Homosexuals

  • The 1933 Danish bible reads, “eller de som lade sig bruge til unaturlig Utugt, eller de, som øve den” and “Syndere imod Naturen”

  • This literally means “those who allow themselves to be used for unnatural fornication, or those who practice it,” clearly pointing to the active and passive homosexual roles, and in the 1 Timothy passage it is “sinners against nature,” which fits the above quotation on colloquial terms for homosexuality in Northern Europe from 1500-1900

  • A Finnish translation from 1933 reads “ei avionrikkojat, ei hekumoitsijat eikä miehimykset,” “haureellisille, miehimyksille,”

  • Both texts are colloquially used for Homosexuality

There are many, many more translations I could add to the list, but I have proved my point. We see here the sheer dishonesty and hatred for truth present in the pro-homosexual movement. What they have done is twisted the narrative. For, if they would just look at the myriads and myriads of pre-1940’s translations, translated into hundreds of languages, they cannot but see the consensus of translation. The only straw they grasp onto is a weak one. If they truly understand translation, then they would understand semantic domain, they would understand the usage of idiom. They understand the shifting sand which they stand on, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves. For what is being done here is diabolical, it is pure evil, and pseudo-scholarship of the worst kind. One needs to have the integrity of Satan himself to not see that each and every one of those translators understood 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 to be referring to Homosexual behavior.


The Meaning of arsenokoitai

This is the word on which the debate over the meaning of the two texts in question hinges, what does “ἀρσενοκοῖται” mean? This question is complicated by a lack of extra-biblical material prior to Paul’s usage of the term leading some to conclude that Paul invented the word. The structure and etymological origin of the word is clear, it comes from two words, “αρσην” (man) and “κοιτη” (bed, or, idiomatically, sexual intercourse).


If we look at the Septuagint we can see a likely origin for the word in Leviticus 18:22 “καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν” and Leviticus 20:13 “καὶ ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι θανατούσθωσαν ἔνοχοί εἰσιν.” These are famously the two verses of the Law that directly speak of Homosexuality as a sin, and prescribes penalties for it. So, with the usage of this word, St. Paul is not referring to some problem of child molestation which originates in Greek and Roman society but is saying that the Levitical prohibition on homosexuality still applies as a law in the New Covenant church.


Further, another fact mitigates against the interpretation of this term as “Child molester” in that the practice was so common. Since the practice of Pederasty was so common there were words which we know of that he would have used, had he truly meant child molester, but he did not use such words, diminishing the likelihood that it refers to such.


Lastly, we will get to this more in the next heading, but the usage of the Church Fathers points to the meaning of “homosexuality,” as clearly distinguished from pederasty. James DeYoung’s discussion of a scholarly debate on this matter is helpful,

“He faults Boswell for failing to cite, or citing inaccurately, all the references to Lev 18:22 and 20:13 in the church fathers, such as Eusebius, the Apostolic Constitutions, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, and Origen…It is with Boswell's treatment of the early church fathers that Wright takes special issue, because the former has failed to cite all the sources. For example, Aristides' Apology (c. A.D. 138) probably uses arrenomanew (arrenomaneis), androbthn (androbatn), and arsenokoitaw (arsenokoitias) all with the same basic meaning of male homosexuality, contrary to Boswell's discussion. Boswell fails to cite Hippolytus (Refut. Omn. Haer. 5:26:22-23) and improperly cites Eusebius and the Syriac writer Bardesanes. The latter uses Syriac terms that are identical to the Syriac of 1 Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10. Next Wright shows how the early church fathers use arsenokoitai in parallel with paidofuora (paidophthoria) referring to male homosexuality with teenagers, the dominant form of male homosexuality among the Greeks…Another occurrence of arsenokoiten (arsenokoitein, "commit homosexuality") exists in the Sibylline Oracles 2:71-73…Wright also discusses uses of arsenokoitai in Rhetorius (6th century) who drew upon the first century A.D. writer Teucer, in Macarius (4th-5th cent.), and in John the Faster (d. 595). The last in particular bears the idea of homosexual intercourse, contrary to Boswell. Wright next replies to Boswell's contention that the term would not be absent "from so much literature about homosexuality if that is what it denoted.” Wright points out that it should not be expected in writers prior to the first century A.D. since it did not exist before then, that the Greeks used dozens of words and phrases to refer to homosexuality, that some sources (e.g., Didache) show no acquaintance with Paul's letters or deliberately avoid citing Scripture, and that Boswell neglects citing several church fathers.”[vii]

The Teaching of the Fathers

This part is even more laughable than the part about the history of translation. There is a clear claim being made that the church fathers never condemned homosexuality as a sin. Anyone with even a semester-long class in church history from a school with an ounce of credibility and honesty will know that this is utterly insane. The Church Fathers developed a less than positive view of sexuality even within marriage, seeing sexual pleasure as an inherent evil.[viii] If they viewed sexuality within marriage as a necessary evil, we can imagine how they would have viewed sexuality which was a. non-reproductive, b. non-marital, and c. between men, only a fool could imagine that it would be positive. Here is a smattering of quotes directly speaking to the issue of homosexuality (for a complete work speaking to the subject from a highly respected, Greek-speaking church father, see St. John Chrysostom's homily on Romans 1:26-27):[ix]


Didache

Commit no murder, adultery, sodomy, fornication, or theft. (Didache 2)

Polycarp in early second-century Turkey, the Revelation of Peter in mid-century, Irenaeus in France in the 180s and Origen prohibited "men abusing themselves with men" and "men defiling each other".


St. Aristides

"Some polluted themselves by lying with males. The Greeks, O King, follow debased practices in intercourse with males, or with mothers, sisters, and daughters. Yet, they, in turn impute their monstrous impurity to the Christians."[x]

Justin Martyr

When I was delighting in the doctrines of Plato, and heard the Christians slandered, and saw them fearless of death, and of all other-things which are counted fearful, perceived that it was impossible that they could be living in wickedness and pleasure.
And imitating Jupiter and the other gods in sodomy and shameless intercourse with woman, might we not bring as our apology the writings of Epicurus and the poets? But because we persuade men to avoid such instruction, and all who practise them and imitate such examples, as now in this discourse we have striven to persuade you, we are assailed in every kind of way.
But we are not concerned, since we know that God is a just observer of all. But would that even now some one would mount a lofty rostrum, and shout with a tragic voice [i.e., loud like an actor in tragedies]: "Be ashamed, be ashamed, ye who charge the guiltless with those deeds which yourselves openly could commit, and ascribe things which apply to yourselves and to your gods to those who have not even the slightest sympathy with them. Be converted! Become wise!"[xi]
“[W]e have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do anyone harm and lest we should sin against God, first, because we see that almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution. And for this pollution a multitude of females and hermaphrodites, and those who commit unmentionable iniquities, are found in every nation. And you receive the hire of these, and duty and taxes from them, whom you ought to exterminate from your realm. . . . And there are some who prostitute even their own children and wives, and some are openly mutilated for the purpose of sodomy; and they refer these mysteries to the mother of the gods”[xii]
If we marry, it is only so that we may bring up children; if we decline marriage, we live continently.

Theophilus of Antioch

Regarding lawless conduct, those who have blindly wandered into the choir of philosophy have, almost to a man, spoken with one voice. Certainly Plato—to mention him first who seems to have been the most respectable philosopher among them—expressly, as it were, legislates in his first book, entitled The Republic, that the wives of all be common, using the precedent of the son of Jupiter and the lawgiver of the Cretans, in order that under this pretext there might be an abundant offspring from the best persons, and that those who were worn with toil might be comforted by such intercourse. And Epicurus himself, too, as well as teaching atheism, teaches along with it incest with mothers and sisters, and this in transgression of the laws which forbid it. ... these things the other laws of the Romans and Greeks also prohibit. Why, then, do Epicurus and the Stoics teach incest and sodomy, with which doctrines they have filled libraries, so that from boyhood this lawless intercourse is learned?[xiii]

Clement of Alexandria

“All honor to that king of the Scythians, whoever Anacharsis was, who shot with an arrow one of his subjects who imitated among the Scythians the mystery of the mother of the gods . . . condemning him as having become effeminate among the Greeks, and a teacher of the disease of effeminacy to the rest of the Scythians”[xiv]
“The fate of the Sodomites was judgment to those who had done wrong, instruction to those who hear. The Sodomites having, through much luxury, fallen into uncleanness, practicing adultery shamelessly...the All-seeing Word, whose notice those who commit impieties cannot escape, cast his eye on them. Nor did the sleepless guard of humanity observe their licentiousness in silence; but dissuading us from the imitation of them, and training us up to his own temperance, and falling on some sinners, lest lust being unavenged, should break loose from all the restraints of fear, ordered Sodom to be burned, pouring forth a little of the sagacious fire on licentiousness; lest lust, through want of punishment, should throw wide the gates to those that were rushing into voluptuousness. Accordingly, the just punishment of the Sodomites became to men an image of the salvation which is well calculated for men. For those who have not committed like sins with those who are punished, will never receive a like punishment”[xv]

Tertullian

“[A]ll other frenzies of the lusts which exceed the laws of nature, and are impious toward both [human] bodies and the sexes, we banish, not only from the threshold but also from all shelter of the Church, for they are not sins so much as monstrosities”[xvi]

Novatian

“[God forbade the Jews to eat certain foods for symbolic reasons:] For that in fishes the roughness of scales is regarded as constituting their cleanness; rough, and rugged, and unpolished, and substantial, and grave manners are approved in men; while those that are without scales are unclean, because trifling, and fickle, and faithless, and effeminate manners are disapproved. Moreover, what does the law mean when it . . . forbids the swine to be taken for food? It assuredly reproves a life filthy and dirty, and delighting in the garbage of vice. . . . Or when it forbids the hare? It rebukes men deformed into women”[xvii]

Cyprian of Carthage

“[T]urn your looks to the abominations, not less to be deplored, of another kind of spectacle. . . . Men are emasculated, and all the pride and vigor of their sex is effeminated in the disgrace of their enervated body; and he is more pleasing there who has most completely broken down the man into the woman. He grows into praise by virtue of his crime; and the more he is degraded, the more skillful he is considered to be. Such a one is looked upon—oh shame!—and looked upon with pleasure. . . . Nor is there wanting authority for the enticing abomination . . . that Jupiter of theirs [is] not more supreme in dominion than in vice, inflamed with earthly love in the midst of his own thunders . . . Can he who looks upon such things be healthy-minded or modest? Men imitate the gods whom they adore, and to such miserable beings their crimes become their religion”[xviii]
“Oh, if placed on that lofty watchtower, you could gaze into the secret places—if you could open the closed doors of sleeping chambers and recall their dark recesses to the perception of sight—you would behold things done by immodest persons which no chaste eye could look upon; you would see what even to see is a crime; you would see what people embruted with the madness of vice deny that they have done, and yet hasten to do—men with frenzied lusts rushing upon men, doing things which afford no gratification even to those who do them”[xix]

Eusebius of Caesarea

“[H]aving forbidden all unlawful marriage, and all unseemly practice, and the union of women with women and men with men, he [God] adds: ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for in all these things the nations were defiled, which I will drive out before you. And the land was polluted, and I have recompensed [their] iniquity upon it, and the land is grieved with them that dwell upon it’ [Lev. 18:24–25]”[xx]

Basil the Great

“He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers”[xxi]