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Arsenokoitai and Homosexuality

Updated: Oct 26, 2021

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