Author Tim Barnett
Published on 06/26/2023
Sexuality and Gender

Did Translators Wrongly Interpret “Homosexuality” in 1 Corinthians 6:9?

Tim Barnett provides three reasons why we can be confident Paul is addressing same-sex behavior in 1 Corinthians 6:9.


Original Video: Hi, everyone, and welcome back to Unlearning Christianity: Unlearning Christian Homophobia. I want to talk with you about 1 Corinthians 6:9. In this passage, Paul talks about certain people who aren’t going to enter into the kingdom of God, and he uses two Greek words that are under question here, “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.” “Malakoi” means “soft,” generally thought of as the person who takes the passive role in this relationship. “Arsenokoitai” means “man bed,” and is generally thought of as the person who takes the active role in this relationship. Christian homophobia will say, “There you go. God is against homosexuality.” J. Paul Sampley is a New Testament scholar and Greek historian, and he says that if you don’t understand Greek history, you might think this is against homosexuality, but if you do know Greek history, you will know that Paul is talking about heterosexual men married to women, who keep slave boys in their house as sex objects. This is not about two men or two women living in a same-sex, committed relationship. This is about sex, slavery, and rape. So, here’s the question. What does 1 Corinthians 6:9 teach about homosexual behavior?

Tim: According to this video, 1 Corinthians 6:9 is not about a loving, committed, same-sex relationship. Rather, it refers to exploitative, homosexual sex like rape or sex slavery. To justify this claim, the video cites how exploitive homosexual sex was being practiced in the Greco-Roman world. This kind of behavior was happening in Paul’s day. But how does this prove that’s what Paul is talking about? Well, it doesn’t, and here’s why.

First, Paul uses the word “arsenokoitai,” which he coined by combining two Greek words, “arsen,” meaning “male,” and “koite,” meaning “bed” or “lie with.” So, “arsenokoitai” literally means “men who lie with a male.” Nothing in the word itself limits Paul’s condemnation to just exploitive, same-sex acts. Second, the word “arsenokoitai” has an important background context. The Greek words “arsen” and “koite” appear together in only two Greek Old Testament verses, Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13. These two verses seem to universally prohibit homosexual behavior, not just exploitive sex. Third, we should use Paul to help us interpret Paul. Paul knew about mutual, non-exploitative, same-sex relationships. How do we know? In Romans 1, in addition to describing lesbianism, which wasn’t exploitative, Paul describes homosexuality as men burning in their passion for one another. Clearly this isn’t describing rape or sex slavery. In Making Sense of Sex, William Loader, who’s probably the most prominent expert on ancient views of sexuality and is himself gay affirming, says nothing indicates that Paul is exempting some same-sex intercourse as acceptable. That’s not hate or homophobia. That’s just good hermeneutics.