The Part That Makes LGBs1 Uncomfortable

In case you missed it, last time I argued that there are only six passages in the Bible that deal directly with homosexuality, and that the three passages in the Old Testament are not authoritative for Christians as law.  Additionally, I argued that Romans 1:26-27 is not addressing loving, respectful, monogamous committed relationships between gay Christian partners, but rather ancient pagan sex rituals.  Because of this, the Romans passage is a poorly chosen passage for arguing against modern gay unions.  This brings us to the last two passages in Scripture that actually speak to the issue of homosexuality – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:10.

Both of these passages are from letters that the apostle Paul wrote, listing the sort of people who “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9).  Moreover, these sins and those who commit them are “contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God” (1 Tim 1:10-11).  Listed in these passages are people such as idolaters, thieves, drunkards, swindlers, kidnappers, and murderers.  Now, before we get into the real meat of these passages – namely, the Greek word often translated “homosexuals” – I want to address two common objections raised by gay-affirming Christians.

First, some have objected to the use of these passages against homosexuality on the grounds that there are other places in Paul’s letters that prohibit things that are clearly cultural – women cutting off their hair or shaving their heads (1 Cor 11:6), men having long hair (1 Cor 11:14), or women wearing jewelry and braiding their hair (1 Tim 2:9).  Many would claim that since it is not sinful in our culture for a man to have long hair or for a woman to wear jewelry, then we should also consider Paul’s prohibition against homosexuality as cultural.  For my own part, I find this argument altogether unconvincing.  Certainly, we ought to be sensitive to what is and is not cultural in Scripture; however, we should not make the mistake of assuming that just because one thing is cultural then everything else must be also.  Although the cultural prohibitions are indeed in the same letters, they are not in the immediate context of the prohibitions against homosexuality.  Moreover, Paul explicitly states that those people listed in these passages “will not inherit the kingdom of God,” and that such things are contrary to the gospel itself.  Since gay Christians would obviously agree that things such as lying, stealing, and killing are universally incompatible with the kingdom of God (therefore, not simply cultural), they don’t really have much ground to stand on when saying Paul was only speaking culturally when he included homosexuals in these lists.

Second, it has become somewhat in vogue to simply chalk up Paul as a bigot.  Since Jesus never actually said anything against homosexuality (that we know of), one common tactic among gay Christians is to claim to follow Jesus while viewing Paul as closed-minded and chauvinistic.  The underlying (but never addressed) problem with this is that it assumes that modern-day gay Christians in the West have a better grasp of Jesus’ teachings and their implications than Paul did.  However, given what we do know about Paul, a first-century Jew who worked closely with the other apostles, gave greater status to women and slaves than his culture would have deemed appropriate, and suffered and died for his faith in Christ, I have a really hard time seeing him as someone who didn’t really understand Jesus and the gospel.  Viewing Paul as an intolerant homophobe is both ignorant and ethnocentric.

Now, whether or not these two passages actually prohibit homosexuality (particularly, modern homosexuality) all comes down to the word that is usually translated “homosexuals.”  This is the Greek word arsenokoitai.  This word is a combination of two root words, arsen (which means man) and koite (which means to “bed,” or have sex with).  So, literally arsenokoitai means “man-bedder,” one who has sex with other men.  “Well, that seems pretty straight-forward,” you might be thinking.  “How can LGBs read that and think that it doesn’t mean homosexuals?”  Well, because there’s a little ambiguity surrounding this word.

For one thing, it’s usually not a good idea to use the etymological makeup of a word to define its meaning.2  Secondly, this word has not always been translated the same way.  Martin Luther, for instance, translated arsenokoitai as “masturbator.”  Why so much confusion?  Because until Paul used this word in his letters, this word didn’t exist.  He made it up.  Now, Paul was a master of the Greek language, so he can do that.  But it does raise the question, what does arsenokoitai actually mean?

Gay-affirming Christians often argue that arsenokoitai is referring to a very specific type of homosexual relationship.  You see, in ancient Greek and Roman cultures, there was a common practice in which an older (usually married) man would take a young boy in his adolescence and train him up to be a man.  And being a man means knowing how to have sex (or so they thought).3  And the way that they would often teach these boys about sex is by having sex with them.  This was not a loving, respectful, mutual relationship between two consenting adults.  This was an older man taking advantage of a young boy.  Essentially, this was pedophilia and rape.  One reason that many believe this is what Paul is referring to is because the word just before arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is the Greek word malakoi (often translated as “effeminate”), which literally means “soft ones.”  Most scholars agree that this refers to the young boy in the type of homosexual relationship mentioned above.4  “If that is what malakoi means,” gay-affirming Christians say, “then by proximity (context) arsenokoitai must be referring to that specific type of homosexuality.”  And all gay Christians agree that that sort of relationship is unchristian and heinous.

So, why don’t I find this argument very convincing?  Because I know the Greek language too well to just accept that as good enough.

You see, while it is true that we should be cautious about using the etymology of a word to determine its meaning, it is not true that we should never do that.  Particularly in the case of words such as arsenokoitai it can be extremely helpful.5  Since we don’t have other occurrences of arsenokoitai before Paul, we can’t compare how it is used elsewhere to help determine what it means.  It is always helpful to consider the context of a word, so we have to take into consideration the fact that malakoi appears next to arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians.  But we also have to take into account that malakoi is altogether absent from the list in 1 Timothy.  What does this mean?  I would argue that it means that the word arsenokoitai can stand alone and is not dependent on (or directly tied to) malakoi for its meaning.  That being the case, it is important that we pay attention to the etymological makeup of arsenokoitai to help us understand what Paul was trying to get at.

Although we don’t have any uses of arsenokoitai before Paul, we do have the word paiderastia which was a common and well-known term for the above relationship between an older man and younger boy.  We could reasonably presume from what we know about Paul and his familiarity with classic Greek works that he would have been familiar with this word.  On top of this, the early Christian writers such as Tatian (120-180 AD) and Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) used a similar word, paidofthoros, to refer to these sort of pedophiliac relationships.  Since they wrote a relatively short time after Paul and his writings, and since this word was common enough to have appeared in multiple works, we could reasonably assume that Paul might have also been familiar with paidofthoros as well.  Which begs the question…

Why would a master of the Greek language such as Paul create a whole new word with such a broad etymology as “man-bedder” if he was only referring to a very specific type of man-bedding, especially when there were already two perfectly good words available that he could have used for that specific type of homosexuality?

My guess?  Paul created arsenokoitai because he wanted a word that referred to the actual act of bedding another man, and went beyond the specific situational meaning of paiderastia and paidofthoros.  Can I prove this?  No, obviously.  But, for the life of me, I can’t think of another explanation that takes into account all of the evidence.  So, if I’m going to have intellectual integrity, I am forced to conclude that on the one hand arsenokoitai refers to the act of gay sex regardless of the situation.  On the other hand, arsenokoitai only refers to the act of gay sex, not the feelings of attraction toward a person of the same gender.

There you go.  Now the final question is, what do we do with all of this?  Tune in next time to find out how Christians should and should not respond to the issue of homosexuality.

1: The reason that I use LGBs (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals) instead of LGBTQIAPK - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (questioning), intersex, asexual (androgynous), pansexual (polyamorous), kinky – is for two reasons: (1) that’s just a ridiculously long acronym, and (2) the issue I am deal with is really only focused on the first three groups.

2: This can be seen in English with words like “pineapple.” Despite what the word’s etymology might suggest, any English speaking person knows that a pineapple neither comes from a pine tree, nor is it a type of apple. Because of this, it’s always better when doing word studies to ask, “What did the word mean at the time that it was being used?”

3: Sadly, some things never change.

4: Which raises a whole other can of worms as to why these young boys would be excluded from the kingdom of God and the implications of that on other victims of pedophilia and rape. But that is a discussion that is extremely nuanced, and one that I don’t care to address here. Suffice it to say that I don’t think being a victim excludes one from the kingdom … ever!

5: arsenokoitai is what we call a hapax legomena – a word that only occurs once in a document.

| Gender Issues | Scripture | 21 comments so far

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Rocky Munoz
Jesus-follower, husband, daddy, amateur theologian, former youth pastor, nerd, and coffee snob. Feel free to email me at and follow me on Twitter (@rockstarmunoz)


  1. nick scarantino, February 10, 2014 at 11:26 pm:

    What about the fact that nobody after Paul ever gives a meaning for Arsenokoitai, and that those who use it only ever directly quote Paul?

    Also, can you comment on the similarity between Arsenokoitai and the Hebrew words Arsenos and Koiten used in the Leviticus discussion of homosexual practice which most presume to be discussing temple prostitution, even according to Philo?

    • Rocky Munoz, February 11, 2014 at 5:49 am:

      Nick, thank you so much for commenting on here. You have some really great questions! I honestly don’t know much about writers after Paul not giving a meaning to arsenokoitai. I do know that other early Christian authors did use the word and that, despite some variance in the specifics, the general sense of the word still centers around homosexuality.

      As for the use of arsenos and koiten in the LXX (cf. Lev 18:22), you are correct that sexual intercourse between men was a well-known part of pagan worship in both Egypt and Canaan (which would have come to mind for the first readers of Leviticus), along with child sacrifices (v 21) and bestiality (v 23). I would, however, be careful not to assume that this means that such things are only sinful in the context of pagan rituals. The general condemnations at the end of each verse (“profane,” “detestable,” “perversion”) has led many scholars to conclude that the wickedness of these acts are meant to be understood in a much broader sense.

      I suppose that when I try to present a position, I do my best to shy away from arguments that I don’t think would be convincing to people on the other side, even if I find them convincing. Anyhow, great questions! I had to do some research before I could respond confidently, and that’s always a good thing :)

      • Nick S, February 11, 2014 at 9:54 pm:

        Can you give me examples of others using the word? The only references I have ever found are pretty much exclusively quoting Paul’s use in Corinthians or Timothy. Them using it by quoting him doesn’t really count as them using it, I don’t think, and doesn’t help us understand the meaning at all.

        What about the fact that the word used for the 18 is different than 21 and 23? Arsen and Koiten are called tow`ebah which is not found in vv 21 and 23. It’s found mostly when relating things directly to religious practices that are wrong (sometimes even used to describe things that are wrong to other religions). How can you relate those two so closely when they aren’t even using the same word to describe the actions?

        • Rocky Munoz, February 12, 2014 at 8:09 am:

          Great questions, Nick! Again, I had to do a little digging to make sure I knew what I was talking about, so thanks for that :)

          Some other early uses of arsenokoitai are found in the writings of Polycarp (69-155 CE), Teucer of Babylon (1st cent.), Aristides of Athens (138 CE), Tertullian (160-220 CE), Hippolytus of Rome (170-235 CE), Origen (182-254 CE), Eusebius (263-339 CE), Macarius of Egypt (300-391 CE), as well as the Sibylline Oracles (1st cent.), the Acts of John (late 2nd century), and even later Patriarch John IV of Constantinople (6th century) and Rhetorius of Egypt (late 6th and early 7th cent.). While it is true that some of theses writers were either citing or referencing Paul, many (most?) of them were not. Like I said before, there is some variance about the specifics of arsenokoitai in these early church writings (boy rape, male prostitution, anal sex in general, etc.); however, the overall usage still revolves closely around the idea of homosexuality.

          As for the different words used in Leviticus 18:21 (ḥōl, “profane”), v22 (tôʿēbâ, “abomination”), and v23 (ṭāmēʾ, “defiled,” and tebel, “perversion”) – I would suggest that just because the author is using different words to describe his revulsion toward the various acts does not mean that he sees some as wicked in general while others (namely tôʿēbâ) as being wicked specifically with regard to rituals. You are correct that tôʿēbâ is used mostly in reference to religious practices; however, it is not exclusively so, as seen in Deuteronomy 23:7; Job 9:3; 19:19; 30:10; Psalm 107:18; and Amos 5:10, et al. Moreover, “whereas tôʿēbâ includes that which is aesthetically and morally repulsive, its synonym šeqeṣ denotes that which is cultically unclean, especially idolatry” (TWOT, 977). So, we should be careful not to draw too hard of a line between the verses in Leviticus 18 based on the general usage of a word elsewhere.

          Admittedly, I am much more familiar with Greek than Hebrew. Anyhow, does that helpI answer your questions? Feel free to ask more – this is really fun!

  2. Nick S, February 11, 2014 at 10:27 pm:

    I don’t know how to delete or edit my last comment, but I would like to adjust it slightly. I made the stupid mistake of switching from Greek (Arsenos and Koiten) to Hebrew (tow`ebah) in my haste to respond, for which I’m slightly embarrassed. However, even the Greek word, bdelygma, is not the same (which it shouldn’t be). I just wanted to clarify that I knew I had made a language jump so that you didn’t think I was completely ignorant haha.

    • Rocky Munoz, February 12, 2014 at 8:09 am:

      No worries. I figured out what you mean. Thanks for the clarification though :)

  3. Nick S, February 12, 2014 at 10:26 pm:

    I don’t have access to those writings (as farm as I’m aware. Trying to find them on Google is incredibly difficult). Could you share a few references? I don’t not believe you, but “the proof is in the pudding” as they say haha. And in reality, all of those uses do revolve around homosexuality; but are they revolving around the same culturally relevant homosexuality as we are in our discussions today?

    I can see what you’re saying. However, isn’t it most beneficial to go with the most used meaning rather than the least used, unless there is explicit evidence to use the most meaning? That seems to be how understanding any language works (when two or more meanings could work in the context), especially languages from antiquity.

    Furthermore, why would Philo think v.22 is addressing idolatry forms of homosexual practices rather than general homosexual practices, and how do we address that looking at it today? Was he wrong? Are we wrong?

    • Rocky Munoz, February 13, 2014 at 9:10 am:

      After a brief look at just a few sources, here’s what I could find as far as uses not quoting/referencing Paul – Aristides of Athens (Apology 9:13), Eusebius (Preparation of the Gospel 6:10; Proof of the Gospel I.6.23.a), and Hippolytus (The Refutation of All Heresies V.21). So far, these are the only ones that I had the chance to look at in context. You are right that most of them probably are not thinking about our modern homosexual relationships. But since we’re talking about the word arsenokoitai specifically, if man-bedding is the meaning with which they use the term it doesn’t really matter if we find it in a paragraph that is talking about a specific type or instance of man-bedding. But, like I said, I haven’t had the chance to check out every use in early writings.

      You are also right that it is often beneficial to go with the most used meaning of a word. And if there was nothing in Leviticus 18 to suggest a broad use of the term tôʿēbâ, we could assume a ritualistic meaning. However, I think one could make a pretty strong case for the surrounding verses to lend tôʿēbâ toward a broad meaning. As you pointed out, the words used in vv 21 and 23 are different than tôʿēbâ, and they’re not necessarily tied to worship rituals themselves.

      As for the Philo thing, I’ve looked around and the reference that everyone seems to be referring to is The Special Laws, III, VII, 40-42. I checked that text (several times) and I couldn’t find arsenokoitai in it anywhere. So maybe there’s a place where Philo uses the word, but I can’t find it… and it seems that everyone who mentions it on the internet hasn’t bothered to actually read Philo’s work. Similarly, a number of sites argued that the Didache uses arsenokoitai to refer to boy rape; however, arsenokoitai never appears in the Didache. So I guess the moral of the story is – not every ancient text used to argue for a specific rendering of arsenokoitai actually contains the word. Something to bear in mind :)

  4. Nick S, February 14, 2014 at 1:56 pm:

    Why doesn’t the context matter? Shouldn’t the context be the most important part to determine what they’re talking about?

    The question still stands, if the author wanted it to have a broader meaning, why would he not use the term that he usually used for a broader meaning? Why suddenly shift to something that was typically understood as a more restrictive meaning? That doesn’t really follow.

    Lastly, I never said Philo addressed Aresenokoitai, I apologize if that’s how you understood what I was asking. My question is this- Philo understood Leviticus 18:22 to be addressing Pederastry or shrine prostitution, and not homosexuality as a whole. So why do we think Paul did not view it the same way? If he did, and coined aresnokoitai based off that, then it most likely means the same thing.

    • Rocky Munoz, February 14, 2014 at 6:00 pm:

      So many times in your last post I thought to myself, “Oh… Okay, I see what you’re asking/saying.” Haha! Thanks for clarifying. Let’s see here…

      I didn’t mean to say that the context doesn’t matter, but now that I go back and read it I can see how that came across. You are correct; context is king when it comes to interpretation. But, perhaps what I should have said is that context is not determinative when it comes to word studies. Let’s say, for instance, that an author wanted to talk about the issue of temple prostitution, and in so doing he uses the word arsenokoitai. It is true that male prostitution would entail “man-bedding”; however, it does not logically follow from this that “man-bedding” is necessarily an act of male prostitution (in the same way that by talking about hawks, I am necessarily talking about birds; but talking about birds does not necessarily mean that I am talking about hawks). Hopefully that helps explain what I was getting at.

      I suppose a similar thing could be said for “abomination” in Leviticus 18:22. Simply because the author uses a word that is often used in ritual contexts does not necessarily mean that he is only speaking with ritualistic meaning in mind. We do something similar in English. I once heard a sociologist say that one of his theories is considered heresy by most of his colleagues. Now, the word “heresy” is one that most often has a religious meaning and is used in religious contexts, and if someone heard him say this without any context they could justifiably assume that he was dealing with some religious issue (as it is, the issue that he was dealing with had nothing to do with religion). He used the word, however, because within the context that he uttered it (discussing sociological trends in young adults) it was clear that he meant something broader than religious views, but still as condemning in his field as religious heresy. This is analogous to Lev 18:22, in which the author uses “abomination” within the context of words that suggest he is not speaking merely ritualistically.

      As for your question to why Paul didn’t share Philo’s understanding of Leviticus 18:22, I honestly couldn’t say. It is not as though they had completely different ideas about what the passages was referring to, since they did both believe it has something to do with sexuality between two members of the same gender and that it was something that Jewish Law condemned. I could offer one possibility for why Philo’s understanding is narrower than Paul’s. Philo was not writing simply as an objective, disinterested historian, but rather as someone who was trying (in light of recent Jewish uprisings) to represent Judaism favorably to the Romans. Considering that homosexual relationships were pretty prevalent among Romans (even the elite; e.g., Galba, Hadrian, Nero, etc.) around the time that Philo wrote, he may have thought it best not to present Jewish Law as being too restrictive. Now, obviously this is assuming a motive in Philo (which I can’t prove), and it comes awfully close to an ad hominem; therefore, if it came to it, I would just plead agnosticism toward why exactly Philo holds the view he does. What I do know is that it would be strange for Paul to create arsenokoitai, if all he really meant was pederasty.

      • Nick S, February 17, 2014 at 10:55 pm:

        I wish this thing would notify me when you reply so I don’t have to remember to come check all the time, haha. #firstworldproblems

        While I understand what you’re saying, I don’t think that’s what’s actually happening. You are right in that talking about a subset means you’re talking about a category, but talking about a category doesn’t mean you’re talking about a subset. But what if arsenokoitai is a subset, and not a category? You referred to it as “man-bedding” (as that is the makeup of the word) and yet you argued before that that is not the best way to determine the words meaning. We have many words in English that are more than the sum of their parts (turtledove for instance). I don’t see you giving an convincing argument for doing so with this word, so I’m skeptical to do that.

        I find your comparison to be a bit of a stretch. When the sociologist used the word, he was entirely different from those within the religious circles who use the word. To the contrary, the author(s) of the Pentateuch (I believe it was Moses) are all a part of the same circle using the word, and therefore are more likely to be using it similarly. Again, context is key.

        Who says Paul and Philo’s understanding had to be different though? It would make sense that they were the same, since they were both educated Jews. And why would it be strange for him to create a word? It would tie it directly back to the old testament (something Jewish Christians would understand and appreciate). Also, making up new words to mean the same thing has never been uncommon. We still do it all the time, regularly, consistently, frequently. (see what I did there?)

        • Rocky Munoz, February 18, 2014 at 12:59 am:

          I’ll see what I can do about getting automatic notifications to people when there is a reply to their comment. Thanks for the suggestion :)

          While it is true that as helpful as the etymological makeup of a word can be to its definition, it does not necessarily determine its meaning (like turtledove, pineapple, etc.), and therefore it is always best to first and foremost consider how a word is used. Arsenokoitai is a hapax legomenon, a word that only appears in a document once. When trying to discern the definition of hapax legomena, scholars are forced to look at how it is used in external sources, most preferably those from an earlier date. This is obviously impossible with arsenokoitai since Paul is the first to use it. Therefore, it becomes important to consider the etymological makeup of arsenokoitai. And since Paul was a world class Greek writer, and since it risks anachronism to impose later usages on earlier texts, it makes a lot of sense to lend weight to “man-bedder” as the definition.

          As for the sociologist, I admit that it is simply an analogy (and all analogies break down at some point). I suppose I don’t understand why the analogy doesn’t work though. The point still stands (I think) that a word used outside of its usual context can still carry its thrust without being limited to the nuances of its usual meaning.

          I am not saying that Paul and Philo’s understandings had to be different. I’m simply saying that they do appear to be different, and there are plenty of good explanations as to why two educated, first century Jews might come to nuance their understandings of a biblical passage differently. Now, we could say that Paul made up and used arsenokoitai when he meant pederasty and could have used paiderastes. However, from what I know from translating and exegeting Paul’s writing, that would be highly uncharacteristic of him. Every sentence structure, word use, and verb tense in Paul is purposeful and intentionally chosen – I don’t mean it as an exaggeration at all when I say that Paul was a master of the Greek language. Also, it begs the question as to why Paul would do such a thing. Novelty for novelty sake is hardly his MO.

  5. Nick S, February 19, 2014 at 4:19 pm:

    I still don’t see a clear bridge from “don’t use the makeup” to “we’re going to use the makeup for this word”. Just because it’s the first use doesn’t necessariliy mean that’s the only way to define it. However, I feel like this discussion is past the point helpful discussion so I agree to disagree on this one.

    Because, again, it all comes down to context. Let me use an example. When a white person uses the N word, it carries vastly different meanings than when an African-American uses the N word. One is seens as more appropriate than the other. Likewise, when someone within the religious community says “heresy” it has the religious meaning. When someone without the religious community says “heresy”, it doesn’t. Being that the authors of the Pentateuch are all within the same community, it bears credence to the idea that they would use the same word in the same way.

    As for Paul and Philo, I’m not seeing where you see them to be different. The only thing I have seen is that we don’t actually know Paul’s understanding, because he does not clearly communicate it as Philo did. For that reason, it could be the exact same as Philo’s. We simply don’t know. However, I’m hesitant to simply jump on the idea that it is different simply because that’s what our modern context wants it to be. LIkewise, I don’t think creating arsenokoitai to mean the same as paiderastes is novelty for novelty’s sake. It would be to connect the current writing with the old Jewish literature. To say, “Listen. This idea is still important. It’s so important that I’m going to spell it out for you plain and simple, and connect it as best I can.” It’s almost like quoting a book in a research paper rather than paraphrasing.

    • Rocky Munoz, February 20, 2014 at 1:54 am:

      I wouldn’t say it is “don’t use the makeup” to “use the makeup for this word.” Rather, “don’t primarily use the makeup” to “do primarily use the makeup,” which is a much smaller bridge. But, as you said, it may be that this is a good place to agree to disagree, and I happen to believe that there is no shame in doing so.

      I completely agree with you on the context (though it seems we may simply disagree about the context itself). But, allow me to add some context to my analogy – although the sociologist was speaking about his theory which had nothing in particular to do with religion, he was speaking to a room full of youth pastors at a youth ministry conference, and his overall presentation was about his findings from a study on adolescent spirituality. While everyone in the room was a Christian and highly concerned with the spirituality of young people, we knew because of the immediate context of what the sociologist was talking about that he was not referring to religious heresy, but merely using the term in a more general sense. Similarly, while I agree that the authors and editor of the Pentateuch were highly concerned with the religious rituals of ancient Israel (especially in contrast to their pagan neighbors), from the immediate context of Leviticus 18:22 it would seem that they are condemning homosexual intercourse on a broader basis. Surely, the author did not mean to say that uncovering the nakedness of a relative (vv 6-18), sleeping with your neighbor’s wife (v 20), or bestiality (v 23) was only wrong in a ritualistic sense.

      As for the relationship between Philo’s writings and Paul’s, I think your position could be summed up in a simple logical syllogism…

      Premise A: Philo only understood Leviticus 18:22 to be referring to pederasty
      Premise B: Paul nuanced Leviticus 18:22 the same as Philo
      Therefore C: Paul is only referring to pederasty by coining arsenokoitai

      You know what? Having taken the time to think about this, I can see how this makes a whole lot of sense. In fact, if this syllogism stands up to scrutiny, I might be persuaded to change my position on this. That being said, like any good syllogism, the argument is only as strong as its premises. The problem with premise B is that we simply cannot assume that Paul did have the same nuanced understanding of Leviticus 18:22. To say that because they were both educated 1st century Jewish men they probably did holds about as much water as saying that all educated 21st century American men hold the same views (remember, Philo was born and raised in an aristocratic family in Alexandria, Egypt, where his education would have been predominantly Hellenistic; whereas Paul was born and raised in a strongly Pharisaic family in Tarsus, Cilicia, and then sent to Jerusalem to be educated by the prominent Jewish Rabbi, Gamaliel). So, either way, it’s an argument from silence. Like you said, “We simply don’t know.”

      But even if we could positively affirm that Paul had the same nuanced understanding of Leviticus 18:22 that Philo did, premise A itself runs into the problem that Philo did not seem to understand Leviticus 18:22 as only referring to pederasty. I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to read The Special Laws, III.VII.37-42, but I highly recommend it. Philo condemns the love of boys not on the grounds that it is rape (he certainly seems to think that it is consensual), nor on the grounds that adults should not take advantage of children (since he speaks of these boys as though they are in full control of their lives and sometimes refers to them as “young men”), but on the grounds that such a thing is unnatural. On these grounds, he also condemns effeminacy (wearing makeup and perfume), failure to reproduce, and sex changes (or castration in an attempt to become a woman). And what does Philo believe is the natural response to all this unnaturalness? “… to consider such persons worthy of death, since the law commands that the man-woman who adulterates the precious coinage of his nature shall die without redemption, not allowing him to live a single day, or even a single hour, as he is a disgrace to himself, and to his family, and to his country, and to the whole race of mankind.”

      Is that really the sort of attitude you want to argue for Paul having?

  6. Nick S, February 24, 2014 at 12:32 pm:

    I find no shame in agreeing to disagree either.

    I feel like now you’re putting your own beliefs into the text. Taking the text at face value, and what the authors used the words for, even in the current context, is different from what you’re saying. What if the authors *did* see those things as culturalistic? Where is your evidence that they didn’t?

    I wouldn’t say that that is how Philo viewed it exclusively. If that’s how it came across I apologize. However, I do think it’s something that needs to be taken into account when trying to understand what Paul meant by arsenokoitai since we have no concrete knowledge of his meaning.

    While i agree that they were potentially educated differently, because of the way tradition was handed down in ancient times (and the careful measures that the Jewish religious leaders took to preserve the integrity of their faith and traditions) I’m weary to just assume they were taught differently about their ancient texts because of their location and family positions. However, i do recognize both as a possibility.

    I do see your understanding, but i feel compelled to challenge it. There are many other things that their culture taught as unnatural- men with long hair; women with short hair. Are those still unnatural today? Much of what their culture saw as natural was based on cultural defined understandings of natural/unnatural (the place of women in society and the household, for example). Today, those defines don’t exist. It’s not unnatural or shameful for men to have long hair, or women to have short hair; It’s not unnatural/shameful for women to work and men to stay home, etc. Where do we draw the line between what’s natural because of society and what’s natural because of nature? Or do they mean unnatural for those who are straight, but not unnatural for those who are gay? Much of the use of “nature” within the Bible, and extra-Biblical texts, has to do with one’s personal nature-essentially their makeup/personality. So for those who are straight to engage in homosexual activities, it is against their nature. For those who are gay to engage in homosexual activities, it is not against their nature. With that, many argue that there was no understanding of homosexual orientation within the Biblical times, however, that is actually an untrue statement. In many extra-biblical accounts of creation there are theories as to why people are made to be gay (forgive me for not having references ready. I can find them for you if you wish).

    Also, I would like to ask you your opinion on a different theory of both arsenokoitai and malakoi. I don’t know if you have read Brownson’s “Gender, Bible, Sexuality”, but I just finished it and he had a different interpretation of those two words. (He also incorporates other words in the Timothy verse, but i want to focus on these for now). Basically, the malakoi refers to the effeminate in the relationship, and the arsenokoitai refers to the one doing the effeminizing. In his presentation, it refers to pederasty,idol worship, male rape, and shame sex by addressing both parties-the one being penetrated and the one doing the penetrating. However, because loving, monogamous homosexual relationships do not fit into those categories, they are not being condemned by these verses. What are you thoughts?

    • Rocky Munoz, February 25, 2014 at 12:57 am:

      Admittedly, I cannot prove that the author of Leviticus didn’t see the prohibitions in 18:6-18, 20, and 23 as cultural. But, in light of both Christian and Jewish tradition going as far back as it does, it seems to make the most sense (to me at least). With regard to Paul and Philo, I do want to stress that although the implications may be widely different, the mental distinction between Leviticus 18:22 being about gay sex in general and gay sex in religious activity is little more than a nuance… and one that I can easily see varying between Paul and Philo’s educations. The difference between these two men’s schooling is comparable to one man studying religion at Liberty University and another man studying religion at Yale Divinity. Both would get a “Christian” education, but we can reasonably allow for strong differences. You are correct that the ancient use of the term “unnatural” is not the same as how we use it today. And it certainly makes a poor argument when arguing against modern homosexuality, or women’s leadership… or shellfish. But, however we understand it in its first century context, it clearly is a standard on which Philo (and those like him) believed suitable grounds for killing someone. On this alone, I can see a divergence between Paul and Philo.

      I have not read Brownson’s book yet, although I fully intend to whenever I finish seminary and have the time to read what I want. In fact, you’re the second person in the past couple weeks to recommend it. I think he is correct that malakoi refers to the effeminate ones – that is the most widely accepted view among Greek scholars. I am hesitant to say that arsenokoitai therefore refers specifically to one doing the feminizing only with regard to abusive sexual relationships. My reasoning is that Paul does not include malakoi in his list in 1 Timothy 1:8-11, which tells me that arsenokoitai is not necessarily linked to malakoi in meaning. But, I don’t know all of Brownson’s argument, so I’d really like to read it when I get the chance.

  7. Nick S, February 27, 2014 at 6:58 pm:

    I see your hesitation since 1 Tim doesn’t use Malakoi. I was unable to fully elaborate on his view when I first presented it because I didn’t have the book near me. I do now so I’m going to elaborate more. Yes, 1 Tim doesn’t use Malakoi. Brownson asserts that “pornoi” means “male prostitutes”, “arsenoikoitai” means those doing the penetrating as in 1 Cor, and “andropodistai” means “slave dealers/kidnappers”. Essentially, he’s condemning three peoplein this instance. The prostitute/passive one, the active one/penetrator and the pimp. He notes that The Roman empire tried multiple times to make this practice illegal in general.

    • Rocky Munoz, March 3, 2014 at 3:35 pm:

      Interesting. Now I want to read this book all the more! I can’t say that I would draw such a specific meaning from those words, in light of how other Greek scholars understand them. But he may have some linguistic insights that I haven’t seen yet. Thanks, Nick!

  8. dgsinclair, July 31, 2014 at 1:04 pm:

    >> Although the cultural prohibitions are indeed in the same letters, they are not in the immediate context of the prohibitions against homosexuality. Moreover, Paul explicitly states that those people listed in these passages “will not inherit the kingdom of God,” and that such things are contrary to the gospel itself.


    >> So, literally arsenokoitai means “man-bedder,” one who has sex with other men.

    Yes, or ‘male coitus’

    In his book on the subject, James white discusses arsenokotai like so:

    Now of course the key term used by Paul here is so clear that great effort has been put out by revisionist writers to attempt to blunt its testimony and cause people to be confused as to its meaning. Paul draws here two terms from the Greek Septuagint that are found in Leviticus 20:13 in the combination of ‘homosexual’: arsinos, meaning male, and koitos, the term from which we get the word coitus, sexual intercourse. It refers to men laying with men as a man lays with a woman, i.e. homosexuality. Given the Old Testament background of Leviticus 20:13, and the use of those terms, there can surely be no question about this meaning, and interestingly enough, in many of the books that have been written, many of which are right over there on the table, there is no even discussion of the Greek Septuagint background of Paul’s coining of this particular term.

    Revisionist attempts by Boswell, Scroggs, Scanzoni, Mollenkott all fail miserably to take into consideration all of the relevant factors and some of the most important writings, such as Boswell, have been shown to be so highly selective in their use of the data as to be simply dishonest. The meaning is clear; the term refers to what men do with men in bed.

    The meaning of arsenokoitai is clear, and I think we can all see that Paul didn’t all of a sudden take a massive detour between verses 25 and 28 of Romans chapter 1 to address Jewish purity issues. The condemnation of the New Testament is clear. The condemnation of the Old Testament is clear.

    • Rocky Munoz, July 31, 2014 at 1:28 pm:

      Thanks again for commenting! I really appreciate the excerpt from White’s book. As helpful as folks like Boswell have been in showing us some of the ambiguity of Christianity’s stance on homosexuality, I agree that there seemed to be a good bit of evidence that got overlooked or misrepresented.

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