Male Lovers in Ancient Greece

It is more and more common to hear claims that the Bible never uses the word homosexual. The answer is yes and no. First of all, No. As should be obvious, the Bible was not written in English, but rather Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek. So the word is not original to the book. Yes, because language changes but meaning doesn’t. The Bible properly interpreted does condemn the practice of homosexuality.

The real argument of is not if the word homosexual is found in the Bible but whether the verses condemning homosexuality are really condemning modern consensual and monogamous homosexual relationships or just abusive forms of sexual immorality. Some sympathetic to the gay community claim that the word homosexuality was added later by anti-gay forces in the church to stretch the meaning of the Bible to condemn homosexuality broadly while the Bible really only condemns abuse and exploitation. 

Six Little Verses

There are six key verses in the Bible that condemn homosexuality: Genesis 19:5, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10. The last two, contain lists of practices that preclude the violator entrance into heaven among which is homosexuality. It is these two verses that contain terms that some are saying do not apply to modern homosexual committed relationships.

Translated Correctly?

Modern translations such as the RSV, ESV, NASB, and NKJV started using the term homosexual mid-way through the 20th century. The first being the RSV in 1946. Gay advocates say that the usage of the word is due to an anti-gay agenda to condemn the gay community in a way that the previous translations did not.

A recent article by Ed Oxford on (See Link below) claims that German translations prior to the 1800’s use the term, Knabenschander,  which can be translated “boy molester”. Several translations from Scandinavia are claimed to use similar terms. Oxford uses these examples to show that early translations do not use words that condemn modern expressions of homosexuality and did not intend to.

It is important to understand that Bible translations are updated a little bit after language changes. Homosexual itself wasn’t coined as a word until 1892. So the it could not have been used before that and the fact that it shows up about 50 years later is about as early as it could have be absorbed into one of the English translations. Also, other translations in use still don’t use the word (KJV, Basic English, ASV, NIV). To say it was added by agenda only is unlikely and going beyond the evidence.

The ultimate answer to this question does not lie in translations but requires going back to the original Greek. Paul uses two words to describe homosexuality in these passages: Malakoi and Arsenokoitai. These words will have to be examined in more detail to determine what they meant to Paul’s first century Greek audience.

What does Malakoi mean?

Malakoi is a term commonly used in first century Greek culture and has various meanings. The word implies softness and is used to describe objects and People. When applied to persons it indicates moral weakness or that a person is effeminate. In the context of the passage Paul likely intends it to be translated “soft men”. The broader meaning being effeminate men who make themselves available for sex with other men. 

Critics would say that this term applies to either effeminate men not engaging in homosexuality or the many male temple prostitutes who were prevalent in Greek culture. I don’t think there is anyone wanting to say that the Bible condemns men of physical weakness or femininity and I would agree that the Bible does condemn temple prostitution. There is nothing in the passage, however, that would force us to limit the application of the term to just prostitution. That is just wishful thinking by the gay community.

Arsenokoitai: the word Paul Invented

Arsenokoitai was not a common Greek term but a Neologism created by Paul himself. This gives the advantage of not having its meaning changed by its usage in Greek culture but also the weakness of not being able to draw from other sources to understand its meaning.

The word has its origins in the Old Testament. In the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew old testament),  Leviticus 20:13 says : hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gynaikos. Paul combines the terms Arsenos and Koiten found together in this passage into a new word. “Arsen” means men and “Koite” means bed. A literal English translation of the word would be “a man who beds men”.

The gay community’s primary response to this word is that these were the johns of the temple prostitutes and so the word is still just condemning prostitution. The second is that These were boy molesters and the Bible condemns their behavior because it is abusive and exploitative. Again, I think the word does apply to those behaviors but there is nothing in the text that would limit it to just those abuses. Finally, temple prostitution did not exist in Israel during the writing of Leviticus so the fact that Paul derives his word from that source establishes a broader context than just Greek Culture and therefore a broader context for the word.

Other terms

Some want to point to words like Knabenshander to show that the church was not consistent in applying these terms to homosexuality but this is false. The large majority of church tradition is translates these passages as a prohibition of all forms of gay sex: either as sodomites or some form of “men who bed men.” It is somewhat dishonest to translate Knabenschander as applying only to molestation as the  New and Complete Dictionary of the German and English Languages in 1798, this same word meant “the disgraceful or ignominious Amour [read “sex”] among Men.”

It is important to note that Paul had several common Greek words available to him to use in these passages. The terms Eromenoi (Boys who court older men for sex), Paiderastia (Lover of Boys) Paidomanes (Man Mad for boys) and Paidophthoros (corrupted boys) were not used. This is a notable point. If Paul would have used them, first century Greeks may have interpreted the passage applied pederasty only. It is probable that Paul is coining the term Arsenokoitai specifically to avoid these other words so that he is clear that the condemnation extends to all forms of same sex love.

It is also interesting to note that the argument against the translation of the word homosexual does not apply to the Leviticus and Romans passages mentioned above. These passages do not use single terms but describe it in phrase form that is harder to confuse with other terms. Even if the Gay community was successful in showing that the Corinthians and Timothy passages don’t describe homosexuality, there are still passages that do.

Hidden Agendas

Most Christians will not be shaken by these arguments and ignore them, but within the LBGT community they are taken as fact. Some activists have used them to call out evangelicals as unsophisticated and not really knowing what their Bibles say. A recent article in the Huffington Post even said Franklin Graham should “read his Bible better.” It’s curious that someone would deny 2000 years of Church tradition on this subject and call out the church as having a modern anti-gay agenda. Seems like the LBGT has an agenda of their own to subvert the sound teaching of God’s word for their own purposes.

Timothy 4:3 (ESV Strong’s)

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,

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