A Theology of Sex: Paul and Homosexuality (Part 2)

theologyofsexThere were many forms of the paraenetic address in ancient literature, but one such form that we find in Paul’s writings is the virtue and vice list. Paul uses this format often to give moral instruction to his readers and among two of his vice lists we find the subject of homosexuality. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and in 1 Timothy 1:9-10 Paul instructs his readers to stay away from same-sex intercourse.

The two passages in question here include homosexuality in their lists of sins. The 1 Corinthians passage includes it as a vice that is not to be found among God’s people. The 1 Timothy passage includes it as a sin that is condemned under the Mosaic Law. In each case the point is that these behaviors are condemned by God. Nonetheless there is still debate about exactly how or even if these lists are speaking about homosexuality.

The terms at the heart of this debate are “Malakos” and “Arsenokoite”. Traditional translations of the terms have been related to homosexuality. So The ESV translates both terms as “men who practice homosexuality.” The NIV, regrettably, uses “homosexuals” and “perverts”. The NASB uses “effeminate” and “homosexuals”. Despite the general uniformity pro-Gay advocates have offered alternative explanations, either narrowing or expanding the meaning. In general the explanations suggest that Paul is speaking of male prostitution, not homosexuality.

One difficulty interpreters have with the terms is that “arsenokoite” appears nowhere else in the entirety of Greek literature. It is a neologism which it seems was coined by Paul himself. technically it means something like “bedders of males” or “men who take other males to bed.” There were terms for “homosexual” in the Greek language of Paul’s day, so some wonder why Paul invented a word instead of using one of these preexisting terms? John Boswell argues, based on this information, that Paul is not talking about homosexuality itself, but rather to men who prostitute themselves. The best explanation seems, however, to tie the term itself to the vice lists of Leviticus 18 and 20. Most scholars believe that Paul is paralleling the lists and structure found in those passages. David Wright argues, convincingly, that Hellenistic Jews had developed this word based on the Septuagint’s rendering of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. He argues that they have combined two words: “arsen” (male) and “koite” (bed or lying), and then attached a masculine personal suffix “denoting agent or doer of the action” (Gagnon, 315). The connection to same-sex intercourse is strengthened when we see it paired with the term “malakos”.

On the term “Malakos” we find renderings that narrow it to mean simply passive prostituting males, and translations that broaden it simply to mean “effeminate men” (which could mean anything from passive recipients in sex, or something more akin to an ancient metrosexual with love of clothes and pampering). The broad possibilities for the term, however, means that it’s usage must be dictated by context and so we must carefully consider its place in Paul’s vice lists.

Recall that in 1 Corinthians Paul’s point is to identify those who are excluded from the Kingdom of God. So he has in mind a serious offense. Note too that in the passage under consideration “Malakoi” is sandwiched between adulterer and arsenokoitai (people who have something to do with same-sex intercourse). Since the term can refer to sexually passive males, and since it is placed between two other categories of sexual immorality, it seems only logical to conclude that Paul’s concern is sexual immorality.

It strikes me as hard to prove the alternate interpretations on linguistic grounds. There is nothing in the terms themselves that denotes sexual activity as a trade, or ideas of buying, or prostitution itself. There is certainly nothing in the context that suggest that. Rather, like its parallels in Leviticus 18 and 20 the focus is on same-sex intercourse generally. As hard as that may be to accept, the text is fairly straight forward.

I have tried to demonstrate over the last few weeks that homosexuality is not acceptable according to Scripture. We have looked at passages from both the Old and New Testament and, I believe, seen an univocal picture of the Bible’s sexual ethic as it relates to same-sex intercourse. I write these things not to cause pain to my dear Gay and Lesbian friends, but to encourage them to reconsider what they believe the Bible teaches. I say to them now in writing, as I have said to them in person, “I love you, but I must be faithful to what God says first and foremost.” That’s not always easy to do, but it is expected of me. Perhaps more challenging, is the fact that it is expected of them too.

Tomorrow I will look more generally at why sexual issues matter to the church, and then next week I will wrap up this whole year-long study with a reflection on what I have learned.

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