In I Corinthians 6:9 Paul lists a many activities that will prevent people from inheriting the Kingdom of God. One has been variously translated as effeminate, homosexuals, or sexual perverts. The original Greek text reads malakoi arsenokoitai. The first word means soft; the meaning of the second word has been lost. It was once used to refer to a male temple prostitute (as in the verses from the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament described above). The early Church interpreted the phrase as referring to people of soft morals; i.e., unethical. From the time of Martin Luther, it was interpreted as referring to masturbation. More recently, it has been translated as referring to homosexuals . Each translator seem to take whatever activity that their society particularly disapproves of and use it in this verse.
Source: OCRT: Bible and Homosexuality
It is amazing the number of times that you will see the word “sodomite” or “homosexual” or “pervert” in different translations concerning this text. It is amazing because no one knows exactly what the words of the original text mean! The layperson, unfortunately, has no way of knowing that interpreters are guessing as to the exact meaning of these words. Pastors and laypersons often have to rely upon the authority of those who have written lexicons (dictionaries explaining the meaning of words) of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words. The authors of scriptural lexicons search for the meaning of the word within the scriptures themselves and also go outside of scripture and research literature written around the same time the scriptures were written. If the interpreter is already prejudiced against homosexuality they can translate these words as condemning homosexual sex even based upon little usage of that word in the Scriptures and little if any contemporaneous u sage of that word.
The truth is that the word some translators “transform” into “sodomite/homosexual/pervert” in I Corinthians 6:9-10 is actually TWO words. Some translators combine them because they “think” they go together but they DO NOT KNOW. This uncertainty is reflected in the fact that other translators keep the words separate and translate them “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind”.
The two words in the original Greek are malakoi and arsenokoitai. Malakoi is a very common Greek word. It literally means “soft”. It is used in Matthew 11:7-18 and Luke 7:24-25 in reference to soft clothing. Scholars have to look at material outside of the Bible in order to try and figure out just what this means. The early church Fathers used the word to mean someone who was “weak” or “soft” in their morals, and from the time of the reformation to the 20th century it was usually interpreted as masturbation. In Greek this word never is applied to gay people or homosexual acts in general. “No new textual data effected the twentieth-century change in translation of this word: only a shift in popular morality. Since few people any longer regard masturbation as the sort of activity which would preclude entrance to heaven, the condemnation has simply been transferred to a group still so widely despised that their exclusion does not trouble translators or theologians.” (See Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, John Boswell, University of Chicago Press, 1980, page 105-107) Arsenokoitai is discussed in the next section as it is found here and in I Timothy 1:8-11.
Note: Greek contained no word which compares to the English noun “homosexual,” meaning someone of homosexual orientation. In fact the word “homosexual” (meaning someone of homosexual orientation) was not even coined until the late 1800s by German psychologists, and introduced into English only at the beginning of the 1900s. (See Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, John Boswell, University of Chicago Press, 1980, page 42) However, during scriptural times there were a number of Greek words to describe homosexual sex acts and the two words malakoi and arsenokoitai do not appear among them (on arsenokoitai see Boswell, pp 345-346).
This paper is provided as a service of the Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka, authors Rev. Jonathan Loppnow and Rev. Paul C. Evans. It may be reproduced freely as long as the entire text is reproduced and unaltered, all attributions are left intact and it is not sold for profit or included in a for-profit publication.
Whosoever founder and Editor Emeritus Rev. Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. She earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She serves as the spiritual director of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C., and blogs at Motley Mystic.