“Homosexual” And “Homosexuality” In The New Testament

Below are some notes I compiled as part of a broader discussion about how Christians ought to think about homosexuality. The argument was made that the Bible does not really speak clearly to the question of homosexual behavior. In response I offered a brief account of Paul’s language in 1Corinthians 6:9 and 1Timothy 1:10.

The argument is sometimes made that Christian opposition to homosexuality is grounded solely in the Mosaic (Old Covenant) civil laws and thus, if Christians oppose homosexuality they must also seek to enforce the rest of the Mosaic civil and ceremonial legislation. If, however, there is clear teaching against homosexuality in the NT, that argument fails. In fact, the Mosaic civil laws in the Torah, the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) were intentionally temporary and typological and the Christian view is that they were fulfilled by Christ. The NT opposition to homosexuality is grounded not in the Mosaic civil legislation but in nature or natural law. The NT arguments against homosexuality are, in that way, like its teaching on marriage and the Sabbath: they are grounded in nature, in creation, and natural law and thus existed long before the institution of the Mosaic (Old Covenant) civil and ceremonial laws and have universal application. The moral law was summarized (typologically) in the Ten Commandments (in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5) and in Matthew 22:37–40, and widely throughout the NT.

Finally, just this morning I received a note in which it is claimed that the very concept of homosexuality did not exist until the 1860s. That claim is completely false. The ancient world, including the New Testament not only had a concept of homosexuality but a vocabulary to describe it, as will be seen below.

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In 1Corinthians 6:9 and 1Timothy 1:10 Paul condemns the “αρσενοκοιται” (arsenokoitai). The standard definition (Bauer, Arnt, Gingrich, Danker) is “a male who practices homosexuality, pederast, sodomite.” This is the way the word was understood in early Christian, post-canonical usage though it occurs in the same sense in the Sibylline Oracles (6th cent BC) ii.73. See Moulton and Milligan s.v.

Of course we want to avoid the etymological fallacy (deducing the meaning of a word by adding up its letters or component parts) because it does not always work and can produce misleading results but in this case it works because usage confirms what adding up the letters suggests. αρσην (arsen) = male and κοιτης (koites) = bed or euphemistically for sexual relations.

However uncomfortable it makes us late moderns, the text of 1Corinthians 6:9 is quite clear:

Or do you not know that the unjust (αδικοι) will not inherit the kingdom of God? Neither will you who deceive (πλανασθε) nor the sexually immoral (πορνοι) nor idolaters (ειδωλολατραι), nor adulterers (μοιχοι), nor the effeminate (μαλακοι), nor homosexuals (αρσενοκοιται).

I translate μαλακοι as “effeminate” because of the way it’s used in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Scriptures) for the “soft parts” and is used elsewhere in the sense of “effeminate, of a catamite, a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness, 1 Corinthians 6:9″ (BAGD, s.v.).

Paul was quite familiar with Corinth as a fairly depraved, cosmopolitan port city and he was well aware of the sorts of sexual immorality that were openly practiced there as elsewhere (e.g., Ephesus had pornographic graffiti that would make us blush). It seems clear that one thing, effeminate men who submit themselves to sexual abuse, perhaps homosexual prostitutes, led him to the last category, homosexuals.

Paul is announcing God’s judgment on several classes of sinful behaviors and warning those who commit them impenitently (without sorrow or struggle) that they must acknowledge their sin for what it is and turn to and put their trust in Jesus the Savior who obeyed and died for heterosexual and homosexual sinners and who offers free acceptance with God on the basis of faith (trust) in Jesus, the gracious Savior of helpless sinners.

10 comments

  1. Thanks, of necessity, been brewing more these days on this subject. Notably, after Mr. (Dr. Archbishop) Morgan of Wales made his pronouncement this week, the varied texts have come for review. Mr. Morgan illustrates (well) your first paragraph, to wit, the OT and NT does not deal with the issue. Sodom and Gomorrah–they had no concept of a “loving and committed relationship.” Ditto for the NT. 1 Tim. 1.10, while using arsenokoitai, does not address the issue of a loving and committed relationship, but, conversely, the opposite.

    Good article.

  2. Jesus uses malakos, in Matthew 11 and its close parallel in Luke 7, to tell us how John wasn’t dressed .. he wasn’t wearing ‘fine’ or ‘soft’ clothes. The contrast in both passages is with those who live in luxury, wearing clothest that are malakos (Matthew) or endoxo .. perhaps ‘glorious’ would be the right perspective on endoxo, as we are dealing here with a direct meeting of the materialistic / palatial over against the kingdom of God, in which there is none greater than John. We could paint the contrast as ‘ascetic’ versus ‘hedonistic’ or ‘spiritual’ versus ‘materialistic’ .. but I would suggest a good translatation for malakos in this context would be something like ‘decadent’. Reading malakos in this way might then colour our reading of it in Corinthians and Timothy. I would hardly suggest that the gospel passages should be definitive for our reading of the epistles, of course.

  3. Dr Clark,
    Have you interacted much with the works of Dr. Robert Gagnon? When I was at GCTS, I was told by Dr. Dennis Hollinger that Gagnon’s book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics, was the definitive work on the topic. Puzzling to me that he is an elder in the PCUSA but that’s another conversation.

  4. Honest question, and it comes about from having read comments from people who say they are Christian and yet affirm “marriage equality” or simply state they think homosexual marriage should be recognized by the state. Is it acceptable or allowable for a Christian to support the alteration of laws to make homosexuality more acceptable? Specifically, is it allowable for a Christian to support homosexual marriage? I get the sense that the answer to both is yes in part because of what I think is going on and being said in some quarters, at least among some in Reformed circles.

    I get the two-kingdom stuff, so I don’t need an intro about that. Whatever ideas a Christian may hold, I know good enough that no idea gives license to a Christian to call good what God has called evil or rejoice in what should cause sadness.

    Before I heard it coming from evangelicals, I heard this coming from some Reformed people claiming two-kingdoms, so I’ve been thinking about it for some time.

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