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Does the Greek word arsenokoitēs refer to homosexuals?

The Claim

The Greek word arsenokoitai (plural form of arsenokoitēs), is typically translated as referring to practicing homosexuals by standard English translations in 1 Corinthians 6:9[1] and 1 Timothy 1:10.[2] This is challenged by those seeking legitimization of homosexual behaviour within Christianity.

* 1975: Bailey[3] agreed the word refers to males involved in homosexual acts,[4] but not generally to ‘homosexuals’[5]

* 1980: Boswell[6] claimed the word only designates male prostitutes[7] [8]

* 1983: Scroggs[9] interpreted the word as referring only to abusive pederasty[10] [11]

* 1996: Martin[12] argued the traditional interpretation is false etymology[13] [14] [15] [16]

Scholarly Commentary

Scobie[17] and Campbell argue against the restriction of the word to pederasty.[18] Hays, Scobie, and Malick point out that the meaning is identified by its derivation from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where the component words refer to homosexual conduct.[19] [20] [21]

Wright identifies other compound verbs ending in –koitēs and referring to sexual activity.[22] Via agrees arsenokoitēs refers to homosexual activity.[23]

Standard Greek Lexicons

Standard Greek lexicons and dictionaries understand this word as a reference to homosexual behavior.[24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30]

[1] 1 Corinthians 6:9: ‘behaves like a homosexual’ (CEV), ‘men who practice homosexuality’ (ESV), ‘men who have sexual relations with other men’ (NCV), ‘practicing homosexuals’ (NET), ‘homosexual offenders’ (NIV84), ‘commit homosexual acts’ (NIrV), ‘practice homosexuality’ (NLT), ‘practicing homosexuals’ (TNIV).

[2] 1 Timothy 1:10: ‘live as homosexuals’ (CEV), ‘men who practice homosexuality’ (ESV), ‘who have sexual relations with people of the same sex’ (NCV), ‘practicing homosexuals’ (NET), ‘practice homosexuality’ (NLT), ‘practicing homosexuality’ (TNIV).

[3] Bailey, ‘Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition’ (1975).

[4] ‘He takes the term in 1 Cor 6:9 as denoting males who actively engage in homosexual acts, in contrast to μαλακοί (malakoi, “effeminate”), those who engage passively in such acts.’, De Young, ‘The Source and NT Meaning of Αρσενοκοιται, with Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry’, Masters Seminary Journal (3.2.193), 1992.

[5]However, he insists that Paul knew nothing of “inversion as an inherited trait, or an inherent condition due to psychological or glandular causes, and consequently regards all homosexual practice as evidence of perversion” (38). Hence Bailey limits the term’s reference in Paul’s works to acts alone and laments modern translations of the term as “homosexuals.” Bailey wants to distinguish between “the homosexual condition (which is morally neutral) and homosexual practices” [italics in source].’, ibid., p. 193.

[6] Boswell, ‘Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality’ (1980).

[7] ‘In an extended discussion of the term (341–53), he cites “linguistic evidence and common sense” to support his conclusion that the word means “male sexual agents, i.e. active male prostitutes.” His argument is that the arseno- part of the word is adjectival, not the object of the koitai which refers to base sexual activity. Hence the term, according to Boswell, designates a male sexual person or male prostitute.’, De Young, ‘The Source and NT Meaning of Αρσενοκοιται, with Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry’, Masters Seminary Journal (3.2.193-194), 1992.

[8] He nevertheless recognized his interpretation was marginal; ‘He acknowledges, however, that most interpret the composite term as active, meaning “those who sleep with, make their bed with, men.”’, ibid., p. 194.

[9] Scroggs, ‘The New Testament and Homosexuality’ (1983).

[10]Hence arsenokoitai does not refer to homosexuality in general, to female homosexuality, or to the generic model of pederasty. It certainly cannot refer to the modern gay model, he affirms (109). This is Scrogg’s interpretation of the term in 1 Tim 1:10 also. The combination of πόρνοι (pornoi, “fornicators”), arsenokoitai, and ἀνδραποδισταῖ (andrapodistai, “slave-dealers”) refers to “male prostitutes, males who lie [with them], and slave dealers [who procure them]” (120). It again refers to that specific form of pederasty “which consisted of the enslaving of boys as youths for sexual purposes, and the use of these boys by adult males” (121).’, De Young, ‘The Source and NT Meaning of Αρσενοκοιται, with Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry’, Masters Seminary Journal (3.2.196-197), 1992.

[11]Consequently Paul “must have had, could only have had pederasty in mind” (122, italics in source). We cannot know what Paul would have said about the “contemporary model of adult/adult mutuality in same sex relationships” (122).’, ibid., p. 197.

[12] Martin, ‘Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences’, in Brawley (ed.), ‘Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality: Listening to Scripture’ (1996).

[13]It is highly precarious to try to ascertain the meaning of a word by taking it apart, getting the meanings of its component parts, and then assuming, with no supporting evidence, that the meaning of the longer word is a simple combination of its component parts.’, Martin, ‘Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences’, in Brawley (ed.), ‘Biblical ethics & homosexuality: listening to scripture’, p. 119 (1996).

[14] ‘Thus, all definitions of arsenokoitês that derive its meaning from its components are naive and indefensible.’,  ibid., p. 119.

[15] ‘It seems to have referred to some kind of economic exploitation by means of sex,’, ibid., p. 120.

[16] He also argued that no one knows what it means; ‘I am not claiming to know what arsenokoitês meant, I am claiming that no one knows what it meant.’, ibid., p. 123.

[17]There is no evidence that the term was restricted to pederasty; beyond doubt, the NT here repeats the Leviticus condemnation of all same-sex relations (cf. J.G. Taylor 1995: 6-7; Hays 1996: 382-83).’, Scobie, ‘The Ways of Our God: An approach to biblical theology’, p. 838 (2003).

[18] ‘In response, however, it must be pointed out, first, that arsenokoites is a broad term that cannot be confined to specific instances of homosexual activity such as male prostitution or pederasty. This is in keeping with the term’s Old Testament background where lying with a “male” (a very general term) is proscribed, relating to “every kind of male-male intercourse.”13 In fact, the Old Testament “bans every type of homosexual intercourse.” not just male prostitution or intercourse with youths.’, Campbell, ‘Marriage and Family in the Biblical World’, p. 243 (2003).

[19] ‘Although the word arsenokoitēs appears nowhere in Greek literature prior to Paul’s use of it, it is evidently a rendering into Greek of the standard rabbinic term for “one who lies with a male [as with a woman]” (Lev. 18:22; 20:13). (Despite recent challenges to this interpretation, the meaning is confirmed by the evidence of the Sybilline Oracles 2.73). Paul here repeats the standard Jewish condemnation of homosexual conduct.’, Hays, ‘First Corinthians’, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching, p. 97 (1997).

[20]It clearly echoes the Greek of Lev 18:22 and 20:13 in the LXX (arsen = “male,” and koite = “bed”), so that arsenokoites literally means “one who goes to bed with a male” (cf. Malick 1993b: 482-87).’, Scobie, ‘The Ways of Our God: An approach to biblical theology’, p. 838 (2003).

[21] ‘It is significant that of all the terms available in the Greek language, Paul chose a compound from the Septuagint that in the broadest sense described men lying with men as they would lie with women.’, Malick, ‘The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9’, Bibliotheca Sacra (150.600.484), 1996.

[22] ‘He points out that in all other similar compounds ending in -koites the first half specifies the object of the sleeping, or its scene or sphere. That is, the first part always functions in an adverbial sense.21 This is because koites has a verbal force, in most not all instances, arseno denotes the object.22 Hence, the compound word refers to those who sleep with males, and denotes “‘male homosexual activity’ without qualification.”’, Haas, ‘Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice’ (1), 1999; other –koitēs/os cognates include doulokoitēs (sexual relations with slaves, doulos), mētrokoitēs (sexual relations with one’s mother, mētēr), and polukoitos (sexual relations with many people, polus).

[23] ‘True the meaning of a compound word does not necessarily add up to the sum of its parts (Martin 119). But in this case I believe the evidence suggests that it does.’, Via, ‘Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views’, p. 13 (2003); Via acknowledges this despite supporting homosexual unions.

[24] ‘ἀρσενοκοίτης, ου, ὁ   arsenokoitēs   male homosexual* Referring to a male who engages in sexual activity with men or boys: 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10; Pol. Phil. 5:3; W. L. PETERSEN, “Can ἀρσενοκοῖται be translated by ‘Homosexuals’?” Vigiliae Christianae 40 (1986) 187-91. — D. F. WRIGHT, Translating ΑΡΣΕΝΟΚΟΙΤΑΙ,” Vigiliae Christianae 41 (1987) 396-98.’, Balz & Schneider, ‘Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament’, p. 158 (1990).

[25] ‘ἀρρενοκοίτης, ου, ὁ, sodomite, AP9.686, (Maced. iv/vi A.D., v. BCHsuppl. 8 no. 87); (ἀρσ-) 1Ep.Cor.6.9.’, Liddell, Scott, Jones, & McKenzie, ‘A Greek-English Lexicon’, p. 246 (rev. and augm. throughout, 19996).

[26] ‘ἀρσενοκοίτης, ου, ὁ    an adult male who practices sexual intercourse with another adult male or a boy homosexual, sodomite, pederast.’, Friberg, Friberg, & Miller, ‘Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament’, p. 76 (2000).

[27] ‘ἄρσην G781 (arsēn), male; θῆλυς G2559 (thēlys), female; ἀρσενοκοίτης G780 (arsenokoitēs), male homosexual, pederast, sodomite.’, Brown, ‘New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology’, volume 2, p. 562 (1986).

[28] ‘88.280 ἀρσενοκοίτης, ου m: a male partner in homosexual intercourse—‘homosexual.’’, Louw & Nida, ‘Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains’, volume 1, p. 771 (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition 1996).

[29] ‘733. ἀρσενοκοίτης arsenokoítēs; gen. arsenokoítou, masc. noun, from ársēn (730), a male, and koítē (2845), a bed. A man who lies in bed with another male, a homosexual (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10 [cf. Lev. 18:22; Rom. 1:27]).’, Zodhiates, ‘The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament’ (electronic ed. 2000).

[30]a male who engages in sexual activity w. a pers. of his own sex, pederast 1 Cor 6:9 (on the impropriety of RSV’s ‘homosexuals’ [altered to ‘sodomites’ NRSV] s. WPetersen, VigChr 40, ’86, 187–91; cp. DWright, ibid. 41, ’87, 396–98; REB’s rendering of μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται w. the single term ‘sexual pervert’ is lexically unacceptable), of one who assumes the dominant role in same-sex activity, opp. μαλακός (difft. DMartin, in Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality, ed. RBrawley, ’96, 117–36); 1 Ti 1:10; Pol 5:3. Cp. Ro 1:27. Romans forbade pederasty w. free boys in the Lex Scantinia, pre-Cicero (JBremmer, Arethusa 13, ’80, 288 and notes); Paul’s strictures against same-sex activity cannot be satisfactorily explained on the basis of alleged temple prostitution (on its rarity, but w. some evidence concerning women used for sacred prostitution at Corinth s. LWoodbury, TAPA 108, ’78, 290f, esp. note 18 [lit.]), or limited to contract w. boys for homoerotic service (s. Wright, VigChr 38, ’84, 125–53).’, Arndt, Danker, & Bauer (eds.), ‘A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature’, p. 135 (3rd ed. 2000).

  1. James Hart
    September 2, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Given Paul’s understanding of the Old Testament, which is all he had, Homosexuality was forbidden, Paul’s readers would have understood this. Nevertheless, the contemporary church needs to be aware of the leaven of the pharisees; while condeming homosexual activity the church engages in pride, greed , gluttony, indifference (lack of active love), lack of prayer and generally failing to pick up the cross daily to follow Jesus. I have often told my students that if a ‘gay’ couple lived next door to me, I would love them as Jesus commanded, invite them in , dine with them and share the love of Jesus that God so freely gave me. It is the goodness of God that leads people to repentance so I shall be an imitator of God as a beloved child (Ephesians 5:1); I shall love my neighbour as myself for it is by love that people will know that we are Jesus’ disciples.

    • Jonathan Burke
      September 2, 2013 at 10:36 am

      Homosexuality was not forbidden, only homosexual activity. There is no question that we should treat gay couples as you describe, but Christians ought not to condone illicit sexual activity, whether by homosexuals or heterosexuals.

      • nathan
        May 17, 2016 at 2:27 pm

        homesexuality was not forbidden only homsexual activity?

        thats like saying a murdereous heart was not forbidden only the act of murder.

        But Jesus came and showed us what the demands of the Law really was and how he was going to help us to keep them. that if a man looked to lust after another woman he was Guilty of adultery. because God judges the heart of man for that is what he is. and it was the Heart he needed to restore through Christ, i e being Born again is the purpose of a new heart. a new spirit in which we cry abba and have empressioned in it the laws of God. to love them. to have a heart made of stone turned into flesh.

        so homosexuality is forbidden under Grace. Because as High as Jesus is to moses so his his Grace to Moses law. moses required acts Jesus required heart. moses provided a way for them to fullfill the law So does Jesus, with Grace.

      • Jonathan Burke
        May 18, 2016 at 6:38 am

        Yes homosexuality was not forbidden, only homosexual activity. If you can find a law in the Law of Moses which says “Thou shalt not be homosexual”, please let me know. And yes, in the Law of Moses you weren’t punished for having a murderous heart either; there was no law which said “If you think murderous thoughts you will be put to death”. That’s precisely why the law of Christ is a far higher moral standard. But even in the New Testament there is no prohibition against being homosexual, any more than there is a prohibition against being heterosexual. There is only a prohibition against illicit sexual acts, some of them heterosexual and some of them homosexual.

    • February 13, 2014 at 5:00 am

      You are correct, but they would not be Christian until they give up their gay lifestyle.

      Romans 12: 9 “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.” Love is not genuine unless you hate evil. All sexual conduct outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is evil.

  2. Grant of Melbourne
    September 12, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    I love the argument Ben, however one small issue. To restrict someone’s “eligibility” because they are a “sinner” then guess what buddy! EVERYONE IS DOOMED! You clearly skipped the bit where Jesus teaches that in the eyes of God none are righteous, none are without sin and none are worthy. Guess it may have been the plank in your eye.

    So Ben, until you become completely free of all sin I guess you may need to keep a lid on your opinion because again we are taught that the measure we judge by is the measure by which we are judged. Oh and Jesus did say all are welcome into the Kingdom of God… guess your wrong again buddy.

    I’m still not sure why there is this focus on one group in the community too. Why not go all out against prostitutes? Thieves? the tax office (the Bible really has nothing nice to say about them)? Corporations who fleece people (violations of OT law)? People who work on the Sabbath (like your minister… what a scum bag)? Yeah, I guess its easier to pick on the gay community.

    As Christians you are not meant to condone any form of sinful behaviour, condoning also means allowing by omission, passive consent (not actively saying no to things or renouncing them), tacit consent or by carrying out the actions yourself. To focus on homosexuality is in itself a fallacy and I personally believe only done to make most of you lot feel better about yourselves. None are without sin.

    Here is a different plan, one suggested by Jesus (you know the chap your meant to follow, but somehow you all ended up following Paul), focus on making yourself a better person. Improve yourself and not worry about what others are doing, their sin is theirs, it is not your concern. Learn to walk like Christ.

  3. Truth Preacher
    September 15, 2014 at 11:03 am

    Well grant, we focus on the Sodomites because they want to overthrow the order of God, pervert marriage, and persecute and prosecute ANY who would preach and teach against this abomination. THAT IS WHY. Who do you think is behind all the hate-speech bills in Congress seeking to criminalize certain speech? Why it is the Sodomites. A more intolerant and hateful group of rabid sinners cannot be found, except in Islam. If you doubt it, go to a Gay Pride event in any city and watch these perverts. Preach the gospel to them and see how these violent, hateful people act.

    Lastly, I leave you with the words of God:

    Jud 1:7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

  4. March 31, 2015 at 7:14 am

    But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer who is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person.

  5. July 20, 2015 at 3:48 am

    Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:

    For reference.

  6. IchBinMeisterin
    July 19, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    I’m not Christian, but as a linguist, it appears highly likely that the word “arsenokoitai” refers to homosexual intercourse.

    1- St Paul writes to people who already have knowledge of the old laws.
    2- In Leviticus 20:13, the words used are: “Kai os an koimithei meta ARSENOS KOITAIN GYNAIKOS.”
    3- Hence, it is fair to conclude that Paul’s use of “arsenokoitai” is a contraction of the reference in Leviticus 20:13.

    • Jonathan Burke
      July 19, 2016 at 7:15 pm

      Yes. That is what I argue in this article.

  7. Gerson Mgaya
    February 18, 2017 at 3:02 am

    Jonathan Burke, do you know how I could get your book? (Living on the Edge)?

    • Jonathan Burke
      February 18, 2017 at 3:02 am

      Yes, send a message to me through the site email address and I’ll let you know.

    • Jonathan Burke
      October 2, 2017 at 2:34 pm

      It’s available here.

  8. Dave
    October 2, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    We can get to argue about what St Paul meant based on what we think he would have known etc etc, but we can only presume what he knew based on what he wrote and that is a very weak presumption. St Paul was trained as a Pharisee so he would have known the Old Testament back to front. Logic dictates that everything that Almighty God created has a purpose and the original purpose of mankind was to fill the earth. Can homosexuals fulfill this purpose? No. As has been mentioned, as true Christians, we are to love our neighbours and extend to them God’s love, however at the same time we cannot condone their activities, this keeps g ourselves clean as best we can, as we are all sinners. At the end of the day, we should be doing our best to follow Jesus’ example and keep ourselves clean, but we leave the judgement to Almighty God.

  9. stephen mihailides
    December 3, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    arsenokoitai is an abused word. Apply a simple grammatical analysis. It is used in the *plural* declension in the Epistle during Paul’s address of the then world. It is in the Dative AND plural declension. It is to an audience of men and women. Koitai is slang for female prostitute or for ‘bed’ and as a FEMININE article. Arseno is ‘male’. In the Vulgate translation about 450 AD, the meaning was preserved. It was more or less preserved in the King James 1611 translation to read ABUSERS OF Themselves WITH MANKIND. The ‘mankind’ was about Mankind, ie humanity. Abusers of themselves, was well preserved plural declension. As Arseno goes, it’s about the male and what goes on in his bed at home in the marital bed, ‘koitai’, with the prostitute connotation to be taken as PLURAL and Mankind as in Men and Women.

    So, as the emphasis went, a man having sex in the marital bed, in conceit and in vanity of defiance to engorge with sexual arousal with whoever he is with, and not married to. To ‘get off’ about ‘cheat sex’. That could be the wife with the husband’s friend or with another male. In the marital bed. That could be the husband with another woman. The emphasis, was about transmission of vanity and conceit and degradation of character through the sexual act. It was not meant to be relevant whether the actual sexual partner was male-male or male-female, because the act of violation is the conceit to ‘get off’ at home in the marital bed, in a violation of fidelity.

    The warning Paul made was about implications for social decay for conceit of sexual greed and arousal in that ‘abusers of themselves with Mankind’ emphasis. It also warned that to be complicit in that act, was to use a woman to transmit a disease of vanity between two men.

    It was never about homosexuality, at all. The related term, malakoi, was about the affliction of VANITY in adornment of self-display in the conceit of that kind of display to be about self-display for its own sake. It was a warning about the weakening of mankind by succumbing to the affliction of vanity and greeds, sexual.

    • Jonathan Burke
      December 3, 2017 at 6:32 pm

      This doesn’t address any of the evidence and conclusions in the standard professional lexicons.

  1. May 28, 2012 at 5:50 pm
  2. February 12, 2013 at 2:50 am
  3. July 4, 2013 at 12:49 pm
  4. July 17, 2013 at 4:42 pm
  5. September 18, 2015 at 10:51 am

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