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Does the Greek word malakos refer to homosexual acts?

The Claim

The Greek word malakoi (plural form of malakoi), is typically translated as referring to males practicing homosexual acts by standard English translations in 1 Corinthians 6:9.[1] [2] This is challenged by those seeking legitimization of homosexual behaviour within Christianity.[3] [4]

The Facts

Lexical evidence from Greek texts indicates the word was used to refer to the passive partner in a male homosexual act.[5] [6] [7] [8] The meaning of the word is not confined to male prostitutes,[9] or sexually exploited males.[10] [11] [12]

Lexical Sources

Standard Greek lexicons and dictionaries understand this word as a reference to the passive partner in a male homosexual act.[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18]

Scholarly Commentary

The majority of commentators and translators understand malakos to refer to the passive partner in a male homosexual act. [19] [20] [21]


[1] 1 Corinthians 6:9, ‘men who practice homosexuality’ (ESV), ‘men who have sexual relations with other men’ (NCV), ‘homosexual partners’ (NET).

[2] More ambiguously ‘is a pervert’ (CEV), ‘male prostitutes’ (NIV84), ‘men who are prostitutes’ (NIrV), ‘male prostitutes’ (NLT), ‘male prostitutes’ (TNIV); a standard Greek lexicon says (‘male prostitutes’ NRSV is too narrow a rendering; ‘sexual pervert’ REB is too broad)=Pol 5:3.—S. lit. s.v. ἀρσενοκοίτης. B. 1065. DELG. M-M.’, Arndt, Danker, & Bauer (eds.), ‘A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature’, p. 613 (3rd ed. 2000)..

[3] ‘Olsen insists that the μαλακοί in Paul’s time, “almost always referred in a negative, pejorative way to a widely despised group of people who functioned as effeminate ‘call boys’“ (Mark Olson, “Untangling the Web: A Look at What Scripture Does and Does Not Say about Homosexual Behavior,” Other Side, April 1984, 33–34). Scroggs affirms that, “the word in Paul’s list refers specifically to this category of person, the effeminate call-boy” (The New Testament and Homosexuality, 42).’, Malick, ‘The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9’, Bibliotheca Sacra (150.600.482), 1993.

[4] ‘Though Scroggs is careful to note that μαλακός is not a technical term for “effeminate,” he relates the definition of “effeminate” exclusively to pederasty: “The use of malakos would almost certainly conjure up images of the effeminate call-boy, if the context otherwise suggested some form of pederasty.”’, ibid., p. 487.

[5] ‘A particularly significant expression of this usage may be found in a letter from Demophon, a wealthy Egyptian, to Ptolemaeus, a police official, concerning needed provisions for a coming festival.’, ibid., p. 487; Malick supplies the text ‘“Demophon to Ptolemaeus, greeting. Make every effort to send me the flute-player Petoüs with both the Phrygian flutes and the rest; and if any expense is necessary, pay it, and you shall recover it from me. Send me also Zenobius the effeminate [μαλακόν] with a drum and cymbals and castanets, for he is wanted by the women for the sacrifice; and let him wear as fine clothes as possible” (“Letter of Demophon to Ptolemaeus” [from mummy wrappings found in the necropolis of El-Hibeh about 245 B.C.], The Hibeh Papyri: Part I, no. 54, 200–201).’, ibid., p. 449.

[6] ‘ In classical Greek, μαλακός was also used to refer to boys and men who allowed themselves to be used homosexually.4 It was also applied to a man taking the female or passive role in homosexuality. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who wrote Roman Antiquities around 7 B.C., described Aristodemus of Cumae as μαλακός because he had been “effeminate” (θηλυδρίας) as a child and had undergone the things associated with women.5 In classical literature the word μαλακός is sometimes applied to obviously gay persons. Lucian describes the blood of some priests he condemns for passive homosexual behavior as μαλακός.6 This cannot be dismissed as not indicating anything about the sexuality of the individuals in question. These were priests who spent their time seeking group sexual encounters. While there is some ambiguity with regard to μαλακός, it is not beyond reason to see the word representing the passive parties in homosexual intercourse. This is even more reasonable when it is in juxtaposition with ἀρσενοκοιτής which does imply an active homosexual role. It is interesting that in Aristotle’s Problems, a lengthy discussion of the origins of homosexual passivity, he employs the word μαλακός. In its general sense the word does mean “unrestrained,” but not without any particularly homosexual context.’, Ukleja, ‘The Bible and Homosexuality Part II: Homosexuality in the New Testament’, Bibliotheca Sacra.

[7] ‘In classical Greek, malakos is used of boys and men who allow themselves to be used homosexually and of those who play the part of the passive partner in homosexual intercourse.77 In Roman Antiquities, written about 7 B.C. by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Aristodemus of Cumae is called malakos because he had been “effeminate” (thēludrias) as a child, having undergone things associated with women.78 Thus, while there is some ambiguity about malakos, there is evidence in supporting the view that it refers to the passive partner in homosexual intercourse. Moreover, this view is further supported by its use with arsenokoitēs, a term for the active member in such acts.’, Feinberg, Feinberg, & Huxley, ‘Ethics for a Brave New World’, pp. 200–201 (1996).

[8]This usage is well attested. Plato observes in Phaedrus that an older lover “will plainly court a beloved who is effeminate [malthakos].” Oi Malthakoi, a comedy of Cratinus, deals with effeminate men.151 There exists an Egyptian letter dating from roughly 145 B.C., in which malakos almost certainly refers to passive male homosexuality.’, Greenberg, ‘The Construction of Homosexuality’, p. 212 (1990).

[9] ‘When it is employed in reference to sexual relationships of men with men, however, it is also not a technical term for male call-boys in a pederastic setting. The term may mean effeminate with respect to boys or men who take the role of a woman in homosexual relationships.’, Malick, ‘The Condemnation of Homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9’, Bibliotheca Sacra (150.600.490), 1993.

[10] ‘The other word used to designate same sex relations in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is malakoi. This word refers to the passive partner sexually, an effeminate male who plays the role of a female.’, Schreiner, ‘A New Testament Perspective on Homosexuality’, Themelios(31.3.70), April 2006.

[11] ‘Paul could have used the more technical term paiderastēs (a pederast) if he had intended to restrict his comments to exploitative sex. Furthermore, if the only problem in view were sex that exploits others, there would be no need for Paul to mention the passive partner as well since he is the one being oppressed, and not the oppressor.’, ibid., p. 71.

[12] ‘The terms malakoi and molles could be used broadly to refer to effeminate or unmanly men. But in specific contexts it could be used in ways similar to the more specific terms cinaedi  (lit., “butt-shakers”) and pathici (“those who undergo [penetration]”) to denote effeminate adult males who are biologically and/or psychologically disposed to desire penetration by men. For example, in Soranus’s work On Chronic Diseases (early 2nd century A.D.) the section on men who desire to be penetrated (4.9.131-37) is entitled “On the molles or subacti (subjugated or penetrated partners, pathics) whom the Greeks call malthakoi.” An Aristotelian text similarly refers to those who are anatomically inclined toward the receptive role as malakoi (Pseudo-Aristotle, Problems 4.26). Astrological texts that speak of males desirous of playing the penetrated female role also use the term malakoi (Ptolemy, Four Books 3.14 §172; Vettius Valens, Anthologies 2.37.54; 2.38.82; cf. Brooten, 126 n. 41, 260 n. 132). The complaint about such figures in the ancient world generally, and certainly by Philo, centers around their attempted erasure of the masculine stamp given them by God/nature, not their exploitation of others, age difference, or acts of prostitution.’, Gagnon, ‘Dale Martin and the Myth of Total Textual Indeterminacy’ (2007); http://www.robgagnon.net/DaleMartinResponse.htm.

[13]pert. to being passive in a same-sex relationship, effeminate esp. of catamites, of men and boys who are sodomized by other males in such a relationship, opp. ἀρσενοκοίτης (Dionys. Hal. 7, 2, 4; Dio Chrys. 49 [66], 25; Ptolem., Apotel. 3, 15, 10; Vett. Val. 113, 22; Diog. L. 7, 173; PHib 54, 11 [c. 245 B.C.] may have this mng.: a musician called Zenobius ὁ μαλακός [prob. with a sideline, according to Dssm., LO 131, 4—LAE 164, 4]. S. also a Macedon. ins in LDuchesne and CBayet, Mémoire sur une Mission au Mont Athos 1876 no. 66 p. 46; Plautus, Miles 668 cinaedus [Gk. κίναιδος] malacus; cp. the atttack on the morality of submissive homoeroticism Aeschin. 1, 188; DCohen, Greece and Rome 23, ’76, 181f) 1 Cor 6:9 (‘male prostitutes’ NRSV is too narrow a rendering; ‘sexual pervert’ REB is too broad)=Pol 5:3.—S. lit. s.v. ἀρσενοκοίτης. B. 1065. DELG. M-M.’, Arndt, Danker, & Bauer (eds.), ‘A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature’, p. 613 (3rd ed. 2000).

[14] ‘The vice catalog of 1 Cor 6:9 mentions the μαλακοί, soft people / weaklings, as reprehensible examples of passive homosexuality (cf. Rom 1:27; Lev 20:13; Ep. Arist. 152; Sib. Or. 3:184ff., 584ff.; see Billerbeck III, 70; H. Conzelmann, 1 Cor [Hermeneia] ad loc. [bibliography]).’, Balz & Schneider, ‘Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament’, volume 2, p. 381 (1990).

[15] ‘figuratively, in a bad sense of men effeminate, unmanly; substantivally ὁ μ. especially of a man or boy who submits his body to homosexual lewdness catamite, homosexual pervert (1C 6.9)’, Friberg, Friberg, & Miller, ‘Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament’, p. 252 (2000).

[16] ‘88.281 μαλακόςb, οῦ m: the passive male partner in homosexual intercourse—‘homosexual.’ For a context of μαλακόςb, see 1 Cor 6:9–10 in 88.280. As in Greek, a number of other languages also have entirely distinct terms for the active and passive roles in homosexual intercourse.’, Louw & Nida, ‘Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: Based on semantic domains’, volume 1, p. 771-772 (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition 1996).

[17] ‘μαλακός , ή, όν soft, fancy, luxurious; homosexual pervert (1 Cor 6:9)’, Newman, ‘A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament’, p. 110 (1993).

[18] ‘3120. μαλακός malakós; fem. malakḗ, neut. malakón, adj. Soft to the touch, spoken of clothing made of soft materials, fine texture (Matt. 11:8; Luke 7:25). Figuratively it means effeminate or a person who allows himself to be sexually abused contrary to nature. Paul, in 1 Cor. 6:9, joins the malakoí, the effeminate, with arsenokoítai (733), homosexuals, Sodomites.’, Zodhiates, ‘The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament’ (electronic ed. 2000).

[19]Most translators render it as “effeminates” or “catamites,” implying receptive anal homosexuality – or use a less precise term like sodomite or homosexual.’, Greenberg, ‘The Construction of Homosexuality’, p. 212 (1990).

[20] ‘In the first (1946) edition of the RSV, Gk malakoí and arsenokoítai in 1 Cor. 6:9 were together rendered “homosexuals.” Boswell (p. 107) would translate these terms as “the wanton” and “male prostitutes” respectively. Such translations are linguistically possible but hardly necessary. Most commentators and translators continue to understand these terms as references to passive and active partners in male homosexual intercourse.’, Blandstra & Verhey, ‘Sex; Sexuality’, in Bromiley, ‘The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia’, volume 4, p. 437 (rev. ed. 1998)

[21]In general there is broad (but not unanimous) agreement that μαλακοί in 1 Cor 6:9–10 denotes “the passive … partner … in male homosexual relations” (Barrett),’, Thiselton, ‘The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A commentary on the Greek text’, New International Greek Testament Commentary, p. 449 (2000).

  1. Thomas
    December 24, 2011 at 2:24 am

    Actually kinaides in 1st century Greek society referred to the receptive male sexual partner. Malakos was used in nearly every instance in the sense of “delicate”–as in soft raiment as in Matthew as in unprincipled (thus cowardly) as in secular Greek writings. So sad that even most scholars cannot get beyond their own biases. Concession: It is possible (but not likely) that malakos in 1 Cor 6:9 (and again in 1 Timothy) can be used to refer to the delicately made up call boy (or receptive temple prostitute), a common site in Corinth of Paul’s day. However, to state that the implication goes further to any male/male relationship is to incorrectly divide the word of God.

  2. Paul
    August 13, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Thomas, you are wrong. It’s a shame people like you try to twist scripture to fit your own agenda. Malakos has never been translated into cowardly and it’s ridiculous that everything in Leviticus 18 is related to SEXUAL immorality, but somehow we are to believe that in this instance, God is speaking about the “cowardly”.

    You and others who twist scripture are only lying to yourselves.

  3. July 20, 2015 at 3:47 am

    Reblogged this on gottadobetterthanthis and commented:

    For reference.

  4. August 22, 2015 at 5:24 am

    Just when I ask a question in general does anybody ever reply to your blog because I just got with wordpress.com I’m not getting a reply as maybe I’m still not good enough for folks maybe I need to go to a Christian stripe because that’s what I use Christian writings just give me your opinion if you will God bless

  1. November 29, 2012 at 9:16 am
  2. June 2, 2014 at 8:02 pm
  3. November 2, 2015 at 8:20 am

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