Homosexuality: Rebellion Against God
A scholar of Paul explains how the great Apostle understood--and decried--homosexuality.
BY: Richard B. Hays
In I Corinthians 6, Paul, exasperated with the Corinthians, some of whom apparently believe themselves to have entered a spiritually exalted state in which the moral rules of their old existence no longer apply to them (cf. I Cor. 4:8, 5:1-2, 8:1-9), confronts them with a blunt rhetorical question: "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?" He then gives an illustrative list of the sorts of persons he means: "fornicators, idolaters, adulterers,malakoi, arsenokoitai,
thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers."
I have left the terms pertinent to the present issue untranslated, because their translation has been disputed. The word malakoi is not a technical term meaning "homosexuals" (no such term existed either in Greek or in Hebrew), but it appears often in Hellenistic Greek as pejorative slang to describe the "passive" partners-often young boys-in homosexual activity. The word, arsenokoitai., is not found in any extant Greek text earlier than I Corinthians. Some scholars have suggested that its meaning is uncertain, but Robin Scroggs has shown that the word is a translation of the Hebrew mishkav zakur ("lying with the male), derived directly from Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 and used in rabbinic texts to refer to homosexual intercourse. The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) of Leviticus 20:13 reads, "Whoever lies with a man as with a woman [meta arsenos koiten gynaikos], they have both done an abomination." This is almost certainly the idiom from which the noun arsenokoitai was coined. Thus, Paul's use of the term presupposes and reaffirms the holiness code's condemnation of homosexual acts. This is not a controversial point in Paul's argument; the letter gives no evidence that anyone at Corinth was arguing for the acceptance of same-sex erotic activity. Paul simply assumes that his readers will share his conviction that those who indulge in homosexual activity are "wrongdoers" (adikoi, literally "unrighteous"), along with other sorts of offenders in his list.
In I Corinthians 6:11, Paul asserts that the sinful behaviors catalogued in the vice list were formerly practiced by some of the Corinthians. Now, however, since Paul's correspondents have been transferred into the sphere of Christ's lordship, they ought to have left these practices behind: "This is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." The remainder of the chapter, then (I Cor. 6:12-20), counsels the Corinthians to glorify God in their bodies, because they belong now to God and no longer to themselves.
The I Timothy passage includes arsenokoitai in a list of "the lawless and disobedient" whose behavior is specified in a vice list that includes everything from lying to slave-trading to murdering one's parent, under the rubric of actions "contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel."
One other possibly relevant passage is the apostolic decree of Acts 15:28-29, which rules that Gentile converts to the new Christian movement must observe a list of minimal purity prohibitions in order to have fellowship with the predominantly Jewish early church.
If, as seems likely, these stipulations are based on the purity regulations of Leviticus 17: 1-18:30, then they might well include all the sexual transgressions enumerated in Leviticus 18:6-30, including homosexual intercourse. This suggestion about the Old Testament background for Acts 15:28-29 is probable, but not certain.