1 Corinthians 6:9 – A Different Approach to Understanding this Passage

The verse from 1 Corinthians 6:9 is yet another common bit of Scripture often used by anti-LGBT so-called Christians to promote hatred and discrimination against the LGBT community.  On the supposition that gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender individuals cannot and will not inherit the kingdom of God.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the context of this passage and get a better understanding of the language and history behind this verse as well as the intent behind it as Paul writes to the Corinthian church.

The following commentary comes from Reverend David Eck and http://www.jesuslovesgays.blogspot.com


1 Corinthians 6:9-11 – Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes [Gk: malakoi] , sodomites [Gk: arsenokoitai], thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers — none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And 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. [NRSV]

Commentary – Scholars have nicknamed the form exhibited here the “catalog of vices,” for the obvious reason that what we have here a list of evil habits or attitudes, strung together in rather loose fashion with no clear logic manifested about the choice or order of the particular vices in the list. This form was popular in Greco-Roman literature of the day, including that of Hellenistic Judaism. Paul obviously likes the form because he uses it several times throughout his writings.
What is clear is that the users or creators of these lists do not carefully select the individual items to fit the context with which they are dealing. The lists were often, apparently, traditional. What was important was the list as list, and perhaps its length. The more vices included, the greater impression on the reader. That is, the list was a club used to hit an opponent over the head or to warn the writer’s own community of the penalty for evil living. Any relation between an individual item in a list and the situation addressed was thus, more often than not, nonexistent.
1 Corinthians 5:10 – immoral, greedy, robbers, idolaters
1 Corinthians 5:11 – immoral, greedy, idolaters, revilers, drunkards, robbers
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – immoral (fornicators), idolaters, adulterers, malakoi, arsenokoitai, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers
What we have in this section of 1 Corinthians is a club that grows and grows. Paul is building toward a rhetorical climax. It is clear he does not care about any specific item in the lists. There is no indication he wished to emphasize one or more vices.
Word Studies:
MALAKOI – Literally means “soft” or “males who are soft”. This word has been translated as “effeminate” (KJV), “homosexuals” (NKJV), “corrupt” (Lamsa), “perverts” (CEV), “catamites” which means call boys (JB), “those who are male prostitutes” (NCV), and “male prostitutes.” (NIV, NRSV). Until the Reformation in the 16th century and in Roman Catholicism until the 20th century, malakoi was thought to mean “masturbators.” Only in the 20th century has it been understood as a reference to homosexuality. In 1522, Martin Luther translated this term “weichlinge” or “weaklings.” Philo, a first century contemporary of Paul, applied the term to a man who had remarried his former wife. It commonly designated any male whose behavior was less than respectable. Many scholars argue that malakoi refers to moral weakness in general, with no specific connection to sodomy.
Several translations combine malakoi and arsenokoitai and render them with a single phrase which they believe refers to the passive recipient of and active partner in sodomy. The RSV (1946-1965) translated the two words as “homosexuals” and later changed it (1971 ed.) to “sexual perverts.” The LB used the word “homosexuals” while the TEV used the phrase “homosexual perverts.” Clearly these translations reflect the bias of those involved in the translation process. There is nothing in the text or context which necessitates that these two words be taken together.
ARSENOKOITAI – The usage of this word is rare in Greek and its meaning is quite ambiguous. Literally it combines “male” and “lying with or sleeping with.” This word has been translated in this text as “abusers of themselves with mankind” (KJV), “sexual perverts” (RSV), “sodomites” (NKJV, NAB, JB, NRSV), those “who are guilty of homosexual perversion” (NEB), “men who lie with males” (Lamsa), “behaves like a homosexual” (CEV), “men who have sexual relations with other men” (NCV), and “homosexual offenders” (NIV). The New American Bible (Roman Catholic) translated arsenokoitai as “practicing homosexuals” which reflects the theology of the church but is totally irresponsible scholarship. After much protest, the editors agreed to delete this term and replace it with “sodomites” in subsequent editions.
John Boswell asserts that arsenokoitai referred to male prostitutes for Paul and Christians until the 4th century. For John Boswell, the 4th century represents a dividing line between the Greek-oriented period of the Western church and its Latin phase. There was a decline of familiarity with Greek among the aristocracy and the Christian clergy. Few of the ecclesial writers in the 5th and 6th centuries knew the precise meanings of unusual Greek words. Arsenokoitai then became confused with a number of words for disapproved sexual practices and was equated with same sex practices. If this is the case, then 1 Corinthians may simply be restating the injunctions against male cultic prostitution seen in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.
Jung and Smith state that the reputation of Corinth in the ancient world only complicates the translation difficulties. Historical studies indicate that Corinth was well known as a sexual meat market. Therefore the term may have nothing to do with same-sex activity at all. Then again, it may refer only to very common, exploitive forms of same-sex activity such as pederasty or male prostitution. Their conclusion is that neither linguistic nor historical studies can verify which of the translation options is most accurate.
Commentary – It seems to me this passage is speaking about exploitive forms of sex such as cultic prostitution and pederasty and cannot be used in arguments against committed same sex relationships. They are two completely different contexts.
As a final note, I think it’s interesting how Eugene Peterson translates this verse in The Message. He appears to be a fairly conservative scholar but completely eliminates the word “homosexual” from the text since it is misleading in modern English: “Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom. A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Master, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.” [The Message]
My Reflection:

The way I see it, what we are looking is more of the same condemnation as was seen in Deuteronomy and Exodus towards ritual prostitution and the sexual practices as exhibited in pagan worship, mixed with non-consensual rape and pedophilia by 20th and 21st century standards.  The Greco-Roman fondness for the physical ideals of youth, vitality, and physical beauty as exhibited in the art and sculpture of the Greco-Roman Classical period reflects a longing for physical perfection and a fascination with youth– as exhibited by Michelangelo’s “David” and depictions of gods and goddesses like Apollo and Aphrodite.  Culturally, older men taking on younger boys and having sexual relations with them (do note that the young boys may be of age of adulthood in terms of Greco-Roman cultural norms and standards– Hebrew boys were considered men by 12-13 at the time of their Bar Mitzvah) was considered normal and acceptable within their culture– it was not deemed acceptable outside the Greco-Roman world and was considered a lustful pursuit of physical pleasure and passion.  It was idealization of youth and fertility and masculinity to an unhealthy extreme.

It is one thing to admire art and beauty and femininity and masculinity in art and in idealized ways… but it is a wholly other thing entirely to lust after perfection and corrupt youth sexually with the hopes of somehow capturing that youth and vitality or living through youth to somehow obtain it for one’s self.  Fantasizing or trying to feel youthful or lusting after youth for sexual fulfillment misses the whole value of what sexual intimacy is and what healthy sexual relations are.


About Rachel Conlin McLeod

Transgender activist, Christian at First Baptist Church in Willimantic, Connecticut. B.A. in History and Social Sciences, B.A. in Sociology Freelance writer, tutor, research assistant Loves hockey, ballet, women's gymnastics, and Bible studies.
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