First a question: How many times did Paul use the word “homosexual”?
The answer is zero. As in 0. Nada. Zilch. Nunca. Never.
In fact, in its original languages, the Bible never uses the word “homosexual.”
That’s because the term didn’t exist at the time. It was first coined in the 19th century.
Many like to quote a modern translation of the Bible that uses the term homosexual. But these translations are not based on a literal reading of the original words Paul used. They are based on the translators’ interpretation. And every translation has an agenda.
For example, the New International Version quotes Paul as writing,
“Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NIV).
The original language Paul used was Greek. Again, he never once used the Greek word “homosexual.”
The important Greek words that he did use were “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.”
Malakoi refers to “softness.” A couch can be soft, and apparently, someone from the male gender can also be soft. The NIV translates malakoi as “male prostitutes.” The male prostitute was “soft” because he took the passive role in sexual relations with other men.
Paul made up the word arsenokoitai. It was never used before Paul in any writing of the ancient world. It comes from two Greek words that mean “man” and “bed.” Paul did not define the meaning of this term. It is generally agreed upon by scholars that when it came to same sex activity, the arsenokoitai took the more active role. The NIV chooses to translate this word as “homosexual offenders.”
Conservative and liberal scholars both say there has been a lot of debate about what these words actually mean.
If, in God’s providence, God wanted to make sure that we knew homosexuality was a sin, God would have inspired Paul to coin the word “homosexuality” instead of arsenokoitai. Then God would have clearly defined the word through Paul as “two men or two women living in a same-sex committed relationship.”
But neither Paul nor God defined the term arsenokoitai.
The good news is that we know about certain sexual practices that were common in the ancient Roman world.
For example, and this is no surprise to you, there were men who married women. Today, we would call these men heterosexuals.
Here comes the surprise: these heterosexual men frequently kept a boy in their house to use for their own sexual gratification. These boys were sex slaves. The men who owned these slaves were the arsenokoitai. They took the active role in the sexual encounter.
There were also other boys in the ancient Roman Empire who were male prostitutes and frequently offered their services at Roman temple cults. These boys, along with the sex slaves, were the “malakoi.” They took the passive role in the sexual encounter.
It should be clear that Paul was not at all referring to homosexuality when he used the terms “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai.” He was referring to male prostitution and to heterosexual males who sexually abused younger males.
What does this have to do with the heterosexual agenda?
Every translation of the Bible is an interpretation. And every interpretation of the Bible has an agenda. Sometimes those agendas are conscious and sometimes they are unconscious. But we need to be clear about those agendas.
A translation of the Bible that uses the term “homosexual” in a negative light has a heterosexual agenda. This agenda falsely interprets the Bible as divine justification to define heterosexuality as good and holy by defining homosexuality as bad and sinful. But the original cultural context and languages of the Bible do not allow for the interpretation.
It’s true that every interpretation of the Bible has an agenda. Our agenda should be the same agenda Jesus had, “Love God and love your neighbor.”
Paul’s agenda was to name the abuse of sexual slavery and sexual abuse by heterosexuals as a sin because it does not follow Jesus’ command to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
To be clear, the “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” relationship had nothing to do with two men living in a committed same gender relationship. Instead, that relationship had everything to do with sexual abuse of a heterosexual male against another male, usually a much younger male. According to Paul, that abusive behavior needed to stop. And a culture that encouraged boys to resort to sexual slavery or temple prostitution in order to survive needed to change.
For Paul, that cultural change was happening within the church. He wanted the church to be a place where people stopped abusing one another and started caring for one another.
We agree with that sentiment 100%.
Check out these other articles explaining why Christianity leads us to be Open and Affirming of our LGBTQ siblings!