Have the New Testament words

been mistranslated?

Objection: Paul is referring only to pederasty

In the various New Testament passages certain words are used that have been translated as “homosexual offenders” etc.. But it is claimed that those translations are inaccurate and that all that is being referred to is pederasty. Pederasty was the use of young boys (sometimes slaves) by older men for sexual favours. Those boys might have been in the man’s house for him to mentor, or might have been bought, or otherwise obtained. Paul is therefore said to be referring only to abusive or forced homosexual activity. He was not referring to mutual, consenting, loving homosexual relationships. Is this true? Are the New Testament references limited to this specific type of homosexuality and therefore not referring to the so-called loving, faithful relationships between homosexuals today?

Response

Malakos – used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 The word literally means “soft” and is used that way in the New Testament. Jesus, for example, questioned why people had gone into the desert to see John the Baptist. Had they gone to see a man wearing fine (literally, “soft”) clothes (Matthew 11:8)? However, in ancient Greek, it came to be used of “soft men”, specifically the receptive (i.e. the pseudo-female) partner in a homosexual act. It is sometimes translated as “effeminate” but not in the sense of referring to a person with unintended feminine characteristic. The claim is that it refers specifically to boys used for pederasty. Pubescent or adolescent boys were seen as being “soft”. But the reality is that, in the literature of the time, malakos was not limited to boys nor to those in a specifically pederastic relationship. It referred to men who were the passive partners in homosexual sex – the equivalent of the Latin molles or sunacti. (See Brown, p.167) Arsenokoites – used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 This word is a combination of two words: arsen (male) and koites (bed). It is not found elsewhere in ancient Greek literature which, in one sense, makes it hard to discern the meaning. On the other hand, it may be that Paul coined the word himself intentionally to reflect the language of Leviticus 18 and 20. That is, he uses a word meaning “a man who lies with a man” and it has the same general meaning, incorporating all male-male sex, as the Leviticus passages. If Paul had wanted to be specific, he would have referred to pederasty. There was a Greek word for that: paiderastia. In fact, he did the exact opposite and used words that were as general as they possibly could be. They simply refer to all homosexual acts and condemn them unreservedly. It is simply not credible that Paul was comfortable with men having sex with men when the context was a loving, committed relationship. God condemns all homosexual activity. Rather than referring to a small subset of homosexual acts (and implicitly approving all others) Paul is intentionally general. God has caused a huge amount of unnecessary pain if He, somewhat carelessly, inspired general language condemning homosexual acts when He really intended to say that homosexuality as now OK and only some specific types are not. That is not credible. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 both words are used side-by-side. The sexual connotations are clear and the passage therefore condemns both partners in the relationship. Some translations therefore translate both words in one phrase such as “anyone practising homosexuality” (Holman Christian Standard Bible). Ancient translations understood what was intended. The third century Peshitta version translates malakos and arsenokoites as “corrupt (ones)” and “men who lie with males”. The fourth century Vulgate Latin translation uses “molles” (the receptive partner in anal intercourse) and “masculorum concubitores” (men who lie with males).

Objection: The historical context shows that Paul was referring to

pederasty

There is no reason provided by the text to conclude that Paul was referring to pederasty. It is simply argued that that is what was happening at the time so that must have been what he was referring to.

Response

That argument assumes the Bible was inspired for that period only and was not intended for the guidance of Christians through the ages. It is also historically inaccurate. Pederasty was not the only form of homosexuality common in the first century Greco-Roman world. The reality is that sexual perversion of all sorts was common including many forms of same- sex activity. It was a time of significant licence. It was that general atmosphere of sexual immorality (not much different from our own day) that Paul addressed and said was completely inappropriate for followers of Jesus. Pederasty certainly is wrong but so is every other form of same-sex sex. Pauls does not limit it to pederasty.

Objection: The New Testament doesn’t address orientation

It is said that the New Testament writers knew nothing of a homosexual orientation. The word “homosexual” wasn’t even invented until the 19 th  century. The argument here is that the authors didn’t understand sexual orientation. They simple addressed sexual acts. If they had known that some people are naturally attracted to people of their own sex, they would have written differently.

Response

It is rather insulting to God to say that He didn’t understand these things and failed in the inspiration of scripture to such an extent that it would cause genuine homosexuals such grief for so many centuries. It must also be repeated that the words used are very general. They condemn all homosexual activity. God nowhere makes an exception for loving, committed homosexuality. There is no reason to doubt that they were aware of people who were naturally inclined towards members of their own sex. Nevertheless, they condemn the actions. Oriented that way or not, Christians were not to engage in what God had called an abomination. The fact that a certain word wasn’t used until the 19 th  century does not mean that no one before that realised that some people were attracted to members of their own sex. Presumably the word was coined to describe something that already existed. The reality is that history, long before the 19 th  century, spoke of those who were naturally inclined towards their own sex or whose sexual depravity included sex with others of their own sex. As we have already mentioned, the Bible simply refers to the behaviour irrespective of the inclination. If you do it, you are sinning – irrespective of your inclination. Inclination is no excuse.

Conclusion

There have been numerous attempts to show that the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says. However, even many pro-gay writers and scholars have said that the meaning is unavoidable. (See The Bible Does Condemn Homosexual Acts But The Bible Is Wrong) The New Testament is consistently negative about homosexuality. The attempts to re-define the words do not bear scrutiny. Those who recognise the meaning of the scriptures but still support homosexuality might then say, “but we don’t accept the Bible’s view” or “but the Bible was written for a different age. We know so much more now.” In other words, they cannot deny what the Bible says but they question the Bibles inspiration or relevance. Some have argued that what the Bible says is clear but we need to question why it says it. The suggested whys are, in many instances, purely speculative and simply attempts to avoid what is clearly said.

Related pages

Paul used some unusual words
© 2017 Peter Cheyne
A Christian’s Guide To Homosexuality
Truth In Love
Main sections Main sections

Have the New

Testament words been

mistranslated?

Objection: Paul is referring only to pederasty

In the various New Testament passages certain words are used that have been translated as “homosexual offenders” etc.. But it is claimed that those translations are inaccurate and that all that is being referred to is pederasty. Pederasty was the use of young boys (sometimes slaves) by older men for sexual favours. Those boys might have been in the man’s house for him to mentor, or might have been bought, or otherwise obtained. Paul is therefore said to be referring only to abusive or forced homosexual activity. He was not referring to mutual, consenting, loving homosexual relationships. Is this true? Are the New Testament references limited to this specific type of homosexuality and therefore not referring to the so-called loving, faithful relationships between homosexuals today?

Response

Malakos – used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 The word literally means “soft” and is used that way in the New Testament. Jesus, for example, questioned why people had gone into the desert to see John the Baptist. Had they gone to see a man wearing fine (literally, “soft”) clothes (Matthew 11:8)? However, in ancient Greek, it came to be used of “soft men”, specifically the receptive (i.e. the pseudo-female) partner in a homosexual act. It is sometimes translated as “effeminate” but not in the sense of referring to a person with unintended feminine characteristic. The claim is that it refers specifically to boys used for pederasty. Pubescent or adolescent boys were seen as being “soft”. But the reality is that, in the literature of the time, malakos was not limited to boys nor to those in a specifically pederastic relationship. It referred to men who were the passive partners in homosexual sex – the equivalent of the Latin molles or sunacti. (See Brown, p.167) Arsenokoites – used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 This word is a combination of two words: arsen (male) and koites (bed). It is not found elsewhere in ancient Greek literature which, in one sense, makes it hard to discern the meaning. On the other hand, it may be that Paul coined the word himself intentionally to reflect the language of Leviticus 18 and 20. That is, he uses a word meaning “a man who lies with a man” and it has the same general meaning, incorporating all male-male sex, as the Leviticus passages. If Paul had wanted to be specific, he would have referred to pederasty. There was a Greek word for that: paiderastia. In fact, he did the exact opposite and used words that were as general as they possibly could be. They simply refer to all homosexual acts and condemn them unreservedly. It is simply not credible that Paul was comfortable with men having sex with men when the context was a loving, committed relationship. God condemns all homosexual activity. Rather than referring to a small subset of homosexual acts (and implicitly approving all others) Paul is intentionally general. God has caused a huge amount of unnecessary pain if He, somewhat carelessly, inspired general language condemning homosexual acts when He really intended to say that homosexuality as now OK and only some specific types are not. That is not credible. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 both words are used side-by- side. The sexual connotations are clear and the passage therefore condemns both partners in the relationship. Some translations therefore translate both words in one phrase such as “anyone practising homosexuality” (Holman Christian Standard Bible). Ancient translations understood what was intended. The third century Peshitta version translates malakos and arsenokoites as “corrupt (ones)” and “men who lie with males”. The fourth century Vulgate Latin translation uses “molles” (the receptive partner in anal intercourse) and “masculorum concubitores” (men who lie with males).

Objection: The historical context shows that

Paul was referring to pederasty

There is no reason provided by the text to conclude that Paul was referring to pederasty. It is simply argued that that is what was happening at the time so that must have been what he was referring to.

Response

That argument assumes the Bible was inspired for that period only and was not intended for the guidance of Christians through the ages. It is also historically inaccurate. Pederasty was not the only form of homosexuality common in the first century Greco-Roman world. The reality is that sexual perversion of all sorts was common including many forms of same-sex activity. It was a time of significant licence. It was that general atmosphere of sexual immorality (not much different from our own day) that Paul addressed and said was completely inappropriate for followers of Jesus. Pederasty certainly is wrong but so is every other form of same-sex sex. Pauls does not limit it to pederasty.

Objection: The New Testament doesn’t

address orientation

It is said that the New Testament writers knew nothing of a homosexual orientation. The word “homosexual” wasn’t even invented until the 19 th   century. The argument here is that the authors didn’t understand sexual orientation. They simple addressed sexual acts. If they had known that some people are naturally attracted to people of their own sex, they would have written differently.

Response

It is rather insulting to God to say that He didn’t understand these things and failed in the inspiration of scripture to such an extent that it would cause genuine homosexuals such grief for so many centuries. It must also be repeated that the words used are very general. They condemn all homosexual activity. God nowhere makes an exception for loving, committed homosexuality. There is no reason to doubt that they were aware of people who were naturally inclined towards members of their own sex. Nevertheless, they condemn the actions. Oriented that way or not, Christians were not to engage in what God had called an abomination. The fact that a certain word wasn’t used until the 19 th  century does not mean that no one before that realised that some people were attracted to members of their own sex. Presumably the word was coined to describe something that already existed. The reality is that history, long before the 19 th  century, spoke of those who were naturally inclined towards their own sex or whose sexual depravity included sex with others of their own sex. As we have already mentioned, the Bible simply refers to the behaviour irrespective of the inclination. If you do it, you are sinning – irrespective of your inclination. Inclination is no excuse.

Conclusion

There have been numerous attempts to show that the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says. However, even many pro-gay writers and scholars have said that the meaning is unavoidable. (See The Bible Does Condemn Homosexual Acts But The Bible Is Wrong) The New Testament is consistently negative about homosexuality. The attempts to re-define the words do not bear scrutiny. Those who recognise the meaning of the scriptures but still support homosexuality might then say, “but we don’t accept the Bible’s view” or “but the Bible was written for a different age. We know so much more now.” In other words, they cannot deny what the Bible says but they question the Bibles inspiration or relevance. Some have argued that what the Bible says is clear but we need to question why it says it. The suggested whys are, in many instances, purely speculative and simply attempts to avoid what is clearly said.

Related pages

Paul used some unusual words
© Peter Cheyne 2017.
A Christian’s Guide To Homosexuality
Truth In Love
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