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1 Corinthians 5-8


The Ruins of Ancient Corinth

One category of pastoral problem Paul had to deal with in Corinth was sexual in nature. Corinth was known throughout the ancient world for various sexual vices. Here is what William Stacy Johnson had to say about 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 in a paper presented to the Presbyterian Church entitled Same Gender Relationships in the Church: Seven Theological Viewpoints,

Certain same-gender sex acts are also mentioned in two New Testament vice lists. The apostle Paul states the following in 1 Cor. 6:9-10:

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites [italics added for emphasis], thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God.

The term translated by the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) as “sodomites” is more literally, “males who go to bed with males.” The word in Greek, arsenokoitai, appears to have been coined directly from the Greek translation of the original Hebrew of Lev. 20:13. The word combines the Greek words arsenos, meaning “male,” and koiten, meaning “bed,” both of which appear side-by-side in the Greek version of Lev. 20:13.33 The word translated by the NRSV as “male prostitutes” is malakoi, which literally means “soft ones.” Many believe it refers to the receptive, penetrated partner in male-on-male sexual intercourse, probably in the context of male prostitution.

The word arsenokoitai appears again in 1 Tim.1:9-10. Many consider this to be a so-called deutero-Pauline, that is, one written not by Paul himself, but in his name. The text reads:

This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites (arsenokoitai), slave traders [emphasis added], liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching….

The entire New Testament is an interpretation of Hebrew Scripture viewed in the light of God’s work in Jesus Christ. Paul’s statements about homoeroticism are no exception; they presuppose the prohibitions in Leviticus. Yet, we have already seen that Leviticus, according to its own plain meaning, does not speak explicitly about all forms of same-gender love, but merely refers to one type of sex act. Nor is there any exegetical reason to believe that these two New Testament texts (or the verses below from Romans) speak more broadly….

The NRSV takes these texts as most likely targeted at a widespread practice in the Roman Empire, namely, male prostitution. This sort of exploitative activity is not in keeping with the Christian faith. But to equate such promiscuous behavior with the conduct of gays and lesbians who are committing themselves in exclusive, covenantal unions is not only inaccurate; it is morally offensive.

In addition to male prostitution, one especially pernicious feature of Roman life was the lively trade of boys who were sold into sexual slavery. Slave boys of this sort often had been captured by the military as prisoners of war and soon found themselves in the hands of a slave trader. The boys were castrated by the slave trader and then quickly sold as sex slaves. This is almost certainly what stands behind the denunciation in 1 Tim. 1:10 of “fornicators, men who have sex with men, and slave traders.” The Romans themselves became so repulsed by this practice that on three different occasions they passed laws aimed at banning slave-boy castration. This fact alone testifies to its frequency, its lucrativeness, and thus the difficulty in stamping it out. It is no wonder that Paul and other Jews had such a strongly negative opinion of homoeroticism in the days of the Roman Empire. It also may cause us to understand the various New Testament treatments of eunuchs in a new light.

For more on this subject I highly recommend reading Matthew Vine’s book, God and the Gay Christian.

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