The Apostle Paul and Homosexuality—Answering Homosexual Objections (Part 1)

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Paul on homosexuality
(BarbWire)

For almost the entire 2,000 years of recorded Christian history, the apostle Paul's condemnation of all types of homosexual practice was considered an unquestionable fact of biblical teaching. Not until the sexual revolution of the 1960s did "gay liberation theologians" emerge to dispute and distort the plain reading of Scripture on this subject. And as Michael L. Brown further notes in his excellent book Can You Be Gay and Christian? "Every major dictionary of New Testament Greek or Classical Greek understood Paul's key vocabulary (in particular, the word arsenokoites) to refer to men engaging in homosexual acts."

Furthermore, the historic theological consensus expressed no distinction between exploitative (prostitution, rape, pederasty, promiscuity, sex slaves) and nonexploitative (consensual, committed, monogamous) forms of homosexuality. The divine prohibition against aberrant homoerotic behavior was considered comprehensive and unequivocal. But that was then, and this is now.

With society's rapid moral decline, rejection of authority and a self-centered approach to life, God's Word has come under an intense, unrelenting assault. And only the strong have been able to withstand the anti-Christian onslaught.

We will be examining two particular Pauline passages with an emphasis on the Greek word arsenokoites (plural, arsenokoitai), which is properly translated as homosexual. We will also answer the common objections to the traditional—and, I might add, the accurate—interpretation of each of these crucial texts.

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First Corinthians 6:9-11 says, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! The sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners [malakoi], practicing homosexuals [arsenokoitai], thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive, and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Some of you once lived this way. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

First Timothy 1:8-11 says, "But we know that the law is good if someone uses it legitimately, realizing that law is not intended for a righteous person, but for lawless and rebellious people, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, sexually immoral people, practicing homosexuals [arsenokoitais], kidnappers, liars, perjurers—in fact, for any who live contrary to sound teaching. This accords with the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me."

Many biblical scholars identify the word arsenokoitai(es) as a neologism (a newly coined term) created by the apostle Paul or Greek-speaking Jews living around the turn of the millennium. From the apostle Paul's initial usage through 1453 A.D., the Greek Language Thesaurus at the University of California, Irvine, lists 73 occurrences of the arsenokoit stem. The first two are found in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, and all of the remaining 71 references come after the biblical citations made by the apostle Paul. Therefore, these later occurrences cannot be argued to have any influence on the meaning of Paul's usage of the term—if anything, it would have to be the other way around.

So, where or how could he have possibly conceived of such a word? The answer is quite simple. We need only look to the Septuagint (from the second century B.C.), the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The authors of the Bible, including Paul, read and included quotations from the Septuagint in the New Testament. If we look at the Septuagint's translation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, we find the two Greek stems from which Paul constructed the compound word translated as homosexual.

In particular, here's what we find in Leviticus 20:13: hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikosArsenos is translated as male, and the word koiten means "to lie/bed with," which is a euphemistic reference to sexual intercourse. In fact, the linguistic connection between koiten and the English word coitus is noticeably apparent. As a compound word [arsenos + koiten = arsenokotai(es)], it is clearly referring to same-sex male intercourse.

The traditional understanding of Paul's grammatical structure is also confirmed by the homosexual-affirming LGBTQ Online Encyclopedia, which states, "And so we have, describing Oedipus, metrokoités, 'a man who lies with his mother,' doulokoités, 'a man who lies with maidservants or female slaves,' polykoités, 'a man who lies with many,' and onokoités, 'a man who lies with donkeys,' [slanderously] said of Christians in a graffito from Carthage of about 195."

Dan O. Via, the pro-homosexual professor emeritus of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, writes in his co-authored book Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views, "The term is a compound of the words for 'male' (arsen) and 'bed' (koite) and thus could naturally be taken to mean a man who goes to bed with other men. True, the meaning of a compound word does not necessarily add up to the sum of its parts. But in this case I believe the evidence suggests that it does. In the Greek version of the two Leviticus passages that condemn male homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13) a man is not to lie with a male as with a woman each text contains both the words arsen and koite. First Cor 6:9-10 simply classifies homosexuality as a moral sin that finally keeps one out of the kingdom of God."

Likewise, the ancient rabbis utilized the Hebrew phrase miskab zakur (lying with a male), which is taken from the Masoretic text (a Hebrew translation of the Old Testament) of Leviticus 20:13, to denote the sin of homosexual sex.

Emeritus professor William Loader, of Murdoch University in Australia, is a New Testament scholar and a strong proponent for same-sex marriage. Loader has written eight significant books on sexuality in early Judaism and Christianity, and he has established himself as one of the premier scholars on sexual ethics for this time period. In The New Testament on Sexuality, Loader contends that "it is inconceivable that [Paul] would approve of any same-sex acts if, as we must assume, he affirmed the prohibitions of Lev 18:22; 20:13 as fellow Jews of his time understood them." Again, Loader affirms, "It is also hard to imagine that Paul would approach [issues of homosexual practice] without awareness of the prohibition of same-sex relations in Lev 18:22 and 20:13, which had come to be applied to both men and women."

Besides the first-century rabbinical prohibitions against homosexuality, the instructions in Genesis (1:27, 2:24), the words of Jesus (Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9) and the apostle Paul's own additional words (1 Cor. 7:2; Eph. 5:31) make it abundantly clear that the Bible defines marriage in opposite-gender terminology and forbids all forms of homosexual deviancy. There is simply no reasonable way to arrive at the ridiculous conclusion that Paul would argue to the contrary.

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