One of the most common responses to the claim that the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin is the counter claim that the word arsenokoitai used in I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:9-10 is not a reference to homosexuals. Those making this claim have proposed a range of alternative translations for arsenokoitai ranging from male pederasts to the assertion that “we just don’t know what it means.” Over the past ten years, I’ve been confronted with this claim on several occasions, and I’ve put together a short list of resources that I turn to whenever it comes up.
The view that arsenokoitai is a reference to “homosexuals” is based on the simple fact that it is recognizable as a compound word which originated in the Septuagint translation of Leviticus 20:13 which speaks of a man who lies with mankind as with womankind. In Leviticus, the compound word arsenokoitai word is presented as two separate words – arsenos meaning “man” and koiten meaning “lay.” Paul merely joined these two root words together into a compound masculine participle which can only mean “men who lay with men.” For anyone who can read Greek, this word is so easy to understand that it is almost laughable to think that it could be a reference to anything other than male homosexuality.
Unfortunately, there are many discussing this word today who have no understanding of the Greek language and who are easily swayed by dishonest scholars who claim that its meaning is ambiguous. In response to those who insist that these scholars are correct, I usually point to two separate articles. The first is the paper by David F. Wright entitled “Homosexuals or Prostitutes.” This paper was published in the June, 1984, edition of the journal Vigiliae Christianae, and you can download a pdf of the complete article by clicking on the title. The second paper defending the translation of arsenokoitai as “homosexuals” is a paper submitted by James B. DeYoung to the Masters Seminary Journal under the title of “The Source and NT Meaning of Arsenokoitai, with Implications for Christian Ethics and Ministry.” Both of these papers do an excellent job of presenting the opposing claims and answering them in a way so as to leave no doubt as to which view is correct.
In addition to these two papers, I usually also reference a third paper which proves that the phrase which Paul adopted from the Septuagint is itself a correct translation of the Hebrew. This paper was Saul M. Olyan’s contribution the October, 1994, edition of the Journal of the History of Sexuality, and it is rather directly entitled “‘And with a Male You Shall Not Lie the Lying down of a Woman’: On the Meaning and Significance of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.” Olyan’s paper is a detailed examination of the Hebrew words used in Leviticus 20:13, and he more than adequately demonstrates that this verse is a condemnation of male homosexuality.
I have presented these three papers in various combinations on several occasions, and so far, I have not received any refutations of their content. In most cases, the individual arguing against the traditional translation of arsenokoitai just gives up and stops arguing. There have been a few cases in which they have responded with mere contempt, but I have not yet received a single, reasonable argument against the information contained in these articles. I hope that you will find them equally as helpful in your defense of the traditional Christian view of homosexuality.
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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