Category Archives: 1 Corinthians

Same-Sex Relationships: 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy Revisited

Andrew McFarland Campbell

My paper on 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy was discussed on a Facebook group recently. One of the contributors made some interesting points about it, and I want to address them here.

I have read your article, and if I could sum up your thesis in one sentence, it would be, “1 Cor. 6:9-10 is vague and we cannot know with any confidence what it means; thus it is irrelevant to us.” It appears you are effectively marginalizing the Apostle Paul’s teachings on morality.

This is not an accurate summary of my position. The words malakos and arsenokoites, which are used in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, are essentially impossible to translate. We cannot know what they mean. This does not mean that they are irrelevant to us, and I am certainly not marginalising Paul’s teachings. In the paper I look at Christ’s teachings as well, and use them to understand…

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Andrew McFarland Campbell’s Very Short Guide to Debunking The Six Traditional Clobber Passages

There are six passages traditionally used to say you can’t be gay and Christian: Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10.

Genesis 19 is about gang rape. Anyone who says this has anything to say about consensual relationships has bigger problems than Biblical interpretation.

Leviticus is part of the Law of Moses, which is not binding on Christians. In any case the verses use an obscure Hebrew idiom that is rather unclear (as can been seen in the KJV translation).

Romans 1 26 and 27 does speak about same-sex relationships in a negative light, but then again verses 25 and 25 speak about opposite-sex relationships in an equally negative light. Nobody believes that Romans 1 teaches you can’t be straight and Christian.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:9-10 use an obscure Greek word, arsenokoites, which is also used to refer to heterosexual sin. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 also uses the word malakos, which is not a sexual term. If these passages were supposed to be about same-sex relationships, the writer could have used a lot of other, more common, terms.

Same-Sex Relationships: 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy

Andrew McFarland Campbell

This is the text of the talk I gave to the Accepting Sexuality group.


There are two passages from the New Testament that are often quoted as proof that you cannot be gay and Christian: 1 Corinthians 6.9–10 and 1 Timothy 1.9–10. The New International Version of the former says “men who have sex with men … will [not] inherit the kingdom of God.” If the understanding of these passages was as simple as a superficial reading suggests, then the gay Christian movement would never have started. However, their message is more equivocal, and there are many conflicting translations.

It can be shown that the key words in these passages, malakos and arsenokoites, are not about sex between men, and the latter can even be connected to sex between a husband and wife.

By considering the wider Christian context of these passages, in particular what Christ said about inheriting…

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Different Translations

There are two passages in the New Testament that are often used to prove that same-sex relationships are wrong. They are 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10. Let’s have a look at 1 Corinthians.

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? 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 word translated as male prostitutes is malakoi (singular: malakos), and the word translated as homosexual offenders is arsenokoitai (singular: arsenokoites). There is one, and only one, other place in the New Testament where arsenokoitai is used, and that is in 1 Timothy 1:10.

We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers–and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10, NIV)

In this passage, it is translated as perverts. That’s a little odd. One word, used in essentially the same way, is translated as two completely different things in two passages in the same translation.

It gets odder when you look at different translations of those two passages. Consider the English Standard Version.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, ESV)

understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine (1 Timothy 1:10, ESV)

The ESV has a footnote next to men who practice homosexuality that says “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts”. On the one hand, the translators of the ESV say that malakos and arsenokoites together mean men who practice homosexuality, but on the other they say just arsenokoites on its own means that. Once again, the translation of arsenokoites is not consistent between the two passages, but this time we can see that the translators of the ESV disagree with the translators of the NIV about what arsenokoites means. They also disagree about what malakos means. The NIV says it means male prostitutes but the ESV says it refers to one of the partners in consensual homosexual sex.

The third translation I’m going to mention is the New Jerusalem Bible.

Do you not realise that people who do evil will never inherit the Kingdom of God? Make no mistake – the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, the self-indulgent, sodomites, thieves, misers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers, none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, NJB)

on the understanding that laws are not framed for people who are upright. On the contrary, they are for criminals and the insubordinate, for the irreligious and the wicked, for the sacrilegious and the godless; they are for people who kill their fathers or mothers and for murderers, for the promiscuous, homosexuals, kidnappers, for liars and for perjurers – and for everything else that is contrary to the sound teaching (1 Timothy 1:10, NJB)

The NJB is at least consistent with its translation of arsenokoites, rendering it as sodomites and homosexuals, but compare its translation of makakos to the others’: it has self-indulgent where the NIV has male prostitutes, and the ESV has the passive partner in homosexual acts. You cannot argue that those are in any way the same thing at all.

The translations of arsenokoites are just as bad. The NIV has homosexual offenders and perverts. The ESV isn’t clear about whether or not arsenokoites needs malakos to mean men who practice homosexuality, but even then the word perverts means something different from the phrase homosexual offenders, which in turn means something different from men who practice homosexuality, which in turn means something different from homosexuals and sodomites, which is what the NJB uses.

The truth of the matter is there is no consensus among Greek scholars about what the word arsenokoites means. If there was then there would be more consistency between translations.  It is an obscure word, and nobody is really sure what it means. When someone quotes one of these passages as proof that the Bible says same-sex relationships are wrong, then they are on very shaky ground.

Further Reading

For more about the translation of arsenokoites and malakos, see Arsenokoités and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences by Dale B. Martin.

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