Well, there are but two clobber verses left. Since they’re very similar to each other, I think it’s safe to stick to one of them:

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 Traditional View

This passage (and its close cousin in 1 Timothy 1:9-11) sounds very convincing in including lesbians and gay men in the most dreadful list of depraved human behavior.

Many conservative or evangelical Christians believe that this is a clear message that homosexual persons will not enter into the kingdom of God. When coupled with verse 11 which says “and such were some of you,” we see the basis for the ex-gay movement. After all, they say, if they can turn from their depravity, so can we.

Biblical context

I chose to use the NIV’s rendering of these passages since the language is the strongest in them. And no, the translators did not intend for “homosexual offenders” to be interpreted as “someone who offends homosexuals.” Believe it or not, I’ve heard people suggest this.

The KJV’s rendering is quite a bit different and only adds to the confusion of this very strangely worded verse:

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

(1 Corinthians 6:9-10, KJV)

This is the only passage in which the word “homosexual” appears in English translations of the Bible, especially the newer translations like the NKJV or NIV. The English word “homosexual” is a composite word made from a Greek term homo (the same), and a Latin term sexualis (sex). No Bible before the Revised Standard Version in 1946 used “homosexual” in any Bible translation. In fact, the word itself didn’t appear in the English language until well into the 19th century.

The literary context of this passage is interesting in its own right. Paul is chastising the church in Corinth for allowing so much of the local culture to influence the church. To make matters even more complicated, the most prominent religion in Corinth was the fertility rituals of Aphrodite, worship of Apollo, and the Delphi Oracle, which was across the bay of Corinth. And yes, “fertility rituals” means exactly what you think it does, which is why male prostitutes were mentioned. And that’s all it is, right?

Wrong.

Just like we did with Romans 1, it’s critical to read the verses before and after. Paul’s admonishment isn’t toward the pagans of the area, but to the Corinthian church itself. In fact, Paul’s frustration hits the roof with verse 6:

I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not
rather take wrong? why do ye not rather [suffer yourselves to] be defrauded?
Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that [your] brethren.

(1 Corinthians 6:6-8 KJV)

It’s right after this that Paul starts talking about the kind of people who won’t be in the kingdom of heaven. These are people within a church who were suing each other! No wonder he had such problems with them! I think he stuck that bit about ‘extortioners’ at the end of his list just to jab them a bit.

Then, later in verse 15, paul starts to make his point:

Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make [them] the members of an harlot? God forbid.

What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost [which is] in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

(1 Corinthians 6:15-20, KJV)

So if Paul were talking about committed same-sex relationships, his language here would have been dramatically different. But, no. He’s using words like harlot, fornication, and temple. These are clear comparisons to that temple to Artemis right across the bay. His final admonishment is valid: we are not our own and bought with a price.

Amen.

Historical and Original Language contexts

The phrase “male prostitutes” in the NIV is probably the better-translated of the two. “Effeminate” is translated from malakos, which literally means “soft.” But since the NIV is a thought-for-thought translation, malakos had a different meaning which was unknown to the KJV translators back in the seventeenth century. The male prostitutes of the day would dress as women.

Before you get a mental image of a bunch of drag queens lip-synching to a Sledge Sisters song, it’s important to realize that masculinity in the days of the early church was revered. Remember, this was the time where the “ideal man” was paramount. The thought that a man would dress as a woman, to say nothing as a prostitute, was deemed to be quite revolting to the culture, especially to Jewish leaders like Paul. This is the context in which the word malakos was used.

But then, there’s the other phrase. The NIV’s rendering of “homosexual offenders” is very strange, but not so much as the King James’ “abusers of themselves with mankind.” The Greek word for this phrase is arsenokoitai, which is even more puzzling. Even Daniel Helmeniak, author of the widely-published What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality, says that it “may not be althogether possible to translate into one or two English words what arsenokoitai really means. So, caught in a distorting time war, the Christian Testament may ever continue to support homophobic and unchristian attitudes and behavior.”

Now, I’m not about to suggest that any passage of Scripture be deleted. But the thought here is pretty relevant. Some scholars have suggested that it’s possible that arsenokoitai might indicate pederastic (man-boy) relationships, which would make a little more sense. Helmeniak commented that limiting the verse to pederasty is “simplistic” and commented, “still, this much is clear: social critics of the day thought of exploitation, inequality, abuse and lust when they thought of male-male sex.” He writes:

Therefore, that is what the first-century moralists were condemning when they objected to same-sex behavior: exploitation, inequality, and lust. That is what the Greek-speaking Jews were likewise condemning in Roman society. Then, supposing that arsenokoitai does refer to male-male sex, we must conclude that the term condemns some kind of abusive sex (emphasis mine).

Put simply, the words are mistranslated. Instead of “homosexual” and “effeminate,” they might better be translated “male prostitute” and “pederast.” Let me be clear. Pederasty was common during the days of the Romans. It should stay in the days of the Romans. Homosexuality is not pederasty, not in the least. Homosexual relationships are consenting adult relationships with other adults of the same sex. Period.

In the end, it’s not the literary context of verses 9 and 10 that does it in, but rather its highly questionable translation. It’s the incorrect rendering of these verses, especially the horrid translations of malakos and arsenokoitai that has been disastrous for countless LGBT people across Christendom.

Does this passage condemn same-sex relationships? Clearly, it does not. Hopefully, we can move beyond these clear abuses of Scripture and begin to show the kind of love for each other that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13:

Charity (or love) suffereth long, [and] is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.

(1 Corinthians 13:4-7, KJV)

Speaking of love, next time we’ll talk about a love story worth remembering: David & Jonathan

Note: This is the introduction of a special series on The Bible and Homosexuality. The links below are other installments: