1 Cor. 6:9-10
I'm always surprised by people who say they find the Gospels
mysterious and Paul easy to understand. I find the Gospels crystal
clear; it's Paul that seems mysterious to me: he often seems to
contradict Christ (not to mention common sense). 2 Peter 3:16 gives the
warning, so here I'll go trying to figure out a text that's just this
side of incomprehensible.
First of all, the discussion leading to 6:9-10 starts at least as
early as 1 Cor. 5:1-5 where Paul points out a case of PORNEIA among the
Corinthian believers. A man has slept with his father's wife. This
would violate Lev. 18:8, but because Paul had little regard for
Leviticus's food laws, not to mention the Sabbath and circumcision, I
would relate his indignation to a universal "dikaiosunE", not the "nomos"
of Moses. Anyway, the man guilty of PORNEIA is considered a pornos among
other "pornoi" (5:9) to be avoided. Paul compares non-Christian pornoi
to "pleonektais kai harpaxin E eidOlolatrais..." (v. 10) and a Christian
pornos to "pleonektEs E eiOlolatrEs E loidoros E methusos E harpax..."
(v. 11). What do these words mean? I'm getting to that.
In 6:1-8 Paul condemns the Corinthians for cheating each other and
suing each other: "humeis adikeite kai aposterete kai touto adelphous."
Paul is concerned with their violating each other's property rights;
notice the word aposterete which Jesus adds to the 10 Commandments in
Mark 10:19. All violations of property related to Exodus 20:14
(adultery) and 20:17 (LXX): "ouk epithumEseis," "you will not be greedy
for ["covet"]", in a sense not necessarily sexual, since the objects are
"neighbor's wife, field, male slave, female slave, ox, donkey". This is
important to note, because epithumia is often (and probably mistakenly)
translate as "lust" in the New Testament. It is *greed* for something
that doesn't belong to one and a willingness to take it unfairly.
In 6:9 Paul begins his passage: "mE planasthe: oute pornoi oute
eidOlolatrai oute moikhoi oute malakoi oute arsenokoitai oute kleptai
oute pleonektai ou methusoi ou loidoroi oukh harpages basileian theou
What does pornoi mean? It has been suggested that it should not
mean the same thing as "moikhoi," "adulterer, but rather "male
prostitute." Its use in the NT does not support this reading. It is a
vaguer term than "moikhos" and one related to the word for prostitution,
but it is often juxtaposed with marriage obligations. In Hebrews 13:4 we
read: "timios ho gamos en pasin kai hE koitE amiantos pornous gar kai
moikhous krinei ho theos", "Marriage should be honorable in all things
and the marriage bed undefiled, because God condemns pornoi and
moikhoi." Jesus also uses "pornos" in a way usually rendered
"adulterer" and never "male prostitute." More importantly, Paul has here
just condemned a particular example of PORNEIA in the sense of a heterosexual
violation of a heterosexual marriage (5:1 ff).
What does eidOlolatrai mean? Idol-worshippers, of course, but one
should notice that this was conceptually related in NT minds with ideas
of adultery (as a metaphorical disloyalty of Israel towards God) and
prostitution (as a willingness to worship any god promiscuously), and
other sins. In 10:8 Paul reminds the readers of Numbers 25, in which the
Israelite men were enticed by Moabite women to sin sexually (in a
heterosexual way) and also to become involved in pagan worship. In Rev.
17:1-5 we see the conflation in a vision of the ideas of prostitution,
paganism, drunkenness (emethusthEsan), and "abomination" (bdelugma,
again, heterosexual, and the same word as used in LXX Lev. 18:22 and
What does moikhoi mean? Adulterers, much more specifically than
"pornoi," which as we noted, has a possible sense of frequenting, or much
less likely (nowhere else in the NT), being a prostitute.
What does malakoi mean? It has been suggested that we should read
this as "passive partner in homosexual sex." This contradicts the
unanimous Greek Christian interpretation of the word later, as
"masturbators." But I have already said that I think "masturbators" may
also be a misunderstanding. The base meaning of malakos was "weakling,
sissy, coward, dandy." How could this be considered a sin and how could
it fit in here, in a context so far limited to property?
In Matt. 11:8 Jesus banters humorously with the crowd about what they
expected to find when they went to see John the Baptist: "Alla ti
exElthate idein? anthropon en malakois Emphiesmenon? idou hoi ta malaka
phorountes en tois oikois tOn basileOn eisin!" - "But what do you go out
there to see? A man all dressed up in malaka? Look - the people who wear
malaka are in kings' houses!" The phrase "in malaka" can also be
translated "among the malakoi." The NIV translates: "....a man dressed
in fine clothes?" In Luke 7:25, a parallel passage reads: "...anthrOpon
en malakois himatiois Emphiesmenon? idou hoi en himatismO endoxO kai
truphEi huparkhontes en tois basileiois eisin" - "... a man dressed in
malaka clothes? Look - people in gorgeous clothes and living in luxury
are in palaces!" Here "in palaces" can also mean "among royals." Poor
John the B was certainly not dressed like a dandy, but here we get the
idea that one fault of the malakoi might have been that they spent too
much money on clothes and other luxuries to make themselves look
important. It *could* be that Paul thought malakoi were evil just for
being tender-foots - cf. how Rev. 21:8 condemns "deiloi" ("cowards") to
hell (based on a severe reading of John 14:27? - "do not be afraid!").
But I would prefer to dismiss that possibility, since
"luxury-lovers / big-spenders" would fit in with the emphasis on property
and excess here.
What does arsenoikoitai mean? It has been suggested that here we
should understand a reference to all homosexuals who express their
act on their orientation. This would ignore the emphasis here on excess
and property. Boswell (1980) has already made a case for "male
prostitute" (which would fit in with this passage perfectly); at any
rate, it is nowhere else used, even by later homophobic Christians, to
refer to homosexuals in general. The suggestion that Polycarp so used it
is misguided. In his letter to the Philippians Polycarp recommends to
the "neOteroi" (younger men, literally) to "anakoptesthai apo tOn
epithumiOn en tOi kosmOi, hoti pasa epithumia kata tou pneumatos
strateuetai, kai oute pornoi oute malakoi, oute arsenoikoitai basileian
theou klEronomoEsousin, oute hoi poiountes ta atopa" (5:3) - "to be cut
off from the greedinesses ("lusts") in the world, because every
greediness ("lust") fights against the spirit, and neither pornoi nor
malakoi nor arsenokoitai will inherit the kingdom of God, nor those who
commit crimes." It is certainly likely here that pornoi means adulterers
or whoremongers, since unmarried men could easily be tempted by other,
older men's wives or prostitutes. Aresenoikoitai could be a warning
against becoming a prostitute, or selling one's body to older men, a very
real temptation for young men at that time and place (we have already
seen the prevalence of pederasty, which in pagan Greek tradition often
involved seduction by promises and presents). One of the few other
instances of the use of the word arsenokoitE, in the form arrenokoitas,
appears in a supposed inscription of late Christian times in
Thessalonica: a visitor reads on the gate that in this city "...barbaron
ou tromeeis, ouk arrenas arrenokoitas" (Greek Anthology 9.686.5) - "you
need not dread the barbarian nor the male arrenokoitai." The passage is
very ambiguous: why would a visitor dread even a male prostitute? But if
arrenkoitai here meant "homosexual" (with the arreno- referring to the
person so described as male), then "arrenas" here is oddly out of place.
Kleptai and pleonektai both referred to stealing. Pleonektai *may*
have had a broader sense that could involve swindling or cheating. The
word pleonektai often appears in Paul's sin lists and is associated with
his references to sexual immorality: it probably refers to seduction,
rape, or prostitution, in which pure, considerate sexual intentions were
muddied with lying, money, and force.
What does loidoroi mean? In Acts Paul is called one for talking
down to the High Priest. "Slanderer" or "abusive talker" is meant. Here
an inability to control one's mouth or temper would be implied. In
Pharisaical law, talking down to one's parents, in particular, brought a
death sentence which even the parents could not reverse.
In the next passage Paul summarizes his atttitude toward this list
of sins: (6:12) "ouk egO exousiasthEsomai hupo tinos" (NIV: I will not be
mastered by anything) - ... ta brOmata tEi koiliai ... to de Soma ou tEi
PORNEIAi alla tOi kuriOi kai ho kurios tOi sOmati" - "food is for the
stomach ... but the body is not for PORNEIA, rather, it is for the
Master, and the Master for the body." It is self-control, avoidance of
PORNEIA, and following the Master (Jesus/God) which is at issue here.
From here Paul launches into a discussion of heterosexual
prostitution (frequenting female prostitutes) as wrong (6:13-17). In v.
18 he sais "E ouk oidate hoti to Soma humOn naos tou en humin hagiou
pneumatos estin?" - "Or don't you know that your (plural) body (singular)
is a temple of the holy spirit in you (plural)?" Cf. Deut. 23.19 LXX
where it was forbidden for a male or female prostitute's earnings to be
put into YHWH's temple: "ou prosoiseis misthOma pornEs oude allagma kunos
eis ton oikon kuriou tou theou sou...hoti bdelugma ...estin" - "don't
put the wages of a female temple prostitute or the pay of a male temple
prostitute ("dog") into the house of your Master God, ...because it is
'an abomination.'" So here Paul's abomination is prostitution, not
homosexuality in general, by way of considering one's body the Temple.
In chapter 7 Paul finds a discussion of marriage regulations
appropriate, and in chapter 8 a discussion of food sacrificed to idols,
and in chapter 9 Paul defends himself, apparently against charges that
he is not a real apostle/Representative of Christ, that he is only
interested in money, that he is sexually immoral, and that he is
tempting others to commit idolatry by his looseness. So far he
has discussed heterosexual marriage, prostitution, idolatry, and lack of
self-control. Now he says he is a real witness of Christ, and that he is
innocent sexually: "mE ouk ekhomen exousian adelphEn gunaika
periagein hOs kai hoi loipoi apostoloi kai hoi adelphoi tou kuriou
kai Kephas?" - "Don't I have the right to bring around a sister, a
wife, just like the other Representatives and the Master's brothers/
relatives, and Kephas?" He wants more material support, although he
is willing to work for his keep. He will not eat food sacrificed to
idols, even though he knows there is nothing wrong with it, if it tempts
someone else to go all the way and commit idolatry.
Paul concludes: "Panta exestin all' ou panta sumpherei. Panta exestin
all' ou panta oikodomei ... MEdeis to heautou zEteitO alla to tou heterou"
- "Everything is allowed but not everything is beneficial. Everything is
allowed but not everything is constructive. ... No one should look out
for that belonging to himself but rather that belonging to the other"
This sets the preceding discussion in the broadest possible context:
mere selfishness that ignores the needs of others is to be set aside, but
pure concern for others' welfare is to be the rule. This is the context
in which sexual ethics have been discussed - starting with the man who
offended his father by sleeping with his father's wife (5:1 ff) and
continuing on to avoiding being in an idolatrous setting even when one
realizes it is OK, if it might encourage someone else to go ahead back into
idolatry. The Corinthian temple prostitutes (pornai and arsenoikoitai) and
temple food markets were combined temptations for the community emerging
from paganism. Nowhere here does Paul tell them to avoid physically
loving people of the same sex in a pure way - his discussion is built
around warning them not to be impulsive or inconsiderate in their
behavior. Forbidding homosexuals from loving one another, in fact, would
have been just another example of inconsiderate behavior.
If arsenokoitai meant all homosexuals, then why would Paul condemn
them in a context in which he is condemning only greed, lack of self
control, and offending others? Is mere homosexuality greedy? How is
homosexuality necessarily an example of lack of self control? [Staying
closeted, in fact, is a virtuoso performance of self-control.]
How do they necessarily offend others or harm them by their actions?
Paul would be the last person to defend arbitrary obedience to Levitical
prescriptions, even if he thought they condemned all homosexuality. He
knows the difference between necessary and unnecessary sacrifices for
holiness (Col. 2:23), and he knows that all of the law is summed up in love.