[b-greek] arsenokoiths

From: Jim West (jwest@highland.net)
Date: Mon Sep 25 2000 - 13:00:32 EDT

following is some thoughts i have on the word above... i would appreciate
any input you have.



I Cor 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10

        The general understanding of this word as "homosexual" males is at once
misleading and inaccurate. When one takes the time to examine the context
of the passages wherein this word is found, one notes, first of all, that it
is found in a list of vices. Such lists were a common feature of Greek
literature of the first centuries BC and AD. For instance, Philo has a list
of virtues and vices that contains 147 vices!
        When we focus our attention on the list of vices contained in 1 Corinthians
6, we note that the vices described have to do with Christians involving
themselves in litigation against one another. In light of this, how does
the notion of "homosexuality" enter the picture at all? It seems fairly
certain that such a rendering of the word arsenokoithV is totally
inappropriate in this context. If this is so, then how should the word be
rendered? Since it is linked with the word malakoV in this context, a word
which merely means "soft", perhaps the best possible rendering is something
like "soft men who lie in bed" or "soft men who lie around all day in bed".
The meaning, then, seems to be that along with the other vices condemned in
the list we also find laziness condemned. Perhaps the larger context of the
problem of Christians suing one another lends credence to this reading since
it is likely that then, as now, people who were lazy and unwilling to work
would sometimes spend their time frivolously suing others and eking out a
living in that manner.
        Again, when we turn to 1 Tim 1:10, we find ourselves in the midst of a
series of vices. This time, arsenokoithV is linked linguistically with
"fornicators" and is immediately followed by "menstealers and liars". It is
somewhat more understandable, in this context, to see why the word is
rendered "man-bedder" (or some variation thereof). Nevertheless we must
seriously question this rendering. First, what does "homosexuality" have to
do with "man stealers", "murderers", "liars" and the rest? Second, the word
is used only here and in 1 Cor 6:9 and the meaning there as "homosexual" has
already been shown to be uncertain at best. What we have, then, is a
compound word that can be read "man of the bed" or some such thing, and as
it is linked here with "fornication" it is entirely possible that it refers
not to homosexuality itself but to the practice of male prostitution.
        In short, though the word has been rendered the same way in the two
passages in which it occurs, it is extraordinarily important to realize that
the contexts in which it occurs must be taken into account in the most
serious way. The context similarity is: a list of vices. There the
similarities end. In Corinthians, the list of vices has to do with
Christian litigation; whereas in Timothy, the list has to do with those who
use or misuse and abuse others for personal gain. Neither context will
allow us the standard rendering of "homosexual" for arsenokoithV. In
Corinthians it should rather be rendered like "soft men who lie in bed" or
"soft men who lie around all day in bed" while in Timothy "male prostitute"
is more appropriate. In translating unusual Greek words the translator must
give diligent attention to the context. Anything less will simply ensnare
the translator in a gross misunderstanding and in the end will likewise
mislead the reader with sometimes horrible results.


"I like to eat lettuce, but I always eat only the heart; in my opinion the
leaves are for the pigs" S. Kierkegaard.

Jim West, ThD

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