No 234. What the New Testament really says about same sex relationships in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Why we should vote “No” to change the definition of marriage to include same sex relationships

In previous articles we have looked at a recent article on this topic written by an Australian theologian. She gave some helpful material showing that homosexuality was practised to some extent in both Roman and Greek cultures in New Testament times.  She wrote, “In Graeco-Roman society, there was an acceptance that men might be attracted to other men. Even if married (to a woman) and often prior to marriage, a wealthy man might have a young male lover or male partner. In educational settings, several ancient authors comment on the male-male mentoring that often included pederasty (sex with boys). The main ancient objection to male-male sexual activity was that one partner had to take the “woman’s role” of being penetrated. In a patriarchal society, to be masculine was to be the active partner, whereas to be passive was deemed feminine and shameful. Then she adds, “These attitudes find their way into the New Testament in various forms. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:10 list a wide group of people who will not “inherit the Kingdom” without changing.”

We will look at those verses.  In the original Greek text of the New Testament, the words referring to male sexual activity in 1 Cor 6:9-10 are these, [malakós,  μαλακός meaning soft or effeminate] and [arsenokoítēs,  ἀρσενοκοίτης  from ársēn, a male, and koítē, a bed. Thus it is translated as a man who lies in bed with another male.]

Recent translations of these verses, agreed upon by hundreds of Biblical scholars from various denominations throughout the world, represent their consensus rather than being the translation of individual scholars. In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 in the following recent versions [NOTE 1] those described as the unrighteous or wrongdoers who will not inherit the kingdom of God include the following.

New Revised Standard Version. (Published 1989)  1 Cor 6:9  “  Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers

English Standard Version. (2001). 9,  “… neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers,

New International Version. (2011)  9 “…Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10  nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers

Christian Standard Bible. (2017)  9. ..No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, 10 no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers.

Modern English Version. (2014)  9 … Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners

Lexham English Bible. (2012)  9 ..” Neither sexually immoral people, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor passive homosexual partners, nor dominant homosexual partners, 10 nor thieves, nor greedy persons, not drunkards, not abusive persons, not swindlers

One has to conclude that an abundance of modern scholars see these terms in 1 Corinthians 6:9 as describing homosexual relationships, in spite of the arguments by other modern scholars that the verse is not referring to homosexuality. [As the writer of the article put it, To translate it as “homosexual” is problematic for two reasons: it is unlikely Paul had any concept of sexual orientation and he was certainly not describing a committed adult relationship.”] She appears to be reading modern day unproven theories about sexual orientation into the text. What Paul is talking about in verse 9 is not the condemnation of sexual orientation but of sexual practice.

Is it just a matter then of deciding which scholars to agree with or can more light be shed on these verses from the context? We will again take the advice of the writer of the article and search the context. Fortunately, we will discover that the immediate context does help us grasp more of the meaning.  Verses 9 and 10 are followed by these words in verse 11 and they are almost identical in all the versions above, 1Cor 6:11 “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

 Paul was writing to believers in the Greek city of Corinth. It was a city noted for its licentiousness and immorality. In verse 11 he addressed them directly and truthfully, “And such were some of you.” It was probably true that many of the converts to Christ had been involved in immorality including homosexuality. In fact the city was renowned throughout the world of that day for its sin. So much so, that “the word ‘Corinthianize’ was used to refer to unmentionable sins.” [NOTE 2]

But something major had happened to them so that they were no longer to be characterised in that way.

  • They had been “washed” [apoloúō, ἀπολούω meaning to wash or bathe]. The only other reference in the New Testament is in Acts 22:16, where Ananias tells the newly converted Saul of Tarsus (St Paul) Act 22:16 “And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” The baptism would be the symbol of the reality of the cleansing of his sins by God. [There may be here an echo of the words of Job in Job 9:30 in the Greek Septuagint [LXX] version where Job says, “If I wash [apoloúō, ἀπολούω] myself with snow and cleanse my hands with lye, 31 yet you will plunge me into a pit, and my own clothes will abhor me. 32 For he is not a man, as I am, that I might answer him, that we should come to trial together.” Job realised that though he might try hard in a vain effort to cleanse [apoloúō, ἀπολούω] himself from his sin, ultimately only God could thoroughly cleanse him. Paul knew the Corinthian believers had been washed clean!]
  • They had been “sanctified.” [hagiázō; ἁγιάζω]. The root meaning of this verb is “to be separate,” separated from sin and separated to God and to His purposes. That process had begun in the Corinthian believers but a separation from the sin in their former lives had already taken place. Paul had already described them as “sanctified” in his opening greeting in 1Cor 1:2 “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” They had been set apart [sanctified by the Holy Spirit] to live for a new Master.
  • They had been “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” “Justified” [dikaióō, δικαιόω] means to be made right with God through Christ and that occurs when people put their trust in Him or “in His name”. The Holy Spirit was God’s agent in bringing them to faith and thus to being justified, made right with Him.

By the way, the writer did mention 1Tim 1:10 as seen in my first paragraph above.  How does that verse affect our discussion? The verse is seen in the context where Paul is denouncing false teaching. 1:8 “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9  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, 10  the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11  in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.”  The underlined phrase here is the translation of the word [arsenokoítēs, ἀρσενοκοίτης] which we saw above, meant men who lie down with men, that is “practise homosexuality”.

The list of people ignoring or disobeying the law are listed in verses 8-10 and what is common to all of them is that their lives are being lived in a way “contrary to sound doctrine”. That obviously means that homosexual practice as well as all the other sins mentioned, are contrary to God’s revealed character and will as seen in His word.

Summing up. If we take the word of God seriously it would be very dangerous policy indeed to vote “Yes” in favour of bringing same sex relationships under the definition of “marriage” out of some misplaced “compassion” or sense of “fairness”. God did say to every human, and Jesus affirmed it in His teaching, that the priority of loving and obeying God is foremost, Deut 6:5 “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

Voting “NO!” seems to be more in accord with His character, plans and purpose for His ongoing blessing on the human race.


[NOTE 1]. The dates of publication of the translations are in the brackets.

[NOTE 2] A quote from Professor KJ Foreman’s Commentary on “Romans, Corinthians” in the Layman’s Bible Commentary series, page 65. As he also unforgettably remarked on the same page, “If you could get a church going in Corinth, you could get it going anywhere.” The transforming grace of God had touched the people of Corinth as they heard and responded to the gospel message about Christ.  They were changed! Remarkably so! By God!

Blog No.234. Jim Holbeck. Posted Monday 28th August 2017


About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
This entry was posted in BIBLE PASSAGE OUTLINES, Faithfulness, Forgiveness, Healing, Politics, Prayer, Salvation, Sanctification, Sexuality, Temptations and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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