Was Paul Speaking Against Exploitative Gay Sex? – Malakos and Arsenokoites


“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men” – 1 Cor 6:9 (NIV).  Usually you’ll find a note about this verse saying something like, “The words men who have sex with men translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in consensual homosexual acts.”

For many, they’ve never really looked into this. Especially of those being swayed by secular culture. And there are some who are trying to explain away the meaning of these words, that these words don’t really mean what we think it means. The argument is that Paul, in the historical context, meant exploitative sex, not loving, consensual sex. Is that so?

There are two Greek words Paul uses to refer to homosexual partners. Malako for males who take the female/passive role, basically men who are the recipients in anal sex. Arsenkoit can be general or specific. Generally, all men engaged in homosexual activity, passive and active. Specifically, males who take the active/penetrative role.

Malako – This word by itself doesn’t mean the passive role in same-sex, but may mean a person who is weak, soft, and effeminate. But when used in the context of sex, it means one who takes the passive role in anal sex. Though I don’t believe we need to look outside if context in Scripture reveals the meaning. But, if we need to look outside, here’s one: Philo’s perspective on the malako. This is a writer who is of closest context of the usage and meaning of the word. He viewed malako as a male who engaged in the receptive role of male-to-male sex. He abhorred it because of its inherent distortion of male sexuality; namely, a man substituting a male for a female in sexual intercourse. So, it is very likely then Paul meant malakos as a man who desires to play the role of a female in male-and-male intercourse.

Arsenokoit –  It could mean exploitative, but it also could mean consensual. It doesn’t matter the means or reasons why, it simply means a man who takes the active role in sex. This term arose from the the Septuagint rendering of the two injunctions against homosexual behavior in the Holiness Code, which reads, hos an koimethe meta “arsenos koiten” gynaikos. Arsenokoitai is a man who takes the penetrative role in sex.

Both words – When both words are used, malakos and arsenokoitai, together, in context, it means same-sex acts committed consensually. It symbolizes the forbidden acts found in the Holiness Code, of which shows both are penalized because it wasn’t rape, but rather consensual. That is why they are both condemned in Leviticus. It was the condemnation of consensual sex, not exploitation sex.

If it were just exploitation, rape, or male prostitution, then Paul would have called that kind of person out and barred them from the kingdom. But, Paul made sure he was not to be mistaken by including malako. This was not about exploitation, especially “economic exploitation” (context here does not provide for that meaning) but rather consensual same-sex acts committed by both parties. The inclusion of malako and arsenokoit meant that what Paul was referring to was the general conduct of consensual same-sex acts. . So, in both instances, Old Covenant and New Covenant, consensual same-sex partners are penalized and prohibited from living in the presence of God.

We have to remember, that Paul stated his views in the midst of a culture that accepted such sPaul declared that all males who engage in consensual homosexual intercourse were sinners, and they were barred from entering the kingdom of Godexual activity, prostitution, adultery, incest, pederasty, rape, and consensual same-sex behaviors. Archaeologists and historians can confirm that homo-erotic behavior was not uncommon, and that many celebrated it. So, in this context, Paul speaks to the church to become counter-cultural. And that is why, to the church in the midst of it, he says of those liberated from such behavior, “practicing homosexual…some of you were (1 Cor 6:9-11)”.

Today, for many churches, they are in the same social context Paul was encountering. Same-sex behaviors are not just being recognized, but celebrated and pushed upon others as normal. And, unfortunately, some church leaders are supporting it. I hope that we can be courageous like Paul, and call people to live counter-culturally, to deny the behaviors God denies, to call people to repentance and into the kingdom of God, and to say those same words Paul spoke to the church in Corinth, “practicing homosexuals some of you…were”

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