Same-Sex Relationships: 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy Revisited

My paper on 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy was discussed on a Facebook group recently. One of the contributors made some interesting points about it, and I want to address them here.

I have read your article, and if I could sum up your thesis in one sentence, it would be, “1 Cor. 6:9-10 is vague and we cannot know with any confidence what it means; thus it is irrelevant to us.” It appears you are effectively marginalizing the Apostle Paul’s teachings on morality.

This is not an accurate summary of my position. The words malakos and arsenokoites, which are used in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, are essentially impossible to translate. We cannot know what they mean. This does not mean that they are irrelevant to us, and I am certainly not marginalising Paul’s teachings. In the paper I look at Christ’s teachings as well, and use them to understand how Paul and Christ teach us to behave.

Furthermore, you’ve read a meaning of arsenokoites from the 6th century back into Paul’s writings. The interval of time is not much less than that between ourselves and Geoffrey Chaucer! The alleged dearth of data from the first and second centuries does not make this anachronism any more reasonable.

I haven’t done this. The oldest use of arsenokoites where we can use the context to deduce the meaning is from the Sixth Century. I made it clear in the paper that the meaning of words can and does change with time. Depending on John the Faster for an understanding of what Paul meant when he used arsenokoites is most certainly overstating the case. It is worth repeating what I said in the article:  if we confine ourselves to extant documents from the first and second centuries, we do not have enough evidence to do anything other than guess what arsenokoites means.

The dearth of data from the First and Second Centuries is not alleged. In the paper I referred to a list of all known references to arsenokoites and related words. It is clear from that list that there is no useful data about the meaning of arsenokoites from the first and second centuries.

Furthermore, how can you enter into an extensive discussion of the meaning of NT Greek words without making reference to a standard lexicon (such as BDAG)?

My paper was based on primary sources – the actual extant uses of arsenokoites from antiquity. Lexicons are secondary sources, and are merely distillations of primary sources. They cannot contain any information that was not present in the primary sources themselves.

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6 thoughts on “Same-Sex Relationships: 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy Revisited

  1. Pingback: Same-Sex Relationships: 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy | Andrew McFarland Campbell

  2. Andrew, thanks for replying to my comments. I don’t mean to say that you’re intentionally marginalizing the Apostle Paul’s moral teachings, but saying “we cannot know what they mean” has the same effect.

    On what basis did you conclude that the sixth-century use of arsenokoites is the oldest one where we can use the context to determine the meaning?

    When the world’s foremost experts in ancient Greek examine the primary sources, they may be able to gain insights that others would miss. Word studies are what lexicographers do! This is why I recommend using a standard lexicon such as Bauer’s (a.k.a. BDAG) as part of any word study.

    • The trouble is we cannot know what arsenokoites means – there simply isn’t enough evidence. If we feel that we must understand every word then we put pressure on ourselves to understand every word, which will lead us to conclusions that aren’t valid. We can, of course, understand Paul’s teaching about inheriting the Kingdom by comparing it with what Christ said about inheriting the Kingdom.

      If you look at the list of all known references to arsenokoites and related words you can see that John the Faster’s use is the first where we can use the context to determine the meaning in any way.

      As you will see from the references in my paper, I have used papers written by the world’s foremost experts in arsenokoites, as well as other world-renound scholars. BDAG won’t contain any insights or information that they don’t, mainly because BDAG will be based on their work.

  3. Andrew, what criteria are you using to make the judgment that John the Faster’s use is the first where we can use the context to determine the meaning in any way?

    BDAG defines arsenokoites as “a male who engages in sexual activity with a person of his own sex, pederast; of one who assumes the dominant role in same-sex activity, opposite malakos”. The lexicon explicitly rejects the renderings ‘homosexual’ and ‘sexual pervert’.

    BDAG argues that the association of arsen and koite in Lev. 20:13 LXX is the etymological basis for the word. While you’ve warned in your paper against the etymological fallacy, this does not mean the etymology is irrelevant – especially when we have a compound noun where both root nouns occur together in Lev. 20:13 LXX. (In the context of 1 Cor. 6:9-10, Paul has just cited the sexual morality of Lev. 18-20 in 1 Cor. 5:1.)

    BDAG draws a comparison of arsenokoites with the word metrokoites, a word formed from meter (mother) and koite (bed) which meant “one who has intercourse with his mother”.

    In summary there is a literary/theological and lexical precedent for understanding arsenokoites as the sum of its etymological parts, as the foremost lexicon of ancient Greek has done.

    • Look through the list of existing documents that use arsenokoites. Are there any there before John the Faster that you think can be used to determine the meaning of the word?

      The etymology of a word is not a definition of it, no matter how detailed it is. This is true in English and it is true in 1st Century Greek.

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