Was the word "homosexuality" wrongly interpreted in Paul's epistles?

By Robin Schumacher

Recently, 22-year old Matthew Vines became a new voice in the homosexual Christian community with a message he delivered at a Midwest church that promoted homosexual Christianity. In his address, Vine asserted that all the biblical passages dealing with homosexual behavior have been wrongly interpreted and do not prohibit "loving and monogamous homosexual relationships".

Vines' argument about the biblical passages that address homosexuality has been heard many times before from people like John Boswell and others. Nonetheless, it is good for Christians to revisit those sections of Scripture and see how Vines' assertions stand up to biblical exegesis. We'll examine two passages in Paul's epistles that deal with homosexuality.

Paul's Letters to the Corinthians and Timothy

Two of the verses in the New Testament that mention homosexuality are found in Paul's first letters to the Corinthians and Timothy:
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." 1 Corinthians 6:9–10

"But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted." 1 Timothy 1:8–11
The plain reading of the text certainly appears to condemn homosexual practice, so what Vines and other homosexual apologists do is aim their arguments at the word used for homosexuals in the above passages and claim that it doesn't actually mean homosexual sex, but instead refers to either economic inequities or a sex-trade like practice.

Are they correct?

A Look at Arsenokoites

Paul used the word arsenokoites to describe homosexual behavior in both of the above passages. Why did he use that word and where did it come from? Vines and others say this is the first case of such a word ever being used to describe homosexuality, and many believe this to be the case, although a few scholars point to earlier uses of the term. [1]

Regardless, the Apostle coined some 179 terms in the New Testament, which is not uncommon for a learned man such as Paul. More importantly, what was Paul trying to convey with the term?

Vines rightly points out that the word is a compound term made up of arsen, which means "male" and koite, which means "bed" in reference to being used in a sexual manner. (The word "coitus" is derived from koite and refers to sexual intercourse.) To make his case against arsenokoites meaning homosexual sex, Vines and other homosexual apologists assert that you cannot easily take compound terms and create a word that has an explicit meaning from them. Vines uses the words "butterfly" and "honeymoon" as examples.

However, this argument overlooks the critical fact that the Bible of Paul and of his readers in the first century was the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. Why is that important?

When you look at the Septuagint's translation of Leviticus 20:13, which is one of the verses condemning homosexual behavior, something very interesting is found: the compound word Paul uses for homosexual in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, arsenokoites.

The text could not be any more plain—arsen and koite are side by side and form the homosexual term that Paul used in his New Testament epistles. This fact devastates Vines' assertion a person cannot know the real meaning behind many words formed via compound terms. In this case, it is very clear.

Moreover, Vines and others promoting homosexual Christianity admit that the Leviticus passage condemns homosexual sex, but they attempt to diffuse the prohibition by saying there are "many things that these passages say that don't apply to Christians today."

Paul evidently disagreed where God's holiness code is in view, and in particular, where homosexuality is concerned.

The passages in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy dealing with homosexual behavior do indeed condemn homosexual sex and warn those practicing that lifestyle of the eternal consequences that will come from continuing in that behavior. However, it is interesting in Vines' message that he didn't keep reading in 1 Corinthians where Paul says: "Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11; my emphasis). Why ignore this verse?

Vines doesn't cite the passage because Paul's statement negates the idea of acceptable homosexual Christianity. Paul tells his readers that such practices were evidences of their old life, but now that they have been born again, they have new holy affections and desires, which stand in opposition to the way they used to live.

Does this mean that Christians never sin or are impervious to temptation? Not at all. But it does mean they recognize the sins Paul lists in both the 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy passages as being sinful, and they cannot use the Bible to try and justify a lifestyle they want to participate in that goes against God's moral law.

In the end, the arguments that Vines and other homosexual apologists make against these passages in Paul's epistles falls flat. Their emotional appeals may tug at the heart, but their facts don't stand up to the meaning found in the text.

Related: Does Romans 1 Condemn Homosexuality?

[1] The Same Sex Controversy by James White & Jeff Niell

Image Credit: kfergos; "Bible Study"; Creative Commons

comments powered by Disqus
Published 10-8-12