What else does the New Testament say about Homosexuality?


So far in this Pride Month series of blog posts we have studied three Old Testament passages (Genesis 19:1-29, Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13) and one New Testament passage (Romans 1:18-32) that have been used to condemn homosexuality and LGBTQ+ people. We have learnt how these passages were actually about gang rape, inhospitality, priestly restrictions against the blurring of boundaries, and an exposure of Jewish prejudices in order to unite the Church.

In today’s post, we are going to look at the final two clobber passages, both which are also found in the New Testament. These are in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10.

Let’s read them now:

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 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. - 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIV)

For the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine - 1 Timothy 1:10 (NIV)

These verses have been used to condemn LGBTQ+ people to an eternal conscious torment in hell as they will apparently not “inherit the kingdom of God.” They are also the two verses that are referenced the most by non-affirming Christians, likely because most modern English translations erroneously use the terms homosexuality or homosexual, making them easy to find and misuse. So what is really going on in these verses?

Back to the Greek

The two words that have been mistranslated in these two passages are malakoi (in 1 Corinthians) and arsenokoitai (in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy). Malakoi is often translated as “effeminate” and arsenokoitai is often translated at “homosexuals.”

It should immediately be noted that biblical translators throughout the centuries have failed to reach a consensus on how to handle these two words. They have been translated in many various ways since the first English translation a few hundred years ago.

Let’s take a deeper look at these two words and try to determine what exactly Paul was trying to say here. But first, let’s see how these words should NOT be translated as homosexual as they have in recent years.

The word homosexual has no right being in the bible

The word homosexual was only coined in 1868, 156 years ago. It was (and is still) used to identify people who are attracted to people of the same sex. The term was invented because a clinical term needed to be given to a concept that was only then starting to be understood and accepted. It is unfair to force a nineteenth-century clinical term into an ancient text that we already know had no concept of same-sex attraction and mutual, consensual same-sex relationships.

For the majority of English bibles since they were first translated in 1535, the words malekoi and arsenokoitai were translated to describe a type of sexual perversion between two men. It was believed that Paul was referencing actions, not identity. Yet over the past century, with the sudden awareness of orientation as an inborn aspect of one’s identity, the translations shifted to using terms that condemn men for simply being attracted to other men.

The first time that the word homosexual appeared in the bible was only in 1946 in the Revised Standard Version, a mere 78 years ago. I was shocked when I first learnt this fact. This realisation quickly disputes the claim that these passages have always meant to condemn homosexuality. If you are interested in learning more about this, please source and watch an incredible documentary released recently called 1946: The Mistranslation That Shifted Culture.

We can therefore be fairly certain that these two Greek words are not referring to same-sex attraction. So what exactly do these two words mean?


In it’s most basic form, malakoi simply means “soft.” In two other places of the New Testament, the same word is used to describe soft fabric. Malakoi was also used in a moral context as an insult to describe a male who was spineless or weak. The third and final way that malakoi was used was to describe a “womanly man,” clearly a disgrace in a male-dominated, patriarchal society. This definition goes beyond being merely weak to being “like a woman,” which is why some translators choose to use the word “effeminate.”

The word malakoi was not always used in reference to sexual acts. Men were called malakoi when they did anything considered feminine, including gambling, greed, vanity, drunkenness, and a fondness for fine foods. Some ancient writers used the term to condemn men who were lazy, cowardly or extravagant. In earlier English biblical translations, malakoi was translated as weaklings and wantons.

Some references to malakoi did involve sexual conduct. It was common for men who willingly submitted to penetration by other men to be mocked as malakoi.

Interestingly, the word malakoi was also used to describe men who aggressively pursued women and fell prey to a woman’s charms. These were seen as effeminate characteristics because they displayed a lack of self-control. Being “soft” in a sexual sense meant that a man was self-indulgent and enslaved to his passions. He was ruled by someone or something other than himself. In today’s context, this would likely apply to womanizers and “simps” (someone who shows excessive attention towards someone in pursuit of affection or sex).

When we view this word alongside Paul’s condemnation of sexual immorality and exploitation in his list of vices, it is likely that Paul’s use of malakoi was talking about the “effeminate” men who were making themselves available for sexual exploitation, perhaps for economic gain as prostitutes.


Arsenokoitai is not like other Greek words. Most Greek words in the bible can be compared to other usages during that time to find out how people used them and what it meant to them. But there are no other usages of this word for scholars to compare its context to. It is very possible that arsenokoitai is a word that Paul made up. It can best be described as a combination of two words: arsen meaning “male” and koite meaning “bed.” Thus many modern translators have deduced that it refers to two men who share a bed and engage in same-sex acts.

Paul may have termed the word arsenokoitai, but it does show up in other writings not long after Paul. The fascinating thing is that whenever arsenokoitai is used in other writings, it is always used when the author was addressing economic or exploitative concerns - sometimes with zero mention of sexual activity. Even when these texts do refer to sexual sins, the word arsenokoitai is not included alongside them and is instead put in other lists referring to economic and exploitative sins.

Because of its context in this passage, it is a fairly safe assumption that Paul was speaking about sexual activity between two men. But nowhere in this passage or in Paul’s theology as a whole does it imply that Paul was speaking against people born with same-sex attraction, nor a same-sex couple in a loving, committed relationship.

It is way more likely that, just like the other clobber passages, Paul had a specific excessive expression of same-sex sex acts in mind when using this word. This interpretation is supported by the fact that both times arsenokoitai is used in the New Testament, it is placed in-between sexual sins and exploitative sins, such as in 1 Corinthians where it is after “sexually immoral” and “adulterers” and and before “thieves” and the “greedy,” and in 1 Timothy where it is after “sexually immoral” and before “slave traders” or “perjurers”

One exploitative practice that was prevalent in Paul’s day was Pederasty, the act of men having sex with young boys. Pederasty was so common that Greek philosopher Philo merely described it as the union of “males with males.” Although not specifically mentioning pederasty, he would have expected his readers to understand the reference. It is possible that Paul was taking a similar approach here.

Some scholars suggest that arsenokoitai should be interpreted together with malakoi. The understanding is that malakoi referred to boys and young men who were kept as prostitutes for use by older men. Arsenokoitai therefore referred to the adult males to indulged in same-sex practices with such boys.

The Core of the Issue

Paul speaks against sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 5, before condemning financial exploitation in the first part of chapter 6. He then explains how sexual immorality and financial exploitation are combined in their sinfulness.

A faithful reading of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy would imply that Paul was condemning sexual activity engaged in by people of the same sex that was either exploitative (like pederasty) or economic (such as prostitution) in nature.

Paul was more than likely condemning excessive and exploitative sexual conduct. This is confirmed by noticing that the other vices listed in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 can be understood as sins of excess or exploitation: sexual immorality, adultery, thievery, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling.

Paul is saying that people who are malakoi and arsenokoitai are people who see and treat others as less than, who abuse their power and privelege, and who sell themselves or engage in prostitution. As Paul says, they are like adulterers, fornicators, idolaters, thieves and greedy slave owners. Paul says that these people are not a part of what God is doing through Jesus. They are not a part of the Kingdom of God.

It would be great if, as churches and Christians, we could focus on addressing true evils as Paul did, such as pederasty and economic and sexual exploitation. Instead, many have put a blanket-condemnation over all LGBTQ+ people and same-sex acts, grouping them in with the true evils mentioned above that Paul was addressing in these passages.


Paul’s lack of condemnation of homosexuality is not equivalent to an endorsement. However, as mentioned before, Paul never had the knowledge about human sexuality and gender that we have today. Can we safely claim that Paul would have supported same-sex relationships today? No. But can we safely claim that Paul would have condemned homosexuality if he had our understanding today? No, not with the limited information we have access to.

What we can safely claim is that Paul condemned certain same-sex acts, just as he condemned certain opposite-sex acts. It is important to understand why he condemned them. It wasn’t merely because they were same-sex acts, but because they were exploitative and economic in nature.

I personally believe, now that we understand more about human sexuality, we can take this argument further to ask ourselves what kind of relationships did Paul, Jesus and the biblical authors endorse? They endorsed mutual, committed, sacrificial, consensual, loving relationships. Is it possible for same-sex relationships to fulfil these characteristics? Of course!

Sources and Further Reading

Brown, Peter - Body and City
Brownson, James - Bible, Gender, Sexuality
Lee, Justin - Torn
Martin, Colby - Unclobber
Scroggs, Robin - The New Testament and Homosexuality
Spong, John Shelby - The Sins of Scripture
Vines, Matthew - God and the Gay Christian

Image Source: Sojourners


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