Malakoi and Arsenokoitai: Welcome in Heaven?

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Session 7 of Homosexuality & Transgender Identity: A Bible Study

Icebreaker: Share about a time you wanted to join a club or group but were not admitted because of something physical – such as your age, your gender, your ethnicity, your background.

Hook: At one point, there were signs throughout towns and hamlets all over the deep South emblazoned with the words “White Only.” These were signs warning African-American people in those towns that “those type of people” were not welcome in those restaurants, those hotels, and those restrooms. And if any black man or woman walked toward that door, they would find it slammed in their face.

Today we are going to be looking at a text that many have used as a “No Entrance” sign to gays & lesbians, arguing it says “Straights Only” and is a sign barring the entrance into heaven to keep LGBTQ+ people out. We are going to ask as we look at this text, is this in fact what God is saying, or is it what people’s own prejudice is reading into it? I want to suggest that, when understood in its proper context, these words aren’t a sign shutting out anyone, gay or straight, willing to give up exploitative and promiscuous lifestyles, and embrace God’s grace through faith in Christ.

Have someone read 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

Ask: What have you heard people say this text means?

Explain that most Christians who use this verse to condemn homosexuals have a translation that reads “homosexuals” or “homosexual offenders.” They say: See, the Bible says those types don’t get into heaven! See!

There are three things I want to have us focus on about 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. First, we have what I call the “No Gays” sign’s dirty little secret, then we have why the sign was put there to begin with, and third, we have the good news about the door to heaven.

First, the sign’s dirty little secret.

The dirty little secret is that the supposed “No Gays” sign of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 wasn’t written in English in the 20th century. That may sound like nothing shocking – but it is. The reason it is a shock to many people is this: Most people get their idea that those verses condemn homosexuality not from what the Bible originally said when it was written in Greek but from translations, and at times translations of translations.

The Greek words that are translated as “homosexual” or “homosexual offender” in some Bible versions are malakoi and arsenokoites – and the dirty little secret is that nobody agrees on what those words mean.

To demonstrate this, I put together a sheet listing a number of ways this passage is translated. (Pass out Meanings of the Greek word “arsenokoitai”) If you could, would each of you read one of the translations of this passage and let’s all notice the differences in how malakoi and arsenokoites are translated in these different Bible versions. As you all read this, bear in mind that the bold words in the passage are the translations of the two words I am talking about.

Allow the passages to be read and then ask: Does anyone notice anything about these different passages?

Point out that they don’t agree on what these two words mean.

First, the New Revised Standard version translates them as “male prostitutes” and “sodomites,” the latter a term referring to those who commit the sin of Sodom (which we found out a few weeks ago was rape). Then, the New International Version translates malakoi as “male prostitutes” and arsenokoites as “homosexual offenders.” The King James Version translates the words as effeminate and abusers of themselves with mankind. The oldest translation here, the Wycliffe, talks about two kinds of lechery, or promiscuous sex, not acts in any committed, loving relationship. I could go on, but you get the point – these verses show that there isn’t a real agreement about what this passage is saying in these two words.

Let‘s look for a second at all the different ways these words can be understood.

Pass out Meanings of the Greek word “arsenokoitai” and ask people to read through it, explaining it tells what these words mean.

Explain that this handout shows us that scholars who know Greek better than any preacher you know aren’t certain what malakoi and arsenokoites might mean. In fact, they aren’t even sure whether or not Paul is talking about sex itself. Malakoi can mean “softy,” someone with no moral backbone or fiber – that is what “effeminate” meant when the King James Version was written. And arsenokoites is some sort of euphemism. Literally the word means “male-bedder,” sort of like saying “man-izer.” But the fact is that most Christians would say that being a womanizer (or “woman-bedder,” if you will: a man who sleeps around with lots of women either without settling down or behind his wife’s back) isn’t taken to mean a man sleeping with a woman is always wrong – just that it is wrong to cheat on your spouse or to lead women on, into one-night stands, and affairs that go nowhere.

So, what is the dirty little secret about 1 Corinthians 6:9-11?

(Allow a response)

Exactly. The dirty little secret is that no one is sure what this “sign” is saying. The best scholars can’t agree on whether or not this is saying “No Gays Allowed” or “No Weak-Willed People Allowed” or “No Rapists Allowed.”

Imagine for a minute you were a juror determining whether to let a certain man stay in our kingdom, the United States, or whether to exile him to Iraq and a “dirty little secret” like this was let out in the courtroom. Let’s say he was on trial for killing the president – and then, in the middle of the court proceedings you found out that the witnesses couldn’t agree on whether it was the president who died or some other person – about whether or not the man had killed anybody or whether or not he had just accidentally knocked someone over in the street. Then some witnesses start saying that they aren’t sure if this man was ever at the scene of the crime and they thought it was maybe a woman instead who did whatever happened. If a “dirty secret” like this came out, would you convict the man to exile?

(Allow responses)

Well, that’s point about the dirty little secret about “Straight Only.” Do you think it is fair for Christians to say “God condemns gays” when the best Greek scholars can’t agree about whether or not this verse says anything about homosexuality? (Allow responses.)

Now since I do think this verse is saying something and something important about sex, I want to spend a minute looking at my next point, which is why God put this sign down anyway. In other words, I want us to look at the context for these verses, because I think they suggest what God is meaning in this “sign” about who is allowed through the gates into his Kingdom and who isn’t, even if it’s not totally clear.

To do that, I want to have us look at “the story behind the story” and read on to see why Paul condemns whatever he is talking about in this list of sins.

Have somebody read through 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

Just because something is technically legal doesn’t mean that it’s spiritually appropriate. If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I’d be a slave to my whims.

You know the old saying, “First you eat to live, and then you live to eat”? Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that’s no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. Since the Master honors you with a body, honor him with your body!

God honored the Master’s body by raising it from the grave. He’ll treat yours with the same resurrection power. Until that time, remember that your bodies are created with the same dignity as the Master’s body. You wouldn’t take the Master’s body off to a whorehouse, would you? I should hope not.

There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.” There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another. Or didn’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.

In a word, what is this section talking about?

(Allow responses)

Prostitution, or to put it into two words: frequenting prostitutes. In fact, the words translated “sexual immorality” or “fornication” are from the word porneia in Greek, the word used for a female prostitute that a male customer would frequent.

Basically Paul makes an argument: You know that what brings you pleasure and fulfills your hunger is a good thing in the right context. But meeting your sexual needs by visiting a prostitute gets it wrong. Don’t you know what God said about sex in the beginning? God said that sex was supposed to bind two people together, for life. When you ask God into your heart, you take God with you everywhere. Now, which do you think God wants: You to be dragging God out to cheap one-night stands with prostitutes or to walk alongside you while you live out your sexuality in a relationship of commitment for life? After all, even if you enjoy it, God made you for more and intended your sex-drive for better.

Here Paul talks specifically about straight men who fulfill their need for sexual intimacy by frequenting prostitutes. This was an accepted part of the culture of the city Paul’s church was in, Corinth. Do you remember the fertility religions we talked about, that had prostitutes who’d lead people in orgies in worship of false gods? Well, there were numerous enormous ones in this city. So, compared to them, a garden-variety prostitute was nothing.

Scholars don’t agree on whether these were garden-variety prostitutes or the temple prostitutes. But, in either case, the Christians in Corinth were new Christians and used to an “anything goes” attitude to sex – and Paul is letting them know that for a Christian, the gift of sex isn’t to be squandered on one-night stands and frequenting prostitutes.

I think, based on this context, that the best translation of Paul’s words would be “Do not be deceived: Neither female prostitutes nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor those who frequent them nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Whatever the case, the context for sex is described as being in a committed relationship of love and trust. As we spoke about before, in that context sex is the centerpiece of a relationship that God uses to shape us to become the most like God we can become. The trials and joys of committed relationships of love force us to face our flaws and strengths and become more Christlike – and a healthy marriage or union (or whatever your term!) is for those called to it the place they can grow to their fullest potential.

In the chapter following this, Paul lets people know that, for those unable to live without sex in a happy and fulfilling way, God wants them to find one partner they are committed to, with whom a healthy sex life will be a big part of their relationship.

So, why is it that I am suggesting that God gave us these words?

(Allow discussion)

Explain: To show us that prostitution and frequenting prostitutes, and, by extension, letting sex become one-night stands, is a perversion of the gift of sex – whether in gay, bisexual or heterosexual relationships. To show us that sexuality is designed to be a centerpiece of a committed relationship of love, commitment, and trust.

Finally, I want to point out good news. You could take what I just said as being that I was saying God’s purpose in these words is to just to replace “Straight“ with “Those That Ain’t Prostitutes or Their Clients” on some big exclusion sign on the door to Heaven. That is the furthest from the truth.

Have someone re-read 1 Corinthians 6:11.

What does this say?

(Allow discussion)

Explain that this verse shows us that, whatever arsenokoites and malakoi are, they aren’t shut out of heaven.

If I’m right, and these words mean that for gigolos and their clients, it doesn’t mean that heaven is shut off to them. Paul says to his church, As were some of you – you’ve been down that road so you better not judge anyone, but you were washed… You see Jesus died to open the door that any of us whose lives have gone down the wrong road can hear God’s voice saying “I love you, turn from this dead-end road full of pain and emptiness, and let me lead you home.” Those Corinthian Christians had heard Jesus’ voice in Paul’s friendship and teaching and had given up their work as thieves or gigolos or frequenters of prostitutes or corrupt politicians. They had accepted God’s love and let him wipe their slate clean. So God no longer saw their sins, but God saw them as God’s beloved children who’d lost their way and come home.

So, if you realize that, you can see that this text isn’t a sign of exclusion saying anyone is not welcome, but a giant welcome mat, saying: Whatever path you have been down, if you will take my hand, I your God will take you home. I will accept you as my child, my beloved, my friend. I can be your true mother and father, your true sister or brother, your true loving partner, and your closest companion, and I can lead you to life. All the ways you have hurt others – all the hurts done to you – can be healed and forgiven through my cross and my Spirit.

Close in prayer.

You may also enjoy this Bible study and this one from The Bible and Homosexuality on Whosoever 

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