Paul speaks his mind to the church at Corinth and to Timothy:
The New International Version translates these passages even more harmfully.
Who?!? Who won’t inherit the realm of God? Who is the law for? Me? My friends? These verses, as they were translated, have been used over and over again to bash people like me. But that’s not what Paul meant!
Let’s hear what Paul has to say starting from the first verse of I Corinthians 6. We’ll read this passage from The Message.
5I say this as bluntly as I can to wake you up to the stupidity of what you’re doing. Is it possible that there isn’t one levelheaded person among you who can make fair decisions when disagreements and disputes come up? I don’t believe it. 6And here you are taking each other to court before people who don’t even believe in God! How can they render justice if they don’t believe in the God of justice?
7These court cases are an ugly blot on your community. Wouldn’t it be far better to just take it, to let yourselves be wronged and forget it? 8All you’re doing is providing fuel for more wrong, more injustice, bringing more hurt to the people of your own spiritual family.
9Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in Christ’s realm. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, 10use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s realm. 11A number of you know from experience what I’m talking about, for not so long ago you were on that list. Since then, you’ve been cleaned up and given a fresh start by Jesus, our Ruler, our Messiah, and by our God present in us, the Spirit.
12Just 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.
13You 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 Sovereign honors you with a body, honor the Sovereign with your body!
14God honored the Sovereign’s body by raising it from the grave. God’ll treat yours with the same resurrection power. 15Until that time, remember that your bodies are created with the same dignity as the Sovereign’s body. You wouldn’t take the Sovereign’s body off to a whorehouse, would you? I should hope not.
16There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much a spiritual mystery as a physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” 17Since we want to become spiritually one with the Sovereign, 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.” 18There 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.19Or 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. 20God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.
Likewise, as we read I Timothy 1:3-11, Paul’s message to Timothy sounds quite a bit different! Again, we’re reading from The Message. You can follow along with the translation you have and note the differences in language.
5The whole point of what we’re urging is simply love – love uncontaminated by self-interest and counterfeit faith, a life open to God. 6Those who fail to keep to this point soon wander off into cul-de-sacs of gossip. 7They set themselves up as experts on religious issues, but haven’t the remotest idea of what they’re holding forth with such imposing eloquence.8It’s true that moral guidance and counsel need to be given, but the way you say it and to whom you say it are as important as what you say. 9It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the law code isn’t primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, life, 10sex, truth, whatever! 11They are contemptuous of this great Message I’ve been put in charge of by this great God.
Do you get Paul’s point?
Paul believed that how we lived our lives was just as important as what we believed. He was concerned about people who said that they were Christians but kept on living lives that took advantage of others. So, in stating his arguments for living a Christ-like life, he gave some examples of behaviors that weren’t Christ-like.
But that’s not how many literalists want us to read this passage. In the King James and other translations, these two verses contain completely wrong translations and create “homosexual ghosts” that do not really exist! Ghosts may not have the power to hurt you, but they can make you hurt yourself! The homosexual ghosts in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 were created by the inaccurate and intentionally misleading translation of two Greek words.
1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 sound very convincing in including lesbians and gay men in the most dreadful lists of depraved human behavior imaginable. The fact is that the word translated “homosexual” does not mean “homosexual” and the word translated “effeminate” does not mean “effeminate!”
The English word “homosexual” is a composite word made from a Greek term (homo, “the same”) and a Latin term (sexualis, “sex”). The term “homosexual” is of modern origin and was not used until about 100 years ago. There is no word in biblical Greek or Hebrew that is parallel to the word “homosexual.” No Bible before the Revised Standard Version in 1946 used “homosexual” in any Bible translation.
The word translated as “homosexual” or “sexual pervert” or some other similar term is Greek ἀρσενοκοίτης arsenokoites, which was formed from two words meaning “male” and “bed.” This word is not found anywhere else in the Bible and has not been found anywhere in the contemporary Greek of Paul’s time. We do not know what it means. The word is obscure and uncertain. It probably refers to male prostitutes with female customers, which was a common practice in the Roman world, as revealed in the excavations at Pompeii and other sites.
When early Greek-speaking Christian preachers condemned homosexuality, they did not use this word. John Chrysostom (A.D. 345-407) preached in Greek against homosexuality, but he never used this word for homosexuals, and when he preached on 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, he did not mention homosexuals.2
“Soft” does not mean “effeminate.” The word translated “effeminate” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is Greek μαλακός malakos and means “soft” or “vulnerable.” The word is translated as “soft” in reference to clothing in Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25 and as “illness” in Matthew 4:23 and 9:35. It is not used anywhere else in the New Testament and carries no hint of reference to sexual orientation. Malakia (μαλακία) in 1 Corinthians 6:9 probably refers to those who are “soft,” “pliable,” “unreliable,” or “without courage or stability.” The translation of malakos as “effeminate” is incorrect, ignorant, degrading to women, and impossible to justify based on ancient usage compared to the meaning of “effeminate” today.
This incorrect rendering of malakos and arsenokoites as references to sexual orientation has been disastrous for millions of GLBTQQA people. This mistaken translation has enlisted a mighty army of ignorant religious fanatics against homosexual people and has turned many of us against the Bible, which holds for them as for all people the good news of God’s love in Christ.
Evil, homophobic Bible “translations from hell” must not go unchallenged. The use of these translations by ignorant religious bigots to incite fear and hate against GLBTQQA people demands a clear, academically sound, credible, and easily understood response.
Interesting facts involving the translation of these words:3
- “Sexual orientation” was not understood during Biblical times. There were no Greek words for “homosexuality.” That’s because loving, compassionate, and consentual sex between people of the same gender was considered completely normal. It was just “sex” and was nothing special to be commented upon.
- There are no Modern Greek words for malakos and arsenokoites, and because of that, scholars disagree on the exact translation of these words.
- Translations from one language to another always include an element of interpretation because words do not mean the exact same thing in different languages. Often, words used originally no longer exist.
- Writers, including Aristotle and Plato, wrote on homosexuality, but never used the Greek words that appear in our passages today.
- Translators and interpreters of Christian literature such as Josephus, Philo, and Augustine never translated the passages we are studying today with homosexuality in mind. It was not until the 13th century that Thomas Aquinas first began to translate these terms this way.
- The Bible was first written in the ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek and … not translated into English until 1611. It had been translated into Latin, French, and German prior to being translated into English. None of these translations ever mentioned homosexuality as an interpretation of these Greek words.
- Malakoi is used four times in the New Testament: twice in Matthew 11:8, Luke 7:25, and in I Corinthians 6:9-10. Matthew and Luke say nothing about homosexuality when they use this word. They don’t say anything about homosexuality period. They are translated with the term “soft.” Malakos can also mean “spineless” or “morally weak.” Three hundred years ago, it became “effeminate,” or “having actions like a woman.” This is when the King James Version was written. That is the first time we have such a translation associated with these words.
- Obviously, English is a very fluid language, and we have to continue to translate our English so we can understand it in everyday terms. “Bad” is now a good thing. “Gay” used to mean only “happy.” Degrees of intensity of words vary: we can love our job, our car, chocolate, Krispi Kreme doughnuts, our spouse, or Jesus. Fifteen different words in Greek and Hebrew are translated as “love” in English. That is why we carry and use so many different translations of the Scriptures today.
Let’s read I Corinthians 6:16-17 again because we might miss the real message here. We’re reading from The Message. You can follow along with the translation you have and note the differences in language.
I Corinthians 6:16-17
There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much a spiritual mystery as a physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.” Since we want to become spiritually one with the Sovereign, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us lonelier than ever – the kind of sex that can never “become one.”
This is Paul’s way of telling about an amazing thing. Paul, himself, was trying to teach about something that he had never experienced with another human being; he had only experienced it with his relationship to God and Jesus.
Bad Sex vs. Good Sex
When a person has a “bad” sexual experience with another person, that person will often use some very intense negative emotions to describe the way he or she feels following it. Descriptions like “dirty,” “empty,” “guilty,” “sad,” “angry,” “afraid” are often given.
What words could you use to describe your feelings after a “bad” experience?
What a difference it is, then, when a person tries to describe how they feel when a sexual experience is good; “overflowing,” “joyous,” “happy,” “fulfilled,” “loved,” “fireworks,” “grateful,” “on top of the world”, and “powerful” come out.
If you have felt this, what words would you use?
What is it that makes the difference between the first kind of sexual experience and the last? What does the “fulfilled” sex contain that the “empty” sex does not?
I’ve heard “love between us,” “concern for us,” “treasuring each other,” and “God’s blessing” mentioned when explaining this difference.
What other words or phrases might you use?
When something makes us feel this way, I want you to understand one major point that is often overlooked. You feel joy, happiness, gratitude, fulfillment, and empowerment because of a Gift from God. You see, the way God made us, the only way that you can feel that kind of extreme pleasure and fulfillment is because God has given you a gift. In fulfilled sex, God is blessing and rewarding your relationship by making your experience together the ultimate of fabulous.
And this Gift from God is free! No external substances are needed to feel this extreme “high.”
I believe that people who continually engage in empty sex day after day and week after week are looking for the same pleasure, but they can’t find it there. When empty sex doesn’t achieve the desired high, they turn to artificial substances such as drugs and alcohol. But that doesn’t work either, and it is extremely expensive both to a person’s bank account and a person’s spirit.
Is it possible for people of the same sex to feel this joy when they are together sexually? Of course it is! This Gift from God is available to Everyone! That is the way God created us!
The evidence of the Gift is from the results. If people feel joyous, happy, fulfilled, loved, grateful, and powerful, then it is the Fruit of the Spirit. And that means that God has already blessed the relationship and the spiritual act of sex between them.
Why do you think that other churches have not wanted you to know this? Why do some churches preach that sexual pleasure is always a “sin (or weakness) of the flesh?” Why do some churches try to avoid the subject of sex altogether?
I don’t have the answers to that, but I do have some more questions:
- Is it because, like the Apostle Paul, the leaders of those churches have not experienced that fulfilling, empowering feeling after their own sexual experiences and don’t know how to explain it?
- Do they not know any better because they haven’t really examined what Jesus’ true message is?
- Is it because they have felt that power and are afraid of it?
- Is it because they crave personal power over other people and want to keep it for themselves?
- Is it because they realize that everyone can receive this Gift from God – even same-sex loving people – and they don’t want to affirm that because of their own baggage.
Once you have heard and understand the fact that fulfilled sex is a gift from God, you are under an obligation to internalize it. Jesus commands us to repent (μετανοέω - metanoeo - change our minds). Jesus tells us that we are to turn away from our old lives filled with guilt and shame and partake of the new “living” water. Jesus says to “Go, and sin (live selfish lives) no more!”
How incredibly refreshing! That was what Jesus’ real message was. That’s why Jesus was a revolutionary. That is why they killed Him.
So what does God want done about this now?
God has already done God’s part in all this. God gave us Jesus as an example. Jesus’ life, teachings, ministry, and death upon the cross did everything for us. Our selfishness is forgiven! God, however, does want something done now!
Our clue into what that is was explained by Jesus and recorded in Matthew – the Great Commission:
Find a role that you can play in letting others know about how to receive God’s Gift. You might become a teacher, preacher, or evangelist. You might use your current profession to reveal this Gift to others. You might keep a radiant glow about you all the time so people will come up and ask you about it.
Where is your spot in the City on the Hill that cannot be hidden? Whatever way you choose, God will bless you eternally for it. Remember: for God, it is “practice makes perfect.”
You talk with people every day. Some of those people are Christian; some are not. Jesus asked us to make sure that people could recognize us by the way we love people. Some of the people you talk with tell you about things that get on your nerves, just as some things Paul heard ticked him off.
In our last exercise, we looked at our failings as a Christian community. This time we’ll turn to our failings as individuals.
When people come up to me and tell me about something a Christian friend of mine did wrong, I sometimes shake my head and say, “He’s a Christian. He really should know better.” Something like that has probably happened to you.
What things bother you that your Christian friends do? Don’t be so specific that anyone will recognize the person you’re talking about, but share what some of those behaviors are with our group.
What things bother you that your non-Christian GLBTQQA friends do? Again, we don’t want to recognize the person you’re talking about, but share what some of those behaviors are with our group.
How can we explain to our sometimes-wayward Christian friends that it feels like they sometimes just don’t get it?
How can we explain to our non-Christian friends that there is a better way?
Okay, now put the answers to those last two questions into a paragraph or two that you could send in an eMail to your wayward friend. You don’t have to actually send them, but if your paragraphs are good enough, perhaps the recipient will print them out and stick them up on his or her refrigerator or shaving mirror. Perhaps your comments will be inspiring to others you don’t even know.
Please share your paragraphs with the group.
1 These passages marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
2 See the full discussion of this in John Boswell’s book: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality - Appendix 1, “Lexicography and Saint Paul,” pages 335-353.
3 from “Who Shall Inherit the Kingdom of God,” a study prepared by The Reverend Terri Steed for Sunday Morning Topics in 1997. Thank you Terri!