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Found in Translation! (Pt II): How Apostle Paul’s “soft men” ended up as “homosexuals”

Pop culture anthropologist Jessica Joseph attempts to show that the modern Bible is misinterpreted in relation to the LGBTQI movement in Part Two of her response to a Letter to the Editor from Akilah Holder:

Let us then move on to 1 Corinthians 6:9 which reads: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate (Greek: malakos), nor abusers of themselves with mankind (Greek: arsenokoites).”

Photo: An artist’s depiction of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

As mentioned before, some erroneous modern bibles translate the Greek words “malakoi” and “arsenokoites” as “homosexual.” However, if Paul wanted to describe people whose behaviour would closely parallel those we call gays or lesbians today, there were dozens of popular Greek terms to choose from.

You see, the Greeks wrote extensively about same-sex love. They had epic heroes who were male lovers; they had Sappho and female-loving goddesses. While the medical definition of homosexuality would not be discovered till the 1800s, the ancient Greeks had terms for behaviours or roles.

A “pais” or “paidika” was a popular Greek term for the younger, subordinate male lover of an older man; “erestes” was an older/dominant male lover of a younger man; “eronemous” a younger/passive male lover and “hetairistriai” was a woman who loved women. The Greeks even had a word “euryproktoi,” referring to a man who dressed as a woman, what we would today call a “drag-queen.”

Very, very curious that Paul, a learned man, fluent in Greek, did not use any of these terms in any of his writings. Instead, he used a Greek word “malakoi,” whose root and usage in Greek language never referred to anything remotely resembling homosexuality.

“Malakoi” is a term that literally means “soft ones”. It comes from the Greek root “malaka,” which is used by Jesus in Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25 to describe clothing of soft or luxurious quality. Even the bibles that translate it “effeminate” are wrong because the Greek word for effeminate, meaning “a man who acts like a woman,” is “kinaidos.” Let me just show you the confusing translation journey of the word “malakoi” from Paul’s day to the present:

Photo: The Apostle Paul.

The Apostle Paul – AD 55 – Greek – malakoi

Wycliffe – 1380 – neische

Tyndale – 1526 – weaklinges

Martin Luther – 1534 – weichlinge (weaklings)

Geneva Bible – 1560 – wantons

Valera Spanish – 1602 – efeminados

Rheims-Douay – 1609 – effeminat

King James Version – 1611 – effeminate

Daniel Mace New Testament – 1729 – the effeminate

Young’s Literal – 1898 – effeminate

Moffat – 1913 – catamites (boy prostitutes)

Amplified – 1958 – those who participate in homosexuality (a major deviation in meaning)

New American Bible – 1970 – boy prostitutes

New English – 1970 – guilty of homosexual perversion

NIV – 1973 – male prostitutes

NKJV – 1979 – homosexuals

JW-NWT – 1984 – men kept for unnatural purposes

Green’s Interlinear – 1986 – abusers

NLT – 1996 – male prostitute

International Standard Version – 2000 – male prostitutes

The Message – 2002 – those who use and abuse each other

World English Bible – 2005 – male prostitutes

God’s Word Translation – 2006 – homosexuals

Photo: A mother and son read the Holy Bible.

Look at meanings just for one Greek word! And they are not even synonyms of each other. See how much human error there is in biblical translations?

So, what does “malakoi” mean? Once again, we must refer to contemporary and idiomatic Greek usage of the word.

Aristotle, when writing the Nicomachean Ethics, used “malakos” to describe lack of restraint and excessive enjoyment of bodily pleasures. I quote, “…he who pursues the excesses of things pleasant, and shuns those of things painful, of hunger and thirst and heat and cold and all the objects of touch and taste… that men are called ‘soft’ (“malakos”) with regard to these pleasures…”

Another well-known commentator was Josephus who, in his Wars of The Jews and Antiquities of The Jews, used “malakos” to describe men who appeared soft or weak through lack of courage in battle or who enjoyed too much luxury. That was the common understanding of the word and other scriptures corroborate this.

How did a spoiled, hedonistic, luxuriating, materialistic glutton morph into “homosexual” over time? Obvious human interference in translation.

The other term in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, “arsenkoites,” has an even more interesting etymology. Remember, the Greeks wrote extensively about same-sex romance and relationships and yet, not once did the term “arsenokoites” show up to describe “eros” (romantic love) between men, let alone between women.

Photo: Same-sex relationships depicted in ancient Greek art.

The term has appeared a total of 56 times since Paul coined the expression and its subsequent use appears first in the Sibylline Oracles in conjugated form: “me arsenokoitein, me sukophantein, mete phoneuein.” There, the context was pederasty (rape and sexual exploitation of young boys by older men), anal rape of men or women, extortion, thievery and murder.

Telling the Sodom story, early Christian commentator Pseudo-Macarius Aegyptius in his Homiliae spirituales IV 4.22 states, “…created the ultimate offence in their evil purpose against the angels, wishing to work arsenokoitia (anal rape) upon them.”

John the Faster, considered to be the Patriarch of Constantinople, uses the word “arsenokoitia” to refer to a man violating members of his family with anal rape.

“One must also ask about the perplexing, beguiling and shadowy sin of incest, of which there are not just one or two varieties but a great many very different ones…. Some even do it with their own mothers, and others with foster sisters or goddaughters. In fact, many men even commit the sin of arsenokoitia with their wives.” (John the Faster, Penitential, circa AD 575.

The term “arsenokoites” only ever appears when speaking about forcible or exploitative sexual encounters involving anal rape of men with men, men with boys or men with women. It has nothing to do with homosexuality and even less to do with lesbians and, unless a LGBT person is also an abuser of boys or a rapist, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 cannot be accurately used to indict them in any way.

Photo: A same-sex couple.
(Copyright The Seattle Lesbian)

In the next instalment, we shall pick up right where we left off, which is on the subject of rape and tackle Akilah’s worst use of eisegesis yet. We shall delve deep into the scriptural doublet about two separate incidents of gang rape in Genesis 19 and Judges 19, which she claims constitutes a modern-day condemnation of all homosexual people by God. We shall learn about the etymology of the words “sodomy” and “sodomite” and learn what the word “abomination” means in Leviticus and the folly of cherry-picking from the 613 Mosaic Laws.

We shall also touch a little on individuals called “born eunuchs” in the Talmud and mentioned in Matthew 19. We shall end on the limits of biblical application to modern, post-scientific, post-Human Rights Charter 21st Century life, and look at why engaging in scriptural legalism and literalism leads to fundamentalism, hypocrisy and human rights abuses and religion’s downfall.

Till then, keep it civil. Be empathetic. Treat others as you would like to be treated.


Editor’s Note: Click HERE to read Part One as Jessica Joseph, a pop cultural anthropologist and human rights activist, addresses the interpretation of The Bible by critics of same-sex unions.

About Jessica Joseph

Jessica Joseph
Jessica Joseph is currently the Creative Director of Accela Marketing St Lucia/Canada. She is a multiple ADDY Award Winning Trinidadian national, Pop Cultural Anthropologist and Humans Rights Activist. She blogs on Huffington Post and alieninthecaribbean.blogspot.com.

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  1. It’s a bit disappointing that the information in this series is only now coming out. Or perhaps I missed it elsewhere. I really appreciate this series.

  2. Yup, it is important people understand that the bible, as they know it, was not magically handed down from a Higher Power, already fully written in English. It went through a HUMAN process of writers speaking within the limits of their age, knowledge, their culture and their language to an audience who took their words a certain way. Then writings were selected, edited, translated, re-translated and re-edited all by men, all with varying agendas and political climates. Even if bias was not intended, it sometimes sneaks into things.

    But we know something cannot mean something in 2018, it did not mean back then. It is dangerous and dishonest to take that approach.

    You have to start with what the verse meant back then to that audience in their original language and culture. Then you pull from it any timeless lessons that would benefit humankind today. For me, that is when the bible comes alive with far more nuance, meaning and you get much more out of it. There are golden nuggets of wisdom and universal truths and ethical premises there for someone’s spiritual journey. But the proof-texting, legalistic, literalist approach where people assert some view and then just pick a scriptural verse that reads a certain way and seems to support the view in abstraction, that is a stepping stone to absurdities and atrocities. Both the Christian and Muslim communities are dealing with the fallout of this- extremism, Dominionism, terrorism, human rights abuses, inability to help victims of rape/molestation within their ranks, children dying from lack of medical care etc.

    The more legalistic the sect, the more infractions against human rights you will find.

    • Sad to see such a treasure used as a tool to divide us.

    • Jo Ann Exactly. You’ll like Part 3. The real lesson we COULD be learning from the Sodom and Gomorrah story if we understood it correctly.

    • As for the arsenokoites and malakoi of 1Corinthians 6:9-11, what are we doing to help young men and children not just boys but girls too trapped in the sex trafficking trade and being raped and exploited by the modern day arsenokoites?

      That is why I keep pointing to that story of that girl being pimped out by her own mother. We hearing stories out of Jamaica about PASTORS raping children in the church! I posted a story about the child molestation scandal in the JW church and that is just Australia, it breaking in the UK, USA too. If those are developed countries with proper investigative resources and a more fearless media than ours and better child protective laws, and they have scandal like that….well, can you imagine what is happening in less developed countries?

  3. Thank you Jessica. Very much appreciated.

  4. I have a questioning mind so I appreciate this series and especially the translations.

  5. You’re welcome Beverly, busy on the fourth and final one. This one was a bit heavy on the translation stuff.