Sexuality and Slavery – Part Three

In my last post I looked at one specific example of how understanding the contemporary context of a passage can help discern its true meaning. We looked the use of the word pais in Matthew and Luke and saw how the only way that the Centurion’s servant could be a male lover would be if he was a child.

Our attention now turns to a word that has far more controversy around it – arsenokoites.  The word is found in two forms, one in 1 Cor 6:9 (with malakos, to which we will return) and one in 1 Timothy 1:10. In this post we will examine the word using the same tools as we did with pais.

The Literal Meaning of Arsenokoites

This is a fairly easy question to answer. The Greek word arsenokoites seems to derive itself from two other words – arsen and koite. Arsen literally means “man” and koite is usually translated as marital bed, sexual impurity (i.e. Rom 13:3) or sperm (and see Rom 9:10 where Paul uses the words koiten exousa to mean “get spermed”, or “conceived”). So the literal meaning is “man sex bed” which we would render as “man who has sex with man”.

The Possible meanings of Arsenokoites given the Judean/Hellenistic and Roman context

Though a literal translation is fairly obvious, the actual meaning of the word is much more controversial. While a literal translation would seem to cover all forms of homosexual activity, there is a great deal of debate as to whether such a strict translation of the word accurately describes what its usage in the first century was.  We need to ask ourselves whether this word, or others like it, were used in contemporaneous literature, and if so, how?

There are plentiful revisionist arguments that attempt to so such a thing, and in doing so to help us discern what arsenokoites might mean. For example, one popular argument focuses on Philo:

Around 35 A.D., the Jewish philosopher Philo (a contemporary of Paul’s) held that arsenokoites referred to shrine prostitution (Philo, The Special Laws, III, VII, 40-42). This is the origin this site suggests for it (see comments on the letters to Timothy and Corinth), though the context suggests that Paul may have been condemning pederasty, group sexual orgies, and/or people who are not innately gay/lesbian/bisexual but who engage in homosexual acts. Philo apparently felt that the word condemned pederasty and incest as well.

When one reads Philo’s Special Laws however, one discovers that the word arsenokoites does not even occur in the passage referred to. Here is the text (in it’s most often rendered English form with relevant Greek added):

And I imagine that the cause of this is that among many nations there are actually rewards given for intemperance and effeminacy (malakia). At all events one may see men-women (androgynia) continually strutting through the market place at midday, and leading the processions in festivals; and, impious men as they are, having received by lot the charge of the temple, and beginning the sacred and initiating rites, and concerned even in the holy mysteries of Ceres. (41) And some of these persons have even carried their admiration of these delicate pleasures of youth so far that they have desired wholly to change their condition for that of women, and have castrated themselves and have clothed themselves in purple robes, like those who, having been the cause of great blessings to their native land, walk about attended by body-guards, pushing down every one whom they meet. (42) But if there was a general indignation against those who venture to do such things, such as was felt by our lawgiver, and if such men were destroyed without any chance of escape as the common curse and pollution of their country, then many other persons would be warned and corrected by their example. For the punishments of those persons who have been already condemned cannot be averted by entreaty, and therefore cause no slight check to those persons who are ambitious of distinguishing themselves by the same pursuits.

The word arsenokoites never occurs in this passage. The closest we get is the Greek arrenos (sometimes arsenos and meaning “manly”) in section 37:

Moreover, another evil, much greater than that which we have already mentioned, has made its way among and been let loose upon cities, namely, the love of boys (to paiderastein), which formerly was accounted a great infamy (oneidos) even to be spoken of, but which sin is a subject of boasting not only to those who practise it (hoi drontes), but even to those who suffer it (hoi paschontes), and who, being accustomed to bearing the affliction of being treated like women (nosos thelia), waste away as to both their souls and bodies, not bearing about them a single spark of a manly character (tes arrenos geneas) to be kindled into a flame, but having even the hair of their heads conspicuously curled and adorned, and having their faces smeared with vermilion, and paint, and things of that kind, and having their eyes pencilled beneath, and having their skins anointed with fragrant perfumes (for in such persons as these a sweet smell is a most seductive quality), and being well appointed in everything that tends to beauty or elegance, are not ashamed to devote their constant study and endeavours to the task of changing their manly character into an effeminate one.

While the passage may (or may not) refer to shrine prostitution, the word arsenokoites does not appear within it. Indeed, the shrine prostitution (if it is, for there is no reference in this passage in Philo to anything cultic about the prostitution) is so very clearly pederastic in nature and the text does not indicate whether the androgynia actually engage in sex as a cultic practice, even though they do parade themselves as part of religious ceremonies. What Philo is condemning here is pederasty and pederastic prostitution, and the word arsenokoites is not involved at all in the discourse.

Furthermore most damning for this revisionist argument is the simple fact that koiten does not appear in this section of Philo’s work at all. One cannot argue that Philo’s Special Laws can inform us in any way about arsenokoiten or arsenos koiten because any variant of that word(s) simply does not occur in the text referred to.

Excursis – John the Faster of Constantinople and Arsenokoites

Although not from the first century, this treatment of an excerpt from John the Faster of Constantinople demonstrates the same kind of hazy thinking around the use of arsenokoites in Greek texts. Here is a translation from Boswell’s “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality”.

John Nesteutes (the Faster), was Patriarch of Constantinople 582-595. This is from a penitential usually ascribed to him.

The priest stands by [the penitent’s] side and questions him as cheerfully and kindly as possible, and if he can, he kisses him and puts the penitent’s arms around him, especially if he sees that he is overcome with grief and shame, which might wrongly dominate his thoughts, and he speaks to him in a soft and serene voice:

“In what way, my brother, did you first lose your virginity ? By fornication, lawful wedlock, masturbation [“malakia”], or one of those sins which are against nature [“para phusin”] When he has confessed and said thus and such, [the priest] questions him further: How many women had he had when he was married, and how many of these were slaves, how many were vidows, how many were married, how many were nuns – for some who wear the habit indulge in such things – and so forth. It is a small matter if the women were whores [“pornai”] a great one if they were married. . .Before all else the number of persons should be ascertained, and the types of person. There are six types: it is one penance if they were slaves, another if freeborn; one if they were whores, another if virgins; one thing if they were widows another if married; one thing if they were nuns, and another if they were married to priests.

Likewise one must inquire about arsenokoita [“anal intercourse” is Boswell’s suggestion] of which there are three varieties. For it is one thing to get it from someone, which is the least serious another to do it to someone else, which is more serious than having it done to you; another to do it to someone and have it done to you, which is more serious than either of the other two. For to be passive only, or active only, is not so grave as to be both. One must inquire into which of these [practices] the penitent has fallen, and how often, and for how long, and if it happened before marriage or after, if before the age of thirty or after. It must be ascertained further whether he has penetrated an animal, of which sin there is only grade.

Likewise there are two types of masturbation [malakia]: one wherein he is aroused by his own hand and another by someone else’s hand, which is unfortunate, since what the parties begin by themselves ends up also harming others to whom they teach the sin.

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. One type is committed with two sisters of the same father or mother (or both). Another involves a cousin; another the daughter of a cousin; another the wife of one’s son; another the wife of one’s brother. It is one thing with a mother-in-law or the sister of a mother-in-law, another with a stepmother or a father’s concubine. 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.

Going back to the same website that raised the claim of Philo using arsenokoites to refer to temple prostitution, we find the following explanation of the above:

A revealing use of it appears around 575 A.D.; Joannes Jejunator (John the Faster), the Patriarch of Constantinople, used the word in a treatise that instructed confessor priests how to ask their parishioners about sexual sin. Here it appears in the context of a paragraph dealing with incestuous relations, and if translated as ‘homosexuality,’ the sentence containing it would read “In fact, many men even commit the sin of homosexuality with their wives.” (Patrologiae cursus completus, Series Graeca, 88:1893-96) Though at the time it apparently referred to anal or oral sex or to sex forced upon a woman, it pretty clearly had nothing to do with homosexuality.

Once again, the word arsenokoites is not used anywhere in relation to the subject that it is claimed it does. The paragraph on incest is completely unconnected with. It is very clear from reading the Penitential that this is a list of areas to question parishioners about. Arsenokoitia refers to anal sex (as Boswell himself argues) and the paragraph on incest is an entirely separate source of inquiry. These two paragraphs are themselves separated by a paragraph dealing with masturbation. The word arsenokoitia when used in the final paragraph here clearly refers to anal sex and is being used in the context of the first paragraph where it refers to same sex activity (“have it done to you” – an act which a women could not perform) and this explains the statement in the third paragraph ( “In fact, many men even commit the sin of arsenokoitia with their wives.”)  as being in reference to the first where it clearly denotes same-sex activity (of a particular kind). What the text says then is this – “You need to ask the man about whether he has engaged in incest. These are the different kinds on relationships incest occurs in. Remember, as well as vaginal sex, some even commit anal incest.”

Rabinnic and Early Patristic Use of Arsenokoites or Equivalents

The academic consensus is that the most likely explanation of the emergence of the word arsenokoites is that Paul is the originator of the word. The only possible exception to this may be the use of arsenokoiten in The Sibylline Oracles (2.73) but the date for this is much disputed and probably post-dates 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy. David F Wright in his essay “Homosexuals or Prostitutes?” argues that arsenokoites was created by Hellenistic Jews from the LXX rendering of Levitcus 18:22 and 20:13. Scroggs (a revisionsist) himself observes that the Rabbinic literature of the time uses the Hebrew “miskab zakur” to refer to all homosexual intercourse, which is a close a literal rendering of arsenos koiten (LXX Lev 20:13) as can be achieved. In the Babylonian Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 54a teaches that arsenos koiten (LXX Lev 20:13) refers to the active partner in pederastic sex and both partners in adult same-sex activity. B. Sanhedrin does not make any reference to prostitution or cultic activity, as the full quote below shows.


GEMARA. Whence do I know that pederasty is punished by stoning? — Our Rabbis taught: [If a man lieth also with mankind, as the lyings of a woman,29 both of them have committed on abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them,]30 A man — excludes a minor; [that] lieth also with mankind — denotes whether an adult or a minor; as the lyings of a woman — this teaches that there are two modes of intimacy,31 both of which are punished when committed incestuously. R. Ishmael said: This verse comes to throw light [upon pederasty] but receives illumination itself.32 They shall surely be put to death: by stoning. You say, by stoning: but perhaps some other death decreed in the Torah is meant? — Their blood shall be upon them is stated here, and also in the case of one who has a familiar spirit or is a wizard:33 just as there the reference is to stoning, so it is here too.

You can read further by following the link and it is obvious that the Rabbinic condemnation is not contextualised in terms of the nature of the relationship (the only exception of course is that he who is forced into the receptive behaviour – i.e. raped – cannot be held guilty). The prohibition clearly lies upon all same-sex activity.

This perspective is reinforced by two other first Century Jewish writers, Philo (who we encounter above) and Josephus. Josephus writes in Against Apion:

25. But, then, what are our laws about marriage? That law owns no other mixture of sexes but that which nature hath appointed, of a man with his wife, and that this be used only for the procreation of children. But it abhors the mixture of a male with a male; and if any one do that, death is its punishment.

Once again we see there is no contextualisation of the general prohibition on same-sex activity – all of it is condemned.

This revisionist website lists the uses of arsenokoites (and other forms) in literature after the New Testament and shows how time and time again no definition of the word is present in the text. The site says that this proves ambiguity in the meaning, but surely such an absence of definition requires us to go further back in time to arrive at the first definition that we have, namely the two passages of 1 Cor 6 and 1 Tim 1? Otherwise the argument is tantamount to suggesting that any twenty-first century text that contains the word “elephant” without defining the word provides ambiguity as to the meaning of the word “elephant”. Given that the texts that the revisionist website refers to are almost all Christian, the obvious reference point for the use of the word arsenokoites is it’s primary origin – the New Testament.

What is more damning to the revisionist argument is that in none of the passages cited above is there any explicit connection between arsenokoites and prostitution or cultic practices. Instead we have arguments like the following:

Define arsenokoites. Aristides, Apology, 13. Aristides, a Christian preacher, delivered his Apology around AD 125. The context is interspecies rape or pederasty, Greek gods killing, committing adultery and arsenokoitia with humans.

The context which Aristides addressed is not homosexuality in the sense of a committed same sex partnership between male equals.

The problem with this line of argument on arsenokoites is that it appeals to the validation of a particular stance on a sexual activity purely from the absence of comment on that particular stance. This is a ridiculous way of arguing as, for example, I could take our passage from John the Faster on incest and argue that since John wasn’t aware of consensual committed incestuous relationships (they occur), he cannot be condemning such sexual activity. This is obviously nonsense.

We are pushed back again to the New Testament passages and our previous exploration that leads us to the most obvious conclusion – that arsenokoites has been derived from the LXX. Of course, this provokes us to examine what the original Hebrew of Leviticus 20:13 is.

וְאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִשְׁכַּ֤ב אֶת־זָכָר֙ מִשְׁכְּבֵ֣י אִשָּׁ֔ה תֹּועֵבָ֥ה עָשׂ֖וּ שְׁנֵיהֶ֑ם מֹ֥ות יוּמָ֖תוּ דְּמֵיהֶ֥ם בָּֽם׃

A good straight translation is: Man lies down with male instead sexually (lit. on couch) with woman makes abomination – die both persons – blood on them. There is absolutely no reference to prostitution or cultic practices and no limitation on the context of the sex. This fits the first century Rabbinic commentary which we saw placed no such limitations on the same-sex activity it condemned.


We can see that the argument that arsenokoites refers to a specific subset of homosexual activity (prostitution or cultic practices) cannot be supported by any of the post New Testament literature. We have established that arsenokoites first appears within the New Testament and therefore it is reasonable to assume that Paul either creates the word himself, or that it was created by the first Century Rabbinic community that Paul operated in (at least before his conversion). Given this, the most reasonable etymology is that the word is sourced from the LXX, where the verses that it comes from condemn all homosexual activity, or alternatively, a straight Greek translation of the Rabbinic miskab zakur. This is supported by the clear first century Rabbinic teaching that condemned all homosexual activity regardless of context (and supporting teaching in the Babylonian Talmud and elsewhere).

Personal Addendum

I entered this third part of my study with a genuine openness to the possibility that arsenokoites might refer to a subset of homosexual activity rather than all. If such an argument could be supported then I would need to rest an argument against all homosexual behaviour in the correct translation of Romans 1. However, as I engaged with the revisionist arguments, I was truly shocked at some points by the paucity of the case, especially where reference was made to the presence of arsenokoites in texts that did not actually contain the word or any variations thereof.

That said, I am still open to being presented with Contemporaneous Greek or Patristic texts that show arsenokoites being used clearly to refer to homosexual activity or sodomy and specifically within the context of only prostitution or cultic activities. If you believe that such a reference does exists, please put it in the comments below.

53 Comments on “Sexuality and Slavery – Part Three

  1. Peter, well done on the research. It re-affirms the importance of never taking anything for granted.

    One of the things which has struck me is that the NT does not use the word kinaidos, which was certainly available to refer to a certain kind of person. There is a lengthy article here, which I have only had time to peruse, but which goes into some detail.

    I have argued elsewhere that Paul’s avoidance of this term (if such it is) puts his focus on action, rather than persons. In modern terminology, we might say it is the ‘same sex act’ (of arseno-‘coition’) which stands condemned, not the ‘gay’ (kinaidos) person.

    • Hello John,

      long time since we’ve had any cyber-conversation… just wondering if you are aware of Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s book, ‘Wrestling with God and Men’?

      in friendship, Blair

  2. Peter,

    Reading this was very frustrating for me. It feels as if you have not read the argument that I (and others) have made in other threads.

    I will have to look more closely into the textual arguments surrounding the use of ‘arsenokoites’.

    However, if we assume, for argument’s sake, that your argument regarding ‘arsenokoites’ is correct – what does that mean?

    In your first post in this series, you tried to make the case (unsuccessfully) that Paul did, in fact, know about loving, committed, monogamous same-sex partnerships. And you acknowledged that if the case could be made that he did NOT know about such partnerships, this was a serious flaw in the conservative argument.

    But of course, you didn’t make that case. Because the kind of committed, monogamous, same-sex partnerships we see today did not exist, culturally speaking, in Paul’s time.

    So if Paul was going to refer to homosexual behaviour – behaviour which, as far as he knew, only occured in a non-loving context, one would expect him to condemn the behaviour he knew – which was unloving, non-monogamous, etc, etc.

    Behaviour which has nothing in common with the committed, loving same-sex partnerships we see today.

    So assuming your argument on ‘arsenokoites’ is correct: Of course Paul doesn’t contextualise his condemnation of the kind of homosexual behaviour he knew about.

    Just has Paul doesn’t contextualise his commands to slaves to ‘obey their masters as the Lord’.

    No – ‘obey your masters in this social context, but in other social contexts, you’d be free to fight against slavery’.

    Nothing like that. Just a blanket command to slaves to obey their masters. It’s a command that is repeated throughout the New Testament, in fact.

    Yet you applaud the abolitionists for encouraging slaves to disobey their masters, fight against slavery, run-away, etc. We applaud those who risked their lives to help southern slaves in America reach freedom, because we acknowledge the truth that no individual can ‘own’ another – despite the clear ‘teaching of Scripture’ to the contrary.


    • If you re-read my piece you’ll see that I tackle this exact objection and discuss it in relation to incest. Perhaps you’d like to address the point I made there.

      I’m going to leave discussing slavery until I reach it in my study.

      • But Peter – you are arguing about a 2nd century text when you address incest. I thought we were discussing what the Bible has to say about homosexuality?

        Besides which – you are trying (once again) to equate a relationship between same-sex equals and incest (and almost all cases of incest also involve pederasty).

        The two kinds of relationships aren’t equivalent and you know it.

        But by your logic, I can take any command, given in any situation, and then apply that command in EVERY situation that might be similiar. (the old – does the wife telling her husband not to touch her mean ‘just for now’ or ‘once and for always’? It depends on the context, of course).

        And that is what is really a ‘ridiculous way of arguing’.

        Meaning does NOT exist without context. Context determines meaning.

        As you have acknowledged below (although I must say – if you are admitting that Paul didn’t know about the kinds of same-sex relationships we see today, I’m at a bit of a loss as to know how you think your first post advanced your argument?), Paul didn’t know about committed same-sex relationships – so he couldn’t possibly have made a comment about them one way or the other.

        Therefore, to discern God’s views on such relationships, we need to look at other evidence. Other Scriptures that can give us over-arching, clearly global, direct commands from God.

        Things like, ‘All of the law and the prophets are summed up in Love God and Love your neighbour as yourself’. :-)

        Those kinds of commands.

        As Blair has pointed out in other passages – the fact that we can clearly see self-sacrificial love in same-sex relationships is a large difficulty for your argument.

        I John 3: 7-8

        Beloved, let us love one another. For everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who loves not, knows not God, for God is love.

        • Carolyn, would you say that it was a fair characterisation of your position that the presence of self-sacrificing love and the avoidance of harm to others are the dominant criteria for the determination of what is and is not sexually moral?

          If not, what other criteria would you say are important?

        • Carolyn (and sorry for comment madness, damn captcha):

          Peter is *not* equating incest and same sex relationships – he is pointing out that the same arguments can be used to justify both. It’s a subtle distinction that you seem unwilling to see. The point is that if we argue for allowing same sex acts on the basis of textual ambiguities, then it becomes difficulty to see why we cannot argue for allowing incest on the same grounds. Talking about incest absolutely *is* relevant to this debate, because if we can work out why incest is wrong (if indeed it is) then that might give us some useful information about the meaning and purpose of sexual love.

          Also, would you say that it was a fair characterisation of your position that (1) the presence of self-sacrificing love and the avoidance of harm to others are the dominant criteria for the determination of what is and is not sexually moral, and (2) that sex acts are not intrinsically good or bad in themselves – deontologically, if you like – but can only be judged good and bad by their consequences and their context.

          If I have mischaracterised your views in (1), what other criteria would you say are important?

          • WC,

            Peter does actually have to draw some kind of parallel between same-sex relationships and incest in order for his analogy to work.

            Incest is primarily a power-dominance relationship. In these types of relationships, the older partner takes advantage of/harms the other.

            Because this is the case, one can condemn these types of relationships as sinful based on the harm these cause.

            In order for Peter’s analogy to work, incest needs to be non-damaging. It needs to be the equivalent of same-sex relationships. But it isn’t, so Peter’s analogy doesn’t work.

            As for your other question – I think the answer would generally speaking be ‘yes’. But the question is – Why do I take this position?

            And the answer is Scriptural – this is the position Jesus took in judging others’ interpetation of the law (see when he judged the Pharisees’ interpetation of the Sabbath law – if their interpretation was ‘for evil’, or harmed others, it was wrong. Interpretations which were ‘for good’, or allowed good consequences, were correct).

            We see Paul making the same point in Romans 13 – all of the law can be summed up in ‘love others’ and ‘do no harm’.

            So – given that both Jesus and Paul use this rubric for judging whether or not actions are permissible, why would I not use the same rubric, as a follower of Jesus?

            You clearly do not subscribe to this – you seem to feel that, even if relationships are self-sacrificially loving, and bring only good consequences to the individuals involved, that those relationships can still be evil. Can you explain the Scriptural basis for this argument and how you reconcile it with Jesus’ example and Paul’s letter to the Romans?

            • Of course incest can be non power-dominance in nature and experienced as non damaging. What about a sister and brother (the example I was thinking of) who freely consent to such a sexual union? Is that relationship immoral if it’s committed and monogamous?

              • Peter,

                These kinds of relationships (brother-sister) are extremely rare – biology takes care of it (i.e., if individuals are raised together, there is virtually no sexual attraction between them – we see this in other species, as well as humans).

                And why is this? Because very close matings (brother-sister) cause serious genetic problems – lots of potential harm caused to others, wouldn’t you say?

                Again – not comparable to a same-sex relationship. And for your analogy to work, the two cases (incest and same-sex relationships) have to be comparable.

                Once again, these are not.

                But I do think this issue raises an important point concerning most probably very differences of approaches to this issue. How
                would conservatives approach the issue of two people who met randomly, fell in love and married, then only later found out that they were genetically half-brother and half-sister via sperm donation?

                I suspect your approach and my approach to an issue like this (which is obviously not addressed in Scripture, as it unique to our cultural context) would be quite diffferent.

                • With respect Carolyn, you are completely avoiding engaging with the issue at hand by constantly adding qualifications. Let me spell out again very simply the issue I want you to address.

                  I present you with two couples. One is a same-sex couple, the other is brother and sister. Apart from this fact, their relationship is exactly identical. Are they both moral or not?

                  • But they aren’t identical, Peter. There are very specific genetic issues relevant to the brother-sister couple that are not relevant to the same-sex couple.

                    Remember – Paul explains ‘Love one another’ in Romans as ‘Love does no harm’. That complicates the picture with respect to the brother-sister couple in a way that is completely irrelevant to the same-sex couple.

                    There is huge potential for large amounts of harm to result from the brother-sister couple (in terms of genetic offspring).

                    So – I’ve given you a very specific example of harm that could come from a brother-sister couple that makes the issue of the ‘morality’ of their pairing a much more complicated matter.

                    But you can’t do the same with same-sex couples. This kind of inherent potential for ‘harm’ doesn’t exist in committed, loving same-sex relationships.

                    So, as much as you want the two situations to be equivalent, they simply aren’t. In order to show that they are, you need to demonstrate (I’d like a concrete example) that a same-sex couple is specifically causing harm to others by the fact of their relationship.

                    • Carolyn:

                      What if the couple are infertile, such that they know for sure that they will not conceive? Who is being harmed now?

                    • Carolyn,

                      Do you see what you’re doing? I’m asking you to make a moral judgement based on two couples who are absolutely identical apart from their composition (one same-sex, one brother-sister). You now presume to load one couple with a number of presuppositions that change the context of the comparison. It’s ridiculous – you talk about genetic problems and sidestep WC’s reply on infertility because it simply doesn’t help your position.

                      Yet, were I to reply to your “permanent, stable, faithful” gay couple by saying there were intrinsic problems with that couple (the dangers of anal sex, higher rates of mental health issues amongst gay community, the statistics that demonstrate that the children of same-sex couples may not do as well as those of married couples, the problems children of the couple might have with social acceptance, the clear assault that same-sex couples make on the ordained nature of family life – all the things that I normally don’t even mention when discussing this issue) would you allow me to do that? Would you accept those presuppositions in my reply?

                      Why is it acceptable for you to make all kinds of presuppositions in rejecting my incestuous couple, but we are not allowed to do the same with your same-sex couple?

                  • However (and I’m putting this in a separate post, because it’s an important point) – this whole argument is a red herring.

                    Why? Because your original argument:

                    It appeals to the validation of a particular stance on a sexual activity purely from the absence of comment on that particular stance

                    is actually a misrepresentation of the revisionist position (or my position, anyway!).

                    I don’t argue that because 21st Century same-sex relationships aren’t specifically mentioned in the Bible, that means they are automatically valid.

                    Instead, I make the point that the types of same-sex relationships we know about today aren’t mentioned in the Bible – so we cannot therefore assume that they are condemned. Instead, we have to use other Biblical evidence to determine (as best we can) whether or not these types of relationships are acceptable to God).

                    Big, big difference.

        • Carolyn, how do you know that Paul emphatically did not know about loving, monogamous gay relationships?

          Secondly, is it not primarily an argument from silence?

        • You can throw out all the verses the homosexuals like to twist in the NT and we are still left with what God commanded:

          Matthew 19: 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

          This is all we need to know! It does not say a man should hold fast to his husband. Once God says something it is valid. This is even confirmed by Jesus Christ himself! God only needs to say something one time and it is valid. There is absolutely no exceptions to this commandment in scripture and one cannot add to the scripture!


          1 Corinthians 7:2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

          This means that all sex outside of a man and woman marriage is sexual immorality. This means any homosexual relationship of any king period! This also confirms that there is no such thing as two men being married or two women being married.

    • ‘Sigh’, in response to Carolyn’s sigh!

      Let’s summarise where we’ve got to:

      Peter argued that Paul would have known of two types of gay relationships that could have been seen as ‘committed, loving and faithful’ in the context of the Greek/Roman world.

      1. Greek pederastic relationships between men in their twenties and pubescent boys or youths of equal upper class social standing, which were primarily about mentoring the youth and which involved homosexual activity, to a greater or lesser extent.
      2. Roman same-sex relationships with the active partner as a social superior to the passive partner, usually a slave.

      Peter amply demonstrated that these relationships could involve affection, commitment and love between these partners, even if in both cases men were also expected to fulfil their societal duty to marry and produce children.

      So it is incorrect to argue that the ancient world knew nothing of ‘committed, loving and faithful’ same-sex relationships.

      He has now argued that arsenokoites refers directly to all types of same-sex activity and is probably rooted in the best known reference in Romans 1, or at least the Jewish culture from which it sprang. There is no evidence that it refered purely to ritual or cultic prostitution.

      He has found that some of the revisionist arguments that have been made around aresenokoites have merely assumed that cultic prostitution is the correct usage when the word isn’t even in the relevant text!

      And rather than engage with Peter’s arguments (which admittedly would take some time) you’re back banging the same old slavery drum again, when Peter has also already addressed this argument. I’ll add 1 Corinthians 7:21 and Philemon 16 into the pot on this one.

      Why can’t you just admit that scriptural liberals attach greater weight to reason (in other words arguments from the dominant culture) and have done with it?

      • Philip,

        I really find myself amazed when I read your reply.

        How are relationships which involve cheating on another partner ‘faithful’? There were wives at home that were being harmed by these homosexual realationships – how is that loving and faithful?

        And how are relationships based on serial monogamy (something we would all agree that Jesus does not accept in heterosexuals) all of a sudden to be seen as ‘loving, faithful, and committed’ when it is a homosexual relationship?

        The definition of ‘serial monogamy’ is that we are not talking about permanently committed relationships.

        You are essentiall saying that ‘black is white’ and then shaking your head in disbelief when I challenge you on that statement!

        You are saying that the ancient world might have considered these kinds of relationships ‘loving, committed, faithful’. Perhaps.

        But under no circumstances would we expect a follower of Jesus to consider them ‘loving, committed, faithful’ when they clearly weren’t by Jesus’ higher standard of ‘love and doing no harm to others’.

        That’s the thing, Philip – you conservatives want to say that liberals think ‘anything goes’ and ‘if I want to do it, then just do it’. Nothing could be further from the truth.

        Jesus’ standard of ‘loving others as we love ourselves’ is an extraordinarily high, exacting standard, and rules out lots and lots of behaviour that ‘the world’ would consider acceptable.

        As for aresenokoites – I’m just going to sigh again. Your response (once again) fails to engage with the point I have made (repeatedly) that it is impossible for someone to address a cultural phenomenon that did not exist.

        No one has answered the question of how you would expect Paul to address 21st century committed homosexual relationships, when he knew nothing of those kinds of relationships (monogamous throughout life, between social equals, committed, loving, with no ‘wronged spouse’ in the background).

        How and why would he have addressed this type of relationship – when he was unaware of these types of relationships?

        I have directly engaged with Peter’s arguments – he (and you) have ignored mine (or, as above, said that ‘black is white’ and considered that an argument!). I’ve already said I’ll need to re-read info about arsenokoites – but again, I don’t think you can extrapolate from one cultural context to all cultural contexts without a very good reason to do so.

        You say I’m ‘banging on’ about slavery – I realise that it’s uncomfortable for you, because the parallel between the slave owners use of Scripture and your own is so close. But it’s an important argument to make – the inconsistency conservatives demonstrate when they approach Scripture, but then accuse liberals of ‘not taking Scripture seriously’.

        For example – no one here has yet attempted to answer my question about polygamy:

        How can God do something (give David multiple wives and offer him more wives) which is sinful (based on the conservative contention that the Bible is ‘clear and consistent that the only acceptable place for sexual relationships is within a marriage between one man and one woman’)?

        My view of same-sex marriage is based on my interpretation of Scripture – which prioritises direct commands from Jesus over extrapolations from a 1st century cultural context to a 21st century cultural context.

        • Carolyn

          You’ve picked up on some rather loose phrasing in my comment that I should not have included. Clearly ancient world same-sex relationships were not ‘faithful’ when wronged wives were involved, although that unfaithfulness would not necessarily have been seen as wrong by the culture of the time. However, I should not have used the word ‘faithful’ and you right to pick me up on it.

          However, Peter’s overall point stands. He has shown that there were at least two types of same-sex relationships in the Ancient World which exhibited love, affection and even commitment, in terms of the prevailing culture. he is simply argually contextually from scripture and from ancient world literature, in the same way that liberals do, but making a different argument (and, incidently showing that some liberal arguments do not even deal with the facts!)

          A modern day example from my own context of South Africa may be relevant at this point. Polygamy continues to be common in black African communities, including (most notoriously) our new President, Jacob Zuma! Orthodox Christian teaching has been and continues to be against polygamy, as it is against Scripture. In this case Christian teaching is also in line with contemporary liberal/socialist arguments that polygamy is oppresive and demeaning to women, encourages promiscuity and encourages men to see women as property. I also agree with these arguments. But no-one (at least to my knowledge) has argued that polygamous relationships cannot in some cases be ‘committed, loving and faithful’, depending on the people involved. You see the parallel?

          In Christian terms, polygamy is wrong because it is clearly ruled out by Scripture. There are also very sound reasons to discourage it in terms of social policy and gender equality. But an argument is made for polygamy (mostly by African traditionalists) that such relationships are ‘committed, loving and faithful’, and, in South Africa at least, they have the law on their side. Do you see how ‘committed, loving and faithful’ can quite easily become a relative, rather than an absolute distinction?

          Incidently, Peter HAD responded to you on polygamy, way back on the ‘Heresies’ thread, you simply don’t agree with him. The fundamental point is that God nowhere condones polygamy, and indeed by the time we get to the New Testament marriages are strictly monogomous, including from Jesus himself.

          I’ll also defer to Peter’s post to come on slavery and will not respond to you at this point.

          However, leaving my error on ‘faithful’ aside, where does that leave us? Your argument essentially comes down to a justification for equal recognition for same-sex relationships on the basis that they can be ‘committed, loving and faithful’.

          Wicked Conservative has quite rightly asked if ‘it was a fair characterisation of your position that (1) the presence of self-sacrificing love and the avoidance of harm to others are the dominant criteria for the determination of what is and is not sexually moral, and (2) that sex acts are not intrinsically good or bad in themselves but can only be judged good and bad by their consequences and their context. If I have mischaracterised your views in (1), what other criteria would you say are important?’

          I think he’s hit it bang on the button and deserves a response. We’re all waiting!

    • One more thing. You wrote:

      In your first post in this series, you tried to make the case (unsuccessfully) that Paul did, in fact, know about loving, committed, monogamous same-sex partnerships.

      That is simply incorrect. At no point do I say that Paul was aware of relationships identical to the ones exhibited today. I say that there are two forms of relationship which are similar (but not the same), and that if the social dynamics were altered they might be compared to modern relationships. That however is a far cry from arguing that I thought Paul would know about “loving, committed, monogamous same-sex partnerships”.

      • I’m sorry I’ve misunderstood you, Peter.

        But if you are acknowledging that Paul did not know about committed, loving, monogamous relationships, then I’m unclear as to the point of your first post in this series?

        Because that post seemed to be trying to make the point that we can read the ostensibly anti-gay passages as ‘once and for all time’ passages, because Paul DID (somehow) know of relationships similar to the ones we see today, so we can assume he meant to condemn today’s relationships as well?

        If 1st century homosexual relationships are clearly different from 21st century relationships (which they are).

        And if we can identify how those 1st century homosexual relationships clearly violated Jesus ‘law of love’ (which we can) – then it seems difficult to sustain the contention that the ‘clear meaning of Scripture’ is the prohibition of relationships we acknowledge that Scripture doesn’t even attempt to address?

        • Because that post seemed to be trying to make the point that we can read the ostensibly anti-gay passages as ‘once and for all time’ passages, because Paul DID (somehow) know of relationships similar to the ones we see today, so we can assume he meant to condemn today’s relationships as well?

          I’m not quite sure I did make that connection. I certainly said that there were relationships which were similar to modern relationships, but I don’t think I jumped from there to say that if he condemns those he condemns modern relationships.

          Which is why the study (so far, especially in this section) has focussed upon the sexual activity and not just the context.

          • Peter,

            Could you define similar for me? In what way were homosexual relationships defined by:

            1) serial monogamy (i.e., one partner after another),

            2) social inequality (and the taking advantage of a social inferiour by a social superior) and

            3) cheating on a heterosexual partner

            ‘similar to’ committed, loving, monogamous 21st century same-sex relationships?

            • Items 1 and 3 are irrelevant. I have not argued that serial monogamous relationships were moral, and to imply that a “high form” Greek pederastic relationship was serially monogamous is to fundamentally misunderstand the societal context of such relationships. It is the equivalent of dismissing a family tie because a child leaves home at 18.

              3 is utterly irrelevant because we can talk about C1 same-sex relationships which didn’t contain this factor.

              Item 2 is interesting, but once again displays an historical naivety. Cross social structure homosexual relationships existed for the very purpose of elevating the socially inferior member into the presence of the socially superior. These relationships in some sense levelled the social strata. You are also importing C21 social structures upon these relationships and the society in which they existed, which itself implies a glorification of the Western liberal world which we currently live in. You critique leaves you arguing simply for the superiority of Western Liberal C21 society above any other societal structure that has been or, AND THIS IS VITALLY IMPORTANT, may yet be.

              • Well said Peter!

                We have got to the nub of the argument here. The core of the liberal approach to scriptural interpretation has been demonstrated by Carolyn:

                1. Contextualise the relevant Scriptures that give direct prohibitions on same sex activity as being outside our modern understanding of ‘committed, loving and faithful’ gay relationships (CLFGR), and therefore irrelevant.
                2. Argue that modern CLFGR should therefore be approached under the general biblical principle of love.
                3. State quite correctly that love is supreme, as it is the ‘Royal Law’ set out by Jesus.
                4. To then change the defintion of love from a biblical definition to a definition resting on ‘the presence of self-sacrificing love and the avoidance of harm to others’ (Carolyn’s acceptance of WC’s question).
                5. To then apply this changed, essentially philosophically modern and relative, definition of love to CLFGR.
                6. Conclude that CLFGR are sanctioned by God because the ultimate principal of God is love.

                As an argument it works logically but the problem is the changed definition of love in its centre. You cannot respond adequately to Peter’s incest example as you can only fall back on the defintion of love as the ‘avoidance of harm’ rather than obedience to God’s commands.

                Any orthodox Christian argument on love will place at least equal weight on obedience to God’s commands. John 14:15. Love without obedience to God’s commands runs the risk of becoming relative to contemporary values and trends.

                And this is the big hole at the centre of your argument, Carolyn. Your definition of love concentrates upon avoiding harm to others, as you have stated often in your posts.

                But this does not do justice to the fulness of God’s love. God’s love includes the need to obey his commandments. God’s love includes the command to rescue people from their sin, even if they don’t want it. God’s love culminates in the death of His Son on the cross to deliver us from sin and to break the chains of sin and death over us, again even though we didn’t ask him.

                I’m sorry, but your definition of love is insufficient. Love without obedience becomes relative, and I’m afraid that is all you are left with. Your version of love as the ‘avoidance of harm’ inevitably means that you must resort to what contemporary culture defines as ‘loving’ or ‘harmful’. And as contemporary culture says that CLFGRs are OK and that incest is a no-no, you’re OK.

                But what happens when a culture (such as Ancient Greece) says that paederasty (in certain cirucmstances) is also OK. You cannot concede that these could have been seen as ‘loving’ in their context, as this would show your definition of love to be relative. And so, as Peter has pointed out, you have to resort to ever tighter qualifications to produce a ‘harmful’ situation.

                Your definition of love in the end comes down to saying: ‘It is what progressive, right minded people believe it to be’. And that is the place where all authoritarian movements start.

                • Peter & Philip,

                  I don’t have the time right now to give a detailed a response (and to be honest, it feels like hitting my head against a brick wall). :-(

                  BUT – you need to recognise what you are doing here. You accuse me of prioritising a 21st century understanding of ‘love’ over all else. And perhaps that charge has some validity.

                  But what are you doing? What are you prioritising?

                  You want to say that you are prioritising the ‘Scripture’ and ‘Word of God’.

                  But in reality, you are prioritising the 1st century world view. It’s interesting – I’ve seen this before in a book I read which was arguing against the ordination of women (focusing solely on the 1 Timothy 2 passage which forbids women to ‘teach’).

                  I found it fascinating at the time – the first time I’d heard it explicitly argued that the 1st century context was ‘morally superior’ and its social norms need to be adhered to/respected. Why? Because Jesus was born into that context. This book went on to, as a side note, argue in favour of the form of slavery that existed in the 1st century world.

                  I must say – I was taken aback, but gave them credit for being consistent.

                  Which is what you both are not. Yet this is the basis of your argument – that the 1st century understanding of homosexuality needs to be normative.

                  Because that is the basis of your argument. You are saying that our standard needs to be obedience to ‘God’s commands’ – but then you extrapolate commands about specific 1st century homosexual conduct to ‘for all times’.

                  I’ve said it again (head – meet wall), but you cannot separate command from context and reach a valid conclusion about that command.

                  And that is what you both are doing – in fact, it’s the only way you can reach your conclusion that ‘obedience to God’s commands’ demands condemnation of all same-sex relationships. The Bible only condemns specific types of same-sex relationships – those it knew about.

                  And as much as you want to go on about 1st century relationships ‘being the same as’ 21st century ones, you both have acknowledged they are not. It’s kind of amazing to me, though – the convolutions we can do in our own heads to justify a clearly false belief. :-(

                  Philip – how do you reconcile Romans 13 with your seeming contempt for a morality based on ‘loving others’ and ‘doing no harm’? You seem to blatantly ignore the ‘clear meaning of Scripture’ when you do that.

                  I think Sue is right – conservatives (and I understand – I used to be one!) feel the need for a tightly proscripted set of rules by which to live their lives, and the thought of moral complexity and any kind of ambiguity is very difficult for them to cope with.

                  And you always, always, always fail to acknowledge the power of Jesus’ command to ‘love others as we love ourselves’. That is an incredibly powerful moral guide, which will, if followed, keep one from simply following the prevailing winds of culture – whether we are talking about 1st century or 21st century.

                  In fact, we can see that in Paul’s commands concerning homosexuality – in which his understanding of what it means to truly love and to protect others from harm, allowed him to see beyond the Roman world’s acceptance of certain forms of behaviour to the harm they caused.

                  Isn’t that what you guys always claim for the Bible – that it transcends it’s own culture?

                  Yet here, when we see a clear example of Paul doing just that – transcending his culture – yet you want to claim (because it suits your argument), that in this case, Paul was ‘culturally bound’, and so would have seen unfaithful, unloving relationships as ‘faithful and loving’?

                  (sigh, and double sigh)

                  And now I’m off to write these essays I really need to be writing (instead of doing the head-wall thing).

                  • Carolyn,

                    I just want to note that nothing in this reply addresses the very simple question I asked yesterday. Why can you not explain why you have to load the incestuous couple (brother and sister, committed, faithful, monogamous) with presuppositions about their relationship when you wouldn’t permit the same for a same-sex couple (male and male, committed, faithful, monogamous)? Why can’t you engage with this point? Is it because you see that this example exposes the serious flaw in your argument?

                    • Peter,

                      You moved the goalposts on that one. In previous posts, you have insisted (repeatedly – as has Philip) that the GENETICS of male-female and race (which, incidentally, shows a serious misunderstanding of the race) take priority and are important, but because (in your view) there is no ‘gay gene’, then same-sex attraction must be treated as a ‘social construct’.

                      Yet here, when I explain the genetic problems with brother-sister relationships (and we all know the large potential for genetic harm that exists in these relationships), you respond by saying that – NOW! – genetics mean nothing, and instead, we can contextualise societally (which all of your examples regarding possible ‘harm’ caused by same-sex relationships do)?

                      It’s very difficult to discuss this with you, Peter, becuase you aren’t consistent. You have different standards, depending on the argument being made.

                      I was trying to abide by your standards (the importance of ‘genetics’), yet NOW that isn’t good enough.

                      Do you see how very, very frustrating that is?

                      It’s impossible to have a rational discussion with someone who keeps changing the rules of the game when it suits them.

                      But come on, as well, Peter – I have raised point, after point, after point, that you and Philip both refuse to answer. That, also, is very, very frustrating.

                    • Not in the slightest Carolyn. I’m not moving any goalposts because I’m asking a hypothetical question to show you that your position on same-sex couples is open to critique in that it could equally support incestuous couples. Nothing in my questioning implies that I support such couples, nor that I believe that issues of genetics are (or are not) important. You are bringing these in because they obfuscate the clear challenge that the example brings to your case.

                  • Carolyn

                    I’m going to take this real slow as you are now attributing statements to me that I do not make. So here goes …

                    If you had read my post carefully you would have seen that I agree with you that “love is supreme, as it is the ‘Royal Law’ set out by Jesus”. My difficulty is that you define love in a different way to the Bible.

                    Let me make my point again, as you clearly failed to get it the first time. While love is supreme, in Scripture it is always paired with obedience to the revealed, perfect law of God. The point that I made is that “love without obedience becomes relative”. This is a constant theme throughout Scripture (do you REALLY want me to dig out all the references to obedience?).

                    It is also a constent theme throughout Scripture to balance themes that may conflict under the sovereignty of God, such as ‘grace’ and ‘judgement’ and ‘mercy’ and ‘justice’. I really recommend that you read Jim Packer’s ‘Knowing God’ for a classic biblical treatment of these themes.

                    I therefore did NOT show “contempt for a morality based on ‘loving others’ and ‘doing no harm’”. So stop claiming that your points are constantly getting ignored while stating that I say things which I do not: it’s getting boring :-(

                    Blair, in his usual charitable and precise manner, has spotted that you also described love as self-sacrificial. It’s a good job that phrase appeared isn’t it? But my point stands, because throughout these discussions you have constantly referred to love as the ‘avoidance of harm’ to others. And my point essentially is NOT that this has no value in itself, but that, in biblical terms, it isn’t enough. ‘Love’ without obedience inevitably becomes relative, and then runs the risk of becoming morally compromised.

                    Let me try and give you some illustrations that are not same-sex relationship based.
                    1. The randy young man that tells his girlfriend that he ‘loves’ her, just so that he can have sex with her.
                    2. The husband who tells his wife that he ‘loves’ her, while pursuing an adulterous affair on the side.
                    3. The man that ‘loves’ his partner and then abandons her when a baby is on the way.
                    4. The aging Lothario who ‘loves them and leaves them’ breaking hearts all the way.
                    While all of these cases have always happened, a glance at the Social Trends and its statistics of high divorce rates and marital breakdown show what happens when love is divorced from the necessity of obedience to God’s law.

                    I’m going to play the same game as you now and moan about my points being ignored. I have conceded three points in response to your arguments:
                    1. Biblical conservatives read Scripture contextually, just as biblical liberals do. They simply prioritise different contexts.
                    2. Biblical conservatives attach greater priority to issues of sexuality as they see it as of foundational importance, closely related to how we see our identity and our identity in Christ.
                    3. Same-sex relationships can exhibit ‘self-sacrificial love and grace’.

                    It seems to me that I have responded to much of what you have been saying. We have also agreed that we read Scripture differently and agreed to differ. But the only thing you have conceded is “prioritising a 21st century understanding of ‘love’ over all else. And perhaps that charge has some validity” (even that sounds like a fairly mild conceding to me!)

                    You have not yet responded to Peter’s example of incest.
                    That ‘mild conceding’ (if there is such a phrase!) is the only response to my case that a liberal definition of love is relative.

                    The rest of your last post is your often repeated statement of feeling like you’re ‘hitting your head against a brick wall’, as if we somehow MUST change our views in response to the obvious progressive and beneficial merits of the liberal case.

                    Hmm … biblical conservatives conceding points while biblical liberals constantly declaim the natural rightness of their views. Where have we seen that before? Ah, I know it’s the Anglican ‘Listening Process’!

                    So Carolyn, its time to start addressing some of the points that biblical conservatives make instead of crying ‘Wolf’. And don’t come back with any patronising stuff about “conservatives feel(ing) the need for a tightly proscripted set of rules by which to live their lives”. Arguments have been set out and its time to engage with them!

                • Hi Philip,

                  I realise I’m butting in rather here, but I’ve a quibble or two (responding to your post on the 14th at 7:49pm).

                  You say that “the problem [with Carolyn’s argument] is the changed definition of love in its centre” – but what is this ‘change’? Looks to me more like a difference over biblical interpretation than a change, especially as “self-sacrificial”, which you said was part of Carolyn’s definition, is also one element of a biblical definition of love (John 15:13 etc). Yes, “if you love me you will keep my commandments”, as you refer to – but referring to that verse in the way you do above is begging the question. Part of the obedience you also speak of is surely discerning how a command is to be applied; it doesn’t bypass a discernment or learning process, such as the current one about whether faithful same-sex relationships can be of God or not. And that discernment process isn’t over – despite the strong evidence that many of us are sick and tired of the arguments grinding on (I’m thinking of the arguments among Christians – and indeed other religions – in general here, not only on this blog!).

                  At the risk of repeating myself, it seems to me that if the kind of sacrificial love commanded by Jesus in John 15 and shown by him on the cross can be recognised in faithful same-sex relationships (as I guess we’d agree it can in a marriage), then there is a problem for the conservative position on this. Also, I would suggest that using those criteria for sacrificial love could prevent slipping into being ‘relative’ or simply following contemporary culture.

                  in friendship, blair

                  • Its a strong point Blair, and you are right. The presence of self-sacrificial love can be discerned in ‘committed, loving and faithful gay relationships’ (CLFGR). The difference (I think) between the biblical liberal and conservative position on CLFGR is as follows:

                    1. Biblical conservatives believe that obedience to Scripture requires that CLFGR be celibate, in line with a conservative theology of sexuality. (Spot the concession coming folks, CLFGR are not sinful in and of themselves :-). Biblical liberals believe that CLF means that CLFGRs meet the biblical standards to be recognised and affirmed.
                    2. Biblical conservatives do not see ‘gay’ as an identity, and even more so as a God given identity. It is therefore legitimate to offer help, counsel and support to those that are seen as struggling with sin. Biblical liberals see gay as an identity, in common with the dominant culture. It is therefore unloving and oppressive to attempt to change what God has made, and as he as made gays, CLFGR should be celebrated.
                    3. Biblical conservatives believe that CLF run the risk of being defined loosely, drawing more upon contemporary values of ‘committed’, ‘loving’ and ‘faithful’ (See earlier post to Carolyn). Biblical liberals believe that CLF are clear cut biblical principles that can be discerned and applied to CLFGR.

                    This doesn’t answer your point but don’t worry, I’m getting there! ‘Self-sacrificial’ is a very strong phrase and I agree with you is much harder to submerge within the culture than love. But our clear model as Christians is Jesus’ self-sacrificial death on the cross, laying down all of himself to take the burden of our sins. And that’s a pretty strong example!

                    I agree with Sue’s (much earlier on the ‘Heresy’ thread) example of a gay couple nursing one partner through a terminal illness. That is self-sacrificial and should give all Christians cause for celebration and compassion. But it is also self-sacrificial to lay down a gay sexual orientation down before God in response to His commands, and to receive healing, celibacy, or the fulness of the Holy Spirit as His gift. That seems to be a large part of Peter’s ministry.

                    So it comes back to the question of how we should act (orthopraxis) in response to Scripture (orthodoxy). You see what I mean? It just brings us back to ‘what is gay’, ‘what do the scriptures say’, etc. And we don’t want to go through all that again do we?

                    In love

                    • Hello,

                      must get to bed soon but just wanted to say thank you for this post, Philip. (And also meant to apologise to you Carolyn – I know you can speak for yourself but the argumentative bug bit me…). I’m not going to respond directly now except to say that I’m not entirely sure where to go from here! There’s parts of your argument above I could pick at but I do plenty of that on here and it seems uncharitable to keep on. Also, I think it’s fairly clear by now where we disagree (!). But at the same time I don’t want to just stop the conversation as I think we have got somewhere in terms of mutual understanding – even though we’re likely to continue disagreeing. And perhaps that’s no problem – when Jesus says “Come to terms quickly with your adversary while you are on the way with him”, I don’t think he means we have to agree on everything with each other. Anyway, this is becoming a late-night ramble so I’m off to bed.

                      With thanks again, in friendship, Blair

  3. Apologies for the funky bolding!

    Not sure which bits I actually meant to bold, but I can’t seem to edit for some reason…


    Sadly-since it is a decent effort of compiling a standard argument you fall foul of several logic pitfalls outlined in this article- which I would recommend to you to hone your skills.

    With all that energy spent on a faulty argument intended or at least used by others to cement division in our already fragile communion one wonders if you have had to develop an equally eroneous theology of the sin of omission to cover your back?

    • If you want me to respond to the article you link to, then I’m afraid you will have to highlight for me the specific points. I’m a touch too busy to read it and then respond to everything.

  5. Hello Peter,

    a handful of things:

    1) Slightly pedantic this (what did you expect from me…) but every time you say “homosexual relationships” or “same-sex activity” above, don’t you mean ‘male-male sexual relationships’? Sex between women doesn’t feature in the texts you’re discussing here.

    2) Doubtless I’ve said this before but I understand that the Vulgate translation of ‘arsenokoites’ is ‘masculorum concubitores’. Just wondering how you would address this – e.g. do you know why St Jerome would have translated it that way given the evidence you’ve presented above? Do you think that citing this has any weight as a counter argument to yours here?

    3) Leviticus etc. You say that “the most reasonable etymology is that the word is sourced from the LXX, where the verses that it comes from condemn all homosexual activity” – but Lev 18:22 (and 20:13) don’t “condemn all homosexual activity”. They condemn penetrative sex between men. Drawing on Rabbi Steven Greenberg and Gareth Moore OP here – I understand that Lev 18:22 can be transliterated

    ve’et zakhar lo tishkav mishkeve ishah to’evah hi

    Greenberg and Moore give a similar literal translation which runs ‘and with a male you shall not lie the lyings of a woman – it is abhorrent’. Would you accept this translation, out of interest – I think Lev 20:13 closely echoes 18:22?

    Again, I may have quoted this before, but Greenberg says this about “the lyings of a woman”: having said that it doesn’t appear anywhere else in Scripture, he continues

    “a parallel phrase sheds some light. The phrase ‘the lyings of a male’ (mishkav zakhar) is found in the Book of Numbers. Women who know ‘the lying of a male’ are experienced in intercourse. The ‘lying of a male’ is apparently what a woman experiences in intercourse, that is, the penetration of the vagina. If this phrase is the reverse of our phrase in Leviticus, then we have found a possible meaning. The ‘lyings of a woman’ (mishkeve ishah) would mean what a man experiences in intercourse with a woman, that is, the engulfment of the penis” (‘Wrestling with God and Men’ p80 – this bit is available on Google Books).

    My point – which may well be obvious after all this – is to try to suggest that a good argument could be made that ‘arsenokoites’ does indeed refer only to “a subset of homosexual activity rather than all”. Even if it were accepted that 1 Cor 6:9 applies straightforwardly to male same-sex relationships today, given that ‘arsenokoites’ derives from the Levitical texts, it would only prohibit penetrative sex between men.

    in friendship, Blair

    • My point – which may well be obvious after all this – is to try to suggest that a good argument could be made that ‘arsenokoites’ does indeed refer only to “a subset of homosexual activity rather than all”. Even if it were accepted that 1 Cor 6:9 applies straightforwardly to male same-sex relationships today, given that ‘arsenokoites’ derives from the Levitical texts, it would only prohibit penetrative sex between men.

      Good point, Blair. But should we not also recognise that arsenokoites is homosexual activity par examplar? That is to say, by proscribing the activity all such activity is proscribed?

      That seems to me to be consistent with the way that Jesus applies the law (and also on sexual issues – not His teaching on adultery). To proscribe arsenokoites is to make a general statement about all those emotions and desires that lead to it.

      otherwise aren’t we just being pharisaical?

      • Hello David,

        thanks – but (no surprises, I’m sure) I don’t buy this argument. I think you’d have an interesting time saying to a group of lesbian women that “arsenokoites is homosexual activity par exemplar”. Also, when you say “by proscribing the activity all such activity is proscribed”, you’re assuming that the text (1 Cor in this case I take it) has a concept of various sexual acts grouped under a heading ‘homosexual’, where anal sex is *the one* (if you will). But I don’t think there are any signs that such a conception of sexual acts is in the text. From an admittedly cursory reading it looks pretty hard to tell what Paul’s rationale is, because he gives his list of “wrongdoers” apparently assuming his readers will understand what he’s referring to, and agree that the listed acts are wrong. Again, I don’t think it can be said that “To proscribe arsenokoites is to make a general statement about all those emotions and desires that lead to it” without assuming that a rather recent conception of “those emotions and desires” is in the text.

        My use of Rabbi Greenberg’s argument wasn’t meant to be pharisaical or to “cavil on the ninth part of a hair” but to seek as much understanding as possible about the word Peter was discussing and see if this helps in applying it now [that’s enough self-justification. ed.]…

        in friendship, Blair

    • Blair,

      i) Yes, at the moment I am looking at male-male sex as the Bible rarely addresses female-female sex. Interestingly though (and this addresses another of your points), I’m beginning to wonder whether this is because male-female sex is (normally for the context) penetrative, and therefore women cannot perform such an act naturally.

      ii) Let me look at the Vulgate in more detail and come back to you.

      iii) Blair – this is the best argument against arsenokoites prohibting all male-male sex that I’ve heard. If arsenokoites only covers sodomy then we have to address other forms of homosexual sex seperately. While David gives a brief response, I’m going to cover this in greater detail later on.

      • Hello again Peter,

        have been meaning to say thank you for this, and add a brief response:

        1) Interesting point re penetrative sex: in your view does that have any links to the (im)balance of power in relationships of that time?

        2) Thanks – will watch this space ;)

        3) Must say I think Rabbi Greenberg’s work should be more widely known. It may be worth adding that on Lev 18:22, Greenberg argues that the main prohibition is that of penetration – i.e. on the ‘active’ partner as some would say. He points out that the verb translated as ‘to lie’ means, when it takes a direct object as here, something “similar to the English of ‘bedding’ someone” (p80). Lev 20:13 includes both men as you’ve shown above; Greenberg says that the rabbis of old were troubled by the discrepancy between 18:22 and 20:13. He sketches 2 rabbis’ arguments: the second of them, Rabbi Ishmael, argues that “lo tishkav, the active form of ‘you shall not lie (sexually penetrate)’ can be vocalized as lo tishakhev, meaning ‘you shall not be laid (sexually penetrated)'” (Greenberg p84 – he gives the Talmud ref as BT Sanhedrin 54b), so the ‘receptive’ partner is included in 18:22.

        Also, Greenberg also points out that the only other place where mishkeve, ‘the lyings of’, appears in Scripture is “in the account of the rape of Jacob’s concubine by his eldest son, Reuven”. When the dying Jacob curses Reuven for the rape, Greenberg tells us that “The Hebrew for ‘your father’s bed(s)’ is mishkeve avikha. Here, in a context that is fully heterosexual, the language is clear. Mishkeve is the word for intercourse used when the motive is not love but a demonstration of virile power, not connection but disconnection, not tenderness but humiliation and violence” (Greenberg p205).

        Wondering if that might give a fuller context to the Leviticus text, given that’s the origin of ‘arsenokoites’.

        in friendship, Blair

  6. For some reason, the link I attempted to post to the article on kindaidos, Active/Passive, Acts/Passions: Greek and Roman Sexualities didn’t work last time. Let’s hope it does this time.

    Blair, no I’ve not come across Steven Greenberg’s work. Sorry.

    • Hi again John,

      might read that article you link to but it’s mighty long… though looks illuminating. Don’t know why you’re apologising – I was only asking! Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s book is ‘Wrestling with God and Men: homosexuality in the Jewish tradition’ (U of Wisconsin Press, 2004). I am not imagining that you (or anyone else here) are about to rush out and order a copy, but if you (or anyone else) are interested, could I suggest this link?

      It’s a conversation between Greenberg and Catholic theologian James Alison (kindred spirits in some ways) from Jewish Book Week in 2004 – it’s not that long and gives a useful summary of Greenberg’s book.

      in friendship, Blair

  7. And WC – with respect to an infertile brother-sister couple – can I ask you how you would approach such a situation?

    Such a situation would almost always occur in either an adoption situation or a sperm donor-type situation. Would it make a difference whether or not the couple was already in a relationship when they found out about their genetic relationship?

    And here’s an interesting question: if you see this relationship as ‘sinful’ or ‘immoral’ – was it sinful and immoral when the two individuals involved didn’t know about their genetic relationship? Or does it only become sinful once they find out?

    As you’ll most likely have worked out, I think such a situation is incredibly dificult. And I personally don’t think it is my place to sit in judgement of whether or not such a relationship is sinful/immoral/unacceptable to God. I think that judgement would need to be made by the two people involved, hopefully which much prayerful support and help to think through and process all the issues involved.

    What does God think about that kind of a situation? Well, here is the difference between a conservative and a liberal, I suspect.

    The conservative thinks they know, absolutely, what God would say about that situation, and they will often (not always, I acknowledge) be happy to sit in judgement on the individuals caught in very difficult, emotional and potentially damaging situation.

    As a ‘liberal’, I would want to help the couple think through all of the issues, process them, pray with them, read Scripture with them, and encourage them to come to God together about their relationship, and ask God what His will is for their lives. It’s an incredibly difficult situation, and I wouldn’t have the temerity to suggest that I absolutely know what is the best, ‘most moral’ outcome for the individuals involved.

    • I don’t want to get embroiled in the argument as I am tired of repeating the same points. I do want to support and endorse Carolyn’s point that this IS a big difference between “liberals” and many conservatives, namely many conservatives inability to cope with moral complexity and uncertainty.

      • OK Sue, let’s play the name-calling game.

        I see your conservative “inability to cope with moral complexity and uncertainty”, and I raise you a liberal deification of ambiguity, and reliance on an ahistorical and incoherent exegesis, that just happens to come to almost all the same conclusions as modern contemporary culture.

        See, it’s fun!

        • I don’t call people “names”, Wicked and I don’t “play games”. You’ll notice I say “some” conservatives, not “all”. I do, however, say what I see and I genuinely have observed that some conservatives have a “house of cards” mindset. Once they allow for any doubt about their rules or chink in their armour, then the whole edifice is in danger of coming tumbling down.

  8. Blair,It seems that the Lev. 20:13 does condemn both active and passive partners. As it says “both have committed an abomination” and both are put to death. If it was only the active partner who was in error why would it say both have committed an abomination? The context does not suggest rape or power dominance, but rather two people mutually engaged in intercourse that is prohibited.Also, it doesn’t strike me as very logical that homosexual intercourse is prohibited (i.e. penetration is prohibited) but that other homosexual activity is kosher simply because all possible acts are not described. If we applied that same logic, we would have to say its okay then for a man to perform oral sex on/french kiss/otherwise fondle  his mother or sister since only intercourse is technically prohibited Lev. Besides Jesus went beyond technicalities to say, “Not only don’t do the act, but don’t even think about it.”

  9. Hello Karen,

    Lev 20:13 does indeed condemn both – as I said above (15th July 6:21pm), according to Steven Greenberg it’s Lev 18:22 that’s primarily aimed at the ‘active’ participant. If we’re taking it that the roots of ‘arsenokoites’ are in the Leviticus texts then I thought it could be worth filling in some more of the context of those texts. You said that “The context does not suggest rape or power dominance”, but I would just point again to Steven Greenberg’s comment which I quoted, that the only other occurrence of mishkeve, ‘the lyings of’, is in the context of a lament for the rape of Bilha (didn’t give the ref before but it’s Genesis 49:4). I do accept that none of this by itself makes any kind of knockdown argument, but am hoping that it may be illuminating and also that it could give a building block or two towards an argument that there are reasonable doubts about the conservative case, and that some of these doubts come from a close reading of some of the Scriptural texts.

    “it doesn’t strike me as very logical that homosexual intercourse is prohibited (i.e. penetration is prohibited) but that other homosexual activity is kosher simply because all possible acts are not described” – point taken, and I’m not trying to suggest ‘other homosexual activity’ is kosher or considered to be so… However, as I said to David Ould above, this does rather assume that the authors of the text thought as we might do – that there are sexual acts that can be grouped under a heading ‘homosexual’, and that 2 men having anal sex is the most trangressive / taboo of these, so that if that is prohibited, then logically so are other, ‘less serious’ sex acts. The trouble is that there’s no evidence that the Biblical authors categorised things that way. If they did you’d think that there’d be, for instance, a prohibition of sex between women in the Torah – you don’t need me to tell you there isn’t. (There’s a short chapter in Steven Greenberg’s book which sketches out how and why the rabbis nevertheless prohibited sex between women – for Orthodox Jews, according to Greenberg, there’s a distinction between a biblical and a rabbinic prohibition, the former carrying more weight than the latter). Again I’m not suggesting that’s a knockdown argument, though it does raise another point Steven Greenberg makes, that the Torah is not prohibiting *homo*sexuality – i.e. it’s not the sameness of gender that’s the problem. I am aware that you and others could riposte, (a) we’re Christians not Jews and (b) remember Romans 1:26…

    “If we applied that same logic, we would have to say its okay then for a man to perform oral sex on/french kiss/otherwise fondle his mother or sister since only intercourse is technically prohibited Lev” – my quibble with this is that the prohibitions of incest in Lev 18 don’t use the same language as 18:22. The NRSV’s English renders them all as “You shall not uncover the nakedness of…” (whereas verse 22 starts “You shall not lie with”), which I’m taking it is a much more general prohibition. I’ve no idea what the Hebrew is in those verses though, as I’ve not read any books that give this.

    I accept that Jesus goes beyond technicalities – but it seems important to understand as much as possible about the texts usually held to ‘deal with homosexuality’. I think there are valid questions to raise about the ‘standard’ reading and interpretation of them. But, as i say, i’m seeing these as building blocks not knockdown or watertight arguments.

    in friendship, Blair

  10. This thread is very old, but I would like to thank you, Peter, for your most excellent work here, and am somewhat ashamed that I hadn't read this article earlier.

    For in a more recent thread I countered one commenter about the rather straightforward nature of interpretation of the New Testament regarding the issue of same-gender sex acts and brought up the very issue of Philo and arsenokoites – but hadn't yet read your most excellent article, so I didn't realize that the word does not even appear in the text that tends to be cited – and that (if we grant a charitable reading) Boswell apparently was mistaken, having studied this passage regarding the word "malokoi," and then later forgettingly presumed that the word used was arsenokoites. This is really quite something. I had never read this before, and simply read a translation of Philo's original, assuming that the word arsenokoites was somewhere in the passage, since this is stated over and over and over again on sites arguing that Scripture endorses same-gender sex acts.

    I don't know if anyone else has paid such attention to Philo and realized that Boswell's mistake here has been repeated over and over by others simply assuming that this passage refers to arsenokoitai. It is certainly a message worth repeating, seeing the great prevalence of "Philo said that …" – which is sometimes even simplified (as in Wikipedia) to: "Philo said that arsenokoitai referred to temple prostitution" – which can't be maintained, even if one assumes that this word is found in the given passage.

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