10: How Matthew Vines’ Video Whitewashes 1 Corinthians 6:9
1 Corinthians 6:9 – an incomplete argument and poor knowledge of history
Here the presenter focuses on the Greek words that are often translated into English as referring to homosexuality. For this passage, those Greek words are ‘arsenokoites’ and ‘malakos’. He says that the “somewhat ambiguous translations in the King James [Bible] are consistent with how these words were actually translated into English for hundreds of years: some kind of immorality or abuse, but specifically what kind was never stated. This changed halfway through the last century, when some Bible translators began connecting these terms directly to homosexuality.” From this statement, you might conclude that until mid last century, English-speaking Christians did not perceive this section of the Bible to refer to expressions of same-sex activity. But this is not the case. Various bibles and bible commentaries (also summarized here) prior to the 20th century, described the Corinthians reference as ‘sodomy’, which was widely understood to mean sex between males, e.g. in John Gill’s Exposition of the New Testament (18th c.) and the very popular Notes by Albert Barnes. My amateur attempt at translating John Wycliffe’s 14th century wording “thei that doon letcheri with men” from 1 Cor. 6:9, would be as “men that commit adultery with men”. If my translating is accurate, then it’s fairly obvious that many centuries ago, a similar perception of meaning was there. Gagnon has a fair bit more to say on the meaning of the Greek terms, as cited here.
In regards to the Corinthians passage stating that homosexuals will not inherit eternal life, the presenter says it would not be relating to homosexuals as homosexuals are identified in our modern world, because homosexuality was not recognised as an orientation in that era. He states that modern “terms and concepts regarding sexual orientation are completely alien to the biblical world” and that “the concept of sexual orientation is very recent; it was only developed within the past century”. But this later claim contrasts with various historical records. EG The Women-Hater’s Lamentation from England around 1707, where some who engaged in male homosexual activity were portrayed as anti-women bachelors who admired their own sex and pursued a non-standard lust. IE they seem to be portrayed as being attracted to their own sex rather than toward women. That sounds to me like it approximates our contemporary understanding of homosexuality! And in Britain’s 1772 sodomy trial of Captain Robert Jones at The Old Bailey, we find that character witnesses find it highly relevant to state that the Captain appeared to be “fond of the women”. IE public opinion seemed to be that a man who was fond of women, was unlikely to have sex with men. Again, this sounds to me like the character witnesses perceived that men tend to be either attracted to one sex or the other – ie they grasped the basic idea of sexual orientation.
The presenter’s claim about Biblical-era non-understandings of sexual orientation also contrasts with records closer to the time of Jesus, EG the above quotes from Josephus and Philo. We should note too that records from the 5th century talk of being “consumed” by the practise of same-sex sex (Justinian I, Novel 141) suggesting it was a focus for some. And also that Clement of Alexandria in c. the second century, in Stromata, Book III, perhaps indicates that exclusive same-sex attraction can be inborn; “Some men, from their birth, have a natural sense of repulsion from a woman; and those who are naturally so constituted do well not to marry.” Additionally, if you Google “Sifra Leviticus” you can quickly find claims that same-sex relationships were actually recognised thousands of years ago, and that the Jews of the Bible knew about them. Likewise there are records of homosexual relationships in ancient Greece. Robert Gagnon provides further similar refutation here including forms of ancient same-sex marriage. Technology and customs change as eras pass, and certainly understandings become enhanced, but for the presenter to claim that the Bible writers were not familiar with as aspect of human nature as organic and basic as variations in sexual attraction, is a huge departure from standard Christian understanding of the New Testament. It doesnt require fancy computers or complex statistical analysis to work out that there are variations in sexual attraction within the human race – it just takes a confidant like a priest, to whom a range of people confess their inner thoughts. For the presenter to have apparently devoted two years of his life to this topic, and yet seem so naive, suggests superficiality to at least some aspects of his study.
The presenter also claims that there was no word for ‘gay’ in the original Greek or in Latin languages. This claim is in contradiction with what other gay activists have said, eg as per the website gaychristian101.com . But whether there was or wasnt a specific word is not essential. Language can usually accommodate that situation fairly well, by using a phrase or a description instead.
The presenter also writes off the Corinthians passage due to its use of the Greek word ‘arsenokoitēs’. He tells us that in Greek, ‘arsen’ means ‘male’ and ‘koites’ means ‘bed’, “generally with a sexual connotation”. But states that various factors “indicate that this term referred to some kind of economic exploitation, likely through sexual means.” In the video, he offers no appeals to authority for this one-eyed conclusion. To a large extent, he simply expects us to take his word for what would actually appear to be his preference for a translation that suits his views. The viewer might assume that his conclusion is based on copious amounts of research, but in his book, he cited Dale Martin for this definition, simply referring to Martin as a “New Testament scholar”, and omitting to mention that Martin is gay. But few Bible translators seem to agree with Martin that this is the likely meaning in Corinthians (eg http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/arsenokoites.html), so why should we? In fact Dr Michael Brown wrote in Can You Be Gay and Christian that “… every major dictionary of New Testament Greek or Classical Greek understood Paul’s vocabulary (in particular the word arsenokoitēs) to refer to men engaging in homosexual acts…” Brown adds that “many of these lexicographers were anything but fundamentalists and were simply experts in Greek…”. Gagnon notes that if the author of 1 Corinthians had intended to imply sexual exploitation of a young man, they would likely have used the word paiderastes rather than arsenokoites. Gagnon also notes in his classic book that the Biblical text mirrors other texts where arsenokoites is more aligned with adultery than economic-related sin.
And according to this well-referenced webpage, the translation of the word ‘arsenokoitēs’ as something along the lines of ‘buggery’ is historic. Interestingly, the presenter does not mention a dominant theory on how the word arose. New Testament professor Richard B. Hays wrote in The Moral Vision of the New Testament, p.382, that the Greek Septuagint translation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 is translated to English as: ‘Whoever lies with a man as with a woman [meta arsenos koiten gynaikos ], they have both done an abomination.’ (Emphasis mine). The professor comments that St Paul appears to have taken the verb form of the Greek and derived a noun form of ‘arsenokoitai’. If this is the case, then 1 Cor 6:9 is referring to the same thing as those Leviticus passages!
Disputes over the meaning of this word and others are not new. The Letters section of this website includes correspondence to and from the International Bible Society from over ten years ago, suggesting mistranslation of these passages in the NIV Bible. But subsequent versions of the NIV Bible now translate the passages as even more clearly referring to homosexual sex being sinful, than previously, and without any indication that it involved economic exploitation. Use of the word ‘homosexual’ in Bibles has also gone to court for alleged mistranslation, but as far as I know, there has been no success from such litigation. Yet these borderline conspiracy theories about mistranslation to ‘homosexual’, continue.
There are also perhaps undertones of conspiracy when the presenter talks of a “shift in translation” from the King James version to more recent translations in relation to the relevant New Testament passages. Although the presenter looks into these changes, he fails to mention the fact that in certain times past, certain words were considered outside the realms of polite conversation. The King James translation promotes this approach in Ephesians 5:3 “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk …” Under such an approach, is it surprising if the King James version appears to gloss over the topic of homosexual sex?
The presenter also says the meaning of another Greek word used here, ‘Malakos’ is ambiguous. However, having said it’s ambiguous, the presenter then makes a jump in logic by simply stating that it wouldnt apply to homosexuals. Why not? Well the presenter says that such an interpretation “simply doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.” What scrutiny? We are not given any other than his claim of ambiguity – IE we are simply asked to take his word for it. Is his “scrutiny” based on his earlier flawed interpretations of Matthew 7 & Genesis 2? Others such as Robert Gagnon and Matt Moore do think it holds up under scrutiny and extra-biblical evidence places it in the realms of gender/sexuality. But having made this seemingly arbitrary statement that the word is not referring to homosexuality, the presenter goes on to make the questionable claim that “There is no contextual support for linking this term to loving, faithful relationships.” However, if the definition of the word in this context is men having sex with men, then of course a faithful homosexual relationship would tend to be sexual and therefore would be linked!
Louis Crompton, who Gagnon describes as a historian and a self-identified gay man, wrote on this topic in his book Homosexuality and Civilization. Gagnon cites a section of this book as stating-
“According to [one] interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at ‘bona fide’ homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstance. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any other Jew or early Christian.”