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St Paul's Lists of Sins


In his seminal book, "Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality" (1980), Boswell argued that the term 'arsenokoitais' in 1Co 6:19 and 1Ti 1:10 signified a male prostitute rather than a generic homosexual, as it is commonly translated. The following text is heavily dependent on work previously posted on the Web by Gregory Jordan, Stephen Carlson and David Moore.


Determining what a word means in a particular context is difficult. Words change meaning over time, and the author may use a word metaphorically, idiosyncratically, or with a specialized meaning as jargon. Thus, when considering the meaning of a word, the closer the evidence is to the word's context - textually, culturally, and chronologically - the stronger that evidence will be. The New Testament was written in the Koine Greek dialect for a Hellenized Jewish/Christian community in the first century.  This cultural and chronological context plays a strong role in investigating the meaning of a word in the New Testament. Two additional means of analysis are to be used only with extreme caution. The first is an etymological argument that analyses how the word is constituted. This is dangerous, because a word may have changed meaning since it was created. There is also the problem of knowing the meaning of the constituent parts at the time of the creation of the compound.  For example, the three English words, "pioneer," "pawn," and "peon" have the same Medieval Latin root "pedo." This means "a foot soldier". Manifestly, this fact is not useful in determining the meaning of those three words. The second argument is that from silence, and it is even more problematical. Obviously, it cannot indicate a word's meaning but only give some inference about what it might not mean. For this to be at its most effectiveness, there has to be evidence that an author would have used it but chose not to. The rarer the word in the word in question is the more the argument from silence has to contend with the author's not knowing what it meant or how to use it.

The texts in question

The New Testament verses we are concerned with here are
" . . . Be not deceived: neither whoremongers [pornoi], nor idolaters [eidOlolatrai], nor adulterers [moikhoi], nor sissies [malakoi], nor male-bedders [arsenokoitai], nor thieves [kleptai], nor the covetous [pleonektai], nor drunkards, nor revilers [loidoroi], nor extortioners [harpeges], shall inherit the kingdom of God." [1Co 6:9-10]
"Knowing this, that the law is not made for the righteous man but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners: for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and for murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers [pornois], for male-bedders [arsenokoitais], for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine." [1Ti 1:9-10]

Prostitution or promiscuity?

What does arsenokoitai mean? It has been suggested that we should understand a reference to all homosexuals who act on their orientation. On the other hand, a case has been made for "male prostitute"  [Boswell (1980)].

The words arsenokoiten/s is found in the Sibylline Oracle and in the Acts of John, a long disputed book of Christian origin.

"(Never accept in your hand a gift which derives from unjust deeds.) Do not steal seeds. Whoever takes for himself is accursed (to generations of generations, to the scattering of life. Do not arsenokoitein, do not betray information, do not murder.) Give one who has labored his wage. Do not oppress a poor man. Take heed of your speech. Keep a secret matter in your heart. (Make provision for orphans and widows and those in need.) Do not be willing to act unjustly, and therefore do not give leave to one who is acting unjustly." [The Sibylline Oracle]
Later in the Sybylline Oracle a similar list of sexual sins is given, but the word arsenokoitein is not included. Here it is an element of a list of economic sins and practices - plus murder!
"You who delight in gold and ivory and jewels, do you see your loved (possessions) when night comes on? And you who give way to soft clothing, and then depart from life, will these things be useful in the place where you are going? And let the murderer know that the punishment he has earned awaits him in double measure after he leaves this (world). So also the poisoner, sorcerer, robber, swindler, and arsenokoites, the thief and all of this band. ...So, men of Ephesus, change your ways; for you know this also, that kings, rulers, tyrants, boasters, and warmongers shall go naked from this world and come to eternal misery and torment." [The Acts of St John]
Here John is attacking the men of Ephesus for their greed when he uses this word arsenokoites. The Acts of John also has a list of condemned sexual sins but, just as with the Oracle, arsenokoites is not mentioned there. In both of these texts, the word features in a list of economic sins. This is largely true also of St Paul's list in the First Epsitle to the Corinthians.

Significantly, "arsenokoitai is nowhere else used, even by later homophobic Christians, e.g. St John Chrysostom, to refer to homosexuals in general. We should start our analysis by a close examination of the verses before us.

What does Pornoi mean?

'Pornoi' is a vaguer term in Koine than 'moikhos' (which certainly means adulterer), just as whore(-monger) is a vague term in English. The New Testament often juxtaposes it with marriage obligations, using it for men who cheat on their wives either with prostitutes: whoremongers; or, more broadly: adulterers. In [Heb 13:4] we read: "timios ho gamos en pasin kai hE koitE amiantos pornous gar kai moikhous krinei ho theos", "Marriage should be honourable in all things and the marriage bed undefiled, because God condemns pornoi and moikhoi" (i.e. those who frequent prostitutes and those who keep a mistress: neither is acceptable) Jesus also uses 'pornos' in a way usually rendered as adulterer. Many commentators widen the meaning of 'pornos' to encompass all sexually immoral people. The context of [1Co 6:9] suggests that prostitution is adequately covered by 'pornos'.

What does eidOlolatrai mean?

Literally, 'eidOlolatrai' means, idolatry. One should notice, however, that in Judaism, idolatry is closely associated with both adultery (as a disloyalty of Israel towards God) and prostitution (as a willingness to worship any god promiscuously). In [Rom 10:8] Paul reminds the readers of when the Israelite men were enticed by Moabite women sexually, and also to become involved in pagan worship [Num 25]. In [Apoc 17:1-5] we see the conflation in a vision of the ideas of prostitution, paganism, drunkenness: 'emethusthEsan', and abomination: 'bdelugma', again heterosexual, and the same word as used in the LXX version of [Lev 18:22] and [Deut 23:19].

Prostitution by association

Boswell first suggests that 'arsenokoitais' is about prostitution by noting that 'arsenokoitais' appears next to 'pornos' in [1Ti 1: 10]:
"Indeed, if context is to be admitted as evidence, the juxtaposition of arsenokoitai and pornoi in 1 Timothy suggests very strongly that prostitution is what is at issue, in one case presumably (male) heterosexual and in the other, homosexual . . . ." [Boswell, 1980 page 341].
The initial strength of his point is attenuated by the fact that 'arsenokoitais' follows 'malakos' in [1Co 6:9], not 'pornos.' While it is true to say that the Greek word 'pornos' itself can have connotations of male prostitution, as in Xenophon; the normal meaning of pornos is whoremonger: a man who frequents (mainly female) prostitutes. For example, the LXX of  [Deut 23:18] renders renders the Hebrew qadesh (usually taken to mean male temple prostitute) as "porneuOn (apo huiOn IsraEl)" - not 'pornos'. Moreover, to say that 'arsenokoitais' also refers to prostitution is to make the Apostle repeat himself. Thus, while the appearance of 'pornos' in both lists brings in the concept of prostitution, it can be argued to do so in a way antagonistic to Boswell's thesis. There are a number of other problems with his analysis:
  1. While there are pairs of sins in the 1 Timothy list, the pairing off breaks down right before "pornoi".
  2. The more literal translation of pornoi as whoremongers would suggest that arsenokoitais meant clients of male prostitutes, rather than the male prostitutes themselves unless:
  3. Arsenokoitai is not juxtaposed with pornoi in [1Co 6:9].
  4. Its juxtaposition with malakos in [1Co 6:9] has been taken to mean active versus passive homosexuality.
Thus, Boswell's juxtaposition technique is not conclusive. Moreover, this is his only direct evidence. His indirect inference:
"Moreover, prostitution is manifestly of greater concern to Saint Paul than any sort of homosexual behaviour: excluding the words in question, there is only a single reference to homosexual acts in Paul's writing, whereas the word pornos and its derivatives are mentioned almost thirty times." [Boswell, 1980 page 341.]
is hardly evidence for the "male prostitution" meaning. St. Paul is greatly concerned about justification, but no one would think of suggesting that this is what he is talking about here!

Pauline repetitions

On the other hand, 'kleptai' (thief or robber) and 'harpages' (extortioner or swindler) as used in the Corinthian passage are nearly synonymous. We can take Paul to mean, highway robbery by one and con-artistry by the other, but that is just our assumption, and in any case the root dishonesty is identical. Similarly, liars and perjurers are rather difficult to distinguish and patricide and matricide are sub-categories of homicide. Manifestly, the Apostle is not adverse to repeating himself!

In regards to sexual sin, he is simply being thorough, like Leviticus, in his listing of certain possible adulterous encounters. He does not resort to the catch-all slogan: "No sex outside of marriage." There is no reason why St. Paul might not highlight male prostitution as a special case, especially if the more general word 'pornoi' was ambiguous, or perhaps only related to heterosexual whoring. When St. Paul uses a vague term, in his indirect and allusive style, we can either presume that he has something very specific in mind, regardless of the normal meaning of the word or that he is writing informally.

The context

The discussion leading to [1Co 6:9-10] starts at least as early as [1Co 5:1-5] where Paul points out a case of 'porneia' among the Corinthian believers. A man has committed adultery with his father's wife. This violates [Lev 18:8], but because Paul had little regard for Levitical food laws, not to mention the Sabbath and circumcision, his indignation should be related to a universal "dikaiosunE", not the "nomos" of Moses. Anyway, the man guilty of  'porneia' is considered a 'pornos' among other 'pornoi' [1Co 5:9] and to be avoided. Paul compares non-Christian 'pornoi' to "pleonektais kai harpaxin E eidOlolatrais..." [1Co 5:10] and a Christian 'pornos' to "pleonektEs E eiOlolatrEs E loidoros E methusos E harpax..."  [1Co 5:11]. What do these words mean? In [1Co 6:1-8] Paul criticizes the Corinthians for cheating each other and suing each other in the civil courts "humeis adikeite kai aposterete kai touto adelphous." Paul is concerned with the violation of property rights; notice the word aposterete defraud which Jesus adds to the Ten Commandments in [Mark 10:19].

Pharasaical prohibition of prostitution

By St. Paul's time the Pharisees had generalized the laws of the Torah to prohibit Jews from patronizing, as well as being, prostitutes. The basis for this was ritual defilement. If a temple prostitute was unclean, then surely having sex with her/him would make one's self ritually defiled!

We see Paul paralleling this logic in [1Co 6:12-20]. He recognizes that to patronize a prostitute was not manifestly sinful and so goes to the trouble of giving a rational for believing that it is so. Instead of being a violation of one's neighbour, he says that it is a violation of one's own body [1Co 6:18]. If a man has sexual intercourse with a prostitute, he becomes one flesh with her [1Co 6:16]. What happens in prostitution is, to this extent, the same thing that happens in marriage. Paul even cites the Genesis text Jesus used to establish the indissolubility of marriage [Matt 19:5]! Of course, on a literal reading Paul is inconsistent, as he does not conclude that intercourse with a whore either establishes a marriage contract or confects the sacrament of matrimony. The only way of rescuing him from inconsistency is to presume that he is speaking analogically.

Presuming that prostitutes are sources of defilement, Paul argues that as Christians are Christ's members 'melE Xristos', for a Christian male to sexually penetrate a prostitute, would be for him to unite Christ (through his penis) with the prostitute, and thus defile the Temple of Holy Spirit: committing an abomination. Paul concludes with a flourish in which he announces to the Christian reader, in effect, 'you are already a whore!' [1Co 6:20], God has already bought you with his money (there is a pun on 'timEs', price, which also means honour). The fact that St. Paul felt that he had to explain all this this suggests that he was dealing with people who might think there was nothing wrong in  frequenting a prostitute.

St Paul's philosophy

The bottom line is that Paul clearly considered prostitution wrong in a practical sense for Christians, but his logic here is not that it is opposed to the "law of love of neighbour" which naturally includes "love of self" and "love of God." Perhaps his stance is a reflection of the decisions of the Council of Jerusalem, which aimed to keep peace between Jewish and Gentile Christians by asking the latter to follow a few rules [Acts 15:29]. One was abstention from 'porneia', and all of them can be taken as referring to idolatrous practices. Paul is explicitly said to have agreed to this negotiation, despite apparent reluctance.

Paul concludes:

"Panta exestin all' ou panta sumpherei. Panta exestin all' ou panta oikodomei ... MEdeis to heautou zEteitO alla to tou heterou"

"Everything is allowed but not everything is beneficial. Everything is allowed but not everything is constructive .... No one should look out for that belonging to himself but rather that belonging to the other" [1Co 10:23-24].

This sets the preceding discussion in the broadest possible context: mere selfishness that ignores the needs of others is to be set aside and a concern for others' welfare is to be the rule. This is the context in which sexual ethics have been discussed: starting with the man who offended his father by having sexual intercourse with his father's wife [1Co 5:1 ff] and continuing on to avoiding being in an idolatrous setting even when it is objectively licit, if it might encourage someone else to go ahead back into idolatry. The Corinthian temple prostitutes (pornai and arsenoikoitai?) and temple food markets were combined temptations for the community emerging from paganism. Nowhere here does Paul tell his readers to avoid homo-gender physical intimacy. His concern is with warning them not to be impulsive or inconsiderate in their behaviour. For him to forbid homosexual intimacy would be to commit such an inconsiderate act!

If 'arsenokoitai' meant all homosexuals, then why would Paul condemn them in a context in which he is otherwise condemning greed, lack of self control, and offending others? Is homosexuality greedy? How is homosexuality a lack of self control (more than heterosexuality?) How can homosexuals reasonably be said to offend others or harm them by their actions? Paul would have been the last person to defend either prejudice or arbitrary obedience to Levitical prescriptions, even if he had thought the Torah outlawed all homosexuality. He knew the difference between necessary and unnecessary sacrifices for holiness [Col 2:23], and he knew that all of the law is summed up in love.

How vulgar a word is "koitai"?

Boswell's conclusion that arsenokoitai signifies "active male prostitutes" relies on a one sentence analysis:
"The second half of the compound, koitai, is a coarse word, generally denoting base or licentious sexual activities see [Rom 13:13], and in this and other compounds corresponds to the vulgar English word fucker, i.e., a person who, by insertion, takes the active role in intercourse."
Koitai is better understood as a euphemism for sexual activity. St. Paul uses it in the plural in [Rm 13:13] to describe wantonness or debauchery but that is the most vulgar the term ever gets. The Apostle also uses it to describe how "our father Isaac" conceived both of Rebecca's children [Rm 9:10]. Luke uses it quite neutrally to describe a bed. [Lk 11:7]. A translation for koitai with the same degree of vulgarity is something like the English word bedder.


The first part of the word arsenokoitais is simply male (not man) so an English transliteration would be male-bedder. Greek compounds, like English, can be either objective (and thus would mean "someone who beds males") or determinative ("a male who beds"). Boswell provides examples of the prefix 'arseno-' in Koine determinative compounds: however they are of limited relevance. None relates to a male agent or activities involving a male agent. If a Greek writer wants to refer to a male agent (i.e. a male who does something), putting the verb into the masculine grammatical gender is sufficient, unless the action involved is something only women generally do.

There are plenty of  words with the Attic form, 'arreno-' which use it in objective compounds for agents or actions, such as:

Boswell argues that the 'arreno-' form is for objective compounds and that 'arseno-' prefix is for determinative compounds. However:
  1. this involves the unwarranted assertion that the difference is more than one of dialect;
  2. it ignores the fact that the word which concerns us (as also another which is generally accepted to signify homosexual) appear in both dialectal forms (arsenokoites & arrenokoites) and (arrenomiktes & arsenomiktes); and
  3. that there exists a word with 'arseno-' that is in an objective compound (arsenobates, paedicator = pederast).
It is also relevant to consider words that have koitEs for their second foot. Some of these translations are from Wright (1984), which was in part an attempt to undermine the part of Boswell's argument that dealt with arsenokoitEs as denoting active sexuality. Wright says in his paper that "most of them were of very rare occurrence" (which is also true of arsenokoitEs.)

Now, the most obvious source for the compound word  'arsenokoitEs' is the LXX text:

"Kai hos an koimEthE meta arsenos koitEn gunaikos, bdelugma epoiEsan amphoteroi; thanatousthwsan, enoichoi eisin". [Lv 20:13].
It might be thought that St. Paul simply used (or even invented) a word that strongly alludes to this verse. However, by providing these examples of compound words involving 'koites', Write has cast doubt on the idea that 'arsenokoitEs' is a special case: a Jewish neologism based on [Lev 20:13]. Many of his examples of similar words occur centuries before St. Paul wrote. Moreover, if Paul coined the term, how could he expect his readers to understand him?

Moreover, none of these compounds  provide any clue to the semantic boundaries of 'arsenokoitEs.' Their existence rather shows the broad range of meanings '-koitEs' can take in such compounds. Common-sense etymology is useless. One would have thought 'mEtrokoitEs' meant someone who had sex with their mother, not any incestuous person. (Of course, the English colloquial term mothers as in the album title "Metal for Mothers", from the vulgar "Mother-f*r", actually means approvable person belonging to the in-crowd!) Similarly: 'deuterokoitEs' would be taken to mean someone who had sex with two people at once, not a person sleeping with one other person; 'borborokoitEs' could conceivably have meant someone who had sex with mud, not a frog that sits on the mud; 'anemokoitEs' could have been taken to mean someone who had sex with winds, not someone who puts the winds to sleep; 'enOtokoitEs' could have been taken to mean someone with an ear fetish, not someone with big ears. The existence of these examples suggests that the study of the morphology of words in the search for meaning should be abandoned in favour of looking to their context and usage.

The argument from silence

Boswell's argument from silence is methodologically weak, because of the term's rarity.
  1. The silence of Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Philo and Josephus is understandable. The first three are too early to use a term that may have only originated in St Paul's era. Plutarch was unfamiliar with Christian terminology, so could not have used the word if it was invented by St. Paul. Similarly, there is no Christian influence in the writings of either Philo or Josephus. Of course, if the word was not coined by St Paul, this argument fails.
  2. Diadache 5:1-2 is a generic list of sins, with no literary dependence on [1Co 6:9-10]. As no list of vices is ever exhaustive, the fact that it doesn't use 'arsenokoites' is hardly conclusive.
  3. Tatian's and St. Justin Martyr's use of the more common Hellenistic terms is not surprising considering the apologetic and character of their works. They simply chose a less obscure term to condemn homosexuality.
  4. St. Clement of Alexandria is more interesting [Boswell (1980) page 346]; however, he had a penchant for provocative language against homosexuality, likening it the behaviour of a hyena for example, so it is not surprising that he did not use such a rare and euphemistic word. On the other hand, why should St Paul have 'arsenokoites' if it was so rare and euphemistic? His tone in [1Co 6:9] is hardly delicate!
  5. Boswell's use of Eusebius' silence ("yet nowhere does he use the word which supposedly means 'homosexual' in Paul's writings" [Boswell (1980) page 346], is slightly misleading because Eusebius did use the verbal form of 'arsenokoites': but only in a context where it is far from clear that it relates to homosexual behaviour. [Boswell (1980) page 351].
  6. St. John Chrysostom's only use of the term is (plausibly) to distinguish it from male prostitutes (hEtairEkws). [Boswell (1980) pages 347-48, 351-52].
If 'arsenokoites' is a (1) rare and (2) euphemistic term, (3) coined within the Church to allude to the Levitical prohibition, it is possible to understand why Christian writers would use terms that were more current and/or provocative. However, the second and third premises are contentious. In particular, it is very queer that neither Eusebius nor Chrysostom used the word even when dealing with the passages in which it appears! Of course, they are writing much later than St Paul and may have felt that the word was so obscure as to be merit systematic avoidance.

The gate of Thessalonica

One of the few other instances of the use of the word arsenokoites, in the Attic form arrenokoitas, is in an inscription of supposedly late Christian times found on a gate to the city of Thessalonica:
"...barbaron ou tromeeis, ouk arrenas arrenokoitas"

"you need not dread the barbarian nor the male arrenokoitai." [Greek Anthology 9.686.5]

The passage is peculiar. Why would a visitor dread a male prostitute? On the other hand, if 'arrenkoitai' itself meant male homosexual, then the 'arrenas' is superfluous. Of course if 'arrenokoitai' normally meant either a promiscuous heterosexual woman or harlot, the 'arrenas' is understandable.

Coward or Catamite?

Boswell's treatment of malakos [p. 106 ff] is a strong argument against interpreting it as referring to homosexuality in any way (except as a stereotype). It is not plausible that masturbator was its original meaning, so we are left with coward, weakling, sissy, or fop. See [Matt 11:8,  & esp Luke 7:25]. To contemporary ears these characteristics hardly sound like mortal sins, but this may be more to do with our (sexually fixated) ethical standards and norms. "Sticking up for what is right" rather than "going with the flow", or "being fashionable or trendy" is a great virtue and the opposite a great vice, and this may be what St Paul meant by malakos. It may have been the weak who offered incense to idols rather than refuse to do so, and so die a martyr for the faith. [Apoc 21:8] certainly condemns 'deiloi' cowards to hell. In any case, the Apostle obviously intends some specific meaning which is irrecoverable, from the lost context. Compare the condemnation of the 'pleonektai' in [1Co 6:10]. Is every greedy person Hell bound? What qualifies as greedy? Similarly 'loidoroi'. How much abusive or intemperate talking counts as Hell bound railing?

For an example of a related non-obvious meaning, courtesy of a different New Testament writer, see [Apoc 22:15]: "exO hoi kunes kai hoi pharmakoi kai hoi pornoi kai hoi phoneis kai hoi eidOlolatrai kai pas philOn kai poiOn pseudos." Does St. John have something against canines? No! Here are the male temple prostitutes of [Deut 23:19] 'allagma kunos', with amazing longevity. The term Dog may refer to the position a male or female temple prostitute would take in order to have anal intercourse, (and thus, in the case of the female, avoid pregnancy): crouching on all fours.

The Patristic Evidence

St Polycarp's Epistle to the Philipians

Boswell dismisses the evidence of St. Polycarp's Epistle to the Philipians [PPhp] by asserting that it provides no context. Some information, however, can be gleaned from the passage. After setting out the high moral standards required of deacons [PPhp 5:2], Polycarp exhorts the "neOteroi" (younger men, literally) to
"anakoptesthai apo tOn epithumiOn en tOi kosmOi, hoti pasa epithumia kata tou pneumatos strateuetai, kai oute pornoi oute malakoi, oute arsenoikoitai basileian theou klEronomoEsousin, oute hoi poiountes ta atopa"
"to be cut off from the lusts in the world, because every lust fights against the spirit, and neither 'pornoi' nor 'malakoi' nor 'arsenokoitai' will inherit the kingdom of God, nor those who commit crimes."  [PPhp 5:3]
Polycarp seems to be alluding to [1Co 6:9], and has edited the Apostolic list to suit his intended audience of young unmarried men, omitting adulterers. If the Bishop meant to refer to male prostitutes (rent boys) by either 'arsenokoitai' or 'malakoi', it is strange that he omits two reasons for resorting to the trade: religion (in which case idolaters should also be mentioned), or money (in which case the greedy should also be mentioned).

However, this is only an argument from silence. Polycarp's usage could still reflect prostitution. The word Polycarp uses for lusts is 'epithumiOn', which can refer to monetary greed, see [Ex 20:14] (LXX): 'ouk epithumEseis': you will not be greedy for in a sense not necessarily sexual, since the objects are neighbour's wife, field, male slave, female slave, ox, donkey. This is important to note, because 'epithumia' is often mistakenly translated as lust. It is more properly greed for something that doesn't belong to one coupled with a willingness to appropriate it improperly: covetousness.

'Pornoi' might signify male clients of female prostitutes; 'malakoi' male prostitutes; and 'arsenokoitai' male clients of male prostitutes. Three words being needed to specify all the possibilities open to a man. Of course, if it is intended to condemn all homosexual practice, only two categories are required as the issue of who is the client of whom does not then arise.

St John Chrysostom

Much of the early Christian concern was in fact, about pedophilia, not homosexuality between consenting adults.Yet as Boswell notes, even pedophilia was accepted among Christians and Christian leaders for a long time [Boswell (1980) pages 131-132].  John Chrysostom especially mentions the "thousand arguments" that he was answered with for his criticism of pederasty among Christians: "If [the chaste or disapproving] happen to be insignificant, they are beaten up; if they are powerful, they are mocked, laughed at, refuted with a thousand arguments. ... The parents of the abused youths bear this is silence and neither sequester their sons nor seek any remedy for the evil." [Boswell (1980) pages 362-3]. Chrysostom's disapproval of child molesting is unremarkable to modern ears. His passion for the subject may well arise from himself having been a victim in his youth. His testimony, however, only serves shows how unusual his opinion was. Child molesting is a form of both heterosexuality and homosexuality, but it is by no means their only expression. One suspects that if Chrysostom had been a woman, she would have condemned the molesting of little girls just as severely.


The authenticity of the Eusebian passage is dubious. Nevertheless, Boswell's dismissal of its contextual evidence is cavalier. He places his argument in a footnote; makes a mild concession; asserts the conclusion he desires to reach ("strongly implies an equation ... with 'gunaikes atimoi,' i.e., female prostitutes"); presents the word within a mass of untransliterated Greek; and then says it is of too late origin in any case [Boswell (1980) page 350 n.43].

The quotation has a very interesting clause:

"hoi de exw toutwn rhembomenoi, tas para phusin hEdonas meterkhontai, arsenokoitein epizEtountes . . ."

"But those who roam outside of these, they seek after pleasures beyond nature, desiring to [do what the arsenokoitai do]."

The roaming is referring to those "roaming the streets who accept the designs of adultery, fornication, and theft"; a phrase taken from the same passage. Compare the similar phrase "para phusin" beyond nature in [Rm 1:26]. The connection between the arsenokoitai and the 'gunaikes atimoi' is far less clear:
"....kai tis mE hEsukazwn alla rhembomenos, tois katEgorEmasi koinwnEsei tEs atimou gunaikos."

".....and anyone who is not quiet but roams, shares in the accusations of the shameless woman."

On the other hand, even if the passage is genuinely 4th century, Boswell concedes that by then homophobia was making a home in the Church. Moreover, to "arsenokoitein para phusin", might itself signify prostitution.  [Rom 1:27] clearly indicates the people concerned taking payment!


Boswell's thesis on arsenokoites has been widely criticized for many of its details, but his broad conclusion has generally been accepted: there is no reason to retain the understanding of 'arsenokoitai' as referring to male homosexuals in general. There is  significant doubt that Paul would have entertained any such concept as homosexual. No other ancient language had such a term, and the earliest Greek writers used a wide variety of periphrastic constructions to render a similar conception. It might be argued that Paul was only concerned with a particular sexual behaviour, say anal intercourse between males, frequent among male homosexuals of the time. However, there is no evidence that Paul condemned anal intercourse between men and women or between men, or that he saw physical affection between males as something to be avoided.

It is abundantly clear from the evidence of later Christian usage that the term arsenokoites changed meaning from its original use by Paul. It eventually came to refer to anything from child molesting to anal intercourse with one's wife. This semantic drift probably occurred because Paul's warnings were so successful that the phenomenon he addressed actually disappeared from prominence in Christian controlled areas of late antiquity/early medieval times. After the fall of paganism, temple prostitutes would have become a thing of the past, and male prostitutes, always probably fewer in number than female prostitutes, probably dwindled to extreme rarity. Later Christians, having forgotten the original meaning of arsenokoitai inserted a meaning they wished to see there.

Reading 'arsenokoitai' as homosexuals is an example of eisegesis. Homophobes who want to find condemnations of homosexuals in the Bible are capable of reading their prejudice into any given passage, just as their predecessors were capable of finding abundant encouragement for antisemitism and racism in the Bible. Do we now read the "mark of Cain" as black skin, as many American preachers in the past did? Do we now read "May his blood be upon us and our children forever" in the Gospel of John as our marching orders to massacre Jews, as medieval European Christians did? The responsibility for orthodox exegesis is not merely scholarly, it is ethical. Everyone who cares about this issue should devote as much effort to prayer and reflection as they do page turning.

At Judgement Day we will not be held accountable for not harassing those we thought were sinners. We will be held accountable for acting fairly and responsibly towards those who depended our actions.

Some main scholarship on arsenokoites is:

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