A Conversation about Homosexuality and the ChurchPer our mission of fostering theological conversation, ThinkTheology.org is hosting a conversation between Bill Hoard and our very own Luke Geraty in regards to homosexuality and the Church. This is a six part series where Bill will offer a perspective and Luke will respond (see the first exchange). If you have any questions or comments, feel free to join the discussion below. Our authors will do their best to respond. 

Bill Hoard’s 2nd Post

In reference to my proposed order of approach, addressing the O.T. first would be more canonical and may well serve to help with an intertextual understanding of the issue, particularly regarding the Hebraic influences on Jesus’ and Paul’s worldviews, I don’t disagree. The reason for the order I chose is mostly pragmatic and experiential. In most of the conversations I have with people on this topic, they are most interested in how I handle the NT direct passages. If they find my answers satisfactory on that level, it is only then that they move on to asking about the OT passages, then the overall tone of the Bible, and often end with a semi-theological appeal to natural law theory. So I thought it would be worthwhile to structure our conversation along the lines which seem, to me, to be the most pressing on the mind of most evangelicals. That said, I am hopeful that these blogs will create a sort of gestalt argument if readers are willing to jump around a bit as I will be making assertions in some entries which will not be fully defended till later blog posts. In lieu of this I hope to spend this post and the next dealing with direct N.T. texts, address the O.T. texts in the fourth post, oblique references in the fifth and then use the last as a conclusion, touching on natural law theory and wrapping up the discussion.

Regarding Acts 15, I am absolutely willing to include it (and the assorted passages which relate to it)[1] in our discussion of porneia. I didn’t mean my list to limit us to the passages I mentioned, only to give what I think of as the primary examples in each instance. Luke, please feel free to include discussion of any passages you think I have overlooked.

Direct NT passages, Arsenekoitai and Malakoi; 1 Corinthians 6, and 1Timothy 1:

So there are basically two passages in the NT where, depending on your English translation, the word “homosexual” will actually show up: 1 Corinthians 6:9[2], and 1 Timothy 1:10[3]. In these passages, the term is a translation of the Greek words asenekoitai and malakoi. While malakoi is a fairly common word in classical Greece, its application to a group of people in a potentially sexual context is extremely uncommon, while arsenekoitai is admitted by some of the most traditional scholars to have been coined by Paul himself[4]. Most of the N.T. scholarship with which I am familiar equates these terms somewhat more specifically to “active partner in gay sex” and “passive partner in gay sex” or to “homosexual man” and “effeminate” respectively. I believe that there are three distinct problems with the way these two terms have been translated and are used.

The first problem is the infrequency of these terms’ usage. It strikes me that if we are going to restrict the church participation of a person[5] on the basis of our interpretation of key vocabulary, that vocabulary ought to be thoroughly vetted in terms of its meaning. In the case of arsenekoitai we are looking at a term which Paul seemed to have coined[6] [7] while malakoi is used in an almost unique way – it is generally translated as “soft”, “delicate”, or sometimes “morally pliable” in most other literature[8].

The second problem with these terms is the basic fact that Paul bothered to coin them. We generally only coin terms when there are no existing words available to express an idea. This is problematic for the traditional interpretation of arsenekoitai and malakoi because Greek already had words which were commonly used to refer to the active and passive partners in a gay relationship. In classical Greek, the words Erastes and Eromenos were used to refer to the active and passive male partners respectively. We can only speculate as to why Paul would have chosen to coin and appropriate new words when he already had terms available but it is clear that he must have been rejecting the existing words for some reason and I think it is fair to conclude that Paul wanted to avoid something intrinsic to either the connotation or denotation of the existing words. After all, a well educated writer does not make up entirely new terminology when there are existing words which carry the necessary meaning, he only does so when there are no exitisting words which properly express his idea. This leads me to believe that Paul had a specific reason to reject Erastes and Eromenos as bad expressions of the sort of people he was describing in 1Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1.

I will suggest that he may have chosen to do so because Erastes and Eromenos often included the possibility of a loving, mutually beneficial relationship[9]. In contrast to the language and culture of classical Greece, the culture of Rome and classical Latin (in which Paul was operating) did not have terms or concepts which readily admitted of loving-mutually encouraging relationships. Instead, the relevant Latin terms (and parallel concepts) connoted either a self-serving seducer and conqueror intent on using his partner for pleasure[10] or a sexualy ambitious submissive willing to demean himself by exchanging sex for influence and opportunity – alternately, the reference could be to rape of male slaves.

I think it likely that Paul chose to coin and appropriate new terms specifically in order to make reference to the Latin/Roman form of the relationship rather than the Greek form. If this is the case, then Paul’s word choice would mean that he is specifically not referring to loving, mutually supportive relationships but to selfish, mutually degrading ones[11].

Finally, there is the cognitive dissonance which the traditional interpretation of these terms ought to create between the contextual implications of the terms and our lived experience of LGB persons. In 1 Corinthians 6:8-10, arsenekoitai and malakoi appear on a list of people who are not going to inherit the kingdom of God; in 1 Timothy 1:6-10, arsenekoitai appear on a list of the unrighteous who have something to learn from the law. But I, at least, know LGB Christians who are actively inheriting the kingdom of God. If I do not want to conclude the Bible is wrong about them, the most obvious alternative would be that it is not referring to them in these lists but to the perverse relationships of the classical Roman world.

So my argument here boils down to the following three points:

  1. Arsenekoitai and malakoi are too rarely used to base a practice of exclusion on them.
  2. Because they were specifically coined and appropriated, arsenekoitai and malakoi are likely to indicate something other than the loving, mutually supportive relationships which could have been indicated if Paul had used the common terms.
  3. The traditional interpretation of arsenekoitai and malakoi is problematic because it would force us to conclude that LGB people who claim Jesus as their savior will not inherit the kingdom of God so long as they continue to identify and act as LGB persons and that contradicts our lived experience of LGB Christians.

My next post will finish up the direct N.T. passages with a look at Romans 1 and a further investigation into the culture of the Roman world in relation to homosexuality. I realize this has been a bit brief (after all there are whole books on these subjects) and I am hoping we can work through the nuances and background in comments.

My questions for Luke:

How certain do you think Christians ought to be of an interpretation if they are going to use it as the basis for exclusionary practices? How about if we are going to withhold full support from an oppressed group?[12]

Luke Geraty’s 2nd Response

I want to start by thanking you, Bill, for participating in this dialogue! I also apologize for not getting to this sooner! As I told you via Facebook, I started two new classes and have been trying to manage being a good husband, father, pastor, and grad student while also keeping up with my responsibilities elsewhere. But I’m back!

Your reason for starting with NT texts makes sense. I don’t even necessarily balk at such methodology as long as that methodology recognizes that in order to properly exegete the NT texts, one has to understand their OT background! Paul’s worldview was shaped by the Hebrew Scriptures. So I’m going to push back against any argument that sounds like Sarah Ruden’s Paul Among the People because it uses such flawed methodology (openly ignoring Paul’s Jewish background!). That’s why I believe including a discussion, at some point, in regards to porneia is vital because I think Thomas Lyons has demonstrated conclusively the importance of that Greek word toward this subject (here, here, and here).

Regarding your thoughts on asenekoitai and malakoi, I would simply point readers to part 5 of my review of Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation, because I’ve provided several reasons why your three “problems” are really not problematic. For those who are, like me, too lazy to go to my review, I’ll make a few points here…

First, Paul use of arsenekoitai appears to be based on his use of the LXX and, as you noted, a coining of a term that draws back to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. There’s no debate that I know of in modern scholarship on this issue. That’s why the OT background matters so much, which I’m sure you agree with. As an aside, I think you’ll find supporting evidence of this from progressives like Loader and conservatives like Gagnon,[13] not to mention Wold, who has extended treatment on this issue. The point is that they almost unanimously agree. Since you are going to address this in the future, I’ll let you address this later.

Second, I agree that we need to do our exegetical and lexical homework regarding the words used in the Scriptures. No arguments from me. You’ll have to provide some serious evidence, however, if you are looking to overturn the overwhelming amount of work that’s been done on these words. In fact, in my reviewing of ALTMC, I read through literally every lexicon and theological dictionary I could get my hands on or that I own and found absolutely zero support to abandon the “traditional” understanding of these words – zero! So again, I’ll let you address this later.

Third, your second problem, in relation to erastes and eromenos raises a good question, though I am not sure it’s completely relevant because those terms were generally used in relation to pederasty in the ancient Greek world (see Dover’s Greek Homosexuality), though, as you noted, not exclusively. But I think you make the very point that I see as crucial. If Paul invented the word, which appears to be highly probable (though it could have been a word used in Jewish circles), why did he not use words that were commonly used to describe pederasty?

Perhaps it was because he wasn’t referring to pederasty but was, based on his understanding of Jewish Scripture, discussing homosexual acts in and of themselves. It’s already been established that Paul would have been aware of same-sex monogamous homosexual relationships, so that argument doesn’t work (see part 5 of my review). In addition to ignoring Paul’s Jewish background, it becomes far too speculative for my tastes and largely ignores Pauline understanding and use of Creation toward his understanding of sexuality. Again, your speculation overlooks, I believe, significant issues that are deeply connected to Pauline theology and has been both challenged and, I think, overturned by the progressive Loader, conservative Gagnon, and a host of other NT scholars.

Finally, I really appreciate your last issue/challenge because, quite frankly, it’s deeply personal and something that I am working through as well. I would, however, want to go into a discussion about discipleship and lordship. Do we both use those words in similar ways? I, for one, do not believe that becoming a follower of Jesus means we become perfect. I believe the NT teaches that sanctification is both an event (we are sanctified) and progressively happens over time (we are being saved).

I believe the call of the gospel is for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, to live their lives under the lordship of Jesus. When we become followers of Jesus, our identity shifts, or should be shifting, or will be shifting, toward him. But I have no doubt that there are people who are “saved” (for lack of a better word) that are living in ways that are outside of the prescribed will of God. I’m a living testimony to that. However, I don’t need to change God’s prescribed will (revealed in Scripture) in order to justify my actions/thoughts, do I? I certainly don’t think so, which is why I think it rather important to understand Scripture’s teaching on this subject because if we are right or wrong matters a lot.

You ask me two questions, which I’ll answer with some nuance and caveats.

“How certain do you think Christians ought to be of an interpretation if they are going to use it as the basis for exclusionary practices?”

It think it all depends on what is being addressed as well as what “exclusionary practices” mean. Bill, every orthodox Christian is exclusionary! You exclude people if you hold to any sort of orthodoxy. Would you support allowing someone to pastor in the church you attend if they denied that Jesus was God? How about a man who was living with a woman he wasn’t married to and they were having a sexual relationship? This is to say that I really think the rejection of “exclusionary practices” needs to be nuanced far more than it is because it’s hard to take anyone serious when they use it unless they acknowledge that all orthodox Christians do it.

Furthermore, what exclusionary practices are we talking about? I don’t know any churches in the denomination I am a part of that would exclude people from attending their gatherings. Additionally, most of the churches I know would have no problem with most areas of participation, including sacraments. The “exclusion” comes in specific areas (leadership roles, etc.), not across the board.

But to answer your question, Christians should be fairly certain if they are going to exclude people who participate in certain practices. I’m not sure if you are looking for a percentage here though, so I hope “fairly certain” is sufficient, ha ha!

“How about if we are going to withhold full support from an oppressed group?”

This begs the question of what “full support” is and what equates to an “oppressed group.” But alas, I believe that I can argue for the civil rights and social justice of the LGBTQ community without having to offer my agreement with their sexual activity. I do that for unmarried singles who are living out sexual relationships all of the time, which I find statistically way more of a challenge than homosexuality!

Bill, I hope these answers address the issues you are raising. If not, let me know and I’ll do my best to explain further.

My concluding questions, which you could either answer in the comments if you aren’t planning on addressing more detail, are how you believe Christians can live out the “B” in your “LGB.” What does a “B” sexual relationship entail? Is there monogamy? Is it lifelong? Furthermore, what about the “T”?


[1] Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8, Revelation 2:14

[2] “Malakoi” only shows up in the 1 Corinthians passage.

[3] Both passages are attributed to the apostle Paul.

[4] Please correct me if I am wrong about this Luke!

[5] The prohibition of marriage or ordination comes to mind.

[6] I am not aware of any extra-Pauline uses of the word prior to the completion of the N.T.

[7] I recognize that Paul may have coined arsenekoitai based on a translation in the Septuagint and I propose to address that point when we deal with OT texts.

[8] This is the usage by Homer, Herodotus, Plato, and Artistotle; also the dominant way it is used in the Bible – Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25

[9] While these terms could refer to the two parties in a pederastic relationship, they were also used to describe more egalitarian gay relationships. For instance, these terms are used in Plato’s Symposium in reference to the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles wherein Achilles represents the Eromenon.

[10] All of the relevant terms, both Greek and Latin, are male specific. Both cultures were aware of lesbianism but the terms and cultural associations were wildly different because well….the patriarchy.

[11] Notice that the terms appear on a lists of types of people acting in a specifically unloving way: thieves, murderers, parricides and matricides, greedy, and adulterers. If arsenekoitai and malakoi are used as Greek translations of the Latin concepts over and against the native Greek concepts, they become a far better thematic fit in the context of the relevant passages.

[12] I genuinely expect that there are different answers to these two questions. I know there are in my mind.

[13] I fully acknowledge that Gagnon’s public engagement on this issue is often controversial and not how I would and have engaged this issue. However, his scholarship on the subject is extremely relevant and convincing.