The ex-gay movement’s favorite verses of the Bible are 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

And there it is, right there in easily understood English. Some of the church members in Corinth were homosexual offenders who were washed and sanctified and have “overcome the homosexual lifestyle”.

In an article written by Joe Dallas, borrowed from Exodus International, and on the Focus on the Family’s website (add in NARTH and you’d have a whole Love Won Out conference) we see this claim about 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:

Sexual orientation simply cannot be changed,” a gay psychiatrist says confidently, warning “there may be severe emotional and social consequences in the attempt to change from homosexuality to heterosexuality.” This argument draws heavily from the social sciences, as it must; the Bible supports no such claim. Indeed, St. Paul makes the opposite remark, clearly stating homosexuals can change

But is that what the letter to the Corinthians really says? Did Paul pull out his quill and jot down a letter to “homosexual offenders” that had become heterosexual?

The short answer is “no”. Paul (along with Sosthenes) used another word: arsenokoites.

OK. No problem, right? You just translate arsenokoites from Greek into English and you’re done.

Well, not so easy. Even in the best of circumstances, translations between languages are difficult. The flow, the cadence, cultural references or even puns all get mangled. The best translators of novels tend not to use word-by-word translations. But assuming that you did use word-by-word methodology, this still won’t work for arsenokoites.

Because Paul, bless his heart, didn’t use Greek. In fact, he didn’t use a word. Arsenokoites doesn’t appear in any pre-existing literature. Either he used slang or he just made it up.

Arsenokoites shows up twice in the Bible, both times by Paul. It’s also in Titus 1:10 in a list of sinners that also includes liars, whoremongers, and slaver traders (clearly NARTH only read part of this verse). But what was he saying?

The words seem to be some combination of “man” and “bed”. Some translators have looked at this and said “Oh, yes. See here. This ‘man-bed’ clearly means those ‘homosexuals’ (or ‘homosexual offenders’ – whatever that means)”. Other historians or researchers are not at all convinced of this. So who is right?

The truth is we just don’t know.

It is always difficult to determine the meaning of compound words, especially in this case because usage doesn’t give us much of a clue. Arsenokoites appears only three times in only two documents over a period of three centuries! Two of these are in the New Testament and one is in the Sibylline Oracles. In all three cases, the word appears in a list and so the meaning of the word cannot be readily derived from the context.

In the Sibylline Oracles, it does not seem to appear in a sexual context.

Oh but perhaps, some might think, Paul had to use slang because there were no other words to use. Perhaps homosexuality was such a vile sin that no one ever spoke of it.

No. That’s not it.

In Greek culture, romantic or sexual relationships between males were so common as to be a dominant theme in what Greek literature remains. Paul had half a dozen words or more to pick from.

So what do we make of arsenokoites? How do we translate slang?

The problem with slang should be obvious to all. While translations may be phat and require mad hot skills, it isn’t representin’ if it’s all for the bling. Or something like that.

I don’t know what the word selected in 1 Corinthians 6:9 means. Perhaps Paul was talking about same-sex activity, or alternately he meant those who bullied same-sex attracted persons. Perhaps he meant rapists, or maybe men who spent the day lounging in bed, or men with too many female slaves. Or maybe there was some cultural refernce that ironically had nothing more to do with men or beds than a lounge-lizard has to either lounging or lizards. I don’t know. And neither does Joe Dallas, James Dobson, or Alan Chambers.

But I do know that building a doctrine and claiming that “sexual orientation can be changed” based on nothing more than one slang word that is confusing at best seems to me to be grasping and tortured.

You might even say it’s not good strategerie.

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