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"men who have sex with men" is NOT a good translation of 1 Cor 6:9

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I recently received an email from Colin Smith of gaysandslaves.com encouraging me to contact the NIV Committee and recommend that they change their translation of 1 Corinthians 6:9 from homosexual offenders to "men who have sex with men."

While I am thankful that Colin is my beloved brother in Christ, I do not agree with him on the issue at hand.

Here is my response.

To suggest THAT as an accurate rendering of malakoi and arsenokoitai is deeply offensive to gay men for many reasons.

First, malakoi and arsenokoitai are rarely, if ever used with that meaning (according to conservative heterosexual scholar, Dr. Gordon Fee).

I list the first 56 uses of the arsenokoit stem on my website (which covers the times the word is found in Greek literature during the first 600 years of church history). arsenokoitai was NEVER used with the meaning, "men who have sex with men" in its first 56 uses during the first 600 years of church history.

The Greek word, arsenokoitai, where there is enough information in the context to guess at its meaning, indicated:

1. Rape
2. Shrine prostitution, according to Philo the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher
3. Humans having sex with angels or the gods, or
4. A man having sex with his wife

Second, switching from "homosexual" to "men who have sex with men" does nothing to improve the translational difficulties of the NIV. To phrase it, "men who have sex with men" is a flat-out negative blast at EVERY gay man in committed partnership. It makes the verse say that gay men in committed partnership will NOT have a heavenly inheritance or will NOT go to heaven.

Third, there is absolutely NO linguistic evidence that Greek speaking people in the first century used the word arsenokoitai to mean "men who have sex with men."

Fourth, "men who have sex with men" is an interpretation of 1 Cor 6:9 based on anti-gay bias and guesswork, not historic usage of arsenokoitai. Dr. Gordon Fee, noted heterosexual Greek scholar (in his commentary on 1 Corinthians), admits that translating 1 Cor 6:9 to mean "homosexual" is "a best guess." He then admits that we do not know what the word arsenokoitai means.

In my opinion, it sends the wrong message to ask gays and lesbians to request that the NIV committee translate 1 Cor 6:9 in a way that attacks gay men in committed partnership, "men who have sex with men," when there is NO historical evidence that anyone in the first century used arsenokoitai with that meaning.

Fifth, if there was strong historical substantiation that arsenokoitai meant "men who have sex with men," then the anti-gay crowd might have a case.

But given the fact that there is no historical evidence which points to arsenokoitai meaning, "men who have sex with men," it is a horrible attack on gay men in committed partnership to suggest THAT as the meaning.

"Men who have sex with men"
is NOT more accurate and is NOT less offensive.


Mike T said...

I realize I'm commenting almost a year late, but I think you're missing the real problem. Why should serious Christians who want to learn precisely what the Bible means use the NIV, which is essentially a paraphrase rather than an accurate translation of God's word? I am not accusing the NIV of being deliberately biased, but it is hard to avoid bias when a bunch of people -- all with the same basic prejudices -- are paraphrasing something.

Paraphrased Bibles are useful for children and general readers, but if you want to argue about what a phrase means, they should consult a truly accurate translation, such as the Revised Standard Version. This was a translation that tried to be as literal as it could be and was done by a group including liberal Christians, conservative Christians and Jews, so biases tended to cancel out. It translates "arsenokoitai" as "sexual perverts."

Of course, "sexual perverts" is also unclear, but that's because no one really knows what arsenokoitai actually means. But at least the RSV doesn't deceive the reader by pretending to know what it means.

So instead of railing against what the NIV says, you should be pointing out that if people want to argue about what individual verses mean, they should start by reading several accurate translations of the Bible, not a paraphrase.

Rick Brentlinger said...

Thanks for the comment Mike. The reason for dealing with questions about the NIV is that someone asked.

Many thanks for your input.

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