Why should we believe that the apostle Paul, when he used the term arsenokoites, had in mind any kind of same-sex activity or practice? Is it not possible that he had in mind something very specific and did not refer to adult, mutual homosexual orientation? Is there any basis for insisting that the term does extend to homosexual orientation?

A fair consideration of the writings and background of the the apostle Paul reveals that he was well versed in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (LXX). It was his “Bible,” the text he used to share the truth of the gospel as he traveled the world. While it seems sure that Paul could read the Hebrew as well, he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and the Septuagint was the source of his proclaimation and the ground of his defense of the gospel as well.

Indeed, at times, when the LXX differed in its wording from the Hebrew text, Paul would choose the LXX, knowing that his audience would have a familiarity with that version. It is a fundamental axiom in all scholarly study of Paul that the LXX is central in the determination of his motives and vocabulary. Truly, no serious challenge can be raised to this simple fact.

The relevance of this truth however, is seen when we consider the terms that are used in the LXX at Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. Leviticus 18:22, when transliterated from the LXX Greek into English, in stating that a man shall not be with a man as one lies with a woman reads,

meta arsenos (arsenos—male) ou koimethese koiten (koiten—to lie with sexually, have intercourse) gunaikos.

But even more striking is the wording of Leviticus 20:13 in the LXX:

hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikos.

Note the close connection of arsenos (male) and koiten (to lie with sexually, have intercourse). The term “homosexual” in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is made up of those two terms, arsenos and koiten—hence, arsenokoites. As a compound word it is clearly referring to male intercourse. The next fact to consider is also very important. Arsenokoites is a term that most agree did not appear prior to its appearance in the New Testament, and specifically in the writings of Paul.

So where did it come from? Two possibilities suggest themselves, and both end up having the same impact upon our reading of the text. The term could have been derived from rabbinic discussions of homosexuality, based upon the terms arsenos and koiten in Leviticus 18 and 20. Or it could have been coined by Paul.

This would not be unusual at all, for Paul seems to have coined a number of terms based upon the need to communicate the truths of the Hebrew Old Testament… [M]ost importantly, since [Paul] draws so heavily and constantly from the LXX itself, the conjunction of the terms arsenos and koiten (from which arsenokoites is derived) proves that the LXX text of Leviticus is the most likely source of the term…

Corinth was know across the Roman empire as a center of cultic worship that involved sexual debauchery. Temple prostitutes walked the streets, and its citizens knew every form of sexual immorality. Given that Paul would have derived his explanation of God’s will for man’s sexual behavior from the Scriptures, and specifically from the LXX, the prohibition on homosexuality in Leviticus 18 and 20 could hardly have been ignored…

[I]mmediately prior to the discussion in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul quoted from Deuteronomy 17:7 regarding removal of the evil man from their midst. His words tell us that the Corinthian believers knew this passage was normative for them, and that they already knew they should have followed its direction. The relevance of this passage was a “given,” and so, too, the revelation of Leviticus 18 and 20.

Likewise, Timothy, having heard his mentor preaching and teaching on many occasions, having learned the relevance of God’s revelation at Paul’s feet, would share the same understanding and same common source of reference, the LXX (2 Timothy 3:14-17)… Paul places his usage of the term arsenokoites in his writing to Timothy squarely in the context of the law, which surely would have included Leviticus 18-20.

Having then established, then, the context of the word in Paul’s usage and its origins in the LXX, we can see why the broad term “homosexual” is the best term to use in translation. The prohibition on homosexual behavior in Leviticus is not restricted to prostitution, or pederasty, or any other subcategory of homosexual immorality.

It includes, and condemns, all such activity. Since this is the source from which Paul’s usage and understanding flows, it follows inevitably that we err when we attempt to limit the scope artificially to any more narrow meaning.[1]

Dr. James White and Jeffrey D. Niell


[1] James R. White & Jeffrey D. Niell,  Same Sex Controversy, The: Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message About Homosexuality [Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002] , 146, 147, 148, 149, emphasis theirs.

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