Letter: Gays in the Bible...

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Sir: I welcome David Pocock's friendly letter (10 August) about those two words in 1 Corinthians 6:9. They have been much abused by the translators.

The word arsenokoites has no known meaning at all. It is one of those bubble-words that bedevil dictionary-makers: a rare word with no track- record, no context, and no self-evident meaning. Used nowhere else in the Bible, nor in earlier literature, it looms up twice in Paul's letters: once here, and once in another string of nouns at 1 Timothy 1:10. Paul gives us no clue about what it meant to him. None of his contemporaries appears to have used it.

When we do at last find the word used in a clear context, a century or more after Paul's death, it is used to denounce women who try to avoid having babies.

The other word, malakos, has in fact no sexual connotations of any kind. It simply means "weak". It can apply either to someone's psychology ("self- indulgent", and hence "over-dressed", as at Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25) or to their physiology ("in poor health", as at Matthew 4:23). Some modern translators seem to think that "self-indulgent", "weak" and "over-dressed" can all be added together into "mincing queen", but this anachronistic stereotype owes nothing to Paul's culture. I suspect these translators are men who have strange dreams about Liberace. Others deal with the word more faithfully. The Jerusalem Bible translators (1968) followed the flow and mistranslated it as "catamites", but their revisers stood up and corrected this to "the self-indulgent" (New Jerusalem Bible, 1985). All credit to them.

Paul's Greek had an abundance of common words that referred plainly to male same-gender sexual activity: kinaideia, arrenomixia, paidophthoria, paiderastia, androbutein.Paul used none of them: not one. It is to fill this perceived gap that the homophobes have hijacked malakos and arsenokoites into the service of their late-mediaeval, unscriptural bigotry.


Christow, Devon