Letter: St Paul and gays

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St Paul and gays

Sir: There is truth in both the letters of Michael Halls (13 August) and Paul Marston (18 August) on the subject of the curious word arsenokoites. Dr Halls is right to say that it is almost unknown outside the New Testament. Its exact meaning is speculative. It is very strange that this almost unknown word should have been used by St Paul to describe homosexual behaviour, which was common in society at that time, when he could have used many other words frequent in classical literature. Dr Marston is right that the most plausible translation is "going to bed with a male". It is used in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament and is probably a translation of the Hebrew words mishkau zekor.

St Paul clearly associated homosexual behaviour with idolatry and adultery. Jews of the time linked homosexual behaviour with pagan religious practice. Sacred prostitution of both sexes was a feature of both Canaanite and Graeco-Roman religions. And in an age where most people were married, the majority of homosexual behaviour, post adolescence, would have been adulterous. Dr Marston is not justified in linking Jesus' condemnation of adultery with a general condemnation of homosexuality.

Dr Marston refers to 1 Timothy 1:10. This is the most interesting example of the use of the word. It is used with two others, pornois and andropodistes. Pornois was the usual word for a male prostitute. There were many of these in the Mediterranean ports, and there were brothels staffed with male sexual slaves. Seneca in particular condemned this use of boys who were often castrated. Andropodistes was the word most often used for a kidnapper or slave dealer.

Perhaps Paul is saying that sacred male prostitutes, those who use them and those who procure them can have no place in the new Christian communities he was founding, and no one will argue with that.


St Paul's, Knightsbridge

London SW1