Queering the Bible, Pt5 – homophobic translations

The fifth part to my mega essay on LGBT issues in the Bible. This one deals with issues of translation – effectively where people had a choice to translate words as *anything* but chose homosexuality to be the big sin.

“Realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.” –  1 Timothy 9-10

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of G-d? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders” – 1 Corinthians 6:9

These passages are an issue of translation. If in either passage you see the word ‘homosexual’ than you can tell your Bible had been written after 1946, such as the New International Version and the New American Standard Bible, quoted in the footnotes.

Prior to 1946 Edition of the Revised Standard Version, words that were used in place of ‘homosexual’ included; boy prostitutes, effeminate, those who make women of themselves, sissies, the self-indulgent, sodomites, lewd persons, male prostitutes, and the unchaste. All those words were assumed to be translations of the Greek malakoi and arsenokoitai, which until the 16th century was thought to mean ‘masturbators’. Indeed, when early Greek-speaking Christians such as John Chrysostom and Clement of Alexandra the words malakoi and arsenkoitai were never used, nor was the passages in 1 Corinthians 6 or 1 Timothy 1 mentioned.

The problem with translating the word arsenokoitai is that it has not been located in any other material before Pauls use of the word, or at a similar time to Paul’s writings. The only instances of use of arsenokoitai are recorded to be after Pauls use, and dependant on Paul’s usage of the word. About 500 years after Paul’s death, Jerome translates arsenokoitai to be ‘male concubine’, with no distinction to whether the concubines were involved in hetero- or homo-eroticism. There were many common Greek words at the time of Paul, however that more accurately and distinctly references homosexuality, and yet he chooses not to use them.

Malakoi however has more recorded use before and after Paul uses it. Jesus is recorded to use the word Malakoi to describe soft clothes in Matthew 11:8 Traditionally, church tradition has referred to Malakoi as a term to describe moral weakness, in ancient Greek culture it was used to describe effeminacy, and occasionally as a descriptive word for eromenos (the passive partner in a pederastic relationship). It was, however, more often used in a broader sense to describe men who bathed often, presented himself as effeminate to attract women, wore aftershave, shaved, or ate too much.

Because of the complete ambiguity of the words Malakoi and arsenokoitai, it is inaccurate and misleading to translate the terms as meaning as homosexuality.

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