One Remaining Battle Over Homosexuality That Christians Shouldn’t Cede

By Pastor Ryun Chang, PhD

“Don’t beat a dead horse,” I said with a smile to a young therapist sitting next to me in a bus heading to New York City sometime in June of 2015.  After being told that I’m a pastor, this therapist, claiming to be nonjudgmental, questioned about my stance on homosexuality to prove his point that Christians are judgmental.  My response wasn’t all that odd considering that the Supreme Court had just legalized same-sex marriage.  

Being a realist, this blog isn't written to convince the world how they got it all wrong on homosexuality.  Perhaps, it may be too late for that.  My objective, instead, is to appeal to those believers who may nod their heads in agreement after reading a Los Angeles Times column under this header: “Bible Doesn’t Say What We Thought It Did.”  The secular world will push for what it wants to believe, but this is one remaining battle over homosexuality that Christians shouldn't cede: What does God's word say about homosexuality?  

One effective way to justify the claim that Bible accepts homosexuality has always been to question whether certain New Testament Greek words related to it are translated correctly. Among the first to challenge the Bible in this manner was John Boswell—a Yale historian who died of AIDS in 1994—who found 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 objectionable.  This passage refers to the apostle Paul declaring, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [“malakos”], nor homosexuals [“arsenokoitēs”] . . . will inherit the kingdom of God” (NASB 1995).  In response, Boswell wrote, “There is no good reason to believe that either malakos or arsenokoitēs connoted homosexuality in the time of Paul or for centuries thereafter, and every reason to suppose that, whatever they came to mean, they were not determinative of Christian opinion on the morality of homosexual acts.”  This historian, instead, insisted that malakos (effeminate in NASB) means “‘soft’ or ‘weak’ with the implication of moral softness or moral laxity”; therefore, malakos is not a technical term for homosexual.  As for arsenokoitēs (homosexuals in NASB), its meaning is “males who go bed,” or “male prostitutes” who serve both heterosexual and homosexual clients. Accordingly, what Paul banned was promiscuity and prostitution, not homosexuality.

Okay, that’s what a brilliant historian, not a Greek expert, said.  Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised to find Boswell’s understanding deficient in view of notable lexicons published by reputable academic publishers.  Consider, for instance, A Greek-English Lexicon of New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, published by the University of Chicago Press (1957).  It defines malakos as (1) “soft of things; clothes; (2) “persons: soft, effeminate especially of catamite, men and boys who allow themselves to be misused homosexually.” And according to A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon on the New Testament (Andrews University Press 1971), malakos means, “soft; effeminate; catamite.”  As for arsenokoitēs, it is a compound Greek word made up of "arsēn," meaning male with a strong emphasis on sex, and "koitē," meaning bed, which was “a coarse word . . .  denot[ing] base or licentious sexual activities (Rom. 13:13)” (Ukleja 1983).  A Greek-English Lexicon of New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature translates it as “male homosexual” or “pederast” (i.e., a man who participates in sexual activity with a boy or adolescence).  A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon on the New Testament translates it as “male homosexual, sodomite.”

These findings seem to indicate that whereas malakos refers to a man playing the passive homosexual role, arsenokoitēs refers to the one taking more of an active role. It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 has been correctly translated in the Bible.

Now, a recent challenge to the biblical position on homosexuality on account of an alleged mistranslation of biblical word, comes from Mark Tyler Connoley and Jeff Miner, pastors of pro-gay Metropolitan Community Church.  In their 2002 book, The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-Sex Relationships, they argued that the Greek word “pais” the Roman centurion used in reference to his sick servant whom he “valued highly” means “beloved gay lover” (Lk. 7:7).  And since Jesus commanded the centurion for his “great faith,” instead of condemning him for homosexuality, this would indicate that Christ approved it.


The word pais is used 24 times in the NT to refer to close relationships like one between father and son (Jn. 4:51; Acts 3:13).  And, besides the centurion story, in two other NT passages a master refers to his servant as pais, not “doulos” (the usual term for slave or servant). One of them is found in the parable of the Prodigal Son wherein Luke 15:25-6 says, “When [the older son] came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants (pais) and began inquiring what these things could be.”  Well, since the servant was referred to as pais, why not say, “The older son called to his side his male lover and began inquiring . . .”  And since Jesus himself narrated this parable, homosexuality must be okay!

Pais is also used (in Acts 20:12) in reference to “a young man named Eutychus” who, while listening to Paul before his departure, “was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead.  But Paul went down and fell upon him ("epipitō": to embrace with affection), and after embracing him, he said, ‘Do not be troubled, for his life is in him’.” (Acts 20:9-12).  If I were a pastor of Metropolitan Community Church, I would say, “Paul's young male lover was sitting by the window, hoping to say a final goodbye.  But as the evening dragged on, he dozed off and fell out of the window. So, Paul hurriedly went down and embraced his lover with affection.”

What’s my point? The saying, “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” fits what gay rights advocates do with the Bible.  To them, any affection shown between two people of the same sex must mean they are gay lovers.  That is why David and Jonathan (“then they kissed each other and wept together”—1 Sam. 20:41) and Naomi and Ruth (“Ruth clung to her”—Ruth 1:14) have long been paired up as same-sex lovers.  That, of course, is ludicrous. Just because this conscientious Roman centurion was a caring boss doesn’t make him a homosexual.  Besides everything else, would a Roman officer dare to have a male-lover in his household when homosexuality was prosecutable in the Roman law, this, according to Background of Early Christianity (2003).  Also, don’t read too much into any substantial difference between doulos and pais since, for the most part, they were used interchangeably in the NT.  

The Bible is clear about homosexuality and same-sex marriage: neither is part of God’s will for humanity.  Nevertheless, homosexuals, as humans bearing God’s likeness, should neither be harassed nor insulted because "for God so loved the world" (Jn. 3:16a) includes all sinners, whether homosexual or heterosexual.  And when sharing our perspective on homosexuality, as I did that day on the bus, we just need to say politely, “We disagree with your lifestyle because, one, it isn't God’s will (Gn. 2:20-25; Rom. 1:26-7), and two, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is correctly translated."