Sunday, June 20, 2010

1 Corinthians 6: the most important passage? (Pt 1)

In our haste to interpret texts which speak about an issue of the day we can rush ourselves and miss relevant wider contexts. Two wider contexts for the text 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 are Paul's lengthy addressing of a range of questions and issues concerning marriage and sexual behaviour, and the connection made between sexual behaviour and salvation. It is the latter context which relates this text, perhaps more than any other, to a strong theme in 'current Anglican troubles'. That theme, as emphasised by many Anglicans described as 'evangelical' or 'conservative' or both, is that our sexual behaviour is not a small, let alone trivial matter; rather, it impinges on our salvation. At the very least this means it is no light matter for the church to press ahead seeking change to our understanding of sexual ethics: we could - with the best pastoral intentions in the world - deceive fellow Christians into thinking that something was right and unproblematic when not only was it wrong but also that it represented a problem for our salvation.

Here is the text:

'Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practise homosexuality,* nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of heaven.' 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (ESV)

Actually, I think we should extend this to include 6:11:

'And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.'

Now first a technical matter of translating two key Greek words (indicated by the asterisk above): 'men who practise homosexuality' translates the words malakoi and arsenokoites. It is not too difficult to work out that these words concern men and sex: malakoi means a 'soft man' and arsenokoites literally is 'men' plus 'bed'. What is more difficult, indeed the subject of ongoing debate, is what behaviour or behaviours are being indicated by these words. To give one for instance, is malakoi about 'effeminate men' akin, say, to certain stereotypes about homosexuals, or is it a word indicating a male prostitute, or is it a word for the (so called) passive partner in a sexual act between two men? If the last then is arsenokoites a reference to (so called) active partners in such acts? Further, noting the Hellenistic background , with its custom of men loving men in a socially accepted manner, that is, older men having a younger male for a period prior to marriage, is Paul 'having a go' at this specific practice by using these two words?

Or, is malakoi a reference to something we cannot now be clear about, but arsenokoites is a generic word for all men who engage in sex acts (for which 'bed' is a euphemism) with other men? One part of the debate (indicated by me in an earlier post) concerns whether arsenokoites is a coined word from Leviticus 18:22 and thus is a very direct linkage between New Testament and Old Testament concerns about homosexuality.

In short, quite a few questions. In Part 2 I will explore these and further matters.


  1. Testing, testing. Peter this is a short comment to see if the reason you have no comments on your last three posts here is that some people like me have only tried overlong comments, or whether there is in fact a fault in your Blogger setup.

  2. The reasons why there are no comments here is

    there has not been a single convincing point made against same-sex committed couples

    the list of people going to the ACANZP's 3rd Hermeneutical Hui is only now being finalised. It is clear that this is not a serious gathering, requiring serious preparation by all

    those of us who are Bible-believing Christians now have a far weightier issue in the Anglican Communion: the Archbishop of Canterbury's flagrant repudiation and total reversal of the clear requirement that women must have their heads covered in worship. The faithful remnant is rallying and no longer has time for the minor issues being debated here.

  3. An anonymouse from my own liberal end of the spectrum wrote "the list of people going to the ACANZP's 3rd Hermeneutical Hui is only now being finalised. It is clear that this is not a serious gathering, requiring serious preparation by all." Wrong on at least two counts:-
    1. The list of participants in this series of gatherings was settled some years ago (with exceptions for subsequent episcopal resignations and elections) before the first hui. Those of us who attended the first hui committed ourselves not only to staying with the process during subsequent years but also to working on the issues involved in between sessions.
    2. I for one have been doing that hard work, as evidenced by my contributions to this and other forums, and by my selection as one of the contributing speakers at the next meeting. Believe me, I have been working hard on my assigned topic, as well as others in which we will all participate as partners in dialogue. The texts under discussion have been notified to all participants well in advance, and I would never presume to think that others had not been engaged in a similar level of serious preparation.

    Anonymouse, how dare you make such a snotty allegation? What evidence can you put forward for your "clarity" about what is happening in this encounter? The only thing that is clear about it is that you speak as an outsider and would do more for our liberal cause by holding your peace awhile.

  4. Fr. Pilgrim, your province is well-known, through Fr. Carrell's blogs, for the high quality of its communications within your province, so I am sure you are able to speak for all representatives from all dioceses. If, then, Fr Carrell is able to hold his hand on his heart and affirm that in his diocese the situation is exactly as you describe and there has not been a very recent attempt to find any new diocesan representatives to your very well-prepared Hui, then I apologise sincerely and retract my comment. Similarly, returning to your by-Fr-Carrell much-publicised it helps me to exegete what you mean by your comment in the light of your "I will run this as a blog, with regular posts on its front page" (March 12, 2010). Please understand that "regular" and "serious" may mean different things beyond your sunny, laid-back shores. Apologies all round for the snotty allegation misunderstandings.

  5. Apology for snottiness accepted for my part, Anonymouse. However, I take it from your apparent inside knowledge of the ChCh diocese's recent internal communications (far greater than mine!) that you are resident there and that when you use such constructions as "communications within your province" you are in fact dissembling, to cover your trail.Assure me otherwise and I will address your other comments.
    In my view, a blog site such as this one devoted to serious theological discussion, as opposed to church gossip, should require people to identify themselves properly or at least publish their reason for anonymity. Until you do so, I for one find it hard to take you seriously.

  6. Fr Pilgrime, as far as I can tell there are two contributors on this blog in two different dioceses, you and Fr Carrell. You were clear about your context, I was interested in his. If there were others in other dioceses I would be asking the same questions of them.
    So you can take from your inferences whatever you find helpful.
    I also fail to follow your logic that discussing ideas rather than gossiping "should require people to identify themselves properly." Again I would have thought the opposite: if it is the ideas that are important, who says them is of little relevance.
    I do not have a need to be taken seriously.
    But I am interested in the ideas being discussed here.
    I would have thought that the decision of a person to contribute anonymously on a site dedicated to this topic would not need to "publish their reason for anonymity"
    but I'm quite happy for you to take whatever salacious version you would find fascinating to continue this conversation.

  7. Hello there,
    I do not want to contribute to any particular speculative elements around this conversation, save to say that Howard is correct in principle: continuity of diocesan representatives has been requested; but the anonymous contributor is correct about one element of practice: as desired continuing participants turn out to be unavailable others are being sought; clearly if the unavailability is declared at the last minute then a last minute replacement will be sought. Unless some substantive new point is made about this particular matter I will not publish any further comments about it.