The first 56 uses of
The preeminent story of a Greek god lying with a male is the myth of Zeus raping Ganymede. The Gnostic version of this myth substitutes Naas, the serpent, for Zeus, and Adam, in the garden of Eden, for Ganymede.
The myth of Zeus and Ganymede originated on the island of Crete, where the Cretans believed King Minos raped Ganymede. The Greeks adopted the myth from the Cretans and attempted to justify pederasty by exalting the rape of the boy Ganymede by the god Zeus.
“VIII. The Greeks, then, because they are more subtle than the Barbarians, have gone further astray than the Barbarians; inasmuch as they have introduced many fictitious gods...
and some transformed themselves into the likeness of animals to seduce the race of mortal women, and some polluted themselves by lying with males.
And some, they say, were wedded to their mothers and their sisters and their daughters [incest among the gods]. And they say of their gods that they committed adultery with the daughters of men [inter-species sex - Genesis 6]; and of these there was born a certain race which also was mortal....
their gods are unrighteous, since they transgressed the law... in lying with males [inter-species sex], and by their other practices as well...
they bring forward another god Zeus... he changed himself into the likeness of an eagle through his passion for Ganymedos (Ganymede) the shepherd...
much evil has arisen among men, who to this day are imitators of their gods, and practice adultery and defile themselves with their mothers and their sisters, and by lying with males [rape, shrine prostitution and perhaps pederasty],
and some make bold to slay even their parents. For if he [Zeus] who is said to be the chief and king of their gods do these things how much more should his worshipers imitate him?” - Aristides Apology, VIII & IX.
This usage gives no basis for concluding that arsenokoites refers to homosexuality. Naas is the serpent, from the word Naas, referring to the Naasseni, the people who call themselves Gnostics.
“Naas, however, has committed sin, for he went in unto Eve, deceiving her, and debauched her; and (such an act as) this is a violation of law. He, however, likewise went in unto Adam, and had unnatural [meaning nonprocreative or interspecies] intercourse with him; and this is itself also a piece of turpitude, whence have arisen adultery and sodomy.”
Dr. Gagnon asserts that these particular uses refer to typically pederastic acts “but not necessarily exclusively so.” This careful phrasing (fudge language) reflects Dr. Gagnon’s opinion that the etymology of the arsenokoit stem makes the compound word always mean homosexuality. His opinion is not based on definitions of arsenokoitountes, arsenokoitia, arsenokoitai or arrenokoitai found in the ancient sources he cites.
Instead, Dr. Gagnon’s phrase “but not necessarily exclusively so” conveys his unsubstantiated opinion that the arsenokoit stem, as used in antiquity, is a general reference to every kind of homosexuality, regardless that he cannot present even one ancient reference where the arsenokoit stem is used that way.
Since the ancients never used the arsenokoit stem to mean homosexual, every Bible translation which translates arsenokoites to mean homosexual is wrong. Since our ancestors never used the arsenokoit stem to mean something approximating our modern understanding of homosexuality, preachers and churches are wrong to use I Cor 6:9 and I Tim 1:10 to oppress and persecute gays and lesbians.
Do four alleged references to pederasty provide sufficient linguistic basis to conclude that every other use of the arsenokoit stem always refers to homosexuality?
Does it naturally follow that whenever the word surgery is used, it always refers to cancer surgery? Of course not.
There are many kinds of surgery which have nothing to do with cancer. Just so, even if Dr. Gagnon’s four citations did refer to every kind of homosexual activity, a completely unprovable assertion which Gagnon himself does not make (he only implies it), it does not naturally follow that every other historical use of the arsenokoit stem indicates some form of homosexual activity.
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Barr served as a pilot in the British Royal Navy, 1942-45, during World War II. He earned his doctorate from Oxford University where he later served as Professor.
Dr. Barr taught at Presbyterian College, Montreal (Professor of New Testament), Edinburgh University (Professor of Old Testament Literature and Theology), Princeton Theological Seminary, Manchester University (Chair, Department of Semitic Languages), Oxford University (Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture and later as the Regius Professor of Hebrew), the University of Chicago and Vanderbilt University (Distinguished Professor of Hebrew Bible), until his retirement in 1998.
The Semantics of Biblical Language, 1961, was probably Dr. Barr’s most important book in that it successfully demolished a long and erroneous tradition of attributing to Biblical words and their etymologies, a linguistic significance and meaning the Biblical words themselves did not possess in actual historical usage.
The Times Online (this Link will open in a new page) notes concerning Dr. Barr’s seminal work, The Semantics of Biblical Language:
“Theologians felt bereft having been deprived of that age-old prop of their profession, i.e., the exegesis of concepts by means of semantic images and speculations. Barr made some enemies with this book, but once its importance had been recognised his scholarly reputation was firmly established.”
“The main point is that the etymology of a word is not a statement about its meaning but about its history...
it is quite wrong to suppose that the etymology of a word is necessarily a guide either to its ‘proper’ meaning in a later period or to its actual meaning in that period.”
James Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language, Oxford University Press, New York, 1961, p. 109.
Dr. Gagnon places too much emphasis on the etymology of the arsenokoit stem. His opinion is based on his assumptions about the meaning of the arsenokoit stem as derived from its parts, rather than on any ability to cite specific historical examples where the arsenokoit stem is used with the meaning of homosexual as we understand that word today.
The sources we have cited on this page make it clear that in the vast majority of cases, the arsenokoit stem, when used in antiquity is not defined. Where it is defined, it never refers to a faithful, committed, same sex relationship between males of equal status.
"The word arsenokoites in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 has been assumed to mean “homosexual.”
However the word does not mean “homosexual,” and its range of meaning includes one who anally penetrates another (female or male), a rapist, a murderer or an extortionist.
When used in the meaning “anal penetrator,” it does not apply exclusively to males as the receptors, as it was also used for women receptors. The word does not appear in any Greek literary source until the poets of the Imperial period. This late occurrence is most significant as the Greeks wrote at length on male-male sexual relationships.
The cognate verb [arsenokoitein] appears in the Sibylline Oracles ii.73 me arsenokoitein, me sukophantein, mete phoneuein, where it is in company with committing extortion and committing murder.
Pseudo-Macarius Aegyptius, Homiliae spirituales IV 4.22, stated that the people of Sodom sinned greatly and did not repent, and “created the ultimate offense in their evil purpose against the angels, wishing to work arsenokoitia upon them.”
Aristides said that the Greek gods commit murders and poisonings, adulteries, thefts and arsenokoites in the context of rape.
The 6th c. astrologer Rhetorius Aegyptius used the term as women with the receptors: “arsenokoites (of women) and rapists of women.”
Dr. Ann Nyland on arsenokoites.
This Link will open in a new page.
She served as faculty in ancient Greek language and Ancient History in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of New England in Australia. Nyland is published (academic journals) in the field of Greek and Hittite lexicography.
Nyland's father, a Classicist, taught her Latin before English, which created a love of ancient languages. When Nyland was six years old, she accepted the Lord as her Savior. As a teenager, Nyland received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and joined a Spirit-filled church.
Her mother eventually became a pastor of a small church in an area marked by poverty. Following in her mother's footsteps, Nyland also served as a pastor.
Impartial students of scripture can see that the arsenokoit stem has a range of meaning which rarely, if ever carries the meaning of homosexual.
We have demonstrated on this page, that no use of the arsenokoit stem in antiquity, describes committed, noncultic homosexual partnerships between equals, as we understand them today.
Therefore, when we define arsenokoites, honesty requires that our definition must fit the way our ancient ancestors actually used the word.
This honest, factual assessment from Dr. Fee helps us define arsenokoites. Based on actual usage of arsenokoites, by our ancient ancestors, we have demonstrated that 46 of the first 56 usages of the arsenokoit stem occur in vice lists or quotations from I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10, without defining the meaning of arsenokoites in the 46 uses.
If we concede the dubious possibility that the arsenokoit stem indicates pederasty in Dr. Gagnon’s four citations, does it then follow that the arsenokoit stem always refers to homosexual activity every other time it is used?
Some antigay Christians, like Dr. Gordon Fee, are honest enough to admit that their opinion about the meaning of malakoi and arsenokoites is only their “best guess.” In other words, they are speculating, unable to cite any historical usage of arsenokoites to support their opinion.
Given the historical uses of arsenokoitai or arsenokoites we’ve cited on this page, it should be clear that no one can honestly define arsenokoites to mean homosexual, based on ancient usage of the word.
Further, it should be clear that no one can cite even one historical instance in the first 600 years of church history, where the arsenokoit stem was used to describe a faithful, committed, same-sex partnership between two men or two women.
Where there is enough information in the context to determine meaning, arsenokoitai, as used by our ancient ancestors, NEVER refers to a faithful, committed, non-cultic partnership between two men or two women.
And just for the record, the arsenokoit stem was NEVER used by our ancestors to refer to lesbian partnerships.
This page revised April 7, 2014
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