“Wasn’t The Word ‘Homosexual’ Only Recently Added By Modern Translators Of The Bible And Therefore They Introduced An Improper Bias?”

“Wasn’t The Word ‘Homosexual’ Only Recently Added By Modern Translators Of The Bible And Therefore They Introduced An Improper Bias?”
by Scott Wakefield, Lead Pastor

In recent years, this question has gained some popular traction in articles like this, by Ed Oxford, but especially in short video snippets posted on social media like this 3.5-minute trailer for a movie based on it. (Hate to say it, but basing an entire movie on an anachronistic word-concept fallacy is a waste of resources.)

The basic argument is that modern translators of the Bible improperly imposed homophobia on the text of Scripture by adding the word “homosexual” as recently as 1946. However, articles and videos like these miss the point entirely because they argue from a narrow account of recent English word history that sidesteps Paul's actual use of the word translated as “homosexual.”

So the short answer to the question is yes and no. Yes, modern translators did relatively recently begin using the word “homosexual” in our English Bibles.1 But, no, this isn’t a problem. In fact, it’s a good translation of the words of Scripture that doesn’t introduce improper bias because the plain sense meaning of our contemporary word “homosexual” accurately communicates exactly what the Apostle Paul meant by the Greek word he used—“arsenokoitai”. (Though pronunciation of ancient languages is a somewhat imprecise science, ”arsenokoitai” is probably pronounced “are-sane-uh-COY-tie”.) The question isn’t whether “homosexual” is a recently introduced word but whether it is a good word to communicate what Paul meant by the Greek word he used.

Long and nerdy story short, "arsenokoitai" is a neologism—Paul coining a new word—based on two Greek words in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 in the Septuagint.2 This new word “arsenokoitai,” at its most basic means “men who bed men,” (a compound of the words in Leviticus for “male,” arsēn, and “bed,” koitē). Not only that, but notice that, even at the most root level, the word clearly implies “men who bed men” as a practice. This means that what Paul says with arsenokoitai and its lexical derivatives applies as a condemnation of even the relatively recent idea in vogue that being a homosexual is an “identity.” This new word matches his lexical and theological use of similar verbiage in Romans 1:18-32, parallels his use in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Timothy 1:8-10, and is in continuity with the unequivocal Jewish condemnation of all forms of homosexual practice as “para physis”.3 As some have proposed, Paul isn’t nuancing to differentiate between supposedly acceptable non-exploitative pederastic homosexual practices found in Graeco-Roman society and those that were not so, as if to give sanction to the former, but rather his use of arsenokoitai is explicitly intended to condemn all homosexual practices.

So, it literally doesn't matter when the Revised Standard Version or anyone translates “arsenekoitai” as “homosexual” or any other words. What does matter is whether the word used in translating is a good one that communicates original intent. Given the best evidence looked at comprehensively, it’s clear that Paul's "arsenokoitai" meant "homosexual" before "homosexual" meant "homosexual".4 Arguments claiming “homosexual” doesn’t belong in the Bible are founded on shoddy scholarship, are often being disingenuous and sneaky, and are calling upon an authority other than well-established Jewish tradition and Scripture’s own use of words to reinterpret Scripture to fit the modern world’s acceptable categories that worship inner personal desire.
*Footnote Note: The numbered link that got you here only gets you here. I.e., you may have to scroll down to find the note you're looking for and you'll definitely have to scroll all the way back up to get back to where you came from. Also, our blog site doesn't yet format correctly, so some things like bullets, numbers, line spacing, and superscripts may be wonky.

 The 1946 Revised Standard Version was apparently the first to do so in English, using “homosexual” in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Note that you won’t find the word “homosexual” in modern updates to the RSV. Also note that this entire line of questioning ignores non-English translations, let alone the actual Greek text.

The Septuagint (often referred to by the shorthand “LXX”) is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament that was completed by Jewish scholars about 200 BC. It was the main Bible in use by the time of the arrival of Christ and, among other things, it provides tons of insight into prevailing Jewish thought.

In all of history, there is no normative Jewish tradition that interpreted any single Scriptural text as sanctioning homosexuality in any form because it goes against God’s intent in created order as established in Genesis 1-2. In case you come across it, sometimes the English transliteration (the writing of a foreign language into roughly equivalent English letters) will be written as “para physin”, which is the same thing. Also, in other places in the New Testament, which for the Christian interpreter holds hermeneutical authority for understanding the Old Testament, both Paul and Jesus use “para physis” language to explicitly condemn all forms of sexual immorality outside of monogamous man-woman marriage. Their arguments, which are predicated on their Jewish understanding that sexual difference is built into God’s created intent and definitional for marriage, clearly applied to homosexuality, especially as there were known homosexual practices in the Ancient Near East and the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of it! Simply because Jesus or Paul don’t use the English word “homosexual” per se doesn’t mean they didn’t clearly forbid it and is a simplistic and anachronistic argument that commits the word-concept fallacy and that all honest people and serious scholars reject. See this sermon, “What Does Jesus Say About Homosexuality?” for more, especially from about 13:45-15:00ff.

4 Here are 11 arguments for why “arsenokoitai” is justly translated as “homosexual” summarized from Robert A. J. Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001). Gagnon’s book is a 550 page tome widely considered the most comprehensive work on the Bible's view of homosexuality. Pp 303-39 are a pretty definitive argument for why Paul explicitly condemns homosexual practice. Quite a few (mostly) liberal scholars who have studied and written on these questions about the Bible and homosexuality acknowledge as much and say, in effect, ‘If you're going to make an argument for homosexuality not being condemned from the Bible, it's going to have to include philosophical and cultural argumentation that basically ignores the Scriputral text as defended by Gagnon.’