This is the seventh in a series of columns about same-sex attraction, adapted from the new MBC resource, “What Every Christian Should Know About Same-Sex Attraction,” available in print at mobaptist.org/apologetics and in Kindle format at Amazon.com.
Six passages of Scripture speak directly to the issue of same-sex conduct. This column offers a brief survey of two New Testament passages:
“Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: no sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom” (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
“We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but for the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinful, for the unholy and irreverent, for those who kill their fathers and mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral and homosexuals, for kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and for whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me” (1 Tim. 1:9-11).
Don’t you know?
These two passages address moral issues facing the congregation at Corinth and in Timothy’s ministry. Corinth in particular is known for its sexual sins and gross immorality, due in part to the presence of pagan worship that features temple prostitution. Paul, who spent 18 months in Corinth, begins 1 Cor. 6:9 with the words, “Do you not know …” And he follows up with, “Do not be deceived …”
The apostle restates what he has taught them before: The kingdom of God is a kingdom of righteousness. Seated on the throne is a righteous King. Those who remain in opposition to the righteous King have excluded themselves from citizenship in His kingdom.
Paul also warns of the danger of false teachers who come into the church and deceive the followers of Jesus into believing that certain sinful behaviors should be accepted – perhaps even celebrated.
Link to Leviticus
It’s important to note that the only sin listed in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 that is not also listed in Leviticus chapters 18-20 is drunkenness. This supports the idea that Paul is linking this passage to Leviticus. This becomes even clearer when we look at the Greek word arsenokoites, a word not found in Greek literature prior to Paul’s writings.
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, is familiar with the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Where the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew text, Paul goes with the former, quite possibly because he knows his audience is more familiar with that version.
Why is this important? Because when we get to the terms used in the Septuagint at Lev. 18:22 and Lev. 20:13, we find the words arsenos (male) and koiten (to lie with sexually, have intercourse). The term “homosexuals” in 1 Cor. 6:9 is made up of these two terms: arsenos and koiten, thus arsenokoites.
Paul may have picked up this word from rabbinic discussions of homosexuality, or he may have coined it himself. In any case, Paul’s use of this unique word ties 1 Cor. 6:9-10 and 1 Tim. 1:9-11 with the commands against homosexual behavior found in Leviticus 18 and 20.
Further, we should remember that the prohibition of homosexual behavior in Leviticus is not restricted to prostitution, pederasty, or any other category of homosexuality. It condemns all forms of same-sex immorality.
At last, good news
And yet there is good news. Some at Corinth have been rescued from immoral behavior by the saving power of Jesus Christ. 1 Cor. 6:11 reads, “Some of you were like this; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Paul is not writing to “gay Christians;” he is addressing those once trapped in homosexual lust and conduct but now transformed through the regenerating, justifying, and sanctifying work of God.
Change is possible – not necessarily instantaneous or easy. But when a person entrusts his life to Jesus, he is washed – regenerated, or born of the Spirit, given a new life. He also is declared righteous through the sovereign act of justification – and thereby acquitted of the penalty of all sins – and then made righteous over the course of his life as the indwelling Spirit sanctifies him, or conforms him to the image of Christ.
In writing to Timothy and Titus, Paul expresses his deep concern for the next generation of Christian leaders. He has invested himself deeply in their lives and writes to exhort them to remain faithful in the face of withering opposition. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul reminds his beloved young friend that while salvation is not attained through the Law, the Law nevertheless serves a proper purpose in exposing human sinfulness.
In 1 Tim. 1:9-11, Paul identifies three categories of sinners: the lawless and rebellious, the ungodly and sinful, and the unholy and irreverent. He then lists specific types of sinners that fall under these headings, including “the sexually immoral and homosexuals.” The word “homosexuals” in Greek is arsenokoites, which we encountered in 1 Cor. 6:9-10. Paul refers to homosexuals as those for whom the Law is intended, thereby tying this passage to Leviticus. Since the prohibitions in Leviticus are well known, and because Timothy no doubt is aware of Paul’s previous teachings on the subject, there is no need for Paul to elaborate in this passage.
In short, Paul’s writings to the church at Corinth and to Timothy address the issue of homosexual conduct. Paul links these passages to Leviticus and thus condemns all forms of same-sex behavior. He also leaves us with hope: through His finished work on the cross, Jesus has paid the debt for these sins and invites us to repent and believe in Him for forgiveness and life-changing transformation. Because of Jesus, some who formerly engaged in same-sex behavior may now joyously declare that they have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Next: Conversation with a gay friend