Old English understandan "comprehend, grasp the idea of," probably literally "stand in the midst of," from under + standan "to stand" (see stand (v.)). If this is the meaning, the under is not the usual word meaning "beneath," but from Old English under, from PIE *nter- "between, among" (source also of Sanskrit antar "among, between," Latin inter "between, among," Greek entera "intestines;" see inter-).

Level 4

Statement For Same-Sex Marriage

I Corinthians 6:9-10 Forbids Lack of Self-Control And Economic Exploitation

Matthew Vines

The two key words in I Cor. 6:9-10 do not have to do with sexual acts. Rather, they forbid lack of self-control and economic exploitation.


Malakoi – “Passive Same-Sex” Not Likely The Meaning

The word malakoi held a variety of meanings in ancient times. Most of the time it was not used in a reference to sexual acts. Understanding it as “passive same-sex” acts is a recent phenomenon. This renders the meaning of “passive same-sex” acts in I Corinthians very unlikely. (Vines pages 119-22.)

Malakoi literally means soft. In a moral context it carried the meaning of a lack of self-control, weakness, laziness, or cowardice. Being out of control was also a meaning the word carried in Paul’s day. Most uses of the word were not sexual in nature (Vines, God and the Gay Christian, page 119).

Even though men who willingly submitted to male-male sexual penetration were referred to as malakoi (Vines 119-120), the word was actually more frequently applied to men who succumbed to the charms of women. Any man involved with a woman opened himself to the charge of being a malakos. Overzealous pursuit of women was even considered “effeminate” lack of self-control (Vines, page 120).

“In fact, reading it as a reference to same-sex behavior is a recent trend in biblical interpretation. Most English Bible translations prior to the 20th century that deviated from the term effeminate translated the word as a general injunction against wantonness, not a specific condemnation of same-sex behavior.” (Page 122.)


Response To Malakoi

In dealing with this term, twice Vines takes an approach that very much goes contrary to standard methods used in determining the meaning of a word. In addition to the approaches he uses, the paragraphs below cite one example that very much argues against Vines’ conclusion that malakoi being understood as passive same-sex acts is a recent phenomenon. As a result, there is simply no option other than to consider Vines’ interpretation of malakoi to be incorrect.

Let’s start with Vines’ claim that the sexual meaning was not the sense in which the term was most frequently used. From this he concludes that it was not used in a sexual sense in I Cor. 6. Let’s apply Vines’ reasoning to another word. The word reservation has one definition of “an arrangement to have something (such as a hotel room) held for one's use.” According to Merriam-Webster on-line the word also has the meaning of “a limiting condition.” This is in the sense of “agreed, but with reservations.” He agreed to purchase the business as long as several requirements were met, due to his reservations. Consider the line of reasoning Vines uses when he says malakoi is not likely to mean “passive same-sex act” because most of the time it means something else. Isn’t that the same as saying the word reservations in the statement, “He agreed to purchase . . . due to his reservations” cannot refer to “a limiting condition” because most of the time the word reservation is used it is used in the sense of “an arrangement to use a hotel room”? Words have multiple meanings all the time, and many times one of the meanings is less frequently used. But they are still valid meanings.

Even if malakoi was used more frequently of men who were charmed by women, that does not mean that is how the word is used in I Cor. 6. Vines also does not provide a listing of where it was used in each sense.

Vines claims malakoi being understood as passive same-sex act is a recent understanding. One quick check can shed some light on this claim. Matthew Henry’s Commentary, first published in 1708-10, refers to the effeminate and Sodomites in commenting on I Corinthians 6:9-10. Matthew Henry’s commentary is not an obscure work. That commentary has been very well-known and used extensively for more than 250 years. Therefore, seeing this as a reference to same-sex behavior was very prominent for 200 years prior to the 20th century. How can Vines say this is a recent interpretation? Has he personally checked all commentaries written during the last 200-400 years? If other scholars have, that’s good. It just needs to be stated who did the checking, the background of this needs to be stated. Otherwise, it is pretty much a matter of personal opinion as it stands in his book.

One of his comments as quoted in the Statement is rather peculiar. He says, “Most English Bible translations prior to the 20th century that deviated from the term effeminate translated the word . . .” By eliminating translations that use the word “effeminate” he is removing from consideration those translations that interpret the passage to be referring to same-sex acts. How can that approach be considered valid scholarship?


Statement: Vines - Arsenokoitai Meant Economic Exploitation

“Although arsenokoites was used quite rarely in Greek literature after Paul, some of the few uses that have survived indicate it most often referred to economic exploitation, not same-sex behavior.” (Vines, page 124.)

Vines uses the word understanding as an example that one cannot necessarily determine the meaning of a compound word from the separate terms of the compound. Therefore, he maintains that the words of arsen – male, and koites – bed do not necessarily indicate that the word refers to a man who takes another man to bed.

If sexual in nature, the word likely refers to violent sex. The most common form of same-sex behavior in the ancient world was pederasty, prostitution and sex between masters and slaves. Therefore, Paul may have been referring to sexual acts that were excessive or violent in nature (pages 123-124).

Vines quotes Dale Martin as saying the best way to define a word is to analyze its use in as many different contexts as possible. He says three sources are helpful in this regard.

The Sibylline Oracles are the first of these three sources. According to Vines in this ancient document the word arsenokoites is used to refer to economic exploitation. The quote from that document is, “Do not steal seeds. Whoever takes for himself is accursed to generations of generations, to the scattering of life. Do not arsenokoitein, do not betray information, do not murder. Give one who has labored his wage. Do not oppress a poor man.” (Sibylline Oracles, 2.70-77.) Vines claims the term in this list carries the meaning of violation of justice (Vines, page 124).

He also claims there is no other reference to sexual sins in this context. However, at a later point the document does list sexual vices. But the word arsenokoites is noticeably absent from that list.

Vines concludes these things indicate the word did not refer to sexual sins. (Page 124.)

Vines also claims this document lists arsenokoites in the context of economic exploitation and power abuses (pages 124-125). The quote is, “And let the murderer know that the punishment he has earned awaits him in double measure after he leaves this (world). So also the poisoner, sorcerer, robber, swindler, and arsenokoites, the thief and all of this band.”

The Acts of John is the second source. Vines says this section ends with the statement that “eternal misery and torment” await “kings, rulers, tyrants, boasters, and warmongers.”

Vines mentions that the Acts of John like the Sibylline Oracles contains a separate, second list of vices that mentions sexual sins and this term does not appear there (page 125).

Vines claims that as in the Sibylline Oracles, again here the word appears only in a list of vices having to do with economic injustice and abuses of power (page 125).

The word arsenokoites appears twice in this document. The first time it is separated from sexual sins by words condemning thieves, plunderers and defrauders. The second time the placement is more ambiguous as it is positioned between sexual sins and sins of exploitation. These positionings have caused Dale Martin to suggest that the term may describe “economic exploitation by some sexual means.” (Page 125.)



Response To Arsenokoitai

The thought that three instances of the word in ancient literature is sufficient to warrant saying the word “most often referred to . . .” is a stretch. Recent scholarship has captured as many as 63 million Greek words from ancient literature in the TLG computer databank. Words that previously only had a dozen known uses have been expanded to hundreds of occurrences of particular words. With those kinds of numbers one would be able to make comments about most often referring to a specific meaning.

It is very easy to see how it would not appear the meaning of the word “understand” could be ascertained by looking at the two words that make up the compound. However, when one looks into the history of the word, the meaning of the compound can, to some extent be arrived at from the two words that form it.

The following description can be found at an on-line etymology site:




It is not an absolute, always guaranteed, but the examination of the words making up a compound are frequently considered in order to determine the meaning of the compound. For this reason, the heading of this section strictly speaking is correct, although, for the word under consideration here a good case can be made that the meaning of the compound can be arrived at by studying the two parts.

Vines provides that rationale on page 123 where he states some people believe Paul derived the word he coined from the fact that they appear together in the Septuagint version of Lev. 20:13. This kind of background is often utilized in order to determine the meaning of words.

For these reasons Vines’ claim here cannot be considered to support his position of favoring same-sex marriage.

What I Cor. 6:9-10 refers to is not restricted to violent acts because the words in question do not refer to violence. Scripture is not limited by what is perhaps most commonly known in a fallen world. In order to correctly understand God’s Word, we must be careful to note what God’s Word specifically says.

The meaning of “economic exploitation” does not have a solid basis. As shown in the paragraphs below, terms in a vice list do not necessarily shed light on the meaning of other terms in the list. Vines here recommends we take a word that literally means “man bedder,” i.e. “a man who takes another man to bed” and we give it, instead, the meaning “economic exploitation” because it is located near words, some of which have to do with exploitation.

As the following paragraphs show, the association with exploitation is very weak. The historic church was on much more solid ground when it took the term to mean “a male who has sex with another male.” 

As far as the Sibylline Oracles are concerned there are five considerations listed below that cause the meaning of “economic exploitation” to be very questionable.

First, the definition of “violation of justice” and “economic exploitation” are both very broad concepts. And, they are not one and the same. So, which one is Vines proposing we go with?

Second, betraying information and murdering, which come right after arsenokoitein, do not fit with economic exploitation. So, it does not seem from that consideration like economic exploitation or violation of justice would then fit as a meaning of the word arsenokoitein. (Reference also Gagnon, page 317.)

Third, the oracles do contain a reference to male-male sexual intercourse in 3.185-87 (ca. 165-45 B.C.E.). There we read, “Male will have intercourse with male and they will set up boys in houses of ill-fame . . . and it will throw everything into confusion.” Section 5.430 also refers to the unlawful love of boys. These references, when considered in the light of the literal meaning of arsenokoitein, a male who beds a male, point very much in the direction that the Sibylline Oracles used the term in the sense of homosexual acts.

Fourth, the specific quote Vines cites is from Sibylline Oracles 2.73 and that is part of an extract (2.56-148) from The Sentences of Pseudo-Phocylides. That extract is “replete with Levitical associations” which had been edited into the Sibylline Oracles by a Christian sometime after 150 C.E. Furthermore, Sibylline Oracle 2.73 was actually absent from the text of Pseudo-Phocylides and was believed to have been added by the Christian editor. It is thought that the statement containing arsenokoitein was added due to the influence of the line of Pseudo-Phocylides immediately preceding the line incorporated into the Sibyllines. That line is a general prohibition of “male Cypris” (“Cypris” is a name for Aphrodite, “love”). Given the links between Pseudo-Phocylides (the context of 2.73) and Leviticus, the prohibitions of Leviticus are also seen as influential in setting the meaning of the term arsenokoitein. The apparent origin of the term being Leviticus chapters 20 and 18 is also relevant. (Gagnon, pages 317-18.)

Fifth, the above links between the term arsenokoitein and sexual sins are much stronger links coming from the context of this document than is Vine’s proposal that the word means “economic exploitation.”

One question that must be asked here is the following. These proposed contextual connections between the word in question and Leviticus were in print in Gagnon’s book thirteen years before Vines published his book. Yet, Vines is content to quote from Martin, whose statements are called into question by Gagnon, but Vines does not mention this challenge from Gagnon, which appears very relevant. In order to carry the discussion forward, shouldn’t Vines have dealt with these claims?

In connection with the Acts of John Vines gives economic exploitation and power abuses as the context of all the terms in this vice list. From that he concludes that was the meaning of arsenokoitein. The problem with that is the inclusion of “poisoner” and “sorcerer” in the vice list. How can a poisoner or sorcerer be considered economic exploitation or power abuse? They do not fit in those categories. When two of the seven terms in the vice list do not fit into those categories, that renders it very likely that the term arsenokoitein might not as well. Taking the meanings of the two words that make up the compound, “man” and “bedder,” is a more solid way of arriving at the meaning of the term.

Next let’s consider To Autolychus. In a list of vices, the words included do not necessarily have to be related, or inter-connected. Nor does one vice shed light on the meaning of a word used for another vice. The vice list of I Timothy 1:8-11 illustrates this. Let’s ignore the terms that may refer to sexual sins for the moment, since that is the question at hand here. Those who strike their parents, murders, those who enslave others and liars are mentioned. These have nothing more in common other than that they are all vices.  This list is clearly a representative list. That can be seen by the fact that Paul concludes the list with “and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.”

Vines says in the second list sexual sins are mentioned. The same thing is the case here as with the Acts of John in the previous paragraphs. There is very little if any reason here to think that all vices in any list need to carry the same meaning such as economic exploitation. It is more reasonable to consider the meaning of a compound term is derived from the separate words in the compound. With the amount of information that is presented in the Statement there is not enough to be confident that arsenokoites in I Cor. 6 means economic exploitation.


 Vines’ conclusion that I Corinthians 6:9-10 forbids lack of self-control and economic exploitation, as shown above, is based on incorrect methods of discerning the meaning of words in the Bible. Besides Vines and several theologians he cites, has anyone ever taken the position that all words in a vice list somehow carry the same meaning?

Due to these weaknesses in his position this interpretation will not be raised to Level 3.  

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