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Proof of what is unseen

Answering a Few More Objections to Authorized: Part 1, The Modern Versions Are Copyrighted; They’re in It for the Money

Mark Ward

Since its release, Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible has received what I would consider to be a very positive response. Except when it hasn’t. It’s one of those books that tends to collect mainly five-star and one-star reviews on Amazon. This is what happens when a book takes a side in a hot debate. And I did take a side. Clearly, I’m not KJV-Only.

But I have also heard from many brothers from the KJV-Only portion of the church who were grateful that I attempted to be gracious and, they said, evenhanded. My whole first chapter is about what the English-speaking Christian church loses as the KJV ceases to be our common standard. One of my friends questioned my sincerity when he read that chapter before the book came out. Why praise the KJV and lament its loss when, by the end of the book, I’m encouraging its use to recede? I was a bit shaken by this feedback; was I indeed being disingenuous? So I prayed and talked with others—and I determined that I meant every word I wrote. I see the Christian debate over the KJV as the weighing of legitimate values that stand in tension, not a fight between good and evil. It is good to maintain continuity with the Christian past when possible, to preserve good traditions, to avoid shaking up the sheep.

So I insist that faithful Christians can disagree on when exactly the effects of language change will render the King James Version sufficiently unintelligible that it needs to be replaced as the main translation of the English-speaking church. I think we have reached that point; other faithful, orthodox Christians do not. This is the debate I am trying to have with my brothers who prefer the KJV. I think—I hope—readers can tell that I am not a partisan hack. One KJV-Only pastor, who used to be on staff at one of the biggest KJV-Only churches in the nation, sent me a $50 Amazon gift card out of gratitude for my spirit, despite our disagreement. Then when my Authorized documentary came out, he sent me another one! Just yesterday as I write, I heard from a major leader of KJV-Onlyism in Britain. He signed his email to me with “warm greetings.” I thanked him. And I thank God. I don’t want to score points; I want to score people.

I have tried not to believe all my positive press, however. I have listened carefully to my one-star reviewers. Most of their objections were answered already in the book, particularly in chapter six, “Ten Objections to Reading Vernacular Bible Translations.” I also handled a few in a blog post I wrote for the Lexham Press blog after the book had been out for six months. But in a debate like this one, the objections never really end. And I think there are a few more that merit attention. This week on the blog I will handle a few more objections to reading vernacular Bible translations:

  • Today: 1. The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money.
  • Wednesday: 2. Not all false friends are false friends to all readers.
  • Friday: 3., 4., and 5.—secret surprise objections!

1. The modern versions are copyrighted; a.k.a., they’re all in it for the money.

The KJV-Only debate has long been a subject of my attention (sometimes obsessive attention, but if I call it a “calling” then most people don’t look at me quite so funny). Because of my long experience, I almost never hear anything new from either side. The discussion has long reached what I call the sloganeering stage. Everybody’s out in front of each other’s houses carrying signs. On one side we have variations on, “U R changing the Bible!” On the other we have variations on, “U R ignorant!” Slogans are what you shout at people you no longer hope to win over. And I refuse to treat a large group of fellow Christians this way. Because I have tried to keep listening to my KJV-Only brothers, I have occasionally heard them say something new. We’ll get to one of them in a few moments.

But on my way I have to talk through a two-part objection I’ve heard countless times but did not address in the first edition of Authorized; namely, “The modern versions are copyrighted; they exist solely so publishers can rake in big profits.”

Here’s Theodore Letis making the latter part of the charge (rather eloquently and punchily, I think!) in his The Ecclesiastical Text: Criticism, Biblical Authority & the Popular Mind:

Pandora’s box has been pried open and the Bible, no longer in the possession of the Church and her specific theological criteria for a religious understanding of the translation task, is now a commodity of the “Bible society” and the Bible landlords of the corporate world. In this, one has an inkling of what must have enraged Luther when he saw Father Tetzel at work. Things had simply gone too far.

Ouch. The NIV is like a medieval indulgence, an egregious sin calling for a new Reformation.

Here’s Ambassador’s Charles Surrett in his Certainty of the Words: Biblical Principles of Textual Critcism:

The proliferation of English translations and versions of the Bible is a popular trend that has kept the presses running and the profits increasing for the publishing companies.

Here’s R. B. Ouellette in the West Coast Baptist College publication, A More Sure Word: Which Bible Can You Trust?:

[In most] of the world, the King James Bible text is free of copyright restrictions. This entire approach is quite different from the copyrights held today on modern Bible versions. The modern versions are tightly controlled by secular publishing empires for the primary purpose of revenue.

Here’s Shelton Smith, editor of the Sword of the Lord:

Other men and groups have created a new version because they needed something “new” to sell.… There was nothing wrong with the King James text, but bias and bucks have been the major factors in the constant influx of “new” Bibles.

So, should Bibles be copyrighted?

I didn’t reply to this argument in the book because I’ve always felt that the answer is so simple that I didn’t want to insult people by giving it out. But I’ve gotten this question so many times from sincere people that I cannot avoid it. It appears to cause genuine confusion.

My answer to this question is double Bible. Here’s Scripture quoting Scripture:

The Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:18 ESV)

When a Christian does some work for other Christians, even spiritual work like preaching the gospel, the Bible says we should pay them money. When an ox spends thousands of hours getting the education necessary to translate ancient Greek and Hebrew, one should not muzzle this ox by making him translate for free. As I said in Authorized, translators need sandwiches. (A friend who read the book in manuscript and who is now with Wycliffe Bible Translators commented on that line: “Yes, and good ones.”)

When an organization such as Crossway works hard to gather resources, write up policy documents, enlist scholars, contract with proofers and typesetters, organize a marketing campaign, tag each English word in their English Standard Version with its underlying Hebrew and Greek word for software companion tools, and negotiate with rights holders—when they do all that for our benefit, they deserve a wage. A copyright is a way of protecting the wages of the Christian people at Crossway. It’s a way to keep them from investing lots of money and time only to see someone in China steal their labor by printing up a big batch of bootleg Bibles.

And did I mention that Crossway is a non-profit?

The first printer of what came to be known as the King James Version, Robert Barker, paid a tidy sum to have exclusive rights to printing the new Bible. I have zero idea about his spiritual life; maybe he was a greedy wretch, maybe he was an angel going around entertaining people unawares—I don’t know. What I do know is that I have a Bible verse telling me that his efforts to make certain he had a return on his investment were not inherently immoral. They were commanded in Scripture. As my wife’s sprightly grandmother once said to me, “Everybody’s gotta make a buck.”

As with major new cancer drugs, so with Bible translations: they are expensive endeavors requiring the extensive labors of large groups of skillful people. If a drug company knows that their new drug will be instantly copied and sold for a pittance, they won’t invest in the R&D required to produce it. We won’t have new cancer drugs.

That would be just fine with many users of the KJV, of course! No new English Bibles! But I wrote Authorized to show why they shouldn’t be pleased for all English Bible translation effectively to end in 1611: we need God’s word in our English. And I think—no, I know from vast experience over decades—that multiple translations complement one another, making for rich Bible study.

Now, surely, no one should make a new Bible translation solely for financial reasons, and I admit that when I first heard that a secular, for-profit business, HarperCollins, had a stake in the NIV, I was vaguely uncomfortable.

But Biblica (formerly known as the International Bible Society) is sensitive to this issue, and they are driven by Christian concern to answer it. Listen to what they say on their website:

The NIV is translated by an independent, self-governing team of Bible scholars. No publisher, commercial or otherwise (not even us]!), can tell them how to translate God’s Word. The translators come from dozens of denominations and churches, and they can only make changes to the text if 70% of the committee agrees—safeguarding against theological bias.

The profit motive is a subtle thing. It can corrupt otherwise good work. But it need not—or all business would be sin, and Scripture would never have instructed people to pay their pastors. The Christian people in charge of the NIV have set up safeguards to protect its content.

And I want to ask those who still insist that the NIV exists solely to make a profit: how much profit is it making? And how much is too much? Are the various organizations involved likely to be making a great deal of money, given that market forces will keep the prices on NIVs around the same as comparable Bibles from other publishers? Those who point to greed as the sole motivation for the production of modern versions, it seems to me, are making a serious charge without (in my experience) answering these simple questions or presenting any evidence. I made money on Authorized—I even took my family out for a meal at a fancy restaurant after I got my first royalty check. Was it wrong for us to enjoy our Five Guys Burgers and Fries? Should I have given Authorized away for free? I actually have done so on numerous occasions—does that help?

People who make this first objection are also guessing at the motives of people they do not know. I’m not much of a mover or a shaker in the academic biblical studies world; I play a bit part in the drama, a role that many other people could fill. But even lowly me knows personally a few of the scholars who have worked on the major modern Bible translations. One of them, who told me he wishes to remain anonymous, is my favorite. I’ve done some work for him and with him over several years, and I’ve gotten to know him in quite a number of email exchanges and personal conversations. I also read his adult son’s testimony about him, and it confirmed what I had already seen: this man is exceptionally godly, gracious, and generous. (Some of you know who I’m talking about.)

He’s also brilliant: he has multiple advanced degrees from prestigious universities and a long, respected career serving the academy and the church. And, get this, he gives away his books for free. I have twenty-two of them on my laptop right now, for which I have paid a grand total of zero dollars US. I’ve done the currency conversions, and that amounts to zero dollars Canadian, zero rubles Russian, and zero goats Afghani. Anyone with an internet connection and a PDF reader app can have the fruit of tens of thousands of hours of this man’s work over the course of decades.

I feel a personal offense on behalf of this godly man when someone tells me that the new Bible translations exist for profit. So I emailed him and asked: “What kind of car do you drive? Were you made wealthy by your work on the popular modern English translation of the Bible you helped translate?”

He wrote me back within two hours (he answers lots of private questions from random readers around the world, I happen to know):

My wife and I are a one-car family. We have a 2004 Honda Odyssey with about 180,000 miles on it. We have lived in the same house for our entire married life, a house bought for $65,000. It’s worth more now, of course, because of inflation.

No, we were not made wealthy by that work. Moreover, I can say for sure that money was not a motivation. I several times tried to hand on the work to other people, thinking that I was not needed and that other people could carry on if I bowed out. Other people wouldn’t hear it. I was gently but persuasively pressured into continuing. That was particularly so for one of the revisions. I told the leaders, “It is time for a younger generation,” but they said, “No, we want you.” I mention these things because the motivation was personal connection with people whom I respected, whose judgment I respected, and who recruited me. And their motivation for seeking me out was to try to make the [translation] the best quality that they could.

Philosophically, [the organization that produced this translation] is a ministry, not a business. I know, because I know [the leadership].… Of course, the employees, the printers, and the scholars who worked on the [translation] got paid, according to the principle that the laborer deserves his wages (1 Tim. 5:18).

There’s that verse again.

I haven’t met very many other Bible translators, but I’ve read their books. Let me give you just a brief rundown.


  • Doug Moo wrote what is widely acknowledged to be the best commentary on Romans.
  • Craig Blomberg has written good Bible commentaries and an insightful introduction to the Gospels that had a major impact on me.


  • Tom Schreiner, one of the top leaders in charge of the CSB, never fails to edify me with his careful, conservative study of Scripture.
  • Marty Abegg of the CSB teaches Sunday School at my friend’s church a few miles away from where I live.
  • Andreas Köstenberger has produced a solidly helpful volume on sex and gender that I have used for various projects.
  • Robert Stein has a commentary on Luke I’ve used many times, and in another book he made a key point about baptism that has helped me greatly over the years.


  • Vern Poythress is one of the smartest men I know, and he memorizes Scripture like you wouldn’t believe.
  • Gene L. Green wrote some of the most helpful articles on biblical linguistics that I’ve ever read.
  • Moisés Silva, a graduate of my alma mater, wrote some of the most helpful books on biblical linguistics that I’ve ever read, including the single most helpful paragraph about biblical hermeneutics that I’ve ever encountered.

I just can’t bring myself to believe that the people who love the Bible most, study it the hardest, give their whole lives to it, and help me see it more clearly, are slave of unrighteous mammon. And if its the publishers of these Bibles who are greedy, not them, I can’t know that. I have no access to the figures. I choose to believe the best—because all I know is that the translations help me understand God’s Word.

A new argument

And now, finally, I turn to the new argument I just heard for the first time. A pastor from KJV-Only circles who read Authorized and found it to be helpful emailed me with a question from his relatives: the problem with copyright, they told him, is that it constrains current translators. They can’t use the best words to translate a given verse—if those best words have already been used by existing translations (such as the KJV). In other words, the KJV already chose the best words, and everybody else has to use inferior ones because of copyright.

This objection makes sense if English is the only language you know. But if you’ve ever studied another language to the point where you could read, hear, or even (especially) speak it, you know it just doesn’t work. As the great writer on translation, David Bellos, has said, there is a near infinite number of ways to translate a text of any length.

We’re almost always talking about super minor differences here, questions like these from John 3:

  • Was Nicodemus “a ruler of the Jews” or “an important Jewish leader”?
  • Did he come to Jesus “one night” or “by night”?
  • Did he call Jesus “Rabbi” or should we translate this as “Teacher,” the way the New Testament itself does in John 20:16?
  • Did he think Jesus performed “miracles” or “signs”?

In each case, there are good reasons to go with one of the choices, and there are good reasons to go with the other. It’s not clear that there really is a “wrong” choice listed here. It depends on your purpose, your audience, and an undefinable thing we call “art.” And they all mean pretty much the same thing. You have to work to mistranslate the Bible (thank you, JWs, for showing it can be done!).

The best way to see how many viable options there are for translating individual words and phrases in Scripture is to go to a really cool project online called The Expanded Bible. It shows where some major translations differ, and it offers their differences as clickable choices.

If you really wanted to, using this site, you could cover the entire Bible, and what you’d end up with is Bible translations that all pretty much say the same thing in mildly different ways. There is no evangelical Bible that says Jesus wasn’t divine; or that adultery and idolatry are okay in some circumstances; or that, actually, Joseph sold his brothers into slavery and not the other way around.

Once recently I did scratch my head at the choice of the NIV translators to use “forebearance” instead of “patience” in the list of fruits of the Spirit. Why the big word when a small one is more common? But pretty much all the major translations choose pretty much all the same words—with the exception that the KJV (and NKJV) use “longsuffering,” which is no longer an active English word. Pretty well every major evangelical English Bible translation used “love,” “joy,” “peace,” “kindness,” “goodness,” and either “faith” (like the KJV) or “faithfulness.” No copyright lawyers, to my knowledge, have attacked any of these major translations for using the same words as the KJV or any other version.

The KJV is itself is sort of copyrighted in Britain. So sue me: I don’t want to get into the details. You can read them here. But it’s this simple:

In the United Kingdom, rights in the Authorized Version of the Bible (AV), also known as the King James Bible or King James Version (KJV), are Crown copyright. Only a small number of publishers have entitlement to reproduce the KJV.

If copyrighting the Bible is morally wrong, should British Christians look for an alternative to the KJV?

Well, maybe—but not because the KJV is copyrighted.

TL;DR: copyrighting Bibles is okay because the Bible says the worker is worthy of his wages.

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Christian Leaders Trip with Canyon Ministries

Mark Ward

I just got back from a seven-day trip down two thirds of the Grand Canyon with Canyon Ministries, William D. Barrick, Terry Mortenson, and (especially) knowledgeable Cedarville University geologist John Whitmore. I gained a much deeper understanding of the geology of the canyon, and I came to a more firm and educated faith about the straightforward teaching of Genesis 1–11. Whitmore is an expert in the Coconino sandstone layer, and his talks were fascinating. The many conversations with my 20+ fellow seminary professors, pastors, and assorted other Bible geeks from around the world were also fantastic—truly moving. (I have a cold right now because I stayed up so late talking every night I could!) Donors to Answers in Genesis and Canyon Ministries made our trip possible. I don’t know who they are, but I thank them sincerely. I believe their gifts have been put to good use for Christ’s kingdom, as I currently work on a sixth grade Biblical Worldview textbook for BJU Press. (If you wish to contribute to a worthy cause, help support future Christian Leader Trips through Canyon Ministries.)

I made several friendships I believe will be lasting, and I got to throw the frisbee in some idyllic spots… One was on a sandbar in six inches of water, where there was just enough space for me to throw the maximum distance I’m capable of. It was glorious—until someone tried to match me and threw my frisbee into the river, where it was swept away and lost! =)

A friend who went several years ago asked me what I thought. I wanted to take the opportunity to think more about what geologist John Whitmore’s work meant to me. This is what I said:

It really was excellent. I’m YEC; I’m a presuppositionalist; I think I know the biblical arguments fairly well (though I want to do some more reading in Poythress’ recent book, in particular). All of this has actually made me shy away from studying geology. I felt that, in the end, I’d still end up trusting someone whose work I couldn’t really evaluate. I was afraid to get into it lest I be confused. So I was glad to be sort of forced to listen to a geologist, and therefore to discover that there were some arguments that—it seems to me—I didn’t have to take his word for. He was able to show me the angle of the sand deposition in the Coconino sandstone—an angle clearly indicative of water deposition and not the wind deposition posited by conventional geology. I measured the angle myself. I also heard him talk in all the responsible ways a scholar/professional practitioner is supposed to talk. He talked about “models”; he was reserved and careful and clearly obsessed with his field; the way he described his interactions with conventional geologists rang very true to the way I know scholars think; he didn’t grandstand or boast.

Some of the leaders of the YEC are aging, and I actually found myself wondering if I could one day step into their shoes. Bill Barrick in particular impressed me greatly for his knowledge and piety. I’ll never be the Hebrew scholar he is, but there are other things I can do for the YEC cause. I care about that cause, and some people in the next generation will need to pick up its torch. I’m thinking for now that I will indeed look for angles I could use for an ETS paper at some point. I will give renewed attention to the possibility of writing again for Answers Magazine and Answers Research Journal.

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The Story of Ἀρσενοκοίτης according to BDAG

Mark Ward

The following is a paper I delivered at the Bible Faculty Summit.

The “Puritan canopy” that once overarched our city-on-a-hill began to fray and tear apart long ago—though that canopy always had its gaps (and its cotton-poly blends with American civil religion).1 The morality Christendom bequeathed to the Western world more generally still covers many areas of U.S. culture, and by God’s common grace the stitching is often quite strong. But Christian sexual morality is clearly in tatters.

It was exactly twenty years ago that a Democratic U.S. president signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). He did so between the eighth and ninth of ten sexual encounters with a White House intern; national acceptance of his philandering soon radically undercut DOMA, if anyone noticed.2 And in two decades same-sex marriage went from a radically unthinkable idea to a popular digital ornament for Facebook profile pictures. And in spring 2016 an entire nation wasted approximately 4.3% of GDP arguing online over transgender bathrooms.

As Charles Taylor would say, the “social imaginary” has been reshaped for all of us—it is striking how quickly even my own sensibilities have shifted: I admit I am simply not shocked by the open displays of homosexuality and transgenderism that occur daily in the city where I work.3 The librarian who helped me get some books for this paper noticed their content and cheerily told me that she was a lesbian who sought Washington state as a refuge from the harassment she had received in a more conservative part of the country.4 She made that move twenty years ago, and one wonders whether she would feel it necessary to do so today.

Maintaining the Canopy

We have no direct access to the strategies, the “wiles,” of the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. But it is not difficult to see that those children have focused their canopy-ripping efforts on certain weak spots: American heterosexual immorality and hypocrisy, the honored banners of “freedom” and “equality,” our value-free scientistic modernism, even our guilt over past civil rights abuses against racial minorities.

It is a mark of the success of those strategies that attacks are being levied more and more publicly against what once appeared to be an impregnable section of the Puritan canopy: scriptural statements about homosexuality. The opening salvos were probably fired by James Nelson5, John Boswell6, and Robin Scroggs7 in the late 1970s and early 1980s, who tended to argue that Paul’s references to homosexuality only proscribed specific, exploitative forms of the practice.

Mainline Protestantism (and to a lesser degree, liberal Catholicism) was hit first—indeed, its scholars were the ones firing. The fact that the mainline did not capitulate immediately, and still has not done so completely, is testimony to the strength of the traditional interpretation of biblical prohibitions of homosexual acts.8 (The laggard among the mainline is the United Methodist Church: though its Western jurisdiction elected its first openly homosexual bishop just days ago as of this writing9, the national leadership of the denomination has not affirmed the decision.10) But no observers have predicted a conservative resurgence in the mainline akin to that of the Southern Baptist Convention. The trend line is clear.

And evangelicals are next. Every time a self-described evangelical institution such as World Vision,11 an evangelical church such as City Church San Francisco,12 or an evangelical individual such as Jen Hatmaker13 affirms homosexual sex, more weight is added to the argument that only bigotry and animus can explain conservatives’ continued refusal to take up the remaining empty seats on the bandwagon.

For the good of our Christian neighbors who face increasing pressure to affirm the goodness of every sexual desire, for the spiritual health of Christians who find themselves with unwanted same-sex attraction, for the good of children who need their mothers and fathers,14 and for the sake of lesbian librarians—we must attend to the maintenance of the portions of the canopy under which we are still permitted to huddle. Perhaps we can be God’s means fof strengthening and even expanding it in our Western culture.

BDAG and the story of ἀρσενοκοίτης

This paper has a definite polemical purpose but a scholarly angle: it offers a two-part counteroffensive strategy for Christian conservatives: 1) learn the major outlines of the debate over ἀρσενοκοίτης so you can speak knowledgeably and persuasively about the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, and 2) use the “as-one-of-your-own-poets-hath-said” strategy by appealing to the authority of an honest and respected mainline liberal Protestant, namely Frederick W. Danker, the D in BDAG.

Danker’s BDAG entry for ἀρσενοκοίτης is not just presenting “the facts”; it is summarizing and even making an argument. It is telling something of a story, a story which begins with Paul—the first writer we know of to use the word—and stops at the time of the Defense of Marriage Act (the entry’s most recent citation is to an article published in 1996). It is my opinion that the passage of time has not materially altered the debate over ἀρσενοκοίτης. In fact, the basic shape of the debate was in place by 1984,15 after which time the sloganeering could begin in earnest for all sides.

I will structure this paper according to the outline of the BDAG entry for ἀρσενοκοίτης.

The etymology of ἀρσενοκοίτης

Danker begins with the etymology, as he commonly does: ἀρσην + κοίτης = male + bed.

“Bed” is potentially misleading; Danker’s own entry for the word shows that “sexual intercourse” was an established figurative extension of the literal sense of κοίτης, not unlike “bed” in English. But while the English words “bed” and “sleep” often require specific phrasal-verb “helping” words, to bring out a sexual sense16 (“He bedded her down,” “She was sleeping with him”), κοίτη could stand on its own as a euphemism for sexual relations (Rom. 13:13; Heb. 13:4).17 Danker also chose not to reflect the suffix in his etymology: -ης is equivalent to -er. Etymologically, an ἀρσενοκοίτης is a male-bedder(-downer).

When a word is well attested, appeals to etymology may be of intellectual interest but are irrelevant to—or even misleading for—the work of discovering its semantic value. So Yale’s Dale Martin is generally correct to say, in a book chapter Danker later cites, that it is “linguistically invalid” and “highly precarious” to attempt to discover

the meaning of a word by taking it apart, getting the meanings of its component parts, and then assuming, with no supporting evidence, that the meaning of the longer word is a simple combination of its component parts. To “understand” does not mean to “stand under.”18

Understand, like butterfly, is not a transparent compound but an opaque one.

But Martin errs when he goes on to enlist the authority of James Barr’s Semantics of Biblical Language to argue that

all definitions of arsenokoités that derive its meaning from its components are naive and indefensible. Furthermore, the claim that arsenokoités came from a combination of these two words and therefore means “men who have sex with men” makes the additional error of defining a word by its (assumed) etymology. The etymology of a word is its history, not its meaning.19

Martin uses Barr too confidently, and a lexicographer of the stature of Frederick W. Danker, no less, disagrees with Martin’s dismissal of etymology from the discussion. When synchronic usage fails us, all we have left is diachrony. Because ἀρσενοκοίτης is not attested prior to Paul, its etymology takes on a much greater importance than it otherwise would. Etymology joins both the literary cotext and the theological/historical context to provide the only evidences we have for the meaning of this contested New Testament word.

Etymology is not always misleading in the work of understanding compounds (see playground, rattlesnake, and campfire). It was one of the only tools first-century readers would have had at their disposal for understanding the word ἀρσενοκοίτης. A Koine Greek speaker hearing the word for the first time would have reacted, linguistically and perhaps emotionally, the same way you reacted the first time you heard the lexeme “motherf***er.”20 You would never have put those two words together, but once someone else did the compound was all too transparent.

Various citations

And indeed, this is precisely Danker’s argument with regard to Greek. He offers two citations, one very early, of a form comparable to ἀρσενοκοίτης: μητροκοίτης [μήτηρ + κοίτη], which he renders as “one who has intercourse w. his mother.” Another article Danker cites, David F. Wright’s definitive response to John Boswell, offers other examples of combining forms using -κοίτης:

  • δουλοκοίτης – sleeping with slaves
  • πολυκοῖτος – sleeping with many others
  • ἀδελφοκοιτία – sleeping with a sibling21

In none of these cases, Wright argues, does the first portion of the compound refer to the person doing the “sleeping” but rather to the object, the person being slept with: δουλοκοίτης is one who sleeps with slaves, not a slave sleeping with others.

This list is important, because though Boswell admits that “in this and other compounds [-κοιται] corresponds to the vulgar English word ‘f[***]er,’ a person who, by insertion, takes the ‘active’ role in intercourse,”22 he argues that the relationship of ἀρσεν- to -κοίτης is “ambiguous.” He argues that, “in bald English the compound means ‘male f[***]ers,’ but it is not clear whether ‘male’ designates the object or the gender of the second half.”23

Boswell makes an analogy to “ladykiller.” Does it refer to a man who charms women easily, a ladykiller, or to a female assassin, a lady killer? Boswell adduces examples of Greek compounds in which the first and second halfs bear different relationships. But he never mentions any using -κοίτης, -κοιτέω, or -κοιτία. By citing μητροκοίτης as a parallel and mentioning Wright’s article, Danker is disagreeing with Boswell, one of the major revisionist players in the debate over Christian views of homosexuality.24

An analogy to English—a strategy Boswell uses—is worthwhile, because in a language in which motherbedder, slavebedder, and brotherbedder are known lexemes—if hopefully uncommon ones—then the coinage of unclebedder is semantically constrained. It is unlikely to mean, an uncle who, by insertion, takes the active role in intercourse. The uncle in this case is the object, not the subject, of the bedding. At the very least, the latter sense would have to be demonstrated by usage—and a neologism, by definition, has none.

Other citations

The citations section in BDAG’s entry for ἀρσενοκοίτης is otherwise thin, not mainly in length but in depth. Simply put, it appears that early users of this word assumed their readers’ knowledge of its meaning, offering little help by way of contextual redundancies. It appears in several vice lists beyond the New Testament, Danker notes, including the obscure Jewish-Christian (?) Sibylene Oracles of the second- to third-centuries A.D. and the Acts of John.

Even when Bardesanes (in a series of fragments reported by Eusebius) uses the word, he does not provide much context. In the middle of a long list of observations about different cultures, he says,

From the river Euphrates, and as far as the Ocean towards the East, he who is reviled as a murderer, or a thief, is not at all indignant: but he who is reviled for sodomy [ἀρσενοκοίτια] avenges himself even to the death: among the Greeks, however, even their wise men are not blamed for having favourites.25

Such a citation is of little help to any “side” in the debate over ἀρσενοκοίτης. If “having favourites” means (as it appears) some sort of pederasty, then this citation still leaves unclear whether ἀρσενοκοίτια equals pederasty or includes it.

Leviticus 20:13

Martin thinks the etymology of ἀρσενοκοίτης is irrelevant; Boswell’s view, in contrast, is that “the first half of the compound (ἀρσενο-) denotes not the object but the gender of the second half (-κοῖται).”26 Danker disagrees with both of them for different reasons, making precisely the argument Wright does27: he cites Leviticus: “Compare the association of ἄρσην and κοίτη in Lev 20:13.”

This is a key plot movement in the story of this much-fought-over Greek word, because if there is a genuine connection between Leviticus 20 and Paul’s usage of ἀρσενοκοίτης, we receive important added information about the word’s meaning.

This is how Leviticus 20:13 reads in the Septuagint (cf. Lev. 18:22, which is quite similar),

ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός, βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι, θανατούσθωσαν, ἔνοχοί εἰσιν

Whoever lies with a male in sexual intercourse as with a woman, they have both committed an abomination; let them be executed; they are guilty.28

The slightly difficult Hebrew explains the slightly awkward Greek at the beginning of the sentence: the syntactic relationship the words κοίτην γυναικός bear with the foregoing is hard to ferret out. The seventy appear to have translated very literally29:

In painfully literal English, that could be translated,

And a man which lies with a male [as in] beds of a woman, he has done abomination.

But the semantic relationship here is clear (cf. similar usage of the Hebrew phrase in Judges 21:12), and the modern translations get it right: “if a man lies with a male as one lies with a woman…

This brief foray into the intricacies of LXX translation serves a purpose, namely to suggest that that slightly awkward Greek—including a noun form of κοίτη—may make it more likely that Paul was alluding to or echoing Leviticus when he coined/used the word ἀρσενοκοίτης. Ἀρσενος and κοίτην are right there in the verse, right next to each other. Paul—or, again, some other early Jewish and/or Christian writer—put them together.

The connection between Paul’s new word and Leviticus 20 has been observed for at least 150 years. Danker also cites E. A. Sophocles’ Greek Lexicon of the Roman and Byzantine Periods,30 which defines ἀρσενοκοίτης using the language of Leviticus 20:13:

See Sophocles Lex.: ἀ.= ὁ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοιμώμενος κοίτην γυναικείαν= “one who has intercourse w. a man as w. a woman”31

What possible reason would a former Pharisee—who still called himself a Pharisee after his conversion (Acts 23:6)—have for coining/using a brand new word that narrowed the OT proscription of homosexuality to apply to only exploitative forms of the practice? If he expected to introduce a hint, or start a trajectory, or command a full-blown reversal of the OT laws he called “holy, just, and good,” he would owe us a great deal more explanation.

Definition, gloss and scriptural citation

Danker now turns to a definition of ἀρσενοκοίτης. He writes,

a male who engages in sexual activity w. a pers. of his own sex, pederast 1 Cor 6:9

There are three major pieces of information in this line: 1) the definition, 2) the gloss, and 3) the scriptural citation—the first and primary one Danker offers.


The definition is perfectly consistent with Danker’s argument up to this point. It is general, applying to all homosexual sexual contact between males, whether exploitative or consensual.


But the gloss is a bit of a surprise. Pederast is in one sense an artful choice, because it is ambiguous in English (as in French and German): it can mean “male homosexual” or it can mean what its etymology points toward: a “boy-lover” (παῖδος + ἐράστης).

Pederast is an appealing glosS, both because there is a little room in it for the generic sense of “homosexual” (one not involving boys), and because the pederast is always the active partner in a homosexual encounter. But in contemporary American English the boy-lover sense has almost completely taken over.32 Pederast is not, then, a good gloss given the rest of Danker’s argument.

Scriptural citation

And that fact, in turn, points to the first mention of another key argument in Danker’s entry for ἀρσενοκοίτης, namely his prominent citation of 1 Corinthians 6:9. Yes, it is possible that the only other use of ἀρσενοκοίτης in the NT—1 Tim. 1:10—was left for later because it is generally regarded as deutero- or pseudo-Pauline; but there is a more significant reason why 1 Cor 6:9 is cited here in the main, bolded, definition line.

That is that 1 Tim 1:10 provides little in the way of contextual clues—semantic redundancies or antonymies—by which to discern what ἀρσενοκοίτης means. Danker is indicating here (as he will make explicit in a moment) that the pairing with μαλακός in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is a clue to the meaning of ἀρσενοκοίτης.

Dealing with objections

We will return as Danker does to this important point from 1 Cor. 6:9. First, however, Danker deals with an implicit objection to his view as expressed so far:

On the impropriety of RSV’s ‘homosexuals’ [altered to ‘sodomites’ in the NRSV] see [the following two articles]…

Why would Danker not only choose “pederast” but object to “homosexuals” as a gloss for ἀρσενοκοίτης? The two major article citations here reveal why: Danker thinks “homosexual” is an anachronism, that “sexual orientation” is a comparatively recent invention whose (psychologized? medicalized?) overtones do not belong in the New Testament.

He first cites an article by William Petersen, who takes issue with John Boswell’s definition of ἀρσενοκοίται as “active male prostitutes”—but who doesn’t like David F. Wright’s “imprecise” suggestion of “homosexuals” either. He says “homosexuals” is “unacceptable.”

Petersen proposes instead an etymological/literal rendering of ἀρσενοκοῖται: “the ones (masc.) who lie/sleep with men.” He argues,

Both in Classical and Roman antiquity, male sexuality was regarded as polyvalent. There were an infinite number of options, any number of which might be pursued serially or simultaneously. A man might be, variously, a husband (ανηρ), a frequenter of prostitutes (πορνοκοπος), a lover of another man or young man (εραστης), a lover of youths (παιδεραστης), and/or an adulterer (μοιχος). While individual tastes might vary, virtually the total spectrum of known sexual behaviour, with the exception of transvestism, was acceptable (with varying degrees of enthusiasm on the part of the chronicler, of course). Thus, a man could be characterized sexually only by describing his sexual acts: man A is ανηρ και πορνοκοπος; man B is ανηρ και πορνοκοπος και εραστης; man C is πορνοκοπος και εραστης.33

Christianity, Petersen says, took over Jewish moral categories but split sexual behavior into “natural” and “unnatural.” But Petersen insists that

these new labels were, perforce, applied on the basis of acts, just as the earlier Greco-Roman labels had been. Thus, within both pagan and Christian antiquity, no categories of “homosexuals” and “heterosexuals” existed; indeed, such categories would not have made sense.34

Petersen approvingly quotes Kenneth Dover’s classic work on Greek homosexuality,

The Greeks were aware…that individuals differ in their sexual preferences, but their language has no nouns corresponding to the English nouns “a homosexual” and “a heterosexual,” since they assumed that virtually everyone responds at different times to both homosexual and to heterosexual stimuli.35

It was only in 1869 that a Hungarian physician coined the term “homosexual” to describe someone who is “erotically oriented to their own sex” (Petersen’s summary) from birth.

“Homosexuals,” then, Petersen says,

fails as a translation for it violates historical and linguistic fact by attempting to read a modern concept back into antiquity, where no equivalent concept existed. Once that error has been committed, the inaccuracies multiply exponentially: e.g., (1) the translation is inaccurate because it includes celibate homophiles; (2) it incorrectly excludes heterosexuals who engage in homosexual acts; (3) it incorrectly includes female homosexuals.36

I think Petersen is basically correct (except for his point about celibate homophiles: even desires for sin are sinful37); his point about incorrectly including lesbians in the scope of ἀρσενοκοίται is especially well taken.

But I think Petersen and Danker are both wrong to reject—and Wright is right to accept—the rendering of “homosexuals” in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim 1:10.

Danker gives space in his entry to allow Wright to respond to Petersen, and Wright makes what is for me the decisive point: that while “homosexual” may have been coined to speak of an orientation, it is now commonly used to refer to the category of people who both have the orientation and engage in the acts, a usage that “combines the references to propensity and activity.”38 Contemporary English does not have a word which specifies the act as opposed to the desire. The difference between the two, if a Bible teacher or translator feels it necessary to communicate that distinction, is better left for a footnote, an article, a lecture, or a sermon.

Using the word “homosexual” in an English Bible translation could possibly be misleading, but I believe that for the purposes for which most Bible translations exist, the benefits of perspicuity—everybody knows the word “homosexual”—outweigh the risks of anachronism.3940

Back to the scriptural citation

Danker needed to defend his choice of the gloss pederast, and for that he looked to Petersen—though he let Wright have his say, too.

Now he can get back to the main flow of his discussion; its next step is to elucidate the role of 1 Cor 6:9. Danker writes,

Of one who assumes the dominant role in same-sex activity, opposite μαλακός

This, again, is an argument, not merely a citation. Danker believes that the fact that ἀρσενοκοίτης is set next to (and apparently opposite to) μαλακός actually indicates that the former word refers to the man taking the dominant role in a homosexual encounter, the latter to the man in the passive role.

Μαλακός, as opposed to ἀρσενοκοίτης, is a well attested word outside and before the NT—though, like ἀρσενοκοίτης, it occurs in this sense only in an NT vice list. It means “soft,” and, by extension, it developed the well-established sense of “effeminate.” The LXX has only the one sense: “A soft tongue breaks a bone” (Prov 25:15). The NT has both: “a man dressed in soft clothing” (Matt 11:8; Luke 7:25) and 1 Cor. 6:9. Danker and other lexicographers (Louw-Nida, Swanson, Moulton-Milligan, Balz-Schneider, Thayer, etc.) all agree, and many offer the added specific word catamite as a possible gloss.

But Dale Martin does not agree, and Danker respectfully gives him a protest vote by citing his influential chapter, “Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences,” in the book Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality.41

Martin argues that setting ἀρσενοκοίτης against μαλακός does not demand that ἀρσενοκοίτης mean “homosexual.” He alleges that μαλακός means “effeminate”—that all passive partners in homosexual acts were considered μαλακοὶ in the ancient Hellenistic world, but that not all people who were μαλακοὶ allowed themselves to become the passive partners in homosexual acts. In other words, “effeminate” is a broad cultural category of which catamites were only one member.

I find this portion of Martin’s argument compelling; not so the next portion, for Martin tries to to have his cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, he says,

We have very few uses of arsenokoités and most of those occur in simple lists of sins, mostly in quotations of the biblical lists, thus providing no explanation of the term, no independent usage, and few clues from the context about the term’s meaning.42

But Martin actually leans very heavily—too heavily—on the place of ἀρσενοκοῖται precisely within vice lists. He says it is more likely to be grouped with sins of economic exploitation than to be grouped with sexual sins.

We should assume that arsenokoitein here refers to some kind of economic exploitation, probably by sexual means: rape or sex by economic coercion, prostitution, pimping, or something of the sort.43

However, even going by just the evidence he adduces, his readings are unconvincing. In every case, the meaning “homosexuals” fits quite well. There is never a moment of “linguistic anomaly,” such as when someone says, “That’s a great bicycle, but it has only two wheels.”

For example, the first citation he gives is to a Sibylene Oracle (in a translation by J. J. Collins):

(Never accept in your hand a gift which derives from unjust deeds.)

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. Take heed of your speech. Keep a secret matter in your heart. (Make provision for orphans and widows and those in need.)

Do not be willing to act unjustly, and therefore do not give leave to one who is acting unjustly.44

In order to make this citation fit his hypothesis that arsenokoitein is economically exploitative sex, he has to posit that “do not betray information” and “do not murder” deal with economic exploitation, too. This is patent special pleading. And every example he gives is like this one. Martin did serious enough work to merit a mention in BDAG, but his work simply fails to convince.

Biblical and other early Christian citations

The main course of Danker’s argument is done. He dutifully notes the appearance of ἀρσενοκοίτης in Polycarp to the Philippians 5:3 , but since Polycarp is merely quoting 1 Corinthians 6, he is of little help.

Danker does believe that Romans 1:27, though it never uses the word ἀρσενοκοίτης, is relevant to the discussion of the word as it appears in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, but he makes no comment other than “compare Romans 1:27.”

He also presents a cultural note which is of uncertain relevance to the interpretation of ἀρσενοκοίτης in the NT: “Romans forbade pederasty with free boys in the Lex Scantinia, pre-Cicero.”45

He also offers some final cultural comments before closing out the piece with a bibliography:

Paul’s strictures against same-sex activity cannot be satisfactorily explained on the basis of alleged temple prostitution.

In other words, that would be too narrow a way to understand ἀρσενοκοίτης.

Neither, Danker says, can Paul’s words be “limited to contract with boys for homoerotic service.” He cites a substantive article by David F. Wright which we have already discussed.46

Then Danker coasts to a stop by reiterating the very first citation in this entry, the Bardesanes quotation which shows “condemnation of the practice [of pederasty] in the Euphrates region.”

I will not canvas the discussion in all the books Danker lists; that would stretch this article beyond all reasonable limits. Suffice it to say that Danker cites the major influential books then available on the debate, but because conservatives have only recently been forced to view biblical proscriptions of homosexuality as debatable, they did not write book-length treatments of the topic and therefore do not appear in Danker’s list (Gagnon’s landmark work came out just after BDAG itself did).47


One of the reasons that Danker’s work is so beloved by conservatives48 is actually that Danker worked like a modernist: his work shows that he believed that you could get truth out of the proper application of linguistic method. The books and articles that Danker cites are largely modernist as well. And he makes an empirical argument (which mirrors perfectly that of conservatives elsewhere):

  1. If ἀρσενοκοίτης is a neologism, a Pauline coinage, then it is appropriate to look in part to etymology to discover its meaning.
  2. If it is appropriate to look to etymology then it is appropriate to enter Paul’s Jewish, Pharisaic worldview and appeal to the use of ἀρσην and κοίτη in Lev 20:13.
  3. Ἀρσενοκοίτης is set in contradistinction to μαλακός in one of its two NT uses, namely that of 1 Cor 6, so it means “men-bedders,” the active partner in a male homosexual encounter.

The one exception to the modernism club in Danker’s entry was the chapter by gay Yale religion professor Dale Martin. He tried gamely to offer a modernist argument, but perhaps (?) even he sensed its weakness, its special pleading. For he soon pulled out his postmodern sword. And he swung right for the conservative jugular (and the remainder of the Puritan canopy):

My goal is not to deny that Paul condemned homosexual acts but to highlight the ideological contexts in which such discussions have taken place. My goal is to dispute appeals to “what the Bible says” as a foundation for Christian ethical arguments. It really is time to cut the Gordian knot of fundamentalism. And do not be fooled: any argument that tries to defend its ethical position by an appeal to “what the Bible says” without explicitly acknowledging the agency and contingency of the interpreter is fundamentalism, whether it comes from a right-wing Southern Baptist or a moderate Presbyterian.49

I appreciate it when people think clearly enough to advert to their epistemological controls, their critical foundations. I think it is a rare gift in a world in which most educated people seem to hold tightly to moral relativism and scientistic absolutism at the same time, but fail ever to look down at what they’re standing on. I genuinely admire Martin’s clarity of thought:

The test for whether an interpretation is Christian or not does not hang on whether it is historically accurate or exegetically nuanced. The touchstone is not the historically reconstructed meaning in the past, nor is it the fancifully imagined, modernly constructed intentions of the biblical writers. Nor can any responsible Christian—after the revolutionary changes in Christian thought in the past twenty years, much less in the past three hundred—maintain that Christian interpretations are those conforming to Christian tradition. The traditions, all of them, have changed too much and are far too open to cynical manipulation to be taken as foundations for gauging the ethical value of a reading of scripture.50

Frequently when I hear people speak this way, they fail to offer anything in the place of the fundamentalism against which they’re inveighing—which generally means they’re trying to misdirect your attention from the particular fundamentalism they’re trying to sneak in through the back door (a fundamentalism they themselves, again, don’t see). But Martin is too good a thinker to let this happen (yet):

The only recourse in our radical contingency is to accept our contingency and look for guidance within the discourse that we occupy and that forms our very selves. The best place to find criteria for talking about ethics and interpretation will be in Christian discourse itself, which includes scripture and tradition but not in a “foundational” sense. Nor do I mean that Christian discourse can itself furnish a stable base on which to secure ethical positions; it is merely the context in which those positions are formed and discussed. Conscious of this precarious contingency, and looking for guiding lights within the discourse, I take my stand with a quotation from an impeccably traditional witness, Augustine, who wrote: “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all” (Christian Doctrine 1.35.40).51

This is what can only be called pulpit-pounding. Martin is aware of contingencies aplenty, but he still takes his stand! And who can complain when he takes his stand with Augustine and, by extension, with Jesus’ Great Commandments in Matthew 22? Augustine’s quote is justly famous; his are world-important words. Reading is a moral activity in which our loves for God and neighbor need to be right if we hope to read responsibly and faithfully. Making love one’s fundamental is good, not bad.

But Martin, having thus far thought carefully, still cannot help sneaking in a more expansive fundamentalism than the one he just adverted to. He assumes a very controvertible view of love:

By this light, any interpretation of scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically respectable. There can be no debate about the fact that the church’s stand on homosexuality has caused oppression, loneliness, self-hatred, violence, sickness, and suicide for millions of people. If the church wishes to continue with its traditional interpretation it must demonstrate, not just claim, that it is more loving to condemn homosexuality than to affirm homosexuals. Can the church show that same-sex loving relationships damage those involved in them? Can the church give compelling reasons to believe that it really would be better for all lesbian and gay Christians to live alone, without the joy of intimate touch, without hearing a lover’s voice when they go to sleep or awake? Is it really better for lesbian and gay teenagers to despise themselves and endlessly pray that their very personalities be reconstructed so that they may experience romance like their straight friends? Is it really more loving for the church to continue its worship of “heterosexual fulfillment” (a “nonbiblical” concept, by the way) while consigning thousands of its members to a life of either celibacy or endless psychological manipulations that masquerade as “healing”?52

Martin scores some points here: “heterosexual fulfillment” is not the calling of every Christian, and there are indeed psychological manipulations which masquerade as healing. I also, along with all the serious evangelical writers on this topic, weep with those with weep: I feel the pain of the teenager who struggles against desires that part of him wishes he didn’t have. I have several friends who have lived Christian lives of celibacy for this reason, and they carry a heavy cross. And Christians ought to show very practical love to AIDS sufferers.

But Martin begs the question: what, indeed, counts as “hurt,” “oppression,” or “destruction”? Our society disagrees, so who decides? Sometimes the lizard on your shoulder whispering sweet, lustful nothings has to be killed—and boy does it hurt—in order for you to ride further up and further into Aslan’s kingdom. (Sorry for mixing up two C.S. Lewis stories; the images of heaven in The Great Divorce and Narnia are clearly related.) We are a whole society of people who have decided not only to listen to the lizard and follow his dictates, but to let the lizard speak for us, to let him constitute our respective (“expressive-individualistic”) identities.

We are forced to go back to our Bibles to discover what counts as love and what counts as hurt.

When Robert Gagnon responds to postmodern, moralistic-therapeutic-deist thinking like Martin’s, he answered with the supreme proof text which needs to be ready on the lips of every Christian from now till our society picks a different self-destructive sin to lionize:

In contemporary society the command to love is often misconstrued as tolerance and acceptance. The concept is richer than that. True love “does not rejoice over unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13: 6)53

If you love God as he truly is and your neighbors as they truly are before God, you won’t rejoice in the sin that is harming those neighbors. If you wish for a good society protected by a strong moral canopy, you will love your neighbor enough to humbly call him to repentance. You will use the truthful rhetorical tools at your disposal, including the arguments of one harmless drudge, a mainline lexicographer.54


  1. Mark Noll, America’s God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 31–52.
  2. As Shelby Steele trenchantly observed, “It was the good luck of [President Clinton] to sin into the moral relativism of his era rather than into its Puritanism.” White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007), 6.
  3. James K.A. Smith, How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 26.
  4. The harassment was indeed indefensible. Vigilante moralism via crudities shouted out car windows at stoplights is not a validly Christian method of maintaining a national moral canopy.
  5. Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1978).
  6. Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).
  7. The New Testament and Homosexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1983).
  8. Homosexuality has achieved differing levels of acceptance in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA), the Episcopal Church (TEC), the American Baptist Churches (ABCUSA), the United Church of Christ (UCC), and the Disciples of Christ.
  9. Kathy L. Gilbert, “Western Jurisdiction elects openly gay United Methodist bishop,” United Methodist News, July 15, 2016.
  10. “COB President Addresses Western Jurisdiction Episcopal Election Results,” Press Release, United Methodist News, July 15, 2016.
  11. Celeste Gracey and Jeremy Weber, “World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages,” Christianity Today online, March 24, 2014.
  12. City Church was an evangelical megachurch originally modeled after Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. See also Robert Gagnon, “Why San Francisco’s City Church is Wrong about Sex,” First Things Web Exclusives, March 17, 2o15 ( (
  13. Jen Hatmaker, for example, who first opines that good Christians can differ over homosexuality ( and then expresses ambiguous support for it (
  14. See the work of Mark Regnerus at Public Discourse, for example:
  15. Writers today still cite David F. Wright’s response to John Boswell in Vigiliae Christianae, “Homosexuals of Prostitutes? The Meaning of ἀρσενοκοίται” (Vol. 38, No. 2, June 1984) as a definitive contribution to the debate.
  16. “Waiting on” someone is different than “waiting for” someone—“waiting on” is a phrasal verb.
  17. One measure of how established he figurative, sexual senses of “bed” and “sleep” are is whether people reliably snicker when “They went to bed together” and “They slept together” are used in clearly non-sexual contexts.
  18. Arsenokoites and Malakos: Meanings and Consequences,” in Biblical Ethics and Homosexuality, edited by Robert L. Brawley (Louisville: WJK, 1996), 117-36.
  19. Ibid.
  20. It is not to English speakers’ credit that “motherf***er” is now common enough to mean “buddy.” It has lost its shock and, arguably, its etymological meaning. But we know this because the lexeme is well attested, because we hear it and read it contexts in which it simply could not be taken literally. This is not true of the two appearances of ἀρσενοκοίτης in the NT, both of which are in vice lists. Etymology must be given its due weight here.
  21. “Homosexuals or Prostitutes? The Meaning of ἀρσενοκοίται,” Vigiliae Christiane, Vol. 38, No. 2 (June, 1984), 130.
  22. Boswell, op. cit. 342.
  23. Ibid.
  24. I use the word “revisionist” advisedly; it is the term used by James Brownson in his influential book Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013).
  25. Eusebius of Caesarea, Evangelicae Praeparationis Libri XV, ed. E. H. Gifford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1903), 298–299.
  26. Boswell, 342.
  27. Wright says of Boswell’s statement, “This is patently not the case if the LXX of the verses in Leviticus lies behind ἀρσενοκοῖται, whether in encouraging the formation of the word itself or in informing its meaning.” “Homosexuals or Prostitutes?”, 129.
  28. Rick Brannan et al., eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), Le 20:13.
  29. Though, interestingly, the LXX gives a “dynamic” rendering of “their blood will be on them”: “they are guilty.”
  30. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1870.
  31. This intertextual connection is also one of the major planks in the argument of Robert A. Gagnon, the current champion of the traditional viewpoint on homosexuality in Scripture. The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001). Gagnon observes, “What kind of same-sex intercourse would have hurdled the obstacle of Lev 18: 22 and 20: 13 in Paul’s mind? Surely none since these prohibitions speak generically of all men who have sexual intercourse with any and every kind of male.” (Kindle loc. 5644) Gagnon also argues that ἀρσενοκοίτης must be defined consistently with Paul’s discussion of “men with men burning with lust for one another” in Romans 1:24–27. David F. Wright, in an article cited in the BDAG entry for ἀρσενοκοίτης, says, “The heart of my argument is that the inspiration for the neologism αρσενοκοιτης lies in the Greek of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 LXX.” “Translating APΣENOKOITAI (1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10),” Vigiliae Christiane 41:4, 1987, 396. The argument is used throughout conservative and popular level literature on the topic. See Kevin DeYoung, What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015), 64.
  32. The Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, and New Oxford American dictionaries all agree. They do not even offer a sense two for generic “homosexual.” The (British) Oxford English Dictionary does, however, acknowledge an additional, “wider sense (chiefly derogatory): a man who practises anal intercourse; a male homosexual.” It does adduce at least one use in which “Ppaedarast” is set in contradistinction to “Sapphist,” as well as a few other historical uses which support their conclusion. But those tend to be older, and given that the term “homosexual” is first adduced (in the OED) in 1892, it makes sense that “pederast” would have been used before then to fill a space later filled by “homosexual.”
  33. William Petersen, “Can Αρσενοκοιται Be Translated by ‘Homosexuals’?” Vigiliae Christianae 40:2, 1986, 188.
  34. Petersen, 188.
  35. Greek Homosexuality (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1978), 1 n.1.
  36. Petersen, 189.
  37. See Denny Burk, “Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 58:1 (2015), 95–115.
  38. Wright, op. cit., 396.
  39. More specialized translations such as the NET Bible can be a little more prolix and intellectually demanding, translating μαλακοι και αρσενοκοιται as “passive homosexual partners [and] practicing homosexuals.”
  40. Danker also comments that the “REB’s rendering of μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται with the single term ‘sexual pervert’ is lexically unacceptable.” I have no access to the REB’s explanations for this translation choice, so I cannot reflect on it. Dale Martin, however, places the REB’s rendering among those translations which “combine both [μαλακοι and αρσενοκοιται] and offer the modern medicalized categories of sexual, or particularly homosexual, ‘perversion’ (RSV 1946, TEV 1966, NEB 1970, REB 1992).” He sees the REB as guilty of a specific kind of anachronism.
  41. Ed. Robert L. Brawley (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1996), 117-36.
  42. Martin, op. cit., no page nos.
  43. Martin, op. cit., no page nos.
  44. In The Old Testament Pseudoepigrapha, by James H. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday, 1983), no page nos.
  45. I cannot discern the function this point plays in Danker’s argument.
  46. “Homosexuals or Prostitutes,” Vigiliae Christianae 38:2, 1984, 125-53.
  47. Danker also cites the Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, as he always does, pointing raeders to the ἄρσην entry, which defines ἀρσενοκοίτης as “pederaste”—which in French can mean either “homosexual” or (the more specific) “pederast.”
  48. See Rod Decker’s effusive praise at “Short Notice: BDAG3,” n.d.,
  49. Martin, op. cit., no page nos.
  50. Martin, op. cit., no page nos.
  51. Martin, op. cit., no page nos.
  52. Martin, op. cit., no page nos.
  53. Gagnon, op. cit., x.
  54. Cf. Samuel Johnson’s famous definition of “lexicographer.”
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The Original Pronunciation for Shakespeare’s Plays

Mark Ward

Well isn’t this fascinating. Shakespeare’s plays were pronounced significantly differently when they were originally performed. And we miss some humor and rhyming because of it. It is more than possible—and this video argues that it is pretty well universal—that contemporary actors have solemnly intoned 16th century sex jokes to audiences who all nod sagely while, along with the actors themselves, totally missing the point.

Phonology is, for me, an almost entirely unexplored dimension of English language change. Boy, I don’t know if I have the energy to learn “OP” just in order to catch euphonies or assonances that the KJV translators employed that we today miss… The video—which I can’t believe no one has sent me before!—simply demonstrates one more dimension of language which has changed in the last 400 years in ways modern readers just cannot be expected to know without specialized training. I’m tired. Do I have to do it?

And now let me note for my own benefit, and maybe for yours, the three ways that the main linguist in this video says we use to reconstruct OP:

  1. We read what writers of the time said about the way their words were pronounced. People were prolix in print in those days, just as they are today. You pick up things.
  2. We look at spelling, which was far less fixed than it is today. If someone wrote film as philome, there’s a good chance it was a two-syllable word in that day.
  3. We look at rhymes and puns. If “we never can prove the delights of his love” (that, of course, is not Shakespeare, but a hymn only a century-plus old), there’s a good chance that one or both of those words was pronounced differently in a previous era.

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A Nerdy Post about Writing: An Excerpt from My Sent Folder

Mark Ward

A non-Christian friend I talked to many times on the bus asked me a question about whether or not he should take an online fiction-writing opportunity he’d been handed. I appreciated being asked. He’s a neat guy with real talent. I replied, and it gave me an opportunity to talk a little about writing in a way readers and writers might find helpful…

I have always felt averse to writerly self-promotion, partly because Jesus warned against putting myself forward pridefully (Luke 14:7–11) and partly because it always just seemed gauche when someone would have a giveaway that required people to subscribe to his blog for entry. I wanted my writing itself to attract readers. So for over ten years on my personal blog, I have just written things I hoped would be helpful and have hoped that readers would find me. But when my new job at Faithlife in Bellingham gave me the opportunity to stand on a higher platform and reach more people, I didn’t hesitate. Don’t put a bushel on your lamp. I jumped into serving them in just the way I had tried to serve my personal blog audience. And the results (I think!) were positive, for my readers and for my employer and for me. It sounds like you are being handed a platform that other writers would love to have—a motivated readership that is already a community of friends (right?).

Now, I can’t answer any question as if Christianity is irrelevant, and so my mind goes back as it always does to the most important commands in the Bible: love God and love neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). If you don’t believe in God, you can’t obey the greatest command. But if you love the fictional characters and the community of people they have created, you can still benefit from the wisdom in the second greatest command. When you really love something, it comes out. I have little doubt, knowing you, that your love for and interest in that world will be evident to readers. You will pass the most important test of good writing: love. It simply remains to be seen (right?)—and you are the one who needs to know this more than anyone—whether what you write will end up pleasing and serving the community of readers. Take this chance now, and you may find that you simply don’t get results. Readers drop off. But I bet they won’t. I bet they’ll stay, and readership will grow. And that you’ll be glad you got and took this neat opportunity. It seems to me you’re perfectly poised to grab it. And you may never get a chance like this again.

There are many fictional characters who have been taken up by subsequent authors, or who were created in the first place by a team and not an individual. My son loves the Warriors books, and they are a team effort—though plots apparently come from the same mind. The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew—readers don’t seem to mind that Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene are just as fictional as their characters. In fact, I’d say that you should set out to both honor the characters as they are and invest them and their subsequent adventures with your own personality. I was taught that Christian preaching is “truth through personality.” And I have found that writing is the same. I HATE writing that pretends to lack a writer. I just read, or tried to read, several journal articles which were like this. They affected an objectivity that essentially denied the existence of a subject at the keyboard, they really did. And the result was truth, in a way, but uninteresting and uncompelling truth—because it didn’t come through a personality. My favorite writers, even when I disagree with them profoundly, care deeply about truth and have distinctive voices. I think of Stanley Fish, Nick Kristoff, and Marilynne Robinson. There is really nothing quite like the feeling you get when you get to know a person merely through words on a page. The other day I clicked on the title of what looked like an interesting article, and I started reading before I thought to look at who wrote the piece. Within the first paragraph, I just knew. That’s what I aim for in my own writing.

I hope that helps! Thanks for the opportunity to expatiate on a few themes dear to me!


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Is the CSB Suitable for Expository Preaching? An Excerpt from my Sent Folder

Mark Ward

A reader who attends Boyce College, the undergraduate school of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

I’m not going to keep you, this is the only question I will ask and then I’ll simply follow you via social media; can I trust the CSB as an expository preacher? Interested in your thoughts (which will remain here). Thanks, Mark.

A writer who doesn’t wish his thoughts to remain there:

Great question. I would say two things:

  1. You have to trust someone, or a group of someones, until you can read Greek and Hebrew yourself. Even if that does happen, you’ll still be trusting scholars who’ve done specific work you haven’t done. In other words: you’re never going to get out of the situation in which you must trust someone else’s judgment when it comes to certain questions about the Bible, particularly Bible translation. And that’s not bad, it’s good. God made it this way. He gave us pastors and Schreiners 😊 to edify and instruct us.
  2. Look at the work people like Schreiner (the major leader over the CSB) have done on the Bible. Is it careful? Is it faithful? Is it humble and godly? Is it rich and deep? I think the answer with him has got to be a resounding yes. In other words, he is worthy of your trust. And—without claiming that the CSB, or any translation, is perfect—that means the CSB is worthy of your trust. What I’ve said about Schreiner could be said about multiple other people on the CSB committee. I believe that I could be a faithful expository preacher using any of the major modern English evangelical Bible translations. And I’ve done it.

Now for my blog audience I will add that I follow the buzz on major translations, and the CSB has gotten mostly good buzz with a mix of I-liked-its-predecessor-the-HCSB-better. But a good review of a Bible translation takes so much work, and I must confess that though I’ve read through the CSB and found it to be—generally speaking, which is all the speaking I can do—just fine, I haven’t read it with the closeness and depth required to form an independent or scholarly opinion. I’m content, for my needs, to outsource my opinion to trusted authorities—the way we all do on so, so many important things.

I really think the above is the kind of answer most pastors who are asked this question—about any translation—should give. Unless a given pastor has done intensive work in the Greek and Hebrew and worked through hundreds of sample passages in a given translation, his opinion should self-consciously rely on the experts. I think we get in a lot of trouble when we pretend to others, and even to ourselves, that we have formed our opinions firsthand when in reality we haven’t. A good clue: if you can’t read Greek or Hebrew, you don’t have a firsthand opinion on the quality of a translation (except perhaps on the matter of English style). If you can only read one and not the other, you don’t have a firsthand opinion on the quality of a translation in both testaments. The sheer number of fine-grained decisions that goes into the making of any Bible translation says to me that people are in special danger of committing the “insufficient sampling” fallacy when evaluating them. Have an opinion, yes, but get your epistemology straight. It will help keep you humble—which is how I feel when I am asked a question about the CSB. I hope my answer reflects that humility!

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