Saturday, October 06, 2012

Arsenokoités - ἀρσενοκοίτης - Responding to Dale Martin #2

2. Etymology

ἀρσενοκοίτης is a compound word which is derived from two words, ἄρσην (male) and κοίτη (a bed; sexual promiscuity). To decipher it’s meaning, it would be helpful to look at other similar compound words. Wright provides a list of various compound words which have the -χοίτης suffix. These are, χλεψιχοίτης, refers to someone seeking illicit sex; δουλοχοίτης, refers to sexual relations with slaves; μητροκοίτης, to sexual relations with one’s mother; πολυχοίτoς, sexual relations with many people; and ἀνδρoχοίτoς, one who has sex with a man. These compounds are important to note, because they offer direct evidence against Martin, who claims that, “It is highly precarious to try to ascertain 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.” All of the above compound words gain their meaning from their component parts and thus do provide supporting evidence that there were many variations of the -χοίτoς, group that gained their meaning from their component parts. Thus Martin’s appeal to an etymological fallacy on the part of those who take this as a reference to same-sex activity is mistaken.

Wright’s list of compound words lists ἀνδρoχοίτoς, one who has sex with a man. This raises the question about why Paul used ἀρσενοκοίτης instead of ἀνδρoχοίτoς. The reason for this is clear when we see the origin of ἀρσενοκοίτης.

Lev. 18:22
  •  καὶ μετὰ ἄρσενος οὐ κοιμηθήσῃ κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα γάρ ἐστιν
  • You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
Lev. 20:13
  •  ὃς ἂν κοιμηθῇ μετὰ ἄρσενος κοίτην γυναικός βδέλυγμα ἐποίησαν ἀμφότεροι θανατούσθωσαν ἔνοχοί εἰσιν
  • If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.
As you can see, the bold/underlined parts of the Greek phrase are strikingly similar, almost exactly so, to the word ἀρσενοκοίτης.  Hence, most scholars take this as the idiom from which the word ἀρσενοκοίτης was coined. As Wright notes, “If, as seems likely, the ἀρσενοκοίτ- group of words is a coinage of Hellenistic Judaism or Hellenistic Jewish Christianity, the probability that the LXX provides the key to their meaning is strengthened.” Thus, the component parts of the word contribute to its meaning, and the LXX references to Leviticus provide the origin and context of this specific word, both suggest that the meaning relates to male homosexual activity.
We may now explore whether there are further reasons to accept this basic understanding, or whether it gained some specific nuanced meanings in other contexts.


Fred Kohn said...

Probably right. Usually word meanings reflect their roots, but not always. A case in point is μητροκοίτης, which means an incestuous person, NOT specifically a mother bedder. Perhaps Paul felt that a stronger word was needed, and hence coined a word that meant "male bedder" rather than "man bedder", to include those that bedded young males as well. In any case, we need to make clear that nobody knows exactly what Paul meant, because he did not provide enough context to know with certainty.

Sean said...

Of course certainty alludes us. But we can be pretty confident about it's meaning since NT writers often coin words from the LXX.

Examples include:
1) αἱματεκχυσία = LXX αἷμα + ἐκχέω

2) εἰδωλολατρία, -λάτρης = LXX: εἴδωλον + λατρεύω

3) προσωπολημψία, etc. = LXX: λαμβάνω + πρόσωπον

4) σαββατισμός LXX: from σαββατίζω.

Given Paul's indebtedness to the LXX, it's more probable that he coined this word from the LXX than just made up some random word. Furthermore, given the use of ἀρσενοκοίτης with μαλακός in 1 Cor. 6:9, where the first denotes the active and the second the passive partner, it's clear what's being communicated.

Stephen said...

Most scholars agree that a definite ascertaining cannot be made, therefore, we cannot be 'pretty confident' unless one is bent in that direction by their own self determination in order to make a specific point based on their own confidence which clearly many do not share in.

Sean said...

I don't know which "most scholars" you're referring to Stephen, but you are mistaken. Even New Testament scholars who are in favour of same-sex relationships agree that we can be confident that the word arsenokoités refers to same-sex relationships. See the work of Dan O'Via, Luke Timothy Johnson and William Loader (who has published more on this topic than anyone else). So one's views on this matter are not predetermined by one's conclusions.