Sunday, October 07, 2012

Arsenokoités - ἀρσενοκοίτης - Responding to Dale Martin #3

3. Usage and Meaning

Martin draws attention to its various usages in various contexts and claims that these contexts provide the interpretive clues to understanding this term. Martin cites one example where the term is found, “among vices related to economic injustice or exploitation.” And that is in the Jewish writing, Sibylline Oracles. Martin suggests that the term relates to some kind of economic exploitation relating to sex, but not necessarily homosexual activity. How Martin arrives at his understanding that this word pertains to sex, without appealing to some etymological understanding, we are not told. Furthermore, John J. Collins, an expert on the Sibylline Oracles suggests no hesitation in understanding, and translates, μὴ ἀρσενοκοιτεῖν, categorically as, “Do not practice homosexuality” (Sib. Or. 2:73).  When there are other ambiguous words in this writing, Collins provides some comment. But with regards to ἀρσενοκοίτης, he does not. This suggests that there is no ambiguity with regards to the meaning of this word. And contextual factors are obscured by the fact that this writing contains various interpolations that may have separated this section from its original context.

Next Martin appeals to the Acts of John, and makes the kind of argument that this relates to some kind of economic exploitation because it does not occur in contexts which discuss other sexual sins. However, what Martin fails to disclose is the context of the passage, and how critical editions of the Acts of John have translated this particular passage. J. K. Elliott’s, The Apocryphal New Testament, which provides a critical translation of these texts, offers the following translation: “In like manner the poisoner, sorcerer, robber, defrauder, sodomite, thief, and all who belong to that band, accompanied by your works you shall go into the fire that never shall be quenched, to utter darkness, to the pit of torture, and to external damnation” (Acts of John 36). The context is one of the apostle John pronouncing judgement on the men of Ephesus for various activities which shall incur the wrath of God. The list which contains various activities which are illustrative of pagan society that has rejected God and thus shall face judgement. The list is reminiscent of Romans 1:18-32, which is a standard Jewish critique of pagan practice culminating in a pronouncement of judgement by God.

What Martin fails to note, and we may only speculate why, is the specific Christian contexts in which this word is found. 1 Cor. 6:9, issues a list of activities that, if characteristic of the Christian life, will mean a forfeiting of God’s kingdom. In this list Paul appeals to several sexual sins, πόρνοι (illicit sexual activity); μοιχοὶ (adultery); μαλακοὶ (passive homosexual practice); ἀρσενοκοῖται (active homosexual practice). The context here is clearly sexual sins that if habitually practiced will entail a forfeiting of God’s kingdom.

Then, the list in 1 Tim 1:10, is prefaced by a statement affirming the goodness of Torah (1 Tim. 1:9), and then Paul offers a list that echoes various elements of the Torah, and perhaps even the Decalogue. This provides a contextual clue for how Paul understood ἀρσενοκοίται, and confirms the appeal to Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. The Mosaic moral code is explicitly appealed to as an aid to instruct those who engage in the list of vices mentioned in these verses. The addition of the phrase, “and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me” (1 Tim 1:10-11), suggests that this list is not exhaustive, but rather illustrative of vices that are destructive for God’s people.
Finally, we may appeal to another specific from the early Christian letter of Polycarp, who writes the following to younger men in the city of Philippi.

Polycarp, Phil. 5:3
Similarly, the younger men must be blameless in all things; they should be concerned about purity above all, reining themselves away from all evil. For it is good to be cut off from the sinful desires in the world, because every sinful desire wages war against the Spirit, and neither fornicators nor me who have sex with men (whether as the passive or as the active partner - οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται) will inherit the kingdom of God, nor will those who do perverse things. Therefore one must keep away from all these things and be obedient to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ. The young women must maintain a pure and blameless conscience.

The context given here is specifically that of sexual desires and activities that may defile the community. Polycarp appeals to the congregation to have self-control concerning these desires, and in a passage reminiscent of 1 Cor. 6:9, warns of the devastating consequences of those who participate in such activities.

Why has Martin not mentioned these contexts in his contextual analysis? Is it because it radically undermines his case that the word relates to economic exploitation? His case rests on one contextual case from the Sibylline Oracles which is plagued with textual issues, and experts who offer no comment on the supposed ambiguity of the word; one reference from the Acts of John, which does not help his case; and finally the avoidance of counter-evidence which directly undermines his case. Martin’s contextual argument has not been demonstrated, and fails to convince. Rather, a contextual analysis confirms the etymological analysis provided above, that this word was created with reference to Lev. 18:22 and 20:13, with which most scholars agree. Furthermore, this fits accurately within the context of Second Temple Judaism, with its overwhelming critique of homosexual practice.

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