When I first started crossdressing as a kid, I immediately started searching God’s Word for guidance about it. Ever since that time 1 Corinthians 6:9 has always been of interest to me. It is not as well known in the crossdressing community as Deuteronomy 22:5, but in the LGBT community as a whole, it is known as one of the “clobber passages” against homosexuals. It has been of interest to me because in some biblical versions it uses the word “effeminate” and says that people who are effeminate will not inherit the kingdom of God. So this isn’t a small thing! It’s a passage we should pay attention to and we should try to understand what it means. Lately I was able to get some time to do some further research on this passage and I’ll share with you what I found.
First, you should read the passage. I’ll put it here in four different versions to give you some idea about how the translations differ.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
King James Version
9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
New International Version
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
New American Standard Bible
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals,
10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
New Revised Standard Version
9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Meaning of the Passage
Before we get into the details about the Greek words Paul used here in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, let’s make sure we understand the main point. The passage is fairly straightforward if interpreted along with the rest of Scripture. If you are living in sin, such as these types of sin, you are not saved, and you will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Paul is not advocating here salvation by works. That would go against everything he has taught in his letters – that salvation is by grace alone, through faith in Jesus. In Jesus, our punishment is taken away, and we are given his perfect righteousness. We are justified in God’s sight through Jesus and that is how we are saved. It’s not that if you commit one of these sins you are going to Hell. Again, that would be salvation by works which Paul didn’t teach, and which the Bible doesn’t teach. And after all, how many of us can say our lives are completely free from greed?
Rather Paul means that if you are living in sins like these, it is evidence that you are not truly born again, and you will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Jesus said that a good tree bears good fruit. James said that faith without works is dead. It’s not that we need to be perfect to be saved. But the true evidence of being born again and having the Holy Spirit living in you, is that your life is now characterized by warfare against sin. You continually confess, continually repent, and fight against sin in your life. And your life begins to look different from other people. You grow in holiness and righteousness, and you also produce good fruit as you love God and neighbor.
In Corinth, many in the church were acting as if it didn’t matter how they lived since they promoted the idea that they had freedom in Christ. There was rampant pride, sexual immorality, lawsuits among believers, greed, and division. Here Paul is making clear that they should realize that if they live just like non-believers, living in sin, they do not have assurance of their salvation. True believers will live for Christ and fight against sin.
Paul does not single out homosexuality in this passage. Paul actually puts homosexuality on an equal level with other sins. In fact, he makes a sort of laundry list of various sins, of which he could have mentioned many more. If it was true that you only had to commit one of these sins once to not be saved, then we would all be forever lost. But we can be thankful for the grace of Christ. But if you find yourself living in these sins, without repentance, that is when you should be afraid, and make sure you have truly trusted in Christ and made him Lord of your life.
When people who are trying to defend the goodness of homosexuality look at this passage, they often miss the point. They chafe when they think the passage is being used to condemn all homosexuals to Hell. And they wonder how Christians can say that, when Christians are surely guilty of some of the other sins that are mentioned. But Paul isn’t condemning all homosexuals to Hell just as he isn’t condemning all people who are greedy to Hell. He is only condemning those who are living in such sins, without repentance. And that is where homosexual actions become quite a different thing than greed. Christians might be greedy sometimes, but they still recognize greed as a sin and something to confess and fight against. Those advocating for the goodness of homosexuality are not repenting of it and fighting against it but rather celebrating sin.
Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate to warn those living a homosexual lifestyle of their need for repentance and salvation in Christ, by using this passage as a warning. The same warning would not make sense against Christians who are trying to live for Christ and repent of sin in their lives. But for sure, if you found a person claiming to be a Christian, but practicing adultery, stealing, drunken behavior, or even greed, then you would be right to use this passage to warn them. This goes along with 1 John 3:4-6 –
4 Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.
Greek Terms Paul Uses
Now on to the details. What are the words Paul uses here to refer to homosexuality or effeminacy? There is considerable debate as to the very precise meaning of the terms, but also nearly universal agreement that two of the words used both refer to homosexuality. I’ve looked at the Greek text and consulted about 30 commentaries as well as a number of lexicons (Dictionaries for the Greek words). Instead of dumping too much information on you, let me just try to summarize in a simple way.
μαλακοὶ transliterated as malakoi
ἀρσενοκοῖται transliterated as arsenokoitai
Malakoi generally means “soft” like “soft clothing.” Other connotations could be “luxurious” or “delicate.” More figuratively it can refer to “soft men” or rather “effeminate men.” This means men who are unmanly because they act more like women tend to act. More specifically yet, it can refer to men who take on the passive role in a homosexual relationship.
Arsenokoitai refers generally to a homosexual male. But most scholars think that it also can refer specifically to the active more dominant partner in a homosexual relationship.
As many cultures are trying to affirm the goodness of homosexuality today, there has been a lot of attention given to this passage. Some people have tried to water it down. Some try to say that these words don’t really refer to homosexual acts in general, but only to inappropriate sexual relations between an adult male and a young boy. I admit, it is well established that such pedophilic relationships were extremely common in the Greco-Roman world. But it is not likely that Paul had only this type of homosexual relationship in mind.
Paul knew about all kinds of different homosexual relationships as every type of homosexual relationship we can think of was represented in his time. See this article by Kevin De Young – Not that Kind of Homosexuality. Also this quote is helpful: “Paul witnessed around him both abusive relationships of power or money and examples of “genuine love” between males. We must not misunderstand Paul’s “worldly” knowledge” (Thiselton, A. C. (2000). The First Epistle to the Corinthians: a commentary on the Greek text (pp. 448–451). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans).
Furthermore, as a faithful Jew, Paul would have abhorred any type of homosexual practice. There is no reason to think he would have only condemned non-monogamous or non-consensual homosexual relationships. If Paul wanted to have been specific to limit what he was saying to be about only homosexual intercourse with a boy, he would have used the term “pederast” – παιδεράστης – (Garland, D. E. (2003). 1 Corinthians (pp. 211–214). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic). “Though homosexual acts were generally accepted in the ancient world, Hellenistic Jewish texts are unanimous in condemning them and treat them and idolatry as the most obvious examples of Gentile moral depravity” (Garland).
Therefore, this passage is a clear and firm declaration that homosexual practice is sin, of any kind. Paul makes this doubly clear by mentioning two different words to refer to two different partners in the homosexual relationship. There is no way to get around this. To put it very graphically, Garland says this – “One of the males must act like a woman…Or, as Philo says, the male becomes “womanish.” For this reason, I have chosen to translate the μαλακοί as “those males who are penetrated sexually by males” and the ἀρσενοκοῖται as “those males who sexually penetrate males.”
So what, if anything, does malakoi have to do with crossdressing?
You can see now that the passage is really about homosexuality rather than crossdressing. While it’s true that the Greco-Roman world looked down on crossdressing, (“From the classical period to Philo extreme distaste is expressed in Greek and hellenistic literature for the effeminate male who uses cosmetics and the coiffuring of the hair, for which Philo sometimes uses the term ἀνδρόγυνος, male-female” (Thiselton), that doesn’t seem to be Paul’s focus here.
“Effeminate” refers to males who act like females in regards to having sex like females do. Paul is not necessarily talking about the way that men dress or behave femininely in their mannerisms. This is partly a problem of translation. Translation is difficult work, as languages today are constantly changing and evolving and different people think of different things when they hear certain words. Many in our culture today would hear “effeminate” and think of perhaps how gay men stereotypically talk and move, different from other men and perhaps similar to how many women talk and move. But that isn’t what Paul had in mind necessarily. He meant that people are acting like women in that they were having sex like women.
Does this mean this passage has nothing to do with us? No, I think the passage is very relevant to us, and it supports what the rest of the Bible says about sex and gender and crossdressing. The word “effeminate” in many ways helps us to capture the real problem with homosexuality. Homosexuality is a problem because it is acting in a way that is contrary to God’s created intention, acting contrary to our created nature. It is wrong because men should be men, and women should be women. Men should act like the men God created them to be. Women should act like the women God created them to be. Men should dress like men, and women should dress like women. Men should not have sex in the way that women do (with other men), and women should not have sex in the way that men do (with other women).
I used to think that somehow Paul was denigrating women in this passage, inferring that it is demeaning for men to act like women because women are inferior. Although many people have such feelings in the world, this is not at all what Paul meant. It’s sinful for men to act like women, not because women are inferior, but because men should not reject how their creator made them. They are men. This is why Paul in Romans 1 also says that it is bad for women to act like men by having sex with other women. We should respect our Creator who gave us the sex and body he wanted us to have.
See, this goes along with all of the rest of the Bible’s teachings which I have written on extensively before – about the importance of not blurring the sex/gender distinctions that God created between men and women. Men and women are both made in the image of God, but they are different, not only physically, but emotionally, and even in the roles God created them to have. Whether we deviate from God’s created pattern for men and women in terms of dress (see 1 Corinthians 11 and Deuteronomy 22:5), or in terms of sexual relations (see Leviticus 18, 1 Corinthians 6 and Romans 1), either way it is sinning by going against our created nature.
In some ways, homosexuality and crossdressing and transgenderism are all a way to look at God and say, “God, I reject your creation and intention. I’ll live the way I want to. I reject the gift of my body and sex. I’ll make my own identity and do what I want.”
To those of you reading who are plunging ahead in the crossdressing or transgender lifestyle, let this Word of God from 1 Corinthians 6 be a warning to you. You cannot live like this and inherit the Kingdom of God. Repent of your rejection of God and his gifts, repent of your other sins, believe and trust in Jesus, and accept the free gift of forgiveness and salvation offered to you! And then live in the newness of abundant life in Christ, a life that fights against sins such as these that Paul has mentioned here.
For those of us who already know Christ, let us keep firmly in our minds that we cannot live in these sins and be saved. If we are truly born again, we will live differently. Thank God for his mercy he has shown to us in grace, for surely we do not deserve his love and salvation. And then let us live out the identity God has given us, by being the men God created us to be. Or if you are a woman who is reading, by being the woman that God created you to be. Live in the good and perfect design of the Creator rather than trying to resist it.
As they say, a fish who tries to reject his design and live out of water is not going to thrive, he is going to die. But a fish who respects the type of creature he is and stays in the water, will be able to enjoy swimming along through a wonderful life.