A survey of the translations for the two Greek words μαλακοὶ and ἀρσενοκοῖται in 1 Corinthians 6:9 reveals a checked history. There have been numerous attempts at precision. Despite this the translators of the NIV (2011) have decided that the two terms are so closely related that they form a conceptual pair within the vice list so they can be fused into one English phrase “men who have sex with men.” This implies that these two words belong to a pairing that would be naturally associated in the minds of ancient readers as belonging to the same activity: male homosexual activity. However, a survey of these two words as they were used in Greek reveals that they would not be so closely related in the minds of an ancient Greek speaking audience. In other words, the words are conceptually distinct and therefore it is not justified to obliterate this distinction by employing a singular English phrase.

In this essay malakos (μαλακός) will be considered followed by a second essay, which will consider the word arsenokoites (ἀρσενοκοίτης).

The New Testament in the original Greek. [1]

[9] ἢ οὐκ οἴδατε ὅτι ἄδικοι θεοῦ βασιλείαν οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν; Μὴ πλανᾶσθε: οὔτε πόρνοι οὔτε εἰδωλολάτραι οὔτε μοιχοὶ οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται [10] οὔτε κλέπται οὔτε πλεονέκται, οὐ μέθυσοι, οὐ λοίδοροι, οὐχ ἅρπαγες βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομήσουσιν.

Latin Vulgate[2] (c 382 AD)

[9] an nescitis quia iniqui regnum Dei non possidebunt nolite errare neque fornicarii neque idolis servientes neque adulteri [10] neque molles neque masculorum concubitores neque fures neque avari neque ebriosi neque maledici neque rapaces regnum Dei possidebunt.[3]

King James Version (1611)[4]

9 Know yee not that the vnrighteous shall not inherite the kingdome of God? Be not deceiued: neither fornicatours, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselues with mankinde, 10 Nor theeues, nor couetous, nor drunkards, nor reuilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) (1989)[5]

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.

New American Standard Bible (NASB) (1995) [6]

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.

Today’s New International Version (TNIV) (2006)[7]

“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 male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

New International Version (NIV) (2011)[8]

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[a] 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.


[a] 1 Corinthians 6:9 The words men who have sex with men translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts.


As can be seen from the above survey of 1 Corinthians 6:9, the translation of the two terms malakoi (μαλακοὶ) and arsenokoitai (ἀρσενοκοῖται) has had a checkered history.  Despite this the translators of the NIV (2011) have decided that the two terms are so tightly related that they form a conceptual pair within the list that they appear in (1 Cor 6: 9–10). The footnote indicates that they believe these two words belong to a pairing that would be naturally associated in the readers’ minds as belonging to the same activity: male homosexual activity. However, a survey of these two words reveals that they would not be so closely related in the minds of an ancient Greek speaking audience. What follows is a discussion of the philological evidence for both terms including the other term commonly used to describe a passive male sexual partner, a cinaedus. There are three essays. The first is on μαλακός (malakos) in which grammatical notes will first be made then the use of the word will be surveyed, first from Jewish sources and then from other selected sources in the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD period.  Some preliminary conclusions will be made before turning to consider the possibilities for its meaning in 1 Corinthians 6:8-10. In the second essay, ἀρσενοκοίτης (arsenokoites) will be considered in the same manner “Homosexuals? The Elusive Word ἀρσενοκοῖται (1 Corinthians 6:9).” In a third essay the implications for understanding Paul’s use of these terms in 1 Corinthians 6 will be considered (to be published in the near future).

Extracts of the original sources mentioned in this article can be found here “Finding the Effeminate and the Homosexual in 1 Corinthians 6:9.”

Grammatical Notes on μαλακός

The first thing that needs to be noted about malakos (μαλακός) is that it is an adjective. This is really nerdy grammatical stuff, but it’s important. As an adjective it has masculine, feminine and neuter forms. There are also comparative and superlative forms which also decline through masculine, feminine and neuter genders. We will come across these forms in the survey that follows.

The basic meaning of malakos (μαλακός) is ‘soft’ (LSJ ). As in English the word can modify nouns as in ‘soft earth’ (Philo, On Abraham 148), ‘veils of …softest linen’ (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 8.72) or ‘soft clothing’ (Matthew 11.8). It can also refer to things that are not subject to touch and here it means gentle (Philo, On Creation of the World 41), mild (Philo, Special Laws 2.28), or delicate (Philo, On Dreams 1.17) (LSJ). A third sense is related to persons or modes of life (LSJ). It is this sense that we are most interested in since in 1 Corinthians 6:9 it is being used as a noun, or as a substantive. Here it could be literary translated as the ‘soft ones,’ or since it is in the masculine ‘soft men.’ Similarly, in English we have ‘the good, the bad, and the ugly’. Our primary focus will be on malakos (μαλακός) in its substantive use (ie as a noun).

Surveying the Use of malakos (μαλακός) as a Noun

Use in Jewish Literature

The first part of this survey will focus on three representative Jewish sources: the Septuagint (2nd C BC), Philo of Alexandria (1st C BC–1st C AD) and Josephus (1st C AD). All forms of malakos (μαλακός) in these sources have been collated in Finding the effeminate and the homosexual in 1 Corinthians 6:9. The purpose of this part of the survey is to situate Paul’s use in a Jewish context noting, in particular, the substantive use of malakos (μαλακός) and forms that relate to men being ‘soft’. After this we will consider its use in a broader Greco-Roman context of the 1st to the 2nd century AD.

The Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament)

There are only two uses of malakos (μαλακός). In Proverbs 25: 15 “a soft tongue breaks bones” (NETS) The word here has a definite negative meaning where the imagery implies the use of words that lead to violence. Given that the first part of the proverb relates to the king’s safety, the “soft tongue” may be implying treachery or treason.

In Proverbs 26:22 malakos (μαλακός) is related to words; “the words of knaves are soft” (NETS). It has a positive meaning such as “gentle” or “easy to listen to.” It is this quality that allows the knave’s words to strike into the deepest part of one’s “innards,” or to effect a destructive action in a person’s inner being/ character or soul, which we seen in the second half of the proverb.

This implied negativity of the word malakos (μαλακός) will be seen in its use in some of the other authors that follow.

 Philo of Alexandria (Jewish Philosopher 1st  C BC – 1st C AD)

Philo was a well to do Jewish writer living in the early first century AD in Alexandria, Egypt.

In Philo, there are four instances that are of most interest to us.

In Philo’s Special Laws 3, 39-41, Philo is making a connection between malakos (μαλακός) and sexual behaviour. In this section of Special Laws, Philo is discussing the laws given by Moses about marriage and forbidden sexual unions. However, it is not homosexual relations in general that he is discussing, but specifically the cultivation of boys (adolescents) as sexual partners. He begins this passage by using the term ὁ παιδεραστὴς- “the pederast.” This fits in with the overall theme of sexual misconduct among the nations that he is dealing with in this broader section, since he is alluding to the Greek practice of men taking adolescents as lovers. He is concerned about not only the neglect of procreation but the tutoring of the young:

being a guide and teacher of those greatest of all evils, unmanliness and effeminate [lust][9] (ἀνανδρίας καὶ μαλακίας), stripping young men of the flower of their beauty, and wasting their prime of life in effeminacy, which he ought rather on the other hand to train to vigour and acts of courage.

Philo’s main concern is the effeminisation of a young man when he submits to a passive romantic relationship with “the pederast.” It is clear that such action is cutting the young off from developing virtue that is latent in their manhood.

For Philo, as for many Greco-Roman thinkers, the cultivation of masculinity led to the ultimate pinnacle of virtue.[10] This achievement in virtue was not available to women, who were believed to be susceptible to a variety of vices. To indulge in effeminate behaviour was to indulge in grievous vices like a woman. Philo was reacting to the willingness of the young to indulge in this effeminacy because of the rewards that could be obtained in the public exhibition of their unmanliness and effeminacy. There were certain rewards, such as leading cultic rites and parades in festivals. Here we see that Philo sees a movement from sexual activity with the pederast to the complete giving over to effeminacy, “(41) And some of these persons have even carried their admiration of these delicate pleasures of youth so far that they have desired wholly to change their condition for that of women, and have castrated themselves and have clothed themselves in purple robes…” He therefore uses the word man-woman (ἀνδρογύνους: ie androgynous) to describe such boys. Philo sees that this type of behaviour is deeply connected with the cultic life of cities in his time. Indeed, there were cults that encouraged their male devotees to castrate themselves.[11] The remedy for this behaviour, says Philo, would be the cultivation of the same indignation “such as was felt by our lawgiver (42)”. In conclusion, the word μαλακός here in Philo should be translated as “effeminate” since he is relating the concepts of unmanliness and effeminacy to a range of behaviours including effeminate behaviours, activities, and dressing. Malakos (μαλακός) is not confined to sexual activity alone and therefore cannot be thought of as narrowly meaning “the passive participants in homosexual acts.”

In On Dreams (Book 2.9), Philo is discussing those “who have called only what is honourable good” and have preserved their natures from being mixed with “the soul, the body, and external circumstances.” In this passage we can see that if a man does mix his character with these three things then they are “persons of a somewhat effeminate (μαλακωτέρας) and luxurious way of life” being brought up in the company of women. Here we can see the connection between “soft” and “effeminate” as “soft” belongs to women and their activities, whereas men “incline themselves to a harder regime.” Real men are “men in their minds” and so can embrace what is right in preference to what is pleasant, and they devote themselves to the right kind of food for athletes for the sake of strength and vigor and not for the pleasure of eating. So one imagines that the effeminate, in contrast, prefer a luxurious way of life, embrace what is pleasant over what is right and prefer eating for pleasure over eating for strength and vigor. It follows that these preferences normally belong to women.

In the same vein, but somewhat more conceptual, is the use of malakos (μαλακός) in Questions Arising in Exodus. In this a man who desires to comprehend God must stand firm in his own mind, “being steadfastly fixed in one opinion” and “he ought to take his stand upon nature.” He must “abandon all barren and corruptible things” because if he doesn’t then “if anything of a somewhat effeminate character approach him (ἐὰν γὰρ προσήσεταί τι τῶν μαλακωτέρων)” then he will be thwarted in this quest to “behold the uncreated God.” Effeminate things, like those mention in On Dreams 2.9, act as a barrier to knowing God in Philo’s thought.

In Special Laws 1.343, Philo sees speech operating positively. Not only does it check and cut short impulses that lead to wickedness and heals those who are under the rule of folly and misery it also strengthens those “inclined to yield to a cowardly manner” (μαλακώτερον μὲν τοὺς ὑπείκοντας). The implication here is that the man yields in a most effeminate or womanly manner in the face of challenge or danger.

The last use of malakos (μαλακός) I would like to consider in Philo has a positive meaning. In On the Embassy to Gaius, Philo relates the details of an embassy sent by the Alexandrian Jews to the Roman Emperor Caligula to present a petition to secure the rights of Jews living in Egypt. “Perhaps when he [the emperor] hears these arguments he will be more merciful (μαλακώτερος) to us.” In colloquial English we have a similar meaning; for example, “the judge went soft on him (the defendant) and he was only fined.”

I have included this passage to show that only context can indicate how the word malakos (μαλακός) should be translated. It is the context alone that provides the clues needed to determine if it is to be taken positively or negatively. Overall, it can be seen that Philo, while he at times means “effeminate” when he uses malakos (μαλακός), he also uses it to mean not only to be merciful, but also to behave kindly (On The Embassy To Gaius 367) or speak gently (Περὶ ἀριθμῶν sive Ἀριθμητικά (fragment) 62a.26). When Philo uses malakos (μαλακός) to refer to men, he uses it to mean “effeminate” by which he means a condition that men fall into when they have given into womanly weakness. Indeed, in the passage in which there is a sexual connotation to malakos (μαλακός) he sees the sexual activity leading the young into complete abandonment of their manliness and falling into a form womanhood; that is, they become androgynous.

New Testament and Josephus

In the New Testament, apart from 1 Corinthians 6:9, the word malakos (μαλακός) only occurs three times in a saying of Jesus where it means soft or fine clothing (Matthew 11.8; cf. Luke 7:25).

Josephus follows a similar pattern of usage as Philo. It is used for its first meaning “soft,” or its second meaning – “tender” or “mild.” The sense that we are interested in occurs twice. Antiquities of the Jews (Book 10. 194) retells the story of Daniel and his friends when they refuse to eat from Nebuchadnezzar’s table, which is full of luxurious food. On their diet the young men “looked as if they had lived in plenty”; their diet was good for their souls which “in some measure more pure, and less burdened, and so fitter for learning” and also good for their bodies, which were “better tune for hard labor.” In other words, Daniel and his friends were a picture of manliness. In contrast, the other young men who continued to eat from Nebuchadnezzar’s table are described as effeminate (μαλακώτερα). This echo’s Philo’s meaning in On Dreams discussed above. Just as in Philo, where the men who devote themselves to a “harder regime” are also devoted “to the right kind of food for athletes for the sake of strength and vigor and not for the pleasure of eating,” so too Josephus imagines Daniel’s stricter diet producing a similar effect. Eating for pleasure in both Philo and Josephus makes a man “effeminate,” or soft like a woman in both mind and body.

The other time that Josephus uses malakos (μαλακός) in the sense to be effeminate is in his The Wars of the Jews (Book 7 section 338). In this part of his history he is recounting the fall of the Jewish rebel held fortress at Masada. The Romans are about to take the fortress and the Jewish leader Eleazar addresses his men, calling upon them to kill their families to spare them from abuse at the hands of the Romans. They were then to turn on each other. After his speech some of the men begin to cry and mourn at the thought of killing their wives and children and their comrades. Josephus says that some of the men objected to the plan, “those that were most effeminate (μαλακωτέρους) a commiseration for their wives and families; and when these men were especially moved by the prospect of own certain death, they looked wistfully at one another, and by the tears that were in their eyes declared their dissent from his opinion.” It seems that Josephus thought that these men were acting cowardly like women by allowing themselves to be moved by emotion.

So far in our survey of malakos (μαλακός) in the Jewish sources, we have found that it is a term used to mean a man (or men) that is womanly or engage in womanly type behaviour as opposed to manliness. Women are thought of as “soft,” men as “hard.” Womanly softness is thought of in negative terms: it is principally associated with weakness, self –indulgence– a penchant for luxury, undisciplined life, cowardliness, a softness of body and minds not fit for learning. In the two proverbs in Septuagint where the word occurs it has a distinctly negative sense. While not associated directly with women, the word malakos (μαλακός) is associated with treacherous words that are easy to take in or ideas that corrupt the soul. When malakos (μαλακός) is used in a negative way in the Septuagint, Philo and Josephus, the sense is that softness is something that would lure a man into succumbing to the temptation to be womanly, to live pleasing oneself or to take in corrupting influences. In Philo, Special Laws 3, malakos (μαλακός) does take on an overt sexual hue, but when the passage was examined closely it was found that Philo’s meaning extended to include effeminate behaviours, activities, and dress. This was confirmed by Philo’s use elsewhere, and therefore leads to the conclusion that in Philo malakos (μαλακός) should be translated as the “effeminate.”

These ideas will be tested in the next section that canvasses the use of the word in the other non-Jewish Greco-Roman writers. Certainly, what we can conclude is that when the word malakos (μαλακός) is used by Jewish writers (2 C. BC–AD. 1 C.), and it is used to refer to a man’s masculinity, then it means “effeminate” or “womanly,” There is no sense in which it is used to mean a sexual act with another man.

Other Greco-Roman Writers[12]

Dionysius of Halicarnassus (c. 60 BC – after 7 BC) and the Letter of Demophon to Ptolemaeus (about BC. 245; Hibeh Papyri 54.11)

We will first consider two sources that immediately proceed the New Testament era. The first comes from the Roman historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus (c. 60 BC– after 7 BC). In his Roman Antiquities 7.2.4 he relates the story of Aristodemus the tyrant of Cumae (c. 550 – c. 490 BC).[13] Dionysius is using the word ‘tyrant’ here to mean an autocratic ruler as opposed to democratic rule Athenian style. Dionysius tells us that Aristodemus had a nickname Malakos (Μαλακὸς). He says that there are two suggestions for this nickname. First, “because when a boy he was effeminate (μαλακὸς) and allowed himself to be treated as a woman,” or secondly, “because he was of a mild nature and slow to anger, as others state.” The first of these suggestions that he “allowed himself to be treated as a woman” does have the sense to be the passive sexual partner like a woman. But it is not altogether clear if this was what was meant because the other idea was that he was called this because he “was of a mild nature and slow to anger.”[14] This is a sense that we have already come across in Philo and Josephus.

It is also be worth noting that Malakos (Μαλακὸς) could actually be a man’s name (Plutarch Camillus 19. 7. 8; Diodorus Siculus, The Library of History 7.10.1).[15] Since Aristodemus was the son of Aristocrates (ὁ Ἀριστοκράτους) the sense here is plainly that it was a nickname. It is difficult to tell which, if either, of Dionysius’ explanations is correct. These are the sort of stories that grow up to explain a convention, whose reason for existence has long been forgotten.

Another occurrence of Malakos (Μαλακὸς) as a nickname is found in an Egyptian papyrus dating from the 3rd Century BC. In the letter of Demophon to Ptolemaeus (about BC. 245, Hibeh Papyri 54.11), Demophon is making arrangements for what seems like a celebration/ festival surrounding a sacrifice. “The women” seem to be organising, at least in part, the sacrifice, which requires the presence of Zenobius “the effeminate” with his drums, cymbals and castanets. The editors of this papyri comment that the nickname probably refers to Zenobius’s dancing[16]– they were suggesting that Zenobius dances like a woman. Adolf Deissmann in discussing this letter was not so careful.[17] He jumps to the conclusion that “the word (μαλακός) is no doubt used in its secondary (obscene) sense, as by St Paul in 1 Cor. Vi. 9. It is an allusion to the foul practices by which the musician eked out his earnings” (footnote 4). This surely is reading too much into Zenobius’ nickname. We have no evidence about the dancer’s sexual practices or other means by which he added to his earnings. It appears to me that Deissmann has been led by a certain reading of malakos (μαλακός) in 1 Corinthians 6:9 to speculate about Zenobius beyond the evidence of the letter.[18] Surely, Zenobius’ occupation as a dancer with “a drum and cymbals and castanets” and as one who accompanies women to a sacrifice and wears “fine clothes” would be enough to warrant the epithet “effeminate.” From our discussion in Philo and Josephus it is safer to conclude that the word malakos (μαλακός) here most likely means “womanly” or “effeminate.”[19]

Plutarch (c. AD 46 – AD 120)

In Eumenes 13.4b–5, Plutarch tells us that after the death of Alexander the Great the leaders of his army adopted a mode of life that was “effeminate.” This mode of life appears have been brought into being by the unfettered power the leaders gained after Alexander’s death. These leaders in their unhindered exercise of power became unmanageable and effeminate and because of this they drew in minds (ie men) that were “tyrannical and fed on barbaric arrogance.” The outcome of this was that they were “harsh towards one another and hard to reconcile.” Not only this but they flattered “the soldiery extravagantly and lavishing money upon them for banquets and sacrifices,” which meant that the army became a mob expecting that they could exercise power and decide who could be a general. As we saw in Philo and Josephus, effeminacy came about because of their mode of life, which is not explicitly described by Plutarch but appears to be related to their pretensions of royalty and aligning themselves with a powerful ally (Eumenes 13.4a). We can only guess, going by Philo and Josephus’ descriptions, that the effeminate mode of life included eating for pleasure, satiating desires for luxury and living an undisciplined life. The outcome of this is that minds that were tyrannical and fed on barbaric arrogance were allowed to slip into their company. This then is some evidence of our proposition that malakos (μαλακός) is something that could lure a man into succumbing to the temptation to be womanly, to live pleasing oneself,f or to take in corrupting influences.

In Otho 5.5, Otho’s soldiers were malakos (μαλακός)–their bodies were soft–because they did not work them and spent their time in an unwarlike mode of life, attending spectacles, festivals and plays. They tried to cloak this softness “with insolence (ὕβρει) and boasting, disdaining to perform the services laid upon them” because they were arrogant “they were above work.” As we saw in Eumenes 13.4b–5 arrogance is closely associated with effeminacy. Plutarch sees a definite causal relationship between malakos (μαλακός) and the development of arrogance or hubris in an army.

In Aristides 16.4, the Persians are said by the Athenian army to be covering their soft bodies (μαλακοῖς) and unmanly spirits (ψυχαῖς ἀνάνδροις) with the “variegated vesture and gold adornments as they did at the battle of Marathon.” As in Otho, soft bodies are covered up by men, this time with fancy military regalia. Such attempts fail as a man cannot hide a failure of character and courage.

Dio Chrysostom (A.D. 40 and died about 120 AD)

Dio Chrysostom begins his discourse on gaining a good reputation in Oration 66 by describing the dilemma that a man faces when he desires a reputation. A man who desires a reputation must carry out “his quest in the open.” There are some men, says Dio, who on the one hand regard the vices such as craving for money, dainties or wine or are inflamed with lust for women and boys as “the greatest disgrace,” while on the other hand they applaud those who crave distinction and reputation. For Dio all craving is a vice; certainly the craving for a reputation has a sting in its tail, since those who applaud its pursuit may themselves be self-indulgent gourmets, tipplers or lovers and so feel ashamed and therefore will want to “cloak their incontinence.” This, of course, is extraordinarily difficult because the craving for “reputation and distinction” does not want to “escape the eye of any man on earth.”

In section 24 Dio is still considering this dilemma of a life lived in the public eye. Here he warns that one cannot lead a life guided by the opinions of others and one must “look with scorn upon all others.” To live a life worrying about the opinion of others is to live a life “cowering and quaking before what people say”, fleeing continually like a hare. He gives examples of the type of accusations that can be levelled at every and any occupation: if one goes to the market place “you will hear yourself called a market idler and a shyster” and if on stays at home attending to one’s own affairs one will be called “timid,” “an ignoramus” and a “nonentity.” If one “gives thought to learning” you will be called “simple minded and effeminate” (μαλακωτέραν). To listen to the opinion of others is a no-win affair. The last sentence is a contradiction since the object of learning is not to be simple minded but to produce trained minds, which, as we have seen, is contrary to the idea of effeminacy. Μalakos (μαλακός) here is joined to the idea of the simple minded and must be referring to those who, being untrained in mind, are self-indulgent like women.

Vettius Valens ( AD 120 – c. 175)

Vettius Valen’s Anthologiae poses great difficulties in translation and interpretation.[20] He was an eccentric astrologer who wrote his work over a long period, which led to certain vicissitudes in the text. It is often difficult to grasp what the author intends. Most of us are familiar with the idea of astrology wherein the constellations in the heavens guide the life of those on earth. There are three occurrences of malakos (μαλακός) in the Anthologiae, two of which have been translated by Mark Riley. The first,

“The native was homosexual and had unmentionable vices (or ‘He [‘the native’ supplied here] became effeminate (μαλακός) in unmentionable vices (or lewd acts)’), because Capricorn is a lewd sign and its ruler <Saturn> was in Taurus, a pathic (pathetic/passive emotional (see LSJ)) sign. Scorpio also indicates this kind of vice.”

We see in this passage that μαλακός here is related to “lewd acts” or sexually disgraceful activities.

In the second instance the meaning of the word is not quite so clear:

If Mars is in opposition to the moon, with Saturn and the sun in aspect, the husband will be an acknowledged homosexual (μαλακὸς).

Riley translates μαλακὸς as “homosexual” but “effeminate” could quite equally apply. Lending support for Riley’s translation is that the female “native” is predicted to marry her father, an incestuous relationship, which is obviously sexually deviant.

The third instance is in the appendix, which is not translated by Riley. I have made an attempt at translation,

If the androgamos, in the solstice signs (Capricorn and Cancer), he will be a cinaidos (κίναιδος), effeminate (μαλακός), lustful (πασχητιῶν).

I have transliterated androgamos (ἀνδρόγαμος) as this is the only place in the Greek literature that it appears. The LSJ defines it as cinaedus (κίναιδος), but this seems circular in the context. If the astrological signs are to have predictive powers then saying a cinaedus (κίναιδος) under this sign is a cinaedus (κίναιδος) is of no use. It is the equivalent to saying ‘the dog is a dog.’ There must be some nuance intended here. The word androgamos is a compound word ‘male- wedding’ (LSJ). This word is likely to be in vernacular usage so it could be ‘male-bride’ (or maybe man-lady?) if it refers to a man. It could actually refer to a man wedding (?), so it would read “it will be cinaedos, effeminate and lustful” under this sign.

The point I would like to note here is that the Greek writer has used both cinaedos (κίναιδος) and malakos (μαλακός) side by side clearly suggesting that for him the two words differ. Before we can consider how this may be we first need to understand the word cinaedos (κίναιδος).

The first instance that we will consider is from Plato’s Geogias (5th–4th C BC). In this dialogue Socrates is discussing with Callicles a life of pleasure.[21] Socrates, as is his want, takes Callicles’ comments to the extreme saying, “the culmination of the case, as stated—the life of catamites (ὁ τῶν κιναίδων βίος)—is not that awful, shameful, and wretched? Or will you dare to assert that these are happy if they can freely indulge their wants?” [494e]. The implication here is the life of the cinaedoi (κιναίδων, translated in the text as catamites) is morally shameful implying a sexually indulgent lifestyle.

Further clarity is provided by the historian Polybius (c. 200 BC– c. 118 BC),

“When Cleomenes saw him, he came up and welcomed him warmly, and asked him on what business he was come. Upon his replying that he had brought a cargo of horses, “‘You had better,’ said he, ‘have brought a cargo of catamites (κιναίδους) and sakbut girls; for that is what the present king is fond of.’ Nicagoras laughed, and said nothing at the time…”

The implication here is that cinaedos (κίναιδος; aka catamites in the text) is being used to mean a male prostitute similar to the sakbut girls. The sakbut girls are dancers, which were the sort that provide entertainment at symposiums.[22] In the play Semele or Dionysus, it was suggested that drinking be limited, each cup (craters) with its own pleasures,

For sensible men I prepare only three kraters: one for health (which they drink first), the second for love and pleasure, and the third for sleep.[23]

The female dancers and singers and male attenders often provided the love interest which gives Cleomenes’ comment its punch: the king favoured dancing girls and cinaedoi as his love interest.[24]

In Plutarch’s (c. AD 46 – AD 120) De Tuenda Sanitate Praecepta.1.27 the cinaidos (κίναιδος) is again associated with pleasure seeking. He addresses those who are “adulterous and licentious” and cites a saying of the philosopher Arcesilaus “it makes no difference whether a man practises lewdness (κίναιδον) in the front parlour or in the back hall.” This is clearly a reference to a homosexual sex. Arcesilaus is suggesting a man is a cinaedos (κίναιδος) whether he is the passive partner or the active. But this is surely tongue in cheek. The saying is meant to be provoking as a cinaedos is normally the passive partner as we have seen above.

In De capienda ex Inimicis Utilitate, Plutarch uses malakos (μαλακός) and cinaedos (κίναιδος) in a list as Vettius Valens,

“If you wish to distress the man who hates you, do not revile him as lewd (κίναιδον), effeminate (μαλακὸν), licentious, vulgar, or illiberal, but be a man yourself, show self-control, be truthful, and treat with kindness and justice those who have to deal with you.”

In this list, an honourable man does not call another lewd (κίναιδον) or effeminate (μαλακὸν). It appears in this passage that there is a distinction between malakos (μαλακός) and cinaedos (κίναιδος) that one must not call one’s enemy if one is to “be a man.”

Yet it also seems that malakos (μαλακός) can be a synonym for cinaedos (κίναιδος).

In Cicero, Plutarch relates this story,

“Verres, who had a son that had been anything but virtuous when a boy, rebuked Cicero for effeminacy and called him a corrupter of youth (εἰς μαλακίαν καὶ κίναιδον ἀποκαλοῦντος).

I differ to Babbitt and suggest that cinaedos (κίναιδος) not be translated ‘as a corruptor of youth’, but rather transliterate it as cinaedos. This story relies on the fact that malakos (μαλακός) could be used to mean cinaedos (κίναιδος). So Plutarch can use the word to mean “man who has fallen or been seduced into womanly weakness” and in this sense is distinct from cinaedos (κίναιδος) or he can use the two words interchangeably. Only the context allows us to decide what aspect of malakos (μαλακός) is in view. What we have found is that a cinaedos (κίναιδος) always mean a passive partner in a homosexual act.

Returning to Vettius Valens, we can see then that he is following a distinction between malakos (μαλακός) and cinaedos (κίναιδος) that is employed in Plutarch. He is listing three vices that relate to men. As we have seen in Plutarch’s De Capienda ex Inimicis Utilitate, a real man is self-controlled, which contrasts with Vettius Valens’ vices. These vices are the worse examples of an undisciplined life. As we saw in Plato a cinaedos (κίναιδος) is associated with living for pleasure and so is the effeminate (μαλακός). One might hazard a guess that this is what lustful (πασχητιῶν) is implying as well.[25]

Diogenes Laertius (c. 3rd century CE)

Our very last writer that we will consider is Diogenes Laertius, who is writing in the third century and so some distance from first century Paul. Diogenes, in Lives of Eminent Philosophers (7, 168-173), is retelling the stories of Cleanthes, who was a student of the stoic Zeno. It was said that Cleanthes could tell a man’s character by his outward appearance and deportment. To really test this ability out some young scallywags brought him a farm labor. Such a man would not be trained as a gentleman in deportment and so would be a challenge for Cleanthes to read. This was almost his undoing, but the farmhand sneezed and he was able to diagnose his character, “he is effeminate” (μαλακός ἐστι).”

How a sneeze might give away a man’s character might stump us too, but Dio Chrysostom in his Oration 33 (52-54) gives us some clues as to how Cleanthes could read the farmhand. This oration, written a century earlier than Lives of Eminent Philosophers, is relating how deportment is like music- it can be masculine or feminine. In his discourse, Dio Chrysostom looks as if he too is telling the story of Cleanthes, who could tell if a man was brave, coward, an impostor, or if “this man wanton or a catamite or an adulterer” (οὗτος δὲ ὑβριστὴς ἢ κίναιδος ἢ μοιχός). The sneeze enabled Cleanthes to tell that the man was a cinaedos (κίναιδος) (not a malakos (μαλακός) as in Diogenes) because the sound/action is like music since it reveals its innate character when played. Dio seems to think that certain sounds are made only by certain types of men “for it is neither a clucking sound nor a smacking of the lips nor yet an explosive whistling — or to what line of work it is related …for neither shepherds nor plowmen nor huntsmen employ that sound, nor does it belong to sailors.”

There are two things of interest to note here. That like astrology, a man’s character can be revealed by certain signs. A cinaedos (κίναιδος) is one by nature and that nature is played out in the very movements of a man’s body.

Secondly, deportment was very important to the ancients. It was believed to reveal the very character of a man.[26] They believed that the cover really did tell the book. Effeminacy or cinaedos (κίναιδος) was not just about an activity or action but about the whole man – the way he moved, how he used his hands, and spoke etc.

Thirdly, in Dio Chrysostom’s story the man is a cinaedos (κίναιδος), where as in Diogenes he is a malakos (μαλακός). Could this mean that they are indeed synonyms after all? Care must be taken here for three reasons. First, Diogenes is not recounting the story from Dio Chrysostom, but both are retelling a story they know from an earlier source/sources. Therefore, there is not an exchange of one word for another. Secondly, Dio Chrysostom may have used the word cinaedos (κίναιδος) because it was more dramatic and more salient for his purposes (there were no real rules about quoting or accuracy). As we have seen malakos (μαλακός) is a more specific word relating primarily to sexual activity while malakos (μαλακός) is more general relating to a broad range of womanly activities and traits. So it may be that Diogenes is more true to his source, as he does tell us it is from Antisthenes. Or, thirdly, it may be that it is Diogenes who has changed the word because malakos (μαλακός) has come to mean cinaedos (κίναιδος) by the third century. Testing this is beyond the scope of our present study, but it would be worth investigating if there was a change in meaning and if this influenced the church fathers in the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:9.


In summary, we have seen that the word malakos (μαλακός) in Philo and Josephus did not have an overt sexual meaning, rather it has a broader meaning relating to weakness in a man that is characterised as feminine; hence, the word is often translated as “effeminate.” In no way could we say that this word has a particular Jewish connotation as Philo and Josephus were using it in a similar way to their Greco-Roman counterparts. We did find in Special Laws 3 that, malakos (μαλακός) does take on an overt sexual hue, but the context of the passage lead to the conclusion that it was best translated as “effeminate” (as the NASB does).

We saw in the Greco-Roman literature that malakos (μαλακός) could mean a passive sexual partner in a homosexual act; or in other words to be submissive in intercourse like a woman. This could only be seen when the context clearly related to sexual activity. In most cases it was being used in its broader sense to mean effeminate. It was hard at times to decide which way to take a writer, whether he meant the broader meaning or the narrower nuance of passive sexual partner. But we saw that there was another word available to the Greek speaker when he meant passive homosexual partner, cinaedos (κίναιδος). At times the writers distinguished between malakos (μαλακός) and cinaedos (κίναιδος) implying that they saw a difference in meaning. Given our survey, it is most likely that malakos (μαλακός)  means more broadly feminine weakness while cinaidos (κίναιδος) always means passive homosexual partner. We saw that underlying these two words is the idea that those who could be called malakos (μαλακός) and cinaedos (κίναιδος) seek pleasure without restraint. When used in a list, as we saw in Vettius Valens and Plutarch, the notion of unrestraint seems to be the underlying idea that ties the list together. We could add here the list in Dio Chrysostom’s Oration 33. 54 “so that man understood human beings when he saw them and could say that this one was brave and this one a coward and this one an impostor and this man wanton or a catamite or an adulterer (οὗτος δὲ ὑβριστὴς ἢ κίναιδος ἢ μοιχός).” Beginning the list with hubristes (ὑβριστὴς), which means arrogance (it is something like “one who oversteps the bounds of propriety” and is sometimes used to mean “violent” as in overstepping the bounds of propriety by being aggressive toward a fellow citizen; 1 Tim 1:13), suggests that this is the underlying theme of this list.[27]

Malakos (μαλακός) in 1 Corinthians 6:9

That completes our survey of malakos (μαλακός) and we are now able to return to 1 Corinthians 6:9 to consider how Paul might be using the word in that context.

What we need to do first is look at the context in which verse 9 sits. The passage it belongs to begins at verse 1 “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbour, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?” (NASB). This passage opens with a question that relates to taking one’s neighbour to court. The Greeks and Romans were a very litigious people and taking an opponent to court to sue him was a regular part of life.[28] Paul’s argument is simple enough that Christians should not take other Christians to a civic court where the magistrate would be a pagan, but should arrange for the case to be considered by fellow Christians. What is difficult to understand is how this part of the passage connects with verses 9–12. I would suggest that it relates through the underlying idea of conducting oneself with propriety.[29] In Oration 48.9, Dio Chrysostom urges citizens to have propriety or self-control, friendship and mutual trust because these things make a city beautiful. If there are difficulties with funds, they should be recovered without hatred or wrangling,

Do you imagine there is any advantage in market or theatre or gymnasia or colonnade or wealth for men who are at variance? These are not the things which make a city beautiful, but rather self-control (σωφροσύνη ), friendship (φιλία), mutual trust (τὸ πιστεύειν ἀλλήλοις)… No one is suggesting that; on the contrary, you may rest assured that in all our cities there are public funds, and a few persons have these funds in their possession, some through ignorance and some otherwise; and it is necessary to take precautions and try to recover these funds, yet not with hatred or wrangling (οὐ μέντοι μετὰ ἔχθρας οὐδὲ μετὰ διαφορᾶς).

Dio Chrysostom is suggesting that a city that is marked by self-control, friendship and trust rather than wrangling and litigation (which is what he is alluding to in talking about recovering public funds) is beautiful.[30] Here we can hear a similar appeal as Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 6. Paul is just reworking a well-recognised appeal to communicate his desire for the Corinthians to avoid the courts.[31] He is saying that they should tolerate being wronged rather than appear to be litigious and lacking in self-controlled. This idea of self-control or the lack of it connects verse 8 “you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren” with those who stereotypically do not have self-control and lack propriety – we have met some already– “neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers” (NASB, verses 9–10).[32] I cannot show how each of these elements in the list relate to a lack of self-control, but we have established that malakos (μαλακός) relates to this idea.[33] Also we saw in Dio Chrysostom that adultery (μοιχός) was included in a list that is related to a lack of self-control and pleasure seeking. Commentator Michael Peppard’s argument here is quite cogent as he argues that the connection between verses 9–10 and the proceeding verses about litigation relates to behaviours that disrupt family/ community life and cause disunity.[34]

What are to make of malakos (μαλακός) in the context of 1 Corinthians 6:9–10? First we have observed that malakos (μαλακός) can have a sexual nuance, but context usually alerts the reader to this aspect of its meaning. We have also seen that when malakos (μαλακός) is used in a list with other sex related words it does not necessarily follow that it takes on the sexual hue; rather when teamed with the more specific cinaidos (κίναιδος) it refers to its broader meaning “an effeminate” or “a man fallen into or seduced into feminine weakness.” This broader meaning fits well into the overall thought of verses 9–10 which relates to lack of control, pleasure seeking and those who overstep the bounds of propriety. We have also seen that there is no special use of this word by Jewish writers that would indicate that there was some special Jewish thought about homosexual behaviour connected with it. Indeed, both Philo and Josephus tend to use the word in its broader meaning: effeminacy or an effeminate. They both use the word as other Greek speakers do, which suggests that Paul is using the word in the same way. So the evidence points to Paul using malakos (μαλακός) in more general terms to mean ‘the effeminate.”

This idea would be strengthened if arsenokoites (ἀρσενοκοίτης) were a more specific term like cinaidos (κίναιδος). The meaning of arsenokoites (ἀρσενοκοίτης) will be investigated in the next essay.

Further Reading: https://engenderedideas.wordpress.com/


Featured image: Three couples in a summer triclinium Pompeii. Fourth Style painting, 70 AD. Save from The University of Texas at Austin, https://au.pinterest.com/anapavlovic7165/

*NETS=A New English Translation of the Septuagint, eds. A. Pietersma and B. G. Wright, New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
[1] The text revised by Brooke Foss Westcott, D.D., Fenton John Anthony Hort, D.D. New York. Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square. 1885, from Perseus Collection: Greek and Roman Materials; cf. The Greek New Testament, K. Aland, M. Black, C. Martini, B. Metzger & A. Wikgren (eds.) Suttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1998.

[2] “The translation was largely the work of St. Jerome, who, in 382, was commissioned by Pope Damasus I to revise the Vetus Latina (“Old Latin”) collection of Biblical texts in Latin then in use by the Church. Once published, it was widely adopted and eventually eclipsed the Vetus Latina and, by the 13th century, was known as the “versio vulgata” (the “version commonly-used”) or, more simply, in Latin as vulgata or in Greek as βουλγάτα (“Vulgate”).”From Wikipedia ‘Vulgate’.

[3] Jerome, Vulgate Bible, Bible Foundation and On-Line Book Initiative. ftp.std.com/obi/Religion/Vulgate.

From Perseus Collection: Greek and Roman Materials

[4] http://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/1611_1-Corinthians-Chapter-6/

[5] New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[6] Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

[7] The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006.

[8] Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

[9] The word “lust” does not occur in the text and in my opinion is misleading.

[10] For an excellent discussion of masculinity in the Roman empire see, Maud W. Gleason, Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995).

[11] Ceres, as he mentions, and also the Anatolian mother goddess Cybele, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cybele

[12] I am following the BAGD listing under μαλακὸς.

[13] Cumae is on the West coast of Italy; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cumae

[14] Gordon Fee believes that the first option for Aristodemus’ nickname is “pejorative and surely helps us with the meaning” in 1 Cor. 6:9, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 234, fn22. But I disagree– it provides insight into the fact that even the ancients had difficulty in knowing what the word meant in the absence of context. I do partly agree with Fee’s comments on J. Boswell’s argument in that he is too confident in reading the description of the feminisation of boys in ch.9 (where the word μαλακὸς does not appear) into the meaning Aristodemus’ nickname (Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 1980, 340-341); however, Fee is not taking into consideration the semantic breath of the word.

[15] Also inscriptions IG II2848 & Agora 15.129 (Athens); SEG 3.33;6.718;31.833;46.1263[1]; 6.722;30.809.21.48.975 bis7; IG XIV 5 717; Epigram tou Oropou 520.

[16] Phrygia is associated with music and dance, Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters (Loeb), Book iv. 184 f= Bohn 5.84; cf 14.21, 143.46.

[17] Light from the Ancient East: the New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Graeco-Roman World, translated by L.R.M. Strachan, Bungay, Suffolk: Hodder and Stoughton, 1927, letter 5, p.164

[18] It is unfortunate that Fee is relying on Deissmann’s comments, Corinthians, 243, fn. 22.

[19] Cf. Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters (Loeb), Book v. 180a –dancing and singing are considered an “effeminate (τὴν ἄνανδρον) tendency”.

[20] Mark Riley, A Survey of Vettis Valens here; Complete translation here.

[21] See Finding the Effeminate and the Homosexual in 1 Corinthians 6:9

[22] For symposium see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symposium

[23] Ibid.

[24] Athenaeus discussing Sophocles attraction to a boy waiter, 603–604.

[25] This word is used in the context of homosexual activity in Dio’s Roman History 80.16.5; It is interesting to note that Dio describes in this passage (80.1b–7) homosexual lovers and acts without the use of any of the terms we have been discussing, which is a reminder that words alone are not entry into a writer’s thought, rather discourses are; cf. Athenaeus The Learned Banqueters III. V.187e commenting on Plato’s depiction of Alcibiades “lust” for Socrates in Symposium 217a–d.

[26] See Maud W. Gleason’s discussion on masculinity, effeminacy and deportment in Making Men: Sophists and Self-Presentation in Ancient Rome (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995), 60–61.

[27] See N. R. E. Fisher, Hybris: A Study in the Values of Honour and Shame in Ancient Greece.  Warminster, England: Aris & Phillips, 1992.

[28] Demosthenes, On the False Embassy, 19.120; Isaeus, Apollodorus, 7.13; Isocrates, Antidosis 15.30; Isocrates, Against Callimachus 18.51; Plato, Republic, 3. 405a; Plato, Theaetetus, 172c; Plato, Protagoras 327d; Appian, The Civil Wars, 1.3; Cicero, Divinatio against Q. Caecilius, 3.7; Cicero, For Aulus Cluentius, 1; cf. Alan Boegehold. “Three Court Days” in Symposion 1990. Papers on Greek and Hellenistic Legal History. Michael Gagarin. Köln. Böhlau Verlag,. 1991 in Perseus Collection: Greek and Roman Materials; Thomas R. Martin, An Overview of Classical Greek History from Mycenae to Alexander, ‘The Characteristics of the City-state (Polis)’ ch 5 from Perseus Collection: Greek and Roman Materials.

[29] Isocrates, Areopagiticus, 7.28 – note that citizens act with propriety toward one another; compare with 1 Cor 6: 8&9 and how Paul hopes the Corinthians will be toward one another.

[30] Cf. Demosthenes, Against Boeotus 2, 40.32; Demosthenes, Against Timocrates, 24.121; Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.4, “if jurymen are to cease from voting different ways, citizens from disputing and litigation, and wrangling about the justice of their claims, cities from quarrelling about their rights and making war; and for my part…”.

[31] Cf. Demosthenes, Against Boeotus 1, 39.1.

[32] I am suggesting that the list relies more on rhetorical form than actual sins, hence Paul’s addition “such were some of you” (v.11).

[33]Aristotle, Virtues and Vices, 1; For discussions on self-control and harmony between citizens see Helen North, Sophrosyne: Self-Knowledge and Self-Restraint in Greek Literature, New York: Cornell University Press, 1966; William V. Harris, Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity , Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001; for the political elements in Paul’s language in 1 Cor 1–4 see L.L. Welborn, Politics & Rhetoric in the Corinthian Epistles, Georgia, US: Mercer University Press, 1997, chapter 1 ‘Discord in Corinth: First Corinthians 1-4 and Ancient Politics’, 1–43.

[34] Michael Peppard argues that the connection between verses 9–-10 and the proceeding verses about court relates to the avoidance of vices that cause disunity, “Brother against Brother: Controversiae About Inheritance Disputes and 1 Corinthians 6:1–11,” Journal of Biblical Literature 133.1 (2014): 179–92.

© October 2016, L.M. Kidson (up-dated 2020).