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  • Peter Carrell

Revisiting 1Corinthians 6:9-10

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

by +Peter Carroll is Bishop of Christchurch, NZ.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Bishop Peter Carrell is Bishop Christchurch, NZ.

This bible exposition was part of Bishop Peter’s response to concerns following the decision by his Anglican province to permit blessings of civil marriages/civil unions between same sex couples. He is engaging with conservative readings of the text that led to accusations of ‘false teaching’ and justification for schism. He argues more than one reading can be discerned and agreed. All emphasis in the text is his own.

He blogs on this and other topics at

"Do you not know that [the unjust, adikoi ] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators (pornoi), idolaters, [people remarried after divorce, moikoi, Luke 16:18], male prostitutes (malakoi), sodomites (arsenokoitai), thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers - none of these will inherit the kingdom of God."

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NRSV with variation) "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry.

For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion."

1 Corinthians 7:8-9 (NRSV) "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit."

1 Corinthians 12:13

As I engage with discussion here and there, on and off the blog, I note a concern that ACANZP's* decision to permit blessings of civil marriages or civil unions between two people of the same sex is false teaching which imperils people's salvation. In this respect, frequent reference is made to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (cited above). Before going over the brink on the basis of this charge of false teaching, could we examine the text one more time with a view to seeing if it is appropriate to think there might be more than one interpretation of this text held within the same church? Absolutely. One interpretation, long and consistently held around the church of God, is that 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 teaches that homosexuals engaged in sexual practice are wicked/wrongdoers/unjust/adikoi and will not inherit the kingdom. (Homosexuals engaged in sexual practice: whether as malakoi, almost certainly, male prostitutes; or as arsenokoites, men engaging in sex with other men, whether as technically defined as the NRSV gives by offering "sodomites" or perhaps otherwise.) This is no light matter and it is no light matter to ask whether this interpretation is singular and thus authoritative in the life of the church, or not. There is another interpretation of this text. I suggest the key to this interpretation rests on the use of the word adikoi to cover all the specific forms of being a wrongdoer which are then listed. Adikoi is the opposite of dikoi, the opposite of acting justly. It is not difficult to connect injustice with the non-sexual behaviours in the list: idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers. What about the sexual behaviours and injustice? Fornicaters (pornoi) could be users and thus exploiters of prostitutes, adulterers (moikoi) act unjustly against the betrayed party to their marriage. In the debate over the exact meaning of malakoi and arsenokoitai (and there is much debate, both as to what these words meant when Paul wrote them, and how we should translate them in a different cultural situation) but it is highly likely that these words refer to men having sex with men in exploitative activity in which each partner to the activity is in an unjust relation to the other. That is, what is not condemned is something the Scriptures do not discuss: a consensual, just relationship between two men or two women freely entering into the mutual covenant of a civil marriage or civil union. In short, according to this interpretation, the blessing envisaged by ACANZP is not the blessing of a salvation-imperiling state of life. That is, we are on the brink of a church schism because it is denied that both these interpretations of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 can be held within the same church. Can we pull back? There is an additional aspect for considering whether 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is condemning people in civil marriage or an equivalent lifelong civil union. That is, the same text also condemns those who are adulterers which (as my provocative rendition above notes) includes those remarried after divorce. Ah, say many Anglicans, remarriage after divorce is not adultery because one can repent of one's mistakes and start again. But that is a reading of the Scriptures which is at variance (i) with previous Anglican understanding, and (ii) the understanding of other Christians today (notably the Roman Catholic church). In other words, on "adulterers" in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, we have two live interpretations of the text existing in the same church. Can we not have two interpretations of malakoi/arsenokoitai? Incidentally, we are not on the brink of schism because of two interpretations of adulterers in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Why not? What is it that bothers us about one issue in human sexuality and does not bother us about another, though both figure in the same small passage of Scripture? The argument advanced here is that those who believe and teach that malakoi/arsenokoitai covers all same sex sexual activity, including that in non-exploitative civil marriages or civil unions should continue to do so. If this teaching is correct, then it is very important it is taught. But this teaching could be less strident about the certainty that it is correct because there is some uncertainty whether malakoi/arsenokoitai covers all same sex sexual activity (because we are not sure what ancient activity was being condemned). Conversely, rather than slating a different interpretation of the passage as false teaching, the view should be taken that it may be true teaching and given space to be considered in the life of our church. And, finally, we might always consider 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 on these matters: celibacy is not for all. Is it necessarily the case that it is compulsory, by definition, following one specific interpretation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, for gay and lesbian Christians? Is it not odd of God that (at least, the Protestant) God presides over a world in which salvation is not imperilled no matter how many times you are married (providing you keep repenting) but enter into one lifelong, faithful civil marriage or civil union with the same sex love of your life and you are doomed? OK, maybe you do not consider that odd. But how we understand God lies behind all our interpretations of Scripture. Are we sure that in our treatment of Scripture in respect of heterosexuals and homosexuals we are consistent in respect of the God in whose name we interpret? Finally, 1 Corinthians 12:13 "For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body - Jews or Greeks, slaves or free - and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." If this text is true then we are one body, whether we like it or not, whether we are of one mind or not. The implicit command of this teaching about the church is that we work out our differences within the one body and not by separating.

*ACANZP – the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia


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