WHAT PAUL MEANT
BY MALAKOI

What Paul meant the Corinthians to
understand by the word
malakoi

The following four meanings of malakoi refer to
general types of people who could fit the
requirements of 1 Corinthians 6:9 of being
unrighteous or wrongdoers (harming themselves
or others) or unjust – and therefore being
ineligible to inherit the kingdom of God (especially
from the point of view of Paul’s time).

  • People who lack self-control, including of
    their desires, or people who indulge
    unrestrainedly in bodily pleasures.

  • People who have a soft, luxurious lifestyle.

  • Men who choose to act like women in
    appearance or non-sexual behavior.

  • Men who have passive sex with other men.


The meanings of malakoi which would
readily come to the minds of the Corinthians

When the Corinthian Christians heard or saw the
word
malakoi in Paul’s letter, they would most
probably have thought of
soft men or effeminate
men
(those with effeminate appearances or
weaknesses).  Alternatively, they might have
thought of
people who have a soft, luxurious
lifestyle
.


Points for and against various meanings of
malakoi

Points for malakoi meaning people who lack self-
control, including of their desires
.

  • This was one of the meanings of malakoi in
    Paul’s time.

  • There are many references to lacking self-
    control and indulging in bodily pleasures in
    Paul’s letters eg. 1 Cor 7:5 & 9 and Titus 3:3.

Point
against malakoi meaning people who lack
self-control, including of their desires
.

  • Paul elsewhere used the Greek word
    akrateia to mean lack of self-control and it is
    therefore most unlikely that he would have
    used malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:9 for the
    same meaning.  Similarly other specialized
    Greek words were used for people who
    indulge unrestrainedly in bodily pleasures.

Points
for malakoi meaning people who have a
soft, luxurious lifestyle
:

  • This could have been one of the meanings
    coming to the Corinthians’ minds when they
    first heard the word malakoi (soft people) in
    Paul’s letter, i.e. people living lives of luxury
    and ease in Corinth’s mansions.

  • The Wesley New Testament (1755) had a
    footnote to this verse stating Nor the
    effeminate – who live in an easy, indolent
    way, taking no Cross, induring no Hardship.  
    Similarly the New Jerusalem Bible (1985)
    translates malakoi as the self-indulgent.  
    These two translations appear to refer to this
    type of lifestyle.

  • Some of Jesus’ stories criticized the greed
    and selfishness of rich people, e.g. the story
    of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-
    31.

Points
against malakoi meaning people who
have a soft, luxurious lifestyle
:

  • In his letters and recorded speeches, Paul
    did not mention people having a soft,
    luxurious lifestyle.  It seems that this was not
    a high priority matter for Paul.

  • Other than the New Jerusalem Bible
    translation of malakoi as the self-indulgent,
    there has been no translation in English of
    malakoi similar to people who have a soft,
    luxurious lifestyle.

Points
for malakoi meaning effeminate men:

  • In ancient Greece effeminate was a common
    meaning for malakoi, often being a synonym
    for soft men.

  • Until the 20th century, malakoi was only
    translated in 1 Corinthians 6:9 as weaklings
    or effeminate or similar (including the King
    James Version) i.e. without any direct
    reference to sex between males.

  • A man was called the derogatory term
    effeminate in Greco-Roman society when he
    acted like a non-man by showing feminine
    qualities or appearance and was therefore
    not acting like a true man should.  His
    actions were considered shameful and
    abhorrent and he was often mocked.  He
    was seen as a sissy.

  • The effeminate weaknesses of cowardice,
    loving luxury, or lacking self-control may be
    possible reasons for exclusion from
    inheriting the kingdom of God.

  • It is possible that Paul would consider a man
    choosing to act like a woman (e.g. as in
    Philo Special Laws 3.37–42) to be not
    conforming to the male role given by God
    and therefore to be ineligible for the kingdom
    of God.

Points
against malakoi meaning effeminate men:

  • Paul’s letters and recorded speeches do not
    elsewhere mention effeminate men, i.e. men
    acting like women in a non-sexual way.

  • It is doubtful that men acting in unmanly, non-
    sexual ways or having a feminine
    appearance would, in itself, fit the
    requirement of 1 Corinthians 6:9 that they be
    wrongdoers (harming themselves or others)
    or unrighteous or unjust.  A more serious
    transgression seems to be required.

  • If Paul had meant to refer to effeminate men
    he could have used the more direct words
    thelubrios or androgunos.

Points
for malakoi meaning men who have
passive sex with other men
:

  • This is the primary derogatory meaning
    given in the Greek-English Lexicon of the
    New Testament and Other Early Christian
    Literature (3rd edition, p 613).

  • Such sex is condemned in Leviticus 18:22
    and 20:13  (don’t let another male penetrate
    you) and by Paul in Romans 1:27 (men
    abandoned natural relations with women
    and committed indecent acts with other
    men).

  • Paul’s letters imply that people should keep
    the Old Testament sexual laws and he knew
    that Leviticus 20:13 condemned both men
    participating in sex between males.  It
    therefore seems unlikely that Paul would
    restrict the condemnation in 1 Corinthians 6:
    9 to active sex between males only by not
    covering passive sex between males.  It can
    also be argued that he replicated the
    Leviticus condemnation in 1 Corinthians 6:9
    by using malakoi for the passive participant
    and arsenokoitai for the active participant in
    sex between males.  This situation would
    also reflect Paul’s condemnation of
    participants in sex between males in
    Romans 1:27.

  • By placing malakoi immediately next to
    arsenokoitai (men who have [active] sex
    with men), Paul seems to have invited the
    readers or hearers of his letter to think of
    men having passive sex with men when they
    read or heard malakoi, especially since they
    knew that some effeminate men did have
    passive sex with other men.

  • Malakoi is situated between the perpetrators
    of two sexual vices and so it would be logical
    for it to have a sexual nature also.

  • Paul's readers would probably share the
    Greco-Roman view that it was shameful and
    unmanly for an adult man to be the receptive
    participant in sex with another man.  Some
    readers would also be aware of the similar
    condemnation in Leviticus 20:13.

Points
against malakoi meaning men who have
passive sex with other men
:

  • In Paul’s time, malakoi was never used to
    directly mean men who have passive sex
    with other men.

  • Until the 20th century, malakoi was only
    translated in 1 Corinthians 6:9 as weaklings
    or effeminate or similar (including the King
    James Version) i.e. without any direct
    reference to sex between males.

  • If Paul had meant to refer to men who have
    passive sex with men he could have used a
    direct word such as pathikoi.  But instead he
    chose a word whose usual meanings are
    soft or effeminate.

  • It could be argued that Paul was instead
    referring to effeminate men because
    effeminate was a common meaning for
    malakoi, indicating shameful and abhorrent
    behavior.

Conclusion on the meaning of malakoi

While we cannot be totally certain what Paul
meant, it appears that
malakoi in 1 Corinthians 6:
9 probably means either
effeminate men or men
who have passive sex with other men
.  There are
valid points both for and against each of these
translations.

The strongest point for
malakoi meaning
effeminate men is that this is one of its literal
meanings, indicating shameful and abhorrent (but
usually non-sexual) effeminate behavior of a man.

On the other hand, it is doubtful that men acting in
non-sexual effeminate ways or having a feminine
appearance would, in itself, fit the requirement of
1 Corinthians 6:9 that they be wrongdoers or
unrighteous or unjust.  A more serious
transgression seems to be required.

The strongest point for
malakoi meaning men
who have passive sex with other men
is its
position next to
arsenokoitai (men who have
[active] sex with men
) especially since some
effeminate men did have passive sex with other
men.  The use of both
malakoi and arsenokoitai
would seem to replicate the condemnations in
Leviticus 20:13 and Romans 1:27 of both active
and passive men participating in sex between
males.

On the other hand,
malakoi was never used to
directly mean
men who have passive sex with
other men
and if Paul had meant to refer to such
men he could have used a direct Greek word
such as
pathikoi instead of a multi-meaning word
like
malakoi.

Finally, it would appear that the case for
malakoi
meaning men who have passive sex with other
men
is the stronger, particularly because Paul
criticizes such men elsewhere in his letters
(Romans 1:27) but does not similarly criticize
effeminate men.
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