1 Corinthians 6:9 – Effeminate (malakos)

Valentin de Boulogne - Saint Paul Writing His Epistles

The word malakos in 1 Corinthians 6:9 is one of the more difficult to translate on the list.

The NASB and KJV use “effeminate” while the NIV offers “male prostitutes” and the Amplified seems to skip it altogether, lumping it together with the next word (arsenokoitēs). The TEV and RSV do the same thing, but the NAB seems to expand on it a bit, translating malakos as “boy prostitutes” seemingly out of left field.

Connotation vs. Denotation

The difficulty encountered in this translation isn’t a matter of knowing the word’s denotation (dictionary definition). The word is translated easily enough in Luke 7:25 or Matthew 11:8 where it simply means “soft, fine clothing”.

The difficulty in translation is knowing how to concisely convey the word’s connotation (secondary, culturally-influenced definition) when used to describe a person as a whole. After all, Paul wasn’t depicting a human being actually made out of fabric, like some really expensive ragdoll. He was speaking figuratively, colloquially.

Suddenly the word takes on cultural shadows and socioeconomic undertones. A translator is left to communicate a complex symbol in one or two words.

Think of a pampered, callous-free wearer of silks and satins, reclining on comfortable pillows as he’s fed peeled grapes by a strikingly pretty little boy and entertained by some light strumming on a harp by a gifted young man. This “soft, fine” individual is easy enough to imagine, but conveying that imagery in a word or two is no small feat unless a language happens to have a colloquial phrase that handles it.

Pederasty

The word is translated easily enough in Luke 7:25 or Matthew 11:8 where it means “soft, fine clothing”.

This is further complicated when one knows to whom the word malakos was often applied by ancient Greeks in literature, including the works of Ptolemy. It goes beyond “soft”. The term was used to describe those who participated (on both ends) in pederasty.

In today’s terms we call these people “sick” but they call what they do “man/boy love”. When you learn of the prostitution practices in the temples of Ganymede with catamites, it becomes easier to see why some English versions of the New Testament feel justified in claiming male or even boy prostitutes.

This label, malakos, was used to describe the men engaged in this practice as well as the boys and young men, as they allowed themselves to be abused. Even “effeminate” fails to capture the full implications.

So while the denotation of malakos is “soft clothing”, the connotation of malakos reveals much more when used to label a person.

The difficulty in translation is knowing how to concisely convey the word’s connotation when used to describe a person a whole.

“Self-polluters”

Vine’s describes this as “not simply of a male who practices forms of lewdness, but persons in general, who are guilty of addiction to sins of the flesh.”

The Jamieson Fausset Brown Commentary describes these malakos as “self-polluters”, foreshadowing Paul’s words at the end of the chapter that sexual sin defiles the temple that was bought with a price (our bodies). This definition certainly fits the imagery of the “soft” man with his peeled grapes and pretty boys, which is sin in a whole new light given the cultural ramifications of the label.

This “addiction to sins of the flesh” extends beyond man/boy love. Pornography could easily fall into this category with its addictive quality along with its soft (commitment-free, effortless) self-indulgence. Premarital activities that technically fall beyond the purview of pornos (fornication) could as well.

At the very least, it’s clear why so many of the translations disagree on exact wording. For the most part, they all have it right, though I’d hesitate to just lump it in with homosexuality. While its application often includes homosexuality, it’s distinct from it.

And that’s probably why Paul lists homosexuality (arsenokoitēs) separately.

Series Navigation<< 1 Corinthians 6:9 – Idolaters (eidōlolatrēs)1 Corinthians 6:9 – Homosexuals (arsenokoitēs) >>

Originally posted 2016-05-06 08:00:41.

By Probably Valentin de Boulogne (1591 – 1632) (French) (Creator, [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
About Phil (251 Articles)
Philip Osgood is a Christian husband, father, and writer who considers himself a passable video game player, fiction reader, camping and hiking enthusiast, welder, computer guy, and fitness aficionado, though real experts in each field might just die of laughter to hear him claim it. He has been called snarky, cynical, intelligent, eccentric, creative, logical, and Steve for some reason. Phil and his beautiful wife Clara live in Texas with their children in a house with a dog but no white picket fence. He does own a titanium spork from ThinkGeek, though, so he must be alright.

2 Comments on 1 Corinthians 6:9 – Effeminate (malakos)

  1. Hey Phil! Sorry if this is really random, but I saw this post just after your post on the word μαλακός or malakos as seen in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and it got me thinking…

    Do think that Christians can be bronies? I have a couple friends that are pretty into that fandom (but not to the point of obsession/idolatry) and are Christians, and wonder if the iffy translation to effeminate would forbid this or not, or if the context was referring more to pederasty. Just wondering what your thought are on this, thanks.

    • It’s not too random. I actually have a close friend who falls into the same category.

      For the benefit of the uninitiated, a “brony” is a male fan of the My Little Pony franchise.

      You bring up a valid concern: fandom can become obsession and idolatry. And there are other concerns as well; some bronies get into a sexual dynamic that is potentially (though not definitively) unhealthy.

      That said, Christians can be bronies. Christians can also be cheaters, abusers, drunks, or greedy. They can be thieves, homosexual, adulterers, and idolaters. Israel was all those things, yet remained God’s chosen people. And that was before the ultimate power of Christ’s sacrifice came onto the scene, which washes us from our old identity as sinners. Does that mean we stop sinning? Of course not. Christians likely sin just as often as non-Christians. The difference is that we pursue something different as we’re drawn by the love of God and His Son’s sacrifice. I don’t think, though, that you’re asking if becoming a brony forfeits one’s Christianity.

      As to malakos (μαλακός), I think we have to be very guarded about the difference between cultural/societal gender roles and biblical gender roles. Our current series (Misogyny and Malarkey) is very tied to this.

      Let’s look at this closely.

      My Little Pony is marketed to girls, primarily girls within the Western culture. Obviously, marketing strategies don’t adhere to scripture, so MLP isn’t tied to girls based on that.

      It uses bright colors, including lots of pinks and other bright colors. So far, everything is cultural. Joseph was renowned for the colorful coat given from father to son. So again, not girly from a biblical standpoint.

      It primarily stars female characters. At first glance, this is a good indicator that this is for girls. After all, there are not many male figures to relate to, and few of them are even relatable. However, using that logic, the male-authored, male-starring Bible should be for boys, which is patently ridiculous. Applied outside literature, this would mean that any boy who enjoys cooking, dancing, or other cliche girl things (or any girl who likes sports, cars, or other boy things) is operating outside their gender role because these things primarily contain one gender or another. And looked at in that light, we see the cultural influence on this.

      If we’re honest with ourselves, most of what we consider gender-specific attributes in Western society are influenced by culture more than Scripture. MLP, most likely, falls into that category as well. I believe the only thing that makes being a brony biblically effeminate is what happens in the hearts of the brony. Which is, of course, the one thing that only the brony and God can see. Most would-be sin issues work in this way: what’s the motivation?

      Yes, this application of malakos is primarily focused on pederasty, but it is not exclusively so. This isn’t about establishing a comprehensive definition. That’s kind of the opposite of what Paul’s doing with this passage. Yes, malakos is sin, but it’s a matter of the heart that can be made visible through external actions.

      Are your friends in sin for being bronies? I don’t know; it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. But God knows the heart.

      We Christians (bronies or not) should remember what ultimately matters: Christ. The rest is window dressing. That’s Paul’s whole point with this passage.

      Thanks for the question. Hopefully, that ramble offered some sort of answer.