In the New Testament scriptures, the Apostle Paul speaks out against a trend that he sees as being “unnatural” and an “abomination” and warns that Christians need to be on their guard against this dangerous practice.
What is it?
[It’s not what you think].
See, in Paul’s day being a man meant keeping your hair short and your beard long. Why? Because women had long hair and smooth faces. So, to Paul – and many others in his day – if a man had long hair and shaved his beard off, he was accused of “going against nature.”
The Greek word Paul uses to describe this trend is “malakoi” and the best translation of the word into English is “effeminate”.
In the first century, “malakoi” was most often used to reference men who shaved daily and had no beards. These men were often ridiculed and accused of wanting to look like women with clean-shaven faces.
This term was used as an epithet against men who are not masculine enough, as in, “You punch like a girl.”
Plato, for example, in his “Republic”, wrote famously that “too much music made a man soft [malakoi], and feeble; unfit for battle.”
Aristotle also warned about the dangers of men becoming too soft [malakoi] by over-indulging in pleasures rather than balancing out their lives with acts of physical and mental discipline.
Even Josephus, the first century Jewish historian [and contemporary of Jesus and Paul] used the term “malakos” to describe men who were weak and soft through lack of courage in battle.
So, the word “malakoi” refers to being “soft”, rather than masculine, and it occurs four times, in three verses in the New Testament. [Jesus uses the word to refer to soft clothing, for example, in Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25].
Now, here’s the problem: “Malakoi” is translated in most English Bibles today as “homosexual”.
Do you think that a man who shaves his beard and has long hair and enjoys music is a homosexual?
Paul and others in the first century didn’t either. How do we know that? Because the word is never used to refer to someone who is homosexual. It is always used to describe a heterosexual male whose behavior is more feminine, or “soft.”
This is what Paul had in mind in 1 Cor. 6:9. In fact, if you go to the actual Greek language, this verse does not refer to homosexuals, even though most English Bibles use the phrase “men who have sex men” rather than “effeminate.”
In the Greek the text actually reads:
“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..” – 1 Cor. 6:9
But the definition of “effeminate” is not the same today as it was in the first century, is it?
Back then it was “unnatural” for a man to shave his face and grow a mullet. Today, mullets still aren’t so popular, but we wouldn’t say that a person who sported one was “unrighteous” and unwelcome in the Kingdom of God. [Again, I would hope not].
The term “effeminate” is based on a cultural bias, not an absolute rule.
If you want to make it an absolute statement, then we must adopt Paul’s first century ideals about what makes a man “effeminate” and that means that all men are forbidden to shave their beards or wear their hair below their ears to be considered godly. It also means that women can’t wear pants, or cut their hair short [and who wants to be in charge of defining “short” for the rest of the Christian world?], etc.
So, do we all want to adopt Paul’s ideas about cultural norms? Are we willing to live by this rule?
“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” [1 Cor. 11:14-15]
We have to decide if we honestly believe that a man with a clean-shaven face is an abomination or not. We have to decide if guys with long hair aren’t welcome in the Kingdom of God, or if perhaps in this case, the Apostle Paul might have only been speaking to the Christians in first century Corinth about what it meant in their day to conform to cultural norms.
What do you think?
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Keith Giles is the author of several books, including “Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics To Pledge Allegiance To The Lamb”. He is also the co-host of the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast on iTunes and Podbean. He and his wife live in Orange, CA with their two sons.
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