1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.


Paul gives the first long list of sins / types of sinners, in this letter, who will not inherit the kingdom of God. We’ll pick up with The Pulpit Commentaries at verse 9:

1 Corinthians 6:9

Know ye not; rather, Or know ye not, as before. Are you defying God, or does your sin arise from mere ignorance? The unrighteous; better, that wrong doers, the verb being the same as “ye do wrong” in 1 Corinthians 6:8. Perhaps the Corinthians thought that they would be saved by the mere fact of having been admitted into God’s kingdom (the Christian Church in all its highest privileges) by baptism. St. Paul here lays down, as distinctly as St. James does, that faith without works is dead, and privileges without holiness are abrogated. The spirit of his warning is the same as that of Jeremiah 7:4, “Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the Lord… are these;” or that of St. John the Baptist, “Say not unto yourselves, We be Abraham’s sons.” Christians have often been liable to the temptation of underrating the peril which results from the falling asunder of action from knowledge. There can be no greater danger than that of talking slightingly of “mere morality.” Religion is not an outward service, but a spiritual life manifested by a holy living. Be not deceived. So our Lord says,” Let no man deceive you”. St. Paul uses the warning very solemnly again in 1 Corinthians 15:33 and Galatians 6:7, and St. James in James 1:16. The self deception of merely verbal orthodoxy is the most dangerous of all. Neither fornicatorsThe first four classes of sinners were specially prevalent at Corinth, where, indeed, impurity formed part of the recognized cult of the local Aphrodite. Lists of these “works of the flesh,” which were the all but universal curse and stain of heathendom, occur also in Galatians 5:19-211 Timothy 1:10, etc.; Colossians 3:5-7.

The note here is an uncomfortable one in some portions of today’s Church. It is by faith that we are saved, but works and obedience are the evidence that the faith is alive. A dead faith is no faith at all. As the comment notes, this aligns Paul’s teachings with those of James, though you often read that the two are not in alignment.

The note states that the first four classes of sinners listed above were particularly prevalent in Corinth, due to the practices associated with Aphrodite worship in the city.

sexually immoral = πόρνος pórnos, por’-nos; from πέρνημι pérnēmi (to sell; akin to the base of G4097); a (male) prostitute (as venal), i.e. (by analogy) a debauchee (libertine):—fornicator, whoremonger.

idolators = εἰδωλολάτρης eidōlolátrēs, i-do-lol-at’-race; from G1497 and the base of G3000; an image- (servant or) worshipper (literally or figuratively):—idolater.

adulterers = μοιχός moichós, moy-khos’; perhaps a primary word; a (male) paramour; figuratively, apostate:—adulterer.

These are relatively straight-forward from the Greek. The fourth category is “men who practice homosexuality.” This requires a bit more translation. A more direct translation here might be “nor effeminate nor homosexuals.”

effeminate = μαλακός malakós, mal-ak-os’; of uncertain affinity; soft, i.e. fine (clothing); figuratively, a catamite:—effeminate, soft.

homosexuals = ἀρσενοκοίτης arsenokoítēs, ar-sen-ok-oy’-tace; from G730 and G2845; a sodomite:—abuser of (that defile) self with mankind.

As a result, Paul’s four categories might be translated to include five categories, rather than combining the last two into one (as some translations do.) This is potentially meaningful inasmuch as in modern English, “effeminate” is not overtly associated with homosexual activity. Is it a sin to be “soft”? How would one define “soft”?

A note on the ESV’s translation states as follows:

The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts

The NIV also combines the two, with the following note:

The words men who have sex with men translate two Greek words that refer to the passive and active participants in homosexual acts.

The KJV does not combine the two:

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

The New Catholic Bible translates the text as follows:

Are you not aware that wrongdoers will never inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites

Effeminate here is translated as “male prostitutes.” The NCB provides a translation note for the word sodomites, however:

Sodomites: adult males who have relations with boy prostitutes. The latter are also known as catamites after the Latin name (Catamitus) of Ganymede, the cupbearer of the gods in Greek mythology.

You thus end up having a relatively wide potential divide among interpretations of the text. You could read Paul as issuing a broad condemnation of male “softness,” AND of male homosexual practices, or you could read this portion of the verse as a narrow condemnation, specifically, male prostitution and male homosexuality with those who are underage. Or you could translate the meaning as somewhere between those two points, with “effeminate” and “sodomites” referring to the passive and active participation of male homosexual practices (which is how the ESV and NIV approached it.)

Using the Strong’s definitions, I think the NCB here takes greater liberties with the translation. That does not in and of itself mean that the NCB is wrong. However, it requires further explanation. To justify those liberties, you need either 1) time period use justification for that type of interpretation (i.e. “the literal translation of the words is not how they were used at the time of Paul, and we know that from ____ texts”), and/or 2) additional writing from Paul to justify the more limited translation.

We do use words non-literally, all the time, in modern English. A completely literalist approach to interpretation is fraught with problems. For example, a student in the 2020s might say that he “crushed the exam,” meaning that he did very well on it. His statement is widely and easily understood as not literal (though it would have been entertaining to see someone literally crush an exam back when I was in school.) The Bible was written in a particular time, and place, and it uses poetry and metaphor throughout. Failing to account for that in a translation fails to convey the original message. Unfortunately, the NCB does not explain in its note why it chose such a narrow translation. We can assume that the more narrow interpretation here might have some justification rooted in local worship of Aphrodite. If we link the NCB translation with the notes from the NIV and ESV translation, then we might find some overall accord. We might assume that in Corinth, underage male prostitutes were hired and acted upon by older male Corinthians.

Does that mean that Paul only condemns homosexuality in a very narrow way? As to that, we also have other writing from Paul on this particular topic.

Romans 1: 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

passions = πάθος páthos, path’-os; from the alternate of G3958; properly, suffering (“pathos”), i.e. (subjectively) a passion (especially concupiscence):—(inordinate) affection, lust.

In Romans, Paul does not narrowly condemn very specific sexual practices, but instead he broadly condemns the lust motivating the same sex behavior. He describes that lust as “unnatural.”

As a result, whether or not the homosexual practices which Paul condemns in 1 Corinthians can be translated in a very narrow way such that it limits the scope of his condemnation, his other writing is quite broadly disapproving.

Some modern scholars take issue with the consensus translation, which states that ἀρσενοκοίτης arsenokoítēs should be translated as homosexual. Many biblical scholars identify the word arsenokoitai(es) as a new term, created either by the apostle Paul or Greek-speaking Jews living around the turn of the millennium. The word derives from the Septuagint. If we look at the Septuagint’s translation of Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, we find the two Greek stems from which Paul constructed the compound word translated as homosexual. Nevertheless, you will see some objections to Paul on the basis of a dispute over this word.

Another objection is, I think, a rather difficult one to defend – though you do often see this defense made anyway. The late Yale University professor, John Boswell, argued in his work, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, that “the persons Paul condemns are manifestly not homosexual; what he derogates are homosexual acts committed by apparently heterosexual persons.” The problem with this argument is that it assumes Paul had a modern understanding of sexual orientation, and it also defies the consensus view of the Church for nearly 2,000 years. Does it make sense that Paul only sometimes objects to homosexual behavior? If so, you would expect to see historical evidence supporting that assertion and frankly that evidence is simply lacking.

Obviously this is at present a very hotly debated topic. I am of the opinion that this unfortunately means a lot of bad scholarship is being done in search of a desired outcome. It is my preference to let the text say what it actually says, and then proceed from there.

Continuing on to verse 10, the list of sins broadens substantially. The translations are far more straight-forward here. The note I have on the verse from The Pulpit Commentaries says the following:

1 Corinthians 6:10

Nor thieves, etc. (see Revelation 22:15).

Revelation 22:15

For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie; without (omit “for”) are the dogs, and the sorcerers, and the fornicaters, etc. The article renders each term general in its signification (see on Revelation 4:11). “The dogs” are those who are described in Revelation 22:11 as “the filthy;” the term is proverbial amongst Eastern nations as an expression for what is most degraded. The epithets in this verse occur (with others) in Revelation 21:8. A contrast is forcibly presented between these wicked ones here indicated, and those who have (in the preceding verse) the right to enter the city, owing to their purity obtained by washing their robes.

Here we see a link between Paul’s list of sinners and a similar list recorded by John of Patmos. This is noteworthy because it establishes another link between Paul and the other Church leaders. There is a concerted effort in some academic circles to unlink Paul from the rest of the early Church, but again, I think this effort runs contrary to the evidence. It’s worth mentioning that these lists of sins are all treated as equally horrible. The Church runs afoul of hypocrisy when it looks the other way for one or more items on this list, while caring a great deal about another. Paul’s solution would be to care about all of it, rather than to care about none of it.

Continuing to verse 11 in Ellicott’s Bible Commentary:

(11) Such were some of you.—The Greek for “such” is in the neuter, and implies “of such a description were some of you.”

Ye are washed.—Better, ye washed them off. referring to the fact that their baptism was a voluntary act (Acts 22:16). The words “sanctified” and “justified” as used here do not point to those definite stages in the Christian course to which they generally refer in theological language. The sanctification is here mentioned before the justification, which is not the actual sequence, and it must not therefore be taken as signifying a gradual progress in holiness. What the Apostle urges is, that as they washed themselves in the waters of baptism, so they, by the power of Christ’s name and the Holy Spirit, became holy and righteous, thus putting aside, washing off as it were, that impurity and that unrighteousness which once were theirs, and with which they could not enter into the kingdom.

washed = ἀπολούω apoloúō, ap-ol-oo’-o; from G575 and G3068; to wash fully, i.e. (figuratively) have remitted (reflexively):—wash (away).

sanctified = ἁγιάζω hagiázō, hag-ee-ad’-zo; from G40; to make holy, i.e. (ceremonially) purify or consecrate; (mentally) to venerate:—hallow, be holy, sanctify.

justified = δικαιόω dikaióō, dik-ah-yo’-o; from G1342; to render (i.e. show or regard as) just or innocent:—free, justify(-ier), be righteous.

You were made clean, made holy, and made innocent / free. Verse 11 is a reminder that though the sins listed are grievous and plentiful, so is God’s grace. Paul’s use of “our” seems to be a unifying word after the prior verses of condemnation. He is imploring for change and reunification rather than division and condemnation.

As the comment above mentions, “justification” and “sanctification” have historical meanings within Christianity. For more on that, I will link to a couple of articles below, including excerpts for each.

Understanding Justification and Sanctification by Melody Lipke

You’ll find the words justification and sanctification used hand-in-hand in sermons and Christian books, describing what Jesus has done for us. We use these words often, but do we really understand them? The two terms have a nice ring next to each other, but it’s important to differentiate the terms. Keep reading for an overview of what justification and sanctification mean and how both words describe our lives as Christians. 

What Is Justification?

The doctrine of justification is central to faith because it answers the questions “How can I be right with God? Is there something I must do?” The Bible’s answer is “No, absolutely nothing.” Because of our sin, all humanity deserves death and never-ending punishment in hell. But Jesus took on our sin and the death we deserve, making us righteous instead. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven, receive salvation and eternal life, and are therefore justified. Jesus taking on our sin and making us right with God is justification. Justification is God’s undeserved mercy for Jesus’ sake.


What Is Sanctification?

The Bible uses the term sanctification in two senses. The wide sense describes our subjective justification when the Spirit creates faith in us through the Word and Sacraments and the life of good works, which follows by the power of the Holy Spirit. It uses sanctification in the narrow sense to describe only our life of good works. It especially does this when it wants to keep us from wrongly concluding that our works are part of making us right with God.

She goes into greater detail on each point and I encourage you to read the article in its entirety.

What is the Difference Between Justification and Sanctification? by Erik Raymond

What is the difference between justification and sanctification? I am thankful that this is a frequent question that I get as a pastor; thankful because people are thinking but also because this is so important. After all, we are talking about our standing before God.

In short, justification means we are declared righteous, while sanctification means growing in righteousness.

Let me explain and contrast a bit further.

Justification refers to God’s declaration that someone is determined to be righteous in his sight. This justification is a one-time act whereby God declares a sinner like you and me to be not only not guilty but perfectly righteous before his high bar of justice. How does God does this and maintain his justice? The basis for the divine declaration is the doing and dying of Christ. God credits (or imputes) us with the righteousness (merit) of Jesus. We are justified by grace (a gift) through faith (trusting in Jesus). Some great verses are Rom. 3.24; 4.1-5; 5.12 Cor. 5.21Tit. 3.7.

Sanctification, on the other hand, is the continual process of being made more holy. It is the progressive conformity of the one who has been justified into the image of their Savior through the work of the Holy Spirit. Like justification, sanctification is a work of grace through faith. And, sanctification is possible because of the finished work of Christ on our behalf. Some great verses are Rom. 6; 8Tit. 3.51 Thess. 4.3, 5.23Heb. 12.142 Pet. 3.18Jud. 1.20.

Again, let me encourage you to read the entire article for a fuller understanding.

In verses where we discussed a litany of sins, the topic of sanctification is an important point on which to conclude. There is no assumption from Paul that a Christian stops sinning after baptism. Earlier in this post, we pointed out that Paul is in accord with James over the issue of works being evidence of faith. Sanctification is when those works take place. This is the part of the Christian life where the effort is exerted. Does that effort save you? No. Faith does that. Does effort provide evidence that one’s faith is genuine? Yes. If a person struggles with sin, the persistence of said sin is not proof faith is lacking. An alcoholic relapsing is not proof that he was not a believer. The proof that faith is lacking would be found when someone is not struggling against sin at all (i.e. “Yeah, I’m a drunk, so what?”) The example of this, given by Paul earlier in 1 Corinthians, is the person in their Church who married his father’s wife, brazenly and openly. At that point, the lack of struggle against sin indicates opposition to God’s sovereignty. Jesus cannot be your Lord on some things but not as to others. That’s not how Godhood works. Paul urged the Corinthians in Chapter 5 to purge open rebellion (evil) from their midst, because he understands that the Church cannot be unified with open rebellion. Only after evil is purged can what is left unify – and the putting away of factions under the unity of Christ is the broad theme of this Epistle.

We’ll stop here for now and pick back up with verse 12 in the next post where Paul continues urging the Corinthians to flee from sexual immorality.