Paul condemned gyno-idolators along with fornicators & adulterers

While men-abasing “courtly love” became a highly refined form of oppression in medieval Europe, its constituents gyno-idolatory and gynocentrism have been prevalent throughout history. The man enslaved in love, soldiering on watch for his beloved and lamenting that he is locked out, is a common figure in ancient Roman elegiac poems. That’s the context in which Paul of Tarsus condemned gyno-idolatry among particular categories of men’s sexual wrongdoing.

Paul’s condemnation of idolatry should be interpreted within its specific context. Paul declared:

Do not be deceived! Neither fornicators nor idolators nor adulterers nor catamites nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy, neither drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

{ μὴ πλανᾶσθε οὔτε πόρνοι οὔτε εἰδωλολάτραι οὔτε μοιχοὶ οὔτε μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται οὔτε κλέπται οὔτε πλεονέκται οὐ μέθυσοι οὐ λοίδοροι οὐχ ἅρπαγες βασιλείαν θεοῦ κληρονομήσουσιν } [1]

At least four of the first five categories concern sexual immorality. Among those categories, catamites are men who typically, consensually are penetrated sexually by other men. Sodomites are men who typically, consensually penetrate sexually other men. Those terms indicate that Paul’s condemnation of sexual immorality is addressed specifically to men.[2] Fornicators thus means men who have sex with women to whom they are not married. Adulterers similarly means men who have sex with married women, but who aren’t those women’s husbands. But what about “idolators” situated in the middle of those terms?

Idolators as a figure of harlotry isn’t a gender-consistent interpretation. Idolatry in Hebrew scripture is associated with feminine harlotry. For example, the prophet Hosea criticized Israel:

My people consult their piece of wood,
and their wand makes pronouncements for them,
For the spirit of harlotry has led them astray;
they play the whore, forsaking their God. [3]

{ עַמִּי בְּעֵצֹו יִשְׁאָל וּמַקְלֹו יַגִּיד לֹו כִּי רוּחַ זְנוּנִים הִתְעָה
וַיִּזְנוּ מִתַּחַת אֱלֹהֵיהֶֽם׃ }

In Hebrew scripture, Israel, meaning the chosen people of God, is commonly figured as a woman. In Christianity, the church, meaning of the people of God, is also commonly feminine. Men’s sexual welfare disadvantage and women’s sexual privilege have created throughout history sexual markets in which men predominately pay women for sex. That means that whores historically have been predominately women. Idolators as a figure of harlotry implies that the idolators are women. That’s inconsistent with the context of Paul condemning men’s sexual immorality.[4]

With extraordinary inspiration, Paul used the term idolators to condemn gyno-idolators as another category of men engaged in sexual immorality. Gyno-idolatry involves men treating women, who are fully human beings, as if women were goddesses, or at least superior human beings. King Solomon was a pre-eminent gyno-idolator. Lucretius, the great Roman debunker of delusions, strongly condemned gyno-idolatry. Yet the brilliant Roman author Ovid suffered horrible punishment for not being a gyno-idolator. Benighted medieval knights like Lancelot became celebrated for their gyno-idolatry. Under increasingly totalitarian gynocentrism, gyno-idolatry has become a nearly unspeakable form of sexual immorality.

King Solomon falling into gyno-idolatry

Men, do not worship your girlfriends! Husbands, do not idolize your wives! If you engage in such idolatry, you are no better than fornicators, adulterers, catamites, and sodomites. So said the wise man that Christians now call Saint Paul.

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[1] 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. The English translation is insubstantially adapted from that of Orr & Walther (1995).

[2] 1 Corinthians 6:5 also indicates that Paul is addressing men. Orr & Walther (1995), p. 250, doesn’t recognize that Paul is specifically addressing men here. That Paul condemned men’s sexual immorality should not be interpreted to condone women’s sexual immorality. Women are no more sexually moral than men are. Paul surely recognized this reality. See, e.g. 1 Corinthians 5:1, Romans 1:26-7, Galatians 3:28.

Ephesians, which may have been written by a disciple of Paul, uses idolatry (εἰδωλολάτρης) to encompass fornication, impurity, and greed. Ephesians 5:5.

[3] Hosea 4:12. More generally, see Hosea 3:10-5:4 and Jeremiah 3.

[4] Orr & Walther (1995), p. 255, doesn’t recognize the gender problem in idolators being a figure of harlotry from Hebrew scripture.

[image] King Solomon falling into gyno-idolatry. Painting by Giovanni Venanzi di Pesaro, made in 1668. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Orr, William F., and James Arthur Walther. 1995. I Corinthians: a new translation; introduction with a study of the life of Paul, notes and commentary. Anchor Bible series. New York: Doubleday.

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