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The Word “Effeminate” in the Bible and Theology

The dictionary definition is not the subject of this post. But let’s use it as a starting point. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary gives two definitions for the word “effeminate” —

“1: having feminine qualities untypical of a man : not manly in appearance or manner
“2: marked by an unbecoming delicacy or over-refinement”

Dictionary.com has a similar set of definitions:

“1. (of a man or boy) having traits, tastes, habits, etc., traditionally considered feminine, as softness or delicacy.
“2. characterized by excessive softness, delicacy, self-indulgence, etc.: effeminate luxury.”

However, even in the secular use of the term, effeminate does not refer to homosexuality (to a gay man). Now, in the Biblical context, this is also true. For example, in the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives a short list of grave sins:

{6:9} Do you not know that the iniquitous will not possess the kingdom of God? Do not choose to wander astray. For neither fornicators, nor servants of idolatry, nor adulterers,
{6:10} nor the effeminate, nor males who sleep with males, nor thieves, nor the avaricious, nor the inebriated, nor slanderers, nor the rapacious shall possess the kingdom of God.

The Latin text, translated as “effeminate” is “molles”, which means soft or delicate. The subsequent term “males who sleep with males” (Latin: “masculorum concubitores”) refers to homosexual acts. And although the second term is specifically masculine, the condemnation applies to women who sleep with women as well. It is a short list, with some specific examples, not meant to imply that unmentioned sins are not sins at all.

But since effeminate is given in the list just before a term referring to homosexual sins, effeminate cannot refer to the same. Thus, the term must be understood to have a different meaning.

What might that meaning be? First of all, it has to be a grave sin, that is, an objective mortal sin. For this is a list of sins that prevent one from obtaining eternal life. Having some feminine qualities (in a male) is not a mortal sin, and neither is over-refinement or a delicate temperament. So the two dictionary definitions are not fitting, though they are not entirely off the mark.

In the Bible, the Latin term “effeminat-” (with various ending) is translated as “effeminate” or “the effeminate”.

[Proverbs]
{18:8} The words of the double-tongued seem simple. And they reach even to the interior of the gut. Fear casts down the lazy, but the souls of the effeminate [effeminatorum] shall go hungry.

In Proverbs, the term seems to refer to persons who are worse than the lazy. This context suggests a person who is unwilling to work or endure hardships because he or she chooses self-indulgence and luxury. Their souls go hungry, even if they are wealthy and over-indulgent in many ways (including food). For they lack self-discipline and self-denial.

[Isaiah]
{3:4} And I will provide children as their leaders, and the effeminate [effeminati] will rule over them.

This context is a little more vague. But again, the meaning is not sexual in nature. The verse proposes that God will permit, as a punishment, that young, inexperienced, or immature persons will be leaders. These leaders are not children in the literal sense, although that would also be a disorder. The effeminate, then, would be persons who are as immature as children, but through self-indulgence in luxuries and delicacies, not youth per se.

[1 Cor]
{6:10} nor the effeminate, nor males who sleep with males, nor thieves, nor the avaricious, nor the inebriated, nor slanderers, nor the rapacious shall possess the kingdom of God.

In Corinthians, we have a different context, and perhaps a different meaning. The first two grave sins, in 1 Cor 6:9, are fornication and servants of idolatry. In the ancient pagan religious, grave sexual sins were often associated with the worship of idols. In the modern context, too, some wicked Christians use religion to justify grave sexual sins, and that is a form of idolatry. So the first four sins are: fornication, idolatry (including a sexual context), the effeminate, and homosexual acts.

The meaning here is most likely sexual in nature. In the Summa Theologica, Saint Thomas uses the term “effeminacy” [ST, II-II, Q. 154. A. 11] to refer to the grave sin of masturbation. The connection is perhaps that persons who live a life of great self-indulgence, in every area of life, also commit the self-indulgent sexual sin.

So 1 Cor 6:10 contains a condemnation of masturbation, using a figurative term, not unlike the condemnations of pornography and masturbation found in the Gospel:

[Matthew]
{5:27} You have heard that it was said to the ancients: ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
{5:28} But I say to you, that anyone who will have looked at a woman, so as to lust after her, has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
{5:29} And if your right eye causes you to sin, root it out and cast it away from you. For it is better for you that one of your members perish, than that your whole body be cast into Hell.
{5:30} And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it away from you. For it is better for you that one of your members perish, than that your whole body go into Hell.

Verse 27 condemns adultery. Verse 28 condemns lust. Verse 29 condemns pornography. Verse 30 condemns masturbation.

[Hosea]
{4:14} I will not send afflictions on your daughters, when they will commit fornication, nor on your spouses, when they will commit adultery, because you yourselves have associated with harlots and have offered sacrifice with the effeminate, and because the people who do not understand will be defeated.

In this verse, the term “effeminate” is given a sexual context, being associated with fornication, adultery, and harlots. So the meaning is perhaps those persons who commit a range of sexual sins out of self-indulgence. These sexual sins could include homosexuality.

[1 Kings]
{14:24} Moreover, the effeminate were in the land, and they committed all the abominations of the peoples that the Lord had destroyed before the face of the sons of Israel.

Here, the context is very broad, referring to narcissistic persons of wealth and influence who committed a wide range of grave sins, including sexual sins and other forms of self-indulgence.

Now let’s consider the use of the term in the Fathers of the Church

Saint John Chrysostom, in his homilies on Matthew, uses the term effeminacy with the meaning of excessive indulgence in delicacies and luxuries, such as fine clothing and shoes. So does Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria.

Chrysostom: “Of what favor then can you be worthy; when, in spite of Paul’s prohibiting the married woman to have costly clothing, you extend this effeminacy even to your shoes, and hast no end of contrivances for the sake of this ridicule and reproach? Yes: for first a ship is built, then rowers are mustered, and a man for the prow, and a helmsman, and a sail is spread, and an ocean traversed, and, leaving wife and children and country, the merchant commits his very life to the waves, and comes to the land of the barbarians, and undergoes innumerable dangers for these threads, that after it all you may take them, and sew them into your shoes, and ornament the leather. And what can be done worse than this folly?

“But the old ways are not like these, but such as become men. Wherefore I for my part expect that in process of time the young men among us will wear even women’s shoes, and not be ashamed. And what is more grievous, men’s fathers seeing these things are not much displeased, but do even account it an indifferent matter.” [Chrysostom]

In the first part, the holy Saint includes women in the condemnation of this sin of self-indulgence. But notice, at the end, Chrysostom extends this meaning to men dressing like women. Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria speak similarly.

So the term effeminate can also refer to a person, male or female, who chooses to act contrary to their own gender. And that is a sin much promoted in recent years, under the term “gender ideology”. Now if we look back at the previously discussed Bible verses, this meaning fits a number of the verses.

{6:9} Do you not know that the iniquitous will not possess the kingdom of God? Do not choose to wander astray. For neither fornicators, nor servants of idolatry, nor adulterers,
{6:10} nor the effeminate, nor males who sleep with males, nor thieves, nor the avaricious, nor the inebriated, nor slanderers, nor the rapacious shall possess the kingdom of God.

Now we see that perhaps the effeminate, who shall not possess the kingdom of God, includes some transgender persons. But as is also the case for other objectively grave sins, they are denied eternal life only if their sin has the full culpability of actual mortal sin, and they do not repent.

[Proverbs]
{18:8} The words of the double-tongued seem simple. And they reach even to the interior of the gut. Fear casts down the lazy, but the souls of the effeminate [effeminatorum] shall go hungry.

Transgenderism is not a path to self-fulfillment, nor to love of God and neighbor. It is a self-contradiction, like those who contradict themselves in speech (the double-tongued). It provides no food for the soul.

[Isaiah]
{3:4} And I will provide children as their leaders, and the effeminate [effeminati] will rule over them.

The effeminate may include, not only wealthy self-indulgent persons, but perhaps also transgender persons. This situation is permitted by the providence of God as a punishment for the unrepentant sins of the people.

[Hosea]
{4:14} I will not send afflictions on your daughters, when they will commit fornication, nor on your spouses, when they will commit adultery, because you yourselves have associated with harlots and have offered sacrifice with the effeminate, and because the people who do not understand will be defeated.

Hosea predicts a future time in the Church when those who are offering sacrifice, that is to say, bishops and priests, include transgender persons and those who associate with figurative harlots (persons unrepentant from grave sexual sins).

[1 Kings]
{14:24} Moreover, the effeminate were in the land, and they committed all the abominations of the peoples that the Lord had destroyed before the face of the sons of Israel.

When a society accepts transgenderism as if this were moral or good, that same society also will accept many other grave disorders (abominations). One sin leads to another. Our culture today has many grave sins, claimed to be good, including homosexuality, transgenderism, fornication, pornography, abortion, contraception, and many other grave sins.

Notice that the people of Israel fell into the same range of grave sins committed by the pagan peoples. Similarly, Christians often fall into the same grave sins as found in sinful secular society. And this causes grave harm to the Church and to Her work of salvation.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian

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