The following is not an expression of a particular agenda: it is a consideration of linguistic and textual issue.
Christianity is currently facing a cultural crisis in that it traditionally condemns homosexuality but the cultures within which it is practised are increasingly accepting of gay people and gay rights. So far as much of the human population are concerned, this difference of view has put much of the Church squarely on the moral lowground.
Naturally, there are some Christians who see nothing wrong with being gay, and some Christians who are gay (although these two groups are unfortunately not coterminous). In such circles, there has been an attempt to prove that the Bible is not anti-gay, so as to validate both being gay and reading the Bible. Since the New Testament gives Christians licence to ignore the laws in the Old Testament, not much attention is paid to Leviticus 18:22. Since Jesus never mentions homosexuality, the focus is on the epistles, and that is where the misreading starts.
The first point of consideration is Romans 1:18-32, and especially vv.26-7. Here, Paul says of unbelieving women, μετηλλαξαν την φυσικην χρησιν εις την παρα φυσιν (“They changed the natural use into that against nature”), and then of men, αφεντες την φυσικην χρησιν της θηλειας (“leaving the natural use of women”) εξεκαυθησαν εν τη ορεξει αυτων εις αλληλους (“they burned in desire for one another”) αρσενες εν αρσεσιν την ασχημοσυνην κατεργαζομενοι (“men with men working indecency”). His representation of homosexuality is narrow, simple, and clear: he regards it as not merely unnatural but anti-natural, and shameful. His opinion here is not at odds with his culture: Philo Judaeus, writing in the same period, decries the “evil” of those who style their hair, wear makeup and perfume, and την αρρενα φυσιν επιτηδευσει τεχναζοντες εις θηλειαν μεταβαλλειν ουκ ερυθριωσι (“do not blush in the pursuit of changing the masculine nature into the feminine by art”). Philo, like Paul, comments upon what he perceives as “natural”, including the idea that it is “natural” for anyone who follows the law to consider such people worthy of death (On Special Laws 3.37-8).
The next point of consideration is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, the first passage in the NT to use terms specifically describing men who have sex with men. The first of those terms is μαλακος, literally “soft”, which the New King James Version renders “catamite” and which fits the type described by Philo. The second, which reappears in 1 Timothy 1:8-10, is one which has been enthusiastically reinterpreted to mean “male temple prostitute” by those who want the Bible to be gay-friendly. This word is αρσενοκοιτης.
The first claim about this term is that we cannot really know what it means because Paul’s use of it is the first use of which we are aware (a claim which contradicts the idea that it refers to a male temple prostitute). While we do not have earlier examples of this word, we do have earlier examples of closely related terms. Αρσενοκοιτης is a compound term, comprising three parts: αρσενο- (also found as αρρενο- and related to ανδρο- ), denoting “male”; κοιτ-, denoting “bed” and relevant activities; -της, denoting a person. It could, therefore, be translated “man-bedder”. That, however, is a very polite way of translating a word which shows significant evidence of being bluntly sexual: related terms include μητροκοιτης (the μητρο- meaning “mother”), δουλοκοιτης (the δουλο- meaning “slave”), and παρακοιτης (the παρα- denoting “beside”, and the term being used for spouses). Native speakers of a language typically understand vocabulary via analogy: this word is like that one, and so its meaning is similar. A user of κοινη Greek, on hearing αρσενοκοιτης, would naturally compare it with the likes of μητροκοιτης and thus understand what it meant. We can do much the same.
The second claim about this term is that it does not refer to loving, consensual relationships. Often, this claim depends upon a reductive image of Greek male same-sex relationships, claiming that they involved an older man, the εραστης, dominating a younger, the ερωμενος. The age-dynamic was challenged in ancient times, with Aeschylus describing Achilles – the younger partner – as the εραστης and Patroclus – the elder – as the ερωμενος (Myrmidons, fr. 135-6) and this idea being criticized by others (Plato, Symposium 180a-b). As for the nature of the relationship, Aristotle, in his Nicomachean Ethics, describes different types of pairing, including those where the devotion is excessive (1148b) and those which are based on mutual respect and consideration (1156a ff). All of these types are still visible today, and Aristotle describes the best relationships as those in which the partners are equal. While it is true that same-sex relationships in the classical period were not the same as same-sex relationships now, married relationships were not either: Aristotle lists the relationship between husband and wife in the same category as the relationship between parent and child or between ruler and subject. He does not assert that different-sex romantic love did not exist, but his categorisation of the best love as an equal love does make it more complicated.
Notably, Greek culture was rather broad in its approach to sexual activity between adults. In Theocritus’ 2nd Idyll, where a courtesan performs a spell to keep a particular lover and she seeks to make him forget anyone else, she says, ειτε γυνα τηνωι παρακεκλιται ειτε και ανηρ (“whether woman or man has lain beside him”, C3rd BCE). Similarly, there is a C4th CE written curse, IG III.3.78 of the Defixionum Tabellae Atticae, which says of one Aristocydes, μηποτ’αυτον γημαι αλλην γυναι[κα] μηδε παιδα (“may he never marry another woman or boy”). In the first, sexual intercourse is the concern; in the second, the use of γημαι, the basic verb for “marry”, is especially salient: these documents mark no differentiation between same-sex and different-sex partnering.
It would also be useful to consider how the term αρσενοκοιτης was understood in its own period, but that will require a separate post.