G. Thomas Hobson, «ἀσέλγεια in Mark 7:22», Vol. 21 (2008) 65-74
The article argues that Jesus euphemistically refers to homosexual
behavior and similar sexual offenses against the Jewish law by use of the
term ἀσέλγεια on his list of sins that 'defile the human heart' in Mark
7:22-23. The article examines the use of ἀσέλγεια by Jewish, pagan, and NT
writers, and uses the Syriac translation to attempt to identify the original
Aramaic word used by Jesus in this verse and what he may have meant by it.
Jewish writers use ἀσέλγεια to refer to what they considered to be shocking
violations of the sexuality taught in the Torah.
68 Thomas Hobson
In his description of the Essenes (B. J. 2.8.1 Â§121), Josephus says that they
protect themselves against womenâ€™s â€œwantonnessâ€ (á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±), because
they are persuaded that no woman remains faithful to one man. And in
his comments on pagan religion, Josephus (C. Ap. 2.1.34 Â§244) condemns
the licentious unions of the Greek deities as â€œthe utmost in outrageous-
Whatever it is, one can see why á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± appears on Jesusâ€™ sin list.
á¼ˆÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± is used ten times in the NT. In Rom 13,13, Paul urges his
readers to conduct themselves â€œnot in promiscuity (ÎºÎ¿Î¯Ï„Î±Î¹) or licen-
tiousness (á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±).â€ Paul includes this term among the deeds of sinful
human nature in Gal 5,19, sandwiched in between illicit sex (Ï€Î¿ÏÎ½ÎµÎ¯Î±),
impurity, idolatry, and witchcraft.
In 2 Cor 12,21, Paul laments those who â€œhave not repented of the
impurity, Ï€Î¿ÏÎ½ÎµÎ¯Î±, and á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± they have practiced.â€ And in his des-
cription of the Gentiles in Eph 4,19, Paul says, â€œThey have become callous
and have given themselves up to á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±, greedy to practice every kind
of uncleanness.â€ Likewise, á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± tops the list of objectionable Gentile
behaviors in 1 Pet 4,3, followed by â€œpassions, drunkenness, revels, ca-
rousing, and lawless idolatryâ€.
Second Peter uses á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± more than any other NT document. It
links á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± explicitly with the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, picturing
Lot (2 Pet 2,7) as â€œgreatly distressed by the licentiousness (á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±) of
the wickedâ€ around him (probably not referring to their failure to show
hospitality). The author likens the men of Sodom to the false teachers of
his day: â€œuttering loud boasts of folly, they entice with licentious passions
(á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±Î¹) people who have barely escaped from those who live in errorâ€
(2 Pet 2,18). He warns that â€œmany will follow their licentiousness, and
because of them the way of truth will be reviledâ€ (2 Pet 2,2).
Among the earliest Christian writers, á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± is used only by the
author of The Shepherd of Hermas, who uses it four times. In Vis. 6,2,
Hermas makes reference to â€œlicentious actsâ€ (á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¯Î±Ï‚) in parallel to
â€œlawless deedsâ€ (á¼€Î½Î¿Î¼Î¯Î±Î¹), with no contextual clues as to his meaning.
The context in Vis 15,2 is equally vague. In Man. 47,6, Hermas says that
the commandments of the devil are â€œhard, bitter, wild, and licentiousâ€
(á¼€ÏƒÎµÎ»Î³ÎÏƒÎ¹). Finally, in Sim. 92,3, Hermas sees women in black garments
named Disbelief, Lack of Self-Control, Disobedience, Deceit, Sorrow,
Wickedness (Î Î¿Î½ÎµÏÎ¯Î±), Licentiousness (á¼ˆÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î±), Short Temper, Lying,
Foolishness, Slander, and Hatred. In his use of the word, Hermas seems
to have returned to the wordâ€™s earlier classical Greek usage: shocking
behavior of any kind that transcends the bounds of decency.
In a search of patristic works, á¼€ÏƒÎÎ»Î³ÎµÎ¹Î± and its cognates is used three
times by Justin Martyr (Apol. 2.3.2; 4.9.2; 9.4.1), twice by Melito (see