The word “effeminate” appears just three times in the Bible, all in the New Testament. But its meaning has significance for how we understand biblical principles of masculinity and femininity. As Christians seeking to follow God’s design for manhood and womanhood, it’s important we comprehend what Scripture teaches about cultivating virtuous masculinity while avoiding unbiblical extremes.
- The Greek word translated “effeminate” literally means “soft” or “womanish”
- In 1 Corinthians 6:9, it refers to the passive partner in a homosexual relationship
- In Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25, Jesus uses it to critique the extravagant clothing of the elite
- Effeminacy violates God’s call for men to be strong servant-leaders who courageously embrace their masculinity
- Men must avoid extremes like abusing their strength or refusing to work
- Godly masculinity requires humility, restraint, and sacrificial love
The Meaning of “Effeminate” (Malakos) in Biblical Greek
In the original Greek of the New Testament, the word translated “effeminate” is malakos. It most literally means “soft, fine, delicate, dainty, gentle.” As an adjective it could refer to luxurious clothing, decadent foods, ornate hairdos, or otherwise indulge in the extravagant aesthetics of wealth and leisure.
Applied to persons, it carries the nuance of being weak, deficient in courage, morally lax, overly delicate, obsessed with comfort and luxury, cowardly, lazy, and even perhaps effusive in an unmanly manner. The womanish connotation likely derives from the perceived connection between delicacy and feminine traits.
1 Corinthians 6:9 – Effeminate as the Passive Partner in Homosexual Acts
The first New Testament occurrence of malakos is in a vice list from 1 Corinthians:
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, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
Here, malakos is paired with arsenokoitai (literally, “man-bedders”) to refer to the passive and active partners in homosexual acts. This likely reflects the common pederastic practices in Greek culture, with boys/young men playing the more feminine role.
By placing malakos among sins of sexual immorality, Paul indicates that effeminacy in this context is morally deviant and prohibited for followers of Christ. The practice of men playing the part of women in sexual relations clearly violates God’s design for male and female as expressed in Genesis 1-2 and affirmed by Jesus himself (Matthew 19:4-6).
This does not mean that men with more sensitive or gentle dispositions are inherently sinning. Effeminacy as a sexual deviancy is different from aspects of personality or giftings. The sin is acting upon ungodly desires and adopting an unbiblical sexual role. Christians struggling with these temptations need compassionate support in pursuing celibacy or healing through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 11:8 and Luke 7:25 – Effeminate as Extravagant Clothing
The other two New Testament uses of malakos come from Jesus himself, in a curious “soft clothing” analogy:
What did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft (malakos) clothing? Behold, those who wear soft (malakos) clothing are in kings’ houses.
What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft (malakos) clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. (Luke 7:25)
Here Jesus describes fancy, ostentatious clothing like that worn in royal palaces. The target is the elite who luxuriate in extravagant lifestyles. By implication, dressing this way or indulging in similar decadence could be considered unbecoming and effeminate for the average man.
The precise nuance is debated by scholars, but Jesus at minimum employs the term for rhetorical effect to question the lifestyle and priorities of the self-indulgent upper class. He calls his disciples to a different model of humility, restraint, and service.
Many propose that Jesus implies moral condemnation of men dressing like aristocratic women as gender-bending. However, that was less common in Jewish culture, and the focus seems to be indulgent luxury more than gender confusion per se. Still, we can reasonably conclude that extreme extravagance and obsession with aesthetics risks an unmanly decadence condemned as effeminate.
God’s Design for Masculinity in Balance
Taken together, Scripture’s uses of “effeminate” illustrate several principles for biblically faithful manhood:
- Men must embrace their masculine design and calling, not adopt unbiblical sexual behavior or identities (1 Cor. 6:9).
- Godly masculinity requires moral courage and strength, not moral laxity, cowardice, or laziness (malakos nuances).
- Men should avoid immodest extravagance and self-indulgent materialism which display misplaced priorities (Matt. 11:8; Luke 7:25).
- At the same time, men must not overreact into abusing their strength or refusing legitimate work and duties.
Masculinity rightly understood values humility, restraint, and sacrificial service following the model of Christ. It channels natural male attributes toward godly leadership and provision for one’s family and community.
This biblical balance stands against both “hyper-masculine” extremes of violence and domination, as well as “hypo-masculine” tendencies toward cowardice, irresponsibility, and neglect of duty. Effeminacy encompasses the latter.
How Should Christian Men Respond?
In an age questioning traditional gender norms and witnessing a crisis of masculinity, biblical insights are as urgent as ever.
- Embrace manhood as God’s good design: Reject cultural confusion or shame about your masculine identity. Your masculinity itself is not sinful but part of the diversity of God’s creation.
- Submit every area to the lordship of Jesus: Bring every trait – strengths and weaknesses alike – under Christ’s transforming power through the Spirit. Yield unhealthy extremes and nurture virtuous balance.
- Cultivate courage, conviction, and self-control: Sinful indulgence makes men weak, not strong. Develop moral nerve, fierce passion for righteousness, emotional self-mastery, and perseverance.
- Lead humbly, love self-sacrificially: Wield your influence to serve others following Jesus’ model, not coerce or dominate. Care for the vulnerable. Defend the defenseless. Provide for your family.
- Partner with godly women: Men and women are created equal before God yet wonderfully distinct. Cherish sisters in Christ; respectfully partner in family and church. Masculinity and femininity each glorify God in harmony.
- Flee from sensuality and materialism: Guard your eyes, your thoughts, and your habits. Porn and self-gratification lead to indulgence that makes men weak and enslaved – the opposite of masculine strength.
- Cultivate friendship and accountability with biblical brothers: You need godly men to sharpen you, strengthen you, and exhort you to stay the course. ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another’ (Proverbs 27:17).
Embracing all the Bible teaches about godly manhood liberates us to be the men we were created to be. Whatever your personality or background, you can reflect Christlike courage in the grace-empowered path of humble leadership, selfless service, and moral responsibility. Such virtuous biblical masculinity honors the Lord and blesses the world.