More on dodgy theology (3)

IMG_1664I wasn’t planning to write a long series on the subject of Israel Folau’s dodgy theology, but to be fair to Folau and those who hold similar views I should cover the other texts which are quoted in the debate about the Bible’s statements on homosexuality. In my two previous posts I referred to the texts in Leviticus about “a man lying with a man” but I should note that Leviticus wasn’t actually quoted by Folau in his controversial message on social media. I dealt with the Leviticus texts primarily because I’m an Old Testament scholar. Although that doesn’t disqualify me from writing about the New Testament, it does mean I feel more competent dealing with Hebrew rather than Greek texts. However, the New Testament was written by people whose Bible was what we call the Old Testament, and they were writing against that background and were heavily influenced by OT writings, so the OT is always a good place to start. Apart from the Leviticus texts, the other OT verses often referred to in discussions on this subject are the verses which deal with the sin of Sodom. I’ll come back to that in a later post.

But first, let’s look at the text which was quoted by Folau in his message on social media, Galatians 5:19-21. The version used by Folau in his quote (the Kings Kames Version, KJV) was written in 1611 and uses terminology which isn’t in common use these days. The quotation below is from a modern version preferred by many scholars, the New Revised Standard Version:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

We should note a few things about these verses. First, Folau has obviously equated “not inherit the kingdom of God” with “going to hell.” I won’t get side-tracked into a theological discussion about this, but will simply note that they are not necessarily the same thing.  Next I note that this list says nothing about homosexuality. The closest we might come to it would be to include it under an umbrella term like “licentiousness” but that would require making an assumption about what the term means and includes. The Greek word is ἀσέλγεια aselgeia and can refer to unbridled lust and debauchery, as well as gluttony and insolence. It isn’t restricted to sexual behaviour, and there is no suggestion in the scholarly literature that is means or includes homosexuality. On the other hand, the word translated “fornication” is the Greek word πορνεία porneia which does refer to sexual immorality (and is the origin of our English word pornography). It’s a non-specific term in that doesn’t refer to any one form of illicit sexual behaviour, and can include adultery and prostitution. Again, there is nothing in the word itself or its biblical or classical usage to suggest it includes homosexuality.

While this list quoted by Folau doesn’t mention or even imply homosexuality, it does condemn “dissensions” διχοστασίαι dichostasia, which means “causing divisions”. The writer (of Galatians) may have meant causing divisions in the church specifically, although this isn’t certain. It could mean causing divisions in communities or in society. I’m not about to accuse Folau or anyone in particular of being guilty of doing this, although some outspoken commentators seem not to have realised that being divisive prevents someone from inheriting the kingdom of God as much as immoral behaviour. The fact that Galatians lists it together with  ἔχθραι echthra “enmities”, a term which can include being hateful,  ἔρις eris, “contention, strife”, and ἐριθεῖαι eritheia “quarrels” (a term which, interestingly, is used by Aristotle with reference to  those who use dirty tricks while electioneering for office to obtain popular support), suggests that the writer was just as concerned about those who stir up hatred and division in the community as much as he was about those who were sexually immoral. People who use the Bible to condemn others should take note, and take care!



2 comments on “More on dodgy theology (3)

  1. I was also surprised that Folau chose this text to accompany his post since 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 seemed to be the source of the vice list given in the meme.

    On the issue of dissensions, the notion that Folau was engaging in this sin presupposes a lot. Folau’s defenders would probably regard him as a courageous prophetic voice in the tradition of Jeremiah and John the Baptist. Of course, such individuals were regarded in their own time by their enemies as troublesome dissenters. In Folau’s case, the message he was making was unquestionably countercultural (since “hell fire preaching” and condemnation of homosexuality are distinctly out of vogue within much of Christianity, never mind Western society as a whole) but very much in line with the historic Christian doctrinal and moral tradition. So in order to decide whether he is a prophetic voice to an evil generation or a troublesome dissenter against moral progress, we must first rule on whether the shifts in society and Christianity over the last several decades, particularly concerning notions of sin, repentance, and punishment (and with special emphasis on homosexuality) were good or bad. This is of course a complex matter to adjudicate.

    But the bottom line is that instigating conflict or confrontation is not intrinsically wrong; Jesus did plenty of that in his ministry. It is wrong to engage in confrontation needlessly, over trivial matters, or for its own sake. From Folau’s point of view the issues he raised were anything but trivial.

    • Stephen Cook says:

      Thomas, I should qualify my comments that I was not accusing Folau of dissension, or any other sin. I was pointing out that the verse he quoted made a strong case for not being divisive, while saying nothing about homosexuality. It was not a good verse for him to quote, particularly as others (not me) had already accused him of causing dissension within his team. In the end I get the impression from news reports that Rugby Australia cancelled his contract because (a) he had ignored a reasonable instruction from his employer, and (b) this was having an adverse impact on the unity of the team. Folau has a right to hold his religious views, and to express them. He does not have a right to express these views if he has already agreed not to do so on social media.

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