idolatry leads to some pretty weird behavior, but idolatry (and envy, greed, and malice) is the sin, not the weird practices
Our Thursday night Bible study continues next week (March 8th at 6:30p in the church office). We’ll focus on 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10, and Jude 7. If you can, in preparation, read all of 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, and Jude 7.
(<– Relief of Priest Sacrificing to Cybele,
terracotta. From Isola Sacra Cemetary, 3rd century CE. Ostia Museum. Credits: Ann Raia, 2005)
We had a good discussion on Romans 1&2 last night. We started to see Paul in 1:26-27 setting up the Jewish Christians in Rome for a fall, aiming to puncture their pride. To do this, he delivers his “Wrath of God” sermon (verses 18-32) in the tone, phrases, and cadences that would stir up their “we’re better than them” sentiments and have them shouting, “Hallelujah, brother! Preach it!” pretty quickly. He paraphrases, sometimes almost directly quotes, from the Book of Wisdom — which his Jewish readers would know very well and would agree with. He even throws in an interjection (“…the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen!”) at verse 25 to give that “I’m preaching and you all agree with me” feel.
But, after inflating their “we’re better than those Gentiles” egos with the stuff about the crazy things the Gentiles do at those fertility rites (men castrating themselves in order to gain special powers, men having sex with the priest of the goddess in order to offer their seed to her, women wearing phalloi in order to penetrate men)… After whipping them up into an “we’re superior to them” frenzy this way, he slyly starts to include in his list sins which are truly sins — the everyday, banal evil his Jewish hearers would be all too subject to (just as all human beings are): greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, insolence, arrogance, boasting, disobedience to parents, without faith, without heart, without grace.
By the time he got to this point in his pretend sermon, some of Paul’s Jewish hearers may’ve started to feel uncomfortable, realizing that, “uh oh, he’s talking about stuff I’m susceptible to now!” And that’s exactly what he wanted to happen. He wanted them to wake up and smell their essential equality with the Gentiles, their equality in real sin, and to let go of their thinking they were “holier than thou” because of the shameful and crazy things the Gentiles would do during pagan worship. Paul would’ve definitely agreed that idolatry was sin – don’t get me wrong. But he wouldn’t have agreed that their weird goddess worship practices were even close to the seriousness of real sin like greed and envy and arrogance.
Last night, Rev. Jane brought up a helpful analogy to this point. She said the Jewish arrogance was like how the British now feel superior to the Spaniards because they practice bull-fighting. Bull-fighting may not be the best idea (agreed), but it’s just not real sin, and every culture has practices that other cultures think are weird.
But, again, the bottom line is that even if Paul somehow could be shown to be agreeing with the characterization of the Gentiles in his “Wrath of God” sermon, he’s still not talking about homosexual relationships. He’s talking probably about the crazy things Gentiles would do in pagan worship rites. The “due penalty” the men received in themselves could well be – is probably – the castration some men would submit to in order to obtain special powers. The men having sex with men is part of the temple prostitution in goddess cults. And the women exhanging natural relations for unnatural is probably the women wearing phalloi and penetrating men. All as part of the fertility goddess worship.
So if any of you are engaged in these kind of worship rites in order to worship a fertility goddess, I might be concerned if I were you. But if you love and worship the God of our Lord Jesus, then you ain’t idolators and you sure as hec ain’t being described in those verses!!
Amen, sister! 🙂
p.s. The article I based a lot of the Romans discussion on can be found at James Alison’s website: James Alison. Theology. This specific article is here: “But the Bible says…”? A Catholic Reading of Romans 1