The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Jun 22, 2021

Christians, Professional Sports, and "Pride" Month: "Meat offered to idols" as an ethical analogy.

Normally on this blog I focus on academic matters (albeit from an unashamedly theologically conservative position), with the intent to provide an academic resource for students of Scripture. Once in a while, however, I feel the need to speak on practical matters.

This year, the month of June has seen an unprecedented level of activity from major professional sports organizations, both in the US and Europe, celebrating June as the so-called "pride" month for the LGBTQ community. This raises significant questions about to what degree a Christian can in good conscience participate in professional sports entertainment, questions that must at least be discussed.

I will state at the outset that this brief discussion assumes the following:
1. Christ dies for our sins according to the Scriptures, He was buried, He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and He was seen of many witnesses (1 Cor 15).
2. All Scripture (which includes Romans 1:18-32) is authoritative for the Christian.
3. God loves all humans, including homosexuals, and wishes to save them (John 3:16, etc.).
4. Yet homosexuality is a sin, and an offense to God (Rom 1:18-32, etc.).
5. In the beginning, God made them male and female, one man and one woman in a committed relationship (Gen 2:21-25; Matthew 18:3-9).
(For those that disagree with one or more of those 5 points listed above, this is not a discussion board and I will only be posting responses that make a legitimate contribution to my main point here about a Christian's involvement).

Now, it is not enough that a Christian merely abstains from participating in a sinful act. Scripture also emphasizes the need to avoid association with sinful acts, as well. While space forbids a thorough discussion of "holiness ethics" here, I would like to briefly focus on the Greek word eidōlothutos, "meat  offered to idols," which is expressly forbidden by both the Apostolic Council (Acts 15:29, which interestingly has reworded the earlier "pollutions of idols" in Acts 15:20 [tōn alisgēmatōn]), and Jesus Himself (Rev 2:14, 20). The point being, it was not just the act of worshipping idols or sacrificing to them that was prohibited, but even something as otherwise-innocent as eating meat if, in fact, it was so closely linked to idolatry itself that the act of eating meat was seen as participation in an idolatrous event.

Now, the million-dollar question is: how close is too close?, i.e., at what point does something become so closely entangled with a sinful lifestyle (whether that be idolatry or homosexuality) that a Christian would be expected to abstain? Sometimes it is a matter of degree. Paul clearly prohibits pagan banquets in 1 Cor 10:19-22 (using that word eidōlothutos in v. 19), but then a couple verses later (v. 27-28) allows for eating of meat at a neighborly meal, meat that, hypothetically, may have at one time been involved in idol-worship, so long as eating that meat would not harm one's testimony.

Though I am not doing justice to all the exegetical issues in these passsages, nonetheless the principle seems clear: the more closely associated the meat becomes with idolatry (including the sort of pagan guild festival that Jesus is castigating in His letter to Thyatira), the more inappropriate it becomes for the Christian. Paul's rhetoric in 1 Cor 10:20-21 and 2 Cor 6:14-18 is especially helpful here). [see Hemer 1989, 107-9 and 120 for discussion of the trade guilds in Thyatira; see Himes 2020 for a discussion of the link between Jesus' letter to Thyatira and the Apostolic council].

Now, back to sports. Taking Major League Baseball (of which I am a huge fan) as an example, almost every single team has committed itself in some way to the celebration of "Pride" month to "honor" a lifestyle choice that is unbiblical. The two exceptions, to the best of my knowledge, are my beloved Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros.

We understand that professional sports, like meat, is not inherently evil but actually good. We also recognize, however, that something that is "good" can be tainted. Furthermore, to the extent that my analogy with "meat offered to idols" is legitimate (and I believe it is), within this context a Christian's involvement with and enjoyment of professional sports can only be justified to the degree that it is not tainted by support of an ungodly lifestyle. Consequently, Christians should be at a minimum putting some thought into the issue of to what degree they can participate in/enjoy Major League Baseball. [That thought is not original with me, but the following is my own practical adaptation of it.]

Here is my own suggestion for proceeding (Christians should, of course, always follow their Spirit-guided conscience, but this is my personal "action step" going forward). In a nutshell: "Abstain from June." Let me explain:

On the one hand, at this point I do not believe the MLB has, as a whole been tainted enough to necessitate withdrawing completely from listening to games or purchasing merchandise (though if an emphasis on the LGBTQ community continues in other months, I will rethink that statement). Having said that, on the other hand I am now going forward under the assumption that the month of June, since it is being promoted as "Pride Month" by most of MLB, is problematic. As a Christian, then, going forward, I will abstain from MLB-related entertainment or purchases during the month of June. I currently have a month-by-month subscription with MLB-audio, and in future years  I will see if I can "unsubscribe" just for this month (too late for this year). At a minimum, I will not listen to any more games this month (starting today; right now, I would normally have a game live-streaming in my office from MLB.com).

On the other hand, once we hit July, if my beloved Texas Rangers have not capitulated to pressure to formally/officially have a "pride" day or team uniforms or anything like that, I intend to offer my support via hard cash by buying something from the official Rangers website (in full disclosure, it won't be much, I'm hardly rich, but it will be something).

I would also challenge all evangelical Christians to not attend, watch, or listen to any specific game that focuses on the LGBTQ community, and (obviously) not to purchase any merchandise that promotes that lifestyle. 

At a minimum this is a discussion that needs to happen amongst evangelical Christians, within the broader context of "Christ and culture." Specifically, more thought needs to be put into this question: "At what point can my enjoyment of something cause my loyalty to Christ to be questioned?" How we handle this question (and the answers will not always be clear-cut) will have implications for shopping, entertainment, and even business assocations. Come to think of it, in this regard a Christian in the 21st century does not differ that much from a Christian in the 1st century!

Sources mentioned:
Hemer, Colin  J. The Letters  to the Seven  Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989.

Himes, Paul A. "Did Jesus Quote the Apostles? The Possible Intertextuality and Significance  of Revelation 2:24." Southeastern Theological Review 11 no. 1 (Spring 2020): 31-52.

Jun 3, 2021

A Classic Example of Semantic Change (Thanks to Bugs Bunny)

 I have the privilege of teaching "Hermeneutics" twice each year, and when I do, I always spend a significant amount of time focusing on word studies, specifically how the intersection of semantic range (various meanings) and context determine a word's meaning at a particular point in the text.

I also discuss why we should not rely on etymology to determine meaning, precisely because languages evolve and words change meaning. A classic biblical example is James 3:1 in the King James, "be not many masters," which does not refer to being a slave-owner or having hired servants. Instead, the word is didaskaloi, so "be not many teachers." The problem here is not with the King James translators, because 400+ years ago the semantic range for "master" was broader and included "teacher." That is, after all, why we study for our "Master's Degree." But words change, and many of the words in older translations do not mean today what they meant back then (as well documented by my friend Mark Ward in his book Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible).

Now, none other than Reader's Digest has given us an excellent example of possible semantic change in its most recent issue (May 2021). I quote it in full here (p. 122):

    "It wasn't always rude to call someone a nimrod. In the Hebrew Bible (aka the Old Testament), Nimrod was the name of an exceptional hunter, and nimrod would later refer to any hunter. So how did his name become an insult? One popular theory: Bugs Bunny often sarcastically called the bumbling Elmer Fudd 'Nimrod' in 1940s cartoons, teaching generations of Looney Tunes fans that it meant idiot."

There you have it folks: why Bugs Bunny is relevant for lexical semantics.

For a basic introduction to lexical semantics, see "The Meaning of Words (Part 1): Words and Concepts" and "The Meaning of Words (Part 2): Context and Semantic Range."