Modern education leaves a lot to be desired these days. Not only are students being dumbed down, but many educators themselves could use refresher courses. I read recently of one university offering courses in burlesque and striptease. Students may remain illiterate, but at least they will know how to disrobe in public.
A somewhat amazing example of how our educational system is failing us was made clear in a letter to The Australian on 27 June 2003. The letter was written by a man with the title, "Research Associate, Department of Modern Greek, University of Sydney". His letter was an attempt to show that Jesus was a homosexual, and that the four Gospels "implicitly approve" of homosexuality.
His reasoning is so twisted and his theology is so inadequate that one feels sorry for whomever his research is assisting.
He begins by assuring us that the Gospels do not proscribe homosexuality. He is correct in this. But neither do the Gospels proscribe arson, rape or the injection of heroin; so arguing from silence is poor logic. Did Jesus approve of rape because he did not explicitly condemn it? Hardly.
Jesus, as a good Jew of his day, shared the common Jewish understanding of homosexuality, which was to utterly oppose it. There was very little need for Jesus to proscribe it. It was a given in Jewish culture that it was an abomination to God and not to be practised amongst the Jews.
But the argument that Jesus never condemned homosexuality needs to be considered from an even wider perspective. God's plans for human sexuality have always been limited to that of male/female married sex. No other sexuality is allowed in the Bible, with married heterosexual sexuality established by God in the opening chapters of Genesis. That has always been, and forever will be, the divine intention for sex.
Jesus did on many occasions in the Gospels affirm God's plan for sex within heterosexual marriage. It is in that context that any discussion of sexuality must take place. Whether Jesus spoke of other types of sexuality or not, all must be seen within this wider context of God's purposes for marriage.
Our learned academic then informs us that when Jesus said we are to "love one another as I have loved you" that this is clear proof of his approval of homosexuality. He claims Jesus uses the Greek word agapeo, and that this word can mean physical love. He even insists that this term does not mean "spiritual love". He then asserts that Greek was the spoken language of the Jews back then, and that Greek customs did not prohibit homosexuality.
The number of mistakes, misleading assertions, and incorrect pronouncements found here are quite incredible, considering that this individual is a research associate in Modern Greek.
Firstly, as this man should know, there are major differences between Modern Greek and Koine, or New Testament Greek. Greek of today has experienced many changes and gone through a gradual evolution over the past two millennia. Secondly, as any layman knows, Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Greek. More sophisticated (better educated) Jews of Jesus' day may have spoken Latin and Greek as well, but Aramaic was the lingua franca (common language) of the day.
The assertion that agapeo can mean physical love and really does not mean spiritual love is incorrect. There are a number of Greek words for love, of course, and eros was the common term for passionate, physical love. If Jesus had meant physical love, that is the term he would have chosen.
Back then agapeo almost always referred to the love of God. Any standard lexicon of New Testament Greek will make this clear. If Our Lord had wanted to speak of another kind of love, he could have used either eros or philos (these are the nouns; the verbal forms are erao and phileo). The latter means more of a brotherly love, or love between friends.
However, it is not only the terminology, but also the context of the passage in question (John 15:12) which makes it quite clear that physical love is nowhere to be found in Jesus' thinking. The context is his impending death, and the need of the disciples to be willing to lay their lives down one for another. To cheapen this injunction to mean carnal relationships is not only to do injustice to both New Testament Greek and the Gospel writer's clear intention, but it is to speak sacrilegiously of the atoning work of Christ.
Jesus here was hours away from going to a horrible death on our behalf. He was not making a pro-homosexual speech. Such an interpretation indicates confused thinking at best, or a deliberate misreading of the text in order to push a foreign (and quite recent) agenda onto the Biblical text.
The Australian correspondent then seeks to further strengthen his case by telling us that Jesus reclined with the disciple whom he loved. Well that must prove the case, mustn't it! One is amazed at either the academic's ignorance of the cultural world of first century Palestine or his bizarre attempt to twist Scripture.
It was of course the custom of the day to recline at table while sharing a meal together - and as God incarnate, of course Jesus loved his disciple, as he loved all his disciples, in fact the whole human race.
Yes, Greek culture did condone homosexuality to some extent, as it also condoned infanticide and slavery. But it was exactly because the early Christians rejected the cultural practices of the day that they became a persecuted and despised sect in the Greco-Roman world.
The letter under discussion is just one example of just what Peter warned about when he said that in the last days there would be those "ignorant and unstable people" who would distort Scriptures to their own destruction.
Bill Muehlenberg is National Vice-President of the Australian Family Association.