St Paul, Israel Folau, Sex, and Slavery — in Context

St Paul, Israel Folau, Sex, and Slavery — in Context, by Michael Dunn.

The Folau controversy prompted me to read a book by Sarah Ruden, a translator of Virgil’s Aeneid, titled Paul Among the People. She examines what Paul said in the context of the customs, the morals and the laws of his time, using relevant texts of Greco-Roman civilisation. She reveals a world of slavery, everyday brutality and prostitution, and a harsh attitude to life. …


For the Greeks, adultery was illegal. In Athens, the household of an adulterous woman would be broken up. The children of her marriage would be considered illegitimate, they could no longer inherit and were no longer citizens. The adulterous man, however, the real guilty party, was despised as are pedophiles today. The full force of public anger and punishment was aimed at him. Adultery was considered all the more licentious because there were so many prostitutes, and there was no shame about using them. Also, men had many opportunities for free sex with slaves and unmarried freed women. The Romans were less severe, although adultery was usually the end of a marriage and the guilty man could be the target of vengeance and perhaps hired killers. …


Paul sees the body as a temple, where flesh and the spirit meet. Fornication, expressed here as sex with a harlot, pollutes and desecrates that temple, making it not worth the price Christ paid for it by his crucifixion.

In Paul’s time, a long-term intimate relationship among slaves, freed people and the poor did not involve an official marriage, a rite normally reserved for the well-off. Therefore, according to Ruden, ‘fornication’ is not the right word to translate porneia which Paul had condemned. This Greek word, which derives from the verb ‘to buy’, meant ‘whoring’. Prostitutes were mostly slaves. Some of the women had to parade naked, and there are Greek vases showing men hitting them. Even in the case of sex without payment, there was frequent brutality and little romance. The author suggests that Paul wished to condemn the use of a person as a mere object. He demanded a new sort of intimate relationship, a true and sanctified union, to which adultery and whoring were utterly alien. …


Paul was Jewish, and Judaism had always condemned homosexual acts. For Gentiles, it was customary to use young male slaves for sex. Paul would have seen, among the prostitutes on the street, young boys. At every slave market handsome boys were sold to pimps who paid high prices. The clients, to demonstrate their masculinity and to preserve their reputation, would often act brutally. The boys were used, humiliated and damaged, morally and physically. Wealthy parents had to employ minders to protect handsome sons from sexual assaults while walking to school or to the market.


Ruden presents Paul not as a Puritan but as a man fiercely angered by debauchery and sexual violence, a man who wanted Christians to live differently in faithful intimate relationships, abandoning selfishness, violence and all trace of exploitation. …

Folau’s selective list of sins and sinners to be warned about the torments of hell is blind to the historical context. It sells Paul and Christianity short: ‘just avoid these sins, and you won’t go to hell when you die’.

Now that the left is busying unraveling the Christian basis to our society, positively encouraging previously illicit sex, and creating a global elite who look down on the rest of us — what is there to look forward to? It’d be like a return to old times.