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Israel Folau’s meme; not quite a Bible verse

Behind the meme

Did Israel Folau quote the Bible? For some, all Israel Folau did was to quote a 2000-year-old text. Others are not so sure.

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The Instagram post that led to his sacking by Rugby Australia is a meme accompanied by a “caption” (using Insta’s language).

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Those that are living in Sin will end up in Hell unless you repent. Jesus Christ loves you and is giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him. _______________ Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these , adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Galatians 5:19‭-‬21 KJV _______________ Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Acts 2:38 KJV _______________ And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:
Acts 17:30 KJV _______________

A post shared by Israel Folau (@izzyfolau) on

Claiming that Folau quoted the Bible in his caption should be uncontroversial. There are three passages there, faithfully cut-and-pasted from a recognised translation.

But it was the meme, not the caption, that caused offence. The problem, evidently, was the word ‘homosexuals,’ and it doesn’t appear in the caption.

So, the question then is: did Israel Folau quote the Bible in the meme?

Not as such – and Izzy didn’t create the meme. It predates his post. For example, @travon_love posted it on IG in June 2017, and that was a repost of a now-closed account.

A Google search of “visually similar” images reveals that there is another version with slightly different text. In fact, warnings of hell presented as road/danger signs appear to be a sub-genre of Christian memes – that is, they’re a thing.

So, the question then is: did Israel Folau post a meme that quotes the Bible?

No, he didn’t. At least not in the sense that a quote contains the exact words and phrases used in the original. The closest Bible passage is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, but it is not quoted. Check it out for yourself! Here it is in the closest translation to Folau’s post:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:9-10 NKJV)

So, the question then is: did Israel Folau post a meme that is a reasonable paraphrase of the Bible?

Now we’re dabbling in shades of grey – a grey that I am sorry to say turns out to be rather pale.

The meme focuses on behaviour; Paul focuses on the gospel.

The meme is true to the Bible only in the sense that most of what it says can be deduced from the passage, when combined with a little prior knowledge.

1 Corinthians 6:9 says that “wrongdoers” (the “unrighteous”) will not inherit the “Kingdom of Heaven”. If we know the Bible, we know that in this context, among other things, the Kingdom of Heaven refers to eternal life in a new creation. The meme makes the correct inference that the destination of those who do not inherit this kingdom is hell (see Jesus’ statement in Mark 9:45-48).

But – and this is a significant but – the meme does not reflect the verse’s most natural sense. There are a few problems. Firstly, the meme is targeted at non-Christians, calling them to repent. But in these verses from 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul is writing to Christians, reminding them of what they once were (1 Cor 9:11).

Secondly, Paul is not threatening the Corinthians with hell; he is reminding them of who they already are (people who will inherit the kingdom) and imploring them to act accordingly.

Thirdly, the meme introduces the idea of salvation, which is not in the text, and does so in a way that is not true to the original letter.

The Corinthian church was not “being saved” (1 Cor 1:18) principally because they stopped committing these sins (although that’s important). They were “being saved” because they called “on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” and held to the message of his death and resurrection (1 Cor 1:2; 15:2). Those who are “perishing” are those for whom this message is “foolishness” (1 Cor 1:18).

The meme focuses on behaviour; Paul focuses on the gospel.

[All] desperately need Christ and are called to live according to his kingdom.

Fourthly, the meme has manipulated the list of sins. Coveting (or greed) – a sin that is sometimes swept under plush carpet in western Christianity – has been left out and replaced with “atheists” – a virtually unknown phenomenon in Paul’s day.

“Revilers” (or “slanderers”) escaped the meme’s attention. “Extortioners” appear to have morphed into “liars.” And the order has changed, making “drunks” and “homosexuals” more prominent – while idolatry and heterosexual sexual sins have been shuffled down the list.

Lastly, the word “homosexuals” is problematic. Today, most people think of homosexuality as an innate orientation. However, the two Greek words that the meme combines as “homosexuals” focus more on the sexual act, rather than the orientation itself.

I think Rugby Australia would have found the meme offensive regardless of this subtlety. But people who experience same-sex attraction should know that, according to the Bible, they are not condemned for that attraction, any more than a heterosexual person is condemned for experiencing wrong sexual desires.

Both need their sexuality redeemed and all their sins forgiven. Both desperately need Christ and are called to live according to his kingdom.

So, did Israel Folau quote the Bible? No, he posted a meme that is a very loose paraphrase and supported it with a Bible verses in his caption.

However, what he posted is broadly consistent with the church’s historic understanding of the Bible: God is angry with human sin – including those listed – and will punish it at final judgment unless we are “saved” from this destiny through Jesus.

This happens – as one of Izzy’s texts indicates – when we receive forgiveness for our sins.

Tom Richards is a Presbyterian missionary based in Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu.

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