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Does Phil Robertson get the Bible wrong?
Phil Robertson of A&E's "Duck Dynasty" has been suspended for his comments on homosexuality.
December 20th, 2013
11:23 AM ET

Does Phil Robertson get the Bible wrong?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
[twitter-follow screen_name='BurkeCNN']

(CNN) - The Robertson family of "Duck Dynasty" fame has rallied around its patriarch, saying his controversial comments on homosexuality are "grounded in the teachings of the Bible." But Scripture is fiercely contested ground, and some experts say Phil Robertson misinterprets a key Bible verse.

A&E, the network that broadcasts the hugely popular "Duck Dynasty" show, suspended Robertson for a now infamous interview with GQ magazine. In the article, Robertson, who became a born-again Christian in the 1970s after a prodigal youth, is asked to define "sin."

Here's what Robertson says: “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men."

Robertson, 67, then paraphrases a Bible passage from the New Testament: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers - they won’t inherit the kingdom of God.”

That's a pretty close citation of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which is a letter from Paul, often called the father of Christianity theology, to a fledgling Christian community in Corinth, Greece.

Here's what Paul's passage says, as rendered in the New International Version, by far the most popular translation among evangelicals and conservative Christians such as Robertson:

"Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

Evangelicals, who make up about a quarter of the U.S. population, tend to take that passage at face value. The Robertson family pastor, for instance, told CNN on Thursday that "the verse explains itself."

Robertson himself is no religious neophyte. He's an elder in the White's Ferry Road Church of Christ and offers spiritual counseling, charity and Bible studies to many in his hometown of West Monroe, Louisiana, the family pastor, Mike Kellett told CNN.

The "Duck Dynasty" star also preaches around the country to conservatives that flock to hear his blend of woodsy, plainspoken Christianity.

Many conservatives backed Robertson's views on Scripture and homosexuality this week, if not the "crude" way he argued his point to GQ.

My Take: The Bible really does condemn homosexuality

But other Bible experts said the Scripture Robertson cited isn't quite clear about homosexuality.

"A lot of people misread this text because it's so complicated," said O. Wesley Allen Jr., an associate professor at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky.

First, scholars say, we have to look at the context surrounding Paul's letter.

The Christian leader is trying to get the quarreling Corinthians to stop taking each other to civil courts and being judgmental. "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already," Paul says.

Things were supposed to be different after they became Christian believers, Paul continues; they were supposed to stop their sinful ways.

Then Paul lists some of their sins of the past, including greed, drinking too much, worshipping idols and sexual immorality. "That is what some of you were," Paul says. "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

The list of sins is likely based on rumors that Paul heard about Corinth, says Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania who has studied the Bible's teachings on homosexuality. Bible scholars call it a "vice list," and it appears several times in Scripture.

So what does Paul's "vice list" say about homosexuality? That's the tricky part.

The first word Paul uses is "malakoi," which means "soft" in Greek, according to Allen. By analogy, the word came to mean "effeminate," which is how the King James Version of the Bible translates it.

"In the ancient world, it would refer to a boy in a relationship with an older man," Allen said. "It was pederasty, not homosexuality as we think of it today."

The other relevant word on Paul's "vice list" is "arsenokotai," which means "male sex." It refers to the other half in the man-boy relationship, common in Greece at the time, Allen said, the older male having sex with the "soft one."

"It isn't anything to do with what we would see today in an intimate, mutual relationship between gay adults," said Allen, who is co-authoring an upcoming book on homosexuality and heterosexuality in the church.

My Take: The Bible’s surprisingly mixed messages on sexuality

Even so, scholars such as Allen acknowledge there are no Bible passages that support same-sex relationships, and at least seven that appear to condemn gay sex.

"There's no way around the fact that those passages take a negative view of homosexuality, and nowhere in the Bible is a positive view offered," Allen said. "So conservatives and liberals continue to debate."

Liberals say that some parts of the Bible offered particular truths for a specific times and places but those times and places, as well as human understanding of sexuality, have progressed dramatically.

"The Bible may be divinely inspired, but its authors were human and saw, as St. Paul puts it, through a glass darkly," said Jim Naughton, a Christian gay rights activist and communications consultant. "On the subject of homosexuality, the Bible doesn’t mean what Phil Robertson thinks it means."

Conservatives such as Robertson, on the other hand, argue that the Bible is the bedrock of their faith, unchanging and unalterable. "We want you to know that first and foremost we are a family rooted in our faith in God and our belief that the Bible is His word," the Robertson family said Thursday.

For decades, the gulf between the two sides has divided denominations, churches and families. To paraphrase Lincoln, both sides read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and both invoke his aid to argue against each other. Which is why our contemporary debate over homosexuality is so fierce, and so seemingly unending.

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Church • Culture wars • Discrimination • Ethics • evangelicals • Faith • Gay marriage • Gay rights • gender issues • Prejudice • Same-sex marriage • Sexuality

soundoff (5,719 Responses)
  1. JJ

    It's been widely know throughout history that King James was a homosexual. How ironic his KJV 1611 is what hateful Christians use to persecute gays.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
    • JFCanton

      I guess, but one of the faults of advocacy on this issue is the assumption that everyone is on the make 24-7. His seeming infatuation was married with five kids, so it's not like that guy wasn't busy with his wife all the while.

      In any case, KJV isn't the only translation...

      December 20, 2013 at 6:12 pm |
  2. David Alicea

    I like Duck Dynasty I just like how they talk like red necks and show me what to do when I meet a redneck, its just like KKK use the cross that also show me what to do when I face to face with the KKK. we need guns to protect use from the redneck and the KKK, because one day all of these rednecks and KKK are going to get together against the government and against anyone that are not redneck or KKK. we have to be ready, they are been train by the US government call the ARMY buy guns we will need them.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
  3. Jeff

    Being gay in the US is of the 4%, they are of the abnormal group. Statistics don't lie.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:56 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      Abnormal? How so?

      December 20, 2013 at 5:58 pm |
      • Austin

        they are very normal. They choose to sin. everyone does.

        Not everyone repents. but all are given the power to do so .

        He is risen. We have been baptized in the freedom from sin if we ask for HIs spirit.

        December 20, 2013 at 6:01 pm |
        • Haaay

          Phil sins, too. So do you.

          December 20, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
        • truthprevails1

          They no more choose to be gay than you choose to be hetero. You know you and I will never agree on this but in the least you are not being totally hateful and you do attempt tolerance.

          How's school going? Are you almost done?

          Have a happy holiday Austin!

          December 20, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
  4. george t hibs

    Just say no to hokey pokey between men.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • truthprevails1

      How do you propose stopping what happens between two adults in the privacy of their own home?
      18 states have now legalized same-gender marriage, only 32 to go...won't be long now until the rest join the 21st century. 🙂

      December 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • Answer

      Time grinds on it, and we see the religious freaks being ground to dust.

      December 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  5. John

    i'm supporting Phil. I believe A.E is following the p.c way of network t.v. Arts and entertainment is a load of ....! Artists in general art are not the same as regular us. They have a gifted vision that I can only admire. Phil's comments are first amendment rights. He also said (live and let live) those are my words. We do tend to hide from things we don't understand. Myself I'm not all anti-gay but it's not up to me judge.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  6. no

    Gay=dumb choice

    December 20, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Answer

      Religious freaks deserve the punishment of our society. Suck it.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
      • YahRight

        Ironically, that belief makes you a religious freak. Being religious doesn't necessarily mean believing in a higher power. It simply is defined has a closely held set of beliefs or way of life you religious nut.

        December 20, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
      • Answer

        Religious freaks deserve whatever avenue of pain they deserve. I'm happy to ridicule them to no end. 😀

        December 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
      • JFCanton

        The punishment of the management board of A&E? Wait, they probably like it the other way around...

        December 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • sybaris

      When did you choose to be straight?

      December 20, 2013 at 8:05 pm |
  7. GODS is REAL

    Azura Mazda, Angus, Belenos, Brigid, Dana, Lugh, Dagda, Epona, Allah Aphrodite, Apollo, Ares, Artemis, Atehna, Demeter, Dionysus, Eris, Eos, Gaia, God, Hades, Hekate, Helios, Hephaestus, Hera, Hermes, Hestia, Pan, Poseidon, Selene, Uranus, Zeus, Mathilde, Elves, Eostre, Frigg, Ganesh, Hretha, Saxnot, Shef, Shiva Thuno, Tir, Vishnu, Weyland, Woden, Yahweh, Alfar, Balder, Beyla, Bil, Bragi, Byggvir, Dagr, Disir, Eir, Forseti, Freya, Freyr, Frigga, Heimdall, Hel, Hoenir, Idunn, Jord, Lofn, Loki, Mon, Njord, Norns, Nott, Odin, Ran, Saga, Sif, Siofn, Skadi, Snotra, Sol, Syn, Ull, Thor, Tyr, Var, Vali, Vidar, Vor, Herne, Holda, Nehalennia, Nerthus, Endovelicus, Ataegina, Runesocesius, Apollo, Bacchus, Ceres, Cupid, Diana, Janus, Juno, Jupiter, Maia, Mars, Mercury, Minerva, Neptune, Pluto, Plutus, Proserpina, Venus, Vesta, Vulcan, Attis, Cybele, El-Gabal, Isis, Mithras, Sol Invictus, Endovelicus, Anubis, Aten, Atum, Bast, Bes, Geb, Hapi, Hathor, Heget, Horus, Imhotep, Isis, Khepry, Khnum, Maahes, Ma’at, Menhit, Mont, Naunet, Neith, Nephthys, Nut, Osiris, Ptah, Ra, Sekhmnet, Sobek, Set, Tefnut, Thoth, An, Anshar, Anu, Apsu, Ashur, Damkina, Ea, Enki, Enlil, Ereshkigal, Nunurta, Hadad, Inanna, Ishtar, Kingu, Kishar, Marduk, Mummu, Nabu, Nammu, Nanna, Nergal, Ninhursag, Ninlil, Nintu, Shamash, Sin, Tiamat, Utu, Mitra, Amaterasu, Susanoo, Tsukiyomi, Inari, Tengu, Izanami, Izanagi, Daikoku, Ebisu, Benzaiten, Bishamonten, Fukurokuju, Jurojin, Hotei, Quetzalcoatl, Tlaloc, Inti, Kon, Mama Cocha, Mama Quilla, Manco Capac, Pachacamac and Zaramama

    December 20, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • I beg to differ

      Mazda? I had a Mazda, it it most certainly was NOT divine.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        I beg to differ, my Mazda is the best car ever. 🙂

        December 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
    • Barry

      Hey, thanks for sharing. That was really helpful.

      December 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm |
  8. citizenatlarge1

    Whether you believe in religion or not does not matter. This man expressed his views and was summarily condemned by the LGBT community because he disagrees with their lifestyle. A&E in turn bowing to pressure by the gay community then suspends Phil. What happened to the right of every American to express their views? This man did not try to incite violence or hatred toward any group, he simply stated his beliefs.The fact that people can and should live their lives as they see fit does not give the LGBT community the right to tell the rest of the world that the only point of view that is acceptable is their own. People should be able to express what they believe without fear of retribution and what has become social and economic terrorism by the LGBT community. Ironically they of all people should know how it feels to be persecuted for their lifestyle or for what one believes.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Answer

      Right to express their views.. yah even on a contractual television show. Sure right.

      If you out of bounds then the network can do what is outlined in the contract. You freaks are so dimwitted.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
      • YahRight

        He wasn't expressing his views on the TV show. Learn to read or read the entire article before you have to put your foot in your mouth again.

        December 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
        • Answer

          Religious freaks use every opportunity to show their bigotry. That is all there is to it.

          December 20, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
      • YahRight

        What's bad is good. What's good is bad. Even the word sick can mean awesome now. So being a bigot is not necessarily a bad thing anymore if it means standing up for what is right. Just because something is popular doesn't mean it's right.

        December 20, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      He did express his views. And he got bashed for it. People are free to be as bigoted a they want. Others are free to disapprove. The Westboro Baptist Church fucktards can rally and spew hatred at soldiers funerals without fear of being tossed in jail but they deserve no less than the utter scorn they invoke.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
  9. Michael

    The term "soft" can only be found to describe morals or fabric in the Bible. It is never found to mean some sort of mannerism as in effeminate. Just because 1,900 years after it was written it was translated to mean that doesn't mean it's right. The terms were actually translated to mean "self love" (mastur....) less than 100 years ago.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Russ

      @ Michael: we are talking about a Greek idiom ("soft men") which had broad other usage in Greek culture outside of the Bible. there are plenty of examples here.

      here's a scholarly essay's footnotes (I tried to cut & paste but the filter wouldn't let it). look at notes 96-98. tons of examples.
      http://www.robgagnon.net/2Views/Ho.moViaRespNotesRev.pdf
      [take the period out of "Ho.mo"]

      December 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  10. chris

    Bible is not the word of God, never has been. It's always been what man (who is considered flawed by his own works) has thought was the word of God. Bible is a flawed book.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • Barry

      Go back to your room. Smoke another doobie, and ponder the meaning of the universe. We'll be here when you're done

      December 20, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • Chris

      You are so wrong. The bible is the inspired word of God

      December 20, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
      • sybaris

        which god?

        December 20, 2013 at 8:04 pm |
  11. Michael

    This article is wrong. No one knows what Paul meant with those terms soft and male bed (it's actually bed). All we do know, with almost certainty, is he did not mean gay people.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
  12. Lane

    finally, an insightful, researched, and purposeful article about a social issue on cnn. Daniel, you're hired.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  13. Journey

    I'm glad someone like Phil got the courage to stand up to these oppressive people. Too many of our communities and families have been infiltrated.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Saray

      ...by evil followers of christ?

      December 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
  14. Topher

    BEST POST AWARD.

    This is so obviously a human idea, and not a very good one. Until humans put this bronze aged idea that was developed in the infancy of human civilization behind us, we will never reach our full potential.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children or other living things

      Quit stealing my name.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:47 pm |
      • Austin

        Topher? the real one??

        December 20, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
        • lol??

          Yep, it's me.

          December 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
        • Austin

          John 15:26-27

          New International Version (NIV)

          The Work of the Holy Spirit

          26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

          December 20, 2013 at 6:00 pm |
    • MulGen

      I'm not that impressed with the "couch and iPad age" answer of today. We got illogical atheists thinking they are logical. We got unloving Christians thinking they are loving. Aye Aye Aye!

      December 20, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
      • Answer

        Stupid religious freaks still need to stir the pot with their ignorance to get attention. No matter how hard you freaks try – you'll never win this war over the gay issue. You will be stump to the ground and be called out for the bigots that you are.

        December 20, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
        • MulGen

          You are wrong. Look at the evidence.

          December 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
        • Answer

          Go and post the evidence, freak.

          December 20, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
        • MulGen

          I'm gay. And I'm Christian. I'm not fighting a war against gays. I certainly don't think I'm acting like a bigot.

          December 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
    • JFCanton

      So exactly what IS our potential? To Borg through our IPhones, then starve to death while watching pan-sensual video entertainment? I think we reached our potential IN the Bronze age and have just been muddling around finding new ways to mess up ever since...

      December 20, 2013 at 5:57 pm |
  15. Ashamed American

    WOW, you don't have to believe in the bible BUT stop trying to change it!! His word is everlasting and will never change no matter how many won't to create a half church. To stumble on one point is to fail at its entirety. We are all sinners, I tightly own demons but will NEVER accept them as ok no matter how many liberals say it!

    December 20, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Bill

      Say hello to Anubus when you get down there.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Proud Canadian

      The king James bible actually makes fairly decent toilet paper in a pinch (no pun intended!)

      December 20, 2013 at 5:52 pm |
      • JJ

        And makes good rolling papers too!

        December 20, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
      • Surroundedbyidiots

        You are an idiot. Stay in Canada.

        December 20, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
      • truthprevails1

        Nice to see another Rational Minded Canadian here..HotAirAce; Doc Vestibule; AtheistSteve. 🙂

        December 20, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
    • Surroundedbyidiots

      Thank you! Finally. If people would just start standing up for what they believe....... I am reading these posts and most of you "intellectuals" are absolutely clueless. You live in a world where only you are important. It must be lonely. I will pray for you...you morons. Yes Christians can be $&@holes too...we don't profess to be perfect.

      December 20, 2013 at 6:07 pm |
  16. Eric Gigliotti

    Not saying I agree with him or anything of the sort. But, he IS a pastor (or at least was, I don't watch the show) and therefore is an expert on the bible. You can't really say, "OMG SEE, SEE? EXPERTS SAY HE'S WRONG!"

    December 20, 2013 at 5:41 pm |
    • sybaris

      Pastor is a label, doesn't mean he's an expert.

      December 20, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • steven

      Eric he has master degree in education and makes and sells ducks calls, how does that make him an expert on God's word, by the way, the passage he quoted from was a letter from Paul to the Corinthians. He was chastising the new christian for judging other, the list of sins Phil quotes were the sins Paul pointed out that new christians did in their past life and some were still doing then. I think Phil is confuse as a lot of Christians, we don't study the word enough to know better. Just look at the comments here

      December 20, 2013 at 11:09 pm |
  17. Topher

    God is dead son, let him go...

    December 20, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
    • Austin

      topher would not say that.

      Psalm 42:2-5

      New International Version (NIV)

      2
      My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
      When can I go and meet with God?

      3
      My tears have been my food
      day and night,
      while people say to me all day long,
      “Where is your God?”

      4
      These things I remember
      as I pour out my soul:
      how I used to go to the house of God
      under the protection of the Mighty One[a]
      with shouts of joy and praise
      among the festive throng.

      5
      Why, my soul, are you downcast?
      Why so disturbed within me?
      Put your hope in God,
      for I will yet praise him,
      my Savior and my God.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
    • Answer

      The stupid religious freaks with their babble quotes. They can't understand that their babble holds no authority, yet they still pile on the bs.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Atheism is not healthy for children or other living things

      Another atheist stealing my name.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • RB

      Thou shalt no steal.

      This includes Tophers screen name.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
  18. johnny oldtimer

    The world wide controversy about gays is one of the signs of the end times as outlined in the Bible so look up, because the end of this dispensation is just around the corner.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • Rick K

      For 2000 years thousands of people have preached "the end is near!" Jesus himself preached that. For people who aren't happy with their lives, it feels good to say "God's going to get all you bad people but he's going to save me!" What a silly, childish thing to believe. An adult tries to make the world better rather than hoping it will all burn down.

      December 21, 2013 at 8:36 am |
  19. Comeonpeople

    I don't understand why people argue so much over religion, I myself read the bible and believe in God. Those are my beliefs though I wouldn't go around insulting or demeaning people simply, because they don't agree with me. If someone is an atheist let them be an atheist, we all have our own opinions and viewpoints so respect other peoples opinions! That's whats wrong with the world today, if you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all. There are more important things to spend your time on then arguing with people you don't even know. Respect and accept others opinions.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • Sweet Emma

      Well, it's nice to call out stupid when you see it.
      You think your religion is all nicey nice.
      Non theists think it's disgusting to teach your vile drivel to children.
      Maybe it isn't as nice as you think it is...

      December 20, 2013 at 5:38 pm |
      • RD

        I know lots of non-theists that don't agree with your statements.

        December 20, 2013 at 5:40 pm |
      • JFCanton

        Yeah, not making your case too well there...

        December 20, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Louis Pawletki

      You may read the bible and believe in God but you don't believe the bible is God's Word or you wouldn't say to keep my faith to myself when the bible says to go into all the world and teach all nations.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
      • steven

        its also says in Matthew to pray in a closet, that was straight from Christ and not to judge anyone but yourself

        December 20, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
        • Louis Pawletki

          Not sure what point your making about praying in a closet but yes it does. Now about judging...Saying that something is wrong or sinful is not judging. However, the verses you refer to deal with hypocrisy more than judging anyway.
          Here's the text – 7 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
          So you see, Jesus is not saying we shouldn't help others deal with sin that causes them to offend, but should make sure ours is dealt with first.

          December 20, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
  20. Lynn Evans

    I think the point is being missed here by many. In our country, we have the right to speak freely. It doesn't mean we all have to agree or even be comfortable with the veiw, but we all need to respect and protect that person's right, or we will all loose it.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
    • Actually

      His freedom of speech is not at issue. He got suspended by the company he works for, who can do that.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:37 pm |
      • Dr Tom

        That's true. But if he got suspended for supporting gay rights, you might feel differently

        December 20, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
    • Terry

      This isn't a 1st Amendment issue.

      December 20, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.