Sex Is Good   Leave a comment

In our sex-obsessed society, it is perhaps a shock that sex is a touchy subject. Equally shocking for some people is that the Bible talks about sex A LOT. Though the Bible handles this subject matter much differently than the secular world, it does have much to say on the subject. I can only think of one reason for matters pertaining to sex to be so frequently discussed in the Bible—sexuality must be very closely related to spirituality.

Now with regard to the issues you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of immoralities, each man should have relations with his own wife and each woman with her own husband. A husband should give to his wife her sexual rightsand likewise a wife to her husband. It is not the wife who has the rights to her own body, but the husband. In the same way, it is not the husband who has the rights to his own body, but the wife. Do not deprive each other, except by mutual agreement for a specified time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayerThen resume your relationship, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-controlI say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that everyone was as I am. But each has his own gift from God, one this way, another that.  1 Corinthians 7:1-5

The beliefs and practices of the Corinthian saints seem to vary greatly when it comes to matters of sexual values and conduct. Paul rebuked the liberal extreme for failing to exercise church discipline on a man living in an incestuous relationship with his father’s wife. In chapter 6, Paul confronted those who felt that having sex with a prostitute is not contrary or detrimental to one’s spiritual life. There are those in Corinth whose sexual values are shocking, even to the pagan Corinthians (see 5:1).

Image result for image of christian marital sexOur current text indicates there were some believers who used spirituality as a pretext for sexual immorality, while for others spirituality meant abstaining from sex altogether. By the way, this is where the water hits the wheel with our friend who caused us to start this series. He believes he’s found support in the Bible for his sexual immorality. So far, he has yet to show us convincing evidence of his belief.

In chapter 7, Paul turned his attention to those who seem to regard all sex as dirty, and who therefore advocated celibacy. For those who are single, it means staying single and, unlike today, celibate as well. For those who are married, it seems to mean that these couples should also refrain from sexual relations. I see a touch of gnosticism in this — the idea that the flesh is evil and must never be indulged.

In the matter of sexual conduct, the Corinthians lived in a very troubled world, not unlike our own era. The ancient world of Paul’s day had a very distorted view of women, sex, and marriage. Prostitution was an essential part of Greek life. Demosthenes had laid it down as the common and accepted rule of life: “We have courtesans for the sake of pleasure; we have concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation; we have wives for the purpose of having children legitimately, and having a faithful guardian for all our household affairs.”

The Roman sexual ethic was no better. By Paul’s era, Roman family life was wrecked. Seneca wrote that women were married to be divorced and divorced to be married. In Rome the Romans did not commonly date their years by numbers. Women called them by the names of their husbands. Martial the Roman poet tells of a woman who had ten husbands; Juvenal tells us of one who had had eight husbands in five years; Jerome declares it to be true that in Rome there was a woman who was married to her 23rd husband and she herself was his 21st wife.

One would hope the Jews would be exemplary in matters of sex and marriage, but it wasn’t the case. In Paul’s day Judaism reverenced neither women nor marriage. Josephus wrote, ‘The woman is worse than the man in everything’ (Josephus, Contra Apionem, 2, 201).

In the age of the coming of Christianity, even with Judaism the marriage bond was in peril so great that the institution of marriage was threatened. Jewish girls were refusing to marry at all because the position of the wife was so uncertain. The ancient ritual of “female circumcision” was practiced then too. This (cough) surgical procedure doesn’t benefit the woman at all, but prevents her enjoyment of sex. It seems that in the minds of those men who impose this on women, it is the woman’s place to give pleasure to the man, but never the woman’s place to receive pleasure from the man. While we may not mutilate our women in the United States, many American men expect their wives to give them sexual pleasure at any time, but feel little or no obligation toward fulfilling their wives’ sexual pleasure.

Paul’s words concerning sex and marriage were desperately needed in his day and no less needed in our own day.

From the Book of Proverbs, we know that God designed marriage and sex not only as a means for bringing children into this world, but also as God’s appointed means for a man to find pleasure in his wife:

Drink water from your own cistern, And fresh water from your own well. Should your springs be dispersed abroad, Streams of water in the streets? Let them be yours alone, And not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. As a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love. Proverbs 5:15-19.

In the New Testament, Jesus attended a wedding and then miraculously provided wine when their supplies were exhausted (John 2:1-11). The Apostle Paul assumed that elders and deacons would be married with children (1 Timothy 3:2, 12). Paul also encouraged younger widows to marry (1 Timothy 5:14). He claimed the right as an apostle to “lead about a wife” (1 Corinthians 9:5). The writer to the Hebrews also held marriage in high esteem, and the proper realm for sexual enjoyment between husband and wife. “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Hebrews 13:4).

In the Bible, marriage is viewed as the norm, and the single life as the exception. Marriage is viewed as holy, righteous, and good. Those who seek to prohibit marriage as something evil are identified as false teachers by Paul (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Marriage is a good gift from God that many Christians gratefully receive and enjoy.

We know that there was a previous letter from Paul to the Corinthians and it is reasonable to assume that the Corinthians wrote a letter to Paul asking his advice on certain matters. Beginning with the statement, “Now concerning the things about which you wrote…” suggests Paul was answering their questions. In studying for this lesson, I ran across a textual critic who notes that Paul doesn’t say he’s answering a question. He says he is responding to what they wrote. There’s a difference there.

Some people ask questions which are not meant to be enlightening. Many questions are asked in a way which cleverly “teaches” the one who is asked or others who are listening. Some seek to undermine the teaching or authority of the one asked. Remembering the Corinthian factions, it is entirely possible that the Corinthians were asking gotcha questions or it could also be that they wrote him what they thought was true and expected him to agree with them.

Were they, in their enlightened wisdom, attempting to teach Paul? It’s possible. Could they be writing to Paul as their spiritual father and mentor, wanting to hear his wisdom and heed it? I’m inclined to view their communication with Paul with suspicion.

We know from Paul’s words in chapter 5 that when a Corinthian church member was living with his father’s wife and that the church had not exercised church discipline, but instead were proud of their accepting attitude (5:2). Some Corinthians were proud as a result of sin and their response to it. When Paul raised the issue of sex and marriage in chapter 7, he was dealing with the opposite extreme in the church … those who have overreacted to fleshly lusts, seeking to overcome them by asceticism. These folks were just as proud of their asceticism as the others named in chapter 5 were of their fleshly indulgence. Perhaps these ascetics had become so smug they assumed Paul would applaud them. After all, when it came to sexual abstinence and remaining single, Paul stood out among the apostles, and among those in the churches (see 1 Corinthians 9:4-5). They may not have agreed with Paul on many matters, but these ascetics might well have wanted Paul’s endorsement here. Paul’s words in response to their communication probably shocked them.

Before attempting to interpret Paul’s words in verse 1, we must pause to point out that the translation of the NIV is inaccurate. The expression, “not to touch a woman,” is a reference to sexual intercourse, not marriage, and thus the NIV is in error when it translates as it does.

The idiom ‘to touch a woman’ occurs nine times in Greek antiquity, ranging across six centuries and a variety of writers, and in every other instance, without ambiguity it refers to having sexual intercourse. There is no evidence of any kind that it can be extended or watered down to mean, ‘It is good for a man not to marry.’71

The Corinthian ascetics didn’t sanction sexual immorality. Instead, they didn’t sanction sex. They felt sex is dirty, whether within marriage or without. This tells us more about the ascetics than it does about biblical morality: “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled” (Titus 1:15). Having concluded that all sex is evil, these folks followed out the implications of their false doctrine. If all sex is evil, then it is evil to enjoy sex in marriage. Husbands and wives should abstain from sex, unless for the bearing of children … if that. And those who are single should avoid the “temptation to have sex” by avoiding and abstaining from marriage. Paul refused to endorse such a view.

It would have been really easy for Paul to come on strong with these Corinthians, but he was gentle in his rebuke, clearly distinguishing between his personal convictions, his counsel (advice), and his authoritative apostolic commands (see 7:6-7, 40). His approach was to introduce the issue at hand and then gently correct the errors. In later chapters (e.g. 8-10), Paul’s initial gentleness leads to a very clear and forceful conclusion.

The ascetics of the Corinthian church had overreacted to the immorality of their day and city, concluding that all sex is dirty and should be avoided, even within marriage. When Paul says, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman,” I think he is repeating the position held by the Corinthian ascetics. It was another of those slogans introduced in Chapter 6. Paul repeated the statement, not because he agreed with it in its entirety, but because he agreed with it in part. Celibacy has its benefits, but not inside of marriage.

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