Posted: 19 Feb 2011 11:00 PM PST
WHEN PAUL BEGINS TO RESPOND to the questions raised by the Corinthians ("Now for the matters you wrote about," 1 Cor. 7:1), the first thing he treats is marriage, divorce, and related issues (1 Cor. 7). And the first part of his discussion deals with sex within Christian marriage (1 Cor. 7:1–7).
(1) Typical of many of his responses to this divided church, Paul here displays his "Yes … but" pastoral sensitivity. "It is good for a man not to marry. But … each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband" (7:1–2). "I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God" (7:7). In short, Paul must answer not only their questions but their extremes. Ideally he must do so by bringing the factions together, commending each for whatever light it brings to the subject, while nevertheless helping each side perceive that it does not have all the truth on the matter and is in fact distorting wisdom.
(2) The NIV reads, "It is good for a man not to marry" (7:1). The Greek literally reads: "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." The NIV translators assume this is a euphemism for marriage. But more recently scholars have shown that this is not the case. Apparently there were Christians in Corinth who advanced an ascetic agenda. Paul is prepared to say there is merit in that perspective: after all, later in the chapter he points out the advantages of being single in gospel ministry. But asceticism is not the only value; indeed, it may become an idol, or a way of disparaging God's good gifts, or of refusing to recognize the diversity of gifts God bestows on his people. After all, marriage relieves sexual pressure; to deny sexual pressure and cling desperately to celibate asceticism may lead to gross sexual sins (as it often has). The societal answer, biblically speaking, is not open sex or lasciviousness, but marriage. That is not the only value of marriage, of course, but it is a real one.
(3) Notice how, in the arena of marriage, Paul insists that sexual privileges and responsibilities are reciprocal: e.g., "each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband"—which is a long way from treating the woman like chattel. How many reciprocal statements are found in this paragraph?
(4) Within marriage, neither partner is to deprive the other of normal sexual intercourse except under three conditions: (a) by mutual consent; (b) for the purpose of devoting themselves to prayer; (c) and even then only temporarily. Thus, according to Scripture, sex must never be used as a weapon, offered as a bribe, or withheld as a punishment.
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