More than once, I'm sure you've been told that the Bible’s view of sex is old fashioned. It happened so long ago that there's no way it could possibly be relevant to what we're facing today! So we did some digging and decided that before we look at this “old-fashioned” essay by the Apostle Paul on sex and the Christian response, we should look at the culture’s sexual climate.
Paul was living deep in the Greek culture, and this is the backdrop for 1 Corinthians and Ephesians. Many people today would say that the Greeks had a great openly sexual culture, but we can look back at them and realize that there was a lot of questionable stuff going on! Bisexuality was the norm among men, with most men regularly engaging in sexual relationships with other men, and often times even young boys. Something called pederasty, a type of pedophilia that typically began with kidnapping the young boy, was common Misogyny ran rampant. Women were often trapped in unhappy and abusive arranged marriages and had no say in their future. They were either married off, or became prostitutes. Singleness wasn't really an option. The culture Paul was living in was very sexually broken, much like our culture today. So, maybe we haven't really evolved that much. Maybe God's teaching about sexuality has never been "in-style".
In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is responding to the church about how to respond to the two main views of sexuality in the Greek culture: the mainstream view, and the religious view.
The mainstream view took the approach that sex is just an appetite. He references this in Vs. 6:13 “...the food for the stomach; the stomach for food; both will be destroyed...” They believed that like food, sex is something our body needs regularly and cannot live without. They also thought that the soul was the only thing that was eternal, so they could do whatever they wanted with their bodies. They worshiped self and did what was pleasing to their bodies. This is similar to how our culture views sexuality today, with the exception of the emphasis on the soul.
The religious view took the approach that sex was dirty, but unfortunately necessary. Paul responds to this statement in chapter 7: "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." They believed that sex was for procreation alone, and should only be had when it was time to try for a baby. This was a worship of the family, and we see this a lot today in many Protestant and Catholic circles.
So, in this time of two very opposing views on sex, the churches wrote to Paul to ask him to address these topics, because they were causing contention. People on the religious side of the issue assumed he would agree with them, but Paul had a radical view of sexuality for his time. Remember, he was a (former) Pharisee with a rich pedigree of theological training. Through renown rabbi Gamaliel, he had an expert knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures.
When Paul wrote back to the churches, he didn't agree with either the mainstream or the religious view of sexuality. He presented his view that was based on the ancient truths of the Old Testament. There were two main things that Paul taught about sexuality.
First, he taught that sex is a pure and holy act. In verses 16-17 he states, "Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him." Here, he draws on his Old Testament knowledge by referencing one of the very first verses in the Bible, Genesis 2:24. Paul understood that sex transcends the physical and involves the whole person. He understood Yada.
Second, he taught that we are free to choose. Paul introduces the concept of freedom in verse 12: "All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful." This verse is sometimes confusing, but he's basically saying, "You can choose your own sexual ethic, but ask yourself this question: is this really good for me?" He also stated that it was okay to stay single, which was another radical thought for this time. The culture was centered on relationships and childbearing. Widows were expected to remarry within two years of their husband's passing, or they would be fined. Single women often became prostitutes. But Paul said to the church that singleness was an option. This was a big step in female empowerment at the time!
Paul encouraged the church to approach sexual ethics with a hope and a future. Tim Keller puts it this way: when we approach the topic of sexuality, we have hope in three things: an ultimate family, an ultimate purpose, and an ultimate lover.
This is an excerpt from one of the sessions of the Pure Freedom Master Class, inspired by a teaching by Tim Keller: Sexuality & Christian Hope. The Master Class is not just a conference, workshop, or set of educational opportunities but an organic networking experience for leaders interested in learning more about sexual theology and sexual healing. Join Dannah and Bob as they seek to accelerate the sexual theology, teaching, coaching and healing capabilities of leaders through collaboration and education.
It provides mentoring to a limited number of approved applicants who desire to collaborate with others to: Increase a biblical understanding of sexuality, gender, and related issues such as birth control, abortion, masculinity, and womanhood. Increase the capacity of the body of Christ to culminate healing in those broken by sexual sin. Interface with unbiblical views of sexuality by presenting truth with convictional kindness.
Learn more at dannahgresh.com/masterclass