Paul and Sex

Posted: January 18, 2012 in General

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. He is the Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University (Chicago, Illinois).  Dr. McKnight has given interviews on radios across the nation, has appeared on television, and is regularly speaks at local churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries in the USA and abroad. Dr. McKnight obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Nottingham (1986). For more about Prof. Scot McKnight, go here

This post is published with permission from the author. Read below…

What Paul said about sex is not what the church cares to talk about. What the church says about sex is not what Paul particularly cared about.

How so?

Contemporary Christian churches, and here I’m lumping and it’s not entirely accurate to lump the church on a topic like this, are more or less committed to building good marriages, and seeing marriage as a(the?) goal (or close to the goal) of the Christian, and to see the church based in family life — in other words, we tend to focus on the family. The single life is not desire. In fact, one well-known evangelical leader has argued that if someone is not married by mid or late 20s they are living “in sin.” (I think that is how he said it. Doesn’t matter because his words illustrate that getting married is near the top of the list for Christians.) Not for Paul. (Reeves thinks Paul was single. Many agree with him.)

How do you respond to this sketch of Paul’s teachings on sex and marriage and devotion to Christ?

That, anyway, is the contention of  Rodney Reeves’ in his excellent Spirituality according to Paul: Imitating the Apostle of Christ. Yes, that’s what he contends. The issue is whether or not this is what Paul says about sex.

Every think about Paul and sex? The basics are in 1 Corinthians 7, and here are some major points sketched by Reeves: Marriage was about economics and status. Christ was returning, so Paul says Christians should not be concerned about marriage — both status and economics were about to go under.  Time is coming to a close (1 Cor 7:29); what’s important to the world is fading fast (7:31); making a better life for yourself, and securing through marriage and kids, is not important (7:20); the highest priority is Christ (7:35); all relations are designed to promote the Lord (7:15, 39). So Paul just wishes all were as he was (single; 7:7).

Put simply, marriage is not the main goal. What matters is devotion to Christ. Marriage is after that. We have turned this all upside down, Reeves contends. Marriage matters, but it doesn’t matter as much as devotion to Christ.

Reeves contends using 1 Cor 13 in a marriage ceremony is odd since for Paul that chp is about church life, not married life. (I think Reeves is right on this.)

And what Paul says about sex is not the way we talk about, esp when it comes to disordered sex: Paul disciplined the church (not just a person) for sexual disorder in 1 Cor 5 — sexual sins affect the church. Sexual disorder is individual for us: it is not about corporate purity. “We think sin is a private matter. Faith is an individual response. Sex is personal. Marriages are not arranged. Church is an option — take it or leave it.” Not for Paul: the primary thing is devotion to Christ in the new creation family called the church.

When someone sinned the church suffered. Today we hope the sin takes place in someone else’s church. Paul didn’t think there was another church. Baptist pastors may be relieved by Catholic priests sinning; maybe Catholics are glad it’s someone else this time. Not for Paul: one church, one body, one grief.

For Paul sex had two orientations: the present order is crumbling so marriage and family are second compared to devotion to Christ; sexual disorder is an ecclesial problem more than simply a personal problem.

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