the mutuality in marriage

1 Corinthians 7:1-5

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

what does this mean????? first we have the corinthians presumably writing to Paul, asking (or maybe even telling him) if it’s ok for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. who asks that?? we were speculating in class the possible groups of people who would ask such a topic:

  1. precursors of what would be the first celibate monks / ascetic hermits
  2. women whose husbands wanted to abstain from sex

im going more with the 2nd option. without a son, women would quite literally be left with nothing should their husband pass away, and depended upon their children for support. if their husband for perhaps religious reasons (think abstinence as a form of worship) decided to no longer have sex with his wife, and in so doing deny her a child, the woman would be left helpless. those are my thoughts, though we’ll never really know for sure which group of people were asking these questions.

then we come to v3 and v4. the first section of v4 would’ve made sense in the ancient greco-roman world. the men were the ones who owned women’s bodies; we see this in the sexist implementation of adultery laws, and the general status of women in society. but its the later half of v4 that probably left the corinthians reeling, ‘Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.’ :O what does this mean???? especially when we read this verse in light of Ephesians 5:22 ‘Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.’ is the authority that is at play here different in ephesians, than it is in corinthians? i think so.

paul in corinthians is very clearly talking about physical bodies, specifically with regards to sexual intercourse. when it comes to sex, neither party holds authority over the other. this is incredible stuff, especially when we think of the use of sex in the ancient greco-roman world. sex was seen as a power move, and that display of power was especially contingent on the ‘position’ you took. there are a multiplicity of ancient greek terms that describe the two possible states, the penetrator and the penetrated.

paul here dismantles any notion of ‘power’ to be found in sex. whether or not you are the one penetrating or the one being penetrated, both parties have authority over each other. yet, how can this be?

Mark 10:6-8

But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.

Jesus was quoting Genesis 2:24 here. one flesh. where your body is no longer merely your own, but someone else’s. and to you as well, belongs the body of someone else. the level of surrender! truly how can it be that sex is then divorced from intimacy?

im almost to the end of the sun also rises by hemingway, and this clear distinction that hemingway sees between sexual affections and true intimacy is one that comes across so clearly, especially in Jake and Brett. his impotency (more broadly the inability to perform sexually) is the deciding factor as to why Brett will not stay with him. yet, the tenderest, warmest, most heart-wrenchingly soft moments in the book, are the conversations between those two.

the authority that comes out in ephesians is much more about spiritual leadership (a topic for another time). what is so clear in corinthians is that when a man and a woman come together, they no longer belong to themselves, but to each other. how can sinful people mantain this surrender? to trust so deeply, so intensely?

this too for another time.

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