What 1 Corinthians 7 does NOT say
Too often Bible passages are twisted, used to blame or abuse women.
1 Corinthians 7:1-6 is one of these commonly misunderstood passages. Here, Bekah takes a look at the verse and what it doesn't say.
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This video has been doing the rounds on Tik Tok. I’ve seen various threads questioning whether it’s a parody or questioning whether the woman made it or had it superimposed on a film of her - I’m not necessarily that interested, although it saddens me so very deeply when women have got so caught up in patriarchy that they argue for it.
What I am concerned about is the twisting and perversion of the Bible to use and abuse women. Or anyone for that matter. 1 Corinthians 7 says this:
'Now for the matters you wrote about: 'It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.' But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command.'
— 1 Corinthians 7:1-6 —
What it does not say is:
- Withholding sex is a sin
- That you are following Satan if you don’t have sex every time your partner would like it
- That you are damaging your husband by not having sex
- That you are damaging your children by not having sex.
This passage is written by Paul, one of the early Church leaders, who travelled the Mediterranean telling people about Jesus and starting new churches wherever he went. On his travels, he got reports about those churches and wrote letters to encourage them and to help straighten out disputes and misunderstandings. 1 Corinthians was written to a church in modern-day Greece that had a lot of disputes and misunderstandings, to say the least.
Powerful leaders were promoting themselves ahead of each other and creating factions within the Church. One was having an affair with his step-mother, some were visiting prostitutes and there was a group suggesting this was just a wonderful example of freedom in Christ! Sexual scandals within the church are not a new phenomenon!
On the other hand, some people’s response to this was to go to the opposite extreme and take on some of the practices of the contemporary ascetic lifestyle - viewing their body and its desires as inherently evil and to be denied and separated from their spirit which they gave to God and which was pure and holy.
No wonder Paul felt the need to write and straighten things out.
His letter doesn’t hold back and he tackles each of the controversies in Corinth, condemning the divisions and immorality that had taken root. He clearly separates what faith in Jesus looks like compared to the philosophies of the day. And it’s into this context that he writes to women and men telling them not to withhold their bodies.
He’s writing to people who are denying themselves bodily pleasures because they think their bodies are evil, and their body’s desires are sinful. The letter was addressing people who thought that by denying themselves sex they would attain holiness, that ‘it is good for a man not to have sex’. Paul has spent pages reminding them that holiness and righteousness are only to be found in and through Christ - and so in chapter 7, he is pointing out that it’s a nonsense to think holiness and righteousness can be achieved through celibacy. In fact, it’s an affront to what Christ did on the cross to imagine you can improve on His sacrifice by something you do or don’t do.
That’s what this passage is about.
And yet, this scripture gets used to coerce women and sometimes men into having sex whenever their partner desires it. Even when they’re exhausted, or sick, or sad, or frightened. It gets turned into nasty videos that will misinform and mislead a whole generation of young women who already live in a culture that tells them that their value lies in their sexuality.
It is unacceptable.
To any man, or woman, who claims the Bible says you should never withhold your body I would like to also remind you of this: the Bible clearly states that you should love your wife and lay your life down for her, it doesn’t say ‘and then she owes you sex.’
This same letter to Corinth defines love like this:
'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.'
— 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 —
So before we focus on demands for sex or make someone feel guilty for withholding it, why not make sure we are not withholding patience, kindness, humility and honour? Why not check whether we are, in fact, putting ourselves before the one we claim to love and keeping a record of real or perceived wrongs?
It is very easy to cherry-pick Bible verses that appear to suit our desires, or help us get our own way, but let’s not take them out of context or ignore the ones that show our lack. Jesus was very clear that we should take the plank out of our own eye before even thinking about the dust in someone else’s. Let’s never use the Bible to coerce and abuse those we are meant to love.