Bible Review 4:4, August 1988


How he radically redefined marriage

By Roy Bowen Ward

The apostle Paul radically redefined marriage and attitudes toward it for the emerging Christian movement, although this is seldom recognized. Contrary to the popular impression, however, marriage, for Paul, provided the proper context for satisfying sexual desire and for providing erotic pleasure. Within the context of marriage, sex was something to enjoy on the basis of equality and mutuality.

To appreciate Paul’s radical redefinition of marriage, we must understand it against the background of contemporaneous Roman attitudes toward sex and marriage. We must also understand what Paul himself said in the full context of his discussion.

Paul’s most famous comment on marriage is in 1 Corinthians:

“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain unmarried as also I do; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to be consumed with the fire of sexual desire” (1 Corinthians 7:8–9).

A few lines later he counsels also divorced women to remain unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:11).

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