2) Sexual Morality

2.2.2 Paul’s insistence on sexual morality; its theological motive

No one would deny the prominence that sexual (im)morality assumes in Paul’s paraklêsis. In this paragraph we consider the reason for this and relate the motif of sexual purity to Paul’s total ethical perspective.p.89

The argument that Paul is addressing a sexual problem in the community does not stand up. He has said in 4:1 that they are living in accordance with Paul’s teaching. Similarly in Rom 1:24f there is no indication that there is such sexual disorder in the Roman community. The same can be said about Gal 5:19.

It is true that in 1 Corinthians Paul’s admonitions have immediate practical relevance. But even here 6:9ff show that for Paul sexual immorality enjoys its own right to prominence in the list of those vices that are to be considered specially incompatible with the Christian’s new, baptismal existence…p.90

The Roman-hellenistic world was well known for its sexual laxity, but this “…does not explain why he regarded sexual immorality as particularly incompatible with being a Christian…”p.90

Nor can it be argued that “…the Christian must avoid unchaste conduct so as not to harm others…”p.90 since Paul never focuses on concerns for the victim of sexual abuse.

“Finally, Paul cannot be said to be puritanical…”p.90 since there is no sign of gnosticism or body/soul dualism.

  • 1 Cor 5 (ESV)
    1. Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
    2. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
    3. I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—
    4. not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
    5. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

Some kind of immorality is to be expected among pagans (cf. v.1), but the reason sexual immorality “…is here considered incompatible with being a Christian… is precisely that the Christian belongs to a People that stands in a unique relationship with God.”p.91

Vv.7-8 imply that this situation is to be characterized as ‘old’, in contrast to the ‘newness’ of christian experience.…” For Paul, the reason sexual immorality “…is considered incompatible with christian existence is that it is emblematic of a religious situation that is wholly opposed to that of the Christian.p.91

  • 1 Cor 6:9-11 (ESV)
    1. Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,
    2. nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
    3. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Notice that idolatry in the list in the middle of the sexual sins. They have in common that

…both represent a situation of estrangement from the true God.
Once again, then, it is sexual immorality that is given pride of place in the characterization of man’s situation without Christ—a situation which, for the Christian, has become completely reversed (cf. v.11 were… but…)p.92
  • Rom 1:18ff (ESV)
    1. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
    2. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,
    3. and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
    4. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves,
    5. because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

In this passage sexual perversion is the result of idolatry.

Idolatry is man’s fundamental lie: refusal to acknowledge God for what he knows him to be (cf. v.21 “they did not honour him as God”). Hence, blinded by his own deceit (cf. v.21b), he attempts to put the creature in the place of the creator. Thus idolatry is man’s attempt to invert his relation to the creator by orienting the whole of his existence to the creature (cf. v.25b)—that is, in the last analysis, to himself.p.92

There is a causal connection between man’s inversion of his relationship with the creator and the resulting disorder. “…man’s ‘judgement of rejection’ inevitably leads to the ‘rejection of his judgement’.”p.93

✱         ✱         ✱

From these passages it is clear that Paul is working from an understanding of the People of God that is firmly grounded in Old Testament concepts. “…in the Old Testament it is often virtually impossible to distinguish πορνεία as idolatry and πορνεία as sexual immorality, so closely were the two associated.p.93

Updated 2009-09-27 (build:50) by Andrew Fountain