The Morality and Mutuality of Christian Marriage (1 Corinthians 7:2-4)


In 1 Corinthians 7:2-4, Paul writes about the morality and mutuality of Christian marriage.

But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.

He begins by contrasting the immorality of prostitution with the morality of marriage.

In Greek, the first four words of verse 2 are dia de tas porneias. Porneia (plural, porneias) can be translated narrowly as “prostitution” or broadly as “sexual immorality,” depending on context. Here the context favors the narrow translation for two reasons: (1) Paul commands the Corinthians not to visit prostitutes in 6:13-20. Although the NIV translates porneia as “sexual immorality” in verses 13 and 18, verses 15 and 16 make it clear that consorting with prostitutes is the specific sexual immorality being addressed. (2) Paul uses the plural form porneias in 7:2, which suggests that he has specific acts in mind, not just sexual immorality in general.

It seems paradoxical that the Corinthians said, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman,” but nonetheless consorted with prostitutes. This is, in my opinion, an example of how extreme spiritualities promote extreme immoralities by way of reaction. Celibacy is the appropriate way of life for people whom God has so gifted (7:7). For the rest of us, marriage is the God-given channel for the fulfillment of our God-created sexual desires. It is the moral golden mean between asceticism on the one extreme and libertinism on the other.

Marriage, at least according to Christian teaching, is also a matter of mutuality between a husband and a wife.

Paul uses three images to describe the relationship between spouses: possession, obligation, and authority.

Possession

Each man should have his own wife,

        and each woman her own husband.

Obligation

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife,

        and likewise the wife to her husband.

Authority

The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband.

        In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.

Notice that each image applies equally to the husband and to the wife. Paul does not teach that the husband alone possesses, is obligated to, and has authority over his wife, but not the other way around. Instead, he teaches that each spouse has possession of, obligation to, and authority over the other spouse.

Interestingly, when Paul says a husband should have “his own wife,” he uses the same pronoun (heautou) as he uses in 6:19: “You are not your own.” As a Christian does not belong to himself but to God, so a Christian husband does not belong to himself but to his wife, and vice versa.

4 thoughts on “The Morality and Mutuality of Christian Marriage (1 Corinthians 7:2-4)

Add yours

  1. George,
    Great post! I believe you hit the nail on the head with the mutual relationship between spouses. Thanks, friend.

  2. Nice point. There are so many with a more traditional view of roles in marriage who even refuse the acknowledge the mutuality of submission set out in Ephesians 5:21.

    You have added some good thoughts here and given me some new material for wedding sermons.

    As we say here in Indonesia, while diving, drink water (roughly the same as killing two birds with oen stone, but about a bird that dives to catch a fish and drinks a little water on the way).

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