As Christians, we are obligated to evaluate all that we hear, and read, and are taught in the Light of the life and ministry of our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth.
I Corinthians 7:1,2, 5-7
Now concerning the matter about which you wrote: It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.... Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am.
Earlier we explored some of the differences between the teachings of Paul of Damascus and those of Jesus of Nazareth. This reflection continues our examination of Paul's writings, comparing them with the Gospel of Christ.
In the passage at hand, we find Paul telling the Christians in Corinth that "It is well for a man not to touch a woman." This statement is in direct opposition to the teachings of Jesus, who blessed marriages with His presence and celebrated children as harbingers of God's promise. (And up until modern in vitro fertilization, there was no other way for children to be born into the world than for men and women to "touch one another"!)
This fear of women was not a teaching of Christ, but the words of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). In his early religious training Saul would have learned that contact with women was dangerous: that they had periods of uncleanness when their very presence brought ritual defilement to the men around them.
The Lord Christ did not hold himself apart, but went into the world amongst people of every sort — freely bestowing his healing grace upon menstrual woman, lepers, centurions, tax collectors, and madmen who dwelled among the dead. Jesus knew that nothing made by God is "defiled" or defiling, and He did not withhold His love from anyone. Ever.
This is very different from the attitude of the Pharisee “convert,” Paul.
The good news of God's abundant mercy and great love is not limited by our preconceived notions of what is holy, or right, or acceptable to the Lord. Jesus showed us by his example and his teachings that no one is a "second class citizen" in the eyes of the Beloved.
Apparently having never had any true relationships with women, Paul does not appreciate the variety of talents and graces they possess, and can only parrot the sneering stereotypes he learned as a child (e.g., 1 Cor. 7:28-39; 11:3-7; 14:34-36). This dark dogma has plagued Christian communities for centuries. Yet Jesus was often in the company of women; teaching them, preaching to them, and healing them with the gift of his love and sacred presence.
Never having entered into a shared life, Paul fails to recognize the rich joys genuine companionship provides: the compassion and concern, the support and encouragement, the laughter and love ... all of the things that make up a marriage. Instead, he treats it only as a "legitimated" form of sexual release.
This disordered, unChristian teaching became a cornerstone of the Church's attitude toward marriage, which continues to this very day.
Paul speaks of human bodies not as sacred creations of God — but as troublesome objects that are a cause of sin and nothing else. "But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. Do not deprive one another ... so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self control."
Jesus, the son of God, was "born of Mary" — He did not scorn our humanity, but came that we might remember that our lives are blessed and sanctified by the hand of the living God. Through His life we are reminded that "all that lives is holy," and that we are "wondrously made."
Tragically unaware of what he is saying, Paul proclaims, "Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.... This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am." Make no mistake: the apostle is blaspheming — wishing that God had designed all human beings in accordance with the way he conducts his own life, rather than rejoicing in the variety that is clearly God's good pleasure.
Truly, Paul's letter to the Corinthians is a catalog of sins against God and God's creation. It is made worse by the fact that it was sent forth as a "holy teaching" which had lasting ramifications upon the Church as a whole.
But the fault does not lie with Paul alone.
The fact that this apostle's wrongheaded and damaging instructions have become "gospel" — superseding the words of Jesus — is the responsibility of all Christians. We are called to hold all persons and all teachings to the Holy Standard: to ensure that they are consistent with the Lord's promise of God's abiding mercy and abundant love. When we fail to do so, we may unthinkingly "follow another" — as the Church wrongly followed Paul, rather than our Savior, for so many years.
There are those who say that we "cannot pick and choose" which parts of the Bible to obey. That is a mistaken notion. As Christians, we are obligated to evaluate all that we hear, and read, and are taught in the light of the life and ministry of our Lord and Master, Jesus of Nazareth. And our decisions and actions must reflect that Gospel promise.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
To read Positively the Last Word About the Apostle Paul (at least for a while), please click on the link below. I hope you will stay with me. Despite all that we have learned — or perhaps, more accurately, because of what we know about him — Paul's life and works have much to teach us.
Remember: All that lives is holy — even a sanctimonious, pigheaded, grouchy old partially-reformed Pharisee!.