Monday, January 17, 2011

A Response to Sarah's Article

This note is a response to the article Sarah posted called: Biblical Issues Regarding Fornication (Singles Sexuality). In the article, the author contests from a few linguistic studies and un-cited (and usually wrong) historical information that the teaching that most Christians have is not supported by the bible but is just the interpretation of the Church (her seeming to mean the Roman Catholic church). I know the main point of this is to respond to the sexuality issue, but I want to clarify something about the Church before we begin that always bothers me when people get it wrong.

The author begins by saying “True Biblical theology begins not with Church tradition and dogma but with the biblical texts themselves”, something that just strikes me as inane. In the early Church there was no established New Testament, and there wouldn't be for about another 300 years. It was the Tradition and theology of the Church that was used to determine what would be canonical and what would not. This obviously is an entirely different conversation, but it always irks me when people are quick to dismiss the Church (not suggesting that you guys are, but the author of this article seems to) when they don't understand the full history (this author might, but some of the strawmen shown here inclines me to think otherwise). It just amazes me that the author wants to find the context in which the early Church was writing, but doesn't mention Polycarp, Ignatius or Clement.

Linguistic Arguments

Anyway, let's begin with the few linguistic arguments that the author brings up. The first passage at hands is I Corinthians 6:9.

"Do you not know the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites"

The author points out that the word for 'fornicators' is porneia. The first problem is minor: the word is actually pornoi (πόρνοι ) (1) which is the “Nominative Plural Masculine” form of pornos (πόρνος ) which roughly means “a male prostitute” (2). The word pornoi also occurs in Revelation 22:15 (3):

“But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie”.

Here the words 'sexually immoral' is translated from pornoi. Here's my point with all this: even if I grant the use of pornoi in I Corinthians 6:9 as referring to the sexual idolatry regarding the temple of Athena found in Corinth, why does the word all of a sudden always carry that very connotation when used in all passages? Surely St. John wasn't referring to only temple prostitution in Revelation 22:15 as there is nothing at a quick glance that would lead me to believe so. In fact all the different tenses of pornos seems to refer to a general sexual immorality, both in St. Paul's letters and in Revelation (4, 5, 6). So when the author refers to I Corinthians 7:8-9 and says that St. Paul is only talking about fornication with temple prostitutes, their exegesis seems to be incredibly off. Also, in I Corinthians 6:9 St. Paul mentions idolaters as those who are not allowed into the Kingdom of Heaven. If the real sin of sleeping with the temple prostitutes was idolatry and not sex, then why even mention the fact that the sin was sexual, why bother to single it out? I guess the author could say that it was because it was also prostitution as well as idolatry, and that it wasn't the fact that the person had sex outside of marriage, but because they paid for the sex and did it with idolatrous connotations rather than connotations of love. Because, even though St. Paul condemns prostitution, the author only takes it to mean sex without love. It seems to be too far-fetched for me, given the wide use of the Greek words to begin with.

The author uses Galatians 5:19-23 to try and show how porneia (πορνεία ) only means prostitution. Porneia does have relation to a “selling off” (7) of some kind, but also has wider connotations (8). But even if it was restricted in this case to prostitution, this doesn't mean that all of a sudden sex outside of marriage is alright.

A few more comments before I move on. Firstly, the author at one point puts Jesus against the law of the OT, telling us that “It seems that if we apply Jesus' teaching of love over legalism, responsible Christian sexuality is much more an example of Christ's loving desire for us than the traditional biblical values of many wives, concubines as breeders, and capturing women in battle for soldiers' sexual pleasure!” The irony, of course, is that it is the Word of God who speaks in the Old Testament, and that Christ came to fulfill the law and not to destroy it.

The point of Biblical Marriage

The fundamental problem with the author's article though lies in their incorrect view on marriage in the New Testament. Real quickly we see this misunderstanding as the author says “Marriage is certainly not needed today since birth control is available and many feel they can be more effective without the legal burden of marriage. Marriage had to do with ownership not love. I can't imagine anyone getting married who hasn't first lived together many years!”. The idea that NT marriage had to do with ownership and not love is incorrect, and blatantly so. One only needs to read St. Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, which is recited at every first Eastern Orthodox marriage:

“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become on flesh”. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

Notice, firstly, that the relationship here is monogamous. There's no indication that the polygamy in the OT carried over into the NT, and as far as I can tell from the writing of the Apostolic Fathers thus far, there's been no indication of polygamy. Secondly, love. Love is the binding force in marriage, a love that resembles Christ and His Church; both the OT and the NT used marriage language to indicate God's relationship with His chosen people, the Old and the New Israel. For the author to say that “Marriage is certainly not needed today” not only undermines the sacrament of marriage, but undermines the entire relationship between God and His Church.

Understanding that a husband and his wife become “one flesh”, something that has been established ever since Adam and Eve, it seems – regardless of the multiple connotations of pornoi – that premarital can't be holy. All actions Christians are supposed to do are meant to Glorify God and bring us closer to Christ. Sex itself is a representation of Christ taking His Bride, the Church. As such, how can one merge with a flesh outside of marriage, and still glorify Christ? How can one take a false Church, become one flesh with it, and truly say that they represented Christ taking His Bride? This is related to why St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Corinthians:

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.”

As Fr. Alexander Schmemann points out in “For The Life Of The World” (which I suggest everyone to read, regardless if they are Orthodox or not) that marriage is “not to be blessed and 'solemnized' – after a rehersal and with the help of the photographer – but restored. This restoration, furthermore, is in Christ...” (82). To somehow merge into one flesh outside of marriage and think that it is totally acceptable is against everything that St. Paul teaches us in his epistle, based on marriage alone. This obviously is not going to be the best reply, but I think it is sufficient enough for now.

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9 - “For The Life Of The World” by Alexander Schmemann, page 82. Copyright 1963
10 - All biblical quotes from The Orthodox Study bible: New Testament and Psalms. NKJV



At January 17, 2011 at 6:35 PM , Blogger Ikonophile said...

Perhaps a link to the original article would put this article in better perspective?


At January 17, 2011 at 6:41 PM , Blogger phyzics said...


Fair point:


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