The Marriage Bed, Sexual Ownership and Mutual Sexual Submission

It has been my observation that within American Culture that a man who gets “laid” multiple times from multiple women is often praised and labeled a, “Stud.” Women who are promiscuous are labeled, “Sluts.”  In other words, the promiscuity of the man is judged less harshly than the promiscuity of the woman. The man needs to merely, “mature and settle down,” whereas the woman is, “loose and has no moral compass.” 

The first century Corinthian ethos was very similar to our American cultural context. It was typically accepted that men in the first century would be promiscuous, yet the married women were bound to sexual monogamy. The double standard of married individuals, combined with the first century Platonic anthropology and philosophical hedonism led to the ideology that a man had authority over his wife, yet the wife did not have authority over her husband. Furthermore, she not only did not have authority over her husband, she would have to grant him a license for possible licentious sins. It was so severe that if the wife was martially unfaithful that she could be indicted with a criminal offence. The husband on the other hand had a completely different standard. Adultery on behalf of the husband was not only tolerable but justifiable. It was justified that the drunkenness and depravity of the man were not shared with his “precious” wife but with some lessor woman in status. The wife had the respect of the man and that is what matters most. (Winter, After Paul Left Corinth)

This ethos of Corinth is also very much alive and well in our popular culture. Just look at Hollywood and how they portray males and females. James Bond always gets his woman, thus labeling him a “Stud.” However, Sharon Stone’s risky and provocative role in, “Basic Instinct” brought about a tremendous negative stigma. 

Now, it would be easy to advocate for the removal of the double standard in order to allow women to receive the positive stigma for their promiscuity, however, the Apostle Paul does the reverse in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5. Instead of being counter-cultural and granting a license to sin towards women, he rather runs against the culture in another way by showing that the husband does not have authority over his own body but his wife does. He states in verse 4, “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” Bruce Winter comments on this in detail saying, 
 “Paul’s teaching was based on ownership of the body. The husband’s body was not his own to do with as he wished. The marriage relationship tied him into exclusive sexual relations with his wife. The single man’s body is not his own but, as Paul has previously reminded the young Corinthians, it is a member of Christ (6:15), the shrine of the Spirit (6:19), and, having been bought with a price, the agent through which God is glorified (6:20). However, the reason for purity in marriage is that the husband’s body actually belongs to his wife.” 
Paul’s teaching no doubt turned the tables against the promiscuity of the man. His unrestrained sexual escapades are not only implicitly deemed as sinful in this passage, but he also does not have authority to indulge his flesh. This is a very anti-Platonic stance that Paul enacts and he also undercuts the idea that the husband also needs to surrender himself to his wife. 

Shifting back to our American culture, Paul’s teaching is a death blow to the independent individualism of our culture. Men in our culture are idealized with having freedom to go when and where they please. The idea of a single man not owning his own body and a married man’s body belonging to his wife are difficult concepts to embrace. Furthermore, this undercuts the “stud” stigma that is often granted to men who are promiscuous while placing both the husband and wife into the same context, with the same moral prescription. 

This idea of the husband’s body belonging to his wife and vice versa is a wonderful idea of mutual submission towards one another. Furthermore, this idea of sexual ownership flows nicely into Paul’s conversation in Ephesians 5:21-ff where the attitude of giving out of the context of Christ is shown forth. This message is totally counter cultural yet a message that is very much needed in our time of America’s sexual ethos that is lacking not only boundaries but sacredness.

Source:  Bruce W. Winter, After Paul Left Corinth: The Influence of Secular Ethics and Social Change (Eerdmans Publishing, 2001), 215-232.

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terriergal said…
"This is a very anti-Platonic stance that Paul enacts and he also undercuts the idea that the husband also needs to surrender himself to his wife. "

Is that supposed to be 'underscores' or 'undergirds'? Otherwise it doesn't seem to make sense...or am I just confused?
The Corinthians held to an adjusted Platonic view of mankind. Their view distinguished the body from the soul. However, they did not despise the body but believed that the body needed to be cared for. In other words, the body was given to be used in pleasure in this life. Since the body was mortal and belonged to nature, one should not withhold pleasure from the body. Thus they justified their indulgences simply saying, "the stomach was made for food, and the body was made for sexual indulgences." They rationalized, "why on earth would one limit what is so apparently natural?"

So, Paul in his writings countered this by confronting that what they did with their bodies had moral consequences... Our bodies are not prisons for the soul nor are they objects that can be indulged. No, our bodies are not our own, we are called to be stewards of our bodies knowing that we were crafted by God.

Not sure if that helps?