Thursday, April 7, 2011

Luther on Sex "IN" Marriage

I am working on my notes for Adult Bible class this Sunday based on 1 Corinthians chapter seven. The first verse includes this statement: "It is good for a man not to touch a woman."

Centuries ago St. Jerome attacked a Catholic monk named Jovinian, who had the audacity to say that married people and celibate people have an equal standing before God. Jerome argued that if Paul said, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman," then "It is bad to touch one." (1 Corinthians: Interpreted by Early Christian Commentators p. 104, by Judith L. Kovacs). This led to an ugly teaching and tradition in the church that sex was bad even in marriage. This teaching and practice reigned supreme for a millenia until Martin Luther came along.

Did Paul actually say "It is good for a man not to touch a woman"? We also have to read the sentence that comes before it: "Now concerning things which you wrote to me..." With this introduction it is clear that Paul is addressing a statement put to him by the Corinthians. Paul does find some merit in the statement as long as two important conditions are met. First, those who choose not to marry must have the spiritual gift for celibacy. Luther pointed out that it was a sin to challenge our God-given nature for sexual relations and marriage. Secondly, any sexual abstinence within marriage needs to be temporary and agreeable to both spouses.

Luther had some VERY strong words about this latter condition. Refusing conjugal rights is a serious problem. I agree completely with Luther. I said this early in my ministry, and I have never backed away from it: There is way too much sex outside of marriage in the form of movies, magazines, jokes, internet, prostitution etc., and way too little in marriage where it belongs. Luther also urged moderation in marital sexual relations. Like Paul, Luther taught Christians to avoid unnatural restraint as well as selfish, carnal lust.

I look forward to the discussion we will have on this Sunday. May God support all Christian marriages and families and by His grace lead us faithfully in the blessed estate.

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