From Sheila Wray Gregoire’s blog To Love, Honor & Vacuum.
When it comes to sex, do you see God’s commands as being about making you do something you don’t want to do?
I think that’s often the way we see things like 1 Corinthians 7:3-5–the “do not deprive each other” passage. That’s certainly the way that it’s often framed, when it’s turned into “obligation sex”. God made us so that we would need sex fairly frequently (especially men!). And so we’re not to deprive each other, and we’re to make sure we stop each other from feeling temptation.
Isn’t that rather, well, defeating?
You can see evidence of that line of thinking in the comments on this post, which got really sad. People were using those verses to mean that you could never say no to your husband.
I’ve written before that I think 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 was never written to be about obligation sex, but instead to be about mutual sex. The big thing you’ll notice about those verses is that it’s equal–it’s not written to coerce or pressure a woman into doing anything. It assumes that sex will be a mutual experience, which is actually really cool.
3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
I won’t rehash that argument, because I wrote a 3-piece series on it already!
But a while ago an Australian reader sent me another interpretation, which I found really interesting. And I wanted to run it today. She writes:
Recently I went to the Scriptures in a totally new way, in particular devouring the Old Testament.
In the law I now saw picture after picture of God’s character and of course prophetically of Jesus… but also, restriction after restriction, including restrictions that affected peoples sex lives… often to do with purification times – days of abstinence and waiting.
After a couple of years reading the OT almost exclusively, I wandered back into the New Testament and saw something brand new in 1 Corinthians 7:5… something that I’m cautious about expressing in case I’m totally wrong BUUUUT – what if, what IF those words about not withholding ourselves from each other were to do with the putting away of the Law?! What IF they were to grant a brand new FREEDOM?!! What if they were saying – “go for it – there are no more restrictions on the basis of the law”!? What if it was NEVER meant to become the source of misery and condemnation (usually on women) in the form of something VERY LIKE another LAW?! What if those words are meant to be a release to freedom instead of something so often held over as a rule?
Here’s what she’s arguing:
The Old Testament was full of rules about when you could and couldn’t make love, and about purification rituals you’d have to perform after your period, or childbirth, or weird emissions, or anything like that. It made sex seem rare and burdensome.
Think about it: the Jews in the Old Testament were very used to thinking:
I can’t have sex:
- For seven days around the wife’s period
- On the Sabbath (since after sex you were unclean until the following evening and thus would be prohibited from worship)
- During some times of national purification
- For a long time after the birth of a child
- After any abnormal discharge or any strange skin condition
And many more! In fact, there were so many regulations that abstaining from sex for a time would have been a common occurrence.
We’re not really used to that in the same way at all. We don’t tend to abstain for spiritual reasons but instead for practical reasons or health reasons.
The Jews would have been used to thinking of sex as separate from holiness and worship of God.
But then Paul writes this amazing passage in 1 Corinthians 7, where he says, “do not deprive each other except for a time and by mutual consent…” No more rules! No more feeling like sex isn’t a part of a holy life. No more feeling like the less we have sex, the more we’re worshipping God.
Instead, sex is supposed to be a healthy part of the Christian life. God is saying, “Go for it!”
Certainly we can refrain because we’re going to choose to fast for a time in prayer, and that’s a good thing. But it’s a decision we make together; it’s not something imposed upon us because we’re somehow unclean.
When we make the “do not deprive” passage into a new kind of law, then, we miss the whole point.
It isn’t about pressuring women to perform. It’s about experiencing real freedom in the bedroom, in a mutual relationship.
That’s really cool! I thought this Australian reader’s comparison between the Old Testament and Paul’s new proclamations were really interesting, and I hope you find them that way, too!