With all the present conversation and debate at the nation's highest legal level about “marriage” and what it should or should not constitutionally consist of, as well as how such definition should or should not align with Judeo-Christian biblical principles, I thought it would be a good opportunity for to take a look at how the Apostle Paul might weigh in on the matter. We've heard the opinions of many, why not hear from him, too?
After all, it's Paul’s statements that are a significant influence on the formulation of present-day interpretations of "the biblical definition of marriage” and, hence, proper sexual behavior generally.
Granted, some of his statements on marriage and sex aren't really his. Anything he says about anything in Colossians, Ephesians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus are probably not his actual thoughts, even as they're attributed to him. Unlike today, where every idea you come up with is copyrightable (and sue-able if used without proper accreditation), in the ancient world it was the hugest honor to be a vessel of your esteemed deceased teacher's spirit and speak (proudly anonymously) on his behalf.
So back to the real Paul. The real deal Apostle who did more to plant and grow Christianity than anyone else ever. Maybe even more than Jesus.
What does Paul have to say about what “marriage” should be?
Well…to paraphrase 1 Corinthians 7, where Paul’s ideas – his and the Holy Spirit’s but not some anonymous student’s -- are pretty much all laid out (pun sort of intended)….
Perhaps the first thing Paul would say is that marriage, ironically, should no longer be. At least in a perfect world where everyone is truly Christian. As far as Paul is concerned, marriage is for spiritual weaklings. It's understandable, of course, that weaklings exist, even Christian weaklings. We are all prone to sin and imperfection. Even Paul himself is clearly not perfect (after all, he admits he came to the Corinthians – the community to whom he lays out his ideas on marriage -- with “weak manner of speech,” see 1 Cor. 2:3). However, Paul is not afraid to announce he’s in the right when it comes to his sex life. Which is decidedly zilch.
Which means he has no need to marry. That’s because for Paul, marriage is all about procuring the proper place to take care of one's unfortunate and uncontrollable urges “down there.” Without marriage, a spiritual weakling is liable to succumb to the temptations of the devil and sate their sexual hunger in improper ways. And then they are doomed to hell. As you must, give and receive conjugal rights with a spouse (ie YOUR spouse), keep the devil at bay, and move on to more important things.
Actually, move on to the MOST IMPORTANT thing: preparing for the impending Second Coming of Christ. This is soo important you need to devote 110% of your heart, mind, body and soul to full and proper readiness. You give yourself a good chance of being able to do this by remaining unmarried. It's at about 90%, I guess, if part of your focus must remain on finding “o's” with your spouse.
I’m thinking Paul might find the much of the current brouhaha before SCOTUS to be ultimately missing the point.
Granted, the concept of kind, compassionate, generous, life-giving and consensual “gay marriage” being presently discussed might very well freak Paul out. For one thing, in his world such a thing would not have even been considered within the realm of possibility (much like the outrageous notion of women praying without veils, sans protection from impregnation by angels).
For another thing, as retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong suggests in his book Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (HarperSanFrancisco 1991), part of Paul’s rabid rejection of homoerotic desire of any sort may have stemmed from the horror of his own closeted homosexuality (as evidenced by his pronounced need to be so vocal about his celibacy). In Paul’s world, a man could be stoned to death for having gay desires; thankfully, Paul’s spirituality was so powerful as to subsume them (and, of course, any and all hetero desires as well.)
This negative focus on sex and sexuality and, hence, a rather negative view of marriage, may seem to us and for our contemporary time priggish at best and destructive at worst. However, it is actually a continuation of the Bible’s through-line on the subject of sex: as discussed in a previous Comic Lens blog entry, it is all about “butts in seats.” In the Old Testament the emphasis is on copulation (both proper and, sometimes, un-) as the one necessary means to procure always much-needed butts (ie a next generation to continue the Israelite tribe).
By New Testament times and in New Testament thinking, the concept of "God's people" – now known as "God’s Kingdom" – was as a universal family that comes into being and expands through wholly asexual means, ie through connections of the Spirit. The beautiful realm Jesus boldly proclaimed was most-decidedly without bloodlines, birth orders, social class, tribal boundaries or anything else our physical bodies -- and procreation -- can prompt.
This meant, in the gospels, a pronounced disinterest in discussing matters of sex, marriage and childbearing. (More about this in another “Sex and the Bible” blog). Paul takes this NT thinking a step further and openly discourages sex, marriage and proper physical desires altogether. Or at least as much as possible.
Of course, he can’t keep his ideas completely out of the paws of those seek his counsel in creating a fulfilling marriage (and, by extension, good sex life).
While Paul never intended it to refer to married love (but rather the quality of affection that nurtures agape in Christian community), 1 Corinthians 13 has become the go-to passage to read in Christian wedding ceremonies. And, even as this text is recited before the offering of vows, the happy couple may very well have their minds on what will happen as soon as the service and reception are over, as they hop into bed and, regardless of sexual preferences and proclivities, do all sorts of things that, even within connubial confines (and with patience, kindness, perseverance and, perhaps, even protection) would make Paul probably squirm. Certainly grimace.
It's but one more rather amusing irony about scripture emerging from wear of lenses comique.