The standard view of sex and the Bible is that sexuality must be reigned in, and restricted to the confines of marriage. The standard view, says Norwegian scholar Reidulf Molvaer (Two Making One : Amor and Eros in Tandem), is wrong.
“Dominant views about sex have in most churches been distorted by centuries of negative accretions and become travesties of what we find in the Bible.” – Dr. Reidulf Molvaer In this book Dr. Reidulf Molvaer attempts to recapture the joyful, cheerful abandon in legitimate sexual relationships that we see in the Bible-yes, the Bible! From the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament to Saint Paul’s advice on intimacy in the New Testament, you are presented with the real meanings of these ancient texts and learn why the Church has interpreted the Song as an allegory rather than as a description of the joyous sexual experience it truly is. Could there be any greater glorification of sex than to let ideal love between man and woman illustrate the union between the devout and the divine? Dr. Molvaer demystifies “fairytale images” of the Virgin Mary, compares biblical sexual ethics to various cultures and discusses tales of eccentrics who have been elevated to sainthood. This book rediscovers what has been misrepresented for generations and encourages Christians and others to think afresh about one of the greatest and most disputed acts of devotion found in the Holy Bible.
The problem with the standard view is that it makes too much of a simplistic reading of the texts in modern translations ignoring the historical context on the one hand, and on the traditions dating from the early church fathers on the other. Molvaer concerns himself with the contextual understanding of the words in the original texts. (Other writers, such as Trevor Jennings, have noted how the early Christian ascetics misunderstood the Greek stoics, on whom they based much of their case).
For example, one chapter of “Two Making One discusses the well-known passage from Corinthians where Paul argues in favour of “marriage”, for those unable to remain celibate. He stresses that the Corinthians for whom Paul was writing would not have interpreted the word in the same way we do today. (How could they? The notion of marriage as a religious sacrament is a modern innovation. Even as a legal contract, in earlier centuries marriage was largely a matter for the wealthy classes, who needed to protect property and inheritance rights. The poorer people who had nothing, had no need for marriage. The Greek word which we routinely translate as “wife” could equally well mean simply “woman”. In the same way, the verb for “to marry”, as in take a wife, could simply mean “to take a woman” – and was also used simply as a euphemism for “have sex”. ) Reidulf Molvaer also reminds us that Corinth was renowned as a city of abundant and unrestrained sexuality. Putting all the evidence together, he argues that far from restricting sexual expression to “marriage” in the modern sense, Paul is simply arguing for responsible sex in committed relationships. Elsewhere in this book, he also discusses the celebration of sex (outside of marriage as well as in it) in the Song of Songs, and also in Genesis.
In this book, he discusses only sex between man and woman. Elsewhere, (Sex & St. Paul the Realist) he makes clear his view that Paul was as accepting of sexual relationships between men, which were commonplace and celebrated by the Corinthians, just as they were across the Roman-Greek world at the time.
St. Paul was, in many ways, an ascetic and happy to be so, but he refused to make asceticism a general model or ideal for Christians – most people cannot live by such principles, especially in the area of sex. In the seventh chapter of his first letter to Corinth, he rejects any appeal for his support of sexual abstinence as ethically superior to active sexual relations. He sets limits, but does not limit legitimate sexual relations to marriage. In his day, it was commonly believed that homosexual practice, more easily than heterosexual relations, could bring people into harmony with the unchangeable nature of God. This Paul strongly rejects in the first chapter of his letter to Rome. Otherwise he does not write about “natural” homosexuality. In fact, it is a logical inference from the principles he sets forth in his letter to Corinth that loving, lasting homosexual relations are ethically as valid as heterosexual relations. Dr. Molvaer maintains that insight into contemporary ideologies can be a help to understanding what the New Testament says about these matters. Today, as in the early Church, extraneous influences in these areas can easily distort genuine Christian moral concerns as they are stated by Christ and St. Paul.
This week, the Catholic Church will be celebrating the shared feast of SS Peter & Paul. As we do so, we would do well to remember this useful corrective to the conventional idea of Paul as some kind of killjoy on sexual matters.
Farley, Margaret: Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics
McNeill, John: Sex as God Intended
Molvaer, Reidulf: Two Making One : Amor and Eros in Tandem
Salzman, Todd A. and Lawler, Michael G: The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology (Moral Traditions)
- “The Sexual Person”: Bishops, Theologians Clash on Sexual Ethics (queertheology.blogspot.com)
- Honoring (and Learning from) the Passion of Saints Sergius and Bacchus (thewildreed.blogspot.com)
- Daniel Maguire on Catholicism’s “Long History of Demeaning Sexuality” (thewildreed.blogspot.com)
- I think I need to write about Paul (farfromrome.blogspot.com)
- GLBT History Month (in Church): Queer Lovers in Church History (queering-the-church.com)
- “Finding God in the Erotic”: Fr Donal Godfrey (queering-the-church.com)