Today I was reading through a section of the Dictionary of Paul and His Letters on the issue of sexual ethics. As many others have mentioned, I believe this will be one of the foremost issues that the church faces in the next few years. How will Christians stand for the sexual ethics that have been understood as being “biblical” or “true” or “healthy” for so long? How will Christians better interact with homosexuals given such a hurtful and checkered history? Will Christians continue to interpret Scripture to speak negatively against homosexual lifestyles (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-11; Rom. 1:24-27)? How does Scripture function as an authority in relation to sexual ethics?

There are many questions that arise from this topic. Thus, D. F. Wright’s essay on the subject is helpful. Consider the first issue he addresses, “Avoiding Porneia”:

The greater frequency of references to sexual issues in Paul than in the Gospels reflects the laxer sexual mores of Hellenistic society. Paul stresses the incompatibility between a life of sexual license and the kingdom of God: “no pornos (‘immoral’) or impure person … has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph 5:5). Some of the Christians at Corinth, before being “washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God,” had been pornoi (prostitutes?), adulterers and homosexually active (1 Cor 6:9–11). The inclusion of idolaters among these different sexual offenders (1 Cor 6:9) indicates the gravity of their sinfulness. Foremost among “the acts of the sinful nature” are “porneia (‘sexual immorality’), impurity and debauchery” (Gal 5:19; cf. 1 Cor 10:8). It was chiefly in the disordered sexual vices of the Gentile world that Paul discerned God’s judgment on the godless (Rom 1:18–27).

Paul is consequently keenly concerned that the Christian congregations be kept free of such corruptions: “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality (porneia), or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Eph 5:3). Paul is outraged that the Corinthian church is tolerating, rather than disciplining, a member indulging in incest with his father’s wife (probably not the man’s own mother, but his stepmother or his father’s divorced or widowed wife. But the brevity of the reference counts against Countryman’s view that Paul’s interest lay chiefly in the breaching of family hierarchy.) Such porneia was not even countenanced among Gentiles (1 Cor 5:1–2). The offender must be expelled (1 Cor 5:11–13), which meant being handed over to Satan for the purging of his “sinful nature” (NIV; sarx, 1 Cor 5:5). Paul’s language betokens the gravity of such lawless sexuality—and of the Corinthians’ vaunted Christian freedom. Both were inconsistent with their new creation in Christ (1 Cor 5:6–8). 2 Corinthians 12:21 reveals Paul’s persisting fear that on returning to Corinth he will find the sexually licentious still impenitent.

Less flagrant sexual problems at Corinth than incest evoked Paul’s most extended discussions of sexuality. It appears that the Corinthians’ distorted eschatology—which had them exulting prematurely in the final completeness of salvation here and now (cf. 1 Cor 4:8)—led some to be libertine, wielding the slogan “everything is permissible for me” (1 Cor 6:12), and others to be ascetic, under the banner “it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (1 Cor 7:1 NIV margin). In meeting these challenges, of which the ascetic party seems to have been by far the stronger, Paul lays the groundwork for a suggestive and flexible Christian sexuality.” (Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, 871-72)

It’s hard to imagine that some of the “little old ladies” who believe that church should be rated “G” would ever be able to read the Greek NT! The issue of porneia is such a significant issue that it brings about some serious apostolic focus.

What are your thoughts on this section of Wright’s essay?

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