From the First Letter to the Church in Corinth:
Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – I Corinthians 6:16 (NRSV) – March 20, 2014.)
This is one of those times (there are, I admit, quite a few) when Paul loses me! I step back from his words and say, “Really? What?” Is Paul seriously equating sex with a prostitute with marriage? I know that Paul didn’t have too high an opinion of marriage. In the next chapter he will say that he thinks staying single is a much better idea: “I wish that all men were even as I myself am. . . . I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.” (1 Cor. 7:7,8) But does he really hold it in such low regard so as to equate it with prostitution?
Paul’s quotation is from the second chapter of Genesis, from the story of the creation of Eve at the conclusion of which the biblical author writes, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. ” (Gen. 2:24) The story of the creation of Eve is about God fashioning for Adam a helper, someone with whom he would spend his life tending, caring for, and protecting the Garden of Eden — it’s not the story of a “one night stand.”
The two are not the same, but in the midst of his argument about preserving the purity of the church Paul has let his guard down, blurted out an honest (if inappropriate) appraisal of marriage, and let us see what he really thinks of it. To my mind, this makes suspect everything else he writes about marriage (or that someone else has written in his name). If, for example, he believes that marriage is nothing more than a cheap sexual liaison, that stuff about wives being “subject” to their husbands (Eph. 5:22, Col. 3:18) takes on a different color! I don’t know, it might be reasonable to expect a paid call girl to be “subject” to the man who’s paying her (prostitution seems to be inherently a relationship of power and domination) . . . but that’s not what I understand the relationship between spouses to be.
I rather like what the introduction to the Episcopal Church’s rite of Holy Matrimony says about the mutuality of marriage:
The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God. (BCP 1979, page 423)
And I don’t think marriage was instituted by God to be equivalent to prostitution despite what the Apostle Paul may have thought. So when I read this verse, I step back and ask, “Really? What?” . . . and I answer, “No!”
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.