Did the Apostle Paul Mean this Absolutely?
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.1 Corinthians 7:1-4 ESV
Many victims of abuse will tell us how this passage is one of the abuser’s favorites. He uses it to argue that a wife must submit to sex whenever he seeks it. Here is that old absolute method of Bible interpretation that is so often at the root of the abuser’s distortion of God’s Word. What about all that the Bible has to say regarding the husband’s duty to love his wife? Is waking her up at 2AM and demanding sex, loving her? Or what if his demands involve perversions that she wants no part of? Bound to submit and participate?
Jay Adams, the prolific writer and author of Competent to Counsel, is not a person I would refer an abuse victim to for counseling. Oh, there must be some good things he has said, but Adams is just so, so, – rigid. Step 1, 2, 3, there! It’s done! Do this, this, and then this, and it’s covered. It’s all so tidy. Bullet list. But it is also cold, and sometimes downright cruel.
Anyway, in his book Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible, Adams argues that people are to be either married, or not married. Married or divorced. No in-between. Separation is not a biblical category option he says. Well, that aside – Adams goes on to try to illustrate some of the issues that arise in a “problem” marriage. Here is what he says (discussing 1 Corinthians 7) –
Paul uses a permissive imperative: ‘Let him separate.’ This is a command; it is the one instance in which divorce is required…. God doesn’t want loose ends dangling about a Christian’s marriage; He wants problems in marriage resolved. He wants peace. Either there is to be a marriage or there isn’t; God will not settle for something in-between. That simply will not do. The matter must be set to rest one way or the other so that there will be peace.”
“Too often Christians, on bad advice, have settled for the in-between. Let me describe it. Believing (wrongly) that she must remain married to her unbelieving husband, no matter what, a Christian woman holds on even when her husband wants to end the marriage. He, then, may begin running around with other women (if he hasn’t been doing so already) and at length may even desert her. [NOTE: This would indicate that Adams holds to a literal definition of desertion, not considering the prior abuse to be desertion??]. Yet, urged on by bad counsel, she will not agree to divorce. He may stay away from home for six month periods at a time, occasionally showing up for a week or so. This upsets the kids and the life of the home (hopes are aroused and shattered). His wife may get pregnant (if married, she must agree to sex if he seeks it), and so it goes on and on. She is always hoping against hope, yet there is no evidence at all of a desire on his part to consent to a marriage. She may hang on for life!
“There is nothing peaceful about that! Everything is constantly being upset; nothing is settled. There is nothing but loose ends. God wants the matter to be concluded so that (in one way or the other) there will be peace — the resolution of the matter.
Well then, what do you think? Especially, what do you think about Adams’ absolute interpretation that if a woman is in a married state, she must agree to sex whenever her husband seeks it? Granted, Adams is saying that she has a right to divorce her husband. But his statement here would indicate that he believes a wife, if married, must submit to sex whenever her husband seeks it. Merge Adams’ words here into an abuse situation in a marriage. What would reading this do to a confused victim of abuse?
I await your comments. 🙂