The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband; and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife (1 Corinthians 7:4 KJV).
Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:4 sounds harsh in most English translations and it is frequently misunderstood. Sometimes this verse is even used to coerce and “guilt” a reluctant spouse into having sex, but this was never Paul’s intention.
It is noteworthy that Paul’s instructions throughout chapter 7 are framed by the concept of mutuality: wives and husbands, women and men, have identical instructions and are to live by the same standards. There are no double standards here or any hint of a gender hierarchy. One-sided power plays have no part in Christian relationships, including marriage.
So what did Paul mean in 1 Corinthians 7:4?
The Greek word for “have authority” in 1 Corinthians 7:4
One impediment to understanding this verse is having a limited understanding of the verb meaning “have power/ authority” (Greek: exousiazō). This verb occurs only four times in the New Testament. The related noun exousia is a more common word and occurs over 100 times in the NT, 10 times in First Corinthians. So we have a good idea of its range of nuances.
Exousia is usually translated as “right” or “authority,” but it can have a sense of “freedom” or “liberty.” I liken the meaning of exousia to having a driver’s license. When you have a driver’s license you have the authority, the right, and the freedom to drive a vehicle on public roads. The context of 1 Corinthians 7:4 is not about driving a car, however; it is about something deeply personal, sex in marriage.
Another impediment to understanding Paul’s meaning and intention is the unnecessary addition of the word “over” in most English translations of this verse. There is no word for “over” in the Greek text. (I chose to use the very literal KJV translation at the top of this post because it does not include the word “over.”)
The contexts of celibacy and fidelity in 1 Corinthians 7:4
As well as understanding the words, we need to understand the context of 1 Corinthians 7:4. The overall context of the first seven verses of 1 Corinthians chapter 7 is Paul’s concern about the unwise practice of celibacy within some marriages in the Corinthian church. He did not believe celibacy was sustainable for most couples and was concerned that it might lead to infidelity in a society where sexual immorality was rife.
Writing about 1 Corinthians 7, Gordon D. Fee cautions,
… one must remember that the original intent of the passage was not to establish canon law but to address a specific situation in Corinth—their apparent rejection of marriage on ascetic grounds. The text needs to be heard in its own historical context before it is applied to broader contexts.
An interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:4
So, pulling these bits of information together, how are we to understand 1 Corinthians 7:4?
My understanding of Paul’s teaching here is that a wife or husband cannot make a vow of celibacy and permanently withhold sex without their spouse’s permission. They do not have that right or authority. (Conversely, a wife or husband cannot have sex with whoever they want, because their spouse has an exclusive right of having sexual relations with them.)
Here is my very-much-expanded paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 7:4.
A wife does not “have the right or license” (exousiazō) to choose to become celibate because her husband has a right to have sex with her.
Likewise, a husband also does not “have the right or license” (exousiazō) to choose to become celibate (or have sex with someone other than his spouse) because his wife has a right to have sex with him.
A husband and wife should give themselves, their bodies, to each other, and only to each other, in an exclusive relationship (cf. 1 Cor. 7:2, 3). However, some Christian wives and husbands in Corinth were making vows of celibacy as a demonstration of ascetic piety; some were making this vow without the mutual consent of their spouse (cf. 1 Cor. 7:5–7).
Other Corinthian Christians were promiscuous. Like many port cities of the ancient world, the city of Corinth was known for its sexual immorality. Immorality was also a problem within the Corinthian congregation (e.g., 1 Cor. 5:1–2, 9–10; 6:12–20; 7:2).
Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 7:1–6 to address the situation of some Corinthians who were choosing to become celibate. His concern was that this choice could not be sustained and would lead to sexual immorality. We must understand this context before we try to apply Paul’s words today.
Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 7:4 is not a command, and should not be used as such. Paul states that his instructions in 1 Corinthians 7:1–7 are a concession (1 Cor. 7:6). Paul’s intention, and the original context, must be kept in mind when interpreting and applying 1 Corinthians 7:4.
This article is an Additional Resource recommended by Yale Bible Studies.
 1 Corinthians 7:4 cannot be used legitimately to bully or guilt a spouse into having sex, as love is the ultimate law (Rom. 13:8, 10). Love is the yardstick for interpreting all biblical instructions. If a spouse is unwilling to have sex, there is a reason. People who use this verse to bully or guilt their spouse may be unwilling to accept or work through the reason.
 The verb exousiazō occurs only four times in the New Testament:
~ In Luke 22:25, the articular plural participle of exousiazō can be translated as “those having authority.”
~ In Corinthians 6:12, the future passive of exousiazō (with ouk, which means “not”) can be translated as “I will (not) be mastered” or “I will (not) be under the power.”
~ The verb occurs twice in 1 Corinthians 7:4.
The verb also occurs in Ecclesiastes 8:4, 8:8a, 8:9b, and Nehemiah 5:15b of the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament.
Like the related noun exousia, the verb exousiazō can have a range of meanings and nuances. According to LSJ, it can mean to exercise authority, have power, enjoy license. From my observations, the noun exousia has a broader range of meanings and nuances than the verb. Still, the primary meaning of the noun is “power, authority to do a thing.” (See LSJ.) Any sense of freedom, license or permission associated with the noun or verb is due to some kind of authority or right. I look further at exousia in this article on 1 Corinthians 11:10, here.
 Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1987), 291.
 Margaret MacDonald writes that some women in the church at Corinth were leaving their marriages and divorcing their husbands in order to pursue religious purity. Early Christian Women and Pagan Opinion: The Power of the Hysterical Woman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 137. Asceticism became popular at an early stage of Christianity. Tertullian (born 160) wrote to his wife, “To us continence [celibacy] has been pointed out by the Lord of salvation as an instrument for attaining eternity, and as a testimony of (our) faith …” To his wife 1.8. They had a sexless marriage. (More on early Christian asceticism here. More on divorce in 1 Cor. 7 here.)
 1 Corinthians 7:4 is at the centre of a chiasm made up of verses 1–7. The following is taken from the NIV except that I’ve edited verse 4 to reflect the Greek more literally (cf. 1 Cor. 7:4 KJV).
Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”
But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.
The wife does not have authority [of] over her own body but … her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority [of] over his own body but … his wife.
Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.
Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. 1 Corinthians 7:1–7 (NIV)
 Paul’s concession may be that he allows marriage and marital sex even though the thinks singleness and celibacy is preferable. Or his concession may be that he allows married couples to have brief periods of abstinence for the sake of prayer (an expression of piety) instead of permanent abstinence (continence) (1 Cor. 7:5–6).
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Mutuality in Marriage: 1 Corinthians Chapter 7
Paul’s words on divorce, and leaving an abusive marriage
What does submission “in everything” mean? (Eph. 5:24)
Paul and Women, in a Nutshell
1 Corinthians 14:34–35, in a Nutshell
Gender Bias in the NLT
Chastity, Salvation, and 1 Timothy 2:15
New Testament Church Culture: Sexual Licentiousness
42 thoughts on “A wife has no authority of her own body? (1 Cor. 7:4)”
God is amazing God whe he gave us marriage in blessing joy and to upfild others inlife together with love and into feel more blessing and rich in to use the word of God into obey living God in Jesus name thanks and bless and be happy in marriage daily with salty touch some time,keijo sweden
Thank you for clearing up these verses! It makes a lot more sense in the context on when Paul was writing it.
You’re welcome, Rachel.
Since we only have one side of the Paul-Corinthians conversation, we need listen very carefully and dig deep to work out the context.
Your exegesis of Paul’s letter is remarkable. But as a Christian shouldn’t the primary concern really be about what Jesus said or what can be deduce from Jesus’s indirect commentary on this issue? Even if we accept the Paul’s words are not a command what authority does he carry to even be permissive? From what direct source attributable to Jesus does Pual credibility or authority arise?
I don’t comment on Paul’s authority, one way or the other, in my articles. I simply write about what he says.
I do make brief comments on the authority of canonical scripture in some posts, but I leave it to readers to make their own decisions and have their own views about the authority of scripture, including the authority of Paul’s words.
I’m not aware that Jesus makes any statement that are relevant to the situation being addressed in 1 Corinthians 7:4.
This is why a personal relationship with Jesus and being led by the Spirit is so important…it puts the believer in a one on one with God and no one else… the responsibility is on the individual to seek God’s will for their life….it also takes pressure off a 3rd party being responsible for the “right answer” to everything as some christian extremist leaders do (Bill Gothard comes to mind).
Rather than thinking that everything Paul, or even Jesus, wrote is a direct command from God, those verses tell the struggles of the early church and how Paul and other writers handled the situation in the letters they wrote. Notice how Paul says “I” will –he, Paul, willed –it was not a “thus saith the Lord for all time from here on in” ….that the young widows marry and bear children”….due to the fact they were causing trouble because of too much time on their hands.
Those young widows have long gone to their reward- who knows if they married or got jobs or even listened to what Paul said…Perhaps the real idea behind what Paul said is to show us that people need to keep busy and avoid causing problems from having too much time on their hands. Using that reasoning, perhaps today a woman would be better off working somewhere than sitting at home idle (house work today can take very little time due to all the time saving inventions.)
I like this comment, Susan. But I would add that we should also live as Christians in community. Our faith is not just one on one, but should find support and find an expression among a community of Jesus’ followers. For some reason, this seems to be very hard to do in many churches. 🙁
I would say from Jesus himself as we read in Acts 9. Jesus commissioned Paul in a very specific way to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles; he consistently communed with Jesus intimately in prayer, receiving wisdom from above.
I so appreciate you sharing the wisdom you have received through faithful study and prayer with us, Marg, as it helps us identify in a real way what walking in the spirit and truth means.
If a wife has authority over her husband’s body, it follows that if she doesn’t want him to have sex with her he would have to respect it since his body is no longer his own. Having authority over each other’s bodies seems to imply mutual consent.
The context of this verse is about withholding sex for the reasons of religious piety or asceticism. But pretty much all of 1 Corinthians 7 is about mutuality in marriage, which includes mutual consent. 🙂
There is no hint of male privilege in this chapter.
Indeed, finally something that clears this up. Churches seem to refuse to be clearer on it, and I’ve read that domestic abuse is actually the highest in religious christian marriages in Australia, which I’d say applies to North America as well due to a similar culture and denominations.
Unfortunately, my husband uses this verse whenever I get upset about being groped, and I honestly think he has a lust sin problem that needs to be addressed and has nothing to do with me whatsoever——he was always like this since dating where he’d make catcall-like statements to actresses in movies during a “movie date”—-yea, it felt more like he was trying to mess with me than havea date!
That your husband quotes scripture to condone actions that you dislike is a big problem.
Hello and thank you for the article. I didn’t see any men comment on this so I thought I would give my view of what Paul was saying here. I think it is a stalemate scripture that boils down to dying to one another in a marriage out of reverence to our Lord. I agree if a man or a women is abusing this scripture that is not good. We are create equal and should both we valued as equal. However we were all created differently and have different Libidos and yes should show self control to a degree. I can only speak for my self and my situation. weather it be man or women you should not control the frequency of the sexual union. It should be mutual and be able to communicate and find a balance that works for both. Some women use sex as a weapon and that is not right or just whatever works for them. I do feel that we can speak for ourselves and know when we are being deprived. It is our responsibility to our spouses to not lead them to sexual sin. For a man I have seen so many men fall into pornography & masturbation due to the fact that their spouses only reject them or they explore out to find it somewhere else ( which I don’t agree with either but it happens way to often). If not abused Pauls words are to protect marriage from this. Sometimes serving your spouse is not to be joyous but still need to do with a joyful heart. If its all about serving each other out of reverence to the Lord should we not be doing this for HIM. I treat my wife like the princess she is but still I am always rejected and it hurts. I know I cannot use Gods word against her but if we are trying to live a biblical life style should we not be gently washing with the word?
While Keijo can be either a male or female Nordic name, the Keijo that commented above is a man.
Different people have different libidos, but I doubt that differing libidos was Paul’s concern in 1 Corinthians 7. His concern was Christians renouncing sex altogether because of faulty ideas about piety such as “it is good not to touch a woman.”
I have no doubt being rejected by your spouse is hurtful. There may be a number of reasons for not wanting to have sex. A low libido is only one possible reason. Do you know if there are other reasons?
This statement is completely unhelpful and off-topic: “Some women use sex as a weapon.” Some men use sex as a weapon. But this has nothing to do with 1 Corinthians 7:4. Also, Jesus holds men responsible for their own sexual sin (Matt. 5:28-29).
If your wife senses some of the things you’ve been complaining about here, I imagine that would put a lot of pressure on her. And that would be a huge turnoff. But I agree with you that sex should be mutual, including mutually enjoyable, and that a spouse should be able to communicate when they “feel deprived.” I hope you are able to communicate and find a balance that works for your wife and yourself. I hope she will be able to tell you why she doesn’t want sex as often as you.
Finally, 1 Corinthians 7:4 is not a stalemate scripture. To use it as such, is unkind.
Marg sorry if my response came across as complaining. I was only sharing my view on 1 Corinthians 7. When I read scripture they tend to blend in with other messages. The point I was trying to share was from what I feel God has showed me regarding marriage. I believe Paul is telling us how to protect our marriages. If we are not protecting our marriage it can lead to producing bad fruits. To have the ability to be balanced is to be equal. Each partner should value where the other is at and yes communication is key.
Richl….You say “…I have seen so many men fall into pornography & masturbation due to the fact that their spouses only reject them…..” This may sometimes be true, but it’s not necessarily so. Ask me how I know. What I am referring to, if you get my drift, is a man for whom porn came first as a young, single man, and it has overwhelmed him to the extent that, well, you know what I’m talking about. This wife is not a happy camper, and I did not “reject” him.
Jo..I agree with you and hear what you saying, that a lot of men bring pornography & masturbation into the marriage from the past single life and they need to be set free and delivered from this addiction. I have seen both sides of it, when it was brought into the marriage and where it was created from the marriage. From a addiction perspective they are only filling voids in their lives, weather it be porn, masturbation, alcohol,drugs or gambling. In my comment referring to 1 Corinthians 7, I feel Paul is showing us how to protect our marriages from divisions, resentments, sexual immoralities, etc. When we are doing this we are reverencing and honoring the Lord and we all know this is not always easy but needs to be done. I speak for myself that I fall short at times of this. When I am rejected or not feeling respected by my wife, there is times when the enemy wants to take me to these places and the battle is very real. After a lot of prayer and reading of Gods word, I am able to continue serving my wife some days easy and some days not so easy.
In the Greek philosophy of Idealism, material things are seen as debased or bad while ideal things are seen as good. There were 2 basic ways this played out, one was asceticism (reduce as much as possible one’s contact with the material world, including sex) and promiscuity (since material things were bad anyway, might as well do what one wants with one’s body, including having sex whenever with whomever). Paul would have known the basics of Greek philosophies. He knows what his Scriptures (Tanakh) and Jesus teach, that neither of these responses are appropriate for a believer. But he also knows that it is allowed for an individual to build a “fence around Torah” and choose to be limit one’s own freedom/rights in some area than Tanakh/Jesus specify. For example, although a believer may drink an alcoholic beverage, some choose to not do so, for a variety of reasons. So he has to take that into account as well as knowing how humans work sexually. I see Paul taking all these things into consideration and being very wise in his response.
This series of verses is indeed a stalemate .. if a spouse is looking for power that God does not want present in a marriage, whether it be a wife who wants to gatekeep/withhold or a husband who wants to manipulate for an encounter. It gives neither spouse power over the other. The power is given to the marriage, the unity and oneness our marriages are to reflect.
Also, I’ve seen many refer to Paul’s commentary as a concession (opinion), not a command (verse 6) as if it refers to verses 2 to 5, just as you seem to do. I want to suggest that Paul is not referring to verses 2 to 5, and the mutually in the marriage bed, but to entering into marriage verses remaining single. So, verse 6 leads into verse 7, and has nothing to do with verses 2 to 5. In others words, his confession (opinion) is to remain single, but each is given different gifts, implying that marriage is simply not in Gods plan for him, but it may be for others.
Another thought is that verse 6 is only referring to periods of abstinence referred to in verse 5, and not the mutuality and freely giving of oneself sexually to their spouse as stated in verses 2 to 4.
With all this, it is my opinion that versus 2 to 5 (mutuality and freely giving of oneself to the other) are commands (or supports Gods commands) based on the way God has framed or defined marriage through out the Bible.
It’s an interesting thought that the concession might refer to verse 7 rather than the preceding verses. However, verse 7 is not worded as a command or directive or instruction. Paul is expressing a wish. The preceding verses, however, are worded more matter-of-factly as instructions. So it makes better sense that Paul offers the caveat that these instructions are a “concession” (suggnōmēn).
[A couple more times in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul offers his “opinion” (gnōmēn), rather than a command (1 Cor. 7:25, 40; cf. 1 Cor. 7:6).]
It is possible, however, that Paul’s concession is a brief period of abstinence for the sake of prayer (i.e. piety) (1 Cor. 7:5), rather than the permanent abstinence (continence) which some Corinthians were adopting for the sake of prayer and piety. This makes good sense. I’ll think about that idea. Thanks.
Paul’s concern in 7:1-7 was that giving up sex altogether for the sake of piety would be too difficult to sustain and might lead to sexual immorality. Whatever else we might draw from the passage, we mustn’t lose sight of Paul’s primary concern.
Thank you for the thoughtful reply, I appreciate the insight.
You are using bad translations to fit what you want to say. The king James version, which is the correct version, says the man and woman have power over each other.You’re highly misleading people. Holding out on a spouse will cause them to stumble and sin.It does not mean against her well of course. Sometimes I go to work and don’t want to but I still do. Let God hash out the man or woman’s intent in their marriage.The sin is on the spouse who is not giving the other spouse what they need. Most women don’t get attention from their husbands enough and it is the husband sin for not being there for their needs
Wes, I actually quote from the King James Bible right at the beginning of the article. But you are mistaken, the KJV does not say “power over.” Also, I don’t rely on English translations, I rely on Paul’s original words in Greek.
Throughout history, many people, including Christians, have had to abstain from sex for extended periods for all kinds of reasons. These reasons include sickness, a wife’s near-death during a previous delivery, and separation or no privacy due to wars, a disaster, imprisonment or work. I personally know of a few couples who chose not to have sex anymore after they had had 7, 8, and 9 children. (This was before the days of freely available contraception.) Also, numerous Christians have believed that sex was only for procreation, so they only had sex when they wanted a baby. And what about the Christians who do not have a spouse?
I have a higher regard for the faithfulness, love, and self-discipline of fellow believers than you; I do not think that holding out will cause the other spouse to sin. If a person commits adultery, that is their own failing; they are solely responsible for their own actions. Nevertheless, I mention in the article that one of Paul’s concerns was that abstaining from sex in marriage might lead to immorality, adultery.
So I don’t know what your concern is, Wes. I use the King James Bible in my article. In fact, I chose the King James Bible because it fits reasonably with what Paul says in Greek, and what Paul says is what I want to say. Plus I acknowledge that Paul was concerned that the Corinthians might not be able to maintain abstinence and that it might lead to immorality, or as you say, “stumble and sin.”
Wes, I have understood the context of Paul’s words and my explanation is not misleading. You have not understood Paul’s context and the situation in Corinth. You are going on about your own concerns, and you are being impolite. I won’t be approving any more of your disrespectful comments.
Following responses from Wes and Marg.
KJV does say that we should have authority/power over one another. We made this commitment in our biblical wedding vows. Gods word says as mentioned in John 1:1(so if the word is God, this is what he says pertaining to the matters: Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me:
It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
We are all equals being a man and a women but with that being said be have different roles (different topic) but when it comes to sex in marriage I believe the word is pretty clear. We are definitely responsible for our own actions, This being said the instructions God gives us says to not deny one another. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. I am not saying be a doormat to someone abusive, because Jesus would not treat me or my wife like that. If the husband is walking close to the Lord and doing his part to the best of his ability the wife should render to the husband. (24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing) So how I read it is the wife is to reverence her husband as unto the Lord. I serve my beautiful wife in everything , as long as it does not lead me to sin and is honoring to him. But God is a God order and obedience. Remember this goes both ways. There are wives that seek the husband and if we are refusing them, we are at wrong. Ultimately are bodies belong to Christ and God(his work being the same) says to submit to husband in everything… not just this or that. EVERYTHING . You can disagree all we want but it not my word it belong to him our Lord Jesus. Can sexually refusal lead a person to sexually sin, absolutely.. Paul even warns us about it. Paul is telling us that we will have lack of self-control. So, in closing we can both be responsible for leading our marriages in the wrong order. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 King James Version (KJV) 9 Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up). It is not better for a man to Marry than burn. So many people are just lost when it comes to Gods order in Marriage, Government, Employment, etc. …. You have a choice to be single or Marriage both come with clear instructions.
I don’t know what version of the King James Bible you and Wes are reading, but I can’t see the word “over” in 1 Corinthians 7:4. The fact that the word “over” is not added in the KJV is the very reason I chose to quote it at the beginning of this article. The KJV is a literal translation from the Greek which also has no word that means “over” in 1 Cor. 7:4.
“The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.” KJV
The only time the word “over” is used in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 of the King James Bible is in verse 37.
I still don’t understand Wes’s concern since I did use the KJV and I clearly acknowledge that Paul was concerned that abstinence might lead to immorality. And I completely agree with you, “We are definitely responsible for our own actions.”
The purpose of my article is to explain the context, the backstory, of 1 Corinthians 7:4. How you and your wife understand and apply this verse is up to you both.
Thank you Marg. You are 100% correct with your statement regarding the word “over” in KJV. The word “over” is in the NIV version. When I was doing cross reference on the word power. NIV uses the word authority not power which was mentioned in my response. Thank you for the clarity.
We are responsible for our own actions, and this is why we need to be on guard at all times and protecting our marriages. Immorality can come forth and no one is too blame but ourselves.
I believe there is to be mutual authority, but there is no indication of ‘exclusivity’ when I read Corinthians 7.4 (even if including 7.2-3 in the picture); that feels like a personal bias. Doesn’t authority imply that if the wedded man (or woman) so chooses, they can ask their spouse to make love to another? This is perhaps what the essence of the movie Breaking the Waves is about. That two be joined in God.
Kan, You may have a different interpretation of this passage than the one I present on this page, but there’s no reason whatsoever to suggest mine springs from personal bias; it results from serious study. I continue to study 1 Corinthians and I continue to regard my interpretation of this passage and my understanding of its backstory as sound. But I will gladly change my mind if someone gives me compelling evidence of a different interpretation and backstory. I have no idea what you think my bias might be.
The Greek word that means “own” (ἰδίου, idiou) occurs twice in 1 Corinthians 7:4. A husband has the exclusive right of his wife’s own body, and the wife has the exclusive right of her husband’s own body. They do not have any legitimate right to someone else’s body, such as the body of their slave or of a prostitute. In the previous chapter of First Corinthians, Paul alludes to Corinthian Christians being sexually immoral and having sex with prostitutes (e.g., 1 Cor. 6:5ff).
Only a spouse has the right (ἐξουσιάζει, exousiazie) and the obligation to have sex with his or her own partner. Theirs is an exclusive relationship.
The context of 1 Corinthians 7:1-6 is that a spouse cannot decide without the consent of the other spouse to become celibate. Rather, Paul says such a decision needs to be mutual and, preferably, only for a limited length of time (1 Cor. 7:5).
I am glad to see that this is a somewhat current thread. I appreciate the light you bring to this verse, Marg. It has been a source of pain and conflict in my faith journey for 36 years. I found your exegesis on this passage due to trying one more time to find an interpretation other than woman’s body is not her own. so she must give in to years of a man’s lust for one thing only in the marriage. I’ve loved Jesus for a very long time, and I would read this passage the way I was taught to see it and I would think…”this just CAN’T be ok . This is NOT a picture of Christ and His bride, the church, and Jesus would NEVER treat me with contempt in the morning and affection in the evening with a skewed agenda going on in his head. This verse just had to have a more reasonable interpretation to be more in line with who I know in my heart Jesus is. I will continue to study. Thank you for writing this. I will be looking for more of your work!
You’re right, SRB. Some behaviours condoned by some interpretations of 1 Cor. 7:4 are not okay. These behaviours are not what Jesus does to his church! (Yikes, that was hard for me to type.)
Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 were aimed at rectifying unjust and self-centred actions; he was not condoning selfish and hurtful actions. That Christians can think otherwise is disturbing.
Eek! This theology flew under my radar. Thanks for shining the spotlight.
Women twist these scriptures to enforce their desires which is selfish. That is the don’t want to fulfill their part in marriage, sexual relations w husbands. Our lives are not our own when we’re in Christ. We are servants to all. Starting with your spouse. You can’t pick apart words to get your point of view. This subject is clear thru this chapter. Our bodies are not our own. Period. Don’t explain it away. Women live sex w young but no when old. Men don’t change. That’s part of life. It’s each other’s duty to provide each other’s needs. That’s marriage.
I don’t feel like gets old. Bible specifically says not to be led by our feeling. But by the word of God which is about others, not me or self. These passages also say if mutual..it does not say just because one says no. And also says to come together after time apart of prayer. Having said that.. obviously a godly man respects his wife’s desires or lack of. But too many no’s is wrong and selfish .
Interesting that this old post is still getting attention. This is a sore subject for a lot of people I suspect.
David, I would point to this from Marg’s footnote 1:
“ Love is the yardstick for interpreting all biblical instructions. If a spouse is unwilling to have sex, there is a reason. People who use this verse to bully or guilt their spouse may be unwilling to accept or work through the reason.”
Of course “twisting” this scripture to argue that it is ok to leave your spouse sexless, as you say women do, would also be wrong. It would be a twisted argument indeed since that is of course the exact opposite of what Paul is saying.
I don’t know your circumstances. But whatever your personal situation, blanket generalizations about women as selfish and sexually withholding are offensive. Instead, let us do women the courtesy of assuming they have valid reasons for their behavior just as much as men do. Sure, some women (and men) may deliberately withhold out of selfishness or manipulation. That’s awful for their spouses.
But physically and emotionally healthy women who are in healthy marriages and having mutually satisfying sex don’t just decide to start depriving their husbands out of the blue. If a woman doesn’t want to have sex with her husband, could we ask why instead of insulting her and telling her the Bible says she has to anyway? Suggesting this passage means women should just do their duty and have sex regardless of how they feel is counterproductive (assuming healthy mutual sex lives are the goal). It doesn’t sound like loving her as his own body. It’s also gross.
Oh, and by the way, women’s libidos change over their lifetime and with life circumstances, but they don’t just universally evaporate with age. And men do change too. Or we would not have all those ads for the little blue pills!
Thank you for your thoughtful and concise interpretation of this passage. I feel the church has long pushed it’s own agenda where marriage is concerned, and not sought to teach from context, which, thankfully, you did not repeat. I appreciate the continued encouragement to take each verse and apply it to the context Paul was speaking about: husbands and wives deciding on their own to become sexually abstinent. It was very helpful in conversations with my married son and his wife when clearing up confusion over a sermon that that did not apply this principle.
And it’s agenda has often been at the expense of women. 🙁
Wow, this was awesome wisdom Marg. I love it very helpful and clear understanding. My desire is to be one with wife and my God, thank ya and to God be the glory!!!
Hello Marg, i have another question I need to clarify with regards to marriage. I haven’t yet received the books so I’m posting here. Does 1 Cor 7:36-40 in any way mean fathers have a right to decide whether their daughter should be married or celibate for God, or is this simply a cultural thing, much like a woman asking for her father’s blessing for her marriage today (assuming the father-daughter view is correct)?
Hi Yvonne, as you hint at, the father-daughter view may not be the correct interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:36ff.
Here is 1 Corinthians 7:36 in a few translations where the one making the decision is the fiance.
“If any man thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, if she is getting beyond the usual age for marriage, and he feels he should marry—he can do what he wants. He is not sinning; they can get married.” CSB.
“If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin.” ESV
“If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married.” NIV
“If anyone thinks that he is behaving indecently toward his fiancée, if his passions are strong and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry.” NRSV
Corinth was a Roman colony where Roman law applied. Generally speaking, Roman women had more personal freedom regarding marriage and divorce than women in other parts of the ancient world.
However, even if the father-daugher interpretation is correct, there is no suggestion in the Bible that God always wants fathers to make decisions regarding the marriages of his children.
The only passages I can think of are Exodus 22:17 and Numbers 30:5. Furthermore, Christians in the far east with a similar culture to Israel take the command to “Honor your parents” to mean parents should choose spouses, (I read it in Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes) although I find that a bit of a stretch.
Neither of these verses directly states that fathers choose the spouse for their children, though I have no doubt that this happened a lot. And Numbers 30:5 is not about marriage. (I have a few paragraphs about Numbers 30:1-16 and vows here.)
Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes is a pretty good book, but it gets some things wrong. The section on Bathsheba, for example, makes several incorrect claims. But it’s fair to compare some customs in the Ancient Near East with those in the Far East.
Obedience to parents was/ is a normal part of both cultures. I mention this briefly here. I hope Israelite parents were kinder than some parents in the Far East.
The plain truth is that there is no biblical injunction that fathers, or parents, must choose or approve of their child’s spouse.
Yes, the section on bathsheba made me upset.
But I guess marriage was not really a problem: even strong men like Samson had to take their parents permission, and song of songs sounds like a love marriage. Thanks Marg!
Yes, it wasn’t as though only brides had marriages arranged for them. It was the same for grooms. But it seems that both men and women could have some sort of say in who and when they married.
I’ve written a somewhat lengthy response to what the “Misreading” authors say about Bathsheba, but I haven’t posted it online. But I do have this article where I present ideas about bathing, etc, based on ancient evidence, that are different from what they say.