But in NT Christianity purity ceases to revolve around that which is dirty and becomes an issue of the heart's intentions. The classic text where this revolution takes place is Mark 7:17-23. In this text Jesus denies the ability of any external physical thing to make someone "unclean." As witnessed to by Jesus' ministry this included corpses, lepers, and women with bleeding, all of whom should never have been touched under the Torah's purity regulations. And yet through his miracles Jesus showed that his "pure" compassionate intentions were stronger than the defiling capacity of those external facts, he could touch and remain undefiled. Instead his "purity" often spread to those he touched, as evidenced by their healing.
Unfortunately readers of Paul often come to the passages where he talks about sexual purity and think that he has reverted back to the Levitical idea of sex being "icky". That it is something dirty which will stick to you and make you dirty too. But although Paul uses purity language in regard to his exhortations regarding proper sexual conduct, careful reading reveals that the purity Paul is concerned with stems not from a revulsion towards icky sex but from other considerations. In both 1 Cor 6:12-7:40 and 1 Thes 4:3-8, which are the two key Pauline passages on sex, the driving concerns are not the potential for contamination but,
- the respect of people's sexual property "rights" (1 Thess 4:6; 1 Cor 6:20; 7:4)
- the demonstration of the self-control that comes from a Spirit filled life, i.e. not being dominated by the gratification of one's urges (1 Cor 6:13, 19; 7:9; 1 Thess 4:4, 7)
- the maintenance of the believer's right relationship with members of the community and with God/Christ (1 Cor 6:15, 1 Thess 4:1, 6, 8)
Apart from being "Biblical," the other real advatnage to this approach is that it both allows us to argue in terms that a non-believer can meaningfully engage with (i.e. personal and social consequences), but also forces us to respect the fact that a key reason for our own sexual restraint is maintenance of a relationship with God, an aim many non-believers don't share (funnily enough). This alone should cause us to slow down if we are under the impression we need continually agitate to legislate Christian sexual morality in our secular nations.
let me know what you think :-)