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Dio Chrysostom vs Paul on Prostitution


Among the Greeks, only Dio Chrysostom addressed the subject of prostitution directly and at length,[1] although the discussions of sexual morality by both Musonius Rufus (Fragment 12) and Seneca (Epistle 94.25-6) indirectly condemn the use of prostitutes.[2]  Chrysostom’s treatment (Discourse 7:133-37) warrants examination as it represents the only extant sustained treatment of the subject by one of Paul’s near contemporaries.[3]  Chrysostom’s target is those who rule the city (7:136-7) and his concern the way in which they deal with the “brothel keepers” (πορνοβοσκῶν, 7:133).   In line with other Greek moralists he considers that sex should not only be reserved for marriage, but also for procreation (7:134-5).[4]  He presents a number of ethical concerns.  Chrysostom considers it wrong to profit by human misfortune, assuming prostitutes to be slaves by either war or purchase (7:133; cf. 7:52).  He refers to the “hapless women and children” involved as σώματα (7:133).  Nevertheless, he does not show any concern for rescuing those hapless bodies, only that it is beneath the dignity of a moral man to exploit them.  Furthermore, such sexual activity outside of a productive marriage is a source of shame (αἰσχύνω) to its participants and constitutes disrespect of the gods (7:133-5, cf. 1 Cor 4:14; 6:5).[5]  Although much of Chrysostom’s treatment is humane, ultimately his concern is with the effect unrestricted prostitution has on the overarching morality of the city (7:140-52; cf. 1 Cor 5:6-13).  The holiness that is potentially defiled is not that of the individuals involved but of the “government buildings and temples” (7:133-4).  Moreover, Chrysostom’s injunctions are not absolute; the city rulers must moderate their response to this immorality according to what is “practicable” (7:137). 

It is noticeable how different Paul’s approach is from Chrysostom’s.  Admittedly they are addressing very different audiences.  One might expect Paul to share the humanitarian concern for the unfortunate prostitutes.  One might expect Paul to be concerned about the effect of prostitution on the rest of the church community (cf. 1 Cor 5:1-13).[6]  Instead we are presented with Paul’s detailed attempt to realign a wrong application of a correct principle of Christian life:  Christian freedom, “πάντα μοι ξεστιν”!  The moral landscape has to be reset to the new reality in Christ and a new ethic has to be constructed on the basis of this new reality.  Neither does Paul appeal to a rule or a demand for sexual purity, because to do so would contradict this freedom.[7]  Nor does he show any concern that the prostitute is an outsider to the community; 1 Cor 7:12-16 shows conclusively that sex with outsiders was not the issue.  Even so, there is no reason the prostitute could not have been a member of the community herself.  Prostitutes were usually slaves, and there were certainly slaves in the Corinthian church (cf. 7:21).  Finally, Paul’s concern for what is “practicable” only emerges later in his discussion of marriage (e.g. 7:1-7); his command to “flee sexual immorality” (6:18a) leaves no room for compromise or negotiation.


[1] Stambaugh and Balch, The New Testament in Its Social Environment, 158.
[2] Cf. Abraham Malherbe, Moral Exhortation: A Greco-Roman Sourcebook (Philadelphia, Phil.: Westminster, 1986), 128, 152-54.
[3] Dio Chrysostom, Dio Chrysostom: Discourses 1-11, trans. J.W. Cohoon, LCL 257, (1932), 364-65.
[4] Cf. Malherbe, Moral exhortation, 152, 154.
[5] The absence of any discussion of procreation in 1 Cor 6:12-7:40 is a noticeable lacuna in Paul’s sexual ethics there and NT ethics generally.
[6] Cf. Gupta, “Which Body is a Temple?,” 527.
[7] See §2.1, especially §2.1.5, para 5.

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