Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thesis Conclusion: Paul’s Theological Ethic in 1 Cor 6:12-20

[This is the conclusion from my thesis which I just submitted for marking yesterday, remember this is not a bunch of unfounded assertions but the conclusion to 40,000 words of argument worked out over a year and a half of research.  Not that that means you should agree with them, but remember this is just a teaser, before I publish the whole thing online.  I'm interested in your reactions, especially which areas you would like me to share/argue in more detail on the blog, but if you spot a typo don't tell me, it's too late! PS the cartoon is not in the actual thesis, but seemed appropriate for my premature moment of triumph. :-)]

This study has examined the notorious crux that is 1 Cor 6:12-20.  It has arrived at a reading which traces a clear and logical progression of thought through the pericope that is fully coherent with Pauline thought on Christian freedom elsewhere.  Attentiveness to the images and metaphors underlying Paul’s logic, and a desire to let them all influence the reading without privileging one over another, has exposed the intricacy and the consistency of Paul’s argument.   Even though some statements might appear un-Pauline in isolation, within the context of the pericope every phrase operates as Paul’s own words.  It is, consequently, unnecessary to attribute any of the phrases therein to the Corinthians as slogans. 

Within the pericope the citation of Gen 2:24 (1 Cor 6:16) functions as a central explanatory concept, both for the arguments preceding and the statements to follow.  For Paul, the sexual act constitutes an “oath-sign” which creates “one flesh” from the joining of the two bodies.  Πορνεία results in the removal of the believer from union with Christ, because union with Christ excludes such behaviour.  The believer unwittingly makes the prostitute his wife but treats her as if she was as insignificant as food, there only to serve an appetite.  The statement of 1 Cor 6:18, that only fornication is a sin against/into the σῶμα, is to be understood as hyperbolic, indicative of the unique seriousness with which Paul views πορνεία, rather than an absolute statement.  The pericope’s emphasis on σῶμα is indicative of a wider concern within 1 Corinthians to increase the Corinthians’ esteem for the body.  For Paul, the σῶμα is not a discrete part of the human being but an integral aspect, one that is essential both for glorifying God in this life and for the believer’s future hope.  Paul’s argument reveals how he understands the believer’s σῶμα relates to God as creator and eschatological judge, to Christ as “husband” and redeemer, and to the indwelling Holy Spirit.  When this argument is examined it is found to be theological in both form and content, constituting a dinstinctive Trinitarian argument against πορνεία, which stands in stark contrast to 1st cent. Jewish or Greek treatments of the same subject. 

Ultimately, the study of 1 Cor 6:12-20 yields rich insight into Paul’s understanding of and response to fornication.  It shows how Paul interpreted the received tradition of Jesus’ life and teaching to formulate and apply a Christian ethic in Corinth, a place removed geographically and culturally from Palestine of the same era.  It is an ethic that is radically opposed to an anti-somatic spirituality or to traditional notions of uncleanness and defilement.  It is also an ethic rooted in religious experience.  It demands that the believers situate their bodies in a matrix of relationships with God, Christ and Spirit, and also with the prostitute they seek to use for their own gratification.  Only when the Christian is attentive to their relationships with God, Christ, Spirit, and the human other can they truly exercise their Christ bought freedom as freedom from domination and as freedom for the good.

[Let me know what you think. :-)]


  1. love. it.
    well. done!
    (i'm sure you'll get more constructive feedback from George :) )

  2. This looks brilliant. I will look forward to reading the full version.

  3. What's the chance of helping out a non-Greek reading brother? Throw a rough translation in beside them - just for me!

  4. Sorry Hamish my bad. :-)

    Πορνεία = sexual immorality/prostitution

    σῶμα = body