Skip to main content

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.


Popular posts from this blog

That one time Jesus got the Bible wrong

It's so typical isn't it? You are preaching all day long, training your disciples, sparring with the Pharisees, encouraging the poor and down trodden, healing the sick and casting out demons, all day, day after day, and even when you go up a mountain to get a rest the crowds hunt you down and follow you up, and then the one time you get a bit muddled up with some of the details of a biblical text . . . that is the one they write down in the first gospel - verbatim. At least Matthew and Luke had the good sense to do some editing. But Mark, he always had his eye on giving the public the "historical Jesus" whoever that is supposed to be . . . warts and all. Thanks a lot Mark!

Some think I made the mistake on purpose, just to show the Pharisees up.

For some there is no mistake worth mentioning, only a slightly ambiguous turn of phrase.

Others think I am doing something tricky with Abiathar's name, getting him to figuratively stand in for the priesthood.

It really has…

Thor Ragnarok and Parihaka: Postcolonial Apocalypse

Thor: Ragnarok is a riot of colour, sound, violence, humour, sci-fi and fantasy. As a piece of entertainment it is the best Marvel has produced so far. As in many of Taika Waititi's films the plot often seems secondary to the humour and a number of quirky moments seemed only to serve for a quick giggle. I left the theatre overwhelmed by the sensory experience, but ultimately unimpressed by any deeper meaning.

It wasn't until the second morning after my trip to the movies that I woke to the realisation that the movie could function as a profound postcolonial metaphor (I do some of my best thinking while alseep, also it can take me a while for the penny to drop). Unfortunately a quick google showed me that I was neither the first, nor the second to have this thought.

[Spoiler Alert!]

It's easy to miss with all the other stuff going on but Thor undergoes a postcolonial awakening during the film as he slowly realises that his beloved Asgard and its dominion of the nine realms …

Dale Martin does Mark

Dale Martin is an important and frequently controversial NT scholar. Those of us who can't make it to Yale to hear him teach can access some of his lectures, in fact his entire introduction to the NT course, through the magic of the internet.

Here he is holding forth on Mark . . .