Sex, Sin, and Inheritance in Paul: Personal Reflections

Initially, I was going to limit this blog post exclusively to the New Testament. But, at the risk of sounding like a one-string banjo, I decided to include only Paul. Sorry to those who really want my thoughts on Hebrews!

Onward and onward.

In the Modern world, sex can largely be described as a type of currency, or even as a type of reality. Pornography is rampant and one needn't search too hard to find it. Personally, having struggled with that for most of my life (including now), it is never hard to find. So sex and sin are often linked together. Of course, this does not begin to describe the New Testament's positive view of sex (c.f. 1 Cor 7:1-16), but it does suggest that a good and holy thing can be corrupted and marred by external influences and forces. Just a note.

So, in Paul (I have to start with my boy Paul!) we have the Greek word πόρνος (pornos). This word is largely defined and understood to concern sexual sinners, regardless of gender or age. One could say this noun describes a "sexually immoral person."

We do not have this word used as often in the New Testament as we would think, but it does occur in some interesting contexts. A large concentration of the noun occurs in 1 Corinthians 5-6 where Paul is discussing the issue of the man who is "having" (ἔχειν) his father's wife. This sort of sexual sin (πορνεία) is not even known amongst the Gentiles (5:1), which suggests that this sort of sexual deviancy was being applauded by the Corinthian church and was particularly debaucherous. Richard Hays states that, "here in 1 Corinthians 5…Paul simply assumes the reality of corporate responsibility."[1] In other words, everyone in the fledgling Corinthian church is responsible for this man's sin.

Continuing on in 1 Corinthians 6:9 (the train of thought is not broken from the sexual issues in 1 Corinthians 5), Paul speaks of the following people "not inheriting" (οὐ κληρονομήσουσιν: negated future verb) the "Kingdom of God." The list itself is disputed regarding exactly the 'types' of people therein, but suffice to say, sexual sin as a rampant aspect of the early church and the broader first century society makes this sort of language quite appropriate today. The language includes an element of exploitation in 1 Corinthians 5, as the woman likely did not have authority over her own body – an aspect Paul quickly remedies in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4 (ἡ γυνὴ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει ἀλλὰ ὁ ἀνήρ· ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ ἀνὴρ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει ἀλλὰ ἡ γυνή—neither spouse has a claim of supremacy over the flesh and mind of the other). This sort of radical egalitarianism includes the negation of sexual privilege and of rape and of a husband demanding or "having" the body of his wife. Rather, Paul's vision of marital egalitarianism shines through despite the sexual sin in Corinth.

Paul's other use of "inheritance" language is in Ephesians 5:4-5. Personally, I am now persuaded that Paul wrote Ephesians so I shall carry on as if there is not debate about this subject (there is). The text reads as follows:

5:5 – τοῦτο γὰρ ἴστε γινώσκοντες ὅτι πᾶς πόρνος ἢ ἀκάθαρτος ἢ πλεονέκτης, ὅ ἐστιν εἰδωλολάτρης, οὐκ ἔχει κληρονομίαν ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ τοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ θεοῦ

My translation –  "for I want you to be aware of this, that every sexually immoral person, [every] unclean person, [every] greedy person,[2] who is an idolater: he or she does not possess an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God."

An issue of fascination for me is the genitive use of τοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ θεοῦ. It seems that, if one adopts a Granville Sharp's rule, then Paul is rather explicit in calling Jesus 'God' here. But, that aside, the ethical issues remain. In Ephesians, sexual sin is not particularly highlighted, although inheritance is (c.f. Eph 1:14, 18). In both instances, it most likely refers to the present down payment of God's gift of Christ to the "saints." So the language is not quite about soteriology, but it concerns the inclusion of the people of God as the transitory nature of "liberation" (ἀπολύτρωσιν: 1:14) implies. That is, God has a storehouse of wealth for his people that he desires to bestow upon them, and to live in a righteous manner means that one is and will continue to be a recipient of such a gift.

Paul's final word on this subject occurs in the Pastoral Epistles, where πόρνοις in the plural occurs alongside "slave-traders" and other vices. In other words, acting in a sexually immoral manner puts one on the same category as a slave-trader and as a person who exploits others. If one wants to consider a modern example, the slave trade and human trafficking provide a particularly vivid example of how we exploit and pervert one another. A vice list is not intended to be exhausted, but illustrative of the intricate power of exploitation that occurs when people have forsaken God and one another.

In short, Paul's condemnation of sexual immorality does not prioritize the individual, but also the victim. His stark rebuttal of sexual exploitation in Cor 7:1-16 is a strong condemnation of sexual exploitation and rape between spouses, and forces us to consider the implications of sexual sin in our own lives.

So I will go first.

Beginning when I was around 6 or 7, I had my first experience with pornography as a neighbor's house. My parents were unaware and I was quite good and hiding this sort of sin. It was not until I was 22(ish) and met a really pretty and intelligent woman who I would later marry did I actually stop and consider my sexual sin. Until that point, it had become a daily if not hourly event.

It still haunts me to this day, and affects how I interact with women. I still struggle daily and will likely struggle for the rest of my life because of how I chose to act throughout that decade. This sort of unrepentant sin does not affect just me: it affects how I relate to my wife and could cause a lot of problems within my relationship with her. In order to maintain a sense of accountability, I have forced myself to confess each failure to her. Thankfully, she is always forgiving and always encouraging. Personally, I've had to really forsake certain elements of what I have seen and grow up with in order to have a healthy and God-glorifying relationship with her. For the better!

So sexual sin, for those of us who are πόρνοις (myself included), salvation and redemption are never far from our grasp. God has offered his love to all of us and has provided a way out of our sinful desires (c.f. 1 John 2:2). God's love, a love that demands so much, calls us out of exploitation and depravity, and into a world that is not guided by the 'Self,' but by the Spirit.

So, condemn Sin. Condemn it for what it is. Never stop doing so. But never equate the Sin with the Person. A person, once they are made aware like I was, wants nothing to do with Sin and must be reminded daily to forsake his desires and pursue the Cross of Christ.

It will take a lifetime, or perhaps an eternity, but it is worth it. The inheritance of God is a down payment for our failures, our history, and our desires, and nothing short of the gift of God in Christ can help us forsake such sins. God did not come only for those who were perfect, he came for those who are sick (Mark 2:17; parallel Matthew 9:12-13 and Luke 5:31-32).

Pray for me, yourself, and all of us πόρνοις. God has not forsaken us, even when we fall, and we must be firmly gracious to those who do fall. That's the lame thing about the gift of Christ: He is more than being just for you, and for me.

While we were still sinners…

NQ

[1] Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997), 82.

[2] The "all" (πᾶς) is implied by the initial use, carrying over to the next personal categories.