This was clearly Paul’s view. He said that marriage partners should give themselves with benevolence to each other sexually. The guiding principle in sex in marriage, wasn’t some sense of guilt for its enjoyment, or any ritual restrictions, but rather love, considering the partner and not our own desires.
This reflects the view of sex in marriage in the Old Testament, as in Proverbs and the Song of Solomon, where the marriage relationship was encouraged in the fullest sense of mutual love and enjoyment. There was no religious shamefacedness regarding sex within marriage. It was celebrated in Hebrew culture.
Paul said to refrain from marriage, may be good in the time of the first century trials. Some have said the early church expected the soon coming of Christ and advised non-marriage. That isn’t true. They saw the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the wars of that period and the difficulties child raising may pose at that time. But they did not tell people whether to marry. They held no such power.
Paul did not promote sexual abstinence within marriage, except for short periods of prayer, and only if both partners desired this. No one could command abstinence. Paul said married couples should be generous in their sexual lives with each other, and that this would also help keep away temptations. Paul fought against attitudes which opposed sex in marriage and which opposed marriage in general, that had already crept into the Corinthian church.
Paul claimed abstinence from sex in marriage was a doctrine of demons, meaning it was not rooted in true Hebrew or Christian faith. This false teaching of abstinence from marriage, or from sex within marriage, came from the Greek culture, not from the Hebrew culture.
Some sectors within Greek culture were of the abstinence camp. Some philosophers taught that the body was evil, along with any bodily appetite. Some even claimed that all material things and even the earth itself, were evil and created by an evil god. Some said Christ was a phantom, who came without a body and saved us in the spirit, by taking us out of the body. Elements of this teaching are in the church today, including a denial of the physical resurrection of our bodies.
But this teaching about sex and marriage has nothing to do with the Hebrew faith, nor with the teachings of Jesus or of the early apostles. These teachings came into the church by the Greek fathers, after the first apostles, and this because of their Greek cultural background.
It is true that some apocalyptic passages in the New Testament use symbols, like virgin, for purity of heart, but this is symbolic only of faithfulness to God. Some symbols were picked up from intertestamental period literature, which had been influenced somewhat by Greek ideas, but when adopted into early Christian literature, their meaning was only symbolic. It is the clear statements of the New Testament that interpret the symbols, not the other way around.
There is no value in sexual purity by abstaining from marriage. But, if you are so gifted, and you delight to abstain from marriage to give yourself full focus on your service of God in the world, then that is good. But there is no moral merit in it. It is good only if done voluntarily and only if the gift (grace) to remain without marriage is assuredly given to the person.
The austere attitude toward sex, that was prevalent in the Victorian era of British history, wasn’t from the Hebrew or early Christian background. That wasn’t a Christian view of sex. But then neither is immorality a Christian view of sex. The austere view came down through church history through the Greek fathers and this took precedence at many times in the Roman Catholic tradition and in the Puritan era, and in other movements.
The Christian view of sex isn’t austere, but neither is it immoral. It says that sex was made for marriage between a woman and a man. There is no biblical teaching the says otherwise. There is no biblical teaching that hints towards marriage between two people of the same sex.
Creation also says the same, marriage between male and female for companionship and family raising. This is the biblical definition of sex. If this definition is changed, then there is no way of defining sex in our societies, and there will be no end to its different expressions.
The Christian view of sex is that it is good, like the rest of creation is good, and to be enjoyed, but also that, like the rest of creation, our treatment of it can’t be taken for granted, our definitions don’t change what has been created. Creation can’t be redefined, abused, or used to please ourselves, whether in rampant commercialism, sabbath breaking, or in sexual morality, without breaking down its interdependencies of wholeness.
We might say that one person was made one way, and another person was made another way. But we could this about any number of things, and choices, and behaviours, that may not be good for the general community, or may have consequences in the future that will be contrary to the common good. The biblical vision, the Christian vision, is the common good. The individual is called to serve the common good, just as Christ served us all, not thinking of himself. This is what gives us individual fulfillment. We are each a unique part of a body.
It’s just like our use of land. It must be respected, or it won’t yield high nutrient food, and humanity eventually starves. In the environment, everything is related. What happens to one part effects all. Likewise, we can’t say our body is our own, and that it doesn’t affect anyone else. There is a way of living, as a part of creation, that yields “high nutrient” outcomes. Horticulture and sexual morality are part of the same creation. And creation has one God, who has built sabbath rest (wholeness) into every part of it for our wellbeing.
The cost for abandoning the Christian vision of sex, is seen in the Roman Empire. Rome abused and destroyed the world, its people and environment, because it rejected sabbath definitions for the creation. That is the alternative, with the demeaning and captivity of the human person for sexual pleasure. We may not intend this by our private decisions, but it is still the long-term outcome. That is the eventual alternative to the Christian vision. We have seen that in history. We know that.
It’s a choice between modern commercial paganism, or creational sabbath. The first destroys, brings us into conflict and war, the second restores life. Like someone we said, “We can avoid reality, but we cannot avoid the consequences of reality.” This is what our cultures face. If God is no longer our God, we make idols of ourselves. What comes next is the law of the jungle.