Illicit Sex And The Corinthian Saints

Paul offers more specific instructions regarding the content of in-Christ sexual purity in his letters to the Corinthian church. These letters contain Paul's responses to questions raised by the Corinthian community—a church he had founded—as well as Paul's reactions to news he had received about their activities. Evidence for the conversational nature of 1 and 2 Corinthians includes possible quotations of phrases used by the Corinthians themselves105 and references to letters received by Paul and to reports given to him by others.106 Paul had heard that there were schisms (1:11, 11:18). He had heard that they were tolerating porneia (5:1). He had received a letter with questions about proper behavior in the churches (7:1). He referred to the issues they raised on several occasions, introducing his arguments with the phrase "now concerning" (peri de).107 This evidence has led some scholars to seek to reconstruct the positions and behaviors of the Corinthians with whom Paul was in dialogue. For example, some have argued on the basis of Paul's discussion of women and marriage that a group of independent, charismatic women were causing trouble in the Corinthian church, at least from Paul's perspective.108 Others have sought to ascertain the identity of the "super apostles" whom Paul denounces in 2 Corinthians.109 Many have supposed that the Corinthian church was a particularly enthusiastic, charismatic group. These gentiles-in-Christ emphasized spiritual gifts, questioned the value of status, gender, and sexual norms, and, in Paul's opinion anyway, were in need of a great deal of guid-ance.110 Since I am primarily interested in the contours of Paul's rhetoric, I will not attempt to reconstruct the views of his "opponents," if such a title is warranted for them. Rather, I seek to understand the specifics of the sexual morality that Paul recommends.

In Romans, Paul relies upon sexualized language to describe the depravity of the world, articulating difference in sexual terms. In his letters to the Corinthians, he offers more explicit advice about the sort of sexual morality he envisioned. As he does in Romans, Paul contrasts gentile idolaters with the brothers and sisters in Christ. He shames the Corinthians for tolerating a type of fornication that not even gentiles allow (1 Cor 5:1). He reminds them that before Christ, they had been idolaters, adulterers, effeminates (malakoi) and fornicators/prostitutes (pornoi; 1 Cor 6:9-11). He warns them not to be mismated (heterozygountes) with nonbelievers, since righteousness and lawlessness can have no fellowship (koinonia; 2 Cor 6:i4-7:i).111 In Romans, Paul exhorts believers to commit their bodily parts to the service of God rather than desire; in 1 Corinthians, he describes more fully the specifics of the sort of bodily control required. My discussion of Paul's advice to the Corinthian Christians is limited to the extensive discussion of sexual morality found in 1 Corinthians 5-7 and to his presentation of "natural" gender in 1 Corinthians 11. These instructions are contained within the series of responses and rejoinders that make up Paul's first letter to the Corinthians.112

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