“To avoid fornication”: 1 Corinthians 7 and same-sex relationships
I recently read something that said 1 Corinthians 7:2 was proof that same-sex marriage was wrong.
Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.1 Corinthians 7:2, KJV
Does this verse show that same-sex relationships are wrong? The answer is no, and I am going to show that by looking at the context of the verse, and by comparing it to what it means to be gay.
1 Corinthians 7:1-17 is about sexual relationships between men and women.
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.1 Corinthians 7:1-2, KJV
There is nothing here that suggests Paul’s words can be extended beyond a man (sexually) touching a woman. In fact, only a very naive reading of this passage could apply it to same-sex relationships.
To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife
But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn1 Corinthians 7:2, 9
A man marrying a woman is the solution to burning (presumably with lust) and turning to fornication as a result. I am a gay man. Assuming I was single and burning with lust, would a wife provide any release or satisfaction from that lust?
The answer to that is no, and if you think it is yes then you do not understand what it means to be gay. I have no sexual or romantic interest in women at all. Even if I were to be forced to have sex with a woman, it is not something that would stop me burning with lust.
Over the years I have known many gay men who were married to women, and they have all said the same thing. Sexual attraction, romantic attraction, and spousal love: these are not things that can be fulfilled between a gay man and a woman. (I assume the same is true for marriages between lesbians and men). Making a gay man marry a woman does not avoid fornication. It creates a marriage that is ultimately sexless and unsatisfying, with all the problems that that will bring. If you take Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:2 and force them to apply to gay people, then you don’t create a situation where fornication is avoided. If you take Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:2, and force them to apply to gay people, you make Paul contradict himself. If you take Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:2, and force them to apply to gay people, you make scripture contradict itself.
“I speak this by permission”
1 Corinthians 7:1-6 is about the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. It is tempting to take it as a commandment, and it seems that when people read verse 2 as a prohibition on same-sex relationships they are reading the whole passage as a commandment.
That is not how Paul meant his words to be taken.
But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.1 Corinthians 7:6, KJV
These verses form Paul’s opinion of what a marriage between a man and a woman should be like. They are not a commandment. In fact, the first commandment from the Lord in this chapter comes in verse 10, and then in verse 12 Paul reverts to offering his opinion.
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.1 Corinthians 7:10,12
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that 1 Corinthians 7:2 is not a commandment. It says “Let every man have his own wife” and “let every woman have her own husband”. If it were a commandment, “let” would be a curious word to use here!
1 Corinthians 7:2 is not a proof that same-sex relationships are wrong for these reasons:
- 1 Corinthians 7:1-17 is about sexual relationships between men and women, not same-sex relationships;
- If you use 1 Corinthians 7:2 to force gay people into opposite-sex marriages, then you are not creating a situation where fornication is avoided and thus you are making Scripture contradict itself; and
- 1 Corinthians 1:1-6 is not a commandment from God: it is Paul’s opinion.
As an aside, it is worth noting that I am writing this one day after the 6th anniversary of getting married in Dublin.