By Clinton D. Hamilton
Sometimes questions are sent in with elaborative comments in order to present the context from which they are asked. There may be a point or issue that the querist desires to have addressed that does not immediately surface from the question itself. Although the question to be responded to in this column is relatively brief and can be answered with few words, the context in which the question is raised calls for extended remarks in relation to what the Bible says on a broad spectrum relative to the sexual issues in the question, as articulated by the querist.
Question: Please explain 1 Corinthians 7:34 “authority over each other’s body” and Hebrews 13:4 “the marriage bed undefiled.”
Reply: The term rendered power or authority, depending on the translation, in 1 Corinthians 7:4 is exousiazo. It occurs twice in verse 4 and two other times in the New Testament: Luke 22:25 and 1 Corinthians 6:12. Basically, the word means to exercise authority or power over.
It means “to be master of any one, exercise authority over one” (Thayer). In Luke 22:25, reference is to the kings of the Gentiles. In 1 Corinthians 6:12, the context is what he may have the liberty or right to do personally he may not choose to do in some contexts in relation to others. In this case, one is not to let one’s desire for doing it possess him so as to be compelled to do it because what may be lawful may not be expedient.
Sumphero is the term from which expedient is translated. It means “to help, be profitable, be expedient” (Thayer). It is used transitively only once in Acts 19:19 and referred to bringing the books together to be burned. Its other uses are intransitively. It is for our profit that Jesus went away from the earth (Jn. 16:7). We are chastized for our profit (Heb. 12:10). Sumphero is the word in these passages. Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12 says it may not be to one’s profit or help to be controlled by desires. Paul said that he was not going to be brought under their domination. A lawful thing is not to deprive him of his liberty so as to be controlled by it. Rather, he will exercise his authority by choosing what he shall do.
Now back to 1 Corinthians 7:4. Exousiazo in this passage means “to be master of the body, i.e. to have full and entire authority over the body, to hold the body subject to one’s will” (Thayer). Contextually, Paul says that because of fornications each man should have his own wife and each woman should have her own husband (v. 2). Being married, both the man and the woman have a mutual obligation: each is to let the other control his/her body for the purpose for which they are married. One of these purposes is to avoid fornication (v. 3). If either of the marriage partners does not have access to the other’s body, then there would be the danger of fornication.
This power over the other’s body is for the lawful sexual intercourse which God provided in marriage. It cannot be stretched to include all manner of sexual fantasies that one may want to satisfy. The point of the passage is to exercise authority or control over one’s marriage companion so as to satisfy the sexual drive one might have through the sexual intercourse for which their bodies are suited by the design of the Creator. To read into the text the power for one’s companion to do what is beyond the point and scope of the design of the passage is to misinterpret and misapply the word of God.
Clearly, what is under consideration is the obligation that a marriage companion has to the spouse: to provide the body for the satisfaction of the sexual drive of the other through sexual intercourse. The sexual organ of each is designed for the other. This clearly is what is in view in verse 4. Each is to yield his or her body to the other at the other’s control. This cannot be pushed to include uses which are not under view.
Verse 5 contemplates that there may be times when by mutual consent there is deprivation or lack of sexual intercourse in order to provide leisure for prayer. However, they are to come together again for sexual intercourse lest Satan tempt them for want of self-control. Absences may occur for any number of reasons. During these, self-control of both the mind and the body is the proper behavior. Certainly, for brief periods companions should be able to do this.
Jesus taught that men can make themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:12). The idea is that one should exercise self-control in order to conform to the will of God. This is possible; otherwise, Jesus would have been instructing them to do what they did not have the power to do.
The querist asks also for an explanation of Hebrews 13:4 concerning the bed undefiled. The expression in the Greek text is koite amiantos. The instruction is an exhortation: let marriage be honorable in all and the bed undefiled. Fundamentally, Christians are exhorted to hold marriage in the esteem and honor that are suggested by its initiation by God. He made woman for man and they are to be one flesh (Gen. 3:24; Matt. 19:5-6), which refers to sexual union in intercourse (compare 1 Cor. 6:16) that should occur only in marriage as authorized by God.
Amiantos means not defiled, unsoiled (Thayer). Used in this passage (Heb. 13:4) with koite it means pure, free from adultery (Thayer). Koite means “a place for lying down, resting, sleeping in; a bed, a couch; spec., the marriage bed” (Thayer). Used in the plural in Romans 13:13, it means sexual intercourse (Thayer) and is translated chambering in both the King James and the American Standard versions of the Bible.
The “bed undefiled” means that one reserves sexual intercourse to his or her spouse in the marriage bed. That bed is not to be defiled by adultery. Alford in his Greek Testament translated Hebrews 13:4 as follows: “Let your marriage be (held) in honour in all things and your marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers, God shall judge.” If the warning is that God will condemn fornicators and adulterers, it is clear that Paul is talking about the absence of adultery in marriage in the exhortation to keep the bed undefiled. Among all things that Christians honor, there should be marriage and it should be held in honor in all its aspects.
What is under view here in the exhortation is sexual intercourse in bed. In particular, it is not to have intercourse that is unlawful or illicit (fornication or adultery). The act of intercourse and whether it is authorized or prohibited is the focus of the exhortation. To read into the passage what people may do in connection with intercourse is to do violence to the intent, language, and context of the passage.
In connection with authorized intercourse, so long as the two marital companions engage in nothing against nature, there would be no prohibition. But one does not learn this from Hebrews 13:4. Homosexuality, lesbianism, and similar sins are condemned (Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9; 1 Tim. 1:10). These are against the design God has for men. These sins are against the nature of man who is to be one flesh with the spouse to whom the person is joined by God. The sexual organs should be used for the purpose for which they were created. This is according to their nature.
Within the authorizations of Scripture, there are words, dress, and movements that one might use to enhance the excitement of sexual union. However, whatever is done must be within the confines of what is natural and not suggestive of doing evil. The querist commented in elaborations accompanying the request for explanations of the passage with which I have dealt that the Song of Solomon is a very sensual book. Indeed it is. The purpose of the book is to show the beauty and joy of wedded bliss and the imagination that should enliven it. The metaphors and similes of the book show how the lovers thought of one another.
It should be observed that the mind’s imagination is that which ignited the excitement of the emotions in the Song of Solomon. Some might ask, “What about sex manuals?” If the purpose of the manual is to assist people in doing what is right, there probably is no wrong in reading them. However, one should not meditate on and be influenced by that which, if allowed, would lead to a violation of the will of God. If two people really love one another and communicate this emotion both in words and deeds, and if they are truly considerate of one another, they do not need manuals to do what God designed them by nature to do.
Whatever one may do in connection with sexual intercourse would need to be done within the will of God. Every act one does must also be with the full approval of the conscience. If there is doubt about the rightfulness of what is done, the thing done is a sin because we are instructed, “and whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23b). If one doubts what is being done, then he or she is condemned because it is not done in good conscience (Rom. 14:23a).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 21, pp. 645-646
November 1, 1990