Friday, July 27, 2007

Sin in 1 Corinthians 7-8

The verb "to sin" appears five times in these two chapters (hamartano). In chapter 7, Paul is responding to the suggestion of some Corinthians that married couples should stop having sex: "it is good for a man not to touch a woman" (7:1). The chapter is thus about what is appropriate and what is inappropriate with regard to sex and marriage.

We have already established from 1 Corinthians 6 that Paul considered the act of porneia to be an act of sin (6:18). In particular, it is a sin against the body of Christ. So Paul's advice in 7:2 for husbands and wives to have regular sex is meant to avoid sin, the sin of porneia.

In 7:28, Paul asks whether two further marital actions constitute sinning. The first is whether a man sins if he has been "loosed from a wife" and remarries. Paul indicates that this is not sinning--it is not wrongdoing. Similarly, if a virgin marries, she is not sinning--she is not doing wrong.

7:36 deals with yet another question of the appropriate action. I am in the minority in thinking the NASB is more likely correct to see the situation here as a father deciding whether or not to marry off his daughter. If he chooses to marry her off, "he is not sinning. Let them marry." The majority interpretation of course takes this comment in relation to a man deciding whether to marry a woman to whom he is betrothed: "he is not sinning. Let them marry." In either case, the question is whether the man is doing wrong, whether he is sinning.

By implication, we should probably therefore see sinning in the earlier part of the chapter where Paul (and the Lord) forbid certain marital actions. The woman is sinning when she divorces her husband (7:10) and if she remarries thereafter (7:11). The husband is sinning when he divorces his wife (7:11). A person does wrong when they do not practice self-control and "burn" with passion (7:9), meaning have sex with individuals to whom they are not married.

I believe there are contextual and cultural factors involved in these statements, but they give us a fair enough feel for how Paul thinks about sin. It is wrongdoing. Paul does not specify that there has to be an object of the wrong. We could no doubt think up parties wronged in each case, but Paul says nothing about this so we shouldn't either here until he gives us warrant to (the nature of inductive study). I believe language of sinning--of wrongdoing--can function without specifying a particular party that is wronged.

Paul is thinking in this chapter almost completely of believers in this chapter. He does speak of the sanctification of an unbelieving spouse and one's children in 7:14. This person is not yet guaranteed salvation, even though sanctified (7:16). Sanctified here means brought into the sphere of the holy, into the state of something that belongs to God or that touches God. It must be treated differently than the common.

Paul does not specify whether the types of sinning implied in this chapter would keep a Christian from inheriting the kingdom of God. Certainly he has already indicated that porneia can. But he does not clearly identify divorce or remarriage with porneia in the chapter.

1 Corinthians 8 begins Paul's discussion of food offered to idols (primarily, I believe, meat sacrificed to idols). He uses the word hamartano twice in 8:12. The situation in this case is "wronging" your brother. Therefore, in this case Paul does give a specific object of wronging.

The first person wronged is the brother whose conscience you wound by leading him to stumble by indirectly encouraging him to eat things sacrificed to idols. [By the way, I know I'm using masculine words here, but Paul's language is biased in that direction at this point.] Because you wound a brother, you are also "sinning against Christ." In other words, you are wronging these two, harming or offending them.

Although Paul does not use the specific word sin in relation to the actions of the broather, he uses analogous language and imagery. You become a "stumblingblock" (proskomma) to others (8:9). The person Paul has in mind is the person "whose conscience is weak" (8:7), the person who does not "know" is not "conscious" of the fact that "an idol is nothing in the world" (8:4). This person's conscience is "defiled" (molyno). By eating such food when their conscience is not clear on it, they "are destroyed" (8:11). They "stumble" (8:13).

This language seems to imply sin on their part, indeed very serious sin. The "knowing brother" has caused them to violate the first and second commandments, the most important of all because they deal with God himself. The word "to perish" (8:11; apollymi) is massively serious.

1. A definition of sin as "wronging" another or "doing wrong" has worked very well for these two chapters, just as it did in 1 Corinthians 6. Sometimes no party is mentioned as being wronged. Paul can simply say a particular action is not "doing wrong." At other times a specific party is mentioned as being wronged. In particular, Paul mentions wronging a brother and doing wrong against Christ. In chapter 6 he mentioned wronging the body of Christ corporately.

Presumably the brother whose conscience is defiled wrongs God so seriously that he "is destroyed," this brother for whom Christ died. No sense of eternal security here unless we import it from outside the text.

2. These chapters primarily have believers in view.

3. Paul considers it necessary, not merely attainable, that Christians do not sin in the ways mentioned in these chapters, just as in 1 Corinthians 5-6. There is no sense of sin as something a Christian will hopelessly do.

Paul does not indicate that all the sinning mentioned in these chapters destroy a person. He does not indicate in these chapters, at least, that divorce, a woman's remarriage, or causing another to stumble means that you will not inherit the kingdom of God. He does imply that the brother who stumbles is destroyed and of course Paul has already indicated that those who practice porneia will not inherit the kingdom.

He gives us no sense of eternal security or election resulting in the perseverance of the saints. Indeed, these concepts are foreign to his basic logic. The brother who is destroyed is one for whom Christ died (8:11). Certainly Calvinist theology can walk around these texts easily enough. We merely wish to point out that the texts themselves know nothing about such coping strategies.

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