Before we conclude the discussion of household codes, I want to take one more digression into Chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians. There are some startling things taught in this passage.
Kenneth Bailey sees 4:17-7:40 as the second of five discourses given in 1 Corinthians. (See earlier post.) It is arranged in the following chiasmus.
A Immorality and the Church, 4:17-6:8
B Theology of Sexuality: Kingdom Ethics 6:9-6:12
B’ Theology of Sexuality: Joining the Body 6:13-20
A’ Christian Sexuality 7:1-40
Remember that Greco-Roman culture was all about expanding and extending the status of the paterfamilias forward into the future. The status of women was tightly linked to their ability to produce sons that would carry the lineage forward into the future. Marriage was a contractual arrangement for furthering the male lineage. Marriage could develop into intimacy between husband and wife but this was not the primary purpose. With the Greco-Roman value system firmly in mind, read the following and note the contrast:
1 Corinthians 7:1-16
1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is well for a man not to touch a woman." 2 But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 This I say by way of concession, not of command. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. 9 But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
10 To the married I give this command -- not I but the Lord -- that the wife should not separate from her husband 11(but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
12 To the rest I say -- I and not the Lord -- that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you. 16 Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.
Do you see the transformation from “identity through perpetuation of legacy” into “identity in Christ” and discernment in life decisions based on a missional view of life? Following on the heels of the chiasmus in Chapter 6 about “the two becoming one,” (see earlier post) Paul is making a profound egalitarian statement about the most intimate aspects of the husband and wife relationship in verses 3 and 4. Compare this to the standard Greco-Roman view of marriage. Status domination is obliterated and decisions about marriage are made in light of missional considerations.
Paul goes on to write:
1 Corinthians 7:17-24
17 However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. 20 Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.
21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. 22 For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. 24 In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.
Again, we have the clear leveling of status considerations. The structures of the Old Creation are virtually inconsequential. Since everyone is going to live without status seeking obsessions, what difference does your Old Creation status make? In the New Creation, we are sibling in Christ and of Christ. There are leadership gifts given by God to some people and there is affirmation of those gifts by the people of God but there are no status and power hierarchies based on human cultural distinctions.
A few verses later Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; 33 but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.
Again, the issue of marriage is being evaluated not from the standpoint of legacy and immortality but on the basis of missional objective. Chapter 7 is Paul giving explicit implications of his fictive family metaphor, the metaphor that is so prevalent elsewhere in 1 Corinthians and throughout the New Testament. While not a household code in the formulaic sense, it certainly is one in the way it applies fictive family values to practical life decisions.