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Paul’s Sexual and Marital Ethics in 1 Corinthians 7

An African-Cameroonian Perspective


Alice Yafeh

Paul’s Sexual and Marital Ethics in 1 Corinthians 7: An African-Cameroonian Perspective provides readers with an innovative interpretation of Paul’s pastoral and pedagogical approach and solutions to the multifaceted ethical problems presented to him by the Corinthian community, revealing a wide-ranging, complex, and flexible decision-making process. Alice Yafeh’s analysis also illuminates two different evaluations of the same ethical problem may be simultaneously relevant where operating assumptions diverge: first as a community in pursuance of the goal of undistracted devotion to the Lord, and, second, as individual members who must pursue that goal within the specific lifestyles in which they have been called.
The author argues that Paul’s pastoral and theological approach, which is deeply motivated by a desire to inspire faithful Christian living and witness, can serve as a new model for evaluating pre-conversion polygyny; a model that is oriented toward positive and substantive change in the lives of women and children. Consequently, the implication of Paul’s approach and judgments for contemporary Christian communities suggests the same believing community may adopt different ways of faithfully living out the practical implications of Christian view of marriage extended by Paul in 1 Corinthians 7.
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Chapter 1 A Rhetorical-Exegetical Analysis of 1 Corinthians


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“We must engage in dialogical interpretations that include disenfranchised voices, marginalized voices, recently liberated voices, and powerfully located voices … We must learn how to embed our oppositional strategies in many forms and styles of rhetoric so that we enable free and open discussion and controversy …”1


The central issue that elicited Paul’s discourse on sex, marriage, and celibacy in 1 Cor 7 is the statement or quotation from the Corinthians’ letter (kalov anthrōpō gynaikos mē haptesthai) that follows the introductory peri de construction (7:1). This issue is the key rhetorical problem of the entire unit, addressed from a variety of perspectives. The primary rationale that both creates the discourse’s sense of urgency and drives its various recommendations is stated as “the present distress” (enestōsan anankēn v. 26),2 and the core value that the discourse seeks to promote is expressed in a proposition that lands the rhetorical punch of the discourse: “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” (touto de pros to hymōn … legō, ouch hina brochon hymin ← 7 | 8 → epibalō alla pros euparedron tō kyriō aperispastōs v. 35). The Corinthian Christians’ choice of lifestyle must ultimately hinge on this. In order to persuade and convince his audience of this primary rhetorical objective and at the...

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