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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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Paul’s discourse in 1 Cor 7 on sexual and marital ethics has generated extensive scholarship. Even a cursory survey of the ancient and contemporary scholarship indicates that Paul’s discourse in 1 Cor 7 is the main “storm-center”1 in Christian moral debate on the topic. Paul’s discourse easily lends itself to such scholarship because it contains the most explicit discourse on sexual and marital issues of any New Testament text, and because the entire chapter is quintessentially focused on both themes (sex and marriage). While hints of sexual and marital morality can be found throughout the Pauline corpus, 1 Cor 7 is, by far, the most sustained discussion of the topic in the New Testament.2 Hence, 1 Cor 7 has played a central role in both ancient and modern Christian sexual practices and discourses.

Notwithstanding the extensive studies on 1 Cor 7 and its privileged place as a text of interest throughout the centuries, the debate concerning the nature and meaning of the discourse is far from being resolved. The complexity of 1 Cor 7 has caused great difficulties in analysis of the precise contours of Paul’s thought and its meaning for either ancient or modern readers. The central problem is posed by hermeneutical elasticity due to lexicographical, semantic, and syntactical ambiguities. Given that the precise meaning of Greek terms and concepts are very difficult to determine, the implications of the terms and ← 1 | 2 → concepts for contemporary sexual ethics are equally hard to ascertain. Consequently,...

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