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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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1 The phrase was initially coined and used in reference to Luke-Acts by W. C. Van Unnik (“Luke-Acts, a Storm Center in Contemporary Scholarship,” Studies in Luke-Acts [ed. Leander E. Keck and J. Louis Martyn; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980], 15–32).

2 In current English usage, sexual ethics is often used interchangeably with sexual morality. However, even though the distinction is systematically blurred in both ordinary and academic conversations, it is important here to make a terminological distinction between “sexual ethics,” and “sexual morality.” Strictly speaking, sexual ethics is concerned with theoretical reflections on moral behavior, and sexual morality is more concerned with moral behavior itself rather than moral reasoning about conduct. The former is more theoretical while the latter is more practical. In this investigation, the two will be used interchangeably. In Paul’s letters, theological reasoning about sexual ethics is predominantly ad hoc and directed to concrete communities who most often are faced with urgent sociological problems (cf. V. Furnish, Theology and Ethics in Paul [Tenn.: Abingdon, 1968], 211–213); cf. V. Furnish, The Theology of the First Letter to the Corinthians (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999). As a result, as Furnish rightly explains, if we are looking for a systematic presentation of Paul’s sexual ethics, we will be disappointed because Paul does not have one. But if we are investigating theological and other reasons that Paul gives for his moral instruction on issues of sexual behaviors, then the...

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