1 Corinthians 7:2 is a verse that is commonly used to try and teach that God no longer allows polygamy in the New Testament and that husbands and wives mutually and exclusively own one another.
So here is the passage at the heart of our discussion (from the KJV):
“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”
The first important thing to note about this passage is that in the original Greek language in which the Bible was written it uses two different words for “own”. One word is used for the relationship of the husband toward his wife and the other is used for the wife’s relationship toward her husband.
For the relationship of the husband toward his wife, the original language of the Bible used the Greek word “heautou” which refers to something or someone that a person exclusively owns. On the other hand, for the relationship of the wife toward her husband the Bible uses the Greek word “idios”.
The difference between the Greek words heautou and idios is that heautou always means exclusive ownership and idios can mean exclusive ownership, shared ownership, shared access or even someone belonging to another.
For idios, the context in which the word is used is very important for determining its correct meaning.
For instance, below are a couple uses of idios in the Bible where the context clearly shows shared ownership or access rather than exclusive ownership.
“And he entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own [idios] city.”
Matthew 9:1 (KJV)
“For Jesus himself testified, that a prophet hath no honour in his own [idios] country.”
John 4:44 (KJV)
So, do we exclusively own the city that we live in or do we have shared ownership/access to it? The answer is we have shared ownership/access. Do we exclusively own the country we live in or do we have shared ownership/access to it? Again, the answer is the latter.
Now consider the next use of the word idios in which it is used of someone belonging to another:
“Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own [idios] master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.”
Romans 14:4 (KJV)
Does a servant exclusively own their master? Of course not. A servant belongs to their master. So how do we know in what context the Bible is using idios in 1 Corinthians 7:2? The answer is found in another passage of the Bible which makes it very clear what the relationship of the wife is to her husband:
“For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord [Gr Kurios Master]: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”
1 Peter 3:5-6 (KJV)
The Scriptures are clear that a woman is to regard her husband as her master. This means that idios in regard to the relationship of the wife toward her husband means she belongs to him. However, because the husband/wife relationship is not a typical master/servant relationship but also has its own special unique characteristics, we also understand that idios means the shared access of the wife to her husband’s provision of food, clothing and his body as Exodus 21:10 gives her the rights to.
Now that we understand the context of the relationship of the wife to her husband, we can rightly understand what idios means as it is used in the relationship of the wife to the husband.
“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own [heautou – exclusively owned] wife, and let every woman have her own [idios – shared] husband.”
And this is what the next verses in this same passage of 1 Corinthians are referring to:
“3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. 5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”
1 Corinthians 7:3-5 (KJV)
The Scriptures teach that husbands do indeed have power, as in authority, over their wives in multiple passages including Ephesians 5:22-24 and 1 Peter 3:1-7. But does this passage give a wife some power over her husband? The answer is no. The power here is a restriction on power. A husband does not have the power or right to sexually deny his wife, neither does the wife have the power to sexually deny her husband.
The husband and wife both have the right, the power, to sexually access to one another’s bodies. Neither the husband nor the wife may deny sexual access to their body to the other. It is a duty and a right of both the husband and wife.
But this is does not make them sexual equals. This does not make marriage a partnership. And it does not give the wife exclusive access to her husband’s body, he is her master and exclusive owner, she is not his.
Based upon all the facts we have shown up to this point, we can rightly conclude that 1 Corinthians 7:2 does not forbid polygyny (a man having more than one wife), but it would forbid polyandry (a woman having more than one husband).
Practically Applying the Principles of Man’s Exclusive Sexual Ownership of Woman
Now that we fully understand what 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 is teaching by understanding the relationship of the wife to the husband, we will apply this knowledge to a statement below from an article entitled “1 CORINTHIANS 7:1-9 STUDY GUIDE: THE BEAUTY OF MARRIAGE” by West Hills Community Church in Morgan Hill, California.
“Marriage is the proper place for sexual intimacy because marriage is an exclusive, mutual, joy-filled covenant…
Many treat sex as an opportunity to receive rather than to give. God has designed sex as a way to serve one’s spouse. Notice in1 Corinthians 7:3 that the husband and wife each “give” to the other their conjugal rights. We are wired by sin to take rather than to give. Husband and wife are each to put the others needs before their own. This is not a verse to be abused, the moment you start demanding your “rights” you know you have a deeper root issue to deal with. Sex should be pleasurable and always a gift given rather than something taken, even within marriage, we are to treat each other with gentleness and respect as image bearers of God.
Notice though Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 7:4, “for the wife does not have authority over her own body, the husband does…” No one in the ancient world would have disagreed with that statement. It was a patriarchal world where women were seen as property which is why so many Greco-Roman men would visit a prostitute on a whim, have a girlfriend on the side and see their wife as just a means to an heir. Yet, you have to see this in the text, Paul doesn’t stop with that statement. He continues, “Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” This would have been a counter cultural statement! No one in the ancient world, apart from a Christian, would have given that much power of authority to a woman. God elevates the position of women in scripture by saying that they have equal rights in the bedroom and that neither one should see themselves as the owner of the other, but rather both have a measure of authority (Paul’s wording!) So sex is a gift to give because husband belongs to wife and wife belongs to husband and each can serve the other in their marriages in this practical way.”
So, based on what we learned previously, we can see several problems with the statement above. Sexual intimacy in marriage is exclusive for the husband of his wife, not the wife of her husband. The wife has shared sexual access to her husband, not exclusive.
Also, the only thing mutual about sex according to 1 Corinthians 5 is the mutual decision of a husband and wife to cease having sex for a time of prayer and fasting.
This article also presents a false dichotomy regarding sex when it states “Many treat sex as an opportunity to receive rather than to give”.
Sex is designed by God as an opportunity to BOTH give and take.
Yes, the Bible presents a man giving himself to his wife in the bed in Exodus 21:10 as his duty in marriage:
“If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.”
But the Bible also presents sex as a man taking what he desires sexually from his wife in the bed as well:
“18 Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. 19 Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.”
Many Christian preachers and teachers falsely claim that this passage above from Proverbs is teaching husbands to be satisfied in the sense of being content with whatever their wife gives them sexually in the bed. That they are to be satisfied with how often she wants sex and the way she gives them sex.
But the truth is this passage teaches the polar opposite of what they are saying.
The Hebrew word ravah translated as “satisfy” in verse 19 does not mean to be content, but rather it means to “drink one’s fill of”. God calls on men to take and drink their fill of their wife’s body so much so that they are ravished (literally ‘intoxicated’) with her body. This command of course requires the full cooperation of the wife to intoxicate her husband – for how can a man be intoxicated by a wife who does not do her part to sexually arouse him and freely give herself to him?
Let me also draw your attention back to this statement made in the article we are referencing from West Hills Community Church:
“Sex should be pleasurable and always a gift given rather than something taken, even within marriage, we are to treat each other with gentleness and respect as image bearers of God.”
We have already proven from Proverbs 5:17-18 that sex is not just something a man gives to his wife, but something that he takes and drinks his fill of from his wife.
But notice the second part of his statement that “we are to treat each other with gentleness and respect as image bearers of God”. There is a half-truth and a falsehood in this statement.
Men and Women Do Not Equally Bear the Image of God
First, we look at a passage from 1 Corinthians to expose the half-truth stated here:
“7 For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he IS the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. 9 Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.”
1 Corinthians 11:7-9 (KJV)
Most Christians today falsely believe that men and women are equally created in the image of God. That they are both equal image bearers. The passage above from 1 Corinthians shatters this notion. Many Christians would reply “But Genesis says God made both man and woman in his image!” To which I would reply “Have you read you the Genesis account closely?” Let’s look closely at what the Genesis account says:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he HIM; male and female created he them.”
Genesis 1:27 (KJV)
Notice the Bible says in the image of God created he “him”, not “them”. And “him” best represents the Hebrew here which means “this same man”. Genesis 1:27 is saying two different things. First it is saying that God created the male, Adam, in his image. And secondly it is saying he made both male and female.
When we understand the truth of what Genesis 1:27 is teaching, then when 1 Corinthians 11:7 says “forasmuch as he IS the image and glory of God: BUT the woman is the glory of the man” this makes complete sense. Man is the image and glory of God, but the woman is not. She is something different. She was created to bring glory to man and thereby bring glory to God.
But verse 8 of 1 Corinthians 11 reveals another truth. Woman was taken from man. And since woman was taken from man, she also bears part of the image of God. Men and women both share part of the image of God in their common humanity and they both have souls and have equal worth to God. This is why it is equally wrong to murder a woman as it is a man and why salvation is freely offered to both men and women.
Verse 9 of 1 Corinthians 11 reveals yet another important truth. It teaches us that the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man.
So, the half truth is that men and women are equal image bearers of God. Man is the image bearer of God and woman bears part of the image of God because she was taken from man.
God Does Not Require Men to Always Be Gentle with Their Wives
The falsehood of the statement that “within marriage, we are to treat each other with gentleness and respect as image bearers of God” has to do with the idea that a man must always treat his wife with gentleness when it comes to sex.
The Scripture passage below disproves the idea that men must always be gentle with their wives when it comes to sexual relations:
“10 When thou goest forth to war against thine enemies, and the Lord thy God hath delivered them into thine hands, and thou hast taken them captive, 11 And seest among the captives a beautiful woman, and hast a desire unto her, that thou wouldest have her to thy wife;
12 Then thou shalt bring her home to thine house, and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; 13 And she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thine house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month: and after that thou shalt go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.
14 And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.”
Deuteronomy 21:10-14 (KJV)
God told the Israelites when they went to war, that if they saw a beautiful woman, they sexually desired among the captives that they could take her and force her to be their wife. Yes, they had to give her a month to mourn her lost family first. But after that month, they could declare that they were taking her as their wife and then force her to have sex with them. This is what the word “humbled” refers to in verse 14, when used in the context of sex it means man forcing himself sexually upon a woman.
The Bible forbids the humbling of a woman with whom a man has no right to have sex with such as a betrothed wife, consummated wife or an un- betrothed virgin (see Deuteronomy 22:22-29).
The point is the Bible does not have a requirement that a man must always approach his wife for sex in gentleness, Deuteronomy 21:10-14 shatters that notion.
1 Corinthians 7:2 does not teach that sex in marriage is equally exclusive and mutual for the husband and the wife. But rather, it reinforces the Biblical teaching that a man exclusively owns his wife as her master, not just outside the bedroom, but behind the bedroom door as well.
1 Corinthians 7:2, rather than disallowing polygamy for men (polygyny), reinforces its allowance. And at the same time, it reinforces the prohibition on women to engaging in polyandry (having more than one husband) because the wife is exclusively owned by the husband.
How does God’s continued allowance for polygamy even in the New Testament apply to our modern post-feminist world where polygamy is difficult to engage in both for cultural reasons and financial reasons?
The answer is that this should change the way husbands and wives view the masculine sexual nature. Today Christian women denigrate the masculine polygynous sexual nature and men are taught from their youth to see their polygynous sexual natures as a corruption of sin. This needs to stop.
Practically speaking, this means when a woman sees her husband looking at another woman or if he comments about finding an actress in a movie sexually attractive, she should honor his sexual nature – not shame him for it. And if he asks her to sexually role play being another woman, rather than being upset at him, she should be THANKFUL that he is not getting another wife, but simply asking her to sexually role play being another woman.
God did not elevate the position of women in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 giving them “equal rights in the bedroom and that neither one should see themselves as the owner of the other”. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 was simply a reiteration of the Exodus 21:10 principle that a husband does not have the power to deny sexual relations to his wife. She has shared, not exclusive, sexual access to his body by the decree of God.
1 Corinthians 7:2 is one of a handful of Scripture passages that some Christians use to try and undermine the truth of 1 Corinthians 11:7-9.
1 Corinthians 11:7-9 reveals to us the meaning of life. That God created man to image him and thereby bring him glory. That he did NOT create woman to bring him glory by imaging him as he did man, but rather he create created woman for man to serve man and thereby bring glory to God.
The truth of 1 Corinthians 11:7-9 applies equally both outside and behind the bedroom. This truth does not fit with our modern western notions of individualism and equality. And that is why this truth is no longer preached in churches, but rather it is completely undermined in most pulpits today.
And it is this truth that we need to return to in our marriages, both inside the bedroom and outside the bedroom.