Few passages in the Bible are as critical as this one to having a proper understanding of Biblical Sexology. The unfortunate truth is that this passage has literally been turned upside down by so many pastors today in an effort to appease our feminist and humanist culture which has thoroughly infested the church.
As always, we will follow the golden rule for proper Scriptural interpretation. Scripture interprets Scripture. That means as we examine each verse, there will be times when we may refer to verses that come after this section in the same chapter or verses in other parts of the Bible to help fully explain what the Bible is saying in this passage. In other words, no passage of the Bible can be properly understood in isolation from the rest of the Bible.
1 Corinthians 7:1-5 (KJV)
“1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
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.”
“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”
Paul starts out by saying it is good for a man not to touch a woman. What is he referring to is the gift of celibacy that God gives to some men and women and later he tells us that God has given him this gift of celibacy (vs 7). The Apostle is telling us as believers, it is good, even better, not to marry if you have this gift of celibacy. But if you do not have the gift of celibacy, then he tells us later in 1 Corinthians 7:9 that “is better to marry than to burn” with a desire for sexual union.
Some have attempted to use this passage to say that Paul sees the desire for sex and by extension marriage as weakness. But nothing could be further from the truth. In Hebrews 13:4 we read:
“Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.”
The desire for sexual union within marriage is to be honored and to be considered pure as the driven snow. Paul would never dishonor God’s design by looking down on the desire for sex and marriage. And one more important fact needs to be pointed out here. Celibacy is not the only gift God gives. God also gives us the gift of sex which Proverbs 5:18-19 speaks to:
“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.”
And now let’s look at the next verse in this passage from 1 Corinthians chapter 7.
“Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”
Paul tells us that if a Christian man or woman does not have the gift of celibacy, they should actively seek out marriage else they risk being tempted to engage in fornication which in this context refers to sexual relations outside of marriage.
So in regards to celibacy and sexual desire the Bible is clear. If we have the gift of celibacy, it is better not to marry. If we have the gift of sex, it is better to marry than to try and abstain from marriage.
Paul continues in verse 3:
“Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.”
Sex is presented as something as a special act of kindness that payment that is owed. This kindness is not voluntary, but rather it is “due” or in other words, it is a duty that we have toward our spouse in marriage.
In verse 4 we read:
“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.”
Some have tried to use the word “power” from this passage to overturn God’s design of male headship over the woman citing that a woman is given authority over her husband’s body. But such an interpretation violates the fundamental rule of sound Biblical interpretation and that is that Scripture interprets Scripture. The Bible says in Ephesians 5:24 that wives are to be subject to their husbands in “every thing”. And in 1 Peter 3:6 women are exhorted to regard their husbands as their “lord” or master.
Therefore, based upon those extremely clear Biblical statements we know that the “power” spoken of in 1 Corinthians 7:4 is not in regard to the wife having authority over husband. Instead it is saying that God has not given the husband the power to sexually deny his wife and that she has the power or right to have sexual access to his body.
And finally, we come to verse 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.”
To “defraud” means to hold back that which is owed. This directly correlates to Paul’s language from verse 3 where he referred to sex in marriage as something that is rendered and something that is a due. And then Paul uses a word that is absolutely sacred and preached constantly in humanist and feminist circles. And that word is consent.
But notice how consent is used here. Yes, it is used in reference to sex. But it is used in the exact opposite way that humanists and feminists use consent today.
Humanists and feminists teach that to have sex without consent, even in marriage, is wicked and immoral. But God’s Word teaches that that to DENY sex within marriage without consent is wicked and immoral. In other words, the only mutual consent that is required regarding sex in marriage is the mutual consent of a husband and wife to abstain from sex!
And for what reason should couples abstain from sex? For prayer and fasting. So, in other words, when you fast from food, you fast from sex as well. But again, this must be a mutually agreed upon abstinence from sex in marriage.
And then at then of verse 5, Paul takes us back to his warning from verse to about temptation to fornication. When God gives us the gift of sex, this gift is designed to exercised regularly within marriage. And if it is not exercised regularly, it will lead to temptation to step outside of marriage and engage in fornication.
The question could be raised “Since it does not mention anything but prayer and fasting, can a couple consent to abstain from sex for other reasons?” And the answer to that question is yes. This is yet another area we must apply the principle that Scripture interprets Scripture. If we turn to Ephesians 5:28-29 we read the following:
“So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church”
This means that husbands have the responsibility to care for their wives’ bodies as they do their own. So, if a wife is having complications from pregnancy, or recovering after giving birth, was sick or recovering from some other surgery or ailment then a husband should consent to not having sexual intercourse during these times.
Summary of 1 Corinthians 7:1-5
If you have the gift of celibacy, then it is best if you do not marry. If you do not have the gift of celibacy, but rather the gift of sexual desire, then you should actively pursue marriage in order to properly and fully exercise that gift and avoid the temptation to engage in fornication.
In marriage, sex is both a right and a responsibility. It is not selfishness on your part to attempt to have sex with your spouse. In fact, Proverbs 5:18-19 actually commands men to satisfy themselves at all times with their wife’s body.
Sex is a payment and a kindness that is due to your spouse in marriage. You do not have the power to sexually deny your spouse, but rather your spouse has power to access your body for their sexual needs.
To sexually deny your spouse, is to defraud them, to hold back that which is owed.
Once married, the only mutual consent that is required in Christian marriage is the mutual consent to abstain from sex for a short period. The reasons for abstaining may be for a variety of things whether it be for prayer and fasting, health concerns or even travel for work. But after abstaining for a period of time, the couple should come together as soon as possible to avoid temptation to engage in fornication.
Finally, the wife’s right to sexually access to her husband’s body never trumps his headship over her. She is called to submit to him in everything, while he is called to give her sexual access to his body. What this means practically speaking is that a husband as his wife’s head can demand sex from his wife any time he so chooses and she must submit at that time. The wife however can request sex from her husband, but she can never demand that he stop what he is doing to service her request immediately. But rather, God wants him to make a good faith effort to fulfill that request at his earliest convenience.
A practical example of this is that many men must travel for their jobs. A wife’s right to sexually access her husband’s body does not give her the right to demand he quit his job or cease to travel for his job. Another practical example would be if a husband were practicing Biblical polygamy. His wives cannot demand a certain sex schedule. He may agree to a schedule for sex with each of them, but they cannot demand it. It is his discretion as their husband, as to when he has sex with each of his wives.