Hence Xystus in his Sentences tells us that “He who too ardently loves his own wife is an adulterer.” It is disgraceful to love another man’s wife at all, or one’s own too much. A wise man ought to love his wife with judgment, not with passion. Let a man govern his voluptuous impulses, and not rush headlong into intercourse. There is nothing blacker than to love a wife as if she were an adulteress.
— St Jerome, Against Jovinianus (Book I)
I’ve written before about the difficulty Christians past and present have had with the Apostle Paul’s instruction regarding sex in marriage in 1 Cor 7:1-5 (ESV):
7 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
In the fourth century St. Jerome was convinced that the Apostle Paul was saying sex within marriage was something dirty but better than the alternative:
“It is good,” he says, “for a man not to touch a woman.” If it is good not to touch a woman, it is bad to touch one: for there is no opposite to goodness but badness. But if it be bad and the evil is pardoned, the reason for the concession is to prevent worse evil. But surely a thing which is only allowed because there may be something worse has only a slight degree of goodness.
St. Augustine was more generous to married Christians, and allowed that it wasn’t a sin to have sex in marriage so long as it was passionless duty sex. Sex with the goal of conceiving a child, or sex to pay the marital debt Paul describes were not sinful in St. Augustine’s view.
But because that Continence is of larger desert, but to pay the due of marriage is no crime, but to demand it beyond the necessity of begetting is a venial fault, but to commit fornication or adultery is a crime to be punished…
But both Augustine and Jerome were in agreement that passionate sex in marriage was a disgrace.
Later Christians took this in the opposite direction, replacing biblical teaching with the courtly love idea that romantic love sanctified sex. The Puritan poet John Milton wrote in Tetrachordon (1645) that sex without romantic love in marriage was brutish, the act of animals, and therefore sinful:
And although copulation be considered among the ends of marriage, yet the act thereof in a right esteem can no longer be matrimonial, than it is an effect of conjugal love. When love finds itself utterly unmatched, and justly vanishes, nay rather cannot but vanish, the fleshly act indeed may continue, but not holy, not pure, not beseeming the sacred bond of marriage; being at best but an animal excretion…
Recently Pastor Tim Bayly wrote a post titled Authority and submission: muscles needing exercise. Shortly after he published the post he wrote a clarifying note at his wife’s request (emphasis mine):
ADDED AFTER POSTING:
At dinner tonight, Mary Lee suggested I add the note that this is not a post on loving your wife or living with her in an understanding way. This post is not inimical to those things, but don’t expect this post specifically to address those seperate, but related, questions.
In that connection, one person tweeted in response to this post, “What do you suggest when a husband exercises his authority muscles and commands his wife to do X (put the kids to bed on time, get ready to have sex) and she disobeys him? How does a Christian husband proceed?”
I responded: “Sex is a matter of love—not command. If your wife doesn’t want to love you, that’s a fundamental problem unlikely to yield to command without becoming brutish and degraded. As for command in other areas, it’s an art—not a science. Any counsel coming from a stranger is useless.”
I add here that sex is the one case in Scripture that actually qualifies as mutual submission in that the Bible speaks explicitly of the authority the husband has over his wife’s body and the authority the wife has over her husband’s body (1Corinthians 7:4). So although I abhor the talk of “marital rape,” sex that is not mutual is not sex as God designed and commands it. As Mary Lee and I agreed when we discussed it a few minutes ago, that means an awful lot of sex down through history has not risen to the level of true intimacy and love, and therefore violated God’s design, sexually.
Note that according to Pastor Bayly’s argument the only married sex that St. Augustine considered truly sinless is sinful because it lacks the sanctification of romantic love. According to Bayly’s rules, a married couple that doesn’t feel romantic love or sexual attraction is violating God’s sexual design if they have sex with the goal of conceiving a child! Likewise, if a couple doesn’t feel mutual romantic love but has sex to be faithful to the Apostle Peter’s instruction in 1 Cor 7:1-5 they are sinning!
Both sets of teachings are wrong, and you won’t find them in the Bible:
- That sex with passion in marriage is a sin. (Jerome and Augustine)
- That sex without romantic passion in marriage is a sin. (Milton and Bayly)
For as Augustine notes, 1 Cor 7 instructs husbands and wives not to deny (defraud) the other of sex. Interestingly the Apostle Paul describes sex not as “romantic”, but physical:
4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
But this does not mean that passion in marriage is sinful. Husbands are encouraged in Proverbs 5 to be intoxicated with desire for their wives. This is not the romantic love that Milton and Bayly argue sanctifies married sex though. This is a passion like a rutting buck has for a doe in heat:
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer—
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be intoxicated with her love.
20 Why, my son, be intoxicated with another man’s wife?
Why embrace the bosom of a wayward woman?
This isn’t to say that romantic love in marriage is bad. To the contrary, it is truly wonderful! But it isn’t sanctifying. It is marriage that sanctifies romantic love and sex, but in our modern rebellion we have twisted this around and assert that romantic love sanctifies marriage and sex.
Pastor Bayly has much company in his assertion that romantic love sanctifies sex. This is the overwhelming consensus in the secular world, and is the moral basis for both gay marriage and no fault divorce. Moreover, this perversion is the overwhelming consensus in the complementarian Christian world as well, even as they deny the logical conclusions of the perversion.
Moderator’s Note: Feel free to vigorously disagree with either me or Pastor Bayly. However, any comments that are unkind to his wife will be deleted and the commenter will be placed in moderation status for future comments.
- Rubbing body parts together.
- Embracing no fault divorce is the natural result of elevating romantic love to a moral force.
- Don’t blame Heartiste for the equation of Alpha with virtue.