The Telos of the Human Body and Sexual Ethics

I taught a couple of weeks ago on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and was amazed at what is there:

12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”– 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Here Paul is responding to one of the sayings the Corinthians were reported as holding to. They said, “food for the stomach and the stomach for food,” as license for sexual immorality. This was influenced by Platonic-dualism, wherein the soul is imprisoned in the body without any essential unification of the soul and body. The body would pass away but the soul would continue on. Subsequently, one could do whatever they wished with their body because what was done with the temporal body would not affect the eternal soul.

Paul subverts this conventional wisdom by saying “the body is… meant… for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (v13). How is it that the body is for the Lord and the Lord is for the body? “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power” (v14). It is because of Jesus’ resurrection to newness of life in the Spirit. In resurrecting Jesus in his true humanity, with real human flesh, in the power of the Spirit (Romans 8:11), God elevated human physicality to glorified life in the Presence of God. Contra Platonic-dualism, where the body would pass away and the soul continue on, the telos (end or purpose) of the human body is glorification, being a temple of the Spirit of God (v19). God has guaranteed that hope of resurrection by giving us the Holy Spirit in our new birth, the first resurrection in which we live and will not die, but be resurrected on the last day (John 11:25,26).

And so, because God has glorified the body (the Lord is for the body), Paul says that we should glorify God in our bodies (the body is for the Lord) in keeping with the telos of the human body. This means (negatively) we should abstain from sexual immorality, and also (positively) we should keep with the expression of sexuality that glorifies God (Paul expresses this in chapter 7, and that ethic follows directly from Paul’s discussion of the body of believers in 6:12-20). There are some other important aspects of Paul’s argument, but I was compelled to highlight this specific point here.

The body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body.

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