I’ve grown less and less convinced of the idea that the Corinthians despised the body in preference for the soul/spirit. Rather, the Corinthians seem to be people who consistently celebrate – in fact, over-celebrate – the body, rather than hope to escape its prisonly confines. There are two passages that would seem to contradict what I’ve just said:
- Paul’s (alleged) citation of the Corinthians’ own stance in ch.7: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”
- Paul’s imagined quotation from a Corinthian interlocutor in ch.15: “How are the dead raised? With what sort of body will they come?”
A few years ago I noted this and indicated why I don’t think the latter passage is a problem. But I left the 1 Cor 7 passage to the side, because I didn’t really have an answer for that one.
But on the weekend, at the conference on Paul I was attending in Melbourne, someone asked me about 1 Cor 7, and I realised that actually I do have an answer for that passage – and it’s not even novel or sophisticated. The person I was chatting to suggested that perhaps there were two types of men in the Corinthian church: those who indulged the body (visiting prostitutes in chapter 6), and those who denied the body (refusing to touch their wives in chapter 7). My reply was that it was entirely possible that these were exactly the same people. That is, the same people who visited prostitutes for pleasure felt that it would be dishonouring to treat their wives as sexual objects. Wives are for family; prostitutes are for lust.
One does see view this expressed in Plutarch, who indicates in his Advice for the Bride and Groom that a wife should overlook her husband’s use of prostitutes, because it is out of respect for her that he chooses to spend his lust on them.
So there we have it. It is not necessarily the case that members of the Corinthian church expressed a disdain for the body.