Rueger, Matthew. Sexual Morality in a Christless World. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016.
Chapter 3, “Verses Examined” pp. 59-96.
Rueger observes that it is vital to examine the context of a piece of literature in order to understand its meaning rightly. Statements in the New Testament are not without context. So an examination of a Christian ethic does require a careful look at the context of relevant passages (Rueger 2016, 59). Rueger’s intent is to be fair with the context, a practice he finds violated frequently. He illustrates his practice using the biblical command against adultery (Rueger 2016, 60). The term itself, lacking context, could indicate only a physical sexual relationship with a married person and another person outside of that marriage. However, examining the use of the words in their context elsewhere allows us to recognize a prohibition of engaging in mental or physical sexual relationships outside of marriage, a broader prohibition than it first appears (Rueger 2016, 61). The context of a statement is critical toward understanding intent. Rueger reminds his readers that the overall context of the New Testament allows us to form a consistent, whole picture.
Rueger first considers 1 Corinthians 7:2-5. Here, the text urges monogamy so as to prevent a temptation to immorality such as prostitution, yet likely any sort of sexual activity outside of marriage would be included in the call for monogamy (Rueger 2016, 65). Here the marriage is pictured as a monogamous relationship of one man and one woman, in a harmonious union. Though same-sex relationships were broadly accepted in the culture, they are specifically not pictured here. Rueger observes this is consistent with the teaching of Jesus, who, in Matthew 19:3-5, directed Pharisees to consider marriage in terms of the creation and a male-female relationship (Rueger 2016, 66). Again, Rueger stresses that this set the Christian ethic in contrast to the prevailing Roman ethic. Furthermore, the equality in the relationship of the partners in marriage was striking. There was no idea of one person expressing power. The authority in the sexual relationship was equal (Rueger 2016, 67). Additionally, the relationship was to be one of love rather than power. It was focused on the other, rather than the self. Finally, Rueger points out that, counter to many modern stereotypes of Christians who would try to live an essentially celibate life, the couples are encouraged to engage in sexual relations frequently (Rueger 2016, 68).
Rueger next considers Ephesians 5:22-33. This passage describes a husband’s headship and a wife’s submission, which was not a new idea at all. However, Rueger finds in this passage a striking difference. “Both Roman and Jewish gender roles were defined by law. Here in Ephesians, Paul’s view of submission and headship flows primarily from the Gospel, not the law. St. Paul models the relationship of husband and wife after the relationship of Christ to His Church” (Rueger 2016, 69). The point is, again, a preference of the other to the self, especially the husband preferring the wife. Here Paul quotes the passage in Genesis which we saw Jesus quoting before, with an emphasis on the unity of the married couple (Rueger 2016, 70). Rueger goes on to describe the importance of this physical and spiritual unity. It is essential to marriage as designed by God. It reflects Christ’s redemptive love which purifies and nurtures the Church (Rueger 2016, 71). This is described in terms of a relationship which can be fully experienced only by Christians, though some elements can be applied to others. But the idea of Christ’s saving love is only to be found in Christian marriages (Rueger 2016, 72). Rueger concludes his comments on this passage by observing that the violation of the pattern by couples living together outside of marriage is harmful to the loving commitment implied by the comparison to Christ and His Church.
Rueger next comments on Colossians 3:18-21. This passage, taken out of context, seems to be a number of laws about relationships. “But when the larger context of Colossians is considered, these snippets take on a different character. They become the natural outward expressions of the love of Christ” (Rueger 2016, 73). Colossians pictures Jesus as the mighty God who fills all of creation. Therefore, he is actively involved in all the facets of our lives. In the case of marriage and family relations, “Christ defined the heart and mind of each toward the other” (Rueger 2016, 74). Therefore, the marriage, as well as other family relationships, is redemptive in nature. This morality flies in the face of the world around the Colossians, yet it is done without apology (Rueger 2016, 75). Christianity is a radical departure from conventional morality.
Rueger next examines 1 Peter 3:1 and 7. He observes that Peter’s audience is very broad, yet the teachings are remarkably similar to those of Paul speaking to more specific audiences (Rueger 2016, 75). The subjection of the wife to her husband is not viewed as demeaning. Rather, she has a unique place of influence (Rueger 2016, 76). The husband and wife are both to be recipients of God’s redemption. They have different roles but equal value.
At this point, Rueger shifts his focus from passages speaking to marriage, and considers some which speak particularly to sexual morality and chastity (Rueger 2016, 77). “It should be noticed that Paul does not treat homosexual sins differently than heterosexual sins when it comes to the application of Law and Gospel. Both are addressed side by side as equally contrary to God’s Law and both are spoken of as equally forgivable” (Rueger 2016, 77-78). All sexual sins are sins. They require repentance and can be forgiven equally.
Rueger first considers 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. In this passage, sins define people before God. The passage lists ten sins, which could not be overlooked (Rueger 2016, 78). However, Paul emphasizes that the Corinthians were formerly identified by their sins, but they were changed in their identification through forgiveness. The change is not from the power of the sinner’s repentance or a change in their lives, but from Christ’s forgiveness, redefining them as his people (Rueger 2016, 79). Rueger emphasizes that the sins listed are of a nature to condemn a person. He walks through the list of sexual sins, noting that the first are considered “heterosexual” sins and are placed alongside idolatry (Rueger 2016, 80). The homosexual activity is also condemned, though it seems a conscious decision of Paul to speak more strongly of the hterosexual sin. All are treated together, they are grouped with sins such as theft, elevating the perception of gravity for those, taking away motives, but placing the only acceptable sexual activity in the context of a marriage, and emphasizing the fact that all sins are forgivable (Rueger 2016, 81). Those previously identified by their sin are now identified as in Christ.
Rueger next reviews Romans 1:20-28, a passage that holds his attention for ten pages. In this passage, both male and female homosexual sin is discussed. It is tied to the idea of idolatry, as a sort of worship of the creation as opposed to the Creator (Rueger 2016, 82). Rueger observes that the Roman deities were known for sexual activity which we would consider abusive and deviant (Rueger 2016, 83). Their stories were central to Roman civil life. As a result, Christians normally chose not to participate fully in the broader culture. This, in turn, led to criticisms of Christians (Rueger 2016, 84). In Romans chapter one, then, the apostle Paul builds a case that the true immorality derives from an idolatry which serves the creation rather than the creator. This immorality includes sexual activity but it is not limited to it (Rueger 2016, 85). The focus is not limited to formal temple prostitution. It extends to all the justification of immorality found in all of society (Rueger 2016, 86). Here we also see that, as a result of the people’s idolatrous desires, God gave them over to their own pursuits (Rueger 2016, 87). He did not stop then, because they were not repentant. Rueger is clear that those who repent of sin, any sin, are forgiven. However, it is often very, very hard to turn away from sins, especially sexual sins. Yet they can be forgiven, like any other sin. Rueger notes that Paul’s argument in Romans 1 also states that same-sex relations are “against nature” (Rueger 2016, 89). He readily admits the studies which purport to find homosexuality in animals, but counters that these acts are almost always intended at showing dominance and almost never are exclusive. The animals still copulate to reproduce (Rueger 2016, 90). In this, Rueger also observes that humans, and particularly Christians, approach sex with a different motivation. This is the point of the passage in Romans 1. The natural order points to reproduction. The Christian points also to a relationship bringing honor to God, not merely to reproduction (Rueger 2016, 90-91).
Rueger next examines 1 Timothy 1:8-11. Here, the concept is that God’s law is intended to point out sin to all sorts of people who enter into sin. The practice of any of the sins mentioned is spoken against because they are contrary to God’s will. The sexual ethic expressed in the Bible, then, of one husband with one wife, is described as being for good. People are warned against violating good teaching (Rueger 2016, 92).
Rueger moves on to deal with a number of passages in less detail, showing that the testimony of the New Testament is that sin, including sexual relationships outside the bounds of marriage, is classified together as disobedience to God which calls for repentance and forgiveness to avoid condemnation (Rueger 2016, 93). “The principles of fidelity, monogamy, and chastity and laws for exclusively heterosexual relations are all rules meant to benefit humanity. Individuals and societies suffer when God-given sexual morality is ignored” (Rueger 2016, 95). An examination of the Bible shows that moral stands are taken out of redemptive loving concern for eternal and temporal peace and well being. Careful examination of the biblical texts will find this context.