Did Paul Set Faith Against Sex?

Therefore [a]consider the members of your earthly body as dead to [b] immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which [c]amounts to idolatry.” (NASB)

(a) Lit ‘put to death the members which are upon the earth
(b) Lit ‘fornication
(c) Lit ‘is

Paul does seem to hint stuff like sex, passion (which I see no issue with), and greed ‘amount’ to idolatry. So I can see where it can be said these things are ‘idols’. However, and this is my opinion, show me this same sentiment over and over when discussing this term and I will agree it’s authoritative.

This may be the lone example, or of 2 passages in the whole bible, where idolatry is even used in this manner. Most other times, in fact all of them, it’s about worship of a physical thing.

However, and this is the pretty funny thing about this passage – the way the writer despises ‘sex’. Immorality (or fornication – according to the literal translation) and passion are both used here (both of which are not actually ‘bad’). In fact, if you have a wife then you are an idolator because you (a) fornicate and (b) are passionate for one another. And if neither of these are occurring in the marriage – then it’s ‘dead’.

Also funny, Paul says ‘consider the members of your earthly body as dead’ in regards to sex….does he mean the ‘members’ as in the sexual organs of the body? Is Paul setting up a wall between sex and faith?

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7 thoughts on “Did Paul Set Faith Against Sex?

  1. Paul is talking about the pursuits of physical pleasures over the pursuits of God. That is where the idolatry comes from. Having sex is not wrong, but when you pursue sex in ways that are contrary to what has been outlined, sex outside of marriage or adultery or incest or bestiality, then you are choosing to pursue the desires of your flesh / members instead of pursuing God. Thus you have your idolatry.

    Sexual immorality is not strictly fornication.

  2. I looked this passage up on netbible.org It’s a pretty cool site that has a greek/hebrew parallel and a lot of cool sources for definitions, notes and commentaries. I’ve come to some conclusions based on that site’s info.

    First that word sexual immorality or “fornication” seems to be a junk drawer for sexuality. According to Strong’s it never refers to “healthy” sex within a marriage. I’m pretty sure that the greek word used there is actually where the English “Pornography” comes from. I also saw that the word passion used is quite ambiguous. It can be either good or bad. Interestingly enough it doesn’t seem to be a neutral kind of thing. We often see passion as something that can be used to either a good or evil end. The definition made it seem like the greek dictionary’s understanding of passion was in itself good or evil. Or maybe the definition wasn’t clear enough…

    I’m glad you brought up the “members” question. After considering that I re-read the scripture as poetry, and was quite amused with the result. You get to see this picture of heavenly members of your physical body and earthly members. Paul says that the earthly is dead. Kind of intense. When you think about it as poetry and add to the mix other scripture we know, it paints a much clearer picture.

    “If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness… for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
    Rom 8:10-13

    Paul seems to like the metaphor of dying fleshy things. Just some thoughts you might like.

  3. “Paul is talking about the pursuits of physical pleasures over the pursuits of God” (Xander)

    Ok,…prove that from within that chapter and context alone…Colossians 3. There really isn’t much to go on except his actual words used in this passage – and they are quite telling.

    I am not sure why they translate the passage as ‘immorality’ when it is literally ‘fornication’ for the word used there. However, his theme in this little diatribe is all related to one thing – sex (which explains Christianity’s making this into the worst sin ever).

    The words used “immorality/fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed”…obviously Paul is talking about the desire and want for sexual pleasure and how it can control someone. However, it is quite normal to have passion and desire for the opposite sex. This makes the world go around – ie: sex and birth.

    I get it, he may be talking to non-married people in Colossus, and his warning is about not being promiscuous. I see that in there. However, he is almost asking those non-married to ‘forgo’ marriage with this warning since one cannot have a healthy relationship without ‘passion, desire, even want’ for that person you fall in love with.

    So yes, even those impure thoughts a man has for the woman he is attracted to, can lead to something quite meaningful…in fact that is partially the way of attraction.

    • ” Ok,…prove that from within that chapter and context alone…Colossians 3. There really isn’t much to go on except his actual words used in this passage – and they are quite telling.”

      I am not sure how you miss this sentiment in the passage.

      Col 3:4-7
      (4) When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him.
      (5) So put to death whatever in your nature belongs to the earth: sexual immorality, impurity, shameful passion, evil desire, and greed which is idolatry.
      (6) Because of these things the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience.
      (7) You also lived your lives in this way at one time, when you used to live among them.

      This is from the NET. Yes, men and women have normal physical desires. It is when we pursue these desires that we are practicing the idolatry. When we forgo the new life in Christ for the old ways, then we reject God and make our flesh / physical desires our focus / god.

      ” I am not sure why they translate the passage as ‘immorality’ when it is literally ‘fornication’ for the word used there. However, his theme in this little diatribe is all related to one thing – sex (which explains Christianity’s making this into the worst sin ever).”

      You have to look at the meaning or understanding of the word and not think of it as we do presently. It was originally translated as fornication, but as understanding of the Greek language grew the meaning of what was being communicated became more clear. We see that it is not talking about sex in general, but rather harlotry, adultery and incest. It had nothing to do with sex between man and wife, but rather sexual desires that were outside of what God had ordained.

      Paul did say that one should forgo marriage if they could and I agree. With the level of commitment that is wanted with Christianity, it is near impossible to do when your focus is not 100% on God.

  4. “We often see passion as something that can be used to either a good or evil end” (Carly)

    I agree, in fact sexual passion of any sort is was seen as an ‘evil desire’ within Jewish thought as well. However, just because it is an ‘evil desire’ doesn’t make it meaningful? How do any of think we got here?

    Carly, you ever thinking about dating or being married? If so, then you almost have to shun most of the instructions Paul gives here for you to avoid. Without passion, desire, and want for the other partner you are basically dooming the future of your relationship. Which is where I see the problem with this passage. Is Paul putting his own bias on this passage (being unmarried)?

    “Paul says that the earthly is dead. Kind of intense.” ((Carly)

    Paul always uses this dualism which makes no sense whatsoever. He tries to separate the physical from the spiritual, which I can tell (from 37 years experience as a human being) is not the case. I am finding that our bodies are quite interconnected – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual – and one area effects the next one.

    The problem with this duality, which was good for his Greek mind at the time, is the compartmentalization (another problem with current spirituality). So people would consider the things of the spiritual realm (whatever they perceive those as) and almost forgo anything physical related – like health, the environment, or feeding their mind.

    Thus we see a new issue – separation of body and mind from spirit. This is the reason we see people who behave one way on Sunday and another all week long.

    Truth be told, you cannot disconnect your spirit from your mind (will), emotions (feelings), or physicality (body)…a small problem in one (like a sore tooth), effects the way you feel (emotion), and your reactions to the world around you (physical). Paul’s duality is weak.

  5. Society, honestly I don’t really like the way Paul talks about sexuality. I say this only because he wasn’t married. I get counseling twice a month, and the last time I went we talked about Paul’s view of sex. My counselor proposed the idea to me that the “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 7) Paul spoke of was actually homosexual urges. He was living among the Romans, you know, and did have this kind of angst toward sexuality. Perhaps it was because of his own struggle, lack of understanding, and religious inclination against his urges.
    Now, I know this is a lot of “Ifs” but it’s interesting.
    Ifs:
    Paul had homosexual desires and passions,
    Paul believed he could not be homosexual and Christian simultaneously
    Well then, he would say things like “Die you sexual passions” would he not?

    That being said, I’d like to look further into Colossians.
    “you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” 3:9,10
    I’m not sure Paul is divorcing the physical and the spiritual. I think he’s calling us to live without sin and shame like we did in the garden of eden and in the image of God. So in a sense he’s calling us to put to death our earthly ‘practices’- the kinds of things that got us kicked out of eden.
    Also, I can’t post this without saying Jesus is the cornerstone of this argument. The chapter starts with Jesus, and then he makes an appearance in verse 10, when it says, “put on the new self, which is being RENEWED…” It is possible to live a physical life, full with natural sexual impulses that is holy, because of the renewal of our bodies that comes from Jesus’ Intercession on our behalf for the grace of God.

  6. “It is when we pursue these desires that we are practicing the idolatry.” (Xander)

    My issue is, and is quite relevant, that without those desires marriages will fail. In fact, 51% of marriages are failing – what’s killing them – the majority lack 2 things: (a) passion and (b) the act of sex.

    Is Christianity, which includes Paul’s teaching here, making marriage less manageable and leading to more problems than solutions?

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