Why did St. Paul have to write the things he did in his epistles?

My boyfriend, who believes in God and Jesus, but is unsure of Christianity in general, recently became more devoted and started praying. However, they just found 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, which says:

“3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

They then said they were “very distraught” and so was I. I had forgotten about this passage entirely and after rereading it I felt upset. I read a commentary that seemed to make sense, that St. Paul wasn’t advocating rape but saying that sex in marriage should be for the other person and not based on your own pleasure, but every time I tried to come up with a reasonable explanation my boyfriend just said “I don’t know”. Now I just know, since they’re not very strong in their faith, they’re gonna stop praying and not be devoted to God again. And that really sucks, and I really don’t want it to happen.

So my question here is: why did St. Paul have to write these ridiculous things? Did he really mean the reasonable explanations that can be drawn from them? And if he did, why did he phrase them so badly? It feels almost like he was trying to push people away from Christianity, especially in the misogynistic things in his epistles.

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At a time where men assumed total control over their wives, Paul is explaining that married couples have a duty to each other, not just for their own self pleasure. There are reasonable times in any marriage where sex may need to be delayed but otherwise, they are to enjoy the marital embrace and please each other, not just themselves.

Denying sex for punitive reasons isn’t unifying, it’s destructive.
I’m having a hard time seeing this passage as a problem? How is he seeing it?


What’s ridiculous about this passage? It’s a wonderful statement on how husbands and wives should seek to love and please each other. It reminds us that love is not just the selfish use of another, but seeking their good. People talk a great deal about “sexual compatibility,” usually meaning similar libidos/sexual activity preferences, but in my opinion real sexual compatibility means delighting in the happiness of another. Imagine how much more marital happiness there’d be if spouses consistently held to this ideal.


Both of us had an initial reaction that it was advocating that people shoudn’t be allowed to refuse sex from their spouse, that people have to perform their “marital duty” even if they don’t want to; that the only time it can be refused is if they both don’t want to and instead pray. I get that explanation, and I did after I read that commentary I mentioned but I can still see how someone could misunderstand it. But as I’m calming down I’m hoping they were just upset by it at the start and after they calm down they’ll understand that the explanation I sent is reasonable.

Is the problem over the use of Paul’s word “authority”? I’m thinking he didn’t mean this in quite the same way we mean the word authority? Any Greek experts that can help?

Hm. He uses “exousiazei” which is the third person conjuation of “exousiazo” which means “to be master of” or “to exercise control over” according to the biblehub greek website (sorry it says I can’t include links in posts). So I don’t fully know if it’s a translation issue. But I don’t know.

This might seem off-topic, but who is “they”

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I don’t read it that way. I read it that both parties should be considerate of their spouse and their spouse’s needs. People in a loving marriage tend to do this naturally. The key also is it’s applying to BOTH parties, and this was an era when the culture said the man was pretty much in charge and was free to rape his wife or completely ignore her. I also see this as noting that sexual relations are an important part of Christian marriage, rather than something awful that people should avoid entirely.


Hi. I’m lucie333’s boyfriend and my initial concern came from my mother telling me that when she was a Christian, she was told at a Baptist church that in marriage women weren’t allowed to refuse sex. When I asked where in the Bible it was stated so, she pointed me towards that verse. I felt initially distraught but other interpretations of the verse, such as yours, has made more sense to me. Marital rape is a real and serious thing and the idea of anyone saying otherwise is really disturbing to me so I had a pretty bad initial reaction.

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I use they/them pronouns :slight_smile:

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It’s goid that you’re seeking the answers.
A lot of people read a few verses and run away :rofl::rofl::rofl:

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Well, I’m not certain if this official Catholic Doctrine, but this is how I see it. Someone correct me. The most problematic of Paul’s writings is Corinthians. If you read Thessalonians and Colossians Paul is at his best where he asks Christine’s to love, pray, be grateful.

In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul concedes:

7 Because of the extraordinary greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to [b]torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast [c]about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I delight in weaknesses, in [d]insults, in distresses, in persecutions, in difficulties, in behalf of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

11 I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, since I was in no respect inferior to the [e]most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody. 12 The distinguishing marks [f]of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by [g]signs, wonders, and [h]miracles. 13 For in what respect were you treated as inferior to the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not become a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!

So, in light of that passage and Acts of the Apostles, to me it is clear Paul was not perfect and had to be corrected in order not to boast. I take the word of Peter as perfection, having been an Apostle of Christ Jesus. Same goes for James. But the beauty, to me of Paul, is in his flaws. In the idea that someone has sinned can atone, repent and come to mercy of the Lord. So, before you make judgements of Paul, read all his writing including Acts of the Apostles.

Again, this is why as Catholics during the Gospel we stand and do the sign of the cross for the Gospel where we just sit and listen to the Old Testament and other writings. The primacy is the Gospel.

One of the challenges is picking passages out and not reading them in context. It’s important to remember that St Paul generally wrote to address issues of conduct, governance or moral conduct within a community.

St Paul spends the first 3rd of the letter speaking about issues in Corinth, including sexual immorality. He then states that he is writing them about the issue they asked him about (1 Corinthians 7:1). Because we do not have the letter from the Corinthians to St Paul we do not know how they phrases the question, but many translations include ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ in quotes as an understanding that it is the question he asked about. Given the context of sexual immorality he speaks about in chapter 5, this appears to be a question if people (including those married) should completely abstain to avoid falling into passions that lead to immorality.

Given that context, St Paul is talking about sexual morality in various states of life.

The particular passage is primarily around saying that couples should be open to sexual intercourse so that their spouse does not fall into sin by going outside of marriage because their spouse has refused them.

As one scholar puts it, these passages are not about “you owe me” but rather “I owe you”. It’s around the idea that our sexuality is a gift we give to our spouses at marriage and not a reward we choose to hand out or withhold on a whim. It changes the idea that our spouse is there for our wants and needs and rather that we are there to keep our spouse from falling into sin.


Thanks for clarifying. A lot of the Pauline passages that people find problematic become less so with context–the ultimate context being that we are to love God and each other. It is certainly NOT the ideal of Christian marriage to have one spouse forcing him/herself on another.

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No; and I think this is where your problem with the passage is found. The ‘marital duty’ doesn’t mean “sex on demand.”


Yeah… that’s a poor interpretation of that verse. There are denominations of Christians who read all sorts of odd interpretations into Scripture.

The Catholic Church wouldn’t say that this is about “not being allowed to refuse sex.”

I also don’t see what is objectionable about the passage. Isn’t it just saying that husbands and wives have a duty to each other in a physical sense and each is equal to the other? Sounds pretty reasonable to me.


A lot of people don’t realize the Catholic Church teaches this, especially if they came out of some Protestant background that emphasizes wifely submission.

If they read some of the blogs from fringe Catholics who also push the “marital debt” and “wifely submission” ideas, they also get confused because they think it’s Church teaching rather than some random Catholic blogger, like the infamous Mr. Conte whose stuff we are always having to debunk on here.

It’s a lot easier for cradles who grew up in Catholic familes where the wife/ mom was to say the least, assertive.


Forgive my ignorance of these mattters… but you’re a BOYfriend who identifies as a “they”?

Gender-neutral pronoun, perhaps?

1 Corinthians 7:3-5 sounds quite normal to me. sex is a need, involving an appetite just as consuming food does. but in the case of sex two people are required, and love and mercy are sometimes called for from one party when the need is strong for the other. And married people are part of each other, belonging to each other in a special union

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