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  • Why do many Early Church Fathers
    talk negatively about sex & marriage?

    ARTICLE INDEX     



    Comparing the scriptures to the teaching of many early church fathers, regarding sex and marriage, one has to conclude that these men had some influence other than scripture. Consider some of the below quotes from a few of these early fathers and compare them to what scripture says:

    JEROME:

    "Woman is the root of all evil." - St Jerome (c. 320-420)

    "Do you imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children? He who is too ardent a lover of his own wife is an adulterer." - St Jerome (c. 320-420)

    "And as regards Adam and Eve we must maintain that before the fall they were virgins in Paradise: but after they sinned, and were cast out of Paradise, they were immediately married." - St Jerome (c. 320-420)

    JUSTIN MARTYR:

    "We Christians marry only to produce children." - Justin Martyr (c. 100–165)

    ST. TERTULLIAN:

    "Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die." - St. Tertullian (150-230)

    ST. AUGUSTINE:

    "What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman. I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children." - St Augustine (c. 430)

    Let us glean some of the ideas presented by these early fathers of Christianity:

    1. Women are the root of all evil -
      (This contradicts God's own words in Genesis 1:31 and also contradicts directly 1 Timothy 6:10)

    2. Those who have sex with their wives for pleasure are adulterers -
      (This contradicts the definition of adultery in Greek and Hebrew, not to mention many scriptures, such as Leviticus 18:7-23)

    3. Marriage only exists only after the Fall of Man -
      (This contradicts Genesis 1:23-24, as it states the marriage design and that Eve was one flesh with Adam, both prior to the Fall)

    4. Christians marry only to produce children -
      (Although this one is less in error than most of the other statements above, it does contradict the Song of Solomon, which has nothing to do with producing children and everything to do with the joys of love and sex.)

    5. Women are the Devil's Gateway. Meaning, sin was a result of you, via sex and temptation. -
      (Here we see the influence of Gnosticism and Platonism on sex. Apples were considered the fruit, as it symbolizes sex in ancient times. Hence the woman had sex with the man early, and this is where sin came from. And it is assumed the man is somehow without sense when a woman seduces. However, none of this is from scripture. This is all a cleverly devised fable, which we are warned against believing. Further, it contradicts Genesis 3:1-8, as it says they ate a fruit, not that they had wild premarital sex or ate an apple. Last, God created woman as a helper, not as a devilish gateway to sin. Today, we laugh at this viewpoint, however, this is the ground on which many ideas in the church derive. )

    6. Women are temptresses. -
      (When I read this, it reminds me of the mindset of many muslim societies. It is not the man's fault, that he wants to have sex with a woman, but rather the woman for tempting him. This is just passing blame. Every man is responsible for his actions, as is made clear in these passages: 1 Peter 4:5, Matthew 3:8-12, Ezekiel 3:18. Further, this assumes a general state of evil within woman, which is greater than sinful nature, which is not accounted for within scripture).

    7. Women's only function is to bear children. -
      (Again, this would contradict both God's design of woman as a "helper", equal to man, contradicts Song of Solomon and simple common sense).

    Honestly, today, it is easy for us to simply display the errors of these teachings. However, why was it so difficult for them to see it at the time? Could it be a result of societal and philosophical influence? It would have to be some exterior influence other than scripture, as scripture contradicts their statements (as I have demonstrated above).

    I believe Robert T. Francoeur does a good job explaining how even early Christian teachers became so negative about women, sex and marriage:

    "To understand the evolution from the early sex-affirming Hebraic culture to Christianity's persistent discomfort with sex and pleasure, we have to look at three interwoven threads: the dualistic cosmology of Plato [i.e. the soul and mind are at war with the body], the Stoic philosophy of early Greco-Roman culture [i.e., nothing should be done for the sake of pleasure], and the Persian Gnostic tradition [i.e., that demons created the world, sex and your body—in which your soul is trapped, and the key to salvation is to free the spirit from the bondage of the body by denying the flesh].

    Within three centuries after Jesus, these influences combined to seduce Christian thinkers into a rampant rejection of human sexuality and sexual pleasure." - (Robert T. Francoeur is a Catholic priest and a fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex. He is also a Professor of Human Embryology and Sexuality at Fairleigh Dickenson University. )

    In other words, they were victims of society and philosophical constructs of their time. They were not able to separate their teaching from the world's philosophy and attempted to use Plato's dualism, Stoic ideals and Gnostic error to explain the scriptures.

    Something interesting I have noticed is how the two main Gnostic approaches to living within this dualistic concept, has survived within the church, even unto this very day. Here are the two lifestyle approaches to dealing with they physical (evil) and spiritual (good) world:

    1. Since you are enlightened in Spirit, it is not relevant what you do within the physical realm (your body, etc).
    2. Since all physical is evil and all spirit is good, we must abstain from anything in the physical (pleasure, bodily desires, etc).

    St Augustine, prior to becoming a Christian, was of the first lifestyle (as a Manichean). This is why he would partake in adultery, incest, orgies and other sexual deviancies. However, after his conversion to Christianity, he took on the lifestyle of the second one. Whereas, he would even say sex with your wife was a sin (as it is physical).

    Do you see who may fit into either of these two categories? Well, for shock factor, let me put these two common lifestyles within protestantism, in the same design as above:

    1. Since you are saved by grace, it is not relevant if your lifestyle is sinful, as all are sinners. (Neo Calvinism)
    2. Since most all pleasure, entertainment and sexual desire are inherently evil, we must abstain from any desire, watching TV, dancing, wearing suggestive clothing, etc. (Ultra Holiness Teaching)

    Ironically, these two groups are bitter enemies within the faith. However, it appears, both have atleast part of their application within Gnostic, dualistic thought. Neo Calvinism is St Augustine prior to conversion. Ultra Holiness is St Augustine after conversion. Both, steeped in Gnostic application, where pleasure is evil and the spirit is good. Yet one, says you can't help it, while the other abstains from it all.

    A more balanced approach would be to realize that God created the physical (demons had no part), and only those desires that are inordinate are sinful (as everying of God should be accepted with thankfulness). So, only some pleasures or entertainments in the physical are sinful, not all. Further, not every spiritual activity is good either.

    I believe the reason it was so deceptive for early Christian thinkers, is due to the fact that the Apostle Paul took a stance that seemed more ascetic than other writers within the Bible. However, consider Jesus' words here, "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, He hath a devil. The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, Behold a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners. But wisdom is justified of her children." - Matthew 11:18-19. Jesus makes it clear, some take a more ascetic approach, while others take on a more indulgent approach, however neither are sinful, and God's children are justified. Another factor is the Apostle Paul spoke of the separation between the flesh and the spirit. However, the concept of flesh and spirit predates Gnosticism or any philosophy, as it is evident within nature and defined within scripture. Further, the Apostle Paul never one time contradicted the design found within the Old Testament or the New Testament. So, if a person has a deadly philosophy which appears on the surface to be similar to one of your main New Testament writers, you can see how it would be easy to fall into error.

    However, the problem is, Jesus said he did not come to change the law, but rather to fulfill it. And there is no place within the New Testament where Jesus changed Old Testament Law regarding marriage or sexual conduct. So, for someone to fully understand God's Word on such topics, it is entirely relevant to view what the Old Testament has to say on such topics. Rather than turning to Gnostic philosophers or Platoism or Stoic Dogma.

    Further Reading:

    Marriage & Divorce:

    1. Is Monogamy God's ideal within Scripture?
    2. What does the Bible really say about divorce & remarriage? , [Urdu Translation ]
    3. History of How Sex & Marriage Became Sins within the Church
    4. The Wedding Model (Jewish Historical/Biblical)
    5. Is Polygamy a Sinful Lifestyle?
    6. History of Polygamy, by Blaine Robison, M.A.

    Sex and Eroticism:

    1. How masturbation became known as a sin...
    2. The Song of Solomon
    3. Mt 5:28- "Lust & Adultery"
    4. Why Prostitution is not Glamourous
    5. Bible Topic Study 1 Corinthians 6:19- "Fornication"
    6. A History of Sexuality and Sexual Conduct




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