Note: Read the conclusion
Step back for a second.
God’s law is above the law of the land, so first an issue must be considered according to God’s law. Though if something is not directly in God’s law then we are to obey the law of the land. This is the basis of Structures of Authority that God has instituted on this earth.
In first consideration, the legal ramifications of the law of the land are irrelevant. The fact that there was no such thing as marital rape 50 years ago is irrelevant. The fact that marital rape is such a thing now is irrelevant. Our goal is not to be on the side of men but on the side of God.
Let’s discuss this from the Biblical perspective.
First, is there established authority in marriage? The answer is undoubtedly yes.
Ephesians 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
1 Corinthians 11:3 But I want you to understand that [a]Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of [b]Christ. […] 8 For man [i]does not originate from woman, but woman from man; 9 for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman [j]independent of man, nor is man [k]independent of woman. 12 For as the woman [l]originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things [m]originate from God.
No one would doubt that Jesus has authority (or is head) over the Church. The same is true of husbands to wives. Jesus would never submit to the Church, yet loves it because it is His.
Second, are there exceptions to authority in marriage? The answer is undoubtedly yes. There are exactly two.
1 Corinthians 7:3 The husband must [a]fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority (exousiazō) over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority (exousiazō) over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and [b]come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
G1850 — ἐξουσιάζω — exousiazō — ex-oo-see-ad’-zo
From G1849; to control: – exercise authority upon, bring under the (have) power of.
Ephesians 5:21 [o]and be subject to one another in the [p]fear of Christ.
The Ephesians 5:21 verse is often warped by modern Christians to say that the husband should submit to the wife. However, it is but the exception and only in the case of sin if you do a contextual analysis of Ephesians 5:1-21. In any other instance aside from sin, the wife is to submit to the authority of the husband. The fallibility of humans is the reason there is this exception between the parallel of Jesus’ authority over the Church and husbands to wives.
Likewise, in the context of sex in marriage the husband and wife are not have control over their own bodies but submit to each other’s desires. This is to affirm the joined together and one flesh of marriage.
Third, The exception to the authority in the matters of sex is that each spouse does not have control over their own bodies. They should not be depriving each other.
Therefore, it is sinful to deprive one another of sex in marriage.
On the other hand, is it sinful [to utilize force] to have sex with your spouse in marriage?
The correct answer is no. It is not sinful. As you can see from the above passage,
1 Corinthians 7:4 The wife does not have authority (exousiazō) over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority (exousiazō) over his own body, but the wife does.
It says quite clearly that the husband has authority over the wife’s body, and the wife has authority over the husband’s body.
However, we must make a note that this is but the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law. Let’s examine that in the next section.
Fourth, there are two passages from Corinthians that apply well to this situation.
1 Corinthians 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the [g]stomach and the [h]stomach is for food, but God will do away with both [i]of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the [j]immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a [k]temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from [l]God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
Paul talks of uniting with a prostitute which is both sinful and unlawful here. However, we know that having sex with your wife is both good and lawful.
The point being that if a spouse forces themselves on another, even though it is not sinful and lawful, it is very close if not at the point at which the spouse is mastered by their lusts and not love.
1 Corinthians 10:23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his [i]neighbor. 25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake; 26 for the earth is the Lord’s, and [j]all it contains. 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience’ sake. 28 But if anyone says to you, “This is meat sacrificed to idols,” do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience’ sake; 29 I mean not your own conscience, but the other man’s; for why is my freedom judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks? 31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.
Likewise, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to understand that it is not about them. The Spirit of Christianity is about relationships and not about yourself.
- Is there such thing as marital rape under the law of God? No.
- Is utilizing force in marriage to have sex with your spouse sinful? No.
That is what the letter of the law says. However, the spirit of the law is different.
Even if you seek what is good for both parties — sex in marriage — if one of the spouses adamantly refuses by the Spirit of Christianity, then it is not bad but it is also not good to force them to even when you have the authority.
The reason for this goes back to God’s creation. We were all created with free will. When you force someone into doing something they don’t want to do that negates their free will. The good news of the grace of God is for those who want to accept it. It cannot be forced upon anyone.
In summary, regarding the possibility of “forced” sex in a Christian marriage:
- One spouse is in sin (the one refusing) and one is not (the one doing the forcing),
- but both are not walking according to the Spirit of Christianity and one flesh.
In reality, what usually happens is:
- One spouse refuses sex (and is in sin), and the other spouse becomes indignant and responds not out of love (while lawful, not with the fruits of the Spirit) but doesn’t force sex.
- One spouse is in open rebellion against Christ and their eternal soul is in danger (the one refusing sex), and the other is a Pharisee who holds the law over love even when they have the authority to do that what they want (the one who wants sex but responds not out of love).
What should happen is:
- The refusing spouse should know the Scriptures or be enlightened to the Scriptures and repent.
- The initiating spouse should respond out of love by correcting with the Scriptures, and explaining/teaching them if they are unaware. If they continue in rebellion then potentially meting out consequences as necessary.
This issue is complicated because it accurately highlights three different categories:
- Rebellion against God (the one refusing to have sex in marriage).
- The letter of the law of God (the non-sinful and lawful potential to force a spouse to have sex).
- The Spirit of God and Christianity (the desire to have both spouses choose to have sex willingly and enthusiastically of their own free will).
In reality, we are prone to thinking of life in context of only two categories: good and bad. However, often we want to do good, but we follow the letter of the law instead of the Spirit of God. This means it comes off as legalistic or mean-spirited even if it is the Truth.
1 Corinthians 8:Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge [a]makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought to know; 3 but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him.
4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that [b]there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. 5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
7 However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. 8 But food will not [c]commend us to God; we are neither [d]the worse if we do not eat, nor [e]the better if we do eat. 9 But take care that this [f]liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? 11 For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. 12 And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.
It is of first importance, even if we know the Truth, to minister to people where they are. Not impress upon them the Truth that they may not know or not be able to handle at that point in time.
Is it important to know that there is no such thing as marital rape? Sure. But it is more important that people don’t divorce.
Note: If you couldn’t understand what this post is advocating then here is the final conclusion:
If a Christian husband or wife wants to force themselves on their spouse then they are more like a Pharisee (obey the letter of the law) than Jesus (He who embodies the Spirit of the law). As Christians, even though we know it is lawful, we want to be like Jesus.
That’s the reason why forcing sex on the spouse is a sin. It’s a sin of hypocrisy.
I personally cannot think of any instance that I’ve heard of where Christians who are walking the walk have forced themselves on their spouses.