The Stunning Abuse of Scripture for Sex

The Stunning Abuse of Scripture for Sex February 7, 2023

I will start by saying that I am both angry and heartbroken that this article even needs to be written – that this topic is a thing.

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Over my years in ministry, I have occasionally heard from women who have been willing to share their story of something most personal.

Every time I’ve heard about this issue, it ignites a level of anger that is rare for me.

I hate that women have experienced this.

I hate that Scripture is being twisted for this purpose.

I hate that deep pain has been inflicted.

I hate that some men think that this is something that God endorses.

I hate that some pastors literally preach this from the pulpit.

The issue is this:

Husbands using Scripture to force their wives into sex against the wife’s will.

Women are pressured and/or forced to have sex, even if they don’t want to. They are forced to do specific things in bed that they don’t want to do. They are told that they must, that God commands it, that the Bible makes it clear, and in so doing, they lose their free will and sexual agency.

So let us be crystal-clear:

Forcing someone into sexual acts against their will is sin.

Yes, even in marriage.

What is more:

Using Scripture to force someone into sexual acts against their will is sin.

The key passage used to justify these actions comes to us from 1Corinthians 7, as Paul teaches on marriage and sex:


The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 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. 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. (1Cor 7.3-5)


The theory goes that since “the wife does not have authority over her body but yields it to her husband,” (v.4), therefore the wife has no agency over her sexuality and must submit it whenever her husband wishes, doing whatever her husband wishes. Since abstaining from sex seems to only be available through “mutual consent,” (v.5) if one partner wants sex and the other doesn’t, then the other partner must give in. The wife’s duty is to sexually satisfy her husband, in order to make sure that he doesn’t get tempted by Satan to stray outside the marriage (v.5). Proponents of this view would be quick to say that this passage also applies to the husband, not just the wife.

In the name of this interpretation, women have been told by husbands and some pastors that their own needs or will on the matter is secondary, and ultimately must bow to their husband’s. They are not biblically permitted to say “no.” Women have shared stories of being pressured into sex when they did not wish it, being forced to do specific things that they didn’t want to do, and have felt the crushing weight of the pain this causes when their agency is denied and their sexuality is violated as they are forced to serve another’s needs.

Sex is the most vulnerable and the most intimate that one can be with another human being, and that vulnerability and intimacy are not being protected by the husbands in these moments.

And this interpretation shows the great danger of what can happen when we read the written Word (Scripture) without looking at it through the lens of the living Word (Jesus Christ).

Jesus, the foot-washing, cross-carrying, servant-hearted, self-sacrificing Saviour, who even being God Himself, nonetheless taught and modelled for us that we are to put others first, to lay down our own lives, to be servant and slave to one another, to love sacrificially, to serve others and specifically to not focus on being served ourselves (e.g. Mt 16.24-25; Mk 10.42-45; Jn 3.16; Jn 13.1-17; Jn 15.13; etc.).

How can anyone possibly justify forcing their sexual needs on another in light of who Jesus is, what He taught, and how He lived?

If our interpretation of Scripture does not look like Jesus, then our interpretation of Scripture is wrong. If we are going to call ourselves Christians, then we actually need to follow the way of Christ (1Jn 2.6).

If anything, the Word of God revealed through Christ would suggest that a husband’s job in his sexual relationship is to meet his wife’s needs, not his own. His own needs should be set aside in service of hers. In Paul’s passage that we’re looking at, when a husband is willing to do this, and a wife is also willing to do this, a couple can have a thriving sexual relationship in their marriage where each focuses on the other and not themselves. When this happens, Satan can’t get a foothold, not simply because there is a healthy sexual relationship, but because both spouses are loving each other and honouring each other well.

But to use the Bible to pressure or to force another to meet one’s own needs, in any context, is such a violation of Scripture, of the way of Christ, and of the person involved, that we can only condemn it.

This is sin, on many levels.

When Paul writes that a woman’s body belongs to her husband, nothing was shocking about that at that time.  It didn’t even need to be said. In the hyper-masculine Greco-Roman worldview of the time, that was a given. Women were considered property, and the man was the owner, to do with as he liked.

What would have been truly shocking about this passage is the reversal – that a man’s body is likewise the property of his wife! She also is an owner here. The world at the time did not think this way. There was to be a shared mutuality in the bedroom, a Kingdom-centered reversal of the cultural norm. Women were not property, but were co-owners in the sexual relationship, not just objects to fulfill their husband’s needs.

This makes it interesting that for some this passage only gets interpreted in a male-centered way. For a husband to say, “Wife, according to Scripture your body belongs to me, therefore you have to serve my needs and desires,” this should equally give permission to the wife to say, “Husband, according to Scripture your body belongs to me, therefore I have a say in what these bodies do together!”

And to the wives out there, you are perfectly biblically justified in using that response.

“Do not deprive one another” cannot possibly mean to selfishly force your will upon the other unwilling partner. Again, this is completely counter to the way of Jesus. What was meant as an encouragement for regular and healthy and other-centered sex in a marriage was surely never intended to be turned into a weapon used against a spouse for one’s own purposes.

And to be clear, there can certainly be a love-centered, sacrificial, Christ-like application of Paul’s passage in marriage, where either spouse may say, “I’m not really into it tonight, but I will do this because I love my spouse and am happy to serve them and be a blessing to them.” This can be a beautiful thing in marriage, and it goes in both directions. The framing of each body as “belonging” to one another was not to suggest dominance, but a mutual sharing, a co-ownership, a picture of the God-designed union in marriage, of two becoming one and willingly giving of themselves to one another (Gen 2.24).

But this must be a choice. It can be asked for, but it cannot be forced, it cannot be coerced. To force is to violate, and to violate is to abandon the way of Jesus.

Husbands, if you have used this passage in this way, stop immediately. Repent and make amends with your wife. Find healthier ways to talk about and explore your sexuality together, in a way that fully honours both bodies and both wills and both persons. God wants a thriving and healthy sex life in your marriage. Forcing sex is not that.

Pastors and preachers, for the love of God and His people, stop preaching this abusive take on this passage of Scripture. Anyone teaching this error does not need to be listened to.

And for the wives who have been hurt by this ungodly twisting of Scripture, my heart breaks for you. I am so sorry. Please find someone that you trust that you can share with and seek healing with. Please know that the way this was pushed on you is not the God that we serve, and is not the way of Jesus who we revere. I pray that you and your spouse find healing and a healthier way to move forward, and that this can be a time of learning and repentance for him that leads to much better days in your marriage ahead.


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