by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Does spousal rape constitute fornication, or sexual immorality, thus giving grounds for divorce and remarriage?
Some questions are difficult - not because we cannot clearly state the truth, but because the way they word the questions - they cause you to make assumptions that may not be true. A classic example is "Are you still beating your wife?" You have never beaten your wife, but the question assumes it is true and only asks if it is continuing.
The question above is of the same nature. There is an assumption made that all guilt falls on a rapist and one being raped is completely innocent. Before we can address the point of the question, we must first decide if the assumption is true that guilt can only be ascribed to one party.
Throughout the Scriptures, God has taught husbands and their wives to enjoy sex. In Proverbs 5:15-21 Solomon tells husbands to be exhilarated by their wives' love. Her body is to satisfy him always. The relationship was so important that under the Old Testament Law a newly married man was excused for one year from all obligations that would take him away from his wife (Deuteronomy 24:5). During this time, the husband is to focus on bringing happiness to his wife. Notice that the emphasis was on the husband bringing sexual gratification to the wife and not the other way around. The sexual act within marriage is honorable (Hebrews 13:4).
Perhaps Paul's words are strongest in I Corinthians 7:1-5. It is a husband's duty to provide sexual satisfaction to his wife and it is a wife's duty to provide sexual satisfaction to her husband. The importance of this is so great that Paul said a wife does not have authority over her own body and a husband does not have authority over his own body. In other words, neither a wife nor a husband has the right to deny intercourse to their spouse.
With the arrival of feminism came the idea that a woman has full control over her body. If she does not wish to have a child, they argue that she has the right to terminate the pregnancy because it is her body being used to nurture the child. If she doesn't want to have sex, then a husband does not have the right to request sex from her. However, these ideas are in direct contradiction to the plain teachings in I Corinthians 7.
The dictionary defines rape as forced sexual relations against a person's will. By this definition it is possible for a man to rape his wife. However, given Paul's statements, it should not be against a wife's will to have sex with her husband. Therefore, if such an event happens, sin rests with the wife who is resisting fulfilling her duty in marriage. Sin also lies with the husband who is forcing sexual relations. Spousal rape is not a case where only one person is guilty of a sin.
Although we have started with a misleading question, let us move on to address the question: "Does spousal rape constitute fornication or sexual immorality?" Fornication is sexual activity outside the bounds of a sanctified marriage. Two unmarried individuals can commit fornication, but a married couple cannot commit fornication. Sexual activity is supposed to take place within the confines of a marriage. It is a duty owed by the husband to his wife and by the wife to her husband. To call it fornication is to declare that sex within a marriage can be sinful, yet the writer of Hebrews said it is undefiled. It cannot be used as the grounds for a divorce that allows a remarriage because it does not meet the criteria laid down by our Lord.
Does this mean that a husband can force himself on his wife anytime he so desires? Absolutely not! A wife is supposed to satisfy the sexual needs of her husband willingly and freely (and vice versa). Nevertheless, the husband cannot forcibly take what his wife has not offered. To illustrate this point consider that Christians are supposed to be hospitable to one other. Still, does that give me the right to barge into my brother's home anytime I feel like it? Of course not! Christianity is about the giving of our self and not the taking from others. The former is noble, while the latter is selfish.
If a wife will not fulfill her duties to her husband, then she needs instruction and counseling (Titus 2:3-5). Most likely there is a series of issues between both the husband and the wife which needs addressing. Meanwhile, what is the husband supposed to do? I think the answer is "wait." If your wife were deathly ill, you would have no problem foregoing sex during her illness. In this case the wife is spiritually ill and her soul is in jeopardy. Can't the husband wait for the healing of her spirit? If anything, this should be motivation to straighten out the problems between the husband and wife.
If a husband says he cannot put off his sexual desires, then I must ask what did he do during the years before his marriage? On average most men gain the capacity for sex around the age of 13, yet the average age to marry is 23. If a man can wait 10 years for sex, he can wait for his wife to leave her sinful ways.
Marital problems can be difficult to handle. Emotions run high and cooling tempers is difficult when partners live close to each other. Yet the Lord expects us to solve our problems, not to run away from them or to pretend the problems are irreconcilable. Divorce is too often offered as an easy escape from difficult problems. Few realize, until it is too late, that divorce causes more problems than it supposedly solves.