Proof-texting is taking a biblical verse out of context in order to argue a point. I attended some sessions at the local Society of Biblical Literature conference, March 30 – 31, 2014, and learned about how deadly proof-texting can be. Dr. Alice Yafeh-Deigh, an assistant professor at Azusa Pacific, gave a paper on 1 Cor. 7:4 and it’s impact on the transmission of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

Paul’s intention in 1 Cor. 7 was to free people from the awful mess that marriage had become in the Greco-Roman world. In Ephesians 5, he copied Jesus and the Creator in establishing, “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they two will become one flesh,” as the ideal of marriage. He directed husbands to treat their wives with self-sacrificing love, and to give up their own desires for the sake of their wives.  In 1 Cor 7, he said that marriage was not a requirement, that fathers did not have to marry off their children unless the child herself wanted it, and that Christians were called to peace, not to the rigid requirements of earthly laws and customs. 

Answering a question from the Corinthian church about whether married couples should practice sexual abstinence, Paul, in advising against it, affirmed the goodness of marital sex. He wrote, “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”  Paul intended this to signify the mutual consideration and respect that was to characterize the Christian marriage.

To say that a wife has authority over her husband’s body was a radical statement deeply affirming of women. Unfortunately, according to Dr. Yafeh-Deigh, in Sub-Saharan Africa the first half of this verse is used as a proof-text to deny women the right to say “no” to sex with HIV-infected husbands. Hence, this verse is used to effectively condemn to death the believing wives of adulterous men.

It is appalling that Paul’s words would be twisted to argue that an HIV-infected man has a “right” to sex with his wife, knowing he would infect her with a deadly disease. It is even more appalling that Christian leaders would support him in this. This is proof-texting at its most deadly, and a slander on the body of Christ.