Brides of Christ: 1 Corinthians 6
The topos of spiritual propagation as opposed to and higher than physical procreation is well-known in Paul's world. Found already in Plato's Symposium, it is also frequently mobilized in Philo, Paul's Jewish contemporary, most notably in his description of the life of the celibate Therapeutae (Harrison, forthcoming). According to my reading, Paul in Romans 6 and 7 also opposes a physical sexuality to a spiritual, that is, allegorical, sexuality. This reading can be strengthened by noting that the same antithesis occurs in 1 Corinthians 6:14–20:
And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two shall become one.” But he who is united with the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins aginst his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
The argument in verses 15–16 (“Do you not know…”) seems strikingly inconsequent, in that it skips from the immorality of sex with a prostitute right over to union with Christ. Moreover, the verse cited, “And the two shall become one,” refers in Genesis entirely positively to sexual union between man and wife. I would certainly expect to read here: “Do you know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two shall become one.’ But he who is united with his wife becomes one flesh with her. Shun immorality.” I think, therefore, that Paul is truly revealing his hand here. For him, sexuality per se is tainted with immorality. Paul looks forward to the becoming-one-flesh of Genesis being entirely replaced by an allegorical becoming-one-spirit with Christ. He proposes displacing this commandment, as well as the commandment to be fruitful and multiply, by their spiritual referents of marriage to Christ and the bearing of fruits of the spirit. Here, however, Paul makes the point not openly but indirectly, through what he does not say, because immediately below he is going to recommend legitimate marital sex for those not gifted as he is with the ability ro remain celibate and who would therefore be in danger of porneia were they not married. Paul says as much openly in 7:1, “It is well for a man not to touch a woman,” and 7:7, “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own special gift from God.”  The value system is crystal clear. It is thus manifest from these verses that the modes of sexuality Paul contrasts are not so much sex with prostitutes as opposed to legitimate sexual intercourse but rather physical union between men and women as opposed to spiritual union between people and Christ.
But what, however, of Paul's dual insistence here on the body as members of Christ and as a temple for the spirit? Neither of these expressions seems in any way a manifestation of an ascetic contempt for the flesh. Paying close attention to this inconsequence in Paul's argument gives us another moment of access to the very special Pauline anthropology that I have explored elsewhere with reference to 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 5. As in those passages, Paul is at great pains to disable those strains of thought—perhaps proto-gnostic—that would claim that the body is of no significance and in radical platonic fashion only to be escaped from and denied. For Paul, not only will there be a body of resurrection, but the body in this life is to be honored and paid its due by keeping it pure and holy. He is alive always to the danger that by devaluing the flesh and its works—positive and negative—he is making room for a libertinism that will achieve the precise opposite of his intention. Thus he must insist both that the body is temple of the spirit and that the Christian in his [sic] body is a member of Christ—but precisely that membership in Christ anticipates the resurrection body which is not a body of flesh. Paul thus distinguishes between the flesh and the body. The flesh, i.e., sexuality, has been dispensed with in the Christian dispensation, precisely in order to spiritualize the body. To be sure, a legitimated marital sexuality is allowed for in Paul's system as the second-best alternative to celibacy, but the ideal is a spiritual union as bride of Christ in which he who “is united with the Lord becomes one spirit with him” and not one flesh with even his lawful wife. Indeed the connection between chapters 6 and 7 of Corinthians is now much clearer.