Food, Sex, and Entertainment: Paul and the Epicureans on the Ethics of Pleasure

“… a model for participation in God that infuses new meaning in the experience of pleasure and which acts as the basis for Christian practice today. ”

Team Members/Contributors

Max J Lee North Park Theological Seminary Contact Me

About this sabbatical grant for researchers

The Epicureans and the Apostle Paul each provided moral instruction on how best to consume pleasurable goods in a way that celebrates embodied human existence and leads to human flourishing. This interdisciplinary project examines the ancient dialogue and debate between Paul and an Epicurean wisdom group at Corinth over the issues of (idol) food consumption (1 Cor. 8:1–13; 10:23–30), sexual pleasure (6:12–20), and entertainment, leisure, sleep and work (15:12–58). Western thinkers such as Leibniz, Locke, Hobbes, and Machiavelli drew many of their political and ethical ideas from Epicurean philosophy. Studying Greco-Roman Epicureanism can help us understand the roots of our own Western traditions and give insight into the human condition today.

Studying Paul gives today’s Christian communities a model for how to engage diverse ethical systems critically in the public domain by affirming tenets which support the common good yet also proposing Christian distinctives. Paul ultimately frames his approach to food, sex, and other items, not as an ethics of pleasure or consumption as the Epicureans do, but as a human participation in God’s creative and redeeming work in the world. God’s presence is what infuses meaning into the mundane and ordinary, whether eating, drinking, work, sleep, leisure, entertainment, and the like. As the project draws out the theological and ethical implications of Paul’s engagement with Epicureanism, it offers suggestions on the best Christian practices for hospitality, meal sharing, healthy human intimacy, fulfilling work, Sabbath rest and leisure. The project garners insight not only from the best of biblical and theological scholarship but also from the professional expertise of health care providers, nutritionists, psychologists, and business communities. Ultimately, Paul helps the church construct an an epistemology of experience that is participatory, relational, holistic, and Christian.