Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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1 CORINTHIANS - Chapter 7

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1 Corinthians 7

Supplemental Commentary:


1.  Marriage and Celibacy  7, 1-40

The Corinthians evidently wrote to ask whether it is good for man not to touch woman.  Paul fully endorses the principle, but shows great care in the application of it.  Some at Corinth seem to have questioned the lawfulness of marriage, considering all sexual intercourse as sinful.  Lax morals sometimes lead to such exaggerated reactions.  Paul makes application of the principle to the married, to virgins, and to widows.

7, 1-7:  Advice to the Married.    2.  Let each man have his own wife, etc.  That Paul does not make marriage obligatory is clear from 7, 8 and his own example.  He is here giving the general rule in opposition to what some Corinthians wanted to make general on the principle that it is good not to touch woman.    3 f.  One has not the right to apply the principle in question independently of the partner, because there is question of a debt in justice.  Paul does not deal with possible conflict of rights.    5.  Abstention is permitted on the following conditions:  (1) mutual consent, (2) a good motive, such as prayer (cf. 7, 32-35), (3) a time limit (to be determined by the self-control of the weaker party).    6.  This (1) is referred by some to v.2, meaning there is no command to marry; (2) others connect it with what immediately precedes, saying that there is no command to return together if they have self-control; (3) more probably in view of Paul's dealing with an exaggeration of the good of abstinence, he hastens to add that he is not commanding abstinence, in marriage, even for the best motives.    7.  St. Paul's celibacy is universally recognized in tradition.  Celibacy is a higher state when properly motivated (see below).  Similarly abstinence in marriage is praiseworthy.  But such continence is a special gift of God, and therefore is not to be general, as some of the Corinthians would have had it.  Each one has his own gift from God, etc.: implies that one who is married may have a special grace superior to spiritually motivated virginity.

7, 8-11:  Advice to the Unmarried.    9.  It is better to marry than to burn: i.e., with concupiscence that is not controlled.  Paul does not deal here with the higher motives for marriage but with the danger to which some expose themselves by remaining single.  Paul supposes that they are free to marry; those separated from their spouses are "to remain unmarried" (v.11); those bound by vow must keep their promise (1 Tim. 5, 11 f).    10 f.  Paul reminds those who follow the advice given in v.9 that marriage once completed is a permanent state by the command of Christ (Matt. 5, 32; etc.).  If there is just cause for separation, remarriage is forbidden during the life of the spouse.  (Rom. 7, 2).

7, 12-16:  Obligation of the Believing Spouse.  The interpretation of this Pauline privilege is well given in the present practice of the Church.  In general the marriages of infidels are held to be indissoluble.  For Paul's exception the following conditions are required.  (1) Neither party is a Christian (baptized) at the time of the marriage.  (2) One party is later baptized, the other remaining unbaptized.  (3) The unbaptized party has already "departed" or now "departs," either (a) by actually leaving, for any reason provided it is not unjustly caused by the convert; or (b) although remaining, by refusing to continue the union in peace for religious or moral reasons.  (4) The unbaptized party, when possible, is given due opportunity either to become converted or to decide whether or not to continue the union in "peace."  When these conditions are realized the baptized party may break the bond and remarry.

12.  For to the rest I say, not the Lord: some connect these words with what precedes and interpret Paul as saying that the Lord commands concerning the stability of marriage, but Paul speaks concerning the rest, i.e., vv.8-9.  More probably the sense of to the rest is determined by what follows, i.e., to converts married before their baptism to one who remains unbaptized.  That Paul refers to marriage before baptism is clear from (a) if any brother has, not "if any brother takes"; (b) the reference to consent, shows that there is an occasion, viz. baptism, for a renewal of consent.    14.  The sanctity is an external sanctity (cf. 1, 2).  The Christians are the new Chosen People, set apart especially from pagan unbelievers who because of idolatry and sin were considered unclean as a class.  The Christian party, one body with the unbeliever, effects by the union that external sanctity of the spouse and their children.  Infant baptism was at this time exceptional.    15.  Departs: the Greek literally means "separates himself."  The reference to peace, disturbed by the baptism of one, indicates that there is question not only of physical separation, but also of moral separation.  Is not under bondage in such cases shows that the marriage was real, that the bond may now be broken, that the parties then are free to remarry.    16.  An answer to a possible objection that the newly baptized Christian should remain with an unbaptized spouse in any circumstances to bring about his or her conversion.

7, 17-24:  No Change to Be Sought.  Baptism is a rebirth; the beginning of a new life.  Dissatisfied with their past, some took occasion of the spiritual renewal to change their whole mode of life.  The change permitted in the previous section is exceptional.  In general, Paul now insists, Christians should continue after Baptism in their former state of life, since these circumstances are relatively unimportant and adaptable to Christian living.

18.  Some Jews in the Greek world, ashamed of their origin, used artificial means to remove its physical traits (cf. 1 Macc. 1, 16).  Some Christians may have considered this a necessary break with the past.  Other Jewish Christians held that all were obliged to observe the Old Testament initiation (Acts 15, 5).    21.  Make use of it rather: it could refer either to freedom or to slavery.  Hence, according to some, as an exception to the advice against change, Paul urges slaves to become free if possible.  But the context rather implies that Paul even in this case would have converts slow to change.  The Greek could be translated "but even when thou canst become free," etc.  Some masters after the baptism of the household offered liberty to the slaves.  The change was not always beneficial.  There is question here only of general advice, requiring an examination of circumstances in each case.    22 f.  All Christians are freed by Christ from the yoke of sin, only be becoming completely subject to Christ who bought us with His blood.  The comparison taken from slave trade led to our use of the word "redemption."  Even in slavery they obey God rather than man (cf. Eph. 6, 5-9; Col. 3, 22 -- 4, 1; Philem.).

7, 25-35:  The State of Virginity.    25.  Virgin is used of both sexes (27 f; Apoc. 14, 4).  Christ recommended perfect chastity (Matt. 19, 12); Paul, faithfully breathing the spirit of Christ, repeats this advice for those who can take it (Matt. 19, 12; v.7).    26.  Present distress: many non-Catholic authors translate this as "imminent distress" and refer it to Paul's thought of the possible nearness of the end of the world (cf. Luke 21, 23; Matt. 24, 6 f.9.21).  The shortness of time (29) would make change useless.  But the word for present less commonly means imminent (in 3, 22 it is opposed to "to come"); the practice recommended should stand on better foundation than possibility; the distress at the end of the world shows no advantage to virginity now.  The Fathers find in the present distress the worries and troubles of this world, which particularly in a divided life tend to impede prayer (32-34).    28.  Tribulation of the flesh: the same as "present distress," v.26.    29-31.  All things in this world are passing away, its goods, its joys, and its sorrows.  Therefore, in using its goods one must keep detached so as not to consider them his last end; and in bearing its sorrows one must keep hope for a better life with God.  Even the longest life in this passing world is short compared to eternity.    32-34.  In the married state one cannot plan even spiritual practices independently of one's spouse; and the greater dependence on the world's goods makes detachment more difficult and distractions more frequent.    Paul is comparing state to state, not individual to individual.    34.  Holy in body and in spirit; holy is to be taken in its original meaning of "set apart."  Even the body of the virgin is seat apart for the Lord.  Such consecration should be accompanied by moral holiness.    35.  Paul insists that there is no obligation to follow this advice (28); that the vocation is not ordinary is clear from 7, 2.7.

7, 36-38:  Duty of Father to Virgin Daughter.  This section supposes a custom wherein a father or guardian had an obligation to seek a suitable husband for his daughter or charge.  Similarly among Christians an obligation of preservation was felt, when virginity had been agreed upon by father and daughter.  The advice to the daughter and her freedom from obligation is treated above; Paul now adds a few words for fathers and guardians.  Like any other method of determining a state of life, this one was open to abuse, but in the end probably led to less hardship than arises from immature independence.  That tyrannical despotism is not thought of is clear from Paul's insistence, if so it ought to be done, being under no constraint, but is free to carry out his own will.  The daughter's consent is  implied in the Greek text of v.36 "Let them marry."    36.  Incurs disgrace: probably from the danger of seduction when one who had planned permanent virginity is being courted.  Over age: at that time one over twenty.  Let him do what he will: i.e., let him do what he has in mind.  According to the context it means let him give her in marriage to her suitor.  The Greek text implies a period after he does not sin, i.e., in giving her in marriage.  Then instead of if she should marry the Greek reads "let them marry."    37.  He who stands firm in his heart: i.e,. has no cause for fear concerning his charge.

7, 39-40:  Widows.    39.  In the Lord: i.e., in the body of Christ, the Church.  This can be taken as a general counsel to marriage within the Church.    40.  The reasons for the greater blessedness of those who remain widows are clear from Paul's previous advice to the unmarried.

Confraternity Bible:

Advice to the Married  1 Now concerning the things whereof you wrote to me: It is good for man not to touch woman.  2 Yet, for fear of fornication, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.  3 Let the husband render to the wife her due, and likewise the wife to the husband.  4 The wife has not authority over her body, but the husband; the husband likewise has not authority over his body, but the wife.  5 Do not deprived each other, except perhaps by consent, for a time, that you may give yourselves to prayer; and return together again lest Satan tempt you because you lack self-control.  6 But this I say by way of concession, not by way of commandment.  7 For I would that you all were as I am myself; but each one has his own gift from God, one in this way, and another in that.

Advice to the Unmarried  8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they so remain, even as I.  9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn.  10 But to those who are married, not I, but the Lord commands that a wife is not to depart from her husband, 11 and if she departs, that she is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.  And let not a husband put away his wife.

Obligation of the Believing Spouse  12* To the others I say, not the Lord: If any brother has an unbelieving wife and she consents to live with him, let him not put her away.  13 And if any woman has an unbelieving husband and he consents to live with her, let her not put away her husband.  14* For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but, as it is, they are holy.  15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart.  For a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.  16 For how dost thou know, O wife, whether thou wilt save thy husband?  Or how dost thou know, O husband, whether thou wilt save thy wife?

No Change to Be Sought  17 Only, as the Lord has allotted to each, as when God has called each, so let him walk---and so I teach in all the churches.  18 Was one called having been circumcised?  Let  him not become uncircumcised.  Was one called being uncircumcised?  Let him not be circumcised.  19 Circumcision does not matter, and uncircumcision does not matter; but the keeping of the commandments of God is what matters.  20 Let every man remain in the calling in which he was called.  21 Wast thou a slave when called?  Let it not trouble thee.  But if thou canst become free, make use of it rather.  22 For a slave who has been called in the Lord, is a freeman of the Lord; just as a freeman who has been called is a slave of Christ.  23 You have been bought with a price; do not become the slaves of men.  24 Brethren, in the state in which he was when called, let every man remain with God.

The State of Virginity  25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord, yet I give an opinion, as one having obtained mercy from the Lord to be trustworthy.  26 I think, then, that this is good on account of the present distress---that it is good for a man to remain as he is.  27 Art thou bound to a wife?  Do not seek to be freed.  Art thou freed from a wife?  Do not seek a wife. 28 But if thou takest a wife, thou hast not sinned.  And if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.  Yet such will have tribulation of the flesh.  But I spare you that.

29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short; it remains that those who have wives be as if they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though not weeping; and those who rejoice, as though not rejoicing; and those who buy, as though not possessing; 31 and those who use this world, as though not using it, for this world as we see it is passing away.  32 I would have you free from care.  He who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please God.  33 Whereas he who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife; and he is divided.  34 And the unmarried woman, and the virgin, thinks about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy in body and in spirit.  Whereas she who is married thinks about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  35 Now this I say for your benefit, not to hold you in check, but to promote what is proper, and to make it possible for you to pray to the Lord without distraction.

Duty of Father to Virgin Daughter  36* But if any man thinks that he incurs disgrace with regard to his virgin, since she is over age, and that it ought so to be done, let him do what he will; he does not sin if she should marry.  37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but is free to carry out his own will, and has decided to keep his virgin---he does well.  38 Therefore both he who gives his virgin in marriage does well, and he who does not give her does better.

Widows  39* A woman is bound as long as her husband is alive, but if her husband dies, she is free.  Let her marry whom she pleases, only let it be in the Lord.  40 But she will be more blessed, in my judgment, if she remains as she is.  And I think that I also have the spirit of God.


12: Not the Lord: not the express teaching of Christ during His earthly life, but a law made by the Apostles on the authority of Christ.  It is known as the "Pauline privilege."

14: Sanctified: an external sacredness deriving from membership in the Church of Christ or from close contact with it, as in marriage with a Christian.

36: Marriage was settled chiefly by the father, but not without consideration for the feelings and choice of the daughter.

39: In the Lord: i.e., in the body of Christ, the Church.  This can be taken as a general counsel to marriage within the Church.