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In Corinthians 7, Paul begins answering specific questions the Corinthians asked. The first question concerns the place of sexuality. Paul corrects their view that married people should be celibate.
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In 1Corinthians 7, Paul begins addressing issues which the Corinthians raised in a letter they wrote to him which we don’t have.
See: How many letters did Paul write to the Corinthians?
Up to this point, Paul was responding to issues raised by the verbal report he received about the situation in Corinth. Now he responds to questions they asked him.
The phrase “now concerning” signals that Paul is answering a new question. We see it in 7:1, 7:25, 8:1, 12:1,16:1 and 16:12.
Some of the questions come from the perspective of legitimately wanting to know what Paul thinks as opposed to a perspective of challenging his authority. This first issue in 7:1 is a genuine question.
What’s the question?
Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. – 1Corinthians 7:1
How you understand the question Paul is answering makes a large difference in how you interpret this passage. Broadly speaking, the three main options are:
- Option 1: No, I (Paul) disagree. The Corinthians asked something to the effect of: “if it feels good do it, right?” Paul disagrees and responds, no, it’s not good for a man to touch a woman.
- Option 2: Yes, I (Paul) agree. The Corinthians decided everyone would be better off if we abstain from sexuality altogether. Paul answers, yes, that’s my perspective too, it’s not good for a man to touch a woman.
- Option 3: Yes & no. Regarding this conclusion you have reached that is is not good for a man to touch a woman, I (Paul) agree may be times when it is good for a man not to touch a woman, but you (Corinthians) have misunderstood the point.
Culture of the day
- Paul’s Greek culture held the idea that everything physical was dirty and evil while everything spiritual was clean and good.
- Since Corinthians culture claimed the physical is bad, new believers would struggle with how to square that view with their new Christian faith.
- If culture tells me the body is evil and the spirit is good, I can conclude either: 1) it doesn’t matter what I do with my body (which is the issue Paul just addressed); or 2) I must deny my body at all costs to avoid sin (which is the issue he turns to now).
7:1Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6But this I say by way of concession, not of command. – 1Corinthians 7:1-6
- This phrase “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” can refer either to being married or to having sexual relations. Context determines which.
- I think the context makes more sense if you presume Paul is NOT addressing the question if you’re single should you get married, but rather Paul is addressing the question, if you are married, should you have sexual relations.
- Paul is addressing a situation where one person in the marriage has decided he/she is too spiritual for sexuality, making the other person in the marriage involuntarily celibate.
- “Stop depriving on another” in 7:5 indicates that this is the issue.
See the previous podcast for a definition of Biblical marriage
Further Study: 01 The 3 Commitments of Marriage (Genesis 2)
Paul is NOT saying
Notice what Paul is doing and what Paul is not doing:
- Paul emphasizes my obligation to fulfill my commitments. I myself have an obligation to my spouse because of the commitments I have made. I myself do not have the right to take back the promise I made to my spouse.
- Paul is NOT saying I have the right to demand that my spouse give me whatever I want whenever I want it. He is not saying I have the right to place demands on my spouse to do whatever I want my spouse to do or not do.
- Nothing in what Paul says can be used as a weapon in a marriage and it should not be taken to mean I can make demands on my spouse.
Concession & Clarification
7:5Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6But this I say by way of concession, not of command. – 1Corinthians 7:5-6
- Paul is talking to people who claim: “I’m so spiritually enlightened, I am now above sexuality.”
- He concedes: “If you happen to think that abstaining from sexuality enhances your relationship from God somehow, you could have a short period of abstinence for the purpose of devoting yourself to God.”
- But Paul gives 2 conditions and a clarification: 1) Both spouses have to agree that the abstinence is a good thing; and 2) the abstinence must end.
- 7:6 clarifies that he does not agree with this view, but he’s making a concession.
Because of immoralities
7:2But because of immoralities, ….. 7:5… so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
- “immoralities” in 7:2 it is plural fornication (πορνεία (porneia); Strong’s G4202). We have seen it in: 5:1, 5:10, 5:11, 6:9, 6:13, 6:18.
- How does this lack of self-control figure in Paul’s argument?
- My best guess: In a culture where visiting a temple prostitute is acceptable and regularly practiced, the result of one spouse ending their physical relationship would most likely be more visits to the prostitutes.
- Paul’s point is look at how this situation has been working out in your group so far. You are not accomplishing what you think you are accomplishing. This attitude has not resulted in increasing spiritual purity; it’s resulted in increasing sexual immorality. Rather than making yourselves more holy, you are putting yourself and your spouse in a place where you are truly vulnerable and likely to sin.
If my understanding is right, Paul is expressing a highly positive view of marriage and sexuality with a strong emphasis on mutual love and respect.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.
Next: 18 1Corinthians 7:7-9 To the widowed
Previous: 16 1Corinthians 6:15-20 Glorify God in your body
Series: 1 Corinthians: Pride & Prejudice in the church
Study: 1Corinthians Resources
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