Lesson 3
Part I: Addressing the Community's Problems Continued
Chapters 5-6
Part II: Answers to the Corinthians' Questions
Chapter 7

Lord God,
We know that pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Pride is deadly because it can make us insensitive to our failings, blind to the truth, and hinder the path to repentance. Pride can become a bridge to other deadly sins, becoming an excuse for a perverse belief in our own excellence, in despising others, and thinking one knows more even that God. Protect us from the perverse pride that becomes a form of self-worship or self-deification, that which is at the root of all sin. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

+ + +

Just as the sin of one person contaminates many, if it is not dealt with once it is known, so also does the sin of the many who know what is happening and either do not turn away from it or pretend that they have not noticed it. Sin does not look like sin if it is not corrected or avoided by anybody.
Ambrosiaster, Commentary on Paul's Epistles

In Chapters 5-6, Paul addresses moral disorders within the Corinthian faith community.

  1. Paul's ruling on a case of incest (5:1-13).
  2. The question of Christians bringing lawsuits to secular courts (6:1-11).
  3. Keeping holy physical bodies that are members of Christ's Body (6:12-20).

Chapters 5: Cleansing the Community

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ~ Judging a Case of Incest

1 It is widely reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of a kind not found even among pagans: a man living with his father's wife. 2 And you are inflated with pride [puffed up with pride]. Should you not rather have been sorrowful? The one who did this deed should be expelled from your midst. 3 I, for my part, although absent in body but present in spirit, have already, as if present, pronounced judgment on the one who has committed this deed, 4 in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: when you have gathered together and I am with you in spirit with the power of the Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

St. Paul takes on other serious problems in the Corinthian community. The first issue he addresses is immorality. It has come to Paul's attention that a case of incest has gone unchallenged among them. A professing Christian man is living in an incestuous union with his mother (step-mother). Paul is shocked that the Corinthian community has not denounced the man, and he comments that it is a sin that is even the sexually immoral Gentile population condemns. The underlying theme of 5:1-13 is the separation of the holy from the unholy and recalls Yahweh's command to Israel in Leviticus 11:44-45, For I, the LORD [Yahweh], am your God; and you shall make and keep yourselves holy, because I am holy ... you shall be holy, because I am holy.

Question: What was the law in Leviticus 18:7-8, 20:11 and Deuteronomy 27:20 concerning sexual relations between a man and his father's wife?
Answer: A man was forbidden to have sexual relations with his father's wife. The penalty for committing this form of incest was death for both the man and the woman.

That Paul accuses the community of being "puffed up with pride" suggests they not only know about the incest but tolerate it because they consider themselves so spiritually advanced that what is done "in the flesh" does not affect them spiritually.

Question: Is what Paul writes in this passage about judging the man as a sinner a contradiction of Jesus' teaching in Matthew 7:1-5 and Lk 6:37-42?
Answer: No. Jesus does not teach that we should never judge if a person is in sin but only that we should first see to our failings, or we are:
1. being hypocritical,
2. we cannot present an effective correction, and
3. we will receive a more severe judgment from God for the sins we have failed to confess.

Question: Why is judging another person's sins when you are guilty of sins a serious matter?
Answer: The judgmental sinner will receive a more severe judgment not because he judged another but because in recognizing the other person's sin he condemns himself by demonstrating that he is not ignorant of sin but understands what is and isn't sinful.

Paul wrote more on this subject in Romans 2:1-16. As far as judgment is concerned, we are not to judge whether a person is destined for Heaven or Hell because that is God's prerogative. However, we are commanded to identify and judge sin to avoid its temptations and to protect the faith community. Judging sin is for the sake of the sinner and the sake of the continued holy Christian witness of the community, as Paul will make clear in verses 12-13.

Question: What did Jesus say about judging sin within the community in Matthew 18:15-18?
Answer: Jesus gave a three-step plan to deal with sin within the faith community:

  1. Privately go to the fellow Christian and tell him his fault.
  2. If he does not listen, take one or two other Christians with you as witnesses and speak to him again.
  3. If he still refuses, go to the priest, and if he refuses the authority of the Church, avoid him as a sinner.

Question: What judgment does Paul give concerning the man having an immoral relationship with his father's wife (stepmother) in verse 1?
Answer: He must be excommunicated (cast out) from the community.

The word "excommunication" is from the Latin ex, "out of," and communion or communication, "communion"; it means exclusion from communion with the faithful.
Excommunication was also a penalty in the Sinai Covenant. There were several offenses that required excommunication, including any person who violated the laws of the Holiness Code pertaining to the sanctity of sex (Lev 18:1-30; see verse 29, Everyone who does any of these abominations shall be cut off from among his people.

Excommunication is an ecclesiastical censure by which excludes a person from communion with the faithful. There are two basic forms of excommunication legislated by the Code of Canon Law: inflicted penalties (ferendae sententiae) and automatic penalties (latae sententiae). In the first type, a penalty does not bind until after it has been imposed on the guilty party. In the second type, the excommunication is incurred by the very commission of the offense, if the law or precept expressly determines this (Canon 1314). Among other offenses identified by the new code are:

  1. "An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs automatic excommunication" (Canon 1364).
  2. "A person who throws away the consecrated species or takes them or retains them for a sacrilegious purpose incurs an automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See" (Canon 1367).
  3. "A confessor who directly violates the seal of confession incurs an automatic excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See" (Canon 1388).
  4. "A person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic excommunication" (Canon 1398).

There are three principal effects of the penalty, so that "An excommunicated person is forbidden:

  1. To have any ministerial participation in celebrating the Eucharistic Sacrifice or in any other ceremonies whatsoever of public worship.
  2. To celebrate the sacraments and sacramentals and to receive the sacraments.
  3. To discharge any ecclesiastical offices, ministeries or functions whatsoever, or to place acts of governance."

    (Canon 1331; Catholic Dictionary, "excommunication," page 137; CCC 1463).

Despite the fact that Paul is not present in the community (verses 3-4), he makes this judgment with the authority that Christ gave the ministers of the Church to bind and loose sins (Mt 18:18; Jn 20:22-23). The community must deliver this judgment in union with Paul who will be present "in spirit." This judgment is an apostolic decision made with a divine sanction.

5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.
"To deliver this man to Satan" is another way of pronouncing the man's excommunication. As a citizen of Jesus' Kingdom of the Church, this man received a certain right of sanctuary from Satan because the Church and its members are the Temple of God and the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16). To be cast out of the community and into the world is to deprive that person of divine protection and to make him vulnerable to Satan who is the "prince of the world" (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; Eph 2:2-6; 6:12; 1 Jn 5:19). It is something God allows in punishment, the purpose of which is to call a fallen Christian to repentance and restoration (see 1 Tim 1:20).

1 Corinthians 5:6-13 ~ The Corrupting Power of Sin
6 Your boasting is not appropriate. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? 7 Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, [For our Passover] has been sacrificed. 8 Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 9 I wrote you not to associate with immoral people, 10 not at all referring to the immoral of this world or the greedy and robbers or idolaters; for you would then have to leave the world. 11 But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person. 12 For why should I be judging outsiders? Is it not your business to judge those within? 13 God will judge those outside. "Purge the evil person from your midst."
[...] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 457.

Paul accused the community of being inflated with pride in 4:18, and he makes the claim that their excessive pride has the effect of diminishing their ability to recognize sin. Perhaps the community is living under the false belief of "eternal security," a false doctrine professing that once one is "saved" through Baptism that sin does not matter because it cannot separate a baptized believer from his eternal salvation. The truth is that the failure to repent mortal sin can separate a Baptized person from the hope of Heaven (CCC 1033, 1035).

In verse 6b-7a, Paul uses yeast/leaven as a metaphor for sin and corruption, just as Jesus did in Matthew 16:6 when He warned the disciples about the "leaven" of the Pharisees and Sadducees. A small amount of yeast produces fermentation and causes dough to swell double or triple its original size. It is a descriptive symbol for a source of corruption that becomes all pervasive like sin infecting and spreading among the members of the congregation.

7 Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, [For our Passover] has been sacrificed.
"Clear out the old yeast" refers to purging the community of sin so it can be restored to holiness. In the Greek text, the words "lamb" and "Christ" are not found. The text literally reads: "For the Passover of us sacrificed for us," or "For our Passover is sacrificed for us." Nowhere in the original Greek is the word "Passover" ever followed by the word "lamb" since the Passover victims could be either a lamb or a goat kid (Ex 12:5). Jesus fulfilled all the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant. The Passover sacrifice remembered "death" passing over the houses of the Israelites protected by the sign of the blood of the sacrificed victim from the threshold, over the door and lintels in the form of a cross over Israelite houses (Ex 12:22). It is the same way in which the blood of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross covers the sins of baptized Christians. Death "passes over" us since we are no longer subject to the curse of death in the promise of our resurrection with Christ; we live under the "sign of the Cross" (see 1 Cor 1:23).

In the Old Covenant liturgical calendar, the Feast of Passover, when the goat-kids and lambs were sacrificed in remembrance of the first Passover in Egypt (Ex 12:5), fell on the 14th of Nisan. Passover was immediately followed by the seven-day "pilgrim feast" of Unleavened Bread. The pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread began after sundown on the day of the sacrifice, which was the beginning of the 15th, and lasting until just before sundown on the 21st.(1) On the first night of Unleavened Bread at sundown, every man of the covenant (and often whole families) presented himself to take part in the sacred meal of the Passover victim. According to the Law, all men of the covenant also attended the Sacred Assembly at the Temple on the first and last daytime liturgical services of the festival on the 15th and the 21st. For seven days, no Jewish homes had any leaven or any bread with leaven, and the people only bread ate unleavened bread as a sign of the rejection of sin and the holiness of the people (Ex 12:14-20).

For Paul, these two feasts are symbolic of Christ: His arrest after the sacred meal of the Passover victims on the first night of Unleavened Bread and His crucifixion the next day. Jesus' death is the true Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread is the beginning of the life of the Church "a holy people who reject sin in all its forms. Jesus' Resurrection was on the first day of the Holy Week of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (our Sunday) that was the Jewish Feast of Firstfruits.(2)

9 I wrote you not to associate with immoral people, 10 not at all referring to the immoral of this world or the greedy and robbers or idolaters; for you would then have to leave the world. 11 But I now write to you not to associate with anyone named a brother, if he is immoral, greedy, an idolater, a slanderer, a drunkard, or a robber, not even to eat with such a person.
Here Paul clarifies the point he made about not associating with immoral people. He means immoral fellow Christians, not the immoral in the general population that are impossible to avoid. In verse 11, Paul lists six kinds of sinful "brothers" to avoid in addition to those who are sexually immoral like the man mentioned earlier. He will provide a longer list in 6:9-10.

12 For why should I be judging outsiders? Is it not your business to judge those within? 13 God will judge those outside.
Question: What is the answer to the question Paul asks in verse 12?
Answer: The answer is "Yes, it is our business to judge those within the Church!"

It is the Corinthians' responsibility to maintain the holiness of the community and their Christian witness. Therefore, it is their duty to judge sinful behavior within the Corinthian church.

Question: But what does Paul write concerning sinners outside the Church?
Answer: He writes that their sins are not our responsibility; leave them to God's judgment.

The conduct of those outside the Church is the responsibility of the civil authorities. In Romans 2:12-16, Paul writes that "those who sin outside the law [of the Church] will also perish without reference to it and all who sin under the law will be judged in accordance with it." At the end of our earthly existence, God will judge all humanity, Christians and non-Christians, but God will judge non-believers who never heard the Gospel according to the natural law of their consciences that God put in the heart of every human being (Rom 2:12-16).

Paul makes one final point concerning unrepentant sinners within the community and writes: "Purge the evil person from your midst." The phrase "purge this evil from your midst" is in Deuteronomy 13:6 (referring to idolatry) and in 22:21, 22 and 24 (referring to sexual immorality).

The Church is the "sinless Bride of Christ," but the irony is that she full of sinners who are constantly turning away from sin and back to God. The Church, as Christ's Bride, has the obligation to do all she can to maintain her holiness and purity through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so that one day she will be ready to receive her Bridegroom when He comes to collect her in His Second Advent (Rev 19:6-8).

Chapter 6: Lawsuits and Moral Disorders

1 Corinthians 6:1-6 ~ Settle Disputes at Home
1 How can any one of you with a case against another dare to bring it to the unjust for judgment instead of to the holy ones? 2 Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you unqualified for the lowest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? Then why not everyday matters? 4 If, therefore, you have courts for everyday matters, do you seat as judges people of no standing in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Can it be that there is not one among you wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers? 6 But rather brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers?

In verses 1-6, St. Paul delivers a barrage eight rhetorical questions. The phrase "Do you not know" appears fifteen times in Paul's letters and six times in this chapter (6:2, 3, 9, 15, 16 and 19).

  1. How can any one of you with a case against another dare to bring it to the unjust for judgment instead of to the holy ones?
  2. Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world?
  3. If the world is to be judged by you, are you unqualified for the lowest law courts?
  4. Do you not know that we will judge angels?
  5. Then why not everyday matters?
  6. If, therefore, you have courts for everyday matters, do you seat as judges people of no standing in the church?
  7. Can it be that there is not one among you wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers?
  8. But rather brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers?

The Corinthian Christians are taking each other to the civil law courts to settle disputes between members of the community. "The unjust" and "people of no standing" Paul refers to are the secular judges, infamous for bribery and corruption.
Question: Who are the "holy ones" (saints) to whom they should bring their disputes?
Answer: The "holy ones" are members of the Christian community, sanctified by the blood of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism.

Jesus gave instructions on how to deal with problems between covenant members in Matthew 18:15-20, and the Corinthian Christians have obviously not followed those instructions (see the list of those instructions in the discussion of chapter 5 in this lesson).

Question: What does Paul mean when he writes: 2 Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? See Mt 19:28 and Dan 7:22, 27.
Answer: The saints, those consecrated in the blood of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Baptism, who are themselves judged worthy to enter Heaven will have the privilege of sharing with Christ in the Final Judgment of the Resurrected dead. The Twelve Apostles will judge the descendants of Jacob-Israel, and it follows that other Christian saints will judge other nations. It is the judgment by the "holy ones" prophesied in the Book of Daniel.

If the world is to be judged by you, are you unqualified for the lowest law courts? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? Then why not everyday matters?
Paul makes his argument against taking the disputes of Christians to secular judges by saying if God judges them qualified to judge the world can't they have confidence in themselves to judge their own disputes? The angels they will judge are probably the angels who fell from God's grace with Satan, who was once an angel (see Heb 2:5-9; Rev 12:9).

Can it be that there is not one among you wise enough to be able to settle a case between brothers? 6 But rather brother goes to court against brother, and that before unbelievers?
In taking their disputes to secular judges, Paul accuses them of acting like pagans and not like Christians.

1 Corinthians 6:7-11 ~ The Demands of a Holy Community
7 Now indeed then, it is, in any case, a failure on your part that you have lawsuits against one another. Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather let yourselves be cheated? 8 Instead, you inflict injustice and cheat, and this to brothers. 9 Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

Having lawsuits against New Covenant brothers and sisters is another example of their failure in unity.
Question: Instead of having lawsuits against one another, what does Paul suggest in verse 7?
Answer: He suggests it would be better just to forgive the brother who offended or cheated them.

In their vain attempt to get right an injustice that they feel they have suffered, Paul accuses them trying to unjustly seek vengeance against a "brother."
Question: Then Paul gives what serious warning concerning the "unjust"?
Answer: He says someone who behaves unjustly will not inherit the "Kingdom of God," referring to eternal salvation.

In verses 9-10, Paul lists ten sins that disqualify one from entering the gates of Heaven. Compare this list with Paul's other lists of sins that could cost a person their eternal salvation in Romans 1:26-27, 29-30; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Ephesians 5:5; 1 Timothy 1:10 and Hebrews 13:4.

1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Fornication is sex between a man and a woman who are not validly married, although they are free to marry. It is a mortal sin (CCC 1755, 1852, 2353). Our sexuality is one of our first gifts from God (Gen 1:28), but it was a gift given in the context of marriage (Gen 2:21-24). Living in holiness in the image of God and the likeness of Jesus Christ, we are to remain celibate before marriage, and if widowed we are to remain celibate unless we marry again.

11 That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Question: Paul writes that some members of the community were at one time guilty of the same sins. However, they are no longer numbered among the wicked for what three reasons?
Answer: They have been "washed," "sanctified," and "justified."

"Washed" is a reference to their Baptism. They were "sanctified" or made holy in the Sacrament of Baptism, and in that sacrament, they were "justified," the process of a sinner being "made right with God" in the name of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

The Council of Trent states: "Justification is the change from the condition in which a person is born as a child of the first Adam into a state of grace and adoption among the children of God through the Second Adam, Jesus Christ our Savior" (Denzinger 1545-63; also see CCC 1987, 1989, 1991-2).

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 ~ The Body of the Baptized is the Temple of the Holy Spirit
12 "Everything is lawful for me," but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is lawful for me," but I will not let myself be dominated by anything. 13 Food for the stomach and the stomach for food," but God will do away with both the one and the other. The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; 14 God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take Christ's members and make them the members of a prostitute? Of course not 16 Or do you not know that anyone who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? 17 But whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him. 18 Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.

Paul uses the phrase "Everything is lawful for me," twice in verse 12. However, he is not referring to himself but to what the Corinthian Christians say about themselves. They probably took this saying from one of Paul's homilies about Christian freedom, but they are using it as an excuse for bad behavior. They consider sexual satisfaction as normal a bodily function as eating food, and they attach no lasting significance to gaining satisfaction (13a). Food and bodily needs and satisfactions will pass with their mortal lives because the material is not immortal. The body only becomes immortal in the resurrection of the just at the end of time when Jesus returns (verse 14 and 1 Cor 15:42-44, 50-58).

Question: Paul will deal with their misapplication of the slogan, and he will summarize his teaching by making what two qualifications that he repeats 10:23.

Answer: Paul writes that 1: not everything is beneficial, and 2. nor should they let anything dominate them (other than Christ).

Paul's point is that not everything is "lawful" for Christians, even if it is "lawful" in the secular world, and not everything is beneficial to the Christians' spiritual growth or the Christians' witness to the world. These are two statements every Christian should reflect upon before committing to any action.

The problem is that the Corinthian Christians were not acknowledging that sexual sins are a profanity against their union with the Most Holy Trinity because the baptized Christian's body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Today the acceptance of the sin of fornication continues to be a profound problem in the Church among some professing Christians, especially young people. In this passage, St. Paul condemns the sin of fornication (sexual relations outside the Sacrament of Marriage) and explains the gravity of sexual sins as an offense to our union with Jesus Christ.

Question: What point is Paul making about becoming "one Spirit" with Christ in verses 17-20? Also see Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 3:16-17; 12:27; and Gal 2:20.
Answer: He reminds the Corinthians that, in the Sacrament of Christian Baptism, they are reborn to new life in Christ with their bodies transformed into temples (dwelling places) of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16-17). They become members of Christ's Body and are meant to live in an intimate relationship of holiness with Him, sharing His life (Gal 2:20) and being "one spirit" with Christ (Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:27).

In the Sacrament of Baptism, believers have not only joined their lives to Christ spiritually but also bodily, and, therefore, they have the responsibility to keep holy the temples of their bodies. They have no right to abuse and corrupt their bodies with sins of immorality, because their bodies have been purchased with the very blood of Christ (verse 20) and with the promise that, like Christ, their bodies (and ours) will be resurrected "on the last day" when Christ returns (1 Cor 15:35-42, 51-53; 1 Thes 4:13-16; Universal Catechism # 366).

Part II: Answers to the Corinthians' Questions

Chapter 7: Marriage, Divorce, and Celibacy/Virginity

In the second part of his letter, Paul begins to answer the questions the community sent in the letter from Chloe's household (1:11) in three sections in 7:1-11:1.
Section I: Paul answers questions concerning marriage and virginity/celibacy (7:1-40)

  1. Advice to the married (7:1-7).
  2. Advice to the unmarried and widows (7:8-11, 39-40).
  3. Advice on divorce (7:12-16).
  4. Advice that applies to both the married and unmarried (7:17-24).
  5. Advice to virgins and widows (7:25-38).

In Section II, Paul answers questions concerning eating sacrifices offered to idols (8:1-10:13).

  1. Concerning meat sacrificed to idols (8:1-6).
  2. Practical rules concerning the practice (8:7-13).
  3. Being aware of your Christian witness in the practice of eating meat sacrifices to idols (9:1-10:13).

Section III: Paul gives warnings about idol worship (10:14-11:1).

  1. Avoiding idolatry (10:14-22).
  2. What is lawful versus what is beneficial (10:23-11:1).

This part of Paul's letter is like listening to one side of a telephone conversation. We only read Paul's answers to the Corinthian community's questions. We don't hear the question so we have to make some assumptions. In the first section, Paul is apparently addressing two different groups with opposing views on sexual matters in the Corinthian church (7:1): one group is actively practicing sexual sins, and the other group advocates asceticism in sexual matters. Paul writes that both groups are in error. He writes that some of the advice is his opinion and other advice is from "the Lord."

1 Corinthians 7:1-7 ~ Advice to the Married
1 Now in regard to the matters about which you wrote: "It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman," 2 but because of cases of immorality every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his duty toward his wife, and likewise the wife toward her husband. 4 A wife does not have authority over her own body, but rather her husband, and similarly a husband does not have authority over his own body, but rather his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control. 6 This is said by way of concession, however, not as a command. 7 Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

Some in the community are apparently advocating for total celibacy among believers: 1 Now in regard to the matters about which you wrote: "It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman..." Paul responds that he advocates the celibate and his comments in verses 7-8 suggest he is celibate. Perhaps some Christians who admire him want the community to imitate his celibate lifestyle. While Paul will encourage the celibate life, he calls the community to a better perspective of their gifts and limitations.

Question: What point does Paul make about intimate relations between a husband and wife?
Answer: He emphasizes that the sexual side of their relationship must be based on a self-giving of one to the other and not on selfish concerns. The wife's body belongs to her husband, and his body belongs to his wife.

6 This is said by way of concession, however, not as a command.
Paul is probably referring to the concession he mentioned in verse 5a in the temporary interruption of marital relations for a legitimate reason.

7 Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift [charisma] from God, one of one kind and one of another.
Paul uses the Greek word charisma, suggesting that the choice between marriage and celibacy should be viewed in the context of spiritual gifts from God (see Paul's teaching on the theology of spiritual gifts in Chapters 12-14). Paul received the spiritual gift of celibacy, but he recognizes that not everyone received the same call.

1 Corinthians 7:8-11 ~ Advice to the Unmarried and Widows
8 Now to the unmarried and to widows I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire. 10 To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the Lord): a wife should not separate from her husband, 11 and if she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband, and a husband should not divorce his wife.

Paul reaffirms Jesus' teaching on divorce and the sanctity of marriage in Matthew 19:1-9 and Mark 10:9-12. In Paul's statement: it is better to marry than to be on fire or in some translations "it is better to marry than to burn" (with desire). However, Paul might also be referring to the danger of a person who is not called to the celibate life becoming enmeshed in sexual sins that could cost him his eternal salvation and condemn him to the "fires" of Hell.

In that same passage as Jesus' teaching on marriage in Matthew 19, when He upheld the sanctity of marriage and opposed divorce except in cases of moral unfitness, Jesus also refers to those called to the celibate life for the "sake of the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt 19:12). Jesus was not issuing a command but an invitation, and it was an invitation Paul embraced and recommended.(3)

1 Corinthians 7:12-16 ~ Paul's Advice on the Question of Divorce
12 To the rest I say (not the Lord): if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is willing to go on living with him, he should not divorce her; 13 and if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he is willing to go on living with her, she should not divorce her husband. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother. Otherwise your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy. 15 If the unbeliever separates, however, let him separate. The brother or sister is not bound in such cases; God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband; or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

"To the rest" refers to marriages in which only one person in the marriage converted and is a baptized Christian but their spouse remains a non-believer.
Question: What is Paul's opinion of a Christian divorcing a spouse who is a non-believer?
Answer: If the non-believer is willing to stay in the marriage, they should remain married in the hope that the good example of the Christian will bring the spouse to conversion and salvation. However, if the non-believer abandons the marriage, the Christian is not bound to the marriage.

14b Otherwise your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy.
Paul seems to be saying that the holiness of the believing parent confers a certain blessing of holiness upon the children. Being a member in good standing of the Body of Christ, gives any children in the marriage a degree of protection from the sinful, "unclean" outer world.

Paul's opinion in verse 16 is called "the Pauline privilege" in the case of a member of the Church appealing for an annulment from a marriage with a non-believer who has abandoned the marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:17-24 ~ Continuing in the Physical State as Before Conversion 17 Only, everyone should live as the Lord has assigned, just as God called each one, I give this order in all the churches. 18 Was someone called after he had been circumcised? He should not try to undo his circumcision. Was an uncircumcised person called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision means nothing, and uncircumcision means nothing; what matters is keeping God's commandments. 20 Everyone should remain in the state in which he was called. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Do not be concerned but, even if you can gain your freedom, make the most of it. 22 For the slave called in the Lord is a freed person in the Lord, just as the free person who has been called is a slave of Christ. 23 You have been purchased at a price. Do not become slaves to human beings. 24 Brothers, everyone should continue before God in the state in which he was called.

Paul's advice in this part of his letter is divided into advice concerning circumcision, the sacramental sign of the old Abrahamic and Sinai Covenants (Gen 17:9-14; Lev 12:3), and the condition of slaves.

In his instruction concerning circumcision, Paul upholds the teaching of the Church at the Council of Jerusalem, the "proto Ecumenical Council of the Church" in 49/50 AD (Acts 15:1-29). Some Jewish members of the Jerusalem church were telling Gentile Christians they were not saved if they were not circumcised (Acts 15:1).

Question: What was the decision of the Council concerning imposing requirements of the Sinai Covenant upon Gentile Christians in the letter the Apostles sent out to the mixed Jewish and Gentile Christian churches? See Acts 15:23-29.
Answer: Circumcision was not a requirement for entrance into the New Covenant with Christ. Gentile candidates for baptism were only required to abstain from eating meat sacrificed to idols, from drinking blood, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage.

Question: Paul's teaching is that circumcision of the flesh means nothing. Why does it mean nothing in the New Covenant in Christ and what sign replaced it? See Paul's teachings in Rom 2:25-29, Gal 5:6 and 6:15.
Answer: Circumcision of the flesh is replaced by circumcision of the heart when the baptized believer becomes a new creation in the Sacrament of Baptism.

Question: What is Paul's advice to slaves?
Answer: He tells them not to be concerned over their status as slaves of other men. With His blood on the Altar of the Cross, Jesus purchased their freedom. They are free citizens who serve Christ's Kingdom of the Church; slaves or free men and women are equals as slaves/servants of Christ.

1 Corinthians 7:25-38 ~ Paul's Advice to Virgins and His Approval of the Celibate Life
25 Now in regard to virgins I have no commandment from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. 26 So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife. 28 If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that. 29 I tell you, brothers, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them, 30 those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, 31 those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away. 32 I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. 33 But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction. 36 If anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, and if a critical moment has come and so it has to be, let him do as he wishes. He is committing no sin; let them get married. 37 The one who stands firm in his resolve, however, who is not under compulsion but has power over his own will, and has made up his mind to keep his virgin, will be doing well. 38 So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better.

The key to understanding Paul's personal advice (verse 25) is what he writes in verses 25 and 29: because of the present distress ... I tell you, brothers, the time is running out and verse 31: For the world in its present form is passing away. It appears that Christian persecution is increasing and that Paul, like many early Christians, believes it is a sign that Christ's return is imminent and will occur within his lifetime. He believes that Christians should divest themselves of all earthly concerns to prepare for Christ's Second Advent.

A few years earlier, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote about the Second Advent of Christ: Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore, console one another with these words (1 Thes 4:15-18). He wrote to the Thessalonians about the hope for the Parousia ("coming") of the Lord (1 Thes 4:13-18) and also on the need for preparedness (1 Thes 5:1-3).

Writing in the spring of 57 AD, St. Paul tells the Corinthians (7:25) that he has no direction from the Lord in these matters but is giving his own opinion. It was his opinion, in the current time of intense persecution of Christians and an uncertain future, that it is best for Christians to remain as they are: the married to stay married and the celibate to remain celibate (7:26-28).

Paul also expresses the opinion in our passage, if one is called to devote his or her life to the Lord, that it is a commitment that is better achieved in a state of celibacy so as not to have a heart that is divided between the Lord and family obligations. In Matthew chapter 19, Jesus also raised the question of a consecrated celibacy when He said: Some are incapable of marriage ... because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it" (Mt 19:12). It is for this reason that the Latin Rite of the Church has requested, as a discipline of greater devotion, a celibate priesthood: "All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.' Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to the affairs of the Lord,' they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God" (CCC 1579 quoting Mt 19:12 and 1 Cor 7:32). These men live in imitation of Christ who was Himself celibate. The Church also welcomes the service of consecrated virgins who live together in a life of chastity in service to God and man in imitation of the Virgin Mary who was a virgin all of her life (CCC 1579, 1599; 1618-20; for Eastern Rites see CCC 1580).

1 Corinthians 7:39-40 ~ Paul's Advice to Widows
39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whomever she wishes, provided that it be in the Lord. 40 She is more blessed, though in my opinion, if she remains as she is, and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

While Paul has not condemned marriage to non-Christians and writes that "a wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives," he prefers that she remarries another Christian who is also "in the Lord." However, in his opinion, he thinks it is better for her to remain a widow.

and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
Paul knows that his opinions are controversial, but this line suggests he believes his opinion is valid advice because he speaks with the authority of the Spirit of God.

Paul will make an adjustment in his opinion about widows remaining celibate in his first letter to Saint Timothy. Writing about a decade later (between 63-67), and perhaps realizing that Christ's return in not imminent, Paul decides it is better for young widows to remarry. He writes it is better for their support and protection, and marriage will give them a satisfying commitment in life. To discourage remarriage, he writes, could drive a young widow away from the church: So I would like younger widows to marry, have children, and manage a home, so as to give the adversary no pretext for maligning us. For some have already turned away to follow Satan. If any woman believer has widowed relatives, she must assist them; the church is not to be burdened, so that it will be able to help those who are truly widows (1 Tim 5:14-16).

Questions for group discussion:
In 1 Corinthian 6:1-6, Paul writes about how we present our identity as Christians to the secular world. How does being a professing Christian and belonging to the family of the Church affect your identity? Which identity is primary to you: your secular identity as a citizen of a country or your spiritual identity as a member of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and a future citizen of Heaven? How do you preserve your Christian identity in the secular world?

1. For the command to celebrate the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread, see Leviticus 23:4-11 and Numbers 28:16-25. Unleavened Bread is designated a pilgrim feast that every man of the covenant must attend in Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr 8:13. A Jewish slave or a family member or friend could bring the Passover sacrifice to the Temple ceremony (Mishnah: Pesahim, 8:1-8:4). See the book Jesus and the Mystery of the Tamid Sacrifice chapter VII.

1. For the command to keep the Feast of Firstfruits on the day after the Sabbath (Saturday), during the Holy Week of Unleavened Bread, see Leviticus 23:9-14. This festival observance was the day Jesus arose from the dead as the "Firstfruits" of the Resurrected dead. Firstfruits is the only one of the annual seven feasts in which the Law required a single, unblemished male lamb offered in sacrifice on the Temple altar with a grain offering (Lev 23:12). On other feast days, there were offerings of multiple lambs. See the chart on the Old Covenant Seven Annual Sacred Feasts and their New Testament fulfillments.

1. Some Biblical scholars, ancient and modern, think Paul was previously married and when widowed embraced the celibate lifestyle. However, there is no evidence to either support or reject this view.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2017 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (*indicates that Scripture is quoted in the citation):

1 Cor 5:1-10 CCC 1971* 1 Cor 6:15-16 CCC 796*
1 Cor 5:1-5 CCC 2388-89 1 Cor 6:15 CCC 1265*
1 Cor 5:2 CCC 1463 1 Cor 6:19-20 CCC 364*, 1004
1 Cor 5:4-5 CCC 2388 1 Cor 6:19 CCC 1265*, 1269, 1695*
1 Cor 5:6-8 CCC 129* 1 Cor 7:10-11 CCC 2364*, 2382*
1 Cor 5:7 CCC 608*, 610*, 613* 1 Cor 7:14 CCC 1637
1 Cor 5:9-13 CCC 1861 1 Cor 7:16 1637*
1 Cor 5:11 CCC 1470* 1 Cor 7:26 CCC 672
1 Cor 5:13 CCC 943 1 Cor 7:31 CCC 1619*
1 Cor 6:1 CCC 823* 1 Cor 7:32 CCC 1579*, 1618*
1 Cor 6:9-10 CCC 1755, 1852*, 2353, 2380 1 Cor 7:34-36 CCC 922*
1 Cor 6:10 CCC 2357*, 2450 1 Cor 7:34-35 CCC 506*
1 Cor 6:11 CCC 693, 1227*, 1452, 1695, 1987, 1989, 1991-2, 2813
1 Cor 6:13-15 CCC 1004 1 Cor 7:39 CCC 1602
1 Cor 6:14 CCC 989* 1 Cor 7:40 CCC 693
1 Cor 6:15-20 CCC 2355* Mt 19:1-12 2364*, 1620*, 2382*, 1652, 2053*, 922, 1579, 1618