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Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 7

Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy ScriptureOrchard's Catholic Commentary

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Verses 1-40

VII is almost wholly devoted to matters connected with marriage. There is none of the sharpness of the last three chapters. The tone is rather matter-of-fact except for two somewhat digressive passages (vv 17-24, 29-32) which are more animated. For Paul’s most impressive utterance on marriage we have to look elsewhere (Ephesians 5:22-33). But this is his longest passage and a most important one.

1-7 Marriage is Right and Natural —He answers a question in their recent letter, § 867b, c. Vv 1, 28 and 36 seem to show that some Corinthians were inclined to think marriage sinful, a false doctrine taught by many later heretics and usually connected with the oriental idea that matter is essentially evil. The Jewish Essenes seem to have held this view about marriage.

1. ’It is good’, etc. Paul’s words, not a quotation from the letter.

2. Permission, not command. ’For fear’, etc.: ’In consideration of the prevailing immorality’.

4. ’The wife has not absolute power . . . but her husband (shares her lower)’.

5. ’For your incontinency: ’On account of your want of self-control’.

6. ’This’: probably means all the last four verses.

7. ’Gift’: The word (charisma) means a special grace to carry out a good work, to consecrate to God a married life no less than a celibate life. See 12:1.

8-16 Separation, Divorce, and the Pauline Privilege — —He begins with a restatement of vv 1-2. 9. ’If the have not control over themselves’.’To be burnt’: ’To be on fire’. Refers to unlawful desire and the torturing struggle to resist it, not to hell, cf.2 Corinthians 11:29.

10-11. First he speaks of separation, which is discouraged, but allowed for grave reasons (adultery, cruelty, drunkenness, etc.), then makes it clear that the marriage cannot be dissolved.

11. ’If she does depart’. ’Put away’: i.e. divorce. He does not explicitly treat of cases where a husband desires separation.

12-16. A married pagan who becomes a Christian has the option of divorcing the other partner who still remains pagan, and will not live peaceably with the Christian. It only applies to unbaptized persons, and of course is useless if it clashes with civil law, as it would in many modern countries. (In ancient countries civil divorce was much easier than among us.) Although a divorce (not separation), it does not dissolve a sacramental marriage, for unbaptized persons cannot receive as acrament.

12. Omit ’for’. ’The rest’, i.e. those not included under 8 and 10, ’I say, not the Lord’: Paul had not heard of any pronouncement of Christ on this subject. It does not mean that the rule which follows is only a private opinion of Paul’s. He speaks as an apostle, authorized to decide in Christ’s name.

14. ’Sanctified by’ (better ’through’): a strong expression, for there can be no question of sanctifying grace; it can only mean that the unbeliever’s tolerance brings a blessing which will make his conversion easier. ’Should’: ’Would be’. Evidently the pagan partner allows the children to be brought up as Christians.

15. ’In peace’: ’It is to peace that God has called us’; i.e. the purpose of our conversion is to increase peace and harmony not to disturb it. ’Call’: same sense as in 1:2, 26, etc. 16. An equally probable translation is ’How knowest thou, O wife?—thou mayest save thy husband’ —to be taken closely with what precedes.

17-24 Conversion should cause only Necessary Changes, no more —Few passages show Paul’s solid commonsense so well. It is he who calls conversion a new birth, etc. The inevitable change caused by it was enormous, suppression of life-long habits and pursuit of an ideal unimagined before. But once that was secured, tolerance was to be shown to everything that was not wrong in itself, though perhaps liable to abuse. Therefore war, slavery, taxation, property, etc., are tolerated. Where sin is in question, Christianity brings ’not peace, but a sword’. But in all else ’it is to peace that God has called us’. Hence Christianity is at once revolutionary and conservative, and has been both praised and reviled under either name.

18. ’Called’: i.e. converted. ’Procure’, etc. Some Jews who wished to mix freely in pagan society (athletics, etc.) disguised their circumcision by a surgical operation—practically a denial of their religion.

19. ’Nothing’: an emphatic statement that the Jewish ceremonial laws had been abolished. ’But the observance . . . is everything’: he means all the commandments in force under Christianity.

20. ’Calling’: (note the double sense of ’call’) ’in the same state of life in which he was converted’.

21. ’Care not’: for a slave can be a perfect Christian. ’But if . . .’: best taken as a parenthesis ’(Yet, if you can obtain your freedom, choose that rather)’. Others think that Paul advises him to remain a slave even if he might be free. This seems an unreasonable demand: man’s desire for freedom is natural, and slavery might be a great obstacle to religion.

22. ’Freeman’:’Freedman’; emancipated slave.

23. ’Bought . . .’: same words as 6:20. Christ has now a greater right over the slaves than their masters have; therefore they must serve these masters chiefly for Christ’s sake: in this way they will not be ’slaves of men’. Paul’s great passages on masters and slaves are in Ephesians 6:5 f. and Colossians 3:22 f.

24. ’With God’: ’In God’s sight’.

25-40 For the Sake of God’s Service Celibacy is Preferable to Marriage —This is the main theme, but 29-32a have a wider scope and 36-38 deal with a special application, advice to a father about his daughters’ marriage.

25-28 Main Theme—25. ’Virgins’: i.e. probably unmarried girls. The Corinthians had asked for directions on this subject in their letter, § 867c, and Paul eventually gives them in 36-38. But he decides to use this opportunity to deal with the whole subject of celibacy and marriage. ’No commandment . . .’: see note on v 12 above. ’Faithful’: probably worthy of trust, i.e. ’as one whom God in his mercy has deemed worthy of trust’. The trust is the Apostolic office. Cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:4.

26. ’Because of the present distress’: for the meaning see v 29. ’So to be’: i.e. to be unmarried. ’Loosed from . . .: rather awkward expression for ’without a wife’, i.e. bachelor or widower. This and 33 show that he has both sexes in view.

28. ’Tribulation’: see 29. ’I spare you’: The ’I’ is emphatic. ’But I, for my part, would spare you (this tribulation)’; they would escape it if they took his advice.

29-32a The Need of Detachment from the World — Three reasons for this need seem to be in Paul’s mind: (1) The growing hostility of the pagan world. Hitherto only the Jews had been consistently hostile, but Paul probably foresaw bitter opposition from pagan masses and their governors. This is most likely the distress (26) and tribulation (28) already spoken of. An unmarried person is better able to bear persecution, rivate or public. (2) The possibility of an early econd Coming of Christ. Many non-Catholics believe that Paul was convinced that Christ would come in the next few years—a rash inference from passages like this one. He knew no more than we do, but whereas we unreasonably ignore the possibility, it was always vividly present to him. See his warning against too confident expectation of it (2 Thessalonians 2:1 f.) written some years before this. (3) The shortness and precariousness of human life. 29-31. Not a plea for neglecting earthly concerns, but for concentration on God’s service and for treating other things as of secondary but real) interest.

29. ’This is what I mean’.30. ’weep . . . rejoice’: i.e. men must take earthly sorrows and joys more lightly than they once did.

31. ’Like men who do not use it up’ (not like men who owned it and ’could never be deprive of it). ’Fashion’: splendour, pomp.32a. ’Solicitude’: the same word as Matthew 6:25, ’Be not solicitous for your life . . .’.

32b-35 Continuation of the Main Theme —He now applies the ideas of the last few verses to the question of marriage.

32. ’Is solicitous’, etc.: i.e. if he so desires. It is this desire alone that places celibacy above marriage. Without it celibacy has every chance of being on a lower level than married life, more selfcentred and self-indulgent, and many do in fact choose it for this reason. Motive is everything. .

32-34 are the core of this half-chapter.

33. ’Is solicitous’: i.e. is liable to be so. ’Divided’: finds it difficult to put God’s service first.

35. ’Snare’: lit. noose or halter. Probably he means that his words are a counsel and must not be taken as a precept (cf. v 2), he does not wish to create unnecessary difficulties for them. ’Impediment’: ’distraction’.

36-38 Advice to Fathers of Unmarried Daughters — It was the universal custom, even among the Romans, that the parents chose husbands for their daughters. Christianity tolerated this custom (which is contrary to natural human right) for the sake of peace, just as it accepted slavery, etc. (see 17-24 supra and § 602a), and Paul therefore recognizes the father’s right also to keep his daughter unmarried for her spiritual good. Great efforts have been made to prove that the man here concerned is not her father but her fiancé or else a ’spiritual husband’, but there is no respectable evidence for this, and the use of ?aµ??? (give in marriage) in 38 seems decisive against it.

36. ’If a man thinks he is treating his unmarried daughter unhandsomely (or unfairly)’. ’Above the age’: probably means ’of marriageable age’. ’If she marry’: ’Let them marry’.

37. ’Necessity . . . power’, etc.: probably mean that he is not compelled to give her in marriage by inability to make provision for her otherwise.

39-40 Conclusion of the Main Theme—39. The words ’by the law’ have crept in erroneously from Romans 7:2. ’Die’: ’Falls asleep’. ’In the Lord’: i.e. she must marry a Christian. The whole verse of course is equally applicable to men.

40. ’I too think that I have . . .’: i.e. ’I as well as others have authority to speak in Christ’s name’. It seems an ironical understatement, aimed at some persons at Corinth who falsely claimed such authority—very likely the False Apostles.

Bibliographical Information
Orchard, Bernard, "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". Orchard's Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/boc/1-corinthians-7.html. 1951.
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