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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

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Commentary on First Corinthians

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7, 1–40 :

Paul now begins to answer questions addressed to him by the Corinthians ( 7, 1–11, 1 ). The first of these concerns marriage. This chapter contains advice both to the married ( 1–16 ) and to the unmarried ( 25–38 ) or widowed ( 39–40 ); these two parts are separated by vv 17–24 , which enunciate a principle applicable to both.

7, 1–16 :

It seems that some Christians in Corinth were advocating asceticism in sexual matters. The pattern it is a good thing …, but occurs twice ( 1–2.8–9; cf 26 ), suggesting that in this matter as in others the Corinthians have seized upon a genuine value but are exaggerating or distorting it in some way. Once again Paul calls them to a more correct perspective and a better sense of their own limitations. The phrase it is a good thing ( 1 ) may have been the slogan of the ascetic party at Corinth.

7, 1–7 :

References to Paul's own behavior ( 7–8 ) suggest that his celibate way of life and his preaching to the unmarried (cf 25–35 ) have given some the impression that asceticism within marriage, i.e., suspension of normal sexual relations, would be a laudable ideal. Paul points to their experience of widespread immorality to caution them against overestimating their own strength ( 2 ); as individuals they may not have the particular gift that makes such asceticism feasible ( 7 ) and hence are to abide by the principle to be explained in vv 17–24 .

7, 6 :

By way of concession: this refers most likely to the concession mentioned in v 5a : temporary interruption of relations for a legitimate purpose.

7, 7 :

A particular gift from God: use of the term charisma suggests that marriage and celibacy may be viewed in the light of Paul's theology of spiritual gifts (chs 12–14 ).

7, 8 :

Paul was obviously unmarried when he wrote this verse. Some interpreters believe that he had previously been married and widowed; there is no clear evidence either for or against this view, which was expressed already at the end of the second century by Clement of Alexandria.

7, 10–11 :

(Not I, but the Lord): Paul reminds the married of Jesus’ principle of nonseparation (Mk 10, 9 ). This is one of his rare specific references to the teaching of Jesus.

7, 12–14 :

To the rest: marriages in which only one partner is a baptized Christian. Jesus’ prohibition against divorce is not addressed to them, but Paul extends the principle of nonseparation to such unions, provided they are marked by peacefulness and shared sanctification.

7, 15–16 :

If the unbeliever separates: the basis of the “Pauline privilege” in Catholic marriage legislation.

7, 17–24 :

On the ground that distinct human conditions are less significant than the whole new existence opened up by God's call, Paul urges them to be less concerned with changing their states of life than with answering God's call where it finds them. The principle applies both to the married state ( 1–16 ) and to the unmarried ( 25–38 ).

7, 25–28 :

Paul is careful to explain that the principle of v 17 does not bind under sin but that present earthly conditions make it advantageous for the unmarried to remain as they are ( 28 ). These remarks must be complemented by the statement about “particular gifts” from v 7 .

7, 29–31 :

The world … is passing away: Paul advises Christians to go about the ordinary activities of life in a manner different from those who are totally immersed in them and unaware of their transitoriness.

7, 36–38 :

The passage is difficult to interpret, because it is unclear whether Paul is thinking of a father and his unmarried daughter (or slave), or of a couple engaged in a betrothal or spiritual marriage. The general principles already enunciated apply: there is no question of sin, even if they should marry, but staying as they are is “better” (for the reasons mentioned in 28–35 ). Once again the charisma of v 7 , which applies also to the unmarried ( 8–9 ), is to be presupposed.

7, 36 :

A critical moment has come: either because the woman will soon be beyond marriageable age, or because their passions are becoming uncontrollable (cf 9 ).

7, 39–40 :

Application of the principles to the case of widows. If they do choose to remarry, they ought to prefer Christian husbands.

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