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1 Corinthians 7:1-16

You can read the text here.

Paul continues to discuss issues related to sex as he answers something from the Corinthian letter. Paul has just outlawed sex with prostitutes and other forms of sexual immorality.[1] This leaves sex within marriage only. Some in Corinth apparently felt that sex should be abstained from there as well. In Roman culture sex in marriage was generally not for pleasure, it was for procreation. The normal avenue for pleasure (for men) was with slaves, prostitutes, or others of lower status. [2] Some at Corinth felt that sex should be abstained from within marriage.[3] But Paul sees this is their only outlet, so he pushes back against this idea. Paul argues that, for both parties, permanent abstinence is a bad idea and gives each spouse exclusive rights over the body of the other.[4] Paul makes an exception that for a period of time they may abstain for the purpose of prayer. However, he notes that there is a risk even there that sexual urges may hinder their prayers presumably by clouding the mind so the period must be brief. Paul wishes they were all like him and celibate, but he realizes that not all are able to push sexual desire aside to pursue God and his kingdom.[5]

Paul moves on to address widows. He states that they should stay single if they can, but recognizes that not all are able to do so and permits remarriage in those cases.

Next Paul moves on to divorce. His main point is pretty clear. If you're married, stay that way if you can, but if you have a spouse who is not a Christian and they wish to divorce you, that's ok. In this case the divorcee is not bound any longer and can remarry if they wish. However, they should try to stay together if they can as they bring holiness into their family, both towards their spouse and children, and some of that holiness gets communicated. And who knows, it could even lead to salvation for the other spouse!

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[1] I think it hardly worth saying that in the Christian tradition, any sex outside of marriage has been looked down upon from the earliest days. Whether or not the tradition has had good reasons in all cases is not the point of discussion here.

[2] Both Thisleton and Ciampa and Rosner have excellent discussions of this point. I will note though, that both commentaries (and Thiselton moreso) are a little blindly androcentric in the discussion.

[3] Neither commentary makes a guess at why, but presumably, if they believe they're living in the last days, they don't want to be occupied with children.

[4] So, Ciampa and Rosner. This point elevates the status of women who typically were the sexual property of their husbands. Their husbands were now just as much their property.

[5] According to both Thiselton and Ciampa and Rosner Paul is not wishing all were celibate but that all had the mastery over sexual urges to avoid distraction.

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