1 Cor 5:1-7:40

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Home > The New Testament > First Corinthians > Chapters 5-7
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II. Chastity and Marriage (Chapters 5-7)
• Topic 2: "It is commonly reported that there is fornication among you ..." (5:1)

• incest (5:1-13)
• lawsuits (6:1-8)
• adultery (6:9-20)

• Topic 3: "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me" regarding marriage (7:1)

• divorce and marriage to unbelievers (7:1-24)

• Topic 4: "Now concerning virgins ..." (7:25)

• marriage (7:25-40)


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  • 1 Cor 5:11. Some might say that Paul's admonition not to eat with sinners of this type within the church is unduly harsh. After all, didn't Jesus eat with publicans and sinners? Some churches such as Jehovah's Witnesses follow this scripture in all cases and cast out many among them who were once dearest friends and family, causing undue grief and anguish. The LDS people do not generally take such a hard line stance. Excommunication is sometimes taken for fornicators who have been to the temple, but they are still invited to attend meetings, and we are not commanded to shun their company.
It is important to recognize that Paul was addressing the Corinthians with regard to a certain member, referred to in Verse 1, who had slept with his stepmother. Apparently the Corinthians took great pride in this member and refused to excommunicate him. Perhaps he had great influence and was a valued friend in the community. Paul's hard-line admonition could be seen as applying strictly to such "notorious" sinners, as Matthew Henry describes him in his commentary.
It is also interesting to note that in 2 Cor 2:6 Paul revisits the issue with this "notorious" sinner, but with a much softer approach. "Ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow." In this context, we see that Paul either regretted his hardline approach, or that he felt the man had repented sufficiently. In any case, forgiveness is an ideal that we should strive for at all times. Even "notorious" sinners must be forgiven, even if they must be dealt with in sometimes harsh ways for their own good, and the protection of others.
Paul's council in this epistle is problematic in terms of fellowshipping and reclaiming less-active and lost sheep within the fold. However, it is sensible advice when applied to the youth and the peers they choose to associate with. Many of our youth are driven to sin by the pressure of peers, in and out of the church who welcome them as friends, yet encourage them to adopt sinful lifestyles.
The nature of our relationship with the sinner will help us draw boundaries of appropriate contact. If we are reaching out to reclaim lost sheep, that is one thing. But if they are reaching out to us, to invite us sympathize with their lifestyle and eventually adopt it, that is a line we cannot cross. Alexander Pope's warning about vices we "first endure, then pity, then embrace" applies here.
  • 1 Cor 6:12. This scripture sheds some light on Paul's view of the law. Throughout the Epistles, Paul repeatedly asserts that the law is dead, and that belief in Christ is the only prerequisite to Salvation. However, Paul also rails against fornication and many other sins. This presents a conundrum for Paul. How can he insist that the Saints follow certain laws like avoiding fornication, while at the same time insisting that the law is dead? Paul solves this problem in this verse, by saying, "all things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient." Other translations say "all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial." To Saints alive in Christ, even though the law is dead, it is still not beneficial to commit fornication. Additionally, Paul notes that committing fornication will cause one to be "brought under the power" of it, or become slaves to it. How can we become slaves to sin when we are already the servants of Christ?
It is interesting that Paul uses similar language Joseph Smith used in the Word of Wisdom: "meats for the belly...now the body is not for fornication." Joseph Smith's original Word of Wisdom was not a law, but rather a "word to the wise." Only later did it become binding upon the Saints as a commandment.
Joseph Smith recognized that Paul's views of the law were problematic and changed the reading of the scripture to "All things are not lawful unto me." For Joseph Smith and the Latter Day Saints, the law is of supreme importance. "There is a law irrevocably decreed before the foundation of the world upon which all blessings are predicated" he revealed.
Paul's negative views on the law are understandable, given his situation and mission in the early church. Many Jewish converts still believed that the Law of Moses was binding upon them, and this disallowed the inclusion of Gentiles into the church. Paul struck out against this point of view in the strongest possible terms, insisting that the entire law was dead to those who were alive in Christ. Even though the LDS people believe in laws and ordinances, we can still gain important insights from Paul's idealistic views of being "alive in Christ, without the law," for it is true that when we are truly "alive in Christ" we lose the desire to do anything that would be contrary to the law. As the Book of Mormon says "they had no more desire to do evil, but to do good continually."
  • 1 Cor 6:19-20. "Ye are not your own." When we accept Christ we effectively sell our souls and bodies to Him. In exchange, Christ delivers us from the power of sin and death. Later in Cor. 7:22, Paul refers to us as "Christ's servant," more accurately translated from the Greek as "Christ's slave." Has any master treated us with more mercy, patience and deference than Christ has to us? It is easy to forget that indeed, "we are not our own, we have been bought with a price, and we are His slaves."

Chapter 7[edit]

  • 1 Cor 7. This is a difficult chapter to reconcile with the current LDS doctrine of Eternal Marriage. Here are a number of points to consider as we approach this chapter from the LDS perspective.
1. JST does not change the chapter significantly, leading us to assume that Joseph Smith felt that the essence of the material in this chapter was translated correctly. However, some of his changes later in the chapter reinforce the theory that Paul was speaking exclusively to those called to the ministry when he advocates celibacy. (See JST verse 29)
2. Paul usually prefaces his more controversial points with the disclaimer "I speak this by permission, and not of commandment." Most of the other apostles were probably married according to 1 Cor 9:5. It is likely that many of the other apostles did not share the same opinions about marriage.
3. Paul was unmarried at the time of this letter. Some speculate Paul had been previously married because he was studying to be a member of the Sanhedrin, which required marriage. However, there is no firm evidence of this. Marriage would have been difficult for him because of his broad, busy ministry scattered across the Mediterranean. Paul was very comfortable with his celibacy, and encouraged others to follow his example. This could possibly be seen as a desire to recruit others to the ministry, because Paul seemed to believe that being married and a missionary was not an ideal situation.
4. It is possible that Paul and some of the Saints in the early church did not have the fullness of the New and Everlasting Covenant of Marriage as we understand it today. (Joseph Smith did not have it at the time he made his translation of the Bible.) It is also possible that because the apostles were spread out, without much central communication, that completely unified doctrine was sometimes difficult to achieve. While we believe that the LDS church is a "restoration" of the original church, this does not necessarily mean that God can't continue, even in our day, to add additional truths that previous dispensations did not have access to. This would help explain some of the strange assertions in this chapter as well as other problematic Biblical passages, such as Jesus’ explanation in Mark 12:25 that in the resurrection, people are "not given in marriage, but are angels unto God."
Keeping these points in mind will help us put Paul's comments into their proper perspective. At the same time we need not dismiss Paul's comments here as uninformed, or completely unrelated to our day. Paul's opinions offer needed insight for those in our day who are single, either by choice or because they have not had the opportunity to marry.
  • 1 Cor 7:1. Many translations render "not to touch a woman," as "not to marry." "To touch a woman" is a Greek expression for marriage.
  • 1 Cor 7:5. JST renders "defraud" as "depart." Both interpretations give insights into married relationships. When we withhold ourselves from our spouses, we in essence "defraud" them of what is rightfully theirs. Verse 4 says that a wife owns the body of her husband, and the husband owns the body of his wife, as lawful property. When we withhold ourselves, we are literally defrauding them. JST's admonition not to "depart" is also excellent advice, as many marriages strain greatly when there are long periods of absence.
  • 1 Cor 7:6-10. Paul makes two points, by permission and not by commandment:
1. He believes it is best not to marry, but if you can't contain your passions, it is better to marry than to commit fornication.
2. He acknowledges in verse 7 that some men are "called" to different callings than he. Others may be called to marriage, just as he was called to celibacy. This is their "proper gift of God." Paul has a personal incentive to promote the superiority of celibacy, but he acknowledges that God may have different plans for certain individuals.
Paul's attitude towards marriage is similar to his attitude about not eating meat in Romans 14. Some members, who are weaker, don't eat meat. But this is still OK, and God approves of their sacrifice. For Paul, marriage is also for the "weaker" members. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that they are blameless before God in this.
  • 1 Cor 7:6-10. For some reason, this scripture doesn't seem to get much attention in the LDS Church. As a convert member of 8 years, I don't recall ever seeing it discussed or mentioned in class, even during the New Testament study cycle in Gospel Doctrine class. I wonder why that is?
One answer may be in verse 6 and following: Paul makes clear he is stating a personal opinion and/or a policy for the time. It's not clear that the counsel he gives would be the same if he were around today. I do find it interesting, though, how egalitarian Paul is here, considering he has a reputation (not necessarily in the Church) for having a negative attitude toward women.
  • 1 Cor 7:12. Paul is not saying that it is good to marry unbelievers. He is saying that if you are already married to one, don't put him or her away. In 2 Cor. 6, Paul talks about the danger of being "unequally yolked" with unbelievers, essentially discouraging new members from marrying unbelievers. However, most of his audience were converts who joined after previous marriages as Gentiles
It is nevertheless reassuring to hear Paul say that "the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the believing husband." Marriage with an unbeliever can be terribly difficult and Paul's statement gives us reason to hope for the salvation of our unbelieving relatives.
  • 1 Cor 7:17. Paul explains that in our civil and marital obligations, we should be content with our lot in life. We need not seek to change these circumstances, even after conversion to Christianity. The three examples he uses are marriage, circumcision, and slavery.
  • 1 Cor 7:22. There is a kind of poetic beauty in Paul's statement, similar to the beauty of Jesus' statement that "He that seeketh his life shall loose it, he that shall loose his life for my sake shall find it." The power of the statement comes alive when the word "slave" replaces the word servant. He who is a slave is the Lord's freeman, and he who is a freeman is the Lord's slave. Apart from it's poetic balance, theologically, it expresses the paradox of the Christian life. It is true that we obey Christ in every word, but this brings us freedom, not bondage.
  • 1 Cor 7:28. "Such shall have trouble in the flesh," or "trouble in this life," according to other translations. Paul's pessimistic attitudes towards marriage have led some to speculate that Paul might have been previously married, and that the marriage ended unhappily. Paul was not a perfect man, especially before his conversion, and it is only natural that he might have been the witness of a lot of marital strife, either in his own life, or those around him.
Clearly, Paul's view of marriage as a nescessary evil to avoid fornication is out of harmony with our current LDS views. Marriage does sometimes bring with it great conflict. But as we strive to overcome challenges within marriage, we embrace greater growth, and ultimate happiness. This viewpoint is missing from Paul's writings.
However, Paul's reminder that marriages will have "troubles" helps us to keep a proper perspective in marriage. Having "trouble" in a marriage is completely natural, and no reason to divorce.
  • 1 Cor 7:29. The original reading of the KJV text seems to indicate that Paul believed there was no marriage in the afterlife. The "time is short" refers to the duration of this life. Joseph Smith changes the text so that the "time is short" refers only to the duration of a missionary calling.
  • 1 Cor 7:32-35. Paul continues to highlight the advantages of celibacy, claiming that people who are married must spend their time serving their spouses, instead of serving God. In previous decades of church history, the church frequently called married men to depart from their families and go on full-time missions. But today, only unmarried young men and women are called on missions, as well as the retired, who have minimal family obligations. The reason for this change reflects a basic understanding of Paul's assertion. It is more difficult to serve as a full-time missionary while one is raising a family.
What's missing from Paul's statement, is that through service to a spouse, one also serves the Lord. This is a truth Paul alluded to when he said, "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church" Eph 5:25. The relationship between the husband and the wife is a type of the relationship between Christ and the church. When a man and a woman truly understand the divinity of this relationship, marriage can come very close to Godliness.
  • 1 Cor 7:36-37. There seems to be great confusion among the translations on what is exactly meant by "virgin." Some translate this as "a virgin one is engaged to," others translate it as a "virgin daughter," and still others translate it as "one's personal virginity."
In any case, the essence of Paul's argument is that "it is OK to get married. It is not a sin. Nevertheless, it is better not to do it, if you have the self-discipline to restrain from fornication."
  • 1 Cor 7:40. Paul believes (according to the Spirit of God in him) that people will be happier if they avoid marriage.
How are we to take Paul's assertions in this chapter? In our day Paul would likely be branded a "menace to society." His views on celibacy have given the Catholic Church evidence to enforce the celibacy of their clergy for centuries. His views have influenced various groups such as the Shakers who believed celibacy was the highest order, and consequently, their membership soon died out.
The difficulties of this chapter make it tempting to overlook or dismiss by simply claiming that it is one of those places "not translated correctly." However, because JST does not substantially change Paul's basic claims, and because his meaning is clearly unified in the many various translations, this is not a chapter we can lightly dismiss.
  • 1 Cor 7: In Praise of Singles. Paul, in this chapter voices a perspective not often heard in the modern church: the voice of single members. Because most leaders in the church are married, and because marriage and family is so highly prized, many singles in the church sometimes feel overlooked and undervalued. Their problems are sometimes dismissed with phrases such as, "you'll get the chance to have a family in the next life," as if marriage and family were the only thing they could possibly be living for.
Paul offers a different perspective. Not only was he unmarried, but he was content in that state. He found value in that state. He believed forcefully that God wanted him to be single, and encouraged others to do likewise. He believed that singles had greater opportunities to serve in the church than their married counterparts, and in his eyes, they were better off for it.
While we understand that Paul's assertions are unduly pessimistic, and that marriage is ordained of God, it is nevertheless true that many of our brethren and sisters do not have the opportunity to marry in this life. Paul's viewpoint can give them needed validation. It can challenge them to rise up and take advantage of the opportunities the single life affords them. Julie Beck, the LDS Relief Society President recently said to the single women in the church: "No one is better positioned than you to work in temples, serve missions, teach the rising generation, and help those who are downtrodden. The Lord needs you." Ensign, Nov. 28, 2008.

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