1 Corinthians Chapter 7: On Singleness, Marriage and Women’s Equality
Key Verses: (1 Corinthians 7:1–7)
1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
Over the years, this chapter of 1 Corinthians has been subject to much misinterpretation. To fully understand Paul’s message in this letter, it’s important to remember the context at the time and his own likely unmarried status. As noted earlier, Corinth was a pagan and morally corrupt society. And Paul knew that the church had not fully separated from the influences and temptations of that environment. Some used their freedom in Christ and freedom from the law to rationalize immoral behavior, and others sought divorce to free them from the confines of marriage.
Paul had previously taught the virtues of celibacy for the unmarried. He repeats that message here in verse 1, but he does not do so to indicate that it is morally imperative or even that it is better than marriage. He chose celibacy because of his calling to serve the Lord, and he chose to focus all his energy on doing so. However, he goes on to clarify in verses 2 through 7 that marriage is in no way wrong or inferior.
Taken out of context, truncated phrases from verses 2 through 4 can give the impression that husbands somehow have superiority over their wives. Reading them in their entirety, Paul’s teaching is clear — in Christian marriage, it is not only the husband who has desires, needs and rights; the woman has them as well. She, in fact, has authority over her husband’s body as much as he has authority over her body.
A Moment to Reflect
The concept of full sexual equality and partnership in first-century marriages probably surprised and disturbed many in the Corinthian Christian community. It was counter-cultural for them, as it may be for many in modern society.
It never ceases to amaze me how the Bible — especially Paul’s epistles — remains relevant today. Almost every aspect of daily living has altered dramatically over the centuries. But the human condition — human behaviors and the multitude of issues we encounter — remain much the same.
Even though cultural norms shift over time, opinions about premarital celibacy today may be very similar to what Paul found to be prevalent among the Corinthians. Do you think Paul’s teachings on the topic are relevant today? Are Paul’s views of marriage relevant today? Are you surprised that in the first century A.D., he described women’s marital role as equal to that of men?