Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:7–13 Paul’s cautionary examples of craving

1 Corinthians 10:7–13

7 Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” 8 We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did — and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. 9 We should not test Christ, as some of them did — and were killed by snakes. 10 And do not grumble, as some of them did — and were killed by the destroying angel.

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Having set up his concern about craving meat offered to idols (1 Cor. 10:6) — or craving the business and social contacts at banquets held in idol temples — Paul finally gives a direct command: “Do not be idolaters” (1 Cor. 10:7a). Indeed, in light of the specific Greek forms used, Paul may be saying, “Stop being idolaters, as some of them [i.e. the Exodus generation] were.”[1] That statement would seriously escalate the warning to the Corinthians in light of what Paul says in verse 8 about the fatal consequences inflicted on the Israelites.

First Example — In the second half of verse 7, Paul quotes from Exod. 32:6, the occasion when the people joined in wild revelry to celebrate the golden calf they had made. Thiselton says the seriousness of this revelry “can be appreciated only when we fully grasp the intimate connection for [the Jews and ] Paul between worshipping [idols] and sexual immorality and abandonment of the ‘censor’ [our self-control] to sheer unbridled indulgence.”[2]

So, the issue has two sharp edges: (1) the combination of sexual immorality with idol worship and (2) the complete abandonment of self-control. In Roman Corinth, Thiselton tells us: “’[Aphrodite] was a god of sailors and sacred prostitution and the protectress of the city.’ Hence business interests and trade were bound up with the welfare of the cult. . . . Coins excavated at Corinth bear the images of Aphrodite and Poseidon more than those of any other pagan gods.”[3] Religious prostitution abounded.

As a result of the idolatry associated with the golden calf (Exod. 32:6), the Levites immediately killed 3,000 at Yahweh’s command (Exod. 32:27–28). In this context, Exodus 32:35 says, “And the LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made.” Note that we are not told how many died in this plague. The position taken here is that Paul’s statement “in one day twenty-three thousand of them died” (1 Cor. 10:8) is the answer. Most authorities believe Paul is speaking of Numbers 25:1–9, another time when judgment fell on idolatrous Israel, but the death toll given there is 24,000 (Num. 25:9), and no one has been able to convincingly reconcile that number with 1 Cor. 10:8, which says 23,000. Our view is that the numbers do not match because they are different occasions. Alternatively, Paul spoke from memory; the exact number does not affect his point in the least. Certainly, rounding was a common practice in the Bible.

Example 1 is about the combination of idolatry and sexual immorality.

Example 2 — In 1 Cor. 10:9, Paul once again produces a surprising connection between Corinth and the Exodus generation. This time he uses the events recorded in Numbers 21:4–9. The Israelites were strongly rebelling against Moses and were scorning the food God had graciously provided for them (Num. 21:4–5). They were testing God! But the Apostle Paul interprets this text by naming Christ as the one they were testing ( 1 Cor. 10:9). Many died from serpents God sent among them until the rest pleaded for deliverance, and God provided it by his grace.

Note that the people were testing God by complaining about food. It is no accident that Paul is telling stories about complaints over food that led to judgment, and he implicitly warns the Corinthians to be content without the food offered to idols that they crave. Example 2 is about presuming to test Christ, with the implication that the Corinthians are doing the same thing.

Example 3 — In 1 Cor. 10:10, Paul recalls the incessant grumbling and complaining against Moses and God that so frequently punctuates the wilderness accounts (e.g. Exod. 15:24; 16:2; Num. 14:2, 27, 29). The constant complaining, largely about food and drink, transformed a joyous group of redeemed people into a self-pitying group perceiving themselves victims of God’s neglect.[4] The destroying angel left many of them dead in the wilderness.

Garland says that Paul may single out ‘grumbling’ because the Corinthians were complaining against his opposition to their participation in idol feasts.[5] We might call example 3 the sin of self-importance; for anyone to think they can speak to God or his appointed messengers as they would to a subordinate or even an equal is a level of foolishness that can lead to sudden death. We do not call Jesus “Lord” for nothing!

Clearly, Paul understands these examples as cautionary tales that every Christian should take to heart (1 Cor. 10:11). Fee explains the last half of verse 11: “Through his death and resurrection Jesus Christ marks the turning of the ages; the old is on its way out, the new has begun (2 Cor. 5:17).”[6] This is no time to ignore warnings! In that light, verse 12 is plainly a serious caution directly to the Corinthians, and especially to the puffed-up “strong.”

 God’s grace in temptation (craving)

Many Christians have taken solace from 1 Cor. 10:13, but we should take care to read and apply the whole verse. The desires that push us toward sin and away from God are nothing new; they are the common experience of all humanity.

In Roman Corinth “the strong” paradoxically caved in to the temptation to continue their socially and financially lucrative connections with idol worship, and they tried to justify it theologically with their contrived slogans (“I have the right to do anything,” 1 Cor. 6:12; “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body,” 1 Cor. 6:18, NET). Those having more fragile faith felt the temptation to follow “the strong” in violation of their own consciences. So, many Corinthian believers had their own reasons for yielding to temptation.

Thiselton forcefully states, “Against the claim that ‘the strong’ are so seized by pressure that they have no choice, Paul replies that God always provides his people with a choice.”[7] Paul’s answer to their behavior is that (1) these temptations are neither unusual nor compelling, and (2) “God is faithful” (1 Cor. 10:13)! Garland explains: “As surely as God tests, God provides a way out (see Gen. 22:1–19). That exit is not an escape hatch that allows them to evade all difficulties.”[8]

Just as the Jews had a covenant with God — the law of Moses — Christians are under the “new covenant” (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28), in which Jesus died for our sins. Like the old covenant with Israel, the New Covenant with Christ obligates both Christ and believers to be loyal to the covenant. Thiselton says, “Christian believers can never claim that they could not help themselves in the face of pressure to abandon covenant faithfulness, for God will ensure, as part of his own covenant faithfulness, that he will not simply leave them to face impossible odds.”[9] But Garland cautions, “God is just as faithful to destroy the wicked as God is faithful to save the righteous.”[10]

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1996) 724; Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 454, footnote 17.

[2] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 735.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 738.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 742.

[5] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 464.

[6] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 459.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 748.

[8] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 468.

[9] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 748–49.

[10] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 469.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 7:1–16 Sexual relations within marriage

1 Corinthians 7:1–16

 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.

8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

The seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians has been the subject of considerable debate within the church over the centuries. Before we dive into the details, a few general ideas will help us. First, Paul does not use this chapter to give a complete theology of marriage. Instead, he is trying to resolve a dangerous idea that is wrecking marriages and tempting men to use prostitutes.

What is that idea? You find it in the quotation recorded in 1 Cor. 7:1 (“It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman”). Gordon Fee explains: “There has been considerable pressure within the church to dissolve or abstain from marriage. Paul’s response [to believers in various circumstances] is the same: ‘Stay as you are.’”[1] Another important theme advanced by Paul is explained by David Garland: “Throughout the chapter, Paul goes out of his way to underscore that women have the same obligations and rights as their male counterparts.”[2] That concept was revolutionary in first-century societies.

Why did this problem exist in the Corinthian church? First, the powerful influence of sexual attraction is a constant in all cultures. Making that influence more volatile was a raging debate among Greek philosophers about the importance of marriage in society; Roman society — dominant in Corinth — doted on Greek religion and philosophy. The Corinthian believers were not doing well in figuring out how all of that mixed with their new faith in Christ. Garland says, “An ascetic [self-denying] attitude toward sexuality was as much part of the intellectual landscape as was licentiousness [self-indulgence], and it was attractive to many for a variety of reasons.”[3]

In a setting where sexual immorality was common and where men were commonly accorded a greater license to roam sexually, Paul commands marital sex on an even-handed basis: “Each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2). The verbal forms are present imperatives, and Greek grammar expert Daniel Wallace reminds us that “when an action is commanded, the force of the present imperative will usually be iterative [i.e., do it again and again].”[4] When we consider the similarity of our own culture to that of Corinth, these commands could solve a lot of problems.

Interpretation in this chapter always applies a principle expressed by Garland: “Scripture does not use a verb that means ‘to have sexual intercourse’ but employs euphemistic [figurative] language instead.”[5] The NIV has applied that principle in translating 1 Cor. 7:1–2, but in older translations, such as the King James Version, the meaning is less obvious.

It helps to understand that, in the Greco-Roman world, “the purpose of marriage was the procreation of legitimate heirs who would inherit and continue the name, property and sacred rites of the family.”[6] Paul does not even mention procreation and instead urges that sexual desire finds its proper place within marriage.

Verses 3–4 look on sexual intimacy between marriage partners as a mutual obligation. Fee makes the outstanding observation that “Paul’s emphasis . . . is not on ‘you owe me’ but on ‘I owe you.’”[7] These verses are the heart of this section and exemplify Christian love.

The literary structure of 1 Cor. 7:1–5 dictates that verse 5 is parallel to verse 2. That being so, the necessity of a Christian husband and wife having regular sexual relations directly relates to temptation inspired by Satan, who tries to exploit any lack of self-control.

The main problem in verse 6 lies in determining how much of the previous text the word “this” refers to. The best solution is to apply it only to the second half of verse 5. Paul is not commanding a brief lull in sexual relations for the purpose of prayer, but he concedes that the marriage partners may agree to such a plan.

The meaning of verses 7–16 is relatively easy compared to the section we have covered above. Further information about issues of divorce and remarriage in 1 Cor. 7:7–16 may be found at the following link on the Christ Fellowship website: http://www.christfellowshipeldorado.com/am_cms_media/unveiled-studyguidepdf.pdf (See Week 3 starting on page 28 for the material on divorce and remarriage from 1 Cor. 7:10–16.).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 269.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 250.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 251.

[4] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 722.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 254.

[6] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 494, citing R.B. Ward.

[7] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 280.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:18–20 An exceptionally dangerous sin

1 Corinthians 6:18–20

18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

It is unfortunate that today’s Bible text is not more well known, because the revelation it contains was critically needed in Corinth and is no less relevant today. Sexual immorality in its many forms is uniquely damaging to a believer. That is why Paul issues his forceful command: “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18a).

He has already said (1 Cor. 6:15) that illicit sex with a prostitute — only one form of sexual immorality — is like tearing our bodies apart from union with our resurrected Lord. This has been called a Christ-violation.[1] Then, in verses 16–18, Paul describes a body-violation inflicted by the sexually immoral Christian against their own body in that they are using it in ways their Creator never intended. Finally, in verses 19–20, such behavior is said to constitute a Spirit-violation, an offense against the Holy Spirit. Those three violations are a trifecta of stupidity!

There are times when the New Living Translation’s tendency toward paraphrase results in an exceptional translation. This is such a case: “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body.” (1 Cor. 6:18, NLT).

Paul caps his argument (1 Cor. 6:19–20) with two startling metaphors: a temple and a slave. In both cases he is still focusing on the physical body. He is using that focus in his ongoing proof that the body was “for the Lord” (1 Cor. 6:13) and worthy of their spiritual concern.

To say “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit” (verse 19) is a metaphor, but figures of speech in the Bible are always intended to express some aspect of reality. Even though a Christian may not look like a temple, the mere fact that the Holy Spirit indwells them makes it so. That being the case, God will not take lightly the desecration of his temple! “Do you not know!” has the force “You had better know!”

The second metaphor begins with “You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19b), proving once again that the placement of verse numbers must have taken place late on a very dark night; verse numbers are not part of the inspired text. Slavery metaphors are difficult today because we do not have personal experience with slave auctions or their consequences. Corinth, however, was a major center for slave trafficking[2], so they understood.

David Garland explains the slavery metaphor by saying: “God now has the title-deed to their bodies. Christ’s death purchased them [1 Pet. 1:19], and they have been transferred from Satan’s household to serve in Christ’s household.”[3] Freedom in Christ has never been about being free to do whatever you like. The most decisive factor in determining a slave’s status was “the character, status, and influence of the one to whom one belonged as a slave.”[4] We belong to the Son of God! The other side of that fact is that “the slave (i.e., Christian believer) no longer belongs either to himself/herself or to powers into whose bondage he/she may have entered.”[5]

The grand conclusion is simple and obvious: “Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:20).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 472, quoting Bruce Fisk.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 239.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 239.

[4] Dale Martin, Slavery as Salvation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990) 49.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 477.