Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:13-16 Using (what should be) common sense

1 Corinthians 11:13-16

13 Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered? 14 Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him, 15 but that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For long hair is given to her as a covering. 16 If anyone wants to be contentious about this, we have no other practice nor do the churches of God.

Ever hopeful that the Corinthians will do what is needed on their own, Paul puts the ball directly in their court (1 Cor. 11:13). By the nature of things (1 Cor. 11:14), Paul means the way things are.

Paul knew that Roman custom for men was short hair, and that long hair or long hair styled in some way (e.g. braiding) was considered effeminate. For example, David Garland informs us that the forum in Roman Corinth has statues of men with long hair as part of the Faade of the Captives. Their long hair is intended to send the message that these captives were weak, soft, and effeminate.[1]

Roman women usually had long hair, and it was often considered a symbol of the wifes relationship to her husband. Accordingly, Garland summarizes, Taking this cue from nature, men do not need a cover [since they have short hair]; women do [since they have long hair].[2]

As a final argument, Paul says all the churches follow this standard, and so does he (1 Cor. 11:16).

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

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 531.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 531.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:7-12 Shame and honor in assembled worship

1 Corinthians 11:7-12

7 A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 9 neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

As we begin todays lesson, it will be helpful to remember that the context of these verses is the church in Roman Corinth gathered for worship. Perhaps they met in the home of one or more of their wealthy members or in several other locations. We can expect that some curious non-Christians were sometimes present, perhaps even someone who reported their activities elsewhere. We will see that God and the angels are part of worship as well.

As before, a lot of attention will be given to head coverings and their social and theological meaning. In the previous lesson (1 Cor. 11:1-6) we learned that men were not to wear a head covering, but women must wear one. These conditions were dictated by social propriety and to protect the reputation of the gospel in the community. In 1 Cor. 11:7-12, we learn that even deeper theological reasons exist and get deeper into the framework of shame and honor.

It is important to know what this passage does not mean, and David Garland sets us on the path: The logic is not, This man stands before God uncovered because of his spiritual subordination to Christ, so the woman should stand veiled because of her spiritual subordination to her husband, as [some] contend.[1]

A common failing of Christians today is that we do not appreciate the importance of creation and its impact on our life in Christ. But Pauls key point is that the woman reflects the glory of man, not of God.[2] The whole reason Paul offers in 1 Cor. 11:8-9 is the order of creation with man created first (Gen. 2:7) and the purpose of womans creation (Gen. 2:22) in that she was created for the man. Paul argues that the gender differences God established in creation have an effect on how corporate worship is carried out; in particular, cultural customs are used to symbolize that difference in a way that gives honor to God. Since man is the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7), his head must remain open to plain view. To do so honors God. The woman should cover her head (1 Cor. 11:6b) so as not to dishonor her head (i.e. the man, 1 Cor. 11:3). How would she dishonor the man? The surprising answer is that the woman dishonors the man by glorifying him (woman is the glory of man 1 Cor. 11:7) in a setting of corporate worship where only God is to be glorified/honored.

Perhaps we can better understand this reasoning by saying that in corporate worship the attention should be on honoring/glorifying God, but the beauty of women (by creation) is such that they attract attention belonging to God. When that happens, the shame attaches to their husband (her metaphorical head) or to the men gathered for worship. What can the woman do? She can behave and dress in a way that does not draw attention and symbolize such intent by wearing a head covering.[3] Symbols in our culture are different, but the principle stands.

The man and the woman are not taking their respective actions — men without head covering and women with one — for any personal advantage, as Anthony Thiselton points out: Pauls main point is that man and woman are both the glory of another and therefore both have an obligation not to cause shame to their heads.[4]

The foregoing is difficult enough, and 1 Cor. 11:10 adds more mystery by mentioning angels. First, Thiselton argues that what we have here is a continuation of the issue of assertive autonomy . . . versus self-control that we have tracked earlier in the letter (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:12 and 10:23).[5] This means the woman should use her freedom and authority in Christ for the good of others and especially for her metaphorical head; that behavior manifests self-control and love. As to the angels, Thiselton reminds us that both Jewish and Christian traditions teach us that Christians worship the transcendent God of heaven in company with the heavenly host.[6]

We began with the assumption that Paul had received a report that women might be asserting their freedom in Christ in a damaging way during corporate worship. Although he has focused a lot of attention on women and how they should use their freedom, he does not by any means back off of his assertion that in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman (1 Cor. 11:11). He adds an additional statement in verse 12 that shows how dependent man and woman are on each other. While Paul has said, There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28), it is also true that creation order limits this new freedom, because everything comes from God (1 Cor. 11:12).

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

 


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 523.

[2] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 523

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 523.

[4] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 837, quoting Judith Gundry-Volf.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 839.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 841.

Exposition of First Corinthians 11:3 — The meaning of Greek kephale (often translated “head”)

There is little doubt that 1 Cor. 11:2–16 is extremely tough to interpret. One piece of this complex passage is 1 Cor. 11:3, and, within that text, the meaning of the Greek noun kephale, usually translated “head.”

Starting in the 1990s, research on social conditions in the Roman empire during the first century began to shed significant light on many passages in First Corinthians.

To better understand 1 Cor. 11:3, check out this video :

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 11:2–6 Sending social cues to others

1 Corinthians 11:2–6

2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head — it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

Introduction

The church has had two millennia to interpret 1 Corinthians 11:2–16, but has struggled to do so for lack of knowledge about social conditions in Roman Corinth. As a result, the passage has been understood using the social assumptions existing in the world of the interpreters, an approach with ruinous results. Since the Protestant Reformation, starting about 1517, the dominant view — based largely on medieval customs — has been that the biblical text centered on the subordination of women to men and the need to strictly regulate the participation of women in worship. That interpretation has recently been challenged.

The last twenty years have brought deeper understanding of conditions in Roman Corinth and the wider Roman Empire. This development has also enabled an improved understanding of the possible meanings for the Greek noun kephal?, meaning “head, source, preeminent, foremost.” This word occurs ten times in 1 Corinthians, and nine of those instances occur in verses 3–10; it is clearly a crucial word.

Before we begin explaining the passage, keep in mind that shame and honor were central to Greco-Roman culture. Personal appearance can affect shame or honor. In light of subjects in our passage, Anthony Thiselton reminds us that people make an intentional statement by their appearance: “Clothes and hair or beards play a role in a [system of symbols] which speak volumes about self-perceptions of gender identity, class identity, a sense of occasion, and respect or indifference toward the perception of others.”[1] Google the word “hippie” for an example of how this works.

In particular, during the first century in the Roman Empire, both men and women had to dress carefully or face consequences:

Certain male attire and hair-styles were deemed effeminate and overtly sexual, while appropriate head coverings for respectable Roman women served as protection of their dignity and status as women not to be “propositioned”. . . . “Respectable women did nothing to draw attention to themselves” . . . . A woman who went out . . . unveiled forfeited the protection of Roman law against possible attackers who were entitled to plead extenuating circumstances.”[2]

Other customs defy our expectations: “It was men, rather than women, on whom a woman’s clothing most reflected.”[3] So, if a woman dressed provocatively or wore her hair in an unusual style, it brought shame to her husband and perhaps to his patron — and in our case to Christ!

In the commentary which follows we will continue to stress the views of Anthony Thiselton for one major reason: he argues that the same themes that Paul has developed earlier in 1 Corinthians are applied in 1 Cor. 11:2–16. Paul will address both “rights” of female freedom and “rights” to male headship in the context of public worship. Thiselton explains that Paul once again calls for love to counterbalance rights for the good of the church and the spread of the gospel.[4]

What is often ignored in 1 Cor. 11:2–16 is the relationship between God and Christ. In particular, Thiselton highlights the idea that “’the relationship between man and woman is thus in some sense paralleled by that between God and Christ.’”[5] Clarifying this, he says, “The God-Christ relation has nothing to do with self-glory or the affirmation of the self at the expense of the other . . . it is not an involuntary or imposed ‘subordination,’ but an example of shared love.”

Sending social cues to others

The fact that Jesus Christ is our Lord and that his interests determine how we should live is crucial in understanding our text. It is also vital to remember what Paul taught about equality in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). We have every reason to think Paul taught this in Roman Corinth as well. The women heard his voice and tried to adjust.

Thiselton relates that Paul seems to have received a disturbing report about women’s conduct during worship: “’Some of the women, acting in the freedom and power of the Spirit, have begun to remove their head coverings and loose their hair when they prophesy as a sign of their freedom in Christ.’ In other words, they want to give [social] expression to their freedom and equality.”[6] Even if Paul did not receive such a report, this is the kind of situation he is addressing. Like the issue of eating meat offered to idols, this new issue plays freedom in Christ against the effect on others, both others inside the church and outside. Which side will Paul take? Answer: the very same side he took before — freedom in Christ must be limited by love for others and concern for the reputation of the gospel.

Paul begins by praising the fidelity of the Corinthian church to the traditions he had taught them (1 Cor. 11:2), but he immediately begins a theological argument designed to deal with the issues described above (1 Cor. 11:3). Here in verse three we encounter that troublesome Greek noun kephal?, translated “head” by the NIV. Thiselton criticizes this safe choice as misleading us: “The problem about translating kephal? as head in 1 Cor. 11:3 remains that . . . in English-speaking contexts ‘the head’ almost always implies leadership and authority, as in headmaster, Head of School, Head of Department, head steward. . . . The equivalent assumption in first-century [Corinthian] contexts would be to [understand] head not as authoritative leader in charge, but as one who is ‘prominent, foremost, uppermost, preeminent.’”[7] We cannot make the mistake, made for centuries, of understanding this word according to our cultural context or any recent one; we must understand it first in Roman Corinth! Then we will better understand how to apply it today.

So, using this Corinthian point of view, Thiselton translates verse 3 like this: “However, I want you to understand that while Christ is preeminent for man, man is foremost in relation to  woman, and God is preeminent in relation to Christ.” You may think that nothing much has changed, but consider how shame and honor modify the picture. Christ behaved in such a way as to bring honor — or its equivalent, glory — to the preeminent One, God. Man is responsible to behave in a way that brings honor to his Lord, the preeminent Christ. The woman is to behave in a way that brings honor to man, the foremost of the two genders by creation (see verse 8).

How do we know that we are on the right track? Perhaps the biggest clue is the frequent mention of “dishonor” or “disgrace” (verses 4, 5, 6) — the equivalent of shame — in the immediate context. In addition, Paul soon switches to discussing “glory” (verses 7 below and 10:31 above), since that is the equivalent of honor.

Verses 4–5 will help take the next step in the argument. Obviously, Paul deals first with men and then with women on the subject of head covering. We now know that Roman customs dominated Roman Corinth, and one Roman custom was for men to worship with head coverings. Usually, the men in Corinth would pull the top of their toga up over their heads to form a hood when making a sacrifice in an idol temple. Paul forbids the Christian men to follow this practice. David Garland says that following the pagan practice would shame Christ, who is the metaphorical head of the Christian man.[8]

Did you catch the subtle shift related to “head”? Verse 4 says, “Every man who prays or prophesies with his [anatomical] head covered dishonors his [figurative] head [i.e. Christ].” As Christians, all of us are bound within a set of relationships. Our actions reflect not only on us but on our mate, our church and our Lord, and those actions bring either honor or shame!

Paul next deals with the women in verse 5. Since a woman whose head was uncovered would be saying non-verbally that she was sexually available or a prostitute, neither of which should be said during worship of God, she would dishonor her head. Verse 5a, accordingly, implies, “But every woman who prays or prophesies with her [anatomical] head uncovered dishonors her [figurative] head [her husband, the men of the church, and ultimately Christ].” Garland agrees when he says, “As ‘Christ’ is the implied referent for ‘head’ in 11:4, so the ‘man’ is the most likely referent for ‘head’ in 11:5.”[9]

What about the reference in verse 5b about “having her head shaved”? There are many possibilities — none of them favorable for the woman — but Thiselton says, “[Being shaved] may allude to the status of one convicted of prostitution . . . but for the most part the loss of a woman’s hair is taken to denote the loss of her femininity.”[10] Surprisingly, both of these ideas survive to modern times. After the Nazis were thrown out of France during World War II, the loyal women of France cut the hair off all the women who had collaborated with the Nazis — and often shaved their heads — to shame them in public. Verse 6 simply repeats the ideas of verse 5 by adding some rhetorical force, perhaps suggesting the behavior of the women was more in need of correction than that of the men.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 800–01.

[2] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 801.

[3] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 802.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 799.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 804, quoting M. Hooker.

[6] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 830, following R.B. Hays, First Corinthians, 183.

[7] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 817.

[8] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 517.

[9] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 522.

[10] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 829.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 10:27-30 Will the strong risk shame?

1 Corinthians 10:27-30

27 If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience. 29 I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

In keeping with Paul’s long-running theme in chapters 8-10, the controlling verse for what follows is verse 24: No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

Though the section from verse 25 through verse 31 is complex due to if statements and rhetorical questions, Kenneth Bailey shows that it has a simple underlying structure:

Eat (verses 25-26) — shopping in the meat market; all belongs to God

Eat (verse 27) — dining with unbelievers and believers

Do Not Eat (verses 28-29a) — food is declared dedicated to an idol

Eat (verse 29b-30) — eating freely, without regard for others, defames you

Eat (verse 31) — eating in a way that honors God[1]

We have already addressed 1 Cor. 10:25-26 in the previous lesson. Paul switches to another common situation, being invited to a meal with an unbeliever (1 Cor. 10:27). There again the Corinthian believers may eat whatever is offered without raising questions; issues of conscience are not involved. Garland explains, In this instance, Paul makes a concession to the reality that social connections were absolutely necessary to survive in the ancient world. In his day, intrepid mavericks could not strike off on their own and expect to manage. One needed relationships with others for services and protection.[2]

In 1 Cor. 10:28, there are various possible scenarios about the possible identity of someone who says, This has been offered in sacrifice [to an idol], but choosing among them does not really matter. As soon as the statement is made, the invited Christian cannot eat, both as a matter of covenant loyalty to Christ and as a consistent witness to others. His choice is determined for the good of the others, or, you might say, for the good of the gospel. The focus on others is made explicit in verse 29a: I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours.

The interpretation of 1 Cor. 10:29b-30 is disputed. Keep in mind that the Greco-Roman world was far more focused on public honor and shame than we are today. We next present Thiseltons views[3] in simplified form. Paul has dealt with some common situations in the previous verses. but now he imagines the strong to be dissatisfied with having their freedom limited by the opinions of others. After all, the strong know that idols are nothing and feel they should be able to eat meat in a neutral setting, such as a home, even though someone says, This has been offered in sacrifice. With this background in mind, the strong are saying inwardly, Why is my freedom being judged by anothers conscience? (1 Cor. 10:29b). Paul intends this rhetorical question to force the strong to rethink their position in light of what comes next.

Thiseltons translation of 1 Cor. 10:30 reveals the thorns hidden in the green grass of the strongs freedom-from-concern-for-others: Well, if I take part in a meal with thanksgiving, why should I suffer defamation of character over that for which I, at least, give thanks?[4] When the strong plunge ahead and eat the meat sacrificed in the idol temple, both unbelievers and other Christians will shame them with their inconsistent behavior; they claim faith in Christ but then behave with disloyalty in eating food sacrificed to an idol. As a result, the strong will experience defamation of character when others revile them.

For these reasons, Thiselton sums up in the following way:

Pauls meaning on this basis would be: what would be the advantage of my exercising my freedom if I thereby suffer defamation of character? If it genuinely does not matter whether I eat or not, why choose the path that raises unnecessary difficulties? What is the point of freedom if I cannot choose not to cause problems?[5]

In my next post, Paul will provide a fitting conclusion to the argument he has developed in chapters 8-10. You can be certain it will involve the Man for Others, Jesus Christ.

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

 


[1] Adapted from Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity, 2011) 283284.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 493.

[3] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 790-92.

[4] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 779.

[5] Thiselton, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 790.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 8:1-6, Knowledge and love

1 Corinthians 8:1-6

1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2 Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3 But whoever loves God is known by God.

4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” 5 For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

Our opening verse contains both the problem Paul is addressing and the beginning of its solution. While idolatry provides the context of the argument between Paul and the Corinthian believers, the real conflict is between two different kinds of knowledge. The form of knowledge that Paul opposes is the one that leads to spiritual pride and an excessive focus on individual rights exercised without regard for others in the church. The form of knowledge that Paul advocates is the one that leads to love for others, building them up and putting their interests ahead of ones own. This fact will not become fully obvious until the conclusion of chapter 8.

Be clear on the fact that Paul is not pitting love against knowledge. Nor is he saying that love is good and knowledge is bad. Instead, godly knowledge is the kind that results in love for others while worldly knowledge leads to selfish assertion of rights no matter how it affects others.

Before we get into verses 1-3 in detail, take a look at the following translation by Anthony Thiselton:

1 Now on the subject of meat associated with offerings to pagan deities: we are fully aware that All of us possess knowledge. This knowledge inflates; love, on the other hand, builds. 2 If anyone thinks that he or she has achieved [some piece of] this knowledge, they have not yet come to know as they ought to know. 3 But if anyone loves [God], he or she has experienced true knowing [is known by him].[1] (strikethrough added).

The translation just given is not the same as that of the NIV because the NIV follows a different line of NT Greek manuscripts than Thiselton follows. This is one of those rare instances in which the manuscript evidence can lead in two different directions (neither of which significantly alters any Christian theology believed by the historic church). Gordon Fee also agrees with Thiselton that the words in brackets ([. . .]) above are not part of Pauls original letter.[2] These words do not appear in the oldest available manuscript (p46) and were likely added by someone who mistook what Paul was driving at.

You may be asking What difference does this make? Good question! In this context, Paul is not talking about love for God or even being loved by God; he is talking about the need of the Corinthians to learn to love others; accordingly, the oldest manuscript (p46) does not mention God in this verse. Fee says, True gnosis [knowledge] consists not in the accumulation of so much data, nor even in the correctness of ones theology, but in the fact that one has learned to live in love toward all.[3] True knowledge is crucial to Christian faith, but it will always direct us toward love for others. We too must gain knowledge — true knowledge.

Returning to the question about the Corinthians association with idol worship (1 Cor. 8:4), Paul again quotes two Corinthian slogans: An idol is nothing at all in the world (verse 4) and There is no God but one (verse 4). By using these slogans, the Corinthians hope to live something close to the lives they led before trusting Christ. These sayings are intended to allow them to do as they like in relation to eating in idol temples, eating food associated with idols or participating in civic ceremonies somehow affected by idolatry. You might say that they are examples of Corinthian knowledge used to authorize individual liberties. Besides, living like they did before is good for business and advancement! But Paul has already warned them not to get sucked into the great game of this world, because this world in its present form is passing away (1 Cor. 7:31).

Paul will not fully correct their understanding until 1 Cor. 8:9-13. For the moment he starts where the Corinthians are and deals with the more general subject of idols, and their place in the minds of people who follow Christ; later he will introduce love for others.

In this context, Paul assumes for the sake of argument that idols exist and represent so-called gods (1 Cor. 6:5), and he goes on to speak of many gods and many lords. Fee explains that the gods designate the traditional deities (e.g., Poseidon, Aphrodite, and others) while lords was the normal designation for the deities of the mystery cults that had come to Greece from the Orient.[4]

Paul begins his shift away from idols and toward his theme of love with the words Yet for us there is but one God, the Father (1 Cor. 8:6a). In fact, Paul puts one God, the Father and one Lord, Jesus Christ in direct contrast with the many gods and many lords of the surrounding society.

In speaking of the one unique God, Paul describes our relationship to Father with the phrase for whom we live (1 Cor. 6:6) and our relationship to the Son with the phrase through whom we live. Our unique God is one, yet relates to us as Father and Son. The argument began with idols and has progressed — at this intermediate stage — to our relationship to Christ. Thiselton says, Christ-likeness and the shape of the cross mark all that a Christian believers are and do.[5] That being the case, Paul will soon take the next step in his argument by showing how those related to Christ in this way must live.

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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) 612-613, following p46, Siniaticus and Clement of Alexandria. p46 is the oldest known Greek manuscript of 1 Corinthians, from about A.D. 200.

[2] 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) 364-369.

[3] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 368.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 373.

[5] Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 638.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, Sexual relations within marriage

1 Corinthians 7:1-16

1Now 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 34 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:Unveiled: Divorce & Remarriage (See Week 3 starting on page 28 for the material on divorce and remarriage from 1 Cor. 7:10-16.).

Copyright 2013 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. 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.