1 Corinthians chapter 7 sees Paul responding to a letter he's received from the Corinthian church. A majority of scholars consider the statement in 7:1 that "it is good for a man not to touch a woman" to be a statement by the Corinthians that Paul has quoted from this other letter (and many translations put it in quotation marks). This is a polite way to talk about sexual relations in marriage and leads Paul to address the question of whether Christians should marry or stay single, and whether they should become single or stay married if they already have a spouse.
As we go through this chapter we see again that many in Corinth have misunderstood Paul's teaching, and Paul writes to clear up these misunderstandings. There's a lot of material here so I've split the chapter into two parts. First we'll deal with 7:1-16 and take on 7:17-40 in the next session.
- Read 1 Cor. 7:1-7. What do you make of Paul’s teaching about sexual relations in marriage? Do you think this teaching would be conventional or revolutionary in that time? What might it say about Paul's beliefs about the relationship between wives and husbands in general?
- Many people have read these verses and concluded that Paul viewed marriage and sexuality negatively or at least as inferior to the celibate life. What do you think? I'll ask this again after we've read the rest of the chapter.
- Read 1 Cor. 7:8-16. Paul here repeats Jesus’ challenging teaching about divorce (see Mark 10:1-12). How might Paul’s own teaching tell us about how we might try to apply what Jesus teaches in a life that is often messy and complicated?
- Notice how Paul distinguishes between what Jesus himself taught (verse 10) and Paul's own interpretation and application of that teaching (verse 12). Because Paul's letters in the New Testament have been recognized as inspired Scripture we can accept that his teaching is faithful to Jesus; all the same it's very easy to confuse our personal interpretations of Jesus' words with the things that Jesus actually said and taught. How well do you think Christians today follow Paul example?