Advice to the Married.* 1Now in regard to the matters about which you wrote: “It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman,”* 2but because of cases of immorality every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband. 3The husband should fulfill his duty toward his wife, and likewise the wife toward her husband. 4A wife does not have authority over her own body, but rather her husband, and similarly a husband does not have authority over his own body, but rather his wife. 5Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another, so that Satan may not tempt you through your lack of self-control. 6This I say by way of concession,* however, not as a command. 7Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God,* one of one kind and one of another.a
8* b Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, 9but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire. 10c To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the Lord):* A wife should not separate from her husband 11—and if she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband—and a husband should not divorce his wife.
12To the rest* I say (not the Lord): if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she is willing to go on living with him, he should not divorce her; 13and if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he is willing to go on living with her, she should not divorce her husband. 14For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother. Otherwise your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy.d
15If the unbeliever separates,* however, let him separate. The brother or sister is not bound in such cases; God has called you to peace. 16For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband; or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
The Life That the Lord Has Assigned.* 17Only, everyone should live as the Lord has assigned, just as God called each one. I give this order in all the churches. 18Was someone called after he had been circumcised? He should not try to undo his circumcision. Was an uncircumcised person called? He should not be circumcised.e 19Circumcision means nothing, and uncircumcision means nothing; what matters is keeping God’s commandments.f 20Everyone should remain in the state in which he was called.
21Were you a slave when you were called? Do not be concerned but, even if you can gain your freedom, make the most of it. 22For the slave called in the Lord is a freed person in the Lord, just as the free person who has been called is a slave of Christ.g 23You have been purchased at a price. Do not become slaves to human beings.h 24Brothers, everyone should continue before God in the state in which he was called.
Advice to Virgins and Widows. 25Now in regard to virgins, I have no commandment from the Lord,* but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26So this is what I think best because of the present distress: that it is a good thing for a person to remain as he is.i 27Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a separation. Are you free of a wife? Then do not look for a wife. 28If you marry, however, you do not sin, nor does an unmarried woman sin if she marries; but such people will experience affliction in their earthly life, and I would like to spare you that.
29* I tell you, brothers, the time is running out. From now on, let those having wives act as not having them,j 30those weeping as not weeping, those rejoicing as not rejoicing, those buying as not owning, 31those using the world as not using it fully. For the world in its present form is passing away.
32I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. 33But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,k 34and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.l 35I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint upon you, but for the sake of propriety and adherence to the Lord without distraction.m
36* If anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, and if a critical moment has come* and so it has to be, let him do as he wishes. He is committing no sin; let them get married. 37The one who stands firm in his resolve, however, who is not under compulsion but has power over his own will, and has made up his mind to keep his virgin, will be doing well. 38So then, the one who marries his virgin does well; the one who does not marry her will do better.
39* A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whomever she wishes, provided that it be in the Lord.n 40She is more blessed, though, in my opinion, if she remains as she is, and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.o
* [7:1–40] Paul now begins to answer questions addressed to him by the Corinthians (1 Cor 7:1–11:1). The first of these concerns marriage. This chapter contains advice both to the married (1–16) and to the unmarried (1 Cor 7:25–38) or widowed (1 Cor 7:39–40); these two parts are separated by 1 Cor 7:17–24, which enunciate a principle applicable to both.
* [7:1–16] It seems that some Christians in Corinth were advocating asceticism in sexual matters. The pattern it is a good thing…, but occurs twice (1 Cor 7:1–2, 8–9; cf. 1 Cor 7:26), suggesting that in this matter as in others the Corinthians have seized upon a genuine value but are exaggerating or distorting it in some way. Once again Paul calls them to a more correct perspective and a better sense of their own limitations. The phrase it is a good thing (1 Cor 7:1) may have been the slogan of the ascetic party at Corinth.
* [7:1–7] References to Paul’s own behavior (1 Cor 7:7–8) suggest that his celibate way of life and his preaching to the unmarried (cf. 1 Cor 7:25–35) have given some the impression that asceticism within marriage, i.e., suspension of normal sexual relations, would be a laudable ideal. Paul points to their experience of widespread immorality to caution them against overestimating their own strength (1 Cor 7:2); as individuals they may not have the particular gift that makes such asceticism feasible (1 Cor 7:7) and hence are to abide by the principle to be explained in 1 Cor 7:17–24.
* [7:6] By way of concession: this refers most likely to the concession mentioned in 1 Cor 7:5a: temporary interruption of relations for a legitimate purpose.
* [7:7] A particular gift from God: use of the term charisma suggests that marriage and celibacy may be viewed in the light of Paul’s theology of spiritual gifts (1 Cor 7:12–14).
* [7:8] Paul was obviously unmarried when he wrote this verse. Some interpreters believe that he had previously been married and widowed; there is no clear evidence either for or against this view, which was expressed already at the end of the second century by Clement of Alexandria.
* [7:10–11] (Not I, but the Lord): Paul reminds the married of Jesus’ principle of nonseparation (Mk 10:9). This is one of his rare specific references to the teaching of Jesus.
* [7:12–14] To the rest: marriages in which only one partner is a baptized Christian. Jesus’ prohibition against divorce is not addressed to them, but Paul extends the principle of nonseparation to such unions, provided they are marked by peacefulness and shared sanctification.
* [7:15–16] If the unbeliever separates: the basis of the “Pauline privilege” in Catholic marriage legislation.
* [7:17–24] On the ground that distinct human conditions are less significant than the whole new existence opened up by God’s call, Paul urges them to be less concerned with changing their states of life than with answering God’s call where it finds them. The principle applies both to the married state (1 Cor 7:1–16) and to the unmarried (1 Cor 7:25–38).
* [7:25–28] Paul is careful to explain that the principle of 1 Cor 7:17 does not bind under sin but that present earthly conditions make it advantageous for the unmarried to remain as they are (1 Cor 7:28). These remarks must be complemented by the statement about “particular gifts” from 1 Cor 7:7.
* [7:29–31] The world…is passing away: Paul advises Christians to go about the ordinary activities of life in a manner different from those who are totally immersed in them and unaware of their transitoriness.
* [7:36–38] The passage is difficult to interpret, because it is unclear whether Paul is thinking of a father and his unmarried daughter (or slave), or of a couple engaged in a betrothal or spiritual marriage. The general principles already enunciated apply: there is no question of sin, even if they should marry, but staying as they are is “better” (for the reasons mentioned in 1 Cor 7:28–35). Once again the charisma of 1 Cor 7:7 which applies also to the unmarried (1 Cor 7:8–9), is to be presupposed.
* [7:36] A critical moment has come: either because the woman will soon be beyond marriageable age, or because their passions are becoming uncontrollable (cf. 1 Cor 7:9).
* [7:39–40] Application of the principles to the case of widows. If they do choose to remarry, they ought to prefer Christian husbands.
e. [7:18] 1 Mc 1:15 / Acts 15:1–2.
f. [7:19] Rom 2:25, 29; Gal 5:6; 6:15.
g. [7:22] Eph 6:5–9; Col 3:11; Phlm 16.