Small Group Material: 
Week Commencing: 
10 May 2009
Bible Base: 
1 Corinthians 7:1-16

Week 4   1 Corinthians 7:1-16 (following sermon on 10 May)
We need to be careful in our understanding of this passage for several important reasons:- Firstly, we are reading a letter which represents one side of the correspondence between Paul and the church in Corinth, and we can only guess in our reconstruction of what their letter was about.
Secondly, the context of marriage in Corinth was very different from our context today, so we should be careful about what attitudes we read into Paul. In my opinion, Paul was much more favourable towards women than most men of his day.
Thirdly, the later church used this chapter to justify making celibacy a higher calling than marriage – in doing this it was reading attitudes into Paul that were probably not there. It is easy for us to do the same!  
So what was the context of marriage in Corinth?
First of all, we need to recognise that being married was the norm in that society. It is quite likely that when Paul refers to ‘the unmarried’ as in verse 8, he may well mean widowers. Secondly, such marriages were often entered into at a young age, and many marriages were for purposes of status rather than of love. It seems likely that many of those in Corinth who were married went outside of their marriage for sexual fulfilment. Marriage was not seen in Corinth in terms of committed love and faithfulness.
One other factor in all of Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth is the influence of dualism, a way of thinking which came from the Greeks and not from the Bible. Dualism regards the spiritual as much more important than the physical, and can regard the physical as evil. As we mentioned at the beginning of these studies this led to two opposite errors; one was to say that because the physical is ‘evil’ we should not indulge in physical activity such as sex. The other was to say that because only the spiritual is important it does not matter what we do with our bodies so that sexual immorality was unimportant.
Discussion Questions
1)      What two central truths of the Gospel tell us that the physical is important and is not evil?
2)      The Bible versions which put speech marks around “it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” reflect the views of the vast majority of modern scholars. The quote is the view of some of the church in Corinth, and not the view of Paul (or of the Bible – see the Song of Solomon or Genesis 1 and 2 for example). The super-spiritual thought it was much more holy for a couple to give up sex.
How does Paul respond to this? What does this tell us about sex within marriage?
3)      “Give up sex so that you can pray”. How does Paul respond to this suggestion?
4)      Verse 6 may well refer back to the first half of verse 5 rather than the second half of verse 5 i.e. the ‘concession’ that Paul is giving is to the idea of giving up sex for prayer rather than the idea that the concession is to allow them sex within marriage. (Our distorted views of Paul tend to assume that the latter is the concession!). How does Paul come over as a pastor in this discussion?
5)      Verses 7-8 are about singleness – in the context this probably means those who are single through death of a partner or divorce. (As far as we know, it would have been highly unusual for Paul as a Pharisee to have always been single; many scholars think that the probability is that he was a widower.) Paul’s missionary work would have been complicated by responsibilities to a wife, and this may lie behind the first part of verse 7. It does look as though Paul is here expressing his preference for his own personal circumstances. Is he saying that everyone else must be like him?
6)      Verses 10-11 What was Jesus’ teaching about the tendency for easy divorce in his time?
7)      Verse 12 means that there is no teaching from Jesus about the difficult issue of marriages between Christians and non-Christians. (In context, this is in the situation where one partner has become a Christian and the other has not).
A case study from my time as a curate:- I was phoned up by a man who had become a Christian through the local House Church. He had been living with a girl for several years; they had bought a house together and loved each other. Now that he wax a Christian, the elders of the church said that he should not have sexual relations with his partner until they got married, but she did not see why this should happen and was very hurt. How would you respond to this situation? What do you think Paul would have said in the light of his teaching in verses 12 to 16?
8)      What do you think verse 14 means?
9)      Verse 15 is certainly allowing separation in this context. Do you think it allows for divorce (what might ‘enslaved’ mean here?)
10) Have we had experience of verse 16 becoming reality?
11) In all of the discussion of these difficult areas, how does Paul (the real Paul, not your prejudices about him!) come across as a pastor?