Help understanding 1st Corinthians 7th chapter

Greetings and Peace be unto you,

I would like to know if anyone can help getting the understanding of 1st Cor. 7th chap from the RCC’s teaching. In partiucular I’m speaking of verses 10-16.

My take on what Paul is talking about is that he’s addressing two types of converts into the faith of christ regarding marriage. The converts into the faith of Christ seem to consist of Jews and Gentiles and were already married before coming into the faith. It seems that in one group both spouses believe, therefore Paul tells this group that if there is any separation no one is to remarry, only to reconcile with thier spouse. He explains that this is a command from the LORD and not him. This would cover verses 10-11.

The other group seems to be speaking of couples already married, but where only one spouse comes into the faith or rather believes. In this situation Pauls gives his spiritual advice, not a command from the LORD. He seems to explain to those in this situation that if the unbelieving spouse is pleased to remain together, then the believing spouse should not put the other away. Now on the other hand, and this is where I really want to understand, Paul explains that if the unbelieving spouse choses to rather to leave the other, he says to let them leave because a brother or a sister is not under servitude in such cases. This would cover verses 12-15.

Does this mean the believing is free to remarry?

Also in verse 14, in the online Douay-Rheims Bible I have is commments that verse 14 is simply saying the by the example of the believer the unbelieving spouse my come into the faith. Therefore the children they have would be clean.

My question is what if the unbelieving spouse never choses to believe in the faith, would the children be clean if their believing parent’s example moves them to except the faith?

Thank you helping,


Corinthians, like all of the Letters of the NT really needs to be read in full to get the real meaning of the letter.

A little historical background, and you already touched on many points. Paul was writting to a very divided community. There was the division between Christians of jewish origins, who strongly believed that were still Jews, that is Jesus was the fulfilment of the OT prophets and Law and all Christians were bond to follow the Mosaic Law, with the Christian who were gentiles and felt no need to uphold the Jewish Law.

Another division, which at first seems strange, but not really when you look around. From Paul’s letter, it seems the Holy Spirit was quite active amoung the Corinthians. Trouble was, those bless with various Charisms began to feel and act superior to those who were not. This lead to Pauls analogy of the Church being the Body of Christ and we are the different functioning parts of the Mystical body.

Perhaps the most famous division was between the Rich and the poor which lead to real abuses - the rich being fed and taken care of at the Eucharistic Meals that the poor were going away hungry while richer members were actually getting drunk on the consecrated wine.

Another division, and this does get closer to your question, came over the Resurrection of the dead. A large portion of the community believed that there wouldn’t be a Ressurection, rather they would skip death and eventually become angel like persons.
Another group believed that there would be the Resurrection of the dead at Jesus’ final judgement, however, they believed, however, as Paul clearly does in earlier Letters, that Christ second coming was immanent literally at any second it was going to happen. This is really the driving force behind Paul’s teachings on marriage and that it would be better that singles and widows focus full attention in prayer awaiting the Parousia. That’s why he is offering this as advise, because was never explicit on when He would return (and in the Gospel Jesus actually tells his disciples He simply doesn’t know). BUT Jesus was explicit on the question of married people and diviorce, so Paul could not nor would he go against a command of Christ thus the "Not I but the Lord; or “I say, not the Lord”. Again, because of the belief in Christ immanent return he said what he said about widows and singles - to be totally focus on Christ return when there would be no need. It should be noted, however, this expectation of Christ’s

A Catholic commentary on this chapter and the rest of the New Testament from the old Haydock Catholic Bible commentary can be found here.

#2 immediate return was beginning to be doubted because as Paul says himself, some who had actually experienced the Risen Lord had died (or as Paul put’s it, are asleep).

Going back to an earlier point, despite all its troubles, the Corinthians seem to have be a Spirit filled people, and Paul recoginzed and acknowledged this fact. He understood how the Holy Spirit could active in a family even if only one spouce was a Christian, and because of the workings of the Holy Spirit the the Children of such a marriage would be unclean but are not. So it would be that the believing spouce would be a sacrament - a means of Grace for the non-believing spouce and Children. It is the activity of the Holy Spirit that should be the focus as the source of Grace.

Finally, one of Paul’s biggest concerns was that the division amoung the members of the Church of Corinth would create scandle amoung the pagans (just think of the reaction of the media and general public today when it comes to scandle in the Catholic Church). This is why Paul hated to see lawsuits amoung Christians and taught against them. It also one of the reasons Paul allows for diviorce when it came to a mixed couple. If their marriage was so bitter because of the Christian Faith of one of the couples it would be better to allow the separation rather than run the risk of scandle (and one real negative effect of scandle is that it inhibits the movement of the Holy Spirit.)

It seems as though you answered your own question. When an unbelieving spouse does not interfere and allows the children to be baptized and raised as Christians the unbelieving spouse receives grace.

Paul’s statement that an unbelieving spouse is made holy by a believing spouse is very powerful. It sheds light on the redemptive suffering that the Church teaches us. We can be conduits of grace to those around us when we persevere in faith and obedience to God.

It was St. Monica’s perseverance with an abusive unbelieving husband and her patience with an unbelieving disrespectful son that led both men to conversion. St. Monica’s son was St. Augustine.

Hope this helps you on your journey.

Thanks everyone,

It feels good to know that I was somewhere in the ballpark. Much appreciated.


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