Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Understanding Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians

I entered the house after delivering another load of tents to the local Outdoor Pursuits Shop.

Paul was sitting at the table writing on another pile of parchment papers.

“Hello” I said, “would you like a hot drink?”

“What have you to offer?” he asked without looking up.

“Hot boiled fish water sweetened with honey …” I replied casually.

“The same old brew …” he mumbled in disgust, “when will someone discover coffee, or tea or hot chocolate drink?”

“There’s also hot milk and honey from the Promised Land!” I said encouragingly; but he did not answer.

I asked him what he was writing.

“It’s a letter to the people of Corinth …” he said, “I have to finish it today and send it before postage costs go up yet again …

“They’ve asked me for advice on how to live … just basic advice. I mean … can’t these people think for themselves. Here, have a read” he continued, as he passed me some bits of parchment which smelled like old goat skins.

I read … “Chapter 7 - Verse 1”

For some reason Paul always wrote his letters by numbering every chapter and every verse. I don’t know why he did that. Must be some affectation of some kind I suppose. He wrote:

“A man does well not to marry.”

“Hein?” I thought, “what’s he on about?” I kept on reading what seemed to be rather personal advice to these Corinthian people; albeit good advice I must say, and then again, at Verse 7 he wrote:

“Actually, I would prefer if all of you were single as I am …You single people and widows, it is better if you continue to live alone; just as I do …”

I stopped and looked at him writing there. I wondered why he’d never got married. Perhaps having met my mother-in-law he got frightened out of matrimony altogether.

But his advice made no sense. How can he possibly say a man should not marry, and in fact he’d prefer all of them to remain single and live alone?

I asked him “How would people multiply if they followed your advice?”

“What’s Mathematics to do with it?” he replied without looking up, “they can learn their multiplication tables like every one else!”

“No …” I said hesitantly, “I mean … you know … doing it … having babies …”

“Oh … I gave them a let out clause in Verse 9” Paul continued nonchalantly, “I told them if they can’t control themselves they’d better get married anyway.

“I really can’t understand those people … why can’t they distract themselves by playing card games, or Monopoly or similar board games. The shops are full of them!”

I kept on reading and I must admit I got a bit embarrassed at the personal advice which followed. He meant well, I suppose, and maybe those Corinthians were a little slow on the up-take and needed very detailed advice on how to live as early Christians.

Then at Verse 26 he repeated his opinions again.

“If a man is unmarried he should stay this way. If he is married he should not get rid of his wife!”

“Charming” I thought, “no doubt he’s considered the costs of divorce and alimony when giving this advice.

But then his letter continued:

“Are you unmarried? Then don't look for a wife ... I would rather spare you the everyday troubles that married people will have.”

Well, my mother-in-law certainly has had an influence on him; I thought.

I got out of the house somewhat more confused than those Corinthians will be when they receive this letter.

I was met by my wife and mother-in-law coming home from a shopping trip. Before I had time to welcome them mom-in-law said:

“What are you doing lazing in the sun? Have you no work to do?”


  1. Thank you Madeleines.

    God bless you.

  2. I don't know anyone who brings the bible to life quite like you do, Victor! Are you sure you weren't really there? Maybe, Nut Man put on his cape and did a bit of time travel. If you decide to go forward in time, perhaps you could let us all know next months lottery numbers?

    God bless:-)

  3. Hi Vicky,

    Try 16, 34 , 41, an orange, two cherries and the Ace of Hearts.

    I never quite understood what St Paul was really trying to achieve with this Chapter in his letter to the Corinthians.

    God bless.

  4. Maybe, it was directed specifically at the Corinthians, do you think? Just wondering whether poverty or moral conditions might be the reason for the advice? Or maybe, he felt a need to promote vocations? Or maybe, the culture was chauvinistic and there was a need to protect the women of the time? Or maybe, he was just so joyful in the consecrated state that he wanted everyone to have the same?

    I thought your thought-provoking post deserved a more sensible answer, Victor - though, really I may just have typed serious babble instead of ridiculous babble;-)

    God bless:-)

  5. I see what you're saying Vicky; and to a large extent I agree.

    Paul was obviously teaching morals; but somehow, he may have gone too far for the Corinthians to accept the advice. To suggest that they shouldn't marry, and presumably remain celibate, would not have been taken too seriously by them I don't think.

    You're also right in that Paul may have been protecting women from a chauvenistic culture. We know he was not married, and never did marry.

    Peter however was married. I don't know about the other disciples though.

    There's a lot of repitition in this chapter by Paul. And I wonder whether maybe we lost something in translation from the original text.

    I suspect he was writing in Greek (?) to the Corinthians. He was a Roman by birth. Could he have been writing in Latin?

    Thanx Vickie for the serious discussion on this.

    God bless.

  6. Guess what, Victor? I have often wondered about this passage too! You know why St. Paul didn't want people to marry? He thought the world was going to end soon! Seriously! And if everyone took his advice it would have!

    This post is funny! Oh … I gave them a let out clause in Verse 9” Paul continued nonchalantly, “I told them if they can’t control themselves they’d better get married anyway."


    That is basically what he said!

  7. Now that's news to me Mary. I didn't know that St Paul thought the world was going to end soon.

    I wonder whether it was because of the persecution of the early Christians which made him think the world would end.

    I've learnt something new. Thanx.

    God bless.

    1. Victor,

      I had the same thought as Mary. Didn't the apostles expect Jesus to return in their lifetime? Staying single would have meant a person could have dedicated himself entirely to God. No need to increase the population if there wasn't much time left. We are still waiting which is just as well for us. Imagine never being born.

  8. Hello Sue,

    You touch on a very important question which, I must admit, I have no answer.

    If the apostles expected Jesus to return in their lifetime, which did not happen, then didn't the Holy Spirit teach them that at Pentecost when He descended on them as flames? Mary was there too; so she obviously knew Jesus would return. Paul joined the Church much later. How come he and the dsiciples still expected Jesus to return in their lifetimes?

    I understand Paul's advice about remaining single; although I didn't know his motives until now. What I don't understand is why God/the Holy Spirit did not put him and the other disciples right about the timing of Christ's return.

    I'm glad this post has turned into a serious discussion. I look forward to other views and explanations.

    God bless.

  9. Victor,
    I've been thinking about this post on St. Paul and haven't come to any further conclusions as to why he taught what he did in this area. Holy Scripture is divinely inspired but Jesus said that no one knew the day of his return (not even himself while on earth). Obviously St Paul thought it would be soon, as did the other apostles. Why? Maybe because so many terrible things were going on - especially the persecution of the early Church as you've mentioned in your comment. I'll have to think about it some more. I doubt I'll get very far though :) God bless!

  10. It's a real mystery Mary as to why the disciples thought Christ would return in their lifetime.

    It explains Paul's advice to Corinth I suppose.

    Please let me know if you discover anything else in your research.

    And there I was all the time thinking that it was my mother-in-law which put him off marriage!

    God bless.

  11. It could have been your mother-in-law ;)



God bless you.