This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
1 Corinthians 7:1-9
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
Directions concerning Marriage
7 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ 2 But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 This I say by way of concession, not of command. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. 9 But if they are not practising self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
This translation puts the opinion that it’s better for a man not to touch a woman, in quotation marks, as if it was written by his Corinthian correspondent. This seems good to me, as there is nothing else in St. Paul’s writing that expresses this extreme position. He does suggest that new relationships might not be wise in view of the expected return of Jesus Messiah. In his own case, he remains without a wife because of the requirements of his calling. Otherwise he shows a down-to-earth, shrewd, perhaps one might say, slightly sour, view of sexuality. If his unromantic emphasis on conjugal rights is typical, we should note it also requires complete equality.
His conclusion that it’s better to marry than burn is the kind of crabbit (Scots=testy) judgement that wins him no admirers from a sexually saturated society, or from its critics, who tend to be advocates of lurve; but pleases those who are more interested in friendship, politics or God.
In sum, St Paul is not a 21st century liberal Christian; nor however is he a Catholic Pope who continues to insist that celibacy is inherently better than marriage without noticing that his priests are aflame with all sorts of dangerous passions. He admits the power of sex and the value of marriage while insisting that there are things more important than either.