Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians;
A Bible Study Based upon the Homilies of St John Chrysostom (SJC)
Study Guide – October 11, 2022 – 1st Corinthians Chapter 8 Session 20 – Homily 19
Prayer before reading of the Holy Scriptures: Shine within our hearts, loving Master, the pure light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds that we may comprehend the message of Your Gospel. Instill in us also reverence for Your blessed commandments so that, having conquered sinful desires, we may pursue a spiritual life, thinking and doing all those things which are pleasing to You. For You, Christ our God, are the light of our souls and bodies, and to You we give glory, together with Your Father who is without beginning and Your all holy, good and life giving Spirit, always now and forever and to the ages of ages.
Section  verses 1-9
- Saint Paul takes a break from a stern tone and settles in for advice on marriage – SJC And he interposes some exhortation and advice about marriage and virginity, giving the hearers some respite from more unpleasant subjects.
- Saint Paul had received their questions. They must have had a relationship – SJC Wherefore he says, Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me. For they had written to him, Whether it was right to abstain from one’s wife, or not: and writing back in answer to this and giving rules about marriage, he introduces also the discourse concerning virginity.
- Historical Context: Some believed this was meant for clergy but SJC believed it was for all. Marriage is a blessing. – SJC Some indeed say that this discourse was addressed by him to priests. But I, judging from what follows, could not affirm that it was so: since he would not have given his advice in general terms.
- Our bodies are not our own. When we are married, our spouse has ‘a say’ in our choice. – SJC Now what is the meaning of the due honor? The wife has not power over her own body; but is both the slave and the mistress of the husband. And if you decline the service which is due, you have offended God.
- Equality is the power of marriage – SJC But in this place we hear no more of greater and less, but it is one and the same right. Now why is this? Because his speech was about chastity. In all other things, says he, let the husband have the prerogative; but not so where the question is about chastity. The husband has no power over his own body, neither the wife. There is great equality of honor, and no prerogative.
- Sexual passion is a very powerful temptation – SJC Because great evils spring from this sort of continence. For adulteries and fornications and the ruin of families have often arisen from hence. For if when men have their own wives they commit fornication, much more if you defraud them of this consolation.
- Chastity by choice is not as tempting – SJC For that one should practice continence against the will of the other is defrauding; but not so, with the other’s consent: any more than I count myself defrauded, if after persuading me you take away anything of mine. Since only he defrauds who takes against another’s will and by force.
- Chastity for intense prayer is not the same as regular prayer – SJC It is prayer with unusual earnestness which he here means. For if he is forbidding those who have intercourse with one another to pray, how could pray without ceasing have any place? It is possible then to live with a wife and yet give heed unto prayer. But by continence prayer is made more perfect.
- Saint Paul gives advice but not commandments about marriage – SJC Do you see the strong sense of Paul how he both signifies that continence is better, and yet puts no force on the person who cannot attain to it; fearing lest some offense arise?
Section  verses 10-16
- Sometimes marriages end but that is not the desire. We need to do whatever we can to avoid divorce. – SJC Here, seeing that both on the score of continence and other pretexts, and because of infirmities of temper, (μικροψυχίας.) it fell out that separations took place: it were better, he says, that such things should not be at all; but however if they take place, let the wife remain with her husband, if not to cohabit with him, yet so as not to introduce any other to be her husband.
- Marriage brings others to holiness because of hope of salvation – SJC Well: it is one body; nevertheless she becomes not unclean, but the cleanness of the wife overcomes the uncleanness of the husband; and again, the cleanness of the believing husband overcomes the uncleanness of the unbelieving wife. How then in this case is the uncleanness overcome, and therefore the intercourse allowed; while in the woman who prostitutes herself, the husband is not condemned in casting her out? Because here there is hope that the lost member may be saved through the marriage; but in the other case the marriage has already been dissolved; and there again both are corrupted; but here the fault is in one only of the two.
- Christians can only marry Christians from the start – SJC For the question now is not about those who have never yet come together, but about those who are already joined. He did not say, If any one wish to take an unbelieving wife, but, If any one has an unbelieving wife. Which means, If any after marrying or being married have received the word of godliness, and then the other party which had continued in unbelief still yearn for them to dwell together, let not the marriage be broken off.
Section  verses 17-24
- Slavery VS Freedom is not more of a spiritual burden as circumcision – SJC Astonishing! Where has he put slavery? As circumcision profits not: and uncircumcision does no harm; so neither does slavery, nor yet liberty.
- Real slavery comes from passions – SJC But how is the slave a free man while continuing a slave? When he is freed from passions and the diseases of the mind: when he looks down upon riches and wrath and all other the like passions.
- Slavery does not hurt us – SJC But if it is impossible for one who is a slave to be a Christian such as he ought to be, the Greeks will condemn true religion of great weakness: whereas if they can be taught that slavery in no way impairs godliness, they will admire our doctrine. For if death hurt us not, nor scourges, nor chains, much less slavery. Fire and iron and tyrannies innumerable and diseases and poverty and wild beasts and countless things more dreadful than these, have not been able to injure the faithful; nay, they have made them even mightier. And how shall slavery be able to hurt?
Section  verses 25-40
- Marriage VS Virginity is a choice – SJC But still with all this he leaves it to their own choice: inasmuch as he who after proving what is best goes back to compulsion, seems as if he did not trust his own statements.
- The issue isn’t about sex, but cares of the world – SJC And laying down the definition of a virgin and her that is not a virgin, he names, not marriage nor continence but leisure from engagements and multiplicity of engagements. For the evil is not in the cohabitation, but in the impediment to the strictness of life.
LIFE APPLICATION: READ On Virginity by SJC Now if we have passed lightly by what he says of virginity, let no one accuse us of negligence; for indeed an entire book has been composed by us upon this topic and as we have there with all the accuracy which we could, gone through every branch of the subject, we considered it a waste of words to introduce it again here. Wherefore, referring the hearer to that work as concerns these things, we will say this one thing here
SEND OFF! We Must Remain Pure!We must follow after continence. For, says he, follow after peace, and the sanctification without which no one shall see the Lord. Therefore that we may be accounted worthy to see Him, whether we be in virginity or in the first marriage or the second, let us follow after this that we may obtain the kingdom of heaven, through the grace and loving-kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ;