Chapter 38: 1 Corinthians 1–11

“Chapter 38: 1 Corinthians 1–11,” New Testament Student Manual (2018)

“Chapter 38,” New Testament Student Manual


1 Corinthians 1–11

Introduction to the First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians

Why study 1 Corinthians?

It can be challenging to live with faith and obedience in our modern world amid strife, skepticism, and immorality. Modern readers of 1 Corinthians can find strength in Paul’s words to the Saints in Corinth, who struggled with disunity, false doctrines, and immoral wickedness in the society in which they lived. Paul addressed a variety of gospel topics in this letter, such as how to promote unity in the Church, how to learn the things of God, the role of the physical body as a temple for the Holy Ghost, the nature of spiritual gifts, and the reality of the Resurrection.

Who wrote 1 Corinthians?

The opening verse of the First Epistle to the Corinthians indicates that it was sent by the Apostle Paul and a disciple named Sosthenes, who may have served as Paul’s scribe (see 1 Corinthians 1:1). While the details of Sosthenes’s role are not known, it is clear that Paul was the author of the epistle’s content (see 1 Corinthians 16:21–24). For more information about the use of scribes in ancient letter writing, see the commentary for Romans 16:22.

When and where was 1 Corinthians written?

Early in his third missionary journey, Paul went to Ephesus, where he preached for approximately three years (see Acts 19:10; 20:31). It was during this time—sometime between A.D. 54 and 57 (see 1 Corinthians 16:8)—that Paul wrote letters to the Corinthian branch, including the epistle known as 1 Corinthians. This epistle was likely written earlier than any of the other New Testament books, including the Gospels. If this is true, Paul’s brief references to the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ found in 1 Corinthians 11:23–26 and 15:3–4 are the earliest New Testament accounts of these events.

The King James Version of the Bible includes a short explanatory note at the conclusion of each of Paul’s epistles, such as the one found after 1 Corinthians 16:24. These notes, called subscriptions, were not part of the original text. While there is very little evidence to determine who wrote these notes and when they were added to New Testament manuscripts, most scholars agree that much of the information contained in them is incorrect.

To whom was 1 Corinthians written and why?

In Paul’s day, the city of Corinth was the capital of the Roman province Achaia, which covered most of ancient Greece south of Macedonia. As a wealthy trade center, Corinth attracted people from throughout the Roman Empire, making it one of the most diverse cities in the area. Idol worship dominated Corinthian religious culture, and there were numerous temples and shrines throughout the city. At the time of Paul’s ministry, the Corinthians had a reputation of being grossly immoral. For instance, ritual prostitution was reportedly practiced at the temple of Aphrodite.

Paul had established a Christian branch in Corinth during his second missionary journey (see Acts 18:1–18). Paul remained in Corinth for 18 months, proclaiming the gospel and organizing the Church. Later, while Paul was preaching in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, he received communication from Church members in Corinth. He wrote a response to the branch (see 1 Corinthians 5:9), but unfortunately this epistle was lost and is therefore not part of the scriptural canon. Later, Paul received another report from Church members in Corinth concerning problems in the Church there (see 1 Corinthians 1:11). Hence, the epistle known today as 1 Corinthians is actually Paul’s second letter to members in Corinth.

The original correspondence that Paul received from the members in Corinth has long since been lost, so readers today must study Paul’s response to infer the actual questions and issues that the letter raised. 1 Corinthians makes it clear that Church members lacked unity and that some pagan beliefs and practices had begun to influence their observance of gospel principles and ordinances (see 1 Corinthians 1:11; 6:1–8; 10:20–22; 11:18–22).

Modern readers may find parts of the First Epistle to the Corinthians confusing, such as Paul’s advice regarding relationships between men and women (1 Corinthians 11:3, 8–9), hair coverings (1 Corinthians 11:4–7), and the role of women in worship services (1 Corinthians 14:34–35). Remembering that Paul was giving direction to solve specific problems among the Corinthian Saints of that day will help readers recognize the relevant gospel principles that are applicable to all followers of Jesus Christ.

What are some distinctive features of 1 Corinthians?

The New Testament contains more counsel from Paul to the Church members in Corinth than to any other branch. In fact, Paul’s two epistles to the Corinthians constitute one-fourth of all of Paul’s existing writings. In 1 Corinthians, Paul sought to strengthen the converts in Corinth who struggled with reverting to their past beliefs and practices. Among the many topics that Paul addressed in this letter, he focused on the Atonement of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 1:17–18, 30; 6:20; 7:23), the Savior’s death (see 1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2, 8; 8:11; 10:16; 11:26; 15:3), His Resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 6:14; 15:4–8, 12–23, 55–57), and the eventual return of Jesus Christ to earth (see 1 Corinthians 1:7–8; 4:5; 5:5).

While Paul’s writings to the Romans and Galatians clearly teach that salvation is not gained through obedience to the law, Paul goes a step further in 1 Corinthians, emphasizing the importance of “the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19) and the law of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 9:21).


1 Corinthians 1–11

Paul warned against divisions within the congregations of the Church in Corinth. He emphasized the importance of unity among Church members. He warned members against sexual immorality, taught that the body is a temple for the Holy Spirit, and encouraged self-mastery. He addressed specific questions regarding marriage, the ordinance of the sacrament (the Lord’s Supper), and whether or not it was permissible to eat meat that had been offered to pagan idols.

1 Corinthians 12–14

Paul taught that we are to “covet earnestly” the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:31). He highlighted the preeminence of charity among all other spiritual gifts. He reminded the Corinthian Saints of the importance of apostles, prophets, and teachers and the care members should have for one another. He taught that “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33).

1 Corinthians 15–16

Paul testified that he stood among many others who were witnesses of the resurrected Christ. He taught that everyone will be resurrected and that baptism for the dead affirms the truth of the future Resurrection. Paul explained that resurrected bodies will vary in degrees of glory and that Jesus Christ’s victory over the grave removes the sting of death. Paul organized a collection for the poor Saints in Jerusalem.

Temple of Apollo at Corinth

Temple of Apollo at Corinth, built about 600 B.C. This would have been one of the most imposing structures in Corinth in Paul’s day. Temples and shrines housing images of pagan deities were prevalent throughout the Greco-Roman world.

Introduction and Timeline for 1 Corinthians 1–11

During his third missionary journey, Paul was laboring in Ephesus when he learned that problems had arisen in the Corinthian branch. The recently converted members in Corinth resided in a very worldly environment, and some struggled to live correct principles. Paul responded by instructing the Saints in a wide variety of doctrines in order to strengthen their gospel understanding. He reminded these members that they had been “sanctified in Christ Jesus” and “called to be saints” (1 Corinthians 1:2). As such, they were to eliminate divisions among themselves (see 1 Corinthians 1:10–16) and trust in the preaching of the gospel and the power of the Spirit in order to comprehend the things of God (see 1 Corinthians 1:17–2:16). Paul also exhorted them to live a morally clean life (see 1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 6:9–20), to recognize the importance of marriage (see 1 Corinthians 7; 11:11–12), and to worthily partake of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Corinthians 10:16–17; 11:20–34).


Commentary for 1 Corinthians 1–11

1 Corinthians 1:1–9. Paul’s Salutation

Paul’s companion Sosthenes, mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:1, was perhaps the onetime ruler of the synagogue at Corinth (see Acts 18:17). Sosthenes was the successor to Crispus, who was converted and baptized by Paul (see Acts 18:17; 1 Corinthians 1:14). Paul’s salutation in this epistle was addressed to the Saints, just as official Church correspondence in our day is addressed to the Saints. Paul’s salutation mentioned God the Father and Jesus Christ as separate and distinct: “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:3). Paul taught the Saints in Corinth that they were “enriched by” Jesus Christ in every way—in speech and in knowledge (1 Corinthians 1:5).

1 Corinthians 1:10–17. Disputes over Baptism

Paul had received a report from a congregation that met in the house of Chloe, a prominent woman among the Corinthian Saints, concerning problems in the Church at Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 1:11). Church members were dividing into factions, and some of these divisions were based on who had performed their baptisms (see 1 Corinthians 1:12–16). Paul taught that there was no status gained by receiving baptism from a specific individual. Members were to be “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment,” with Christ at their head (1 Corinthians 1:10; see also D&C 38:27).

Paul later taught the Saints that the disputes and divisions among them occurred because some of them were carnal rather than spiritual (see 1 Corinthians 3:3).

1 Corinthians 1:17–18, 23–24. “The Cross of Christ”

Paul’s primary message was “the preaching of the cross,” which he taught was the “power of God” to save those who believed (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul used the phrase “the cross” as a kind of shorthand reference to the Atonement (see also Ephesians 2:16; Philippians 3:18). The Atonement, however, involved more than Christ’s death on the cross. Elder C. Scott Grow of the Seventy taught: “Through His suffering and death, the Savior atoned for the sins of all men. His Atonement began in Gethsemane and continued on the cross and culminated with the Resurrection” (“The Miracle of the Atonement,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2011, 108; see also True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference [2004], 15–17).


The Atonement included Christ’s suffering both in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross.

1 Corinthians 1:17–2:13. The Wisdom of the World

When Paul spoke against “the wisdom of this world” (1 Corinthians 1:20), he was referring to the flawed philosophical traditions of his day and not to the worthwhile pursuit of learning and education that the Lord encourages (see Matthew 22:37; 2 Nephi 9:29; D&C 88:78–80). Paul used the words wise and wisdom repeatedly in 1 Corinthians 1:17–2:13 to refer to worldly philosophies and those who supported them. Philosophical ideas were regularly the subject of public debates. Paul contrasted limited human wisdom with the powerful message of God’s crucified Son (see 1 Corinthians 1:17–25). Regardless of those who scoffed at the gospel, the Saints’ faith should not depend on “the wisdom of men, but … the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5).

The message of a crucified Messiah was difficult for both Jews and Gentiles to accept. In the Roman world, crucifixion was a punishment reserved for criminals or slaves and symbolized shame and defeat. The idea of someone vicariously suffering and dying for others, then subsequently coming back to life, was “foolishness” to the philosophically minded Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23). For the Jews, whose concept of the Messiah brought the expectation of royalty, power, and victory, the message that the Messiah had died on a cross was a “stumblingblock” and an unacceptable idea (1 Corinthians 1:23).

1 Corinthians 1:18–29. “God Hath Chosen the Weak Things of the World to Confound the Things Which Are Mighty”

While many Jews and Gentiles rejected the gospel message as “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:18), Paul taught that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:19–25). God often performs His work through individuals whom the world might consider to be “foolish” or “weak” (see D&C 35:13–14; 124:1). In 1 Corinthians 1:28, the “base things of the world”—those who are lowly and humble—are those whom God chooses to accomplish His work. President Boyd K. Packer (1924–2015) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how the Lord uses common members of the Church to further His work:

“The Church has no professional clergy. The call to leadership positions worldwide is drawn from the congregation. We have no seminaries for the training of professional leaders.

“Everything that is done in the Church—the leading, the teaching, the calling, the ordaining, the praying, the singing, the preparation of the sacrament, the counseling, and everything else—is done by ordinary members, the ‘weak things of the world’” (“The Weak and the Simple of the Church,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2007, 6–7).

1 Corinthians 2:2–5. “Not with Enticing Words”

Paul was exceptionally intelligent and well educated (see Acts 22:3; Galatians 1:14). He could have impressed the Corinthians with rhetoric, philosophy, and secular learning, but he deliberately focused on teaching the message of Jesus Christ simply and humbly. President Brigham Young (1801–77) explained how his own conversion resulted from a missionary who taught by the power of the Spirit: “If all the talent, tact, wisdom, and refinement of the world had been combined in one individual, and that person had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon, and had declared in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, undertaking to prove it by his learning and worldly wisdom, it would have been to me like the smoke which arises only to vanish. But when I saw a man without eloquence, or talents for public speaking, who could only just say, ‘I know by the power of the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of the Lord,’ the Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminates my understanding, and light, glory, and immortality is before me; I am encircled by it, filled with it, and know for myself that the testimony of the man is true” (Deseret News Weekly, Feb. 9, 1854, 24).

1 Corinthians 2:6–16. The Things of God Are Spiritually Discerned

Paul reminded his readers that a worldly minded person cannot comprehend spiritual truth because “the things of the Spirit of God” must be “spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Spiritual knowledge can be obtained only through the means that God has prepared, as Elder Paul V. Johnson of the Seventy taught:

“In the scientific world the scientific method is used to learn truth and advance knowledge. It has been extremely helpful over the years and has yielded tremendous amounts of scientific knowledge and continues to push back the curtain of ignorance about our physical world. Learning spiritual things, however, requires a different approach than learning scientific things. The scientific method and intellect are very helpful, but they alone will never bring spiritual knowledge.

“Learning spiritual things involves the intellect, but that is not enough. We only learn spiritual things by the Spirit. …

“… Answers to spiritual questions are given to individuals who don’t harden their hearts; who ask in faith, believing they will receive; and who diligently keep the commandments. Even when we follow this pattern, we don’t control the timing of getting answers. Sometimes our answers come quickly, and sometimes we must place questions on the shelf for a time and rely on our faith that has developed from the answers we do know” (“A Pattern for Learning Spiritual Things” [Seminaries and Institutes of Religion satellite broadcast, Aug. 7, 2012]).

President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency taught: “The Lord’s prescribed methods of acquiring sacred knowledge are very different from the methods used by those who acquire learning exclusively by study. For example, a frequent technique of scholarship is debate or adversarial discussion, a method with which I have had considerable personal experience. But the Lord has instructed us in ancient and modern scriptures that we should not contend over the points of his doctrine. (See 3 Ne. 11:28–30; D&C 10:63.) … Gospel truths and testimony are received from the Holy Ghost through reverent personal study and quiet contemplation” (“Alternate Voices,” Ensign, May 1989, 29).

1 Corinthians 3:4–7. “God Gave the Increase”

In 1 Corinthians 3:4–7, Paul used the metaphor of planting and harvesting to illustrate that missionaries are instruments in the hands of God, but it is “God that giveth the increase,” meaning that God causes the changes in people’s hearts and souls that lead to conversion. In the Book of Mormon, Ammon expressed similar sentiments (see Alma 26:11–14).

1 Corinthians 3:13. “The Day Shall Declare It”

The “day” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 3:13 is the Day of Judgment, when all our works will be made manifest.

1 Corinthians 3:16–17. “Ye Are the Temple of God”

Paul taught, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” (1 Corinthians 3:16). In this verse, Paul used ye, a plural pronoun, to refer to the Corinthian Saints collectively as God’s temple. Paul’s point was that the congregations of the Church functioned as temples where the Spirit of God could dwell (see 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21). This analogy is subtly different from the one that Paul used later in 1 Corinthians 6:19, in which he compared a person’s physical body to a temple (see the commentary for 1 Corinthians 6:19).

1 Corinthians 4:9–10. Death of the Apostles

When Paul taught that the Apostles “were appointed to death” (1 Corinthians 4:9), he hinted that his calling as an Apostle would lead to his death. He also related that many in Corinth viewed themselves as being wise and strong while considering Paul and other Apostles to be foolish, weak, and despised (see 1 Corinthians 4:10). These two factors—the Apostles’ death and Church members’ rejection of apostolic authority—would ultimately contribute to the Great Apostasy. President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency taught that “if the Saints who heard Paul had possessed a testimony of the value and the power of the keys he held, perhaps the Apostles would not have had to be taken from the earth. … Paul wanted the people to feel the value of the chain of priesthood keys reaching from the Lord through His Apostles to them, the members of the Lord’s Church” (“Faith and Keys,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2004, 27).

1 Corinthians 4:20. “Not in Word, but in Power”

To read about the importance of the gospel being taught in power, see the commentary for 1 Thessalonians 1:5.

1 Corinthians 5:1–13. “Put Away from among Yourselves That Wicked Person”

The word fornication was translated from the Greek porneia, which refers to any sexual relations outside of marriage. Porneia is also the root word for pornography.

One instance of fornication that Paul had learned of involved a Church member in Corinth who was in a sexual relationship with his stepmother. Such a relationship was forbidden in Old Testament law (see Leviticus 18:8, 29; Deuteronomy 22:30; 27:20) and was viewed as being wrong even among non-Christians (see 1 Corinthians 5:1). Paul reproved the Church in Corinth for failing to take disciplinary measures against the sinning member, and he counseled that the sinner be “put away” or excommunicated from the congregation (1 Corinthians 5:13). Paul reasoned that if the transgressor were left in the Church, the influence of wickedness would spread throughout the Church (1 Corinthians 5:6–8).

As in Paul’s day, Church members today are sometimes excommunicated for sinful behavior. Formal Church councils carry out disciplinary actions, always with the goal of helping and saving the sinner by assisting him or her in the repentance process. President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:

“In the scriptures, the Lord has given direction concerning Church disciplinary councils. (See D&C 102.) The word council brings to mind a helpful proceeding—one of love and concern, with the salvation and blessing of the transgressor being the foremost consideration.

“Members sometimes ask why Church disciplinary councils are held. The purpose is threefold: to save the soul of the transgressor, to protect the innocent, and to safeguard the Church’s purity, integrity, and good name. …

“… The miracle of the gospel is that we all can repent. Church government calls for Church disciplinary councils. But the Lord’s system also calls for restoration following repentance. Disfellowshipment or excommunication is not the end of the story, unless the member so chooses” (“A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings,” Ensign, Sept. 1990, 15, 18).

1 Corinthians 5:9–11. Do Not Keep Company with Fornicators

Paul advised the Corinthian Saints “not to company with fornicators” (1 Corinthians 5:9). Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles expounded on this teaching, pointing out that even a good person cannot remain unaffected by unrighteous influences: “Do not company with fornicators—not because you are too good for them but, as C. S. Lewis wrote, because you are not good enough. Remember that bad situations can wear down even good people. Joseph had both good sense and good legs in fleeing from Potiphar’s wife” (“The Stern but Sweet Seventh Commandment,” in Morality [1992], 29).

1 Corinthians 6:1–7. Avoiding Legal Disputes with Fellow Saints

One of the causes for division among Church members in Corinth was that Christians were bringing fellow Church members before civil magistrates over trivial civil disputes. Paul counseled Church members to seek to resolve their differences among themselves rather than entering a lawsuit against a fellow member. Paul’s counsel reflects similar teachings that the Savior gave during His mortal ministry (see Matthew 5:25; 18:15). Modern-day scripture acknowledges that there are times when it may be appropriate for Church members to pursue solutions to legal problems through the law of the land (see D&C 42:78–89).

1 Corinthians 6:9–11. “The Unrighteous Shall Not Inherit the Kingdom of God”

In 1 Corinthians 6:9–10, the Apostle Paul warned that those who persist in sinful behavior will not inherit God’s kingdom (see similar passages in Galatians 5:19–21 and Ephesians 5:5). Note that in verse 9, the Greek phrases translated as “effeminate” and “abusers of themselves with mankind” refer to homosexual relations. All forms of sexual immorality are contrary to God’s law. However, God provides the opportunity for forgiveness to those who truly repent. Paul taught that some who had been guilty of sexual sins had repented and were now washed clean and “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Regarding Paul’s teachings about immoral behavior, it is important to remember that, as President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) stated, “we cannot condone the sin, but we love the sinner” (“The Fabric of Faith and Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 89). For additional information on the Lord’s teachings about homosexual relations, see the commentary for Romans 1:26–27.

1 Corinthians 6:12–20; 10:23. What Is Meant by “All Things Are Lawful”?

In 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23, Paul seemed to address a false idea in Corinthian society that “all things are lawful,” or that everything is permissible. The Joseph Smith Translation clarifies that Paul refuted the notion that “all things were lawful”: “All these things are not lawful unto me, and all these things are not expedient. All things are not lawful for me, therefore I will not be brought under the power of any” (Joseph Smith Translation, 1 Corinthians 6:12 [in 1 Corinthians 6:12, footnote a]; see also Joseph Smith Translation, 1 Corinthians 10:23 [in 1 Corinthians 10:23, footnote a]).

1 Corinthians 6:15–18. “Flee Fornication”

Paul taught that those who join the Church become one with Christ as spiritual “members” of His body (1 Corinthians 6:15–18). He explained that sinful behavior, particularly the act of being “joined to an harlot,” was incompatible with a spiritual relationship or oneness with Jesus Christ. Church leaders today continue to emphasize the importance of reserving sexual intimacy for marriage: “Before marriage, do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body” (For the Strength of Youth [booklet, 2011], 36).

1 Corinthians 6:19. “Your Body Is the Temple of the Holy Ghost Which Is in You”

Many people in ancient Corinth believed that sexual immorality was acceptable. Paul contradicted this belief when he stated that “the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord” (1 Corinthians 6:13). He helped Church members understand that the physical body was to be a “temple of the Holy Ghost” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles highlighted the importance of respecting our bodies:

“Those who believe that our bodies are nothing more than the result of evolutionary chance will feel no accountability to God or anyone else for what they do with or to their body. We who have a witness of the broader reality of premortal, mortal, and postmortal eternity, however, must acknowledge that we have a duty to God with respect to this crowning achievement of His physical creation. In Paul’s words:

“‘What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?

“‘For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s’ (1 Corinthians 6:19–20).

“Acknowledging these truths … , we would certainly not deface our body, as with tattoos; or debilitate it, as with drugs; or defile it, as with fornication, adultery, or immodesty. As our body is the instrument of our spirit, it is vital that we care for it as best we can. We should consecrate its powers to serve and further the work of Christ. Said Paul, ‘I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God’ (Romans 12:1)” (“Reflections on a Consecrated Life,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 17).

1 Corinthians 6:20. “Ye Are Bought with a Price”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained how we were purchased through the Savior’s merciful sacrifice: “The Savior’s spiritual suffering and the shedding of his innocent blood, so lovingly and freely given, paid the debt for what the scriptures call the ‘original guilt’ of Adam’s transgression (Moses 6:54). Furthermore, Christ suffered for the sins and sorrows and pains of all the rest of the human family, providing remission for all of our sins as well, upon conditions of obedience to the principles and ordinances of the gospel he taught (see 2 Ne. 9:21–23). As the Apostle Paul wrote, we were ‘bought with a price’ (1 Cor. 6:20). What an expensive price and what a merciful purchase!” (“This Do in Remembrance of Me,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 67).

1 Corinthians 7:1–40. Questions about Marriage

While sexual immorality was common in ancient Corinth, some people there held the opposite belief—that it was “good for a man not to touch a woman,” and therefore one should refrain from all sexual relations, even in marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1).

Paul’s words of counsel—“I would that all men were even as I myself” and “It is good for them if they abide even as I” (1 Corinthians 7:7–8)—have led some to mistakenly believe that Paul was unmarried and promoted the celibate lifestyle as being superior to marriage. However, Paul probably was married or had been at some point. Most scholars acknowledge that Paul was either a member of the Jewish ruling body—the Sanhedrin—or a close associate of the group (see Acts 8:3; 9:1–2; 22:5; 26:10). To comply with the Sanhedrin’s membership requirements, Paul would have had to be married. Even if Paul was simply a representative of the Sanhedrin, he would have been expected to be in harmony with all accepted Jewish customs and therefore be married. In addition, Paul clearly taught the importance of marriage and family life (see 1 Corinthians 7:2; 11:11; Ephesians 5:21–6:4; 1 Timothy 3:2).

Many of Paul’s instructions in this chapter were likely meant to help Church members understand that marriage was appropriately delayed for full-time missionary service. The Joseph Smith Translation supports this conclusion:

“But I speak unto you who are called unto the ministry. For this I say, brethren, the time that remaineth is but short, that ye shall be sent forth unto the ministry. Even they who have wives, shall be as though they had none; for ye are called and chosen to do the Lord’s work. …

“But I would, brethren, that ye magnify your calling. I would have you without carefulness. For he who is unmarried, careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; therefore he prevaileth.

“But he who is married, careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife; therefore there is a difference, for he is hindered” (Joseph Smith Translation, 1 Corinthians 7:29, 32–33 [in the Bible appendix]).

1 Corinthians 7:1–5. Intimacy in Marriage

We do not know all of the questions Paul was answering in 1 Corinthians 7:1–5. However, it is evident that some people whom Paul taught thought that celibacy was preferable to marriage (see 1 Corinthians 7:1). It seems that some also believed that complete abstinence should be practiced even by married people. In response, Paul taught that sexual intimacy in marriage is an important way for husbands and wives to show love and affection. This principle is also taught today in the Church: “Physical intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love between husband and wife. God has commanded that sexual intimacy be reserved for marriage” (For the Strength of Youth, 35).

Additionally, Paul encouraged spouses to render “due benevolence” (1 Corinthians 7:3) to one another. “Due benevolence” does not refer to what one spouse may demand of another in marriage. Rather, it refers to the love, respect, and affection married couples can provide one another. President Howard W. Hunter (1907–95) provided the following counsel regarding intimacy in marriage: “Tenderness and respect—never selfishness—must be the guiding principles in the intimate relationship between husband and wife. Each partner must be considerate and sensitive to the other’s needs and desires. Any domineering, indecent, or uncontrolled behavior in the intimate relationship between husband and wife is condemned by the Lord” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter [2015], 216).

1 Corinthians 7:12–19. Unbelieving Spouses

Paul counseled members who were married to unbelievers not to divorce their spouses on the grounds of their unbelief, but to remain married and live as faithful followers of Christ. In doing so, a marriage partner can become the means of sanctifying the unbelieving spouse.

In 1832, as the Prophet Joseph Smith was seeking to better understand 1 Corinthians 7:14, he received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 74, which provides important context for the problem Paul was addressing.

1 Corinthians 7:14. Children Are Holy

Paul taught that children are “holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14). In the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord gave a revelation that clarified Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:14. The Jews had a tradition that little children were unholy, but the Lord declared, “Little children are holy, being sanctified through the atonement of Jesus Christ,” and He taught that male children need not be circumcised as required by the law of Moses (see D&C 74:4–7).

1 Corinthians 8:1–13; 10:14, 19–33. Paul’s Counsel about Meat Used in Pagan Sacrifices

Marble relief depicting the preparation of an animal sacrifice.

A Roman marble relief depicting the preparation of an animal sacrifice; early second century (see 1 Corinthians 8:4).

In Paul’s day, some of the meat sold in the markets of Corinth and other cities had been butchered as offerings or dedications to pagan deities. Faithful Jews would have felt that the law of Moses prohibited them from partaking of this meat; however, from Paul’s words it appears that some Christians did not feel restricted from eating it (see 1 Corinthians 8:1–13; 10:14, 19–33).

Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles discussed Paul’s response to this issue: “The Corinthians had asked Paul for counsel about eating meat sacrificed by pagan people to their idols. He replies that in theory it is completely immaterial whether the saints eat such meat or not, because idols are not true gods, and there is actually no religious significance to the pseudo-sacrifices one way or the other. But, he reasons, in practice it may be wise not to eat this meat, since such a course might cause those who are weak in the faith to assume there was virtue and benefit in the sacrifices themselves and therefore to be led astray” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1966–73], 2:348). For Paul, the greater concern was to avoid doing anything that might weaken the faith of others, unintentionally leading them into sin. (For further insights on making choices, see the commentaries for Acts 15:6–31 and for Romans 14:1–15:3.)

1 Corinthians 8:5–6. “Lords Many”

The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) commented on Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 8:5–6:

“I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods. …

“Some say I do not interpret [Paul’s teachings in 1 Corinthians 8:5] the same as they do. They say it means the heathen’s gods. Paul says there are Gods many and Lords many; and that makes a plurality of Gods. … I have a witness of the Holy Ghost, and a testimony that Paul had no allusion to the heathen gods in the text” (in History of the Church, 6:474–75).

1 Corinthians 9:20–23. “I Am Made All Things to All Men”

Paul was committed to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with all people, regardless of whether they were Jews or Gentiles, and he willingly adapted his behavior in order to minister more effectively to people from various cultural backgrounds. His allegiance was not to any culture or country but to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Referring to this passage, Elder Bruce R. McConkie explained: “Paul here says he made himself all things to all men in an effort to get them to accept the gospel message; that is, he adapted himself to the conditions and circumstances of all classes of people, as a means of getting them to pay attention to his teachings and testimony. And then, lest any suppose this included the acceptance of their false doctrines or practices, or that it in any way involved a compromise between the gospel and false systems of worship, he hastened to add that he and all men must obey the gospel law to be saved” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:353).

1 Corinthians 9:24–27. “Know Ye Not That … One Receiveth the Prize? So Run, That Ye May Obtain”

A Gold Wreath Crown from Cyprus

A gold wreath-crown from Cyprus, third or fourth century B.C. Paul noted that Greco-Roman athletes raced for the prize of a crown that would perish, but followers of Jesus Christ strive for self-mastery to win the crown of eternal life (see 1 Corinthians 9:24–25).

Greeks and Romans placed great importance on athletic contests. The ancient Olympic games were highly anticipated every four years throughout the Mediterranean area. In Corinth, the Isthmian games were held every two years. Athletes competed for honor and for the winner’s crown made of natural olive, laurel, or pine branches. When Paul pointed out that athletes were “temperate in all things” (1 Corinthians 9:25), he was probably alluding to the strict diets and training regimens that athletes adopted as they trained for competition. Paul suggested that followers of Jesus Christ should strive for victory in a similar manner, working to overcome temptation and achieve spiritual self-mastery. Saints run a race not against others, but against sin and the challenges of mortal life. And the reward is not a “corruptible” or perishable crown, but a crown of eternal life that lasts forever (1 Corinthians 9:25; see also 2 Timothy 4:7–8; Hebrews 12:1–2; Mosiah 4:27).

1 Corinthians 10:1–9. Paul Pointed to Ancient Israel as an Example

Paul cited some of the experiences of ancient Israel to teach the Corinthian Saints important lessons of discipleship (see 1 Corinthians 10:1–9). When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, the Lord blessed them with numerous miracles. Nonetheless, many murmured, lusted after evil things, and committed serious sins. Paul admonished the Corinthian Saints not to follow these poor examples.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie commented on 1 Corinthians 10:1–2 and explained the meaning of the phrase “baptized unto Moses”: “[Paul] is saying that even as Israel, when they passed through the Red Sea, fled from the worldliness of Egypt, so their Christian descendants, through baptism, are to forsake the lusts of the flesh and live godly lives” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:355).

1 Corinthians 10:10–13. God Will “Make a Way to Escape” Temptation

Paul recounted that many of the ancient Israelites gave in to temptation as they wandered in the wilderness, despite the numerous blessings they received from God. Paul urged the Corinthian Saints to “take heed” of the examples of those who fell to temptation (1 Corinthians 10:12). The Joseph Smith Translation makes clear that Paul’s admonition to the Corinthian Saints is also directed to us: “These things … were written for our admonition also, and for an admonition for those upon whom the end of the world shall come” (Joseph Smith Translation, 1 Corinthians 10:11 [in 1 Corinthians 10:11, footnote b]). Paul also reassured his readers that if they would rely on the Lord, they would not be tempted beyond their strength to endure (compare 2 Peter 2:9; Alma 13:28). Although God cannot always shield His people from wicked enticements, Paul promised that God will provide them with strength and “a way to escape” temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). President Henry B. Eyring taught that we can pray for help as we face temptation:

“With the help of the Holy Ghost, we can watch over ourselves. We can pray to recognize and reject the first thoughts of sin. … And we can, when we must, pray for the humility and the faith to repent.

“There will surely be some who hear my voice who will have this thought come into their minds: ‘But the temptations are too great for me. I have resisted as long as I can. For me, the commandments are too hard. The standard is too high.’

“That is not so. The Savior is our Advocate with the Father. He knows our weaknesses. He knows how to succor those who are tempted” (“As a Child,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2006, 17).

1 Corinthians 10:16–21. The Cup and the Bread of “Communion”

Paul spoke of Church members eating and drinking together as “partakers of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16–17). In the culture of the ancient Near East, dining together at the same table was an expression of unity, peace, and friendship. If there had been problems or disagreements among individuals before they sat down to eat, these were resolved, and all parties were reconciled. Paul reminded the Saints of this idea when he spoke of the sacrament, which he referred to as “communion.” The word translated as “communion” in 1 Corinthians 10:16 denotes close fellowship, partnership, and sharing. Therefore, when members partake of “one bread” (loaf) during the ordinance of the sacrament, they affirm oneness or unity not only with Christ but also with one another (1 Corinthians 10:17). They are “partakers of the Lord’s table” (1 Corinthians 10:21) and have the opportunity to be reconciled with Christ and enjoy greater communion with Him.

Priscilla Catacomb

This third century A.D. painting from the Priscilla Catacomb in Rome depicts a Christian woman praying according to custom—with her head covered (see 1 Corinthians 11:6) and her arms lifted up (see 1 Kings 8:22; Psalm 28:2; 1 Timothy 2:8; D&C 109:16–19).

1 Corinthians 11:11–12. “Neither Is the Man without the Woman, Neither the Woman without the Man, in the Lord”

Paul affirmed to the Saints in Corinth that men and women are mutually dependent and are meant to work together as they follow the Lord. This truth applies to worshipping and serving together in the Church, and particularly to growing together in marriage relationships. President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) spoke of how Paul’s teaching applies to marriage: “No man can be saved and exalted in the kingdom of God without the woman, and no woman can reach the perfection and exaltation in the kingdom of God alone. … God instituted marriage in the beginning. He made man in his own image and likeness, male and female, and in their creation it was designed that they should be united together in sacred bonds of marriage, and one is not perfect without the other” (Gospel Doctrine [1939], 272).

Courtship and marriage

Marriage between a man and a woman is part of God’s plan (see 1 Corinthians 11:11).

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles further clarified the mutual dependency of men and women: “After the earth was created, Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden. Importantly, however, God said ‘it was not good that the man should be alone’ (Moses 3:18; see also Genesis 2:18), and Eve became Adam’s wife and helpmeet. The unique combination of spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional capacities of both males and females was needed to enact the plan of happiness. ‘Neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 11:11). The man and the woman are intended to learn from, strengthen, bless, and complete each other” (“We Believe in Being Chaste,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2013, 41–42).

1 Corinthians 11:3. “The Head of the Woman Is the Man”

President Howard W. Hunter taught the following regarding a husband’s presiding role in the family:

“The Lord intended that the wife be a helpmeet for man (meet means equal)—that is, a companion equal and necessary in full partnership. Presiding in righteousness necessitates a shared responsibility between husband and wife; together you act with knowledge and participation in all family matters. For a man to operate independent of or without regard to the feelings and counsel of his wife in governing the family is to exercise unrighteous dominion.

“… You are to love your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it (see Eph. 5:25–31)” (“Being a Righteous Husband and Father,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 51). To read more about the presiding role of the husband in the home, see the commentary for Ephesians 5:25.

1 Corinthians 11:17–29. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

The Savior instituted the sacrament during the meal that was eaten at the Last Supper (see Matthew 26:26–29; Mark 14:22–25; Luke 22:19–20; 1 Corinthians 11:23–25). Early members of the Church maintained a practice of partaking of a meal together, followed by the administration of the sacrament. The meals were signs of the peace, unity, and fellowship shared by the members of the congregation, and they were also a means of ministering to members’ temporal needs. These meals were, however, sometimes the source of discord when the food was eaten before all members could arrive, causing some to go home hungry and become upset with fellow Saints (see 1 Corinthians 11:17–22). This nullified one of the purposes of coming together—to build fellowship as they partook of “the Lord’s supper” (1 Corinthians 11:17–18, 33–34). Paul taught the Saints to take steps to avoid this kind of contention and maintain harmony—they should wait for everyone to arrive before eating, and if any were still hungry after the meal, they should eat later at home (see 1 Corinthians 11:33–34).

1 Corinthians 11:27–29. Saints Should Partake of the Sacrament Worthily

In 1 Corinthians 11:27–29, Paul emphasized the importance of personal worthiness when partaking of the sacrament. He encouraged his readers to make their sacrament worship a time of personal examination. Elder Tad R. Callister of the Seventy wrote:

“The sacrament is … a time of deep introspection and self-examination. Paul exhorted, ‘Let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup’ (1 Corinthians 11:28). The sacrament is a time when we not only remember the Savior, but we match our life against that of the Great Exemplar. It is a time to put aside all self-deception; it is a time of absolute sublime truth. All excuses, all facades must fall by the wayside, allowing our spirit, as it really is, to commune spirit to Spirit with our Father. At this moment we become our own judge, contemplating what our life really is and what it really should be. David must have felt this way when he pleaded, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting’ (Psalm 139:23–24). …

“… [The Savior] knows that in our weakness we need to commit not just once at baptism, but frequently thereafter. Each week, each month, each year as we stretch forth our hand to partake of his emblems we commit with our honor, for whatever it is worth, to serve him, keep his commandments, and put our life in harmony with the divine standard” (The Infinite Atonement [2000], 291–92).