Is 1 Cor. 7 Against Marriage?
Video version!

Skeptics have now and then cited 1 Cor. 7 as an "against marriage" passage; it has also confused a great many others who do not have the contextual background needed for interpretation. Bruce Winter in After Paul Left Corinth [216ff] has drawn together a set of social and cultural datum that explains this chapter and what was really happening behind the scenes.

The first point to consider is what Paul calls the "present distress" in 7:26. Some have seen eschatological warnings here and concluded that Paul sees the end of the world at hand.

It will surprise such speculators to be told that the words "present distress" do not indicate any sort of eshcatological event, but rather a food shortage in Corinth. Winter shows that there were severe grain shortages in the 40s and 50s AD (cf. the shortage predicted in Acts) which in turn produced social distress (riots, crime). Paul speaks of the distress as present, not as impending or future. This is not an eschatological warning.

The second point is that the language used by Paul here is not about unmarried persons, but about a husband and wife abstaining from sexual intercourse. Note that in verses 1 and 2:

1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

...the two words in bold are the same word in Greek. Winter shows that the rendering of the word "woman" as "wife" is much better anf reflects secular use of the word, and indeed fits better with the lack of personal pronoun no "his" before the word in 7:1) which is paralleled in secular sources.

It is recognized that 7:1 is Paul quoting back a Corinthian viewpoint. Apparently due to the famine, some perceived that it would be good to abstain for sexual intercourse, and Paul responds to this by noting that married persons did have this obligation to one another.

Far from advising against marriage for all time, or because of the end of the world as some say, Paul is speaking on an entirely different topic.