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1 Corinthians 7

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Problems Concerning Marriage Principles of Marriage Directions About Marriage Questions About Marriage Marriage and Virginity
7:1-7 7:1-9 7:1-7 7:1a 7:1-7
      7:1b-5  
      7:6-7  
7:8-16 Keep Your Marriage Vows 7:8-9 7:8-9 7:8-9
  7:10-16 7:10-11 7:10-11 7:10-11
    7:12-16 7:12-16 7:12-16
The Life Which the Lord Has Assigned Live as You Are Called Eschatology and Changes in Social and Marital Status Live As God Called You  
7:17-24 7:17-24 7:17-20 7:17-24 7:17-24
    7:21-24    
The Unmarried and Widows To the Unmarried and Widows   Questions About the Unmarried and Widows  
7:25-35 7:25-40 7:25-31 7:25 7:25-28
      7:26-28  
      7:29-31 7:29-31
    7:32-35 7:32-34 7:32-35
      7:35  
7:36-38   7:36-38 7:36-38 7:36-38
7:39-40   7:39-40 7:39-40 7:39-40

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS TO 7:1-40

A. This is Paul's most extensive discussion of domestic relationships. He deals with

1. sexual immorality, 6:9-20; 7:2

2. marriage, vv. 2-5, 10-16, 28

3. singles, vv. 6-9, 25-26, 29-35

4. virgins, vv. 36-38

5. remarriage of widows and widowers, vv. 39-40

6. the recurrent theme is, "stay as you are," vv. 1, 6-7, 8, 10, 17-24, 26-35, 37, 40; because of the current crisis and the expected parousia, although he allows for exceptions

 

B. Chapter 7 is a very good example of how the local and temporal situation must be taken into account before one can accurately interpret the Bible or draw universal principles for application. It is very difficult in the book of I Corinthians to know the historical setting because

1. we do not know exactly what the current crisis was in Corinth (possibly famine)

2. we do not know which factious group Paul is addressing and in which verses (i.e., ascetics or libertines)

3. we do not have the letter that the church wrote to Paul asking these questions (cf. 7:1,25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1,12)

 

C. There seem to be two inappropriate attitudes/factions in Corinth that were causing great strife. The first were those people who tended toward asceticism (cf. 7:1). The other group were those who tended toward moral looseness or antinomianism (cf. 6:12; 10:23). All truth is attacked by the extremes. In I Corinthians 7, Paul is trying to walk a practical and theological tightrope between these excesses, while still speaking to both groups.

 

D. There is a recurrent theme running through chapter 7. It is characterized by verses 17, 20, 24, 26, 40 and made allusion to in verse 8. That theme is "stay as you are" because the time is short. This cannot be a universal principle because

1. this is related to a period of persecution

2. marriage is God's will for mankind (cf. Gen. 1:28)

3. this church faced internal problems with false teachers

One wonders which category (i.e., never married, once married, or married to an unbeliever) Paul himself experienced. Maybe he existentially knew them all. Most Jews married out of rabbinical interpretation of Gen.1:28 as well as tradition. Paul's wife either died (i.e., he was a widower) or she left him because of his new faith (i.e., he was a divorcee). At the point of his call to salvation and ministry (i.e., the Damascus road) he personally chose celibacy, as did Barnabas, but he never condemned Peter's marriage (cf. 9:5).

E. Marriage in the Bible is the expected norm (cf. Gen. 1:28; 2:18). Paul was probably married at one time (i.e., the implication of Acts 26:10, if Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin, then he had to be married). He asserts that marriage is an honorable state for the believer (cf. I Cor. 6:16; 7:14; II Cor. 11:2 and Eph. 5:22-31). We must remember that Paul is addressing a local first century, Gentile, factious, cosmopolitan situation.

 

F. Paul's discussion of circumcision in verse 19 affirms that for Paul OT rituals and regulations have passed away in the gospel of Jesus Christ for believing Gentiles (cf. Acts 15) and are, therefore, not binding. Theologically speaking it is usually stated that Paul affirms the ethical aspects of the OT, but negates the ceremonial aspects. To some extent this is true.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:7:1-7
 1
Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6But this I say by way of concession, not of command. 7Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.

7:1 "Now concerning the things about which you wrote" Possibly the issues addressed in chapters 1-6 were related to Paul by Chloe's people. The phrase "now concerning" refers to specific questions that the church at Corinth sent to Paul probably by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (cf. 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1,12). It is very difficult to interpret this chapter without knowing exactly what questions the Corinthians asked and who asked them (i.e., the faithful believers, the libertine group, the ascetic group, or one of the factious house churches).

NASB, NKJV"it is good for a man not to touch a woman"
NRSV"it is well for a man, not to touch a woman"
TEV"A man does well not to marry"
NJB"Yes, it is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman"

The term "good" has a wide semantic field, but in this context it means "profitable" or "to one's advantage" (cf. vv. 1,8,26). It is used in this same sense in the Septuagint in Gen. 2:18. Paul's whole purpose is what is best for the individual in times of distress and what is best for the Kingdom of God.

This may refer to

1. a quote from the letter that the Corinthians wrote to Paul

2. a slogan of one of the factious groups

3. a phrase taken out of Paul's preaching, but misinterpreted and applied in an ascetic, legalistic, or libertine way

This term "touch" has many different connotations, "lay hands on," "handle," "control." It came to be used metaphorically of sexual contact (cf. LXX Gen. 20:6; Pro. 6:29; Josephus' Antiquities 1.163; also Plato, Leges 8.840a; and Plutarch, Alex. M. 21.4. See Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker's Lexicon, p. 102, but not used in a sexual sense in the Koine Papyri from Egypt).

Paul is not depreciating marriage or human sexuality, but humanity's abuse of sexuality. Mankind always takes God's gifts beyond God's bounds. The social climate of Corinth was immoral to the extreme (cf. v. 2a).

NASB"But because of immoralities"
NKJV"Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality"
NRSV"But because of cases of sexual immorality"
TEV"But because there is so much immorality"
NJB"yet to avoid immorality"

Marriage was not a problem for Paul. This is a present active imperative, third person singular. Many believe he was a rabbi because he studied under Rabbi Gamaliel and he was zealous for the law. He knew that marriage was considered necessary to fulfill Genesis, "be fruitful and multiply" (cf. Gen. 1:28; 9:1,7). Sex is a gift from God. Gentile society was so sexually permissive and immoral because sex was used in pagan fertility worship practices that Paul felt it necessary to address the issue.

Paul addresses the theological topic of celibacy and the current setting of persecution. There is a spiritual gift of celibacy. It is not more spiritual than marriage. The single person is able to devote more time, energy, and personal resources to ministry. This is good, but not for all, not for the majority!

Paul's real issue in this context is not singleness, but "stay as you are." The times were hard. Persecution was increasing. History tells us of three empire-wide famines during this period. Paul affirms marriage (cf. 6:16), but in the current social setting advocates singleness. This is not necessarily a universal principle, but a temporary, cultural admonition.

Paul's concern in v. 2 is the pervasive immorality of first century Greco-Roman culture. In a promiscuous society faithful, monogamous marriage is far better spiritually, emotionally, and physically than pagan worship. Not only is marriage affirmed, but the proper responsibility of each partner is affirmed.

7:2 "each man is to have his own wife and each woman is to have her own husband" These are two present imperatives, but are not functioning as commands, unless this anticipates v. 5. This is a grammatically parallel structure, as are vv. 3 and 4. Marriage is not the exception; it is the norm, not a concession (cf. I Tim. 4:3; Heb. 13:4).

7:3 This verse also has two present active imperatives. Paul gives four guidelines in two verses. It is just possible that Paul is dealing with two problems in this area of human sexuality (cf. Gordon D. Fee, To What End Exegesis, pp. 88-98).

1. promiscuous Christians who continued their previous pagan sexual patterns, particularly at pagan temples and feasts (i.e., libertines)

2. Christians who have made even married sex a spiritual taboo (i.e., ascetics, cf. v. 5 and thereby v. 1 becomes a slogan or one of the factions)

 

7:4 This verse shows Paul's ability to balance the impropriety of his own culture (cf. Eph. 5:21,22-33). In Paul's day wives had few rights. Paul addresses both married partners with a mutual responsibility. Sexual needs are not evil. They are a God-given desire.

7:5 "Stop depriving one another" This is a present active imperative with the negative particle, which usually implies "stop an act in process." This relates to the problem of asceticism in the Corinthian church. It also asserts that sex, or withholding sex, must not be a tool to control one's spouse!

"except by agreement" This phrase begins with ei mēti, which means "unless perhaps" or "unless it be" (cf. Luke 9:13). It is giving one possible exception to the stated norm. This type of structure (i.e., a rule then an exception) is used throughout this chapter. Paul is walking the theological tightrope between legalism/asceticism and libertinism/antinomianism. Each faction had its own agenda and slogans!

Notice Paul is expressing an egalitarian model. The husband does not have the right to choose alone! Biblical male headship is tragically misunderstood. The husband must act in self-giving ways for the maturity of the family (cf. Eph. 5:25-29), not for personal interest or in personal preference, but in spiritual stewardship.

SPECIAL TOPIC: WOMEN IN THE BIBLE

NASB, NRSV"so that you may devote yourselves to prayer"
NKJV"that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer"
TEV"in order to spend your time in prayer"
NJB"to leave yourselves free for prayer"

"Fasting" is in the Textus Receptus following the MSS אc, K, and L and the Peshitta. However, the vast majority of ancient Greek texts, P11, P46, א*, A, B, C, D, G, P, most ancient translations, and most modern English translations, do not include it. The UBS4 gives the shorter text an "A" rating (certain).

The NT principle on voluntary fasting periodically for spiritual purposes is paralleled here with sexual abstinence within marriage periodically for spiritual purposes. As fasting focuses the mind on God's will, so too, can limited sexual abstinence.

SPECIAL TOPIC: FASTING

▣ "so that Satan will not tempt you" Even married couples need to be extremely careful of Satan's insidious temptations within marriage. Human sexuality, though a gift from God, is a powerful human drive. Satan uses this aspect of biological need as a tool to alienate fallen mankind from God. This is true both for lost and saved, though at different levels (cf. I Tim. 5:14-15).

In this context there is obviously a problem addressing a theology of human sexuality in the church of Corinth. Probably it had both extremes of asceticism or libertinism.

SPECIAL TOPIC: PERSONAL EVIL

▣ "because of your lack of self-control" This is the term kratos, which means "power," "strength," "rule," with the alpha privative, which negates the meaning. This lack of self-control is mentioned in

1. Matthew 23:25 in connection with the scribes and Pharisees

2. I Corinthians 7:5 in connection with married couples

3. II Timothy 3:3 in a list of vices.

The related term, egkrateia, has the connotation of self-control, especially related to sexual activity.

1. Acts 24:25 in a list of virtues presented by Paul to Felix

2. I Corinthians 7:9 in Paul's discussion of marriage rights

3. I Corinthians 9:25 in connection with athletic training

4. Galatians 5:23 in Paul's list of the fruits of the Spirit

5. II Peter 1:6 in a list of character traits which bring maturity.

Self-control is (1) a spiritual fruit of the Spirit and (2) a developed practice of controlling the natural desires. The domination of the redeemed human spirit over the flesh is possible with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Natural desires are not evil unless they are taken beyond God-given bounds.

7:6

NASB"But this I say by way of concession, not of command"
NKJV"But I say this as a concession, not a command"
NRSV"This I say by way of concession, not of command"
TEV"I tell you this not as an order, but simply as a permission"
NJB"I am telling you this as a concession, not an order"

Does v. 6 refer to (1) vv. 1-5; (2) vv. 3-5; (3) v. 5; or (4) v. 7? Paul is giving his Spirit-led opinion. He expected

1. the Second Coming at any moment

2. increased persecution at any moment

3. continuing famine

His purpose was to help believers cope with current circumstances, not limit them.

7:7 "Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am" This may refer to (1) Paul as a single person; (2) Paul as content; or (3) Paul as self-controlled (cf. v. 9). Paul was probably married at one time because of the cultural pressure from his Jewish background and the implications of Acts 26:10, where Paul seems to be a member of the Sanhedrin (i.e., "I cast a vote"). If he was part of the Sanhedrin, he had to be married.

Paul's desire that all believers remain as he was, needs to be clarified in several ways.

1. Paul expected the Second Coming in his lifetime, as did all first century Christians. The any-moment return of Jesus (see Special Topic at 6:14) is meant to be a strong motivator towards Christlikeness and evangelism in every age.

2. Paul's view must be seen in light of God's command "to be fruitful and multiply" of Gen. 1:28. If Christians were all single what of the next generation?

3. Paul himself had a high view of marriage (cf. 6:16), how else could he use it as the analogy of Christ and the church compared to husband and wife in Eph. 5:22-33?

 

▣ "each man has his own gift from God" This seems to refer to celibacy as one of many spiritual gifts (cf. Matt. 19:12). It is not listed in any of the list of gifts (Romans 12; I Corinthians 12; Ephesians 4). It does not seem to be a typical action or function as other gifts. Paul is using the word "gift" in a specialized sense.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:7:8-9
 8
But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

7:8 "the unmarried and to widows" The first term is masculine and could refer to (1) all unmarried people or (2) to widowers. The second term is feminine and relates to (1) those whose spouses had died or (2) widows.

"it is good for them" See note at 7:1 on "good."

▣ "if" This is a third class conditional sentence, which refers to potential action.

"they remain even as I" Paul has just mentioned a spiritual gift in v. 7, but this verse mentions a situation in life, not a gift. Possibly "gift" is used in this context in the sense of attitude or perspective.

7:9 "if" This is a first class conditional which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes. Many will want to marry not because they are evil, but because they do not have the gift of celibacy.

▣ "they do not have self-control" This sounds so negative to modern ears. Is Paul saying marriage is a sign of a believer's lack of self-control? Is it a less spiritual state? In light of the teaching of all Scripture this cannot be true. Paul is directing his comments to the current local, temporal situation. This is not a universal comment on marriage and singleness. Marriage is not the lesser of two evils; promiscuous sex, however, is always out of bounds.

▣ "let them marry" This is an aorist active imperative. Paul supported marriage (cf. I Tim. 5:14).

NASB"for it is better to marry than to burn with passion"
NKJV, TEV"For it is better to marry than to burn with passion"
NRSV"For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion"
NJB"Since it is better to marry than to be burned up"

Notice the contrast between "to marry" (aorist active infinitive) and "to burn" (present passive infinitive). The marriage brings the continuing passion under control. This is also not a disparaging comment on marriage, but a practical observation. Marriage is the normal way to fulfill a strong and recurrent, God-given desire. This same term "burn" is used by Paul of himself in II Cor. 11:29, therefore, it is not automatically a negative term.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:7:10-11
 10
But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11(but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

7:10 "to the married" This is the third of the groups addressed: "the unmarried," "the widowed," and now "the married."

▣ "not I, but the Lord" By this phrase Paul is referring to the words of Jesus, many, but not all of them, recorded in the Synoptic Gospels concerning divorce (cf. Matt. 5:32, 19:6; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:8).

This is a good example of the fact that Paul is not dealing with all aspects of the Lord's teaching on divorce, only one. Paul's letters are "occasion documents." He is reacting to the poor theology of both the libertines and ascetics. This situation continues the pattern of Paul affirming some of the statements of the false teachers or factions, but also denoting the limits of their slogans. Half-truths are so hard to correct, especially if there is abuse on both sides of the issue!

▣ "that the wife should not leave her husband" This implies that both are believers (cf. vv. 12-16). Women did not have the right of divorce in Judaism, but they did in Roman society. Just because a given culture allows or disallows something does not mean that believers should avail themselves of the right or turn it into a taboo! Because one can does not mean one should (cf. Rom. 14:1-15:13). There are certainly circumstances in which divorce is seemingly best.

1. the lesser of two wrongs

2. reconciliation has become impossible

3. physical danger to the spouse and children is a real possibility

At this point I want to reemphasize the biblical seriousness of making vows in deity's name. Christian weddings are religious vows! God, more than secular society, holds believers accountable for how we treat His name. Marriage was meant to be permanent. Marriage is the norm, not the exception. In 2002 the current percentage of traditional homes in North America (i.e., husband, wife, and children) is down to 23%! Do you see the problem of easy divorce? Marriage is primarily a promise to God and then to another person. Strong Christian homes may be one of the most powerful witnessing tools in our day (so much like ancient Rome).

7:11 "if" This is a third class conditional sentence, which implies potential action. NASB puts this clause in parenthesis as a side comment. The subjunctive mood implies that divorces were occurring in the Christian community.

▣ "she must remain unmarried" This is a present active imperative. The question of Christian remarriage is a difficult one. Deuteronomy 24 was written by Moses to provide for remarriage. Jesus' answers, in light of the Pharisees' questions, do not specifically deal with the subject. One might say, what about Mark 10:11-12. The problem is that this Gospel does not include the exception clause as Matt. 5:32 does. How does the exception clause relate to remarriage? I Timothy 5:14-15 needs to be expanded in our day to a wider group than "young widows." Surely God's care for singles who desire to marry in I Cor. 7:9 must relate to our troubled society also. Humans were created by God as sexual creatures. Unless there is a gift of celibacy, and/or self-controlled maturity, there must be an appropriate sexual option for God's people; sexual immorality is never an option, but a Christian remarriage may be an acceptable alternative. Grace and revelation must both apply here.

▣ "or else be reconciled to her husband" This is an aorist passive imperative. In this cultural situation the Pauline options for the already married were (1) singleness or (2) reconciliation.

This verse has been used as a hard and fast universal rule by many modern believers. Reconciliation is always a hope unless remarriage of one of the partners has occurred. In that situation it ceases to be a desired result (i.e., it is forbidden in the OT).

It is difficult to interpret I Corinthians because

1. there are obviously cultural issues that modern western culture does not directly deal with (i.e., food offered to idols, virgin partners in ministry, etc.).

2. there are two groups of personality types (i.e., ascetics or libertines) or theological factions. Paul's words are an attempt to affirm the truths involved, but limit the excesses (i.e., dogmatic legalism, do not marry; and no-rules freedom, if it feels good, do it).

It is uncertain if these extremes reflect (1) Jews/Gentiles; (2) legalists/libertines; (3) personality types; or (4) two forms of Greek thought (later seen in Gnostic factions). The confusion comes when modern interpreters do not know

1. what the slogans were

2. the source of the slogans

a. Paul's earlier preaching

b. Judaism

c. Stoics/incipient Gnostics

Paul addresses both extremes! The difficulty is deciding which words are addressed to true believers and which to factious groups. Modern interpreters hear what they want to hear and condemn what they do not like! Our interpretations say more about our theology than Paul's letter to a Roman city in first century Achaia.

"and that the husband should not divorce his wife" Remember this context is addressing believers who are married. There are two NT exceptions to this mandate: (1) inappropriate sexual activity (cf. Matt. 5:32, 19:9) and (2) unbelief (cf. vv. 12,13).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:7:12-16
 12
But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

7:12 "to the rest" This would refer to previously married pagan couples where one had become a believer. This cannot be used as a prooftext for a believer marrying an unbeliever. This refers to a situation where both were originally unbelievers. One had received Christ and hopefully in time, so would the other (cf. v. 16).

NASB, NRSV "I say, not the Lord"
NKJV"I, not the Lord"
TEV"(I, myself, not the Lord)"
NJB"these instructions are my own, not the Lord's"

This is not a disclaimer of inspiration by Paul, but simply a recognition that Paul did not know about any teachings of Jesuson this particular issue. Paul asserts his sense of inspiration in vv. 25 and 40 of this chapter.

"if" This is a first class conditional sentence. There were mixed couples in Corinth. This shows both the effectiveness of Paul's preaching and the difficulty involved in being married to an unbeliever.

▣ "he must not divorce her" This is a present active imperative, like the parallel in v. 13.

7:14

NASB, NKJV,
NJB"For the unbelieving husband is sanctified"
NRSV"For the unbelieving husband is made holy"
TEV"For the unbelieving husband is made acceptable to God"

This is a perfect passive indicative as is the parallel phrase in v. 14. This does not imply that the unbelieving spouse is saved. This relates to the concern of some in Corinth that being married to an unbeliever might equal their participation in sin. They may have heard Paul's teaching about one flesh (cf. 6:16-20). This must relate to the godly influence of the believing spouse on the family. This cannot relate to the unbeliever's position in Christ. There is no way to be spiritually saved except through personal faith and repentance in Christ. Evangelism is the goal of the believer for his/her spouse (cf. v. 16).

NASB, NIV"the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband"
NKJV, NRSV"the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband"
NJB"the unbelieving wife is sanctified through the brother"
REB"the wife through her Christian husband"

There is a Greek manuscript variation in this phrase. Most of the early Greek manuscripts have "the brother" instead of "believing husband" (cf. MSS P46, א*, A, B, C, D*, G, and P). Greek scribes changed it to balance it with the previous parallel phrase (cf. MSS אC, DC, K, and L). The UBS4 rates "brother" as "A" (certain).

▣ "for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy" There have been many interpretations of this phrase; it refers to

1. legitimacy of children (i.e., legal sense)

2. ceremonial cleanliness (i.e., Jewish sense)

3. the unbelieving spouse and children sharing in the blessings of the one Christian in the home (i.e., spiritual sense)

Many have tried to interpret this verse in relation to the practice of infant baptism, but this seems highly improbable since the relationship of the believer to the children is exactly the same as the relationship of the believer to the unbelieving spouse. See SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY at 3:17.

7:15 "if" This is a first class conditional sentence. Christianity caused some homes to break up (cf. Matt. 10:34-36; Luke 12:49-53).

NASB, NKJV"is not under bondage in such cases"
NRSV"in such a case the brother or sister is not bound"
TEV"In such cases, the Christian partner whether husband or wife, is free to act"
NJB"In these circumstances the brother or sister is no longer tied"

This is a perfect passive indicative of the term "enslaved." This implies that Christians in this particular cultural situation may not instigate divorce proceedings, but if the unbelieving partner does, it is permissible. This has no relation to believers marrying non-believers; this situation refers to two married unbelievers of which one has been converted. In context this refers to separation, not remarriage (cf. v. 11), although Paul's terminology is very similar to the "binding and loosing" of Jewish jurisprudence in which remarriage was assumed following Deut. 24:1-4. James S. Jeffers, The Greco-Roman World, says,

"the term translated 'separation' in I Cor. 7:15 refers to divorce because the ancients had no equivalent of the modern legal concept of separation" (p. 247).

However, the issue of divorce seems to be settled for Paul in Jesus' teachings (cf. Mark 10:2-12). Paul advocates "singleness" to those not "bound" and remarriage to those whose spouse has died!

▣ "God has called us to peace" This is a perfect active indicative. It refers to peace with God which issues in peace within the believer and within his home. God wants His children to have happy, loving, fulfilling homes. This is often impossible with an aggressive, unbelieving spouse and sometimes impossible with an immature, selfish, sinful Christian spouse! This lack of peace is the very reason why some "Christian" homes break up. Often one partner may be a believer, but not a mature one. Peace is not present in all "Christian" homes! I just cannot believe that Paul, in this context, is advocating staying together at any cost! There are dangerous physical and emotional situations. This cannot be a hard and fast universal mandate. It must be interpreted in context and with other texts. It is so hard to balance our respect for Scripture and the historical, cultural aspect in revelation (i.e., the Bible).

The UBS4 text prefers (B rating) "you" plural, which is found in MSS א*, A, C, K, instead of "us" (MSS P46, א2, B, D, F, G). There are many textual variants related to the pronouns.

7:16 "Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife" There are two possible interpretations here which are diametrically opposite.

1. this passage probably follows I Pet. 3:1-12 where evangelism is a meaningful reason for continuing the marriage relationship (cf. NRSV, TEV, NJB, NEB, NIV)

2. marriage is not primarily for evangelism; it is for companionship and fellowship, therefore, a believing partner should not stay with the unbelieving partner in a situation of abuse and unlove, simply for the hope of evangelism (cf. footnote, Phillips translation, and LB)

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:7:17-20
 17Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. 18Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. 20Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.

7:17

NASB"Only"
NKJV"But"
NRSV"However"
TEV- omitted-
NJB"Anyway"
NIV"Nevertheless"

This introduces the expanded implications of Paul's discussion about sexual issues. The Greek terms ei mē can mean "unless," "except," or "but."

NASB, NRSV"the Lord has assigned to each one"
NKJV"God has distributed to each one"
TEV"the Lord's gift to you"
NJB"the Lord has allotted to him"

This verb merizō means "to divide or distribute." It is used in the Septuagint for the division of the Promised Land to the Jewish tribes by YHWH (cf. Exod. 15:9; Num. 26:53,55,56; Deut. 18:8), which makes it a metaphor for God's people as does the next verb, "called." YHWH "called" His people and they "called" on His name. In this context both verbs refer to God's special giftedness (cf. 7:7), which allows people to serve Him (cf. 12:7,11). Whatever their life situation when they were called, saved and gifted, they are now to serve (i.e., "stay as you are," vv. 8,17,20,24,26,40). Bloom where you are planted with God's help and some exceptions.

NASB"in this manner let him walk"
NKJV"so let him walk"
NRSV"let each of you lead the life"
TEV"go on living"
NJB"let everyone continue in the part"

This is literally "walk" (i.e., Present active imperative), which is a biblical metaphor for lifestyle (cf. Eph. 2:2,10; 4:1,17; 5:2,15; Col. 1:10; 2:6). Paul explains what he means in vv. 18-20.

▣ "so I direct in all the churches" This phrase is repeated often in I Corinthians (cf. 4:17; 7:17; 11:16; 14:33; 16:1). The Corinthian church thought of themselves as "special," "privileged," and "uniquely gifted." Paul counteracts this false arrogance by asserting that he teaches the same truths in all his churches. See Special Topic: Church at 1:2.

7:18

NASB"He is not to become uncircumcised"
NKJV"Let him not become uncircumcised"
TEV"he should not try to remove the marks of circumcision"
NJB"If a man who is called has already been circumcised, then he must stay circumcised"

This is a present passive imperative (the parallel in 7:18b is also present passive imperative). This refers to someone surgically removing the signs of circumcision (cf. I Maccabees 1:15 and Josephus' Antiq. 12.5.1).

7:19 "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing" This shows Paul's view of the OT rituals and regulations (cf. Acts 15; Rom. 2:28,29; Gal. 5:6; 6:15; see Special Topic at 9:9). This was the very issue brought up at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 and exploited by the Judaizers in the churches of Galatia. Paul's theology at this point is very clear. Gentiles do not need to perform Jewish rites, rituals, and cultic procedures. Believing Jews must not be proud or ashamed of OT covenant practices they had participated in in the past. True circumcision is of the heart (cf. 10:16; Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4), not the body, and it issues in "circumcised" ears (cf. Jer. 6:10) to hear God and lips (cf. Exod. 6:12,30) to speak His message, His new message in Christ (cf. Jer. 9:25,26).

▣ "but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God" This is the emphasis of the OT prophets that obedience is more significant than the ritual (cf. I Sam. 15:22; Isa. 1:11-17; Hos. 6:6; Amos 5:21-27; Mic. 6:6-8). God looks at our attitude and motive before He looks at our acts. All of God's dealings with fallen man, OT and NT, are on a covenantal basis. Obedience is crucial (cf. Luke 6:46), but aspects of the specific covenantal requirements have changed through time.

7:20 "Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called" The NKJV is more literal and keeps the word play "let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called" (cf. Eph. 4:1,4). This is a present active imperative. It is the recurrent theme of Paul throughout this context (vv. 8,17,20,24,26,40). The term "called" refers to when they had received Christ (cf. 1:20). See SPECIAL TOPIC: CALLED at 1:1.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 7:21-24
  21
Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave. 23You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.

7:21 "slave" See Special Topic at 4:1.

NASB"if you are able also to become free, rather do that"
NKJV"but if you can be made free, rather use it"
NRSV"even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever"
TEV"but if you have a chance to become free, use it"
NJB"even if you have a chance of freedom, you should prefer to make full use of your condition as a slave"

This is a first class conditional sentence, some slave will get the chance to be free, followed by an aorist middle imperative, "do it!" There are two possible interpretations.

1. that a slave should remain in the station in which he is called, vv. 20,24

2. that if he has an opportunity to become free, he/she should take advantage of this opportunity (cf. NASB, TEV, JB)

This fits the immediate context on the freedom of (1) singles to marry, vv. 9 and 28 (cf. NRSV, NJB) and (2) believing partners to leave unbelieving partners, v. 15. Here is Paul's personal advice and an individual believer's choice side by side. All believers struggle with these "gray areas." When the Lord or Scripture has not clearly addressed an issue, believers are given a "godly flexibility"! In some areas "one size" does not fit all!

SPECIAL TOPIC: PAUL'S ADMONITIONS TO SLAVES

7:22-23 In the Lord all believers are free; in the Lord all believers are servants (cf. 8:1-10:33; Rom. 14:1-15:13). Jesus, acting as our go'el, bought us from the slavery of sin and self. Now we serve Him (cf. 6:20; 7:23; Rom. 6; Col. 2:16-23).

7:23 "do not become slaves of men" Greek is an inflected language. Sometimes the form can have two possible meanings. This imperative can be

1. Present middle, "do not let yourselves be slaves of men"

2. Present passive, "do not be enslaved by men")

Both fit the context. Factions in the Corinthian church were trying to control all believers. This is still happening today. There must be freedom within limits; a freedom, not to self and sin, but to Christ (cf. Romans 6 and 14); a freedom of individual lifestyle choices about how to best serve Christ guided by God's giftedness and the present circumstances.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:7:25-31
  25
Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. 29But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.

7:25 "Now concerning" This is a textual marker showing that Paul is moving on to another written question which he received from the Corinthian church (cf. 7:1,25; ;8:1; 12:1; 16:1,12).

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV, NIV"virgins"
TEV"unmarried people"
NJB"people remaining virgin"

The major question about this term is how its use in v. 25 is related to its use in v. 36 (see note at v. 36). The context of vv. 25-35 seems to relate to singleness vs. marriage as the preferred state in light of the current situation, which could refer to

1. the imminent Second Coming

2. governmental persecution

3. area-wide famine

4. the single person's ability to focus on serving Christ

 

"I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion" Some have tried to use Paul's statement in vv. 6 and 25 to lower his authority as an Apostle or make this a disclaimer of inspiration. It is neither. This is an idiomatic way of admitting that he does not know whether Jesus ever addressed this issue specifically. Verses 25 and 40 show that Paul felt his apostleship and call gave him the authority to address issues that a rose in the life of the early Gentile church.

"as on who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy" This is a perfect passive participle. This is an idiomatic way of asserting his apostolic authority and Spirit-led insight.

7:26

NASB, NKJV,
TEV"the present distress"
NRSV"the impending crisis"
NJB"because of the stress which is weighing upon us"

This has been interpreted in several ways, but it is very important to see that the majority of statements in chapter 7 are not universal principles, but are Paul's reactions to local, temporal situations. Some have seen this phrase as referring to

1. the crisis of pagan culture

2. the specific local situation in Corinth

3. a famine in the whole Mediterranean area

4. the nearness of the Second Coming (cf. v. 29)

 

"that it is good for a man to remain as he is" There is a play on the word "good" (cf. 7:1,18,26), meaning "advantageous." The recurrent theme of "stay in the same condition as when you were saved" (cf. vv. 8,12-13,18,21,24,26,27,37,40) is Paul's theological standard in this letter.

7:27 "Are you bound to a wife" This is a perfect passive indicative from the tern dēo, which means to tie or bind. It is used in a metaphorical sense for marriage (cf. 7:27,39; Rom. 7:2). There is a parallel to this phrase in the same verse, which is also a perfect passive indicative, "Are you released from a wife?" Paul wants his hearers to stay as they are.

"Do not seek to be released. . .Do not seek a wife" These are both present active imperatives with the negative particle, which usually means stop an act in process. Here again one wonders whether different factions were advocating different family patterns (celibacy, marriage, promiscuity) or if Paul's purpose is maximum service to Christ. This is a recurrent issue. Paul seems to assert that

1. all should remain as they are

2. if single, focus on serving Christ

3. if there is a desire for marriage, no problem, but use your marriage to serve Christ!

Believers remain single to serve, marry to serve, live in persecution to serve, live in freedom to serve, live in theological conviction to serve! Believers are saved to serve!

7:28 "if. . .if" These are both third class conditional sentences, which mean potential action.

"you have not sinned" Paul is addressing a unique situation, not making universal statements. Marriage is the God-given norm (cf. Gen. 1:28).

"if you. . .if a virgin" The question is to whom do these refer? The first relates to v. 27. If so, then this refers to remarriage. The second relates to v. 25, those who have never married. Both categories are addressed again in v. 34.

"Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you" This does not relate to marriage in general, but to the present crisis (cf. v. 26). Verses 32-34 do address marriage as a general principle.

"trouble" See Special Topic: Tribulation at II Cor. 1:4.

"in this life" This is literally "flesh." See Special Topic at 1:26.

7:29 "the time has been shortened" This is a perfect passive periphrastic. There have been several interpretations of this phrase; it seems contextually to relate to v. 26 ("the present distress"). Calvin believed it referred to the brevity of human life; others along the same line believe it refers to the shortness of the opportunity of our Christian service. I believe it refers to the Second Coming (cf. v. 31; Rom. 13:11-12).

Did Paul expect an imminent return of Jesus or a delayed return? There are texts on both sides. I do not think Paul's theology changed (or matured). In one of his first letters he teaches a delayed Second Coming (cf. II Thessalonians 2). Paul (as all NT authors) used the hope of the certain return of the Lord as an impetus to godly living and active service. The return of Christ is an expectation of every generation of believers, but the reality of only one! See Special Topic at 6:14.

For an interesting discussion on Apocalyptic eschatology and Paul's comments in vv. 26,28,29, see Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 593-595.

7:29-30 "those who" These parallel phrases are describing normal daily human life. Believers are to remain focused on their ministry tasks, according to their spiritual giftedness (cf. vv. 32,35).

Believers are citizens of two realms, the spiritual and the physical or the church and the world. The physical is not evil but transitory. Believers must be service-minded, gospel-minded. We use the world and its resources to serve the Kingdom. Otherwise, physical thing, worldly things, use us!

Do not let marriage act as a release from spiritual priorities! Live in both worlds with godly wisdom.

7:30 "as though they did not possess" See Special Topic following.

SPECIAL TOPIC: WEALTH

7:31 "for the form of this world is passing away" The OT prophets (esp. Isaiah 56-66) reveal a new heaven and a new earth. The new age will be like the old, but purified, redeemed (cf. II Pet. 3:10-13). Heaven will be a transformed garden of Eden-God, mankind, and the animals-perfect fellowship and order restored; Genesis 1-2 parallels Revelation 21-22.

Every generation of believers experiences the passing of this world's order (i.e., schēma) as they mature into Christlikeness. As we see Christ in clearer and clearer ways, the things of this life become duller and duller. We are in the world, but not of the world. We use the things of this world for evangelistic purposes, not personal purposes.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:7:32-35
  32
But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.

7:32-34 This describes the mutual commitment of married people to each other as "one flesh" (cf. Eph. 5:24-31). This is not evil, it is used to describe the relationship between Christ and His church. It is obvious that single people have more time and energy for ministry.

Paul's concern throughout this context has been the ability to be an active believer without concern. Paul uses the term merimnaō, four times in two verses. This term can refer to frivolous concerns (cf. Matt. 10:19; Luke 12:25) or genuine concerns (cf. II Cor. 11:28; I Pet. 5:7). In this context it refers to the normal affairs of married life which can compete with the time and energy one has to use for the Lord. It may also relate to the unique pressures of being a believer in a pagan society (cf. v. 26).

Paul wants believers to (1) be active for Christ and (2) live in peace and contentment. Both are valid, but difficult.

7:34 "The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin" Paul is referring to two different kinds of unmarried Christian women:

1. one is older, one is younger

2. the first was previously married (i.e., widows) and the second never married

3. the second possibly refers to a special group of celibate women or ministry partners (cf. vv. 36-38)

 

▣ "that she may be holy both in body and spirit" This is not a disparaging comment about human sexuality being evil. This is how Paul's teachings were interpreted by those influenced by Greek culture (i.e., Stoics, Gnostics, etc.). His point is that individuals focused on the Lord can spend their quality time, energy, and resources on spiritual things, whereas those married must also be concerned with family issues and responsibilities. See SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY at 3:17.

SPECIAL TOPIC: BODY AND SPIRIT

7:35 "not to put a restraint upon you" This term was used of an animal halter.

NASB"but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord"
NKJV"but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction"
NRSV"but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord"
TEV"Instead, I want you to do what is right and proper, and to give yourself completely to the Lord's service without any reservation"
NJB"but so that everything is as it should be, and you are able to give your undivided attention to the Lord"

The Greek phrase is very brief. The two key words are

1. euschēma, a compound from "good" and "form." It denotes that which is proper, pleasing, and appropriate (cf. 12:23-24; 14:40; Rom. 13:13) similar in meaning to kalos in vv. 1,8,26.

2. aperispastōs, an alpha privative with a term for turning about and thereby losing focus

Paul wants all believers to be focused on Kingdom issues, on ministry! I certainly concur with this. My "problem" with this context is its seeming depreciation of marriage as an equal ministry model to celibacy. God instituted marriage; it is the norm. I am a stronger person and minister because of my marriage. This chapter has been used and abused by legalists and ascetics. The goal is focused ministry, not a dogmatic rule on whether to marry or stay single. Paul had his immediate Spirit-led purposes, but these cannot be turned into universal principles which negate other inspired texts.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:7:36-38
  36
But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry. 37But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. 38So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.

7:36 "if" This is a First class conditional sentence, which is assumed to be true from the author's perspective or for his literary purposes.

NASB"any man. . .towards his virgin daughter"
NKJV"any man. . .towards his virgin"
NRSV"anyone. . .toward his fiancee"
TEV"In the case of an engaged couple who have decided not to marry, if the man. . .toward the young woman"
NJB"someone with strong passions. . .toward his fiancee"

There are three major lines of interpretation of this passage.

1. that this refers to a Christian father and his unmarried daughter (cf. NASB and JB)

2. that this refers to a Christian man and his fiancee (cf. NRSV, TEV, NJB)

3. that this refers to a type of spiritual marriage which could be translated "partners in celibacy" (cf. NEB)

Literally the term is "virgin."

Option #1 is using the phrase "he who gives" (v. 38) as referring to a father giving his daughter to be married. Option #2 picks up on the phrase in v. 36, "if she is past her youth." This option seems best in light of all the evidence, both textual and historical. Option #3 assumes a particular historical situation. Some first century traveling preachers may have taken Christian virgins as ministry helpers and lived with them, but remained celibate as a sign of their self-control.

▣ "if" This is a third class conditional sentence, which means potential action.

NASB"she is past her youth"
NKJV"she is past the flower of her youth"
NRSV"his passions are strong"
TEV"his passions are too strong"
NJB"that things should take their due course"

This may refer to (1) the normal time of marriage (cf. NASB, NKJV, and NJB) or (2) since the form is possibly masculine, not feminine, it may refer to the man becoming passionate (cf. NRSV, TEV).

For "past her youth" (huperakmos) see Special Topic: Paul's Use of Huper Compounds at 2:1.

▣ "let him do what he wishes" This is literally "so ought to be what the one wishes." This phrase can either refer to the man or the woman. The pronouns throughout this context are extremely ambiguous and certainty in interpretation is impossible.

NASB"let her marry"
NKJV, NRSV"let them marry"
TEV"they should get married"
NJB"they should marry"

This is a perfect active imperative third person plural, literally "let them marry." This refers to (1) a man and his fiancee or (2) "partners in celibacy."

7:37 "stands firm" See Special Topic: Stand at 15:1.

7:38 "he who does not give her in marriage will do better" This is not a disparaging comment on marriage, but a practical admonition in light of

1. the current crisis at Corinth

2. the soonness of the Second Coming

3. the normal human sexual passion of the Christians involved

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:7:39-40
  39
A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.

7:39 "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives" This is a perfect passive indicative (cf. v. 27). Verse 39 shows that remarriage after the death of a spouse is not evil (cf. I Tim. 5:14). It also shows how Paul is not trying to make hard and fast universal rules.

▣ "only in the Lord" There are two possible interpretations: (1) a Christian must marry a Christian (cf. II Cor. 6:14) or (2) she must act as a Christian when she remarries. Often II Cor. 6:14 is used as a proof of option number one, but in context it is not specifically addressing this issue. However, by way of principle, it might be.

7:40 "But in my opinion. . .I think that I also have the Spirit of God" Paul is restating his recurrent theme and his sense of divine inspiration (cf. vv. 12,25).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. How do we apply the truth of chapter 7 to today?

2. How much of chapter 7 is cultural and how much is universal?

3. Is celibacy a higher spiritual state for Paul than marriage? If so, why?

4. Does the Bible allow for divorce?

If so, does the Bible allow for remarriage? (vv. 28,39)

5. What was the "present crisis" to which Paul refers in v. 26?

6. Is the term "virgin" used differently in vv. 25 and 36?

 

Related Topics: Bible Study Methods