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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 7

 

 

Verses 1-40

(a) Answer to Questions about Marriage

The Corinthians had in their letter (1 Corinthians 7:1) asked St. Paul's opinion on several points connectedwithmarriage. His language in reply is guarded; he speaks with some diffidence; he constantly admits exceptions and lays down restrictions. This makes his meaning sometimes obscure; but the general drift is that celibacy, though a good thing in itself, is not suited to the needs of many, especially in circumstances like theirs; and marriage, though not obligatory, is not only sinless, but good in itself; and those married, even to heathen spouses, should not separate without necessity.

1-7. Celibacy is good, but marriage is usually advisable; only let it be real and complete.

Paraphrase. '(1) In answer to your questions—Celibacy is a good thing. (2) But because of the profligacy around you, it is well that each should marry. (3, 4) But the marriage must be a real one, each giving the other conjugal rights. (5) Let there be separation only by mutual consent, for a given time, for purposes of devotion. (6) But I say all this as a concession to your circumstances, not as a command. (7) I should like all to be like myself. But all have not the same gifts from God.'

1. The things whereof ye wrote] Probably most of the rest of the Epistle is taken up with answers to these questions, and considerations arising out of them. It is not clear whether the letter from the Corinthians suggested that celibacy ought to be universal, or deprecated it as unnatural, or asked, as Ramsay thinks, whether it was 'incumbent on Christians to marry, as the Jews and Roman law maintained.' Good] i.e. celibacy is an excellent thing (the reasons for this are given, 1 Corinthians 7:26, 1 Corinthians 7:32), but marriage is often the safer course.

2. To avoid fornication] which was very prevalent at Corinth. St. Paul treats of the higher aspect of marriage elsewhere (Ephesians 5:26, Ephesians 5:33). Every (RV 'each') .. his own] Concubinage and polygamy are forbidden.

3. Due benevolence] RV 'her due'; i.e. primarily, cohabitation.

5. To fasting and prayer] RV 'unto prayer,' omitting 'fasting' on the authority of the best MSS. So Mark 9:29. For your incontinency] i.e. through your lack of self-control.

6. This] Perhaps 1 Corinthians 7:5 more probably, all he has said in recommendation of marriage from 1 Corinthians 7:2 onwards.

7. Even as I myself] i.e. able through self-control to lead a celibate life.

His proper gift] He to whom God has denied this ability, has received some other gift from Him. St. Paul must have been unmarried, or, just possibly, a widower.

8-16. Consequent advice or commands. (a) 8, 9. To the unmarried and widows—to remain so, unless they have an overmastering desire. (b) 10, 11. To the married Christians. The Lord's command is against separation; if Such take place, the separated party is to remain unmarried, (c) 12-14. In cases of mixed marriages St. Paul's opinion is that the two should continue to live together if the heathen partner, is willing; for the fact that the one is a Christian brings the other also into the Christian sphere, as is the case with the children. 15, 16. But if the heathen partner wants to separate, he or she may do so, and the Christian is then set free. But domestic peace is what God desires; the heathen partner may possibly be converted.

8. Even as I] i.e. unmarried and without desire for marriage.

10. Not I, but the Lord] This exhortation is confirmed by the Lord's own authority (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:4-9) which forbids divorce. This is one of the passages which show St. Paul's acquaintance with Christ's teaching, and the supreme authority he attached to it: cp. 1 Timothy 6:3.

12. I, not the Lord] Christ had said nothing about mixed marriages; the Apostle is left to his own judgment: cp. 1 Corinthians 7:40. He does not encourage mixed marriages (2 Corinthians 6:14), but is thinking of cases where husband or wife has been converted since marriage.

14. Is sanctified] i.e. brought into the Christian sphere, under Christian influences. Now are they holy] i.e. regarded as Christian children; as are still more evidently the children of two Christian parents. This phrase 'enunciates the principles which leads to infant baptism, viz. that the child of Christian parents shall be counted as a Christian' (J. Lightfoot).

15. A brother or a sister] the Christian partner. Not under bondage] i.e. is not bound to continue with the other.

15, 16. God hath called us to (RV 'in') peace.. save thy wife] 1 Corinthians 7:16 either (a) continues the thought of 1 Corinthians 7:15—God's aim for us is peace, which will here be best secured by separation; and the possibility of saving the heathen partner by remaining is, after all, uncertain—but more probably, (b) it continues the main thought of 1 Corinthians 7:12-14, 1 Corinthians 7:15 being parenthetical, 'But God desires that the married should live in peace together, and this may result in the conversion of the heathen partner.'

17-24. The general principle; let each remain as he was when God. called him (1 Corinthians 7:17, 1 Corinthians 7:20, 1 Corinthians 7:24). This holds good, (a) of circumcision and uncircumcision. Let each keep as he is; the one important thing is to keep God's commandments. (b) Of slavery and freedom. A slave should not mind his position (though he may avail himself of an opportunity to become free). The Christian slave is Christ's freedman; the Christian freeman, Christ's bond-: servant, owing service to Him, not to men.

17. But] RV 'only'; I only lay down the general rule. Hath distributed] i.e. his condition and circumstances of life.

18. Circumcised.. uncircumcised] Used metaphorically, 'If any Jew has been converted, let him remain a Christian Jew; if a Gentile is converted, let him not seek to become a Jew, but remain a Christian Gentile.'

19. Circumcision is nothing] cp. Galatians 5:6; Galatians 6:15; Romans 2:25-29. 'Not nationality but obedience to God determines Christian character' (Stevens).

20. Calling] not 'occupation in life,' but 'condition in which God's call found him.' St. Paul lays this down, not as a universal, but as a good general rule: cp. 1 Corinthians 7:9, 1 Corinthians 7:15, 1 Corinthians 7:28.

21. But if thou mayest be made free, use it rather] an ambiguous sentence, like 1 Corinthians 7:16. 'It' may mean 'slavery' or 'freedom.' Either 'even if you have an opportunity of freedom, remain a slave'—this suits the immediate context—or, 'but if you have an opportunity of freedom, take it.' This would be a parenthetical piece of advice. This is favoured by St. Paul's thought elsewhere. He was proud of his citizenship; he prefers celibacy because it gives greater freedom to serve God. So does liberty compared with slavery. Slavery was an essential part of the social conditions of the time. The Apostle accepts it as such, but lays down a principle which undermines it, viz. that Christ makes no difference between bond and free. He insists, not on the rights of slaves, but on the duties of masters towards their Christian brethren (Ephesians 6:5-9; Colossians 3:22 to Colossians 4:1; 1 Timothy 6:1-2, and especially Philemon). The spread of the Christian spirit swept away the worst evils of slavery, before abolishing slavery itself.

22. Freeman] RV 'freedman'; set free from sin (John 8:34-36; Romans 8:2; Galatians 5:1), but still owing service to Him who freed him. Christ's servant] RV 'bondservant'; bought by Him 'whose service is perfect freedom.'

23. Bought with a price] cp. 1 Corinthians 6:20. Servants] (RV 'bondservants') of men] i.e. slavishly yielding to their desires; slaves to custom or public opinion: cp. 2 Corinthians 11:20.

24. With God] i.e. in His presence, consciously doing His will.

25-38. Marriage of virgins. The Corinthians seem to have asked particularly whether fathers ought to give their daughters in marriage. St. Paul now comes to this point, first, however, going into the question of marriage generally, and giving reasons for preferring celibacy. He says he cannot appeal to any commandment of the Lord, so simply gives his own opinion, assured that he deserves their confidence. He repeats the general rule (cp. 1 Corinthians 7:17) that it is best for each to remain as he is, considering the early coming of the Lord and the distress preceding it; so that while there is no sin in marriage, yet celibacy is best, (a) because the married will meet with greater troubles; (b) because the shortness of the time before the Lord's coming bids all to sit loose to worldly things; (c) because the unmarried is freer from distraction, and able to serve the Lord more completely. However, he does not want to constrain them, but merely to advise for the best. If a man considers it right to give his daughter in marriage, let him do so; but he who, feeling no such necessity, resolves to keep her unmarried, does better.

25. Virgins] i.e. unmarried daughters. The Roman law endeavoured to make marriage universal; and the Jewish view was similar.

No commandment of the Lord] either laid down by Him while on earth (see on 1 Corinthians 7:10-12), or imparted by special revelation. To be faithful] i.e. to give a trustworthy opinion, one deserving of confidence, as a steward of the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1-2).

26. The present distress] Perhaps persecution, which, however, is not elsewhere mentioned in this Epistle; more probably the 'distress' Christ had said would precede His return (Luke 21:23), which was thought to be near (1 Corinthians 7:29). So to be] RV 'to be as he is.'

27. Art thou loosed] i.e. unmarried.

28. Trouble in the flesh] i.e. in their earthly circumstances. Trouble would fall not only on themselves, but on those dear to them. St. Paul wants to save them such suffering (RV 'and I would spare you').

29. The time is short: it remaineth, that, etc.] RV 'the time is shortened that henceforth,' etc. The thought of the nearness of the Lord's coming, when earthly things would pass away, should keep them from being engrossed in present interests.

31. Abusing] RM 'using it to the full,' as if the sole source of enjoyment: cp. 1 John 2:15-17.

32. Without carefulness] RV 'free from cares.'

33, 34. The exact words and punctuation are doubtful (cp. RM); but this does not affect the general sense, viz. that the unmarried are less subject to worldly distractions and anxieties than the married.

35. Cast a snare (or, 'halter') upon you] i.e. not deprive you of liberty; force you into this course.

Comely] RV 'seemly.'

36. Any man] i.e. parent or guardian. Uncomely] i.e. unfairly, in not seeing her married. His virgin] daughter or ward. Let them] i.e. the maiden and her suitor.

37. Hath power over (RV 'as touching') his own will] i.e. is able to carry it out. The whole v. shows the need of careful deliberation in the matter; no hasty resolve. Throughout, according to the social and legal conditions of the time, no account is made of the maiden's own wishes. This is probably due also to the precise question St. Paul had to answer.

In applying this chapter to the present day we have to remember, (1) the altered social conditions, (2) that St. Paul's advice is influenced by his regarding the Lord's coming as very near.

39, 40. Remarriage of widows. A widow may remarry after her husband's death, provided it be a Christian marriage; but. St. Paul's opinion is, she will do better to remain a widow.

39. In the Lord] This forbids marriage from unchristian, worldly motives; and, practically, marriage with a heathen.

40. So abide] RV 'abide as she is': cp. 1 Timothy 5:3-10, for widows on the Church roll. Have the Spirit of God] am guided by Him in what I say, not merely expressing my personal inclinations.

 


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Bibliography Information
Dummelow, John. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcb/1-corinthians-7.html. 1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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