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DIVISION III ABOUT MARRIAGE CHAPTERS 7
SECTION 11 — COUNSELS, CHIEFLY TO THE MARRIED CH. 7:1-17
About the things of which you wrote. It is good for a man not to touch a woman. But, because of the fornications, let each one have his own wife, and let each one have her own husband. To the wife let the husband pay that which is due; and in like manner also the wife to the husband. The wife has not authority over her own body, but the husband and in like manner also the husband has not authority over his own body, but the wife. Defraud not one another; except perhaps it be by agreement for a season that you may have leisure for prayer, and again may come together, lest Satan tempt you because of your want of self-control. But this I say by way of making allowance, not by way of command. But I wish all men to be like myself. But each one has a gift of grace of his own from God, one in this way and one in that way.
But I say to the unmarried and to the widows, it is good for them if they remain as I also am. But if they have not self-control, let them marry: for better it is to marry than to burn.
But to those who are married, I give charge, not I but the Lord, that a woman do not separate from her husband, (but, if she do separate, let her remain unmarried, or let her be reconciled to her husband;) and that a man do not send away his wife. But to the rest say I, not the Lord, if any brother has a wife an unbeliever, and this woman agrees to live with him, let him not send her away: and any woman who has an unbelieving husband, and this man agrees to live with her, let her not send the husband away. For sanctified is the unbelieving husband in the wife, and sanctified is the unbelieving wife in the brother. Else we should infer that your children are unclean. but now are they holy. But, if the unbeliever separates himself let him separate himself. Held in no bondage is the brother or the sister in such cases. Moreover, in peace has God called us. (For what dost thou know, Wife, whether thou wilt save thy husband? Or, what dost thou know, Husband, whether thou wilt save thy wife?) Except that as to each one the Lord has allotted, as God has called each one, so let him walk. And in this way in all the churches I ordain.
7:1f>. You wrote; implies a letter from the Corinthian Christians to Paul, asking advice on sundry matters. To these he now comes, after dealing with the more pressing matters of 1 Corinthians 1-6. Only imperfectly, from Paul’s own words in this Epistle, can we infer what these questions were. One of them referred to marriage. And to this question the solemn teaching of § 10 forms a suitable transition.
7:1f> b. Not to touch a woman: to be unmarried. For it is contrasted with have his own wife, which refers evidently to marriage: and in 7:3f> ff Paul advises married people not to separate. In 7:1f> Paul admits and asserts a general principle; but points out in 7:2f> a practical obstacle to it. He reasserts it in 7:8f> with the limitation of 7:9f>. Since here and in 7:8f> the principle is asserted without explanation or proof, but is fully discussed and proved in 7:25-38f>, the words “because of the present necessity,” placed conspicuously in front of this full discussion, must be taken as applying to, and limiting, the cursory statement of the principle here and in 7:8f>.
The fornications: the actual and ever recurring cases of this sin, for which Corinth was infamous. These exposed the Christians to so great temptation that to them the principle of 7:1f> was impracticable.
Each one; not quite so absolute as “every one.”
Have: as in 7:1f>.
Wife: same word as “woman” in 7:1f>. The Greeks had no common distinctive word for “wife” or “husband.” The emphatic words his own make the meaning clear. The reason given, because of etc., shows that this verse is not mere permission but real advice; i.e. that the general principle, not to touch a woman, though good in itself, was, to speak generally, impracticable at Corinth.
Each … each: for the good of each sex equally, marriage is desirable.
The foregoing recommendation of marriage introduces suitably advice to married people, 7:3-7f>; and, after a word ( 7:8f> f) to the unmarried suggested by Paul’s reference to himself, further advice to the married, chiefly about divorce, 7:10-17f>.
7:3-5f>. The emphatic repetition, and in like manner also, gives to husband and wife exactly equal marriage rights, which the other is bound to pay. This equal right is made very prominent by the repetitions of 7:2-4f>. It culminates in 7:4f>, which states a truth which lies at the base of the injunction of 7:3f>, and is the essential principle of monogamy.
Do not defraud; keeps before us the obligation, “that which is due,” 7:3f>.
Except perhaps etc.: an exception to his prohibition of separation, which Paul hesitatingly allows, on condition that it be by mutual consent, and only for a definite time.
Season: 7:29f>; 4:5f>; 6:2f>; 8:18f>; 5:6f>, etc.: not mere length of time, but a portion of time looked upon as an opportunity of doing something.
Have leisure for prayer; suggests the excellent custom of occasionally setting apart a period of some days for special devotional exercises. During such periods, for unremitting attention to spiritual matters, separation may perhaps be desirable.
And may again come together: an integral part of the purpose to separate. So careful is Paul lest a temporary separation become permanent.
Lest Satan tempt etc.: object to be avoided by making reunion a part of the purpose to separate, viz. that Satan should make their want-of-self-control an occasion for tempting them to sin.
Your; points to a special weakness of the readers. Therefore Paul fixes narrow limits to the allowed separation. This careful warning implies some real need for it; and suggests either that the matter was mentioned in the letter from Corinth, or that separation was inculcated by some in the church.
To fasting and: certainly spurious, as is the same word in 10:30f>, probably in 17:21f>, and not unlikely in 9:29f>. These various readings affect materially the teaching of Scripture about fasting.
7:6-7f>. This: viz. that married people do not separate except for a definite time.
Making allowance: taking into indulgent consideration “your want-of-self-control.” The prohibition to separate is not an imperative command, as touching right and wrong, but advice prompted by their spiritual weakness.
But I wish etc.: something better than the counsel just given.
Like myself: endowed with complete self-control. This would make these counsels needless.
But each one etc.: a modest softening down of the apparent assumption, in 7:7f> a, of superior piety.
Gift-of-grace: as in 1:7f>; 1:11f>; 12:4f>. Paul remembers that his own self-control was the gift to him of God’s undeserved favor; that each believer has a gift, i.e. some kind of spiritual excellence wrought in him by God; that in some the favor of God shows itself in this way, i.e. by giving self control, in others in some other gift, perhaps equally valuable. Therefore, Paul’s possession of this one gift is no proof of superiority on the whole. Cp. 12:3-6f>. This principle ought to control all our comparisons of ourselves with others.
7:8-9f>. After expressing a wish that all men had the self-control which by God’s grace he has, and prompted by this mention of himself, Paul now says a word to those who, like himself, are unmarried, i.e. without wives, including (cp. 7:11f>) widowers.
And the wives: included in the unmarried, but added because to them (cp. 7:40f>) these words apply specially. Cp. “and Peter,” 16:7f>.
It is good etc.: restates the principle of 7:1f>.
Remain as I also am: continue unmarried, in contrast to let them marry. The words if they remain imply that Paul refers here to his outward position, not as in 7:7f> to his inner self-control. And this proves that he had no wife when he wrote; but gives no hint whether he once had.
Have not self-control: case in which the foregoing principle does not apply. Practically the same is the reason given in 7:2f>, “because of the fornications.” For these would not expose to danger a man of perfect self-control; and therefore to him would be no reason for marrying. That the sensuality around is given in 7:2f> as a reason why “each one,” speaking generally, should marry, seems to imply that the Corinthians generally had not the self-control needful to make celibacy expedient. But here Paul leaves each to determine this for himself.
To turn: 11:29f>.
Better: because the one, though disadvantageous, is innocent; the other is not. The matter touched in 7:8-9f>, is dealt with fully in 7:25-40f>.
7:10-11f>. To those who are married: in contrast to “let them marry.” That those married to unbelievers are made in 7:12f> a special case, implies that Paul refers to Christians married to Christians. Just so, in 7:9f> “let them marry” refers only (cp. 7:39f>) to marriage with a believer.
Give charge: not advice, but solemn command.
Not I but Christ, the Lord of the Church; who had already ( 5:32f>; 19:6-9f>) given an express command. His word made Paul’s word of no account. This implies, not that Paul’s own authority (cp. 14:37f>) is less than absolute; but that special solemnity belongs to those words which came from the lips of the incarnate Son.
Not to separate etc.: cp. 19:6f>, where with the same word Christ expressly forbids a divorce.
But if she do separate; suggests that there may be a case in which for special reasons even the solemn words of Christ may be inapplicable.
Remains unmarried, i.e. without a husband: according to still more solemn words of Christ, 5:32f>; 19:9f>.
Be reconciled: 5:24f> : lay aside, or persuade him to lay aside, whatever prevents them from living together. The mention of this alternative suggests that reunion is desirable, even in the special case in which separation has taken place. A dissolution of marriage, for any reason or no reason, was easy in Roman law. Hence the need for the injunctions of 5:32f>; 19:9f>. The shorter injunction in 7:11f> b to the husband, suggests perhaps that the wish for divorce was more likely in the wife. And we can easily conceive a wife to be prompted to the total change consequent on her conversion and by a new-born consciousness of Christian liberty, to avail herself of the laxity of Roman law, in order to escape from the control of one whom, though a Christian, she felt to be an unsuitable consort. Paul reminds her, while leaving room for an exceptional case, that Christ has expressly forbidden separation; and has still more emphatically forbidden re-marriage.
7:12-13f>. To the rest: to those married to unbelievers, whose case is so different from that of 7:10-11f> that it requires special treatment, and which now alone remains.
Not the Lord; implies that 19:6f> does not apply to them. The intimate connection of heathenism with the details of social life made the position of Christians married to heathens so peculiar that it could not be dealt with on the ground of words spoken by Christ to those only who were worshippers of the true God. Therefore, having no command of Christ to quote, Paul himself speaks. Cp. 7:25f>.
Has a wife an unbeliever; whom he has already married, before or since his conversion. To marry such is, in 7:39f>, expressly forbidden.
Agrees to live with him; implies that both husband and wife are willing.
7:14f>. Justifies the foregoing advice against a possible objection. The Israelites were forbidden 7:3f> to marry heathens. And those who had done so were bidden by Ezra ( 9:2f>) to put them away: for “the seed of holiness” must not mingle with the unholy. But Christians also are holy: 1:2f>. And it might be thought that contact with a heathen husband, or wife would defile them. Paul says no, the heathen husband in virtue of his wife’s holiness, is himself holy. Just so “whatever touches the altar shall be holy,” 29:37f>; 6:18f>. The Christian wife lays her heathen husband upon the altar of God; and in all her intercourse with him as God’s servant, striving ever to accomplish His purposes. Therefore, whatever the husband may be in himself, he is sanctified in the wife: i.e. in the subjective world of her thought and life he is a holy object; and her treatment of him is a sacrifice to God. Such intercourse cannot defile. Therefore, his heathenism is not in itself a reason for separation. (Similarly, the Christians’ friends, abilities, wealth, time, are, or should be, holy. Else even they will defile him.) Notice the contrast of 6:16f>. All intercourse with a harlot is sin; and cannot therefore be a sacrifice to God, nor she a holy object. Consequently, her presence is ever defiling.
Else etc: inference we are compelled to make if the principle involved in 7:14f> a be not admitted. It is an argument, reductio ad absurdum, in proof that the heathen husband or wife is holy, and therefore not defiling.
Your children: an appeal to all Christian parents, in contrast to the special case of 7:14f> a.
Unclean: and therefore polluting; and not to be touched by the holy people. If a wife must leave her husband because intercourse with a heathen is defiling, she may infer fairly that her children also are unclean, and must be forsaken. For some of these may be adult heathens. But all natural and Christian instinct says that she is in every case bound to show to them a mother’s love; and that such love, even towards a heathen, cannot pollute. But on what principle is this? Only that in the Christian mother’s thought and life her children are laid upon the altar of God, and therefore, in relation to her, holy.
But now etc.: in contrast to the absurd inference which would follow a denial of 7:14f> a. That the children are holy, Christian instinct compels us to admit. And their holiness can be explained only by admitting the principle involved in 7:14f> a. Thus from the admitted case of the children Paul argues the case of the husband.
From this verse, Neander, Meyer, Stanley, and others, have inferred that infant-baptism was not usual when it was written; on the ground that, if the children of believers had been baptized, the difference between them and the unbaptized husband would bar all argument from one to the other. And we must admit that the children referred to here were unbaptized. But the word children includes adults; (cp. 10:21f>; 21:28f>;) and therefore, in some cases, adult heathens. Indeed the argument suggests such, as being a closer parallel to the unbelieving husband. Consequently, it does not necessarily imply that the infants were not baptized. For, even if they were, the argument from the older children would still remain. That Paul did not find it needful to say “your unbaptized children,” suggests perhaps that baptism in infancy was not then usual. But on this argument no great stress can fairly be laid. Whether or not the children were baptized, and whether they were infants or adults, they had an indisputable claim to the care of a Christian parent. Therefore, to give them such care, could in no case defile. Consequently, baptism had no bearing at all on the case. And this is sufficient reason for Paul’s silence about it, even though the rite had been administered to some of the children. Similarly, as not affecting the argument, nothing is said about converted children. Yet we cannot infer from this that at Corinth none of the children of believers were themselves believers.
We cannot therefore accept this verse as proof or presumption that infant-baptism was unknown in the Apostolic church.
On 7:10-14f>, see further in The Expositor, vol. x. p. 321.
7:15f>. After dealing with the case of 7:12f>, “if she agrees to live with him,” Paul takes up now the other alternative, if the unbeliever separates himself; thus completing his counsel “to the rest,” i.e. to those married to unbelievers.
Let him separate himself; refers probably to simple separation, as opposed to “live with him,” 7:12f>; but doubtless includes divorce. “If the unbeliever wishes to go, do not prevent him.” To be obliged to force oneself on a reluctant heathen husband or wife, would be a bondage inconsistent with Christian liberty.
Moreover in peace etc.: additional reason for letting him go. The Gospel came proclaiming peace, 2:14f>; 2:17f>; in contrast to the bondage, and therefore confusion, which would follow an attempt to force oneself on an unbeliever. The peacefulness of Christianity forbids this.
7:16f>. A negative reason for the foregoing advice.
Thou will save: 9:22f>; see 11:14f>.
Whether etc.: same phrase in LXX. as a ground of hope and motive for action, in Esther, 4:14f>; 12:22f>; 2:14f>; 3:9f>. But that here it supports the foregoing permission to separate, is proved by 7:17f> a, which gives an injunction not to change one’s position as an exception to the principle defended in 7:16f>. If it were certain that the enforced presence of the Christian would save the heathen consort, this certainty would justify the spiritual risk of the continued connection. But it was far from certain; and therefore not worth the risk involved. And separation did not imply an abandonment of any suitable efforts to save the separated one.
7:17f>. A general and universal principle, viz. “Be not eager to change;” which limits the foregoing counsel.
As the Lord: Christ the ruler of the church and the world, who divides among men the various circumstances, and has thus allotted to each one his position. But this allotment does not include positions of sin. These are always self-chosen.
As God hath called: the circumstances in which you received, and obeyed, the gospel call. [The perfect tense directs attention to the abiding result of the call.] That this verse does not imply that believers have received a call withheld from others by God for secret reasons, see under 8:28f>.
Walk: see 3:3f>. “Continue in the position and pursue the path, in which Christ has placed you, and in which God has called you to be His people.” In § 12, this important principle will be developed and supported.
I ordain; asserts Paul’s authority to announce the principles on which Christians should act.
In all the churches; testifies the importance of this universal principle, and Paul’s impartiality in applying it.
THE COUNSEL of § 11 reveals Paul’s careful consideration of everything bearing upon the matter in hand, undisturbed by personal prejudice or by a desire to force upon others his own practice. He has found out by experience the advantage under present circumstances of celibacy. But the self-control which alone makes celibacy expedient many have not. This, however, gives Paul no right to boast: for self-control is a gift of the undeserved favor of God, who gives to all believers real, though various, Christian excellences. The immorality prevalent at Corinth makes marriage, to speak generally, desirable both for men and women. But the force of this reason depends upon each one’s degree of self-restraint, which each must estimate for himself. The marriage relation should be real, not pretended. The separation of husband and wife is not desirable, except for a spiritual purpose, by mutual consent, and for a definite time. If prolonged, it may, owing to the imperfect self-control of the Corinthian Christians, expose them to temptation. Paul reminds believers married to believers that Christ has forbidden them to break the marriage tie; and has specially forbidden re-marriage of divorced persons. That Christ’s command does not apply in full force to believers married to heathens, Paul admits; and gives his own advice. He recommends that, if the heathen desires it, the marriage relation be kept up. This is not inconsistent with the holiness of the people of God. For the heathen husband is laid by the Christian wife upon the altar of God, and becomes to her a sacred object. Only on this principle can we justify the intercourse of Christian parents with unsaved children; which all admit to be both right and obligatory. But if the unbelieving partner wishes to go, the believer is not bound to oppose it. This would be an unworthy bondage; and would lead to a confusion contrary to the essence of Christianity. The uncertain benefit to the heathen is no sufficient reason for endeavoring to force upon him the continuance of an alliance he wishes to break off. But this permission to separate must be limited by the general principle, a principle which Paul inculcates everywhere with apostolic authority, that it is well not to disturb existing relations.
Notice that Paul does not give, as do small-minded men everywhere, one specific direction to be applied in all cases; but states general principles, principles bearing in opposite directions, and leaves each man to determine which of them bears with greater force on his own case. Each of these conflicting principles, he states impartially and fully.
SECTION 12 — BE NOT EAGER TO CHANGE YOUR POSITION CH. 7:18-24
Circumcised, was one called? let him not become uncircumcised. In uncircumcision has one been called? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing; and uncircumcision is nothing but a keeping of God’s commandments. Each one, in the calling with which he was called, in this let him remain. A slave, wast thou called? Care not for it. (But if also thou art able to become free, prefer to use the opportunity.) For the slave called in the Lord is a freedman of the Lord. In like manner the free man, when called, is a slave of Christ. With a price you were bought. Do not become slaves of men. Each one, in the state in which he was called, Brothers, in this let him remain with God .
7:18-20f>. The great principle of 7:17f>, viz. that change is at present undesirable, bears not merely on the marriage relation but on all others, and especially on the believer’s relation to Judaism. Therefore, while adducing it in relation to marriage, Paul takes the opportunity of expounding its wider bearing. He thus reveals its great importance as a broad and universal principle; and strengthens himself for further use of it in § 13 in reference to marriage.
Become uncircumcised: as in Macc. i. 15, Josephus, Antiquities xii. 5. 1: a recognized surgical operation; see Celsus, bk. vii. 25. 1. “Let those who received the Gospel as Jews lay aside formally their visible connection with the ancient people of God; and let not those who as heathens received it enter the Jewish community. “This equally balanced advice, 7:19f> supports with an equally balanced fundamental principle. Cp. 5:6f>. A man is neither better nor worse by being a Jew. Therefore, neither side has any reason for change.
Keeping the commands of God, is everything: only upon the degree to which we do what God bids, depends our rank in the kingdom of God.
And nothing … nothing, implies that circumcision neither helps nor hinders our obedience to God. Paul thus proclaims explicitly, as did Christ in 15:11f>, the abrogation of the Old Covenant. For of that Covenant circumcision was an obligatory sign: 17:10f>; 12:3f>. See under 2:25f>.
Keep commandments: 6:14f>, cp. 2:26f> : favorite words with John, 14:15f>; 14:21f>; 14:23f>; 15:10f>; 2:3f> f; 3:22f>; 3:24f>; 5:2f> f: cp. 12:17f>; 14:12f>. This verse and 5:6f> help to harmonize the teaching of Paul with 2:24f>, etc. All who believe become thereby ( 3:26f>) sons of God, and receive ( 4:6f>) the Holy Spirit, who leads them ( 8:4-14f>) in the path of obedience. But, unless we follow His guidance, our faith will die: 2:20f>. Consequently, our obedience is the test and measure, though not the ground or source, of our Christian life.
7:20f>. Repeats the general principle of 7:17f>, just applied to the believers relation to Judaism.
The calling: the Gospel call, as in 1:26f>, but looked upon in connection with the various circumstances in which it found the readers and was accepted by them, circumstances henceforth linked with it indissolubly in the thought of the called ones. “In whatever circumstances you heard the Voice of God, therein remain.”
7:21f>. After dealing with the chief ecclesiastical, Paul now turns to the chief social, distinction. To the slave (or servant: see under 1:1f>) he does not say, as in 7:18f>, Do not seek to change your position; but, Do not let it trouble you. Lest, however, he might seem to underrate civil liberty, he adds at once, nevertheless, although I bid you not be troubled about your slavery, yet if you who received the call of God as a slave are also able to become free, rather than remain a slave make use of your ability to become free.
7:22f>. Reason for the chief thought of 7:21f>, “care not for it;” overleaping 7:21f> b, which needs no support, as being counsel any one would give, thrown in parenthetically to guard against misapprehension. Just so the exception in 7:17f> attaches itself to 7:15f>, overleaping 7:16f>.
Called in the Lord: practically equal to “called in the grace of Christ,”
1:6f>. Only in virtue of the mission, death, and resurrection, of Jesus, our Master, does the gospel call come to us: and it brings us into spiritual union with Him.
Freedman: in Latin, libertus and libertinus: one who has been made free, as distinguished from a born freeman, liber. The liberation of slaves, as reward for good behavior or for other reasons, was so common in the Roman Empire that the case of 7:21f> b was not unlikely. A freedman stood in special relation, and was under special obligations, to his former master, now called his “patron.” This relation, past and present, was expressed by the phrase “Cicero’s freedman.” But The Lord’s freedman was one set free from service not to Himself but to sin,
( 6:22f>,) by Christ, who is now, not his patron, but in the fullest conceivable sense his Master and Owner. These words simply mean that the slave who hears and accepts the gospel call, and is thus brought into union with Christ as his Master, is thereby made free ( 7:32f>; 7:36f>) from every kind of bondage; and, made free by Christ, belongs to Christ. So complete is this freedom that it cannot be destroyed or weakened even by civil bondage. The Christian slave knows that his hard lot has been chosen for him by the wisdom and love of his Father in heaven, as the best pathway to infinite happiness and glory; and that his human master can inflict upon him no task or pain except by the permission of God, which will be given only so far as will conduce to the slave’s highest good. Therefore, as long as civil freedom is beyond his reach, he accepts with a free heart the bondage which God has put upon him; and, though a slave, is free indeed. But, if liberty be offered, he accepts it with gratitude as God’s gift, and as a pleasanter pathway to the same glorious goal. Chrysostom, in an excellent note on this passage, contrasts Joseph, who was morally free though a slave, with his mistress who was a slave to her own passion.
In like manner etc.: much more alike than at the first appears are the positions of Christian slaves and freemen. The rendering slave of Christ need not alarm us. The slave-master assumes rights belonging only to Christ, who made us and bought us, and who claims us to be in every sense His own. We cannot, like hired servants, give notice to leave His service. For we are bound to be His servants for ever. And only as we realize that we are slaves of Christ are we truly free. For only then can we work, unhindered by fear of consequences, what our best judgment proclaims to be for our highest good.
In the light of this verse, all human distinctions vanish. We are all servants, doing what seems good, not to ourselves, but to our Lord. We are all free: for we accept with joy, and with the full consent of all that is noblest within us, the position in His household which our Master has allotted to each.
7:23f>. Proof of “slave of Christ.” Same words in 6:20f> to prove “you are not your own.”
You were bought, do not become: an appeal to the whole church. The word “freeman” in contrast to “slave” marked the end of the discussion about slavery.
Servants, or slaves, of men: cp. 1:10f>; 3:22f>; 3:24f>. Those who forget the Master who has put them where they are that they may do His work and who will pay their wages, become servants of men: i.e. whether slaves or freemen they feel that their well-being depends upon the favor of men, and that they themselves are therefore at the mercy of men. And this is the essence of bondage. Become, rather than “be,” reminds us that Christ has made His people free, and that to look upon men as the arbiters of our destiny is to abandon our freedom. Cp. 5:1f>. Christ died that we may be His servants and His only. Therefore, the blood shed on Calvary, which has made us free, forbids us to bow to the yoke of bondage.
7:24f>. Repeats abruptly; 7:20f>, without any evident connection with 7:23f>, to open a way to § 13. But notice that the principle underlying 7:21f> f, viz. that all human differences, so far as they come to us without our choice and therefore from God, are powerless to destroy or lessen our Christian liberty or to hinder our service to Christ, and this principle only, justifies the exhortation of this verse.
With God; marks the progress of thought since 7:20f>. In every position in life we are in His presence: and His presence, as our Guide, Protector, and Supply of all our need, sanctifies our lot and saves us from undue eagerness for change.
7:21f> b has given rise to much discussion. Instead of prefer to use the opportunity, Chrysostom expounds, “prefer to be a slave,” and is followed by the Greek fathers generally, but Estius, and by Meyer, Alford, Stanley, and others. But the Peshito Version, some men referred to by Chrysostom, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Neander, and others, give the exposition adopted above.
Against this latter view are urged the words
On the other hand,
Paul concluded § 11 with a principle which he everywhere inculcates. In § 12 he shows that it applies not only to marriage but to other relations in life. He supports it in reference to circumcision by showing that this neither helps nor hinders the Christian life; and then reasserts the principle. How comparatively indifferent are outward differences, and therefore how practicable the principle is, he proves by adducing the greatest social difference, viz. that between freemen and slaves, and by showing that even this difference is not inconsistent with the fullness of the Christian life. While referring to the case of slaves as an extreme proof that the Christian need not be eager for change, Paul is careful to say that he does not wish his readers to apply to this extreme case the general principle of conduct asserted in 7:20f>; 7:24f>. Indeed, that circumcision and abandonment of it are voluntary, whereas slavery is with few exceptions involuntary, marks sufficiently the difference between the two cases.
Having thus given, by expounding the Spiritual position of slaves and freemen, an abundant reason for contentment with our lot whatever it be, Paul again repeats his advice that we be not eager for change. This principle, thus emphatically reasserted, will be the foundation stone of § 13.
This section contains two important principles of universal application. The sudden change from heathenism or Judaism to Christianity might prompt some of the converts to seek to express their inward change by some conspicuous outward change. But Paul saw that such desire for change would both unsettle the minds of the converts and prejudice against Christianity those who were interested in maintaining the present state of things. He therefore counsels them to remain as they are. Perhaps for the same reason he forbore to speak against slavery. Had he done so, he would, by arousing the hostility of all slave owners, have hindered the spread of Christianity. He preferred to assert great principles, and to leave these to work out silently the changes which must in time inevitably follow. Paul also asserts a principle which is the only rational preservation from restless desire for change, viz. that even the humblest social position is consistent with the highest degree of the Christian life, and therefore with our highest good. This principle applies to all the varieties of human lot. The poor man is rich in Christ: whereas the rich man is but a steward who must give account for all he has. Sickness has often driven men to seek help from God: and bodily strength, by making men unconscious of their need of One stronger than themselves, has often allured them to eternal ruin. The distinctions of outer life are less important than they seem. We may therefore view them with comparative indifference.
To these general principles there are two practical exceptions, of which Paul mentions one, and leaves the other to be understood. If improvement of position comes fairly within our reach without spiritual loss, he counsels us to accept it. But he has no need to say that a mode of life which involves sin must be forsaken at any cost.
SECTION 13 — COUNSELS TO THE UNMARRIED CH. 7:25-40
About the maidens, a command of the Lord I have not: but an opinion I give as one to whom mercy has been shown by the Lord to be trustworthy. I think this then to be good because of the present necessity, that it is good for a man to be thus. Bound to a wife art thou? Do not seek to be loosed. Loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if even thou marry, thou hast not sinned. And if the maiden marry, she has not sinned. But, affliction for the flesh such will have. But you I, for my part, am sparing.
And this I assert, brothers, The season is cut short; in order that henceforth they having wives be as though not having them, and the weeping ones as though not weeping, and the rejoicing ones as though not rejoicing, and those buying as though not retaining, and those using the world as though not using it to the full. For the form of this world is passing away.
And I wish you to be without anxiety. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he who has got married is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife. And divided also are the wife and the maiden. She that is unmarried is anxious about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy in her body and her spirit. But she that has got married is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. But this I say with a view to your own profit; not that I may put a rein upon you, but with a view to that which is becoming and to waiting before the Lord without disturbance.
But if any one thinks that is acting unseemly towards his maiden, if she be beyond her bloom, and if it ought so to be, what he wishes let him do; he commits no sin: let the affianced ones marry. But he who stands firm in his heart, not having necessity, but has authority about his own will, and has determined this in his heart, to keep his own maiden, will do well. So that both he who gives in marriage his own maiden does well, and he who does not give in marriage does better.
A woman is bound for so long time as her husband lives. But, if her husband fall asleep, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But happier she is if she remain thus, according to my opinion, And I think that I also have the Spirit of God.
Paul will now deal fully with the matter touched for a moment in 7:8f>. He gives his opinion, 7:25-28f>; states a great principle which is broader and better than this opinion, 7:29-31f>; gives a reason for his opinion, 7:32-35f>; deals with an exception, 7:36-38f>; and gives special advice to widows, 7:39-40f>.
7:25f>. Maidens: women never married, as is evident from 7:34f>; 7:36f>. So always, 14:4f> is figurative. This verse suggests that about the maidens advice had been specially sought in the letter to Paul. He replies in words applicable to both sexes. That Paul knew that the Lord had given no command reveals his full acquaintance with the teaching of Christ. Whether he learned it by written documents or by report of those who heard Christ, we do not know. That no word of Christ about the marriage of maidens is found in our Gospels, indicates their agreement with the teaching reported to Paul.
I give an opinion: refusing to speak with apostolic authority. This by no means proves that when he claims this authority, as in 7:17f>; 14:37f>, his words are not absolutely binding. It rather proves that he could measure the degree to which he was enlightened by the Spirit.
Mercy: kindness to the helpless. Compare carefully 4:1f>; 1:13f>; 1:16f>; 9:15f>.
Trustworthy: same word as faithful. See 4:17f>. In giving his opinion Paul remembers with humility that whatever claim he has to his readers’ confidence, and he has such a claim, he owes entirely to the compassion of God.
7:26-27f>. That this is good; repeats 7:1f>; 7:8f>.
Present: either “already existing,” as usually, 3:22f>; 8:38f>; or “now beginning;” or “just going to begin,” 2:2f>.
Necessity: 7:37f> : the existing pressure of outward circumstances, which compels men to do what otherwise they would not. Cp. 6:4f>; 12:10f>; 3:7f>; 21:23f>. Cp. 1:16f>, “to give help for the present necessity;”
1:4f>. This makes it undesirable for a man to change his state; e.g. for the unmarried to marry. Meyer, Alford, and Stanley suppose that Paul refers to the calamities immediately preceding the coming of Christ, which they think he supposed to be near. But of this there is no hint whatever. The already existing perils of the early Christians were sufficient reason for the advice here given.
Man: a human being of whatever age or sex, (cp. 16:21f>,) like the Latin homo and the German mensch. But 7:27-28f> a show that here Paul thinks of men. This is not inconsistent with 7:25f>: for Paul’s advice is good for both sexes.
Thus: expounded in 7:27f>.
Do not seek … do not seek: on the principle of 7:17f>; 7:20f>; 7:24f>, and according to the advice already given in 7:8-13f>. The married are mentioned first to make it prominent that the advice to the unmarried is but an application of a general principle applicable to all.
Loosed; includes, as the whole section proves, even those never married. Else, to these no advice is given. It is more graphic than “loose.” Those who received the Gospel while unmarried may look upon themselves as made free by the providence of God from the anxieties ( 7:32f>) of married life.
7:28f>. A safeguard, for both sexes, against the supposition that this advice is anything more than mere expediency justified only by the present abnormal circumstances.
The flesh: as in 12:7f> : the body, as now constituted. What the affliction is, Paul leaves us to infer. And this is not difficult. A man with wife and family presents more points of attack in days of persecution, and is therefore more exposed to troubles, and even bodily privation, than the unmarried man. Hence the “anxiety” of 7:32f>.
Am sparing you: from this bodily privation, by advising you to remain unmarried. An appeal appropriate to men over whom ( 3:1-3f>) the bodily life had great sway, and doubtless Paul wished to save them, not merely from bodily privation, but from the peril of apostacy to which such privation would expose babes in Christ. This advice will be further discussed below.
7:29-31f>. After giving advice prompted by the present abnormal circumstances and carefully guarded, Paul asserts a great principle which ought to regulate the conduct of all men in all they do.
The season: 7:5f> : our present life, whether it be ended by death or by the coming of Christ.
Cut-short: more graphic than “short,” like “loosed” in 7:27f>. God has compressed into a short period our relations with the present world; in order that we may pass through the world without clinging to it. Even the shortness and uncertainty of life are ordained by God to save us from trusting to material good.
Henceforth: very emphatic, in contrast to our earlier life.
As though not having them: remembering that the marriage relation is a passing one, of importance only as it bears on the realities of eternity.
They that weep, mentioned before they that rejoice as being more numerous during “the present necessity.” To remember that the causes of our sorrow and our joy are alike passing away, will even now wipe away many tears and moderate our joy.
As though not retaining; the purchased goods. A solemn warning to all who lay up wealth.
The world: the whole realm of things around us; see 1:20f>.
Using-to-the full: eagerly using up all opportunities of gain or pleasure, as though these were the end of life.
By thus giving God’s purpose in cutting short the present life, Paul virtually bids us not to cling to the things of earth. And this he supports by saying that the form of this world, i.e. the whole aspect of things around us in the present life, is passing away. Even the mountains and islands
( 6:14f>; 16:20f>) will fly from their places; and with them will vanish at once and for ever the complex stage and scenery of the present drama of life. To the eye of Paul, illumined by the light of eternity, the external aspect of the world around is already passing away: 2:17f>; 2:6f>; 21:1f>; 5:18f>; 3:10f>. For each moment is bearing it towards the fiery grave in which it will soon be buried.
These words are parallel to “the season is cut short;” but are more tremendous. Many rejoice not only in the prevent life as their chief good, but in the thought that their possessions and their fame will abide when they have gone. But Paul reminds us that whatever exists around us is but a part of the passing appearance which the world has assumed for a time and will soon lay aside. Notice (cp. 3:13f>; 4:5f>; 13:12f> etc.) how Paul discusses various details of the present life in the light of eternity.
7:32-34f>. Armed now with the great truth of 7:29-31f>, viz. that things around are passing away and are therefore of secondary importance, Paul now comes to expound the reason given in 7:26f>, viz. “the present necessity,” for his advice to the unmarried not to marry. In times of persecution family cares increase terribly a man’s anxiety. And from this he wishes to save them. The bearing of this wish upon marriage, he now expands.
7:32-34f>. Anxious about the things of the Lord: quite consistent with without anxiety. And with 4:6f>. Cp. 11:28f>. The use of the same word in 7:32f> and 7:33f>, only reveals to us the total difference, in their nature and spiritual effects, of these two kinds of anxiety. The former, even in “the present distress,” does not expose to, but guards us against, spiritual peril; and prompts to ceaseless “waiting before the Lord,” 7:35f>.
Anxious about the things of the Lord, of the world: not in all cases, but usually. It notes a natural tendency. The married man was compelled to take account of the disposition and pleasure of his wife; and might thus be kept back from that unswerving, and sometimes reckless, courage which in those dark days full loyalty to Christ demanded. But the unmarried man stood alone before his Master, Christ, and need think of nothing but how, whether by avoiding or incurring peril, he might best please Him.
Also the wife etc.: of the female sex also 7:33f> is true. Marriage has put the wife in a position quite removed from that of the unmarried woman: and has thus divided womankind as well as men in reference to anxiety. On the variations of text here, see Appendix B.
Holy: subjectively so; see note, 1:7f> : parallel with, but stronger than, please the Lord. Her anxious purpose is to exist only for God, and to use all her powers and opportunities to work out his purposes.
In her body: by using her body and its powers for God only; 12:1f>.
And her spirit: so that every pulsation of the principle of life may have God for its one aim. The sanctification of the soul, ( 5:23f>,) the connecting link (see note, 15:44f>) of body and spirit, is implied in their sanctification. But the married woman’s obligation to please her husband makes her anxious about the things of the world, which are needed for his necessities or pleasure; and this may induce forgetfulness that she belongs only to God.
7:35f>. Parallel with “I spare you,” 7:28f>.
Put a rein: fling a noose over you to catch you as animals are caught, in order to deprive you of your liberty. To immature Christians, God’s commands often seem like a bridle pulling them back from the way they wish to go. But this was not Paul’s purpose in writing this letter.
Becoming: that your conduct may be worthy of the dignity of your position. Of this, anxiety is unworthy. It is therefore forbidden, 4:6f>; 6:25-34f>.
Without-disturbance: literally, without-being-pulled-about.
Waiting before the Lord etc.: a second purpose of Paul’s advice, viz. that, free from worldly anxiety, not only may their outward conduct be worthy of the gospel but that they may in their inner life present themselves undisturbed by distracting cares before Christ, to hear His voice and feel to the full His life-giving power. All worldly anxiety hinders spiritual communion with God.
We now see Paul’s reason for dissuading the unmarried from marriage. The perils of the early Christians tended to create in them great anxiety. But all such was, however excusable, unworthy of the Christian name and obstructive to communion with God. Now, the possession of wife and family increased immensely this anxiety; and gave rise, in many cases, to ( 7:28f>) severe hardship. Therefore, without wishing to restrict their Christian liberty, but seeking only their benefit, Paul advises his readers not to marry. This advice does not contradict the great truth ( 4:6f>) that it is the Christian’s glorious privilege to be free under all circumstances, married or unmarried, from all anxiety. For we cannot claim “the peace of God” if by our choice we go deliberately into needless peril. We are bound to avoid peril (cp. 10:23f>) so far as is consistent with absolute loyalty to Christ. But when, using our best judgment and for the work of God, we go into danger, we may claim, and we shall have, deliverance from fear.
Although “the distress” which prompted Paul’s advice has passed away, there are even now cases in which it is rightly adopted in spirit and even in the letter. There are men in the vanguard of the missionary army who, in view of their constant peril, have preferred to forego the happiness of family life, lest care for the safety of wife and children should fetter their daring enterprise as pioneers of the cross. In view of the shortness of time they are content to wait for domestic joys till that Day when they will take their place, their place of honor, in the glorified family of God.
7:32-35f> contain also a principle of abiding validity, viz. not needlessly to increase our anxieties. In choosing a path in life, and in the conduct of business, it is well to avoid, if practicable, those positions which are likely to give us unseemly care and thus hinder our spiritual life. This has been often forgotten, even by Christians, merely for greater gain; and with terrible results.
7:37f>. Restatement of the advice of 7:32-35f> for those cases in which the exception of 7:36f> does not apply.
Stands firm: in his resolve to keep his maiden at home, in contrast to him who “wishes” to give her in marriage. One who in his heart thought it better to keep his daughter at home might be moved from his resolve by the prevalent fear (cp. 42:9f>) of having an unmarried daughter, or by other similar reasons. To those not thus moved away, Paul speaks.
Not having necessity: where the reasons do not exist which in 7:36f> made it unseemly or wrong to refuse consent to the marriage. Else he cannot rightly persist in his purpose.
Authority about his own will: When circumstances permit him to do as he wishes. It is an emphatic exposition, in positive form, of the negative not having necessity. Only in this case the father does well to refuse marriage.
Determine, or judge: as in 2:2f>; 14:13f>.
This: not to give his daughter in marriage.
In order to keep etc.: purpose of this resolve, viz. to keep his daughter, in those perilous times, under his own control. “If the father is unmoved from this purpose, and is not morally bound by special circumstances, he will do well to carry it out.”
7:36-38f>. An exception to the advice of 7:32-35f>.
His maiden: daughter or ward. Paul here deals specifically with the matter of 7:25f>.
Acts unseemly: if for any reason, in the maiden or in her circumstances, the father thinks that by keeping her unmarried he is acting in a way which will not command respect, etc.
If she be etc.: the only case in which the above exception could occur.
Bloom: given as twenty years by Plato, Republic bk. v. 460e. For the reason of 7:32-35f>, early marriages were then specially desirable.
It ought so to be: parallel with acting unseemly, adding to it moral emphasis. Many circumstances might make it not only unseemly but morally wrong for the father to withhold his consent to marriage. In such cases, refusal of consent has often produced serious results.
What he wishes; limits this exception to cases in which the father wishes his daughter to marry.
Does not sin: parallel to 7:28f>.
Let them marry: the maiden and he who seeks her hand. This verse admits that there may be cases in which the advice if 7:32-35f> is unsuitable: and its indefiniteness suggests that this may arise from various causes. Paul declares that in these cases the father may act, without fear of committing sin, according to his own judgment.
7:38f>. Paul’s last word “about maidens.” It is evidently limited by the reason placed in front ( 7:26f>) of the whole section, “the present distress.” The peculiar circumstances of the early Christians made change in social position undesirable: and the shortness of time made it unimportant. Marriage would add greatly to their anxieties. Therefore, where no special circumstances determined otherwise, Paul advises that the maidens of the church remain such.
Well, better: not a matter of strict right or wrong, but of less or greater advantage. Not that it would be better for him who gives his daughter in marriage not to do so, but that circumstances prevent the more advantageous course. Taking all into account, it is sometimes (e.g. 7:9f>) “better to marry.”
7:39f>. First a restatement of 7:10f>, as a contrast (cp. 7:1f>) to a special case, that of widows. Fall asleep: see under 15:18f>. Free: 7:3f>.
Only in the Lord: acting in spiritual union with Christ. This would make marriage with an unbeliever impossible: cp. 6:14f>. And this is the reference which Paul’s words naturally suggest.
Happier: 4:6f>. For reasons given in 7:34f>, her position is more desirable.
Thus: in the position in which her husband’s death has placed her.
An opinion: notification at the end, as ( 7:26f>) at the beginning, of the section that Paul does not speak with apostolic authority.
My: emphatic, revealing his consciousness of the value of his opinion. And I think, etc.: modest proof of this, one which no one can question. Also I: as well as others who claim to have the Spirit of God. To whom he refers, the readers probably knew. Cp. 10:7f>. He speaks, not necessarily of some special apostolic gift, but of the spirit given ( 8:9f>) to all believers, that He may be in them 1:17f>) “A Spirit of wisdom.” The opinion of men actuated by the Spirit of God, and in this proportion, claims our respect. And that Paul had the Spirit in a rich measure, no one could deny. Notice here Doctrine 5, asserted in 8:4f>.
SECTION 13, the completion and crown of DIV. III., explains and justifies 7:1f>; 7:8f>. Paul begins and ends it by saying that he is merely giving an opinion, but one which claims respect. It is not an abiding principle, but advice prompted by special and difficult circumstances. He advises the unmarried to remain as they are; and gives this as a case of the broader principle that in existing circumstances a change in social position is undesirable. But he is careful to say that marriage is not a sin, an opinion he elsewhere ( 4:3f>) condemns as serious error. Yet, though marriage is no sin, it will bring trouble and anxiety. In giving this advice, he wishes not to bridle his readers, but to save them from that which may lead to conduct unworthy of a Christian and may hinder their communion with God. Having given this advice, Paul admits that there are cases in which, from various causes, it is impracticable; and concludes by saying that they will do well to follow his advice if they can. To widows he gives the same advice; but does not find it needful to repeat in their case the exceptions mentioned in reference to maidens.
REVIEW OF DIVISION III. The Corinthian church had written asking advice about marriage; referring perhaps specially to maiden daughters and to those married to heathens. In reply, Paul discusses in § 11 the case of married people; states in § 12 a great principle applicable to all; and shows in § 13 its special applicability in those days to the unmarried.
He reminds married believers that Christ has forbidden divorce, and advises them not to separate for any length of time. He advises believers to live even with heathen partners, if the latter wish it. To the unmarried, his advice is conflicting; because conflicting reasons bore upon their case. In 7:1f>; 7:8f> he says that celibacy is good. This assertion he justifies, and thus limits, in 7:26f>, by referring to the present distress; and in 7:32-34f>, by referring to the anxiety which marriage then entailed. Yet in 7:2f> he seems to set aside this principle as impracticable; and, in 7:9f>, mentions a case, a very common one, in which it is impracticable. But, in spite of this apparent contradiction, the Apostle’s meaning is harmonious and clear. The perils of his day made celibacy desirable to those who had full self-control: to others it was dangerous. He seems to contradict his own words because he states great principles bearing in different directions, from which each must select that which suits his own case, known only to himself. Paul’s advice for maidens he gives also to widows, without hesitation and without noting any exception. But we notice that further experience or altered circumstances led him ( 5:14f>) to modify this advice. He bases his advice, both to married and unmarried, on the undesirability of change; and his advice to the unmarried, also on the unwisdom of increasing causes of anxiety. And even now, when the distress which made celibacy expedient has almost passed away, these two principles of conduct are still safe and good. We shall do well to be slow to make important changes or to incur anxiety.
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Beet, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". Joseph Beet's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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