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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 7

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Hitherto the burden of this Epistle has been reproof, founded on information received from others. Henceforward, to near the end, all appears to have been drawn forth by written inquiries of the Corinthians themselves, as to how, as Christians, they were to act and to judge in certain cases. Perhaps this first subject Marriage was introduced here as a natural sequel to the topic last handled. The directions are of extreme delicacy; but let it be carefully remembered that they were not volunteered by the apostle himself, but demanded by his correspondents. Some of these, by a natural revulsion from former excesses, seem to have run to the opposite extreme, and by their ascetic severity to have troubled their brethren. The proper line of demarcation, therefore, needed to be drawn with a precision more explicit than otherwise it might have been desirable to particularise.

Marriage and its Duties 1-11.

Verse 1

1 Corinthians 7:1. Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote: [1] It is good for a man not to touch a woman i.e. to marry (an Old Testament phrase). Not as if he meant that marriage was wrong in itself, as the next verse and 1 Corinthians 7:28 sufficiently shew. Indeed, the “present distress” (1 Corinthians 7:26) seems to have been his main reason for recommending the single state; and “forbidding to marry” is given as one of the signs of “the apostasy of the later times” (1 Timothy 4:3). In Hebrews 13:4, also, marriage is declared to be “honourable in all,” or “to be had in honour of all;” and see Mark 10:6-9.

[1] The words “to me” of the received text, though implied, are an addition to the genuine text.

Verse 2

1 Corinthians 7:2. But, because of fornications of the prevalence of this sin, and the temptations to it in a vicious community.

let each man have his own wife, and each woman her own husband the designed and normal condition of the sexes.

Verses 3-5

1 Corinthians 7:3. Let the husband render unto the wife her due, [1] etc.

[1] The received reading, “due benevolence,” has hardly any authority.

Verse 5

1 Corinthians 7:5. That ye may give yourselves unto prayer. [1]

[1] The words “and fasting “are wanting in all the greater authorities.

Verse 6

1 Corinthians 7:6. But this I say by permission, not of commandment as permissible in the married state, but giving no commandment, for what is suitable in one case may be the reverse in another.

Verse 7

1 Corinthians 7:7. Yet I would that all men were as I myself i.e. in present circumstances (see 1 Corinthians 7:1).

Howbeit each man hath his own gift Gr. ‘ gracious gift;’ for in Christians natural gifts are presumed to be brought under the influence of grace for the good of others.

Verse 10

1 Corinthians 7:10. But unto the married I give charge, yea not I, but the Lord (i.e. the Lord Jesus), that the wife depart not from her husband. The Lord Jesus had Himself emphatically given this charge (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9), and it is on this that the apostle falls back.

Verse 11

1 Corinthians 7:11. (but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband.) The case here supposed is that of such disagreement between Christian husband and wife as induces the wife, in spite of the prohibition, to leave her husband. In this case she must either get reconciled to her husband which is best or remain single.

Verses 12-17

Duties of the Married where One of the Parties is unconverted, 12-17.

1 Corinthians 7:12. But to the rest say I, not the Lord: If any brother hath an unbelieving wife, and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave her.

1 Corinthians 7:13. And the woman, etc. Two noteworthy reasons are given for this injunction.

First reason:

1 Corinthians 7:14. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother: [1] else were. . . unholy not as if personal holiness were communicated from the one party to the other by their marriage union; for parents, even where both are Christian, cannot by propagation convey their own holiness to their children. Relative holiness, then, can alone be meant. But what is that? Under the law, whatever was consecrated to sacred uses was counted holy, whether days (Exodus 20:8), or vessels (Exodus 28:38), or persons (Exodus 29:1; Exodus 29:35; Exodus 29:44). Seizing on this principle, our apostle in one place applies it to food as “sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4-5), and here he applies it to the conjugal relation, as taking the unbelieving wife of a Christian away from “them that are without,” and giving her a standing within the sacred pale, with all its opportunities and influences. Nor is this an empty name. It is certainly fitted, as it was doubtless designed, to issue in saving results; for when in one of the parties Christianity enters any home, it may justly be said as of Zaccheus who left his house an avaricious publican, but after his interview with Jesus reentered it a new creature, in all the freshness, fragrance, and power of a new life: “Today is salvation come to this house On this principle, children breathing such an atmosphere are within a sacred enclosure, and not at all on the same footing with “them that are without.”

[1] Such is the striking reading here, the word “husband” easily creeping in, as of course meant, but poorly supported.

1 Corinthians 7:15. But and if he departeth, let him depart. Some, disgusted possibly enraged at the change in their wives or husbands, as the case might be and their refusal to surrender their religious convictions, would leave them; as to this day is done in not a few cases, both in heathen and Jewish families. In such a case there was no help; the wife must let her husband turn his back upon her.

God hath called us in peace therefore, in the last extremity, separation must be peacefully submitted to, and this surrender may yet be blessed to the resisting party.

Second reason:

1 Corinthians 7:16. For how knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or ... O husband... thy wife? i.e. whether thou shalt not do so. A totally different turn to the question is given by some superior critics, ‘Let him go; for what assurance have you that by longer endurance you will gain him over?’ [2] Their reason is, that “whether thou shalt” cannot mean “whether thou shalt not” But in the Greek usage of the Old Testament this phrase is often so used. Thus, 2 Samuel 12:22, “Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me?” (i.e. whether He will not be so); Esther 4:14, “Who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Joel 2:14, “Who knoweth if he will return and repent?” etc.; and the same in Jonah 3:9. In vain is it alleged that such passages are not in point. As to our passage, the whole strain of the context is in favour of our view of it.

[2] So Estius, De Wette, Meyer, Stanley, Alford.

1 Corinthians 7:17 . Only ‘I have only this to say’ as the Lord [3] hath distributed to each man, as God [4] hath called each, so let him walk each, in his special case, as may seem most conducive to the great end of the marriage relation.

And so ordain I in all the churches ‘On such principles I will have all the churches to act in like case.’

[3] Such is the right order of the words “Lord” and “God” here.

[4] The adversative conjunction (ἀ λλ ὰ) on the contrary’ has been urged as inconsistent with this view; but though opposition is undoubtedly expressed, all depends on where the opposition lies.

Verses 18-24

The forgoing Principles applied to other Cases, 18-24.

And first, Circumcision.

1 Corinthians 7:18. Was any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised which, under the persecution of Antiochus, the Jews contrived to accomplish, to conceal their nationality ( 1Ma 1:15 ; Joseph. Antt. x ii. 5. 1).

1 Corinthians 7:19. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God is everything in religion. It is worthy of notice that the unimportance of both in religion is thrice expressed, and each time in contrast with something essential. Here, where the point in question is how to act, the essential thing is made obedience; in Galatians 5:6, where the point is to have the foundation of the Christian life rightly laid, the essential thing is “ faith, working by love;” in Galatians 6:15, where those are dealt with who think they can “sow to the flesh,” and yet not “ reap corruption,” the essential thing is the being “a new creature.”

1 Corinthians 7:20. Let each man abide in that calling wherein he is called not his ‘occupation,’ but his ‘condition in life.’ Secondly, Bond-service.

1 Corinthians 7:21. Wast thou called being a bond - servant? care not for it: but if thou canst become free, use it rather. Such is the natural sense of the statement, and some of the best expositors so understand it. But looking at the strain of the argument and the strict sense of the words themselves, it has been plausibly argued that the sense must be, ‘nay, even if thou mayest be made free, use it (i.e. your state of slavery) rather.’ But if so, why did the apostle express it in this strange way “use it rather"? why did he not say “seek it not,” “be content,” “abide still,” or some similar phrase? And then, only take this last clause parenthetically, as follows: ‘If called as a slave, think not that to serve Christ in that condition is hopeless (though, of course, if thou mayest be made free, that is to be preferred) and the sense will at once be seen to be good, and quite consistent with the strain of the argument. This sense, too, is all the more probable, as the apostle is about to add (1 Corinthians 7:23), “Ye were bought with a price, become not bond-servants of men.”

1 Corinthians 7:22. For he that was called in the Lord, being a bond-servant, is the Lord’s freedman or ‘manumitted slave,’ [1] liberated from the slavery of sin; for “whosoever committeth sin is the slave of sin” ( Joh 8:34 ; 2 Peter 2:19; 2 Timothy 2:26).

[1] ἀ πελεύθερος

likewise he that was called, being free, is Christ’s bond-servant. Thus have these two very dissimilar conditions of life a beautiful meeting - place and bond of union in Christ. Well might it be said (James 1:9-10), “Let the brother of low degree glory in that he is exalted, and the rich in that he is made low” both meeting on the platform of a common redemption.

1 Corinthians 7:23. Ye were bought with a price; become not bond-servants of men. This does not mean, Get not into actual slavery, but, ‘Being set inwardly free at such a cost, suffer not yourselves to be despoiled of this higher liberty by any party.’

Verses 25-40

Answers to Corinthian Questions regarding Marriage, 25-40.

1 Corinthians 7:25. Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: but I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. When the apostle thus sharply distinguishes between what he utters by authority under immediate inspiration and what, in the exercise of his own Christian wisdom, he judges to be right and recommends to be done, we may be sure that wherever no such intimation as this is given, he is to be understood as speaking authoritatively, both in the expression of truth and in the giving of commands.

1 Corinthians 7:26. I think . . . this is good for the present distress. [2] What was that? Some say, the great dearth in the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:28); others, the existing troubles in Corinth; others still, the calamities that were to usher in the destruction of Jerusalem, on the Lord’s Second Advent. To us the reference seems rather to be to that breaking up of all social ties which Christianity was occasioning (Luke 12:31-33; Acts 17:5), and the imminent convulsive overthrow of the whole Jewish state.

[2] In classical Greek the word here used (άναγκή) more frequently denotes ‘necessity;’ but it is very often used in the sense of ‘calamity,’ ‘straits,’ ‘distress, in the LXX. and in Josephus.

it is good for a man to be as he is if married, to remain so; if single, single to remain, as is expressly said in 1 Corinthians 7:27.

1 Corinthians 7:28. . . if thou marry, then hast not sinned . . . Yet such shall have tribulation. . . and I would spare you spare you this tribulation.

The next three verses are a digression, or rather a parenthetical episode, consisting of general counsels suggested by the unsettled and shifting condition of all things at that time, which may be summed up in weanedness from all present objects, ties, affections, and pursuits after which he returns to his details.

1 Corinthians 7:29. But this I say, brethren, the time is shortened. It is not the general ‘shortness of time’ which is here expressed, but the great fact that since all preparatory economies have passed away, and the final one has come there being nothing now between but the work preparatory to the second coming of Christ we should now, more than ever, sit loose to earthly things. that henceforth they that have wives may be as though they had none, etc.

1 Corinthians 7:31. and those that use the world, as not abusing it. The word here used signifies either using it ‘down,’ that is, using it ‘to the full,’ or ‘the uttermost,’ or ‘misusing’ or ‘misapplying’ it. This last is the most natural sense here.

After this digression the apostle now continues his answers to the inquiries of the Corinthians regarding marriage.

1 Corinthians 7:32. But I would have you to be free from cares that is, from the causes of them.

He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord. . . .

1 Corinthians 7:33. but he that is married. . . how he may please his wife. In other words, the married have one care more than the single.

1 Corinthians 7:35. And this I say. . . not that I may cast a snare (Gr. ‘noose’) upon you not to interfere with your liberty to marry or remain single.

but for that which is seemly suitable in present circumstances and most conducive to the ends of your Christian calling.

The next three verses as they stand in our version, or any version strictly literal are very liable to be misunderstood. The directions which they give are given to the Christian father with respect to his unmarried daughter. In the matter of marriage, the father according to the custom of those times had supreme control over his daughter. The supplement of one word to the translation the word ‘ daughter ’ will make the real sense quite clear.

1 Corinthians 7:36. But if any man thinketh that he behaveth himself uncomely towards his virgin daughter, if she be past the flower of her age past the usual age of marriage. and if need so requireth if there is any good reason for not delaying her marriage (such as in a vicious community may be easily conjectured).

let him do what he will, he sinneth not (in giving his consent): let them marry.

1 Corinthians 7:37. But he that . . . having no necessity (to carry out the marriage) hath determined... to keep his own virgin daughter, shall do well.

1 Corinthians 7:38. So then (to sum up) both he that giveth his own virgin daughter in marriage doeth well, and he that giveth her not. . . shall do better. To give her away would not be wrong, but in the trying circumstances supposed throughout this chapter, to keep her at home would, for many reasons, be better.

On one point more the re-marriage of widows a question would seem to have been asked, and is here answered.

1 Corinthians 7:39. A wife is bound [1] for so long time as her husband liveth; but if he be dead Gr. ‘fallen asleep’ a phrase used in the New Testament only of believers, who, therefore, were no doubt here in view. And it is worthy of notice that in Romans 7:2, where the same statement is made, but of husband and wife in general, the word is not that used here, but the naked term ‘dead’ (“if the husband be dead ”) .

[1] The words “by the law” in the received text have scarcely any authority, and have manifestly crept in from Romans 7:2, where the same statement about the married occurs of life, that your prayers (joint prayers) be not hindered. (1 Peter 3:7). Disregard of this law of the Christian life has contributed more to blight the most promising appearances of living Christianity, and render sickly the real Christianity of the married, than almost any other cause.

she is free to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord only to a believer.

This is a fundamental principle in the Christian life, having its ground in the necessity of entire sympathy in spiritual things, if the Christian life in the married is to be realized at all. So much was this in view, that some of the instructions given to the married presuppose and derive their emphasis from this. Thus: “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel, and as being joint heirs of the grace.”

1 Corinthians 7:40. But she is happier if she abide as she is in her widowhood.

after my judgment: and I think that I also have the Spirit of God ‘While others make high pretensions to Divine authority, I think it no presumption in me at least to claim if;’ a mode of expression, the half irony of which only marks the more strongly his consciousness of possessing it.

Note. While here the re-marriage of widows is discouraged, the reverse seems to be counselled in 1 Timothy 5:14. But the difference lies in the circumstances. Here the advice to remain as they were is general; there the advice that younger widows should marry is grounded on certain things said about them in the preceding verses, in the light of which, viewed as a question of expediency in such circumstances, the advice would commend itself to every one.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/1-corinthians-7.html. 1879-90.
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