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PAUL’S THIRD RESPONSE: TO THE QUESTIONS CONCERNING MARRIAGE, 1 Corinthians 7:1-40.
Meyer here enters into a prolix discussion as to which party among the Corinthians raised this question. He decided that, as Peter was married, it could not be the Petrines; and as the Christines appear not to have cherished any idealisms, it was not they; but as Paul was not then in the married state, and the chapter favours celibacy, (1 Corinthians 7:7,) it was probably the Paulines. We suppose that the epistolary inquiry was the result of a conflict of opinions.
There were probably three tendencies of thought among the Corinthians on the subject of marriage. 1. The Jewish view regarded marriage as a duty, so that the celibacy of a man beyond twenty was a sin. 2. The Roman opinion, in whose schools of philosophy it was a standing topic of debate whether a wise man should marry. Those who decided from self-interest, arguing from the temper of women, the cares of living, and the responsibility for children, took the negative. Those who argued from the public good, the order of society, the restraint from licentiousness, and the need of posterity, maintained the affirmative. 3. Ascetics, who held all sin to lie in matter, who condemned all bodily indulgences, forbade meats, denied our bodily resurrection, and some of whom even questioned the corporeity of Christ. See our note on Acts 8:9. No wonder, then, that Paul’s converts resorted to him by letter for decision between the three.
1. Advisory counsel as to marriage and celibacy, 1 Corinthians 7:1-9.
1. Concerning This concerning is repeated at 1 Corinthians 7:25, 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1, as commencing responses to the several written queries.
Good Καλον , proper to a Christian man; the reverse of αισχρον , shameful, improper.
Paul here compares celibacy and matrimony, not in respect to their intrinsic holiness, but in respect to the comparative probability that a given person will be holy in one or the other. If persons have not the gift of continence they are not likely to be holy in celibacy; and they had better prefer the chance of being holy in marriage. If they have the gift of continence they had better remain celibate, as they would thereby be free from the moral dangers of marriage. That is, some persons can be most holy in celibacy, others most holy in marriage. And here comes in the suggestion of Stanley, that marriage and the family constitution stand on a much higher moral plane in these later European Christian ages than in the old Orient. Paul’s reasoning would land him in far stronger matrimonial conclusions in our day than his own. Protestantism prefers, for many good reasons, that even her foreign missionaries should be married.
That the apostle sees no superior holiness in celibacy is plain. 1. He utters no rapturous eulogy upon it, like later monastic writers; advocates no vows of virginity; proposes no convents nor monasteries. Celibacy is holy only if one is holy in it. 2. Marriage, with Paul, has a holy ideal, being typical of the unity in the Trinity, (1 Corinthians 11:13,) and of the union between Christ and his Church. Ephesians 5:25; Ephesians 5:32. Similarly St. John (Revelation 14:4) honours the virgins, but yet makes the glorified Church to be “the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” Revelation 21:2. Says Jeremy Taylor: “Single life makes men in one respect like angels; but marriage, in many things, makes the chaste pair be like Christ.”
Touch A term of modesty (equivalent to the Latin tangere) to express any contact with sexual purpose or feeling. Same word in Genesis 20:4.
St. Jerome, “in his heat against Jovinian,” as Fulke ( Confut. of Rhemish Test.) says, argued, “If good not to touch a woman, it is evil to touch; for nothing is contrary to good but evil.” And again the same ascetic saint argued, in a similar “heat,” “If, as Paul commands, we must always pray, we must never serve marriage; for so often as I render due to marriage I cannot pray.” This last logic would equally forbid sleeping. And as for the inference from the contrariety of “evil” to good, St. Paul holds that celibacy and marriage are not the one good and the other oppositely evil; but each to be good or evil according to the case.
2. To avoid fornication The translators have inserted to avoid, as the italics show; but incorrectly. The Greek means, Nevertheless, on account of the fornications; that is, the prevalent licentiousnesses, as in Corinth.
Own wife A clear implication against polygamy. Indeed, through the whole chapter the Christian law of one with one is assumed. The present words of the apostle at once abolishes the ascetic view, which holds all sexual union as based in unholy corporeal matter to be unholy. Romish monasticism, which was really based in that view, is hereby invalidated from its very foundations. Stanley notes the different phrases of the apostle’s Greek for his own, την εαυτου , and her own, τον ιδιον . The former Greek phrase is not, in the New Testament, interchangeable with the latter; intimating, apparently, a deep difference between the proprietorship of the husband from that of the wife.
3. Due benevolence The best reading omits benevolence. Let each party, instead of an ascetic abstinence, render to the other the conjugal due.
4. Hath not power Or rightful authority. The original vow, as well as the nature of the institution, presupposes this concession.
5. Defraud Deprive.
Consent Not by the sole will of one alone.
For a time Says Olshausen, “Probably it was an early custom, previous to the festivals, especially before Easter, for people to devote a lengthened time to solitary prayer, in which beautiful custom originated Lent.”
Fasting Omitted, according to the best authorities. Indeed, it is remarked by Stanley that this chapter has an unusually large number of false readings, interpolated by ascetics, to whom the apostle did not seem rigid enough.
Come together again Greek, επι το αυτο ητε , be at the same ordinary habit of matrimony.
For your incontinency Rather, through your incontinence, or incapability of self-control.
6. But Although this is often a proper course.
This The temporary abstinence prescribed in 1 Corinthians 7:5.
By permission It is a divinely allowable but not commanded suspension of the command in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4.
7. For Greek, but. This verse does not assign a reason for the last verse, but adds a qualification. I cannot command this suspension of marriage intercourse, but I wish that, in some way, suited to each case, every man may attain my standard of Christian perfectness, a standard which I have attained in the way of continent celibacy.
As I Whether Paul was a widower or a bachelor there is nothing to decide. But this phrase implies that at this writing he was in the unmarried state.
Gift of God A natural gift in the person’s constitution as the base, and a gracious gift superadded by the Spirit. For God suits his special gracious gifts to the natural qualities of a man’s mind and body. Paul’s blended gift, both natural and gracious, were perfect continence.
This manner Of temporary abstinence, as in 1 Corinthians 7:5, or of permanent abstinence, as Paul himself.
Another after that In the order and condition of matrimony, as in 1 Corinthians 7:2-4. Each in his own way may be as completely perfected as I myself.
The power of continence may or may not be an admirable quality. It may be a happy physical balance; it may be a physical defect; it may be a strong power of will, able to subject itself to reason; and it may, finally, be a complete subordination, through the Spirit, to the will of God, aided more or less by the natural qualities. Through it Paul attained his Christian development; but he does not prescribe it to all others as the only way. For he now proceeds to show how others, in their own way, and after their proper gift and calling, may attain their own best Christian state. The unmarried, (1 Corinthians 7:8-9,) the married, (1 Corinthians 7:10-12,) the married with the unchristian, (1 Corinthians 7:13-16,) each and all, as God hath distributed, (1 Corinthians 7:17,) may become holy in their own way as Paul has in his way.
8. Unmarried Bachelor or maiden.
Widows The feminine widows are named as the more obvious, and the widowers are simply implied.
Good More conducive to holy life for the possessor of the gift than marriage; as marriage is more so to those unendowed with the gift. Marriage, as well as celibacy, has its complex temptations and avenues to sin.
9. Cannot The cannot is not in the apostle’s Greek. The true rendering is, If they do not be continent if experience shows the certainty of failure.
Burn An ordinary figure, expressing both the intensity and consuming power of lust. Relief from the burning impulse allows the soul, by cultivating the other virtues, to attain as high a piety as celibacy would afford. The very exaggeration of the virtue of celibacy in the post apostolic age of the Church had, no doubt, the good effect of almost recreating the lost virtue of chastity in the Roman empire. It was the restoration of the balance of the virtues, as presented here by Paul, since the Reformation, that has, as it were, brought the family virtues to a lustre of development unknown to former ages.
2. Law and counsel as to separation of married parties, 1 Corinthians 7:10-17.
10. Not I By my own authority.
But the Lord By his recorded command in Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:3-12, where see our notes. It is not at all improbable that Paul was acquainted with Matthew’s gospel; yet, no doubt, both pure verbal traditions (see our vol. ii, p. 5) and authentic documents (see our note on Luke 1:1-4) furnished to him the words in which the Lord laid down this law. Mark 10:12, (which gospel was not now published,) states the law for both men and women. But one side is stated here; perhaps, as Alford suggests, because it was the Corinthian women who were conscientiously most inclined to hold celibacy as obligatory on all.
11. If A provision both for cases of separation already existing, and for separations from unavoidable causes. The party must then remain single, or if a resumption of the connexion be practicable, it must be made.
12. To the rest The rest of the Corinthian inquirers; namely, those intermarried with Jews or pagans. Christianity does not dissolve the tie, but ennobles it, and seeks to make it the instrument of salvation.
Speak I With an apostolic and inspired authority, supplementing what the Lord has in express words said. It is a very mistaken perversion of the apostle’s words which imputes a mere human authority to his injunctions, in contrast with the Lord’s words. His real antithesis is between the Lord’s recorded words, and his own apostolic words given by the Lord’s inspiration.
12, 13. A Christian man must not put away a pagan wife; a Christian wife must not leave a pagan husband.
Put away Applied to the man because he alone, by Jewish law, could divorce; the wife could only leave.
Believeth not By Hebrew law, if a Jew married a pagan he was desecrated; his marriage was void, and his children illegitimate, as not pure Jews. See Ezra 9:11-15; Ezra 10:10-44; Nehemiah 13:23-28. Hence the inquiry would arise, especially among Jewish converts, What is the law of Christianity regarding intermarriage between Christian and unbeliever? The answer of St. Paul on this, as on other points, while expressed in analogy with Jewish law, emancipates believers from its trammels.
14. Sanctified A Jew marrying a pagan is desecrated, and his marriage a sin, and so void; but, reversely, if a Christian marry an antichristian his sacredness is conceived as extending to and covering the unbeliever, so far, at any rate, that the marriage is still “holy matrimony,” and the tie must not be broken.
Unbelieving If under Christianity, as under Judaism, the infidel desecrated the believer by marriage and the marriage was void, then, by parity, the children would be illegitimate, and by inheritance, infidel.
Now Under the Christian law.
Holy Undesecrated and legitimate.
During the old dispensation the pagan child had, under the common atonement of Christ, the same right to circumcision that the Jewish child had; but his misfortune was, that not being born within the chosen seed, where the institution was imperative, he failed to inherit it as a performed rite, with the accompanying nurture that followed. He was, therefore, ritually not holy. Under the new dispensation, similarly, all children being under the common atonement have an equal right to baptism. They stand in a common justification and salvability, which baptism now, as circumcision of old, does not create, but recognises; holding the infant as a virtual believer. The child of Christian parents inherits, as did the child of the Jewish, not a special right to baptism, but a special inherited probability of receiving the rite, with its consequent recognition by the Church as being her nursling, to be embodied into her full membership when, at responsible age, the responsibilities of such a membership are properly accepted.
Hence, by parity, the child of Christian parents, like the child of Jewish parents, may be called holy. Yet the child under the new dispensation has this advantage over the child of the old, that under the latter the infidelity of either parent disfranchised him.
It will be seen that the words sanctified, holy, and unholy, are here used, not in reference to inward holiness of heart, but in the sense that Jerusalem is called the holy city, that the temple, and even its consecrated vessels, were called holy, and even the Jewish race was holy; namely, in the sense of sacred, chosen, consecrated to a special divine purpose. So St. Paul says, “If the root be holy, so are the branches,” (Romans 11:16;) a holiness which, in view of ultimate restoration, he considers as still inherited by the Jewish race. The child of Christian parents is here called holy in the same sense that the child of the Jew was holy, namely, as providential heir, and probably recipient, of the consecrating ordinances of the Church.
15. If the unbelieving depart The Christian may not desert the infidel; but suppose the infidel desert the Christian?
Let him depart Use no legal obstacles to prevent his going.
Is not under bondage Literally, is not enslaved; but the question now is, How far is the Christian emancipated? Different replies have been given, as, 1. That the Christian is released from the duty of compelling the unbeliever to remain in cohabitation; but to this the obvious replies are, first, that no such duty of compulsion to cohabit can have been supposed to exist, and, therefore, no emancipation from such duty was needed: and, second, it is a very awkward interpretation to make the apostle say, that the Christian is not enslaved to the duty of enslaving the opposite party. 2. That the Christian is required to let the infidel depart rather than give up Christianity in order to retain him. But, surely, Paul could not have understood any Corinthian believer as inquiring whether he should not apostatize in order to save the marriage cohabitation! Obviously, therefore, the only meaning is, that though the Christian may not dissolve the marriage tie, the infidel may.
To peace But the Christian calling to peace forbids the so conducting as to induce the unbeliever to depart. On the contrary, the Christian spirit should be most earnestly exerted to induce the unbeliever to remain, with the hope, expressed in the next verse, of a conversion to Christianity.
16. For Assigning as a reason for peace.
Whether The Greek word usually means simply if. And as there is no negative so as to make if not, so Stanley, Alford, and others make the apostle ask, How knowest thou that thou wilt convert the infidel party? And then the question gives a reason to let the party go without interposing any legal obstacle. Let him go, for you know not that you shall convert him. We reject this view. For, 1. The not is not necessary in order to indicate that a question implies an affirmative hope. Dr. Hodge rightly quotes 2 Samuel 12:22; Joel 2:14; Jonah 3:9. Take the first passage. David fasted and prayed in the hope of his child’s life being spared, asking, “Who can tell if the Lord will be gracious, that the child may live?” Thus David conducts, as Paul would have the married Christian conduct, in the hope expressed by the interrogative if, that a favourable issue might result. 2. The meaning given by Alford is very un-Pauline. It makes Paul, by emphatic repetition, very earnest to expel the hope of saving a soul, and very earnest to prevent action for that purpose! The Christian could not, indeed, know that the opposite party would be converted, and it would be very superfluous for Paul to so inform him. But there often might be a hope; and it would be very unlike Paul to deny that such a hope should be a ground of action to save a wife or husband from infidelity, sin, and death. To act from such hopes, where he did not know a favourable result, was one of the fundamental purposes of Paul’s life.
17. Distributed Allotted. This new Christianity does not intend, as some aspiring spirits are inclined to fancy, to break up the order of society, but rather to make every man stay where he is, and perform the duties of his place in the very best way. Nay, it considers every man’s position rather a providential allotment, a calling which he should retain and adorn. And this maxim Paul now enforces, both by illustration and repetition. 1 Corinthians 7:20; 1 Corinthians 7:24.
Ordain I Implying that an apostle possesses authority to supplement the ordinances of Christ.
All churches So that the Corinthians need not feel themselves specially burdened by this injunction. It is the law for universal Christianity.
3. Counsel, generally, as to abiding in present calling, 18-24.
18. Circumcised The first illustration.
Uncircumcised Put off his Jewish relationships. The physical circumcision could be undone, or at least modified, by a surgical operation. See 1Ma 1:13-15 .
19. Is nothing It has no moral or religious significance. It has become by Christianity a mere condition of the body.
Keeping of the commandments Holy living, regardless of the physical fact, is the condition of acceptance with God.
20. Same calling This calling does not imply what is theologically called an “effectual calling,” excepting so far as the agent’s voluntary acceptance has made it “effectual,” and so his regular and permanent calling. See our note on Romans 1:1.
He was called A play upon words. Let every man remain in the secular calling wherein he was when the Gospel gave him a successful call to its blessings.
21. Servant As opposed to freeman in 1 Corinthians 7:22; the word, doubtless, here implies a slave.
Care not for it Care not in the sense of repining. You have a divine freedom; let that inspire you with a free contentment with your condition. That fully obeys the law of abiding stated in 1 Corinthians 7:20.
But A limitation now comes to the extent of that law of abiding. If In the Greek ει και , if also; that is, if, in addition to, or over and above this Christian uncaringness, thou art able to become a freeman, for such is the Greek reading.
Use it rather The question is to what the it here refers. Some refer it to δουλεια , slavery, implied in the word servant or slave. Others refer it to ελευθερια , freedom, as is implied in the words made free. Stanley considers the grammatical question between these two as remarkably evenly balanced, assuming that there is no third supposition. We think, on the contrary, that it refers to neither. Beyond reasonable doubt, we think, it refers to the chance of being free implied in δυνασθαι , art able. (Whilst revising these notes for the press we find, with satisfaction, that Dr. Fairbairn suggests the same reference. Our own notes stand precisely as they were written months before seeing his work on the “Pastoral Epistles.”) Alford maintains that the meaning is, use slavery, and supports it elaborately by a series of arguments which we think to be so many mistakes.
1 . He argues that also implies an additional thought in the same direction with the antecedent thought. This is true, and our interpretation, as above, provides for it. The antecedent thought is the moral freedom of Christian quietude, and the also implies an additional thought in the same direction, namely, the actual chance of emancipation.
2. But the position of this also, ( και ,) he says, ought, by the interpretation he opposes, to be not before, but after art able. That is true, we reply, if freedom is supplied as the reference of it; but if, as we suppose, the chance implied in art able is the reference, the also is placed just right.
3. The but, he says, expresses too strong a contrast. Assuredly not. The contrast is between remaining a contented slave and the becoming a freeman; a contrast justifying a very strong but.
4. The absence of a supplied objective after use ( it is supplied by the translator, as the italics show) flings us back, not on the secondary subject of the sentence, freedom, but the primary, slavery. But our interpretation makes it refer to neither slavery nor freedom, but to the being able to be free; and that is the subject of the entire sentence after the but; if thou hast a chance to be free use it in preference.
5. Our interpretation, Alford says, is inconsistent with the context; for the context tells the Christian to remain as he is, and the interpretation tells him to change his position. But Alford entirely misconstrues the context. Paul does not, as Dr. Hodge well says, forbid a man to “better his condition.” He does not forbid a journeyman mason becoming a boss mason: or an employe laying up money and becoming a capitalist and an employer; or a rail splitter’s behaving himself well and becoming president. What he is forbidding is, the expectation that Christianity is to break up the social order and fling every believer out of his position in the general system. The direction, therefore, to the slave, to remain a free-hearted slave, or to become free in accordance with social order, is truly telling him to remain in the system as he is.
6. But our interpretation, he says, makes the apostle “turn out of his way to give a precept of merely worldly wisdom, that a slave should become free if he could.” But is the direction to rise, if possible, from slavery, “a precept of mere worldly wisdom?” For a man to remain a voluntary slave when he might be free is a base self-degradation, an endorsement of the enslavement of others, and thereby a heinous wickedness. It is none the less this because, under the Mosaic law, a slave might prefer slavery, and so have his ear bored as a token of perpetual bondage; for that, like polygamy and free divorce, was on account of the hardness of the hearts of that age. A perverted state of society may, no doubt, exist under pagan despotism, where all are virtual slaves, in which emancipation may bring no higher wellbeing, moral or economical, especially for some individuals. But as Christianity asserted the law of marriage, so it could not but assert the moral obligation of every man to be free, unless the social state held him fast. The Christian was morally bound to be a freeman if possible. And in the day when a government becomes Christian when right and progress are understood principles, slave laws and fugitive-slave laws are crimes and have no validity then it is the duty of the slave, according to the law of revolution, when the opportunity arrives to assert his freedom by war and blood. Short of that it is his right, if possible, to escape; and the “underground railroad,” that aids his passage, is no unrighteous institution.
7. Finally, Alford asserts that the Greek for use is better suited to the word for slavery than for freedom, and he quotes so old an author as Herodotus to justify his criticism on the New Testament. All this has nothing to do with our position; which is, that neither freedom nor slavery is the object of use, but the chance of emancipation. And it is conclusive to our purpose for us to say that every instance in the New Testament of the Greek word for use has for its object a means to an end. And here it means to use the chance of emancipation as a means to the end of becoming a freeman.
22. For Assigning, now, a reason for the precept just given for both contentment in necessary slavery and use of means for emancipation. The slave is the Lord’s freeman, and, therefore, can be content. The freeman is Christ’s servant, and should, therefore, choose to be not the slave of man.
23. Bought Carrying out the metaphor of the slave; but it is still used to show that, as purchased by Christ, they are wrongfully bought and sold and owned by men.
Be not ye By any consent of your own. If slaves you are by compulsion of men, the crime is that of men, not yours. But whether you are compulsory bonds-men or not, be in soul so completely the liege of Christ that you are freemen as to men. There is every reason to believe that slaves formed a large part of the first Christian Churches. Says Mr. Withrow, in his Catacombs of Rome, p. 487.
“The condition of the slave population of Rome was one of inconceivable wretchedness. Colossal piles built by their blood and sweat attest the bitterness of their bondage. The lash of the taskmaster was heard in the fields, and crosses bearing aloft their quivering victims polluted the public highways. Vidius Pollio fed his lampreys with the bodies of his slaves. Four hundred of these wretched beings deluged with their blood the funeral pyre of Pedanius Secundus. A single freedman possessed over four thousand of these human chattels. They had no rights of marriage nor any claim to their children. This dumb, weltering mass of humanity, crushed by power, led by their lusts, and fed by public dole, became a hotbed of vice in which every evil passion grew.”
Yet how Christianity ignored degrading distinctions is thus shown by the records on their tombs. “Out of eleven thousand Christian inscriptions of the first six centuries, scarce half a dozen make any reference to a condition of servitude, and of these, as Dr. Northcote remarks, two or three are doubtful. Yet of pagan epitaphs at least three fourths are those of slaves or freedmen. The conspicuous absence of recognition of this unhappy distinction is no mere accident. We know that the Christians were largely drawn from the servile classes, but in the Church of God there was no respect of persons.” Catacombs, p. 485.
25. Virgins Unmarried females. Yet the advice given would, by analogy, be in some degree applicable to males.
No commandment of the Lord That is, no recorded or traditional words of Christ. Note 1 Corinthians 7:10.
My judgment Note 1 Corinthians 7:40.
Faithful Not only persevering, as a believer, but trusty, as God’s dispenser of inspired truth.
4. Response on marriage under pressure, especially of maiden daughters, 25-40.
The response of Paul concerning marriage thus far is applicable to the proper cases in all ages. Through the remainder of the chapter his advice is given in view of the present pressure; namely, the impending persecution, apparently apprehended from the increasingly cruel character of the Emperor Nero. To that persecution Paul himself fell a victim; but whether it really reached Corinth, so as to fulfil the gloomy anticipation, is not historically certain.
26. The present distress Present αναγκην , compulsion. Necessities of the times compelling a caution against forming ties, for such ties would involve trouble, 1 Corinthians 7:28. Alford absurdly explains this distress as referring to the second advent, then imagined by Paul to be at hand. In refutation of which we esteem it sufficient at present to say, that the Greek word here rendered present is, in 2 Thessalonians 2:2, the very word which is translated at hand, and is denied to be predicable of our Lord’s coming.
So to be Just as he is.
27. Loosed The word seems naturally to imply a previous marriage, and hence, in some periods of the Church, second marriages have been disfavoured. But the word loosed is adopted by Paul as merely an antithesis to bound, and means unbound. See note on 1 Timothy 3:12.
28. If thou marry There doubtless were those in the Corinthian Church “forbidding to marry as a sin.” While Paul, on prudential grounds, advises celibacy for the present, he discountenances the depreciation of the sacred institution as if it were an un-holiness.
Trouble Rendered, in Matthew 24:21, “tribulation.”
In the flesh In our temporal circumstances.
Spare you From dwelling on a topic so unpleasant as your coming troubles and the privations they demand.
29. But, though I thus “spare you,” yet this I must say. There is a truth that must be declared.
The time is short We may note three different interpretations put upon this sentence:
1. That of Alford, Stanley, and many German commentators, which makes it affirm that time is short before Christ’s second advent, and imply, positively, that that event would cut short the earthly life of Paul and his Corinthian brethren. This interpretation we peremptorily reject. It makes Paul affirm a positive untruth under inspiration. It makes him contradict what a short time previous he had said to the Thessalonians, denying the impending advent: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, where see our notes. We can freely grant that Paul, even under inspiration, knew neither the day nor the age when the advent is to take place. But to make him claim to know and to tell the age, under inspiration, is quite a reverse thing. This pruriency for making every expression in the apostolic writings expressing the transitory duration of human probation signify the end of the world, does most unwisely make it difficult for the sacred writers to describe earthly time as it truly Isaiah
2. The interpretation of Grotius and others, which makes it mean that the time before the impending persecution is short; and so, in view of possible martyrdom, we must hold to earthly things as not permanently possessing them. This is more plausible, but we reject it in our note on 1 Corinthians 7:31.
3. That of Barnes, Hodge, and others, that the time of our probationary existence is short. This is, no doubt, essentially the correct view.
Short Or, rather, contracted; that is, made short by our Creator, for a purpose soon to be stated.
It remaineth By most commentators the Greek for this phrase, το λοιπον , is joined, more properly, perhaps, to the previous sentence, so that it would read, the time is contracted as to the future; that is, our remaining sublunary time is brief: our day is nearly past, and our future is abbreviated.
That So that.
29-31. The brevity of sublunary time renders us but transient tenants of worldly things. We must own them as not owning them. The patrimonies, the matrimonies, the griefs, the joys, the traffics, in short, the world, must, doubtless, in the general, all be gone through with; but their reality must be held as an unreality, in comparison with the reality that lies above and over them all. The eternal is the sole real.
30. Weep Weeping must be done. The sorrow has its actual existence; and, when looked at by itself, has its reality. But when surveyed in comparison with the eternity within a step’s distance, it becomes nothing. Weep, then, as weep you may; but weep as realizing that your weeping has its nothingness.
Rejoice For joy is becoming in our finite sphere. Even on these low grounds of earthly existence there is a round of pleasantnesses that may prompt the smile and the gratitude. But forget not that there is a higher, an eternal joy, that dwarfs this earthly rejoicing to nothing.
Buy Trade, labour, literature, politics, all have their place as duties and engagements of an earthly life; but there is a life whose interests are so stupendous as to shrivel them all to insignificance.
Men boast of worldly greatness. Statesmen, warriors, and princes, figure proudly in human history. And these will and must exist accomplish their programme and amaze and fill the minds of men. But it is only by forgetfulness of eternity that they are great. One thought of the infinite truth empties them, like a pricked balloon, of all their swell.
31. Use this world For every man must, in his sphere, use his little share of this world.
Not abusing Rather, overusing it; that is, grasping it as hard as if it were not only a reality, but the only reality, and our own full possession forever. That is the way men do use, overuse, and so abuse the world. The apostle’s next sentence exposes their mistake.
Fashion The scheme, present phase. The word seems figuratively drawn from the change of scenes in a theatre.
Passeth away And we, as part of its scheme, pass with it. How great the folly of those who use the world as if it was the only permanent thing!
32. But Rather, and, as he states a wish in accordance with the previous context.
You This pronoun is emphatic. The Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12) who were neglecting their temporal affairs in false expectation, perhaps, of the approaching advent, he ordered to attend to their own business; but to the overworldly Corinthians he gives directions that they, in view of impending trouble, present distress, should remember the transitoriness of the world, and keep from too deeply involving themselves in its complex cares.
Without carefulness With that freedom from care which celibacy affords. Paul does not, by this, favour a mere contemplative, inactive piety, dwelling in the luxury of its own motions. That is the truest inner life which produces the purest, and most energetic outer life. He desired for his Corinthians an exemption from secular cares, that they might consecrate themselves to a life of holy welldoing.
33. Please his wife And there is a sad chance that the things that please his wife may not please the Lord. Hence there is a danger in every marriage; but a danger which in many a marriage turns out a safeguard.
34. Is difference The difference stated by Paul between a wife and a virgin is not that virginity is intrinsically holier than marriage, as Romanism teaches, but that it affords advantages for a more exclusively religious life.
Married careth… world In the practical duties of married life her style of Christian character may nevertheless be perfected; yet if all are married, the style of usefulness which celibacy affords is lost.
Please her husband Dr. Poor, on the passage, (in Schaff’s Lange,) well says: “This is not charged upon her as a sin, but it is a part of her obligation of marriage, and is, therefore, expected of her. And if she has married in the Lord, then even this very effort to please her husband may be a part of the service she renders unto the Lord. Yet, while this is so, the obligation of the husband, it must be confessed, not unfrequently presents a temptation to a divided service; and in her endeavours to gratify his wishes, especially if he is of a worldly, or even partially sanctified spirit, is often betrayed into acts which militate against her piety, and interfere with her higher obligations. This is how it happens that many a Christian woman comes to be found absenting herself from the place of prayer, frequenting the ball-room, giving parties on the Sabbath, and in other ways compromising her conscience, to her own spiritual injury and the discredit of her profession. And it is to the danger of such evils, incurred by marriage, that the apostle points.”
35. A snare A lasso by which, being thrown, an animal is caught in its noose; figuratively, a fetter by which one is hampered and burdened. Paul would not lay fetters upon the Corinthians by these injunctions, requiring them to be celibates against their will. His object is their profit. The apostle’s condensed Greek is difficult to be given in exact parallel English, and so our translators have paraphrased it. We translate: I speak not that I may throw a lasso upon you, but in behalf of the becoming, and well-beside-sitting to the Lord, undistractedly. And now our English will need translating about as much as St. Paul’s Greek.
He alludes, we think, to Luke 10:38-42, where see our notes upon the relation between outward and inner piety. Both passages have several of the same peculiar Greek words, and the comparison conclusively proves to our own mind that Paul had read Luke. The word which we literally render well-beside-sitting, has a close parallel with the Greek of Mary’s sat at Jesus’ feet. But among manuscript critics there was a curious contest (see Bloomfield’s Recensio Synoptica) whether the true reading is ευπαρεδρον , well-beside-sitting, or ευπροσεδρον , well-toward-sitting. Anciently the suppliant was accustomed to sit ευπροσεδρον , with face toward the altar, and the pupil with face toward the rabbi or sophos; and so we should have expected that Luke would make Mary sit (as our English translation really does) facing Jesus; whereas his real words are παρκαθεσθεισα , beside-sitting.
Without distraction Produced by worldly cares.
36. Behaveth himself uncomely Either by bringing upon her the discredit of celibacy, or exposing her to the danger of incontinence by disregarding her inclinations.
Pass… flower And so the plea of immaturity is past. So Refers to marry at the close of the verse. A closer rendering would be, ought so to become. St. Paul, though recognising the absolute legal authority of the parent, holds that the daughter’s wishes, character, and happiness should be the paramount consideration in the Christian parent’s decision.
Let him do what he will What Paul assumes from these considerations will be the father’s purpose.
Let them May mean the daughter and her suitor; or it may refer to daughters, generally, in such circumstances.
36-38. Paul here treats the case of a parent having maiden daughters. By ancient law and custom the parent had absolute disposal of the child in marriage, and Paul speaks as assuming such to be the case. Among the Jews it was a disgrace to parent and daughter for her to pass her marriageable age unmarried. Hence in Ecclesiasticus (Apoc.) 42:9, it is said, “The father waketh for the daughter when no man knoweth, and the care for her taketh away sleep while she is young, lest she pass the flower of her age.” This last clause includes the very word Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 7:36. If the best good of the daughter require it (36) her marriage is right. But if no proper obstacle to her celibacy offer (37) he does well to retain her unmarried. Her marriage would, then, be well, but her celibacy would be better (38). Paul throughout speaks in reference to the established custom that a father had absolute right of decision in the case.
37. Nevertheless St. Paul now presents the reverse supposition; and the clauses are well explained by being contrasted with each other.
Standeth steadfast Instead of suspecting that he is behaving uncomely.
In his heart Wordsworth well says: “The virgin daughter’s resolves are blended in one with her parents; but the parent (in his decision) gives expression to them.
Power over his own will Opposed to the need so require of the preceding verse. No need or requirement controls his will, so that he can rightly and freely decide for celibacy.
Decreed Rather, judged from the circumstances.
Keep his virgin Instead of giving her to her suitor.
The Jewish custom condemned celibacy in all cases; the oriental pagan customs, imported from Buddhism and Brahmanism, assuming the necessary impurity of all matter and all corporeality, condemned marriage. Paul, Christianity, and truth agree with neither, but decide that the propriety of marriage depends upon the facts of the particular case.
38. Doeth well For he avoids the evils of celibacy, though he incurs the evils of matrimony.
Doeth better For he is secure from the evils both of celibacy and matrimony.
39. The wife… bound And by parity, doubtless, the husband is under the reciprocal law. Death or adultery is the only dissolution of the tie by the law of Christ, however it may be by the law of any State. The looseness of human laws can justify no laxity in the Church or the individual Christian. To marry in the Lord is either to marry a Christian, or one whom the conscience is assured will not hinder the Christian life, and may become a Christian under connubial Christian influences.
40. Happier More safe and blessed.
So abide As a widow. St. Paul assumes her power of continence in the case.
I think A modest reserve of language, with, perhaps, delicate reference to the Corinthian party who denied his authority. Yet we receive the inspired validity of the apostolic writings not on the authority of the writers themselves solely, but on the concurrent authority of the apostolic Church which accepted them. A charismatic Church sympathized with the inspired apostles, and from the concurrent witness of the two, under the authority of Christ, did the New Testament Canon grow into existence and authority. See notes at the close of chap. 4.
Have… God A single man has often falsely supposed himself inspired; but the miraculous Church, founded by the Son of God, guided by apostles whom he selected, could not be mistaken in accepting the inspiration of St. Paul.
I have the Spirit of God An expression of amazing energy. The divine Spirit is within the human spirit, so that the outward utterance is the expression of both the divine and the human spirit.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29