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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
1 Corinthians 7

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-40

FROM THE FIRST verse of chapter 7 we infer that Paul sat down to write this epistle in reply to a letter of enquiry, previously received from the

Corinthians. Only, when he did so there were graver and more urgent matters to be first disposed of, and these fill up chapters i. to vi. He now turns to deal with their enquiries; and we find the words, “Now concerning,” repeated at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 12:1-31 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-24. They had evidently written raising questions as to marriage, things offered to idols, spiritual gifts and collections.

Chapter 7 is almost entirely taken up with marriage, though in verses 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 instructions are given as to the secular callings that believers may be in, inasmuch as similar principles apply in both cases.

It looks as if the enquiries as to marriage had been occasioned by the fact that Paul, who was their spiritual father and example, had no wife himself. Most of them had been pagans, and hence their thoughts as to this great institution of God had been utterly astray and corrupted. The Apostle seized the opportunity to put things on the basis intended by God while maintaining that there might be a few who, like to himself, could live above the claims of nature and forego marriage, because so fully claimed by the Lord and His service.

Clearly then, for the believer the normal thing is that marriage should take place, and all its duties and responsibilities be observed. It is contemplated in verse 1 Corinthians 7:5 that husband and wife may separate for a season, in order more fully to be at the Lord’s disposal, but that is to be done mutually, and with prayer, lest the adversary should gain any advantage by it.

In verses 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 the Apostle enforces the instructions already laid down by the Lord. In verses 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 he gives further instructions in view of complications that often arise when the Gospel has reached one partner and the other is left unconverted, at least for the moment. If a Jew, male or female, contracted a matrimonial alliance with one of the surrounding nations there was nothing but defilement for both them and their children. This is made very plain in such chapters as Ezra 9:1-15, and Nehemiah 13:1-31. With the Gospel this is reversed, as verse 1 Corinthians 7:14 shows us. The sanctification and holiness spoken of is not intrinsic of course, but relative. If there be but a believing wife, God acknowledges the household as set apart for Him. The unbelieving partner may so hate the light that has come into the home that he will not stay there. But if he will stay there, and the children who do stay there—they enjoy the privileges that the light confers, it is to be hoped to their ultimate salvation.

These instructions may appear to us to be of but little interest. That is because we live under the abnormal conditions which Christendom has created. Had the church maintained its proper character, as a circle of light and blessing, surrounded by the darkness of this world, yet separate from it, we should more easily see the point of it all. Those preaching the Gospel among the heathen and seeking sympathetically to help their converts in the problems that arise, find here the guidance that they need.

In the matter of one’s earthly calling, as in marriage, the path for the believer is to accept the existing situation, only bringing into it a new power, to the glory of God. We are to abide in the calling in which we were called by the Gospel, only it must be “with God.” (ver. 24). If we cannot have God with us in it, then we must abandon it.

Having given these instructions to the married, Paul turns in verse 1 Corinthians 7:25 to “virgins” and the instructions concerning them continue to verse 38. Then the two verses that close the chapter give a brief word of guidance to widows.

It seems pretty clear that in this passage the word, “virgin” is used as covering the unmarried of either sex. The Apostle’s teaching may be summarized in this: that marriage is good, as is every divine institution; it is wholly right and permissible; yet that to remain in the unmarried state is better, if it is maintained in order to be more wholly at the Lord’s disposal for His interests. If such do not “attend upon the Lord without distraction,” their celibacy may only cast a snare upon them.

Now let it be noted that this is the point of view maintained all through the chapter. If the married couple separate it is to be as giving themselves to fasting and prayer. If in a mixed marriage the converted partner goes on peacefully and patiently with the unconverted, it is as seeking the Lord’s glory in his or her salvation. If the slave, being converted goes on humbly and contentedly with his menial occupations, it is because therein he abides with God. If the “virgin” remains unmarried, it is because he or she aims at being without worldly care, only caring for holiness and the service of the Lord. If the widow remarries, she does so “in the Lord;” which means, according to His will and direction.

See, then, how this chapter, which some might feel inclined to skip as being of no particular interest, not only contains instructions as to marriage, valuable in themselves, but also enforces the great point that for the Christian the claims of God and His service take precedence of all else. We are to recognize that, “the time is short,” or, “straitened:” the word used means contracted as to space, and is only used in one other place in the New Testament, viz., Acts 5:6, in reference to Ananias being “wound up” for burial. Alas! how often we do not recognize that we are living in a straitened time, when the issue has been narrowed up by the death and resurrection of Christ, and hence we should hold all that we possess in the world with a light hand, ready to quit at a moment’s notice.

Before passing on to chapter 8, let us glance more particularly at verses 1 Corinthians 7:6, 1 Corinthians 7:10, 1 Corinthians 7:12, 1 Corinthians 7:17, 1 Corinthians 7:25, 1 Corinthians 7:40. Some of the expressions used in these verses have been seized upon by those who would deny, or at least weaken, the inspiration of Scripture.

The force of verse 1 Corinthians 7:6 is, “I speak as permitting, not as commanding.” Certain things in connection with marriage are commanded, others permitted. This is simple enough.

Verse 1 Corinthians 7:10 refers to some of these commands; only Paul recalls that there was nothing new about them, for the Lord Himself had so commanded, when here amongst men.

On the other hand, beginning with verse 1 Corinthians 7:12 the Apostle does give commands which had not previously been issued by the Lord. The time to issue them had not come until the problems that they meet had been created by the Gospel being widely preached. There is no difficulty in this, for what the Apostle commanded, and ordained in all assemblies, as stated in verse 1 Corinthians 7:17, was of full authority. There is no difference as to authority between commands coming from the lips of the Lord when on earth, and those coming from Him in heaven, through the lips or pens of His apostles.

In verse 1 Corinthians 7:25 Paul carefully guards the instructions that follow, lest they be used as absolute commands to the casting of a snare upon some (ver. 35). They are but his judgment, yet judgment of a very spiritual order, for, as the last words of the chapter significantly say, “I think that I also have the Spirit of God.” The application of these Spirit-given instructions all depended upon the spiritual state of those who heard them. Hence Paul was inspired to issue no command but to give his judgment.

These fine distinctions are very striking, and indicative of the wisdom of God, and of the reality and scope of divine inspiration. Instead of weakening it they confirm it.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/1-corinthians-7.html. 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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