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Bible Commentaries

Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians
1 Corinthians 7

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Instructions relative to marriage, vv. 1-17. The Gospel was not designed to interfere with the ordinary relations of men, 1 Corinthians 7:18-24. Concerning virgins and widows, vv. 25-40.

Instructions concerning Marriage and other Social Relations — 1 Corinthians

The Corinthians had written to the Apostle, seeking his advice in reference to the state of things in their church. It appears from this chapter that one of the subjects about which they were in difficulty, and respecting which they sought direction, was marriage. On this subject the Apostle tells them,

1st. That, as they were situated, marriage was inexpedient to them. But as a general law every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband, 1 Corinthians 7:1, 1 Corinthians 7:2.

2nd. That the obligation of the parties to the marriage covenant is mutual; the one therefore has no right to desert the other. Temporary separation, for the purpose of devotion, is allowable; but nothing more, 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.

3rd. What he had said either in reference to marriage or temporary separation, was not to be considered as any thing more than advice. He could only tell them what, under the circumstances, was expedient; each one must act according to the grace given to him, 1 Corinthians 7:6-9.

4th. With regard to the married the Lord had already taught that divorce was unlawful; the husband could not put away his wife, nor the wife her husband, 1 Corinthians 7:10, 1 Corinthians 7:11.

5th. As to the case not specially contemplated in our Lord's instructions, where one of the parties was a Christian and the other a Jew or Pagan, the Apostle teaches, first, that if the unbelieving party is willing to remain in the marriage relation, it should not be dissolved. Secondly, that if the unbeliever departed, and refused to continue in the marriage connection, the marriage contract was thereby dissolved, and the believing party was at liberty, 1 Corinthians 7:12-15.

6th. Such separations, however, are, if possible, to be avoided, because the gospel is a gospel of peace. It was not designed to break up any of the lawful relations of life.

As a general rule, therefore, every man should continue in the same condition in which he was called. If a man was called being circumcised, his becoming a Christian did not impose upon him the obligation to become uncircumcised; and if called being uncircumcised, he was not required to be circumcised. In like manner, if a slave is called to be a Christian, he may remain a slave, because every slave is the Lord's free man, and every free man is the Lord's slave. These social distinctions do not affect our relation to Christ. Redemption, in raising all to the relation of slaves to Christ, that is, making them all his property, has raised them into a sphere where all earthly distinctions are insignificant. Therefore, let every man abide in the relation wherein he was called, 1 Corinthians 7:16-24.

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: (It is) good for a man not to touch a woman.

It is evident that there was a diversity of opinion on the subject of marriage among the Corinthian Christians. Probably some of them of Jewish origin thought it obligatory, while other members of the church thought it undesirable, if not wrong. Paul says, It is good for a man not to marry. The word good ( ךבכן ́ ם) here means expedient, profitable, as it does frequently elsewhere, Matthew 17:4; Matthew 18:8, Matthew 18:9; 1 Corinthians 9:15. That the Apostle does not mean to teach either that marriage is morally an evil as compared with celibacy, or that as a general rule it is inexpedient, is evident.

1. Because in the following verse he declares directly the reverse.

2. Because in 1 Corinthians 7:26 he expressly states that "the present distress," or the peculiar circumstances of trial and difficulty in which the Christians of that day were placed, was the ground of his advice on this subject.

3. Because in 1 Timothy 4:3 he specifies "forbidding to marry" as one of the signs of the great apostasy which he predicted was to occur.

4. Because marriage is a divine institution, having its foundation in the nature of man, and therefore must be a good. God accordingly declared, "It is not good for man to be alone," i.e. to be unmarried, Genesis 2:18. Paul cannot be understood in a sense which would make him directly contradict the word of God.

5. Because throughout the Scriptures marriage is spoken of as honorable, Hebrews 13:4 and is used to illustrate the relation between God and his people, and between Christ and his church.

6. Because all experience teaches that it is, as a general rule, necessary to the full development of the character of the individual, and absolutely essential to the virtue and the well-being of society.

To depreciate marriage would be to go contrary both to nature and revelation, and such depreciation has never failed to be attended by the most injurious consequences to the church and to the world. If, therefore, Scripture is to be interpreted by Scripture, we must understand the Apostle as intending to say: ‘Considering your peculiar circumstances, it is expedient for you not to marry.'


Verse 2

Nevertheless, (to avoid) fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

As a general rule, says the Apostle, let every man have his own wife, and every woman her own husband. Whatever exceptions there may be to this rule in particular cases, or in peculiar conditions of society or of the church, the rule itself stands. There is undoubtedly an increase of worldly care and anxiety connected with marriage, and therefore it may be expedient for those to remain single to whom freedom from such cares is specially important. This however does not alter the great law of God, that it is not good for man to be alone. Celibacy is to be the exception, not the rule.


Verses 3-5

Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: ‹7› and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except (it be) with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

There is abundant evidence in the New Testament of the early manifestation of those principles of asceticism which soon produced such wide-spread effects, and which to so great a degree modified the reigning Spirit of the church. The idea that marriage was a less holy state than celibacy, naturally led to the conclusion that married persons ought to separate; and it soon came to be regarded as an evidence of eminent spirituality when such separation was final. The Apostle teaches that neither party has the right to separate from the other; that no separation is to be allowed which is not with mutual consent, for a limited time, for the purpose of special devotion, and with the definite intention of reunion. Nothing can be more foreign to the mind of the Apostle than the Spirit which filled the monasteries and convents of the mediaeval church.


Verse 6-7

But I speak this by permission, (and) not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

The reference of the word this in 1 Corinthians 7:6, is a matter of doubt. Some refer it to the immediately preceding clause, ‘Your coming together again I speak of as permitted, not as commanded.' But that clause is an entirely subordinate one; and the sense thus given to the passage is not consistent with the context. It was not a matter permitted, but commanded that husbands and wives should live together. Others refer it to the whole of 1 Corinthians 7:5. ‘Your separating yourselves only by consent and for a limited time for the purpose of devotion, is a matter of permission, not of command; you may separate for other purposes and for an unlimited time.' But to this also it is an obvious objection, that it conflicts with the mandatory character of 1 Corinthians 7:3, 1 Corinthians 7:4, and with the meaning of 1 Corinthians 7:5 itself; for that verse has not the form of a command. The reference to the 5th verse may be made under a different aspect. ‘What I have said of your separating by consent for a season, is a matter of permission, not of command.' But this is not consistent with the reason assigned in the next verse. The most natural reference is to 1 Corinthians 7:2, and to what follows. His saying, ‘Let every man have his own wife and every woman her own husband, and let them remember their mutual obligations,' was permissive and not a matter of command. Marriage, in other words, is permitted, not commanded. For I would that all were as I am. The sense is not materially different, if with many editors we read טו ́ כש הו ́ instead of טו ́ כש דב ́ ס. ‘Marriage is not commanded, but I would,' etc. The Apostle did not take sides with the extreme Jewish party, who regarded marriage as obligatory. He admitted the expediency of all remaining single in those times of persecution to whom God had given the requisite grace.


Verse 8-9

I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

This is the application of the principle laid down in 1 Corinthians 7:1 to the Corinthians. ‘I say to the unmarried and to the widows among you, it is well not to marry.' The unmarried is not to be limited to widowers, as is commonly done on account of the word widows following, because the word does not admit of that limitation; and because the word married in the following verse includes all classes. ‘To the unmarried, and specially to widows, I say so; to the married I say so.'

If these verses and others of like import, are to be understood of men generally, and not of men in the peculiar circumstances of the early Christians, then it must be admitted that Paul depreciates marriage, and that he represents it as scarcely having any higher end than the sexual intercourse of brutes. This cannot be his meaning; not only because it is contrary to Scripture, but also because Paul elsewhere, Ephesians 5:22-33, represents marriage as a most ennobling spiritual union; which raises a man out of himself and makes him live for another; a union so elevated and refining as to render it the fit symbol of that bond between Christ and his people, by which they are exalted to the full perfection of their being. Marriage, according to Paul, does for man in the sphere of nature, what union with Christ does for him in the sphere of grace. The truth is that the apostle writes to the Corinthians as he would do to an army about to enter on a most unequal conflict in an enemy's country, and for a protracted period. He tells them, ‘This is no time for you to think of marriage. You have a right to marry. And in general it is best that all men should marry. But in your circumstances marriage can only lead to embarrassment and increase of suffering.' This is the only view of the matter by which we can reconcile the apostle with himself, or with the truth of Scripture and of fact. This must therefore be borne in mind in the interpretation of this whole chapter.


Verse 10

And unto the married I command, (yet) not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from (her) husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to (her) husband: and let not the husband put away (his) wife.

The first part of the 11th verse is a parenthesis, the construction goes on with the last clause. To the married I command, ‘Let not the wife depart from her husband; and let not the husband put away his wife.' The distinction which he here and in 1 Corinthians 7:12 makes between his commands and those of the Lord, is not a distinction between what is inspired and what is not; nor is it a distinction between what Paul taught and what the Scriptures teach as Calvin understands it; but Lord here evidently refers to Christ; and the distinction intended is between what Christ had taught while on earth, and what Paul by his Spirit was inspired to teach. He tells the Corinthians that so far as the matter of divorce was concerned, they had no need to apply to him for instruction: Christ had already taught that the marriage bond could not be dissolved at the option of the parties. The wife had no right to leave her husband; nor had the husband the right to repudiate his wife. But although the marriage bond cannot be dissolved by any human authority, because it is, in virtue of the law of God, a covenant for life between one man and one woman; yet it can be annulled, not rightfully indeed, but still effectually. Adultery annuls it, because it is a breach of the specific contract involved in marriage. And so does, for the same reason, willful desertion, as the apostle teaches in a following verse. This is the Protestant doctrine concerning divorce, founded on the nature of marriage and on the explicit instructions of our Lord, Matthew 5:3; Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18. According to this doctrine nothing but adultery or willful desertion is a legitimate ground of divorce, first, because the Scriptures allow of no other grounds; and secondly, because incompatibility of temper, cruelty, disease, crime, and other things of like kind, which human laws often make the occasion for divorce, are not in their nature a destruction of the marriage covenant. Romanists teach that divorce a vinculo matrimonii, where both parties were baptized, is never allowable. As this rule is contrary to Scripture, it is found injurious in practice; and therefore it is evaded by declaring marriages on frivolous grounds void ab initio; or by granting separation without dissolution of the marriage tie, for reasons not sanctioned by Scripture. The plain doctrine of the passage before us, as well as other portions of the word of God, is that marriage is an indissoluble covenant between one man and one woman for life, admitting neither of polygamy nor of divorce. If the covenant be annulled, it can only be by the sinful act of one of the parties.

But and if she depart. The law of Christ is that she should not depart; but if in violation of the law, or if from necessity she be obliged to depart, she has but two things to choose between, she must remain unmarried, or she must be reconciled to her husband. This is not intended as an exception to the law, but it contemplates a case which may occur in despite of the law. ‘In case a woman has actually departed, with or without just cause, then she must remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband.' There are cases undoubtedly which justify a woman in leaving her husband, which do not justify divorce. Just as there are cases which justify a child leaving, or being removed from, the custody of a parent. The apostle teaches, however, that in such cases of separation, the parties must remain unmarried.


Verse 11

And unto the married I command, (yet) not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from (her) husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to (her) husband: and let not the husband put away (his) wife.

The first part of the 11th verse is a parenthesis, the construction goes on with the last clause. To the married I command, ‘Let not the wife depart from her husband; and let not the husband put away his wife.' The distinction which he here and in 1 Corinthians 7:12 makes between his commands and those of the Lord, is not a distinction between what is inspired and what is not; nor is it a distinction between what Paul taught and what the Scriptures teach as Calvin understands it; but Lord here evidently refers to Christ; and the distinction intended is between what Christ had taught while on earth, and what Paul by his Spirit was inspired to teach. He tells the Corinthians that so far as the matter of divorce was concerned, they had no need to apply to him for instruction: Christ had already taught that the marriage bond could not be dissolved at the option of the parties. The wife had no right to leave her husband; nor had the husband the right to repudiate his wife. But although the marriage bond cannot be dissolved by any human authority, because it is, in virtue of the law of God, a covenant for life between one man and one woman; yet it can be annulled, not rightfully indeed, but still effectually. Adultery annuls it, because it is a breach of the specific contract involved in marriage. And so does, for the same reason, willful desertion, as the apostle teaches in a following verse. This is the Protestant doctrine concerning divorce, founded on the nature of marriage and on the explicit instructions of our Lord, Matthew 5:3; Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18. According to this doctrine nothing but adultery or willful desertion is a legitimate ground of divorce, first, because the Scriptures allow of no other grounds; and secondly, because incompatibility of temper, cruelty, disease, crime, and other things of like kind, which human laws often make the occasion for divorce, are not in their nature a destruction of the marriage covenant. Romanists teach that divorce a vinculo matrimonii, where both parties were baptized, is never allowable. As this rule is contrary to Scripture, it is found injurious in practice; and therefore it is evaded by declaring marriages on frivolous grounds void ab initio; or by granting separation without dissolution of the marriage tie, for reasons not sanctioned by Scripture. The plain doctrine of the passage before us, as well as other portions of the word of God, is that marriage is an indissoluble covenant between one man and one woman for life, admitting neither of polygamy nor of divorce. If the covenant be annulled, it can only be by the sinful act of one of the parties.

But and if she depart. The law of Christ is that she should not depart; but if in violation of the law, or if from necessity she be obliged to depart, she has but two things to choose between, she must remain unmarried, or she must be reconciled to her husband. This is not intended as an exception to the law, but it contemplates a case which may occur in despite of the law. ‘In case a woman has actually departed, with or without just cause, then she must remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband.' There are cases undoubtedly which justify a woman in leaving her husband, which do not justify divorce. Just as there are cases which justify a child leaving, or being removed from, the custody of a parent. The apostle teaches, however, that in such cases of separation, the parties must remain unmarried.


Verse 12-13

But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

But to the rest; i.e. to those married persons not contemplated in the preceding class. The Context makes it clear, that the distinction between the two classes was, that in the former, both parties were Christians; and in the latter, one was a Christian, and the other a Jew or heathen. With regard to these mixed marriages our Lord had given no specific command; therefore Paul says, I speak, not the Lord. The rule which the apostle lays down is, that such marriages are lawful, and therefore there is no obligation on the Christian party to dissolve the connection. And if he is not bound to do it, he has no right to do it. If, therefore, the unbelieving party consent ( ףץםוץהןךוי ͂) to remain, the marriage may not be dissolved. The Christian husband is forbidden to repudiate ( ב ̓ ציו ́ םבי) his heathen wife; and the Christian wife is forbidden to repudiate her heathen husband. The same word is used in both cases, because, by the laws both of the Greeks and of the Romans, the woman as well as the man, had, on legal grounds, the right of divorce. Having said that these mixed marriages might be lawfully continued, he proceeds to remove the scruples which the Christian party might entertain on that point. He shows there is nothing unholy in such a connection.


Verse 14

For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

The proof that such marriages may properly be continued, is, that the unbelieving party is sanctified by the believing; and the proof that such is the fact, is, that by common consent their children are holy; which could not be, unless the marriages whence they sprang were holy; or unless the principle that intimate communion with the holy renders holy, were a correct principle.

The assertion of the apostle is, that the unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified in virtue of the marriage relation with a believer. We have already seen that the word ( ב ̔ דיב ́ זוים), to sanctify, means,

1. To cleanse.

2. To render morally pure.

3. To consecrate, to regard as sacred, and hence, to reverence or to hallow.

Examples of the use of the word in the third general sense just mentioned, are to be found in all parts of Scripture. Any person or thing consecrated to God, or employed in his service, is said to be sanctified. Thus, particular days appropriated to his service, the temple, its utensils, the sacrifices, the priests, the whole theocratical people, are called holy. Persons or things not thus consecrated are called profane, common, or unclean. To transfer any person or thing from this latter class to the former, is to sanctify him or it. "What God hath cleansed (or sanctified), that call not thou common," Acts 10:15. Every creature of God is good, and is to be received with thanksgiving, "For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer," 1 Timothy 4:5. This use of the word is specially frequent in application to persons and communities. The Hebrew people were sanctified (i.e. consecrated), by being selected from other nations and devoted to the service of the true God. They were, therefore, constantly called holy. All who joined them, or who were intimately connected with them, became in the same sense, holy. Their children were holy; so were their wives. "If the first-fruits be holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root be holy, so are also the branches," Romans 11:16. That is, if the parents be holy, so are also the children. Any child, the circumstances of whose birth secured it a place within the pale of the theocracy, or commonwealth of Israel, was, according to the constant usage of Scripture, said to be holy. In none of these cases does the word express any subjective or inward change. A lamb consecrated as a sacrifice, and therefore holy, did not differ in its nature from any other lamb. The priests or people, holy in the sense of set apart to the service of God, were in their inward state the same as other men. Children born within the theocracy, and therefore holy, were none the less conceived in sin, and brought forth in iniquity. They were by nature the children of wrath, even as others, Ephesians 2:3. When, therefore, it is said that the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the believing wife, and the unbelieving wife by the believing husband, the meaning is, not that they are rendered inwardly holy, nor that they are brought under a sanctifying influence, but that they were sanctified by their intimate union with a believer, just as the temple sanctified the gold connected with it; or the altar the gift laid upon it, Matthew 23:17, Matthew 23:19. The sacrifice in itself was merely a part of the body of a lamb, laid upon the altar, though its internal nature remained the same, it became something sacred. Thus, the pagan husband, in virtue of his union with a Christian wife, although he remained a pagan, was sanctified; he assumed a new relation; he was set apart to the service of God, as the guardian of one of his chosen ones, and as the parent of children who, in virtue of their believing mother, were children of the covenant.

That this is so, the apostle proves from the fact, that if the parents are holy, the children are holy; if the parents are unclean, the children are unclean. This is saying literally what is expressed figuratively in Romans 11:16. "If the root be holy, so are the branches." It will be remembered that the words holy and unclean, do not in this connection express moral character, but are equivalent to sacred and profane. Those within the covenant are sacred, those without are profane, i.e. not consecrated to God. There are two views which may be taken of the apostle's argument in this verse. The most natural, and hence the most generally adopted view is this: ‘The children of these mixed marriages are universally recognized as holy, that is, as belonging to the church. If this be correct, which no one disputes, the marriages themselves must be consistent with the laws of God. The unbelieving must be sanctified by the believing partner. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, i.e. born out of the pale of the church.' To this it is indeed objected by several modern commentators, that it takes for granted that the Corinthians had no scruples about the church-standing of the children of these mixed marriages. But this, it is said, is very improbable so soon after the establishment of the church, when cases of the kind must have been comparatively few. The principle in question, however, was not a new one, to be then first determined by Christian usage. It was, at least, as old as the Jewish economy; and familiar wherever Jewish laws and the facts of the Jewish history, were known. Paul circumcised Timothy, whose father was a Greek, while his mother was a Jewess, because he knew that his countrymen regarded circumcision in such cases as obligatory, Acts 16:1-3. The apostle constantly assumes that his readers were familiar with the principles and facts of the Old Testament economy. Comp. 1 Corinthians 10:1-13.

The other view of the argument is this: ‘If, as you admit, the children of believers be holy, why should not the husband or the wife of a believer be holy. The conjugal relation is as intimate as the parental. If the one relation secures this sacredness, so must the other. If the husband be not sanctified by his believing wife, children are not sanctified by believing parents.' This, however, supposes a change in the persons addressed. Paul is speaking to persons involved in these mixed marriages. Your children naturally means the children of you who have unbelieving husbands or wives. Whereas this explanation supposes your to refer to Christians generally. In either way, however, this passage recognizes as universally conceded the great scriptural principle, that the children of believers are holy. They are holy in the same sense in which the Jews were holy. They are included in the church, and have a right to be so regarded. The child of a Jewish parent had a right to circumcision, and to all the privileges of the theocracy. So the child of a Christian parent has a right to baptism and to all the privileges of the church, so long as he is represented by his parent; that is, until he arrives at the period of life when he is entitled and bound to act for himself. Then his relation to the church depends upon his own act. The church is the same in all ages. And it is most instructive to observe how the writers of the New Testament quietly take for granted that the great principles which underlie the old dispensation, are still in force under the new. The children of Jews were treated as Jews; and the children of Christians, Paul assumes as a thing no one would dispute, are to be treated as Christians. Some modern German writers find in this passage a proof that infant baptism was unknown in the apostolic church. They say that Paul could not attribute the holiness of children to their parentage, if they were baptized — because their consecration would then be due to that rite, and not to their descent. This is strange reasoning. The truth is, that they were baptized not to make them holy, but because they were holy. The Jewish child was circumcised because he was a Jew, and not to make him one. The Rabbins say: Peregrina si proselyta fuerit et cum ea filia ejus — si concepta fuerit et nata in sanctitate, est ut filia Israelita per omnia. See Wetstein in loc. To be born in holiness (i.e. within the church) was necessary in order to the child being regarded as an Israelite. So Christian children are not made holy by baptism, but they are baptized because they are holy.


Verse 15

But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such (cases): but God hath called us to peace.

The command in the preceding verse was founded on the assumption, that the unbelieving party consented to remain in the marriage relation. If the unbeliever refused thus to remain, the believer was then free. The believer was not to repudiate the unbelieving husband or wife; but if the unbeliever broke up the marriage, the Christian partner was thereby liberated from the contract. This is the interpretation which Protestants have almost universally given to this verse. It is a passage of great importance, because it is the foundation of the Protestant doctrine that willful desertion is a legitimate ground of divorce. And such is certainly the natural sense of the passage. The question before the apostle was, ‘What is to be done in the case of these mixed marriages?' His answer is, ‘Let not the believer put away the unbeliever, for Christ has forbidden a man to put away his wife for any cause except that of adultery, Matthew 5:32. But if the unbeliever breaks up the marriage, the believer is no longer bound.' There is no conflict here between Christ's command and Paul's instructions. Both say, a man cannot put away his wife (nor of course a wife her husband) on account of difference of religion, or for any other reason but the one above specified. The apostle only adds that if the believing party be, without just cause, put away, he or she is free.

A brother or sister is not in bondage ( ןץ ̓ הוהןץ ́ כשפבי, equivalent to ןץ ̓ הו ́ הופבי, 1 Corinthians 7:39), i.e. is not bound; if the unbeliever consent to remain, the believer is bound; if the unbeliever will not consent, the believer is not bound. In the one case the marriage contract binds him; in the other case it does not bind him. This seems to be the simple meaning of the passage. Others understand the apostle as saying that the believer is not bound to continue the marriage — that is, is under no obligation to live with a partner who is unwilling to live with him. But the one part of the verse should be allowed to explain the other. An obligation which is said to exist in one case, Paul denies exists in another. If the unbeliever is willing to remain, the believer is bound by the marriage contract; but if she be unwilling, he is not bound.

But God hath called us in peace ( ו ̓ ם וי ̓ סח ́ םח ͅ i.e. ש ̔́ ףפו וי ̓͂ םבי ו ̓ ם וי ̓ סח ́ םח ͅ). Peace is the state in which the called should live. The gospel was not designed to break up families or to separate husbands and wives. Therefore, though the believer is free if deserted by his unbelieving partner, the separation should be avoided if possible. Let them live together if they can; and let all proper means be taken to bring the unbelieving party to a sense of duty, and to induce him to fulfill the marriage covenant. This is the common view of the meaning of this clause. Others understand it in a directly opposite sense, viz., as assigning a reason why the separation should take place, or at least why the attempt to detain an unwilling husband or wife should not be pressed too far. ‘As God hath called us to live in peace, it is contrary to the nature of our vocation to keep up these ill-assorted connections.' This, however, is contrary to the whole animus of the apostle. He is evidently laboring throughout these verses to prevent all unnecessary disruptions of social ties.


Verse 16

For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save (thy) husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save (thy) wife?

The meaning of this verse depends on the interpretation given to the preceding. If Paul there said, ‘Your call to live in peace forbids the continuance of the marriage relation with an unwilling husband or wife;' then this verse must give a further reason why (supposing one of the parties to be unwilling) such marriages should not be continued. That reason is, the utter uncertainty of any spiritual good flowing from them. ‘Why persist in keeping up the connection, when, O wife, you know not whether you can save your husband?' If, however, the common interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:15 be adopted, then the meaning is, ‘Live in peace if possible, for how knowest thou whether thou shalt not save my husband?' etc. We have here, therefore, an additional reason for avoiding separation in the case supposed. Compare 2 Samuel 12:22; Joel 2:14; Jonah 3:9 in the Septuagint, where the phrase פי ́Ϛ ןי ̔͂ הום וי ̓, who knows if, is used to express hope. So here the idea is, ‘Who knows, O wife, but that thou shalt save thy husband?'


Verse 17

But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, ‹8› so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.

Paul was not only averse to breaking up the conjugal relation, but it was a general ordinance of his that men should remain in the same social position after becoming Christians, which they had occupied before. We can very imperfectly appreciate the effect produced by the first promulgation of the gospel. The signs and wonders, and diverse miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost by which it was attended; the perfect equality of men which it announced; the glorious promises which it contained; the insignificancy and ephemeral character which it ascribed to every thing earthly; and the certainty of the second coming of Christ which it predicted, produced a ferment in the minds of men such as was never experienced either before or since. It is not surprising, therefore, that men were in many instances disposed to break loose from their social ties; wives to forsake their unbelieving husbands, or husbands their wives; slaves to renounce the authority of their masters, or subjects the dominion of their sovereigns. This was an evil which called for repression. Paul endeavored to convince his readers that their relation to Christ was compatible with any social relation or position. It mattered not whether they were circumcised or uncircumcised, bond or free, married to a Christian or married to a Gentile, their fellowship with Christ remained the same. Their conversion to Christianity involved, therefore, no necessity of breaking asunder their social ties. The gospel was not a revolutionary, disorganizing element; but one which was designed to eliminate what is evil, and to exalt and purify what is in itself indifferent.

As God (or the Lord) hath distributed to every man, i.e. whatever lot in life God has assigned any man. As the Lord (or God) hath called every man, i.e. whatever condition or station a man occupied when called by the word and Spirit of God, let him remain in it. His conversion, at least, does not render any change necessary. The principal difficulty with regard to this verse does not appear in our version. The words ( וי ̓ לח ̀), rendered but at the beginning of the verse, mean except or unless, and this meaning they have so uniformly that many commentators insist that they must be so rendered here. Some of them say the meaning is, ‘What do you know except this, that every man should remain in the condition in which he was called?' But in this way the verse does not cohere with the preceding one. ‘How knowest thou O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? except let every man remain as he was called.' This every one feels to be intolerably harsh. It would be better with others, to supply something at the beginning of the verse. ‘What is to be done except.' ‘Do not favor the separation of husbands and wives on account of differences in religion. God has called us to peace. The wife may save her husband, and the husband his wife. What then is to be done, except to remain in the condition in which you were called.' Others get over the difficulty by separating the וי ̓ and לח ̀ and connecting the latter with a verb understood. ‘How knowest thou, O man, but that thou shalt save thy wife? If not, i.e. if thou shalt not save her, still the principle holds good that every man should remain in the state in which he was called.' This gives a good sense, but it would require וי ̓ הו ̀ לח ́. As it is undeniable that the Greek of the New Testament especially in the use of the particles, is in a measure conformed to the usage of the Hebrew, a freer use of these particles is allowable, when the context requires it, than is common in classic writers. Most commentators therefore render the words in question as our translators have done. And so I ordain in all the churches. That is, this is the rule or order which I lay down in all churches. The apostles, in virtue of their plenary inspiration, were authorized not only to teach the doctrines of the gospel, but also to regulate all matters relating to practice.


Verse 18

Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.

This is the first application of the principle just laid down. Let every man remain as he is, circumcised or uncircumcised. The Jews were wont, when they abandoned their religion, to endeavor to obliterate the mark of circumcision. The Judaizas were disposed to insist on the circumcision of the Gentile converts. Both were wrong. Paul's command is that they should remain as they were. Instead of the interrogative form adopted in our version, the preferable translation is, "One was called ( ו ̓ ךכח ́ טח) being circumcised; let him not become uncircumcised. Another was called in uncircumcision; let him not be circumcised." To call, throughout the doctrinal portions of the New Testament, is to convert, to call effectually.


Verse 19

Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.

This is the reason why they should be treated with indifference. They are nothing; they have no influence either favorable or unfavorable on our relation to God. No man is either the better or worse for being either circumcised or uncircumcised. The gospel has raised men above all such things. The question to be asked is not whether a man is circumcised or uncircumcised; but whether he keeps the commandments of God. The things, therefore, about which the Christian ought to be solicitous, are not such external matters, which have no influence on his spiritual state, but conformity in heart and life to the revealed will of God. Romans 2:25, Romans 2:29; Galatians 5:6. "In Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing (is of any worth), nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." ‘Faith that worketh by love,' and ‘keeping the commandments of God,' are the same thing. They express the idea of holiness of heart and life under different aspects.


Verse 20

Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.

This is a repetition of the sentiment contained in 1 Corinthians 7:17, which is again repeated in 1 Corinthians 7:24. The word calling ( ךכח ͂ ףיע), always in the New Testament means the call of God, that efficacious operation of his Spirit by which men are brought into the kingdom of Christ. It is hard, however, to make it bear that sense here. The meaning is plain enough. ‘As he was called, so let him remain.' But this is the idea detached from the form in which it is here expressed. The great majority of commentators agree in giving the word in this place the sense of vocation, as we use that word when we speak of the vocation of a mechanic or of a farmer. In whatever station or condition a man is called, therein let him remain. This of course is not intended to prohibit a man's endeavoring to better his condition. If he be a laborer when converted, he is not required always to remain a laborer. The meaning of the apostle evidently is, that no man should desire to change his status in life simply because he had become a Christian; as though he could not be a Christian and yet remain as he was. The gospel is just as well suited to men in one vocation as in another, and its blessings can be enjoyed in all their fullness equally in any condition of life. This is illustrated by an extreme case in the following verse.


Verse 21

Art thou called (being) a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use (it) rather.

Here again the general sense is plain. A man's being a slave, so far as his being a Christian is concerned, is a matter of no account. It need give him no concern. The interpretation of the latter part of the verse is somewhat doubtful. According to most of the Fathers the meaning is, ‘Care not for being a slave; but even if you can be free, prefer to remain as you are.' This interpretation is adopted by several of the modern German commentators. It is urged in its favor that the original demands it. Paul does not Say but if ( ב ̓ ככ ̓ וי ̓), but, but if even ( ב ̓ ככ ̓ וי ̓ ךבי ́). ‘Care not for your slavery; but if even you can be free, use it rather;' or, ‘although ( וי ̓ ךבי ́) thou canst be free, etc.' The English version overlooks the ךבי ́. Besides, it is said the common interpretation is in conflict with the context. The very thing the apostle has in view is to urge his readers to remain in the condition in which they were called. ‘Art thou called being circumcised, remain circumcised; art thou called being free, remain free; art thou called being a slave, remain a slave.' There is not much force in this argument; because, as before remarked, Paul's object is not to exhort men not to improve their condition, but simply not to allow their social relations to disturb them; or imagine that their becoming Christians rendered it necessary to change those relations. He could, with perfect consistency with the context, say to the slave, ‘Let not your being a slave give you any concern; but if you can become free, choose freedom rather than slavery.' A third argument urged in favor of the interpretation above mentioned, is that it is more consistent with the spirit of the apostle, with his exalted views of the equality of all men in Christ, and with his expectation that all earthly distinctions would soon be swept away. The advice to slaves to avail themselves of the opportunity to become free, it is said, would be trivial in the estimation of one who believed that those slaves might, at any moment, be exalted to be kings and priests to God. It must be admitted that this interpretation is plausible. It is not, however, demanded either by the language used, or by the context. The conjunction ( ךבי ́), overlooked in our version, may be rendered also. ‘Wast thou called being a slave? care not for it; but if also (i.e. in addition to your being called) thou canst become free, use it rather.' Luther, Calvin, Beza, and the great body of commentators from their day to this, understand the apostle to say that liberty was to be chosen if the opportunity to become free were offered. That the context does not conflict with this view of the passage, which our translators evidently adopted, has already been shown.


Verse 22

For he that is called in the Lord, (being) a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, (being) free, is Christ's servant.

The connection is with the first, not with the last clause of 1 Corinthians 7:21. ‘Care not for your bondage, for,' etc. He that is called in the Lord; or, as the words stand, ‘The slave called in the Lord.' That is, the converted slave. Is the Lord's freeman, i.e. is one whom the Lord has redeemed. The possession of that liberty with which Christ makes his people free, is so great a blessing, that all other things, even the condition of slavery, are comparatively of no account. Paul, in Romans 8:18-23 says that the afflictions of this life are not worthy to be compared with the glorious liberty of the sons of God, towards which the whole creation, now subject to vanity, looks with longing expectation. A man need care little about his external condition in this world, who is freed from the bondage of Satan, the curse of the law, the dominion of sin, and who is made a child and heir of God; that is, who is conformed to the image of his Son, and made a partaker of his exaltation and kingdom. Likewise also he that is called, being free, is the Lord's servant (i.e. slave, הןץ ͂ כןע). The distinction between master and slave is obliterated. To be the Lord's freeman, and to be the Lord's slave, are the same thing. The Lord's freeman is one whom the Lord has redeemed from Satan, and made his own; and the Lord's slave is also one whom Christ has purchased for himself. So that master and slave stand on the same level before Christ. Comp. Ephesians 6:9.


Verse 23

Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.

Ye (i.e. all Christians, bond and free,) were bought with a price. That is, purchased by Christ with his most precious blood, 1 Peter 1:18, 1 Peter 1:19. Ye belong to him; ye are his slaves, and should therefore act accordingly; and not be the slaves of men. The slave of one master cannot be the slave of another. One who is redeemed by Christ, who feels that he belongs to him, that his will is the supreme rule of action, and who performs all his duties, not as a man-pleaser, but as doing service as to the Lord, and not to men, Ephesians 6:6, Ephesians 6:7, is inwardly free, whatever his external relations may be. This verse is a proper sequel to the preceding one. The apostle had exhorted all believers, even slaves, to be contented with their external condition. As a motive to such contentment, he had said they were all equally the subjects of redemption. They all belonged to Christ. To him their allegiance was due. They, therefore, whether bond or free, should act in obedience to him, and not in obedience to men. There is a very important sense in which even slaves are forbidden to be the servants of men — that is, they are not to be men-pleasers, but in all things should act from a sense of duty to God.


Verse 24

Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

That is, as all these external relations are of no account, and especially, as a man may be a slave and yet a freeman, let every man be contented with the station which God has assigned him in this life. With God ( נבסב ̀ טוש ͂ͅ); near him, perpetually mindful of his presence and favor. In other words, in communion with God. This would secure their contentment and happiness. They would find his favor to be life, and his loving-kindness to be better than life. To live near to God is, therefore, the apostle's prescription both for peace and holiness.


Verse 25

Of Virgins and Widows — 1 Corinthians

In this portion of the chapter the apostle treats principally of the marriage of virgins — including, however, the young of both sexes. On this subject he says he was not authorized to speak with authority, but simply to advise, 1 Corinthians 7:25. His advice was, on account of the impending troubles, that they should not marry, 1 Corinthians 7:26, 1 Corinthians 7:27. It was not wrong to marry, but it would expose them to greater suffering, 1 Corinthians 7:28. Besides, they should consider the transitory nature of all earthly ties. The fashion of the world was passing away, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31. Still further, a single life was freer from worldly cares. The unmarried could consecrate themselves without distraction to the service of the Lord, 1 Corinthians 7:32-35. To parents he says, that, if circumstances render it desirable, they might without hesitation give their daughters in marriage, 1 Corinthians 7:36. But if they were free to act on their own judgment, his advice was to keep them unmarried, 1 Corinthians 7:37, 1 Corinthians 7:38. Marriage can only be dissolved by death. After the death of her husband, a woman is at liberty to marry again; but she should intermarry only with a Christian; and in Paul's judgment, her happiness would be promoted by remaining single, 1 Corinthians 7:39, 1 Corinthians 7:40.

Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.

Now ( הו ́, but,) serves to resume the connection broken off by the preceding digression. ‘But to resume my subject,' which in this chapter is marriage. Concerning virgins, ( נבסטו ́ םןי). The word properly means maidens, though as an adjective it is used of both sexes, Revalation 1 Corinthians 14:4. I have no commandment of the Lord. That is, neither Christ himself, nor the Spirit of Christ, by whom Paul was guided, had commissioned him to do any thing more than to counsel these persons. He was inspired, or led by the Spirit, in this matter, not to command, but to advise. His advice, however, was worthy of great deference. It was not merely the counsel of a wise and experienced man; but of one who had obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful, i.e. worthy of confidence, one who could be trusted. This is a sense the word; ( ניףפן ́ ע) often has, as in the expressions, "faithful saying," "faithful witness." Paul felt himself indebted to the mercy of Christ for those inward graces and qualities which entitled him to the confidence of his readers. He recognized Christ as the giver of those gifts, and himself as undeserving of them. Had he been left to himself, instead of being the wise, disinterested, and faithful counselor of Christians, he would have been a blaspheming persecutor. Philosophy would teach us that moral excellence must be self-acquired. The Bible teaches us that it is the gift of God; and being the gift of Christ, Christ must be God. As such, Paul blessed him for having been so merciful to him as to convert him, and bring him to the knowledge and obedience of the truth.


Verse 26

I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, (I say,) that (it is) good for a man so to be.

I suppose therefore, ( םןלי ́ זש ןץ ̓͂ ם), i.e. I think then, The being so, i.e. as you are, unmarried, is good, in the sense of expedient. There is a slight grammatical inaccuracy, or change of construction, in this verse. ‘I think then this to be expedient on account of the coming necessity; that is, I think that it is expedient for a man so to be.' Paul here expressly states the ground of his opinion that it was inexpedient for his readers to marry. It was on account of the present distress, ( ו ̓ םוףפש ͂ ףבם ב ̓ םב ́ דךחם), the distress standing near, whether actually present, or impending, depends on the context, Luke 21:23; 2 Corinthians 6:4; 2 Corinthians 10:12; 1 Thessalonians 3:7. In the present case it was probably not so much the troubles in which Christians were then actually involved, as those which the apostle saw to be hanging over them, which he refers to. The Scriptures clearly predicted that the coming of Christ was to be preceded and attended by great commotions and calamities. These predictions had reference both to his first and second advent. The insight even of inspired men into the future was very imperfect. The ancient prophets searched diligently into the meaning of their own predictions, 1 Peter 1:10-12 and the apostles knew little of the times and seasons, Acts 1:7. They knew that great calamities were to come on the earth, but how or when it was not given to them clearly to see. The awful desolation which was soon to fall upon Jerusalem and on the whole Jewish race, and which could not but involve more or less the Christians also, and the inevitable struggles and persecution which, according to our Lord's predictions, his followers were to encounter, were surely enough to create a deep impression on the apostle's mind, and to make him solicitous to prepare his brethren for the coming storm. It is not necessary, therefore, to assume, as is so often done, that the apostle anticipated the second advent of Christ during that generation, and that he refers to the calamities which were to precede that event. Such expectation would not, indeed, be incompatible with his inspiration. It was revealed to him that Christ was to come the second time; and that he was to come as a thief in the night. He might, therefore, naturally look for it at any time. We know, however, that in the case of Paul at least, it was revealed, that the second advent was not to occur before the national conversion of the Jews, Romans 11:25; or before the great apostasy and rise of the man of sin, 2 Thessalonians 2:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Still, he knew not when those events might occur, and therefore he knew not when Christ would come. It was not, however, to the calamities which are to precede the second advent, to which Paul here refers, but rather to those which it was predicted should attend the introduction of the gospel.


Verse 27

Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.

Marriage, in the present circumstances of the church, will prove a burden. Although this fact will not justify the dissolution of any marriage, it should dissuade Christians from getting married.


Verse 28

But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

If thou marry, or, ‘If thou shalt have married, thou didst not sin; and if a virgin shall have married, she did not sin.' Marriage is inexpedient, not sinful. It is not because there is any thing wrong in getting married that Paul dissuades from it, but because such shall have trouble ( טכי ͂ ריע, suffering) in the flesh; that is, external, as opposed to inward or spiritual afflictions. The reference is to the afflictions which must attend marriage in times of trouble. The word flesh is often used in this sense for what is external. John 6:63; Ephesians 6:5; 2 Corinthians 11:18. But I spare you. The design of my dissuading you from marriage is to spare you these sufferings.


Verse 29-30

But this I say, brethren, the time (is) short; it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing (it): for the fashion of this world passeth away.

‘This is another reason why you should not marry. You will soon have to leave your wives. It is nothing relating to your permanent and eternal interests which I urged you to forego, but only something which pertains to the fleeting relations of this changing world.'

But this I say, i.e. This I would have you bear in mind, as giving force to my advice. The time, i.e. the appointed time ( ךביסן ́ ע, not קסן ́ םןע) is short ( ףץםוףפבכלו ́ םןע). The verb properly means to roll or wind up, Acts 5:6, then to contract or shorten. ‘The time is shortened.' Comp. Matthew 24:22. Mark 13:20, where the idea is the same, though the word used is different. This interpretation is on the whole preferable to another almost equally common. ‘The time is calamitous;' for this use of the word, however, no certain authority can be given. The words rendered, it remaineth, properly belong to the preceding clause. The meaning is not, ‘It remaimeth that,' but ‘The time henceforth ( פן ̀ כןינן ́ ם) is short.' That is, the allotted time is brief. That does not depend on This I say, as though the sense were ‘I say that;' but on what immediately precedes. ‘The time is shortened in order that, etc.' It is the design of God in allowing us but a brief period in this world, or in this state, that we should set lightly by all earthly things; that those who have wives should be as though they had them not, and those that weep, as though they wept not; those who rejoices as though they rejoiced not; those who buy, as though they possessed not; those using the world, as though they used it not.' We should set our affections on things above, and not on the things on the earth. Colossians 3:2. The clause rendered ‘they that use this world as not abusing it,' is properly so translated, as ךבפבקסב ́ ןלבי means to use overmuch. The only reason for preferring the other translation is the analogy of the other passages. Either version is consistent with the usage of the word. For the fashion of this world passeth away, i.e. is in the act of passing away. The fashion ( ףקח ͂ לב) the external form, the essence as it appears, the present state of things. The figure is derived from the scenes of a theatre, in the actual process of change. The fact that the present condition of the world is not to last long, and that our participation in its joys and sorrows is to be so shortlived, is the reason which the apostle urges why we should not be wedded to earthly things.


Verse 31

But this I say, brethren, the time (is) short; it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing (it): for the fashion of this world passeth away.

‘This is another reason why you should not marry. You will soon have to leave your wives. It is nothing relating to your permanent and eternal interests which I urged you to forego, but only something which pertains to the fleeting relations of this changing world.'

But this I say, i.e. This I would have you bear in mind, as giving force to my advice. The time, i.e. the appointed time ( ךביסן ́ ע, not קסן ́ םןע) is short ( ףץםוףפבכלו ́ םןע). The verb properly means to roll or wind up, Acts 5:6, then to contract or shorten. ‘The time is shortened.' Comp. Matthew 24:22. Mark 13:20, where the idea is the same, though the word used is different. This interpretation is on the whole preferable to another almost equally common. ‘The time is calamitous;' for this use of the word, however, no certain authority can be given. The words rendered, it remaineth, properly belong to the preceding clause. The meaning is not, ‘It remaimeth that,' but ‘The time henceforth ( פן ̀ כןינן ́ ם) is short.' That is, the allotted time is brief. That does not depend on This I say, as though the sense were ‘I say that;' but on what immediately precedes. ‘The time is shortened in order that, etc.' It is the design of God in allowing us but a brief period in this world, or in this state, that we should set lightly by all earthly things; that those who have wives should be as though they had them not, and those that weep, as though they wept not; those who rejoices as though they rejoiced not; those who buy, as though they possessed not; those using the world, as though they used it not.' We should set our affections on things above, and not on the things on the earth. Colossians 3:2. The clause rendered ‘they that use this world as not abusing it,' is properly so translated, as ךבפבקסב ́ ןלבי means to use overmuch. The only reason for preferring the other translation is the analogy of the other passages. Either version is consistent with the usage of the word. For the fashion of this world passeth away, i.e. is in the act of passing away. The fashion ( ףקח ͂ לב) the external form, the essence as it appears, the present state of things. The figure is derived from the scenes of a theatre, in the actual process of change. The fact that the present condition of the world is not to last long, and that our participation in its joys and sorrows is to be so shortlived, is the reason which the apostle urges why we should not be wedded to earthly things.


Verse 32-33

But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please (his) wife.

This is the third reason why Paul wished the early Christians to remain unmarried. The first was, the increased suffering marriage would probably bring with it. The second was, the transitory nature of all earthly things. And the third is, the comparative freedom from care connected with a single life. The unmarried man may devote himself to the things of the Lord, i.e. to the service of Christ. Having no family to provide for and to protect in times of distress and persecution, he is less encumbered with worldly cares. Christ, and not his wife is, or may be, the great object of his solicitude.


Verse 34

There is difference (also) between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please (her) husband.

What is true of men is true also of women. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The difference is, that the virgin may devote her whole time to the Lord; the wife must be involved in worldly cares for the sake of her husband. The Greek literally rendered is, Divided is a wife and a virgin. Their interests are diverse. The one has a husband to divide her attention; the other is free from such distraction. The reading adopted by Lachmann and Ruckert modifies the sense of this passage, and relieves some of its difficulties. They connect לולו ́ סיףפבי with the preceding sentence, ‘He that is married careth for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and is divided, i.e. distracted between the service of the Lord and his social duties.' In the following clause they read ח ̔ דץםח ̀ ח ̔ ב ̓́ דבלן Ϛ ךבי ̀ ח ̔ נבסטו ́ םן Ϛ ח ̔ ב ̓́ דבלןע, the unmarried woman and the virgin care for the things of the Lord.' Jerome pronounces in favor of this reading, which he says he found in his Greek MSS., and it is also adopted by Calvin. The common text, however, is generally preferred. The virgin cares for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. That is, that she be consecrated as to body and Spirit. The word holy has the sense here that it has in 1 Corinthians 7:14, and so often elsewhere. It is not in purity and spirituality that the virgin is said to have the advantage of the wife; but in freedom from distracting cares. In 1 Corinthians 7:14, even the unbelieving husband or wife is said to be sanctified or made holy. And it is in the same general sense of consecration, that holiness is here predicated of virgins as distinguished from wives. It would be to impugn a divine ordinance, and to contradict all experience, to say that married women, because married, are less holy than the unmarried. Paul advances no such idea.


Verse 35

And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.

The object of the apostle was their advantage. In urging them to remain single, he had no intention "to cast a snare upon them," i.e. to restrain their liberty. Or the meaning of the figure is, ‘I do not wish to raise scruples, to make you afraid to move lest you fall into a snare.' The former explanation, however, is preferable. An animal ensnared was confined; it had no liberty of action. Paul did not wish to bring his readers into that state. They were perfectly free to do as they pleased. There was no moral obligation upon them to remain single; no superior holiness in celibacy. He was only saying what in his judgment would be most to their advantage under existing circumstances. That is, as he expresses it, his design was to promote what was becoming and proper in them; that is, to promote assiduous, undistracted devotion to the Lord. In other words, that they might be free from any thing to divert their minds from the service of the Lord. The literal translation is, ‘For devotion to the Lord without distraction.' Every where the apostle is careful to show that celibacy was preferred merely on the grounds of expediency, and not on the ground of its being a higher state of virtue. All assumption or imposition of vows of celibacy, is a restriction of the liberty which the apostle was solicitous not to invade. Such vows are a snare; and those who take them are like an animal in a net.


Verse 36

But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of (her) age, and need so require, let him do what he will he sinneth not: let them marry.

This and the following verse are addressed to fathers, for with them, according to the usage both of Jews and Greeks, rested the disposal of the daughters of the family. Though the apostle regarded marriage at that time as inexpedient, he tells fathers that they were perfectly free to exercise their own judgment in giving their daughters in marriage, or keeping them single. If any man (i.e. any father) thinketh he behaveth himself uncomely towards his virgin. The word ( ב ̓ ףקחלןםו ́ ש) may be taken either actively or passively. The meaning may therefore be, ‘If any father think he exposes himself to disgrace by keeping his daughter unmarried;' as it was considered a reproach to be unmarried. Or, ‘If he think that he exposes her to disgrace.' The latter interpretation is to be preferred because agreeable to the common use of the word, and because it is required by the preposition ( ו ̓ ני ́), which indicates the object of the action of the verb. If she pass the flower of her age. This is one of the conditions of the case on which Paul gives his advice. The daughter must be of full age; and secondly, there must be some reason why in her case marriage is necessary: if need so require. The daughter's happiness may be involved. Under these circumstances the father may do what he will; he does not sin in giving his daughter in marriage, and, therefore, let them i.e. the parties) marry. In all cases of indifference, where no moral principle is concerned, our conduct must be regulated by a wise consideration of circumstances. But where a thing is in its own nature either right or wrong, there is no room for discretion.


Verse 37

Nevertheless he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

He that standeth steadfast in his heart, i.e. whose judgment is settled and firm, being fully persuaded of the inexpediency of his daughter's marrying. Having no necessity, i.e. being controlled by no external necessity; nothing, in other words, rendering it necessary for him to act contrary to his own judgment. But hath power over his own will, i.e. is able to act as he pleases, or according to his judgment. And hath so decreed in his heart, i.e. has fully made up his mind, to keep his virgin, i.e. to keep his daughter unmarried; he doeth well.


Verse 38

So then he that giveth (her) in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth (her) not in marriage doeth better.

As there is no sin in marriage, and no superior virtue in celibacy, it is a there question of expediency, to be determined by the circumstances of each particular case. All Paul says is that, other things being equal, it is better (i.e. wiser) not to marry than to marry; on account, as he before said, of impending calamities.


Verse 39

The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

The uniform doctrine of the New Testament is, that marriage is a contract for life, between one man and one woman, indissoluble by the will of the parties or by any human authority; but that the death of either party leaves the survivor free to contract another marriage. See Romans 7:1-3. Such being the doctrine of the Bible, no civil or ecclesiastical body can rightfully establish a different rule, or prescribe another or (as they pretend) a higher rule of morality. All attempts to be better than the Bible, on this or any other subject, only render men worse. Paul, therefore, teaches that a woman on the death of her husband, is free to marry whom she will — only in the Lord. There are two ways in which this restriction may be understood. First, that she should marry only one who is in the Lord, i.e. a Christian. Though mixed marriages between Christians and Jews or Gentiles should not, when formed, be broken up (as taught above, Romans 7:12-15); yet no such marriage ought to be contracted. Or, secondly, the phrase may be taken adverbially as expressing manner, as becomes those who are in the Lord, i.e. in a Christian manner. She is to marry as becomes a Christian. This interpretation includes the other. Compare Romans 16:2, Romans 16:22; Ephesians 6:1, etc. The former explanation is the more simple and natural.


Verse 40

But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

Happier, freer from exposure to suffering, 1 Corinthians 7:28; and freer from worldly care, 1 Corinthians 7:32. After my judgment; it was an opinion founded, as he says, on the peculiar circumstances of the time, and not intended to bind the conscience or to interfere with the liberty of others, 1 Corinthians 7:35. Nevertheless, it was the opinion of a holy and inspired man, and therefore entitled to the greatest deference. To have the Spirit, means to be under the influence of the Spirit; whether as a Christian or as an apostle, depends on the context. The meaning here clearly is, that the apostle was led by the Spirit to give the advice in question, so that his advice is, so to speak, the advice of the Spirit. But is not the advice of the Spirit obligatory? Certainly, if he meant it to be so; but if he meant simply to lay down a general rule of expediency, and to leave every one to judge of its application to his or her peculiar case, then it leaves all concerned free. It would cease to be advice if men could not act contrary to it, without irreverence or disobedience. I think, ( הןךש ͂) I have, is only, agreeably to Greek usage, an urbane way of saying I have, comp. Galatians 2:6; 1 Corinthians 12:22. Paul was in no doubt of his being an organ of the Holy Ghost. I also, i.e. I as well as others. This is generally considered as referring (somewhat ironically) to the false pretenders in Corinth. ‘I think I have the Spirit of God as well as those among you who make such high pretensions.'

 


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Bibliography Information
Hodge, Charles. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:4". Hodge's Commentary on Romans, Ephesians and First Corintians. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hdg/1-corinthians-7.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 8th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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