Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth? For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from the law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.
Verses 1-3 relate back to Romans 6:14. In Romans 6:14 Paul states the believer is not under law but under grace. Though Paul’s primary concern is to show the believer’s release from the law, the illustration he uses sheds light on the permanence of marriage. The law of marriage binds a woman to her husband as long as he lives. No exceptions! Only when her husband dies is she free to remarry. If a woman marries another man while her husband is alive she shall be called an adulteress. “Shall be called” is in the future tense. A good rendering of this would be “she shall from this time on, be known as an adulteress”. The widow who remarries is not an adulteress. When a woman’s husband dies, she is free from the law of marriage.
Paul is neither contradicting nor adding to the teaching of Christ. He is reaffirming the one flesh concept of marriage that is expressed throughout the Bible. Marriage is a permanent kinship bond that can only be broken by death.
This is one of the clearest passages on the permanence of marriage. Not surprisingly some have gone out of their way to say Paul wasn’t teaching about divorce and remarriage at all. The argument usually given is that Paul was teaching a widow has the right to remarry.
Paul’s main intention is to teach the believer’s release from the law. He uses what is known (the permanence of marriage) to illustrate what he wishes to teach (the believer’s release from the law). The woman, whose husband has died, is free to remarry. The woman who remarries while her husband is alive is an adulteress. Neither is the main point of the passage. Nevertheless, both are true. One cannot be chosen without the other.
Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to a harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall become one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body: but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.
First Corinthians 6 does not speak concerning marriage, divorce, or remarriage. Nevertheless, some have attempted to use this text to teach adultery dissolves or creates a second one flesh bond. Some even claim the man who commits fornication with a harlot is married to her.
The context of this passage speaks of the believer’s oneness and union with Christ. The believer is to flee fornication because his body is a member of Christ.
One significant observation is that the text does not mention whether the believer is married or not. Porneia might include adultery but may simply refer to sexual relations before one is married. Even if it could be assumed the believer was married, nothing is stated about the dissolution of marriage by fornication. If it is believed that fornication dissolves a marriage, it would be more consistent with the text to say this fornication could also wed the man to the harlot. Every time a man committed fornication he would cease to be married to his current wife and be wed to the harlot.
The text states that the man is “one body” (soma/4983) with the harlot not “one flesh” (sarka/4561). There is a difference. The first speaks of being united in an illegitimate physical relationship with a harlot and no more. The second speaks of being united in a legitimate physical, emotional, and possibly even spiritual relationship with one’s wife.
The context speaks of the believer being united with Christ, not with his wife. The believer who unites himself to a harlot is, in a sense, one body with her. Yet this does not mean he is married to her. True biblical marriage is more than a sexual act. The believer who commits fornication mars, but does not end, the unique relationship he has with Christ.
In First Corinthians 7 Paul deals with marriage and issues related to it. Paul addresses different groups of people and gives guiding principles and instructions for each situation. Difficulties arise when people interpret this chapter without first examining the context and identifying structural markers and transitions.
Chapter 7 has two main divisions. Paul uses the structural marker “now concerning” (peri de) to address two different groups. Verses 1-24 give directions to married couples and those who were previously married, i.e... widows, widowers, and divorcees. Verses 25-38 address those who were never previously married, i.e...virgins and bachelors. Paul gives advice concerning their betrothal or engagement.
7:1-7 Paul instructs married couples to fulfill their conjugal duties to one another.
7:8-9 Paul directs widows and the unmarried (possibly a reference to widowers) concerning self control. It would be good for them to remain unmarried, but for those who burn with passion it is better to marry.
7:10-11 Both the Lord and Paul taught the permanence of marriage for all people. Believers in particular are not to divorce. If a divorce occurs, they are to remain single or be reconciled.
7:12-16 Jesus Christ left no specific teaching in the gospels for believers who are married to unbelievers. Paul instructs believers to be at peace with their unbelieving partner.
7:17-24 Believers should remain in the same condition they were in when saved. External circumstances and human masters are of secondary importance to spiritual life and the Lordship of Christ.
7:25-38 Paul instructs those who were previously unmarried (virgins), concerning marriage and betrothal.
7:39-40 Concluding remarks on the law of marriage.
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: 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 incontinency. 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.
Verse 1 The Corinthians had previously written to Paul and made the statement: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Paul gives his reply in verses 2-7. The NIV translates this verse “it is good for a man not to marry.” This is an interpretation rather than a translation. It is also a doubtful meaning of the verse. It is more probable that the Corinthians had questioned Paul concerning the practice of celibacy within the confines of marriage. The term “to touch” is used in Classical Greek and the Septuagint as a figurative expression for sexual intercourse (cf. Genesis 20:6).
Chrysostom writes in his Homilies on First Corinthians 7:
Wherefore he says, “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me.” For they had written to him, “Whether it was right to abstain from one’s wife, or not:” and writing back in answer to this and giving rules about marriage, he also introduces the discourse concerning virginity: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”
Although he allows Paul to introduce the topic of virginity, Chrysostom realizes the Corinthians main question regarded the practice of celibacy within the confines of marriage.
Verse 2 Fornication, or sexual immorality, was rampant in Corinth. Because of this, each man was to have his own wife and each wife was to have her own husband. The context of the passage and its relationship to verses 1-7 suggests the word “have” does not mean single people should get married. Rather, it means that married people should continue to perform their conjugal duties. Paul uses have as an expression for sexual intercourse in First Corinthians 5:1 as well.
Verse 3 The husband is to give to his wife the affection due her and also the wife to her husband. Affection speaks of the conjugal duties performed for the benefit of both spouses.
Verse 4 When two people marry, they become one flesh. A married person actually belongs to their spouse. Individual rights cease in the bond of marriage. The man who loves his wife, is actually loving himself (cf. Ephesians 5:28).
Verse 5 Depriving one’s spouse without consent is fraud. Paul gives four stipulations for couples who wish to abstain from sexual relations. 1. It must be for a designated period of time. 2. It must be mutually agreed upon before hand. 3. It must be for the purpose of devoting oneself to fasting and prayer. 4. At the end of this period the couples must resume sexual relations. This is to thwart Satan’s temptations because of their lack of self control.
Verse 6 Paul’s concession allows married Christians permission to abstain from sexual intercourse for a given period of time. Paul does not want the statement given in verse 5 to be misconstrued as a command. A couple is allowed or permitted to abstain from sexual relations for the purpose of fasting and prayer. They are not commanded to do so. It would also be acceptable to fast and pray while continuing in normal sexual relations.
Verse 7 Paul wished that all men could live as he did. Because Paul was unmarried He was able to continually practice celibacy and totally devote his life to Christ. There is nothing intrinsically spiritual about being single. The benefit is the freedom it gives to serve Christ rather than one’s spouse. Paul also recognized that some men are given different gifts by the Holy Spirit. The word used here for “gift” is (charisma/5486). It is the same word used in First Corinthians 12 and Romans 12 for spiritual gifts. Singleness is a gift from God, marriage is also.
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.
Verse 8 Paul wishes that the unmarried and widows could remain as he was. Namely, maintaining a state of continual celibacy which gives freedom to serve Christ. The word widow here is feminine. It means a woman who was previously married but whose husband has now died. Some assemblies maintained an official list of widows for those who were to receive financial assistance from the local assembly. Only those women who were over sixty years of age and met other criteria were to be put on the list. Younger widows were to remarry and bear children rather than burn with lust. (cf. First Timothy 5). Paul felt it would be good for widows to remain single, but also understood if they did not.
The definition of the term unmarried (agamois/22) is of some debate. Some believe it means bachelors or those men who have never been married. The word is in the masculine gender. It is also possible that unmarried includes widowers, as well as bachelors. In context however, it may simply mean widowers. In verses 1-24 Paul seems to be dealing only with those who were married or previously married. Paul deals with bachelors and virgins in verses 25-38. Paul uses the word unmarried in a parallel structure with the word widow (cherais/5503). There is a word in the Greek for widower (cheros), but it is not used in the New Testament or Septuagint. Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon states the word “unmarried” can denote bachelors or widowers. Paul does not deal with single people until the end of Chapter 7 so it is doubtful he would use the word in this verse to refer to men who have never been married.
A side note here needs to be dealt with. Those who cross reference verse 8 with verse 11 to prove that a divorcee may remarry are simply not interpreting contextually. Paul plainly states that the unmarried in verse 11 are people who are legally separated or divorced from their spouse. For them they are to remain single or be reconciled. The word unmarried (agamos/22) is used only four times in the New Testament. All of them occur in First Corinthians 7. In verse 8 Paul uses the word to refer to bachelors or widowers. In verse 11 it means those who are legally divorced. In verses 32 and 34 unmarried speaks of both men and women who have never married. A word may have different nuances which fall within its semantic range but its exact meaning is best determined by its use in context.
Another issue related to verse 8 is whether Paul was a bachelor or a widower. In favor of him being a bachelor is that no place in Scripture is there any mention of Paul having a wife or children. In favor of Paul being a widower are the following. A) Unmarried rabbis were few and far between. The Mishnah appears to make marriage obligatory for all Jewish men except those who were impotent. B) Some believe Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin and therefore must have been married. Acts 26:10 may simply mean Paul agreed with the Sanhedrin, not that he was a member of it. C) If contextually, “unmarried” means widowers in verse 8, then it would make Paul’s statement, “it is good for them to remain even as I am”, even more consistent. Unless further evidence is unearthed, we cannot be sure whether Paul was a bachelor or widower. All we know is that at the time of his writings Paul was unmarried and abiding in a state of celibacy.
Verse 9 If these unmarried men and widows do not have control over their own passions they should get married. This is the same advice that Paul gave widows in First Timothy 5:11-12. The word “burn” here means to inwardly be on fire. An inward struggle is in view here that could be fatal to ones peace and sanctification.
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: but if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
Verse 10 Paul now transitions from those who are unmarried and may want to marry to those who are married and may want out. What he states here is not a concession or even his opinion. It is a direct command from the Lord. The Lord gave specific directions in the gospels regarding the permanence of marriage.
F.F. Bruce comments:
For a Christian husband, or wife, divorce is excluded by the law of Christ: here Paul has no need to express a judgment of his own, for the Lord’s ruling on this matter was explicit.1
Some see verses 10-11 as teaching that the permanence of marriage applies only to a believer who is married to another believer. They claim that verses 12-16 allow a believer who is deserted by an unbeliever to divorce and remarry. It is said that the permanence of marriage does not apply in the case of a believer being deserted by an unbeliever.
It is doubtful that Paul is limiting his statement in verses 10-11 only to believers. A better and more consistent understanding of this section seems to be that verses 10-11 give the general teaching of Christ regarding the permanence of marriage as applied to believers who are married to one another. In verses 12-16 Paul applies the doctrine of the permanence of marriage to believers who are married to unbelievers. The believer is to allow the unbeliever to depart, but after that the believer is to remain unmarried or be reconciled. Why? The one flesh bond exists between two people regardless of whether one, both, or neither are believers.
Paul claimed that he was teaching what Christ taught on divorce and remarriage. It is doubtful that Paul was speaking of a special revelation he had received from the Lord regarding a believer who was married to another believer. If this was so, why didn’t Paul also receive a revelation concerning believers who were married to unbelievers? The more probable scenario is that this was Paul’s inspired understanding of Christ’s teaching concerning divorce and remarriage as recorded in the gospels. Jesus left no specific teaching concerning marriage between two believers or between a believer and an unbeliever. Rather, Christ spoke about the permanence of marriage for all people whether they were believers or not. Jesus preached to the mixed multitudes, unbelieving Pharisees, and His disciples. Since the one flesh covenant of marriage is rooted in the creation ordinance of Genesis 1 and 2 Christ made no delineation that the marriage bond was permanent between two believers but not between a believer and an unbeliever.
Verse 11 Though Christ’s will is no divorce, the Bible recognizes that divorces do occur. The divorce here is the woman’s act, not her husbands. If she no longer wishes to remain with her husband, she has only two options: return to her husband or remain single. Marrying another man is not a biblical option.
The woman is probably not just separated from her husband, but legally divorced. Paul uses two terms (chorizo/5562) and (aphiemi/863) interchangeably to refer to divorce (cf. vs. 15). He realizes that according to Roman law, the woman was allowed to remarry. The law of Christ prohibits such an action.
Paul states that the Lord commanded the husband not to divorce his wife. Fornication is not listed as an exception for divorce. The Corinthian Christians were not coerced by Jewish customs to put away a fornicating wife. Christ allowed divorce in this one instance because of the hardness of man’s heart. Paul had no need to make mention of this allowance. The biblical pattern is forgiveness, not divorce.
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. 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 they are holy. 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. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
Verse 12 Paul now shifts to a particular group of believers; those who have come to faith in Christ after being married, but their spouse has not. “I, not the Lord” does not mean this statement is uninspired or any less authoritative. Paul is merely stating that the gospels record no specific teaching by Christ concerning a believer who is married to an unbeliever. If a believing man has an unbelieving wife who consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.
Verse 13 If a believing woman has an unbelieving husband who consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.
Verse 14 The believing spouse in a mixed marriage is “holy” or set apart unto the Lord. By way of relationship through the covenant of marriage the unbelieving spouse, as well as the children, are sanctified. Not that unbelieving partners or children are automatically saved, but that the marriage between the believer and the unbeliever is holy and approved by God. The believing spouse sanctifies the home and gives the children a Christian influence they would not otherwise have.
Verse 15 If the unbelieving partner wishes to depart, the Christian is to let them. God has called His children to live in peace with all men. This includes one’s spouse. The believing spouse is to love their partner and allow them to stay. If this fails, they are not in bondage to preserve a working relationship.
In Romans 7:2 and First Corinthians 7:39 Paul teaches that the wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. In First Corinthians 7:27 he claims the betrothed man is bound to his wife. The word in these three passages is (deo/1210). It means to tie or to bind. In First Corinthians 7:15 Paul uses a different and unrelated word (douloo/1402). It means to be enslaved. The Bible never uses the word “enslaved” to refer to the marriage relationship. Many have attempted to read into this verse that a deserted spouse is free to remarry.
One commentator errs when he writes:
Paul did not say as he did in verse 11, that the Christian in this case should remain unmarried.2
This is an argument from silence. Jesus claimed fornication was the only grounds allowed for divorce and nowhere stated that the ‘innocent’ spouse was free to remarry. Paul understood what the Lord had commanded and would not be led by the Spirit to teach otherwise. Paul never once stated that the Christian in this instance was free to remarry. Would it truly be necessary for Paul to reiterate that a spouse was to remain single or be reconciled, when he had already done so four verses earlier? Paul twice writes that the married woman remains bound to her husband as long as he lives; not until adultery, not until desertion, but until death.
The best interpretation of First Corinthians 7:15 is the believer is not enslaved to keep the unbeliever from departing. The Christian is exempt from the responsibility for the divorce which the unbelieving partner initiates. The believer is called to peace and does not need to resort to coercion or legal maneuvers to preserve the relationship.
Robertson and Plummer write:
We cannot safely argue with Luther that ou dedoulotai [not under bondage] implies that the Christian partner, when divorced by the heathen partner, may remarry again. All that ou dedoulotai clearly means is that he or she need not feel so bound by Christ’s prohibition of divorce as to be afraid to depart when the heathen partner insists on separation [brackets mine].3
Paul uses the same word for divorce (chorizo/5563) in both verses 11 and 15 to refer to divorce. This shows that we are in the realm of full legal divorce. The laws of men allow remarriage; the laws of Christ do not. This is how early Christian writers interpreted and applied First Corinthians 7:15. They allowed the unbeliever to depart and freed the believer from guilt or liability of divorce. The departure of the spouse did not grant the believer freedom to remarry. The one flesh bond exists between husband and wife whether they are legally divorced or not. The laws of men, and physical proximity of spouses to one another, have no bearing upon the one flesh covenant.
Verse 16 The Christian spouse is to allow the unbelieving partner to depart without bearing the responsibility for the unbeliever’s actions. There are two primary reasons for living in harmony within this situation. First, there is no way of knowing whether the unbeliever will turn to Christ. Second, the Christian partner may be the channel used by God to save their partner. Until their last dying breath, there remains hope for their salvation. Until they die, there remains hope for reconciliation. Living in a state of tension, disharmony, and legal battles with an unbelieving spouse would not display the peace of Christ. It may close off future possibilities for witness and testimony of Christ’s love and forgiveness.
But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all the churches. Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. 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. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
The main emphasis of verses 17-24 is that believers should remain in the same situation in life in which they were called. Outward physical circumstances are of little concern in the life of the believer. The emphasis is upon Christ as Lord and obeying Him from the heart.
Paul was not only averse to breaking up the conjugal relationship, 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...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 conversion to Christianity involved, therefore, no necessity of breaking asunder their social ties.4
Verses 17-24 are not a digression or an interlude to Paul’s train of thought. Rather, they are an extension of it. One’s marital status before the Lord is not of primary importance. Paul illustrates this by showing that those who belong to Christ should remain as they were called. This does not mean that those who come to Christ while involved in sexually immoral relationships are free to continue in such. The teaching of Scripture is that those who come to Christ are expected to change any and all immoral behavior.
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. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
Verse 25 Paul begins with the structural marker “now concerning” (peri de) to transition to a different group of people, namely, virgins. A virgin is one who had never before been married. Paul had no specific commands from the Lord regarding virgins and whether they should marry or remain single. Paul received mercy from the Lord and was faithful and trustworthy to give the Corinthians Spirit-led guidance on this issue.
Verse 26 Paul spoke of the present distress that would make it good for a man to remain as he was. This may refer to a present crisis the Corinthians were facing. Martyrdom and persecution would be less difficult for a single person to endure than for a married person who was responsible for a wife and children.
Verse 27 Contextually, those who are bound to a wife may refer to betrothed couples. Paul claims they are virgins yet claims they are bound to a wife. Paul would not call them virgins (parthenos/3933) if they had already consummated a marriage. Betrothal was more than being engaged. A betrothed couple was legally married and considered husband and wife even though they had never consummated their marriage (cf. Matthew 1:18-25, 2 Corinthians 11:2). Once betrothed, a legal divorce was necessary to be released from the marriage. Here Paul applies the same principle to virgins as he does to others; remain as you were called.
Those who had entered into a betrothal agreement should not seek to be released from it. Those who are released from a betrothal agreement should not seek to enter into one. Paul uses the verb (deo/1210) not (douloo/1402) to refer to the marriage bond here. He uses the word (lusin/3080) to refer to the being released from a wife. Paul uses a different word in verses 11 and 15 to refer to divorce.
Some Erasmian interpreters mistakenly teach that the use of the Perfect Passive verb form, instead of the Present Active, means that the man who is “loosed from a wife” was divorced and Paul is allowing him to remarry. The Perfect is the “present state resulting from past action”. There is nothing in the Perfect verb form that shows that the man was previously married. There is nothing in the Perfect verb form that would lead one to believe the “loosed” man is divorced.
Robertson and Plummer write:
Here again the perfect means, ‘Art thou in a state of freedom from matrimonial ties?’ It does not mean ‘Hast thou been freed from a wife by death or divorce?’ The verb is chosen because of the preceding lusin, and bachelors as well as widowers are addressed.5
Art thou loosed need not refer to a marriage which had been previously dissolved by divorce or by the death of the spouse. It may not mean anything more than unmarried.6
Paul has already stated that the divorced person is not to remarry. The Bible does not contradict itself. The New Testament contains clear statements that remarriage after divorce is adultery. It is unwise to take a statement out of context and use it to teach something that is refuted elsewhere.
Verse 28 Paul has just told the Corinthian men that they should not seek a wife. This is his advice but he assures those who have already done so that they “have not sinned”. Those who do marry, bachelor or virgin, have done nothing wrong. Paul’s instruction is not to limit their freedom in Christ or to downgrade marriage. His heart is to spare them troubles in this life.
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 buy, as though they possessed not; And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 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. There is a 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. 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.
Verses 29-31 Since the return of the Lord is near, the believer should not become engrossed in human relationships or day to day activities such as mourning, rejoicing, buying, or selling. The world is temporary and one’s life should be devoted to Christ. Christians can use the world but they must not become permanently attached to it. Those who become overly absorbed in the things of the world are misusing it.
Verse 32 Paul’s emphasis was not on remaining single. Singleness in and of itself is of no benefit. The benefit of singleness is that it allows one to be free to be more fully devoted to Christ.
Verses 33-34 The married person is under divine command to care for their spouse. Once a man is married his devotion is divided between his wife and Christ. The virgin, or unmarried woman, is free to care about the things of the Lord. This is the difference that exists between the married woman and the virgin. The unmarried woman is free to be holy to the Lord. Being single does not make one pure or holy. Holy here means to be set apart unto Christ. The laws of God and His creation are so established that the wife will be concerned about pleasing her husband. In pleasing her husband, the wife is actually obeying and pleasing Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:22).
Verse 35 Paul’s aim was not to limit a believer’s freedom but to allow them to truly be free to serve the Lord without distraction or divided attention. The word translated snare (broxos/1029) is better translated as a leash (NKJV). It is not a trap, but a bridle or a restriction.
First Corinthians 7:36-38
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 him marry. Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast 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. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.
Verses 36-38 The interpretation of verses 36-38 is of some debate. The issue revolves around the indefinite pronoun “any man” (tis/5100) and the pronoun “his” (autou/848) in verse 36. Does this man refer to the virgin’s father or the betrothed bridegroom? The traditional view has held it means the father of the bride. The view held by some modern day commentators is that it means the bridegroom. The NIV has gone so far as to translate this passage as referring to the bridegroom while giving the traditional interpretation in the margin. It seems best to leave the translation speaking of any man and allowing the reader to decide which view is correct. The strength of the bridegroom view is that it allows for a consistent subject for the verbs used throughout the passage. The weakness of this view is that it requires the words (gameo/1060) and (gamizo/1061) to be used as synonymous. Lexically, gameo means to marry while gamizo usually means to give in marriage. The RSV translates the word “virgin” as betrothed in verses 36 and 37. This is an error. The RSV also translates verse 38 “he who marries his betrothed”. This is an interpretation, not a correct translation.
In favor of the ‘father’ view is that the context appears to be speaking of a man who is giving his virgin to be married. In the Corinthian culture the decision was not the bride’s but the father’s. The virgin could only marry with the father’s approval. It would be strange to say a bridegroom would “keep his virgin” for the purpose of betrothal is marriage. The choice would still be the father’s not the bridegroom’s. It would make little sense for a man to enter into a betrothal and then “keep” her from marriage. Keep here does not mean to leave her a virgin but to retain possession of her. If the bridegroom was to “keep his virgin” then he would be living in a permanent state of betrothal without ever consummating the marriage.
Paul seems to be giving advice to the father of the virgin. Paul doesn’t mention the girl’s desires but places the whole affair in the hands of the father. The father was the one who exercised decision-making authority in regards to family matters. The father may have already purposed in his heart that the daughter would not marry. If there was no ‘necessity’ or ‘compulsion’ from evidence that his daughter would not be able to remain single he would do well to follow his convictions. If he decided she should marry he does well, but if he decided not to let her marry he does better.
The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives: but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abides, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.
Verses 39-40 Paul concludes his teaching on marriage and the issues related to it with an admonition restating the permanence of marriage. The marriage bond may have been held in low regard by the pagan Corinthians, but Paul reminds the believers that marriage is permanent until death. When a woman’s husband died, she was free to remarry. This was Paul’s Spirit-led teaching regarding the permanence of marriage and his inspired understanding of the teaching of Christ in the gospels on this subject. He gives no exceptions for remarriage except the death of the spouse. If the woman’s husband died, she was free to remarry only another Christian. Paul’s judgment was that she would be happier by remaining single.
Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and He is the savior of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, even as also Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh; but nourisheth it and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.
Ephesians 5 teaches how husbands and wives are to treat one another. It also teaches the permanence of marriage based upon the one flesh concept established by God.
Verses 5:22-24 Wives are to be under the authority of their husbands. This does not mean they are inferior. Rather, God has established a divine order in creation. Christ the Son submits Himself to God the Father. This does not mean He is inferior or less than God. Instead it shows order. Christ is the head of the church. The church is to submit to Christ as its head. In the same way wives are to submit to their husbands.
Verses 5:25-29 Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. He died on the cross to cleanse and sanctify her. Husbands are to show the same sacrificial love to their wives. The wife is really one body, or one flesh, with her husband. The husband who does not love his wife hates himself. The husband who loves his wife loves himself. The husband who commits adultery has failed not only to submit to Christ, but also to love his wife. The husband who will not forgive an adulterous wife fails to love her as Christ loved the church. Those who divorce their wives for the reason of sexual immorality are not loving their wives as Christ loved the church.
Verses 5:30-33 The church consists of the members of Christ’s body. In verse 31 Paul cites Genesis 2:24 to show how inseparable the church is from Christ. He uses marriage as an illustration of Christ and the church. This covenant bond that binds Christ to the church is the same type of bond that exists between husband and wife. This is evidence against the claim that a marriage may be dissolved by sin. Not even continual persistent adultery can sever the one flesh covenant. The man whose wife lives in this manner is bound by the law of Christ to forgive her and receive her back. Anything less, is to disobey the commands of Scripture. A man is to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Christ will not break his covenant with the members of his body, the church (cf. Hebrews 13:5; Matthew 28:20; John 10:28; Romans 8:35-39; II Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13-14).
Since the bond between Christ and His church cannot be broken, neither can the bond be broken between husband and wife. If the marriage bond can be dissolved or severed, then Paul, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has made a serious mistake by comparing marriage to Christ and the church. The symbolic purpose of Christian marriage is to show the world the type of love Christ has for His church.
Those who claim the right to divorce a sinful spouse have missed the spirit of the New Testament. Those who forgive and receive a wayward spouse are an illustration of the love, forgiveness, and oneness Christ has with His church.
If Christ did allow remarriage after divorce, Paul seems not to know of it. Paul teaches the permanence of marriage with no exceptions. He states the woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives (Romans 7:2; I Corinthians 7:39). If a woman remarries while her husband is alive, she will be called an adulteress (Romans 7:3). If a woman separates from her husband, she is either to remain single or be reconciled (I Corinthians 7:11).
The only allowance Paul makes is that if the unbeliever deserts a believer, the believer is not enslaved. The word used here is entirely different and unrelated to the word Paul uses for the marriage bond. Paul sees the one flesh permanence of marriage as being a picture of Christ’s permanent relationship with the church (Ephesians 5:31-32).
There are clear statements claiming marriage is permanent, and remarriage after divorce is adultery. There is no clear mandate teaching that a divorced person may remarry while their spouse is alive.
1 F.F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free, p. 267.
2 David Lowery, First Corinthians, p. 518.
3 A. Robertson & A. Plummer, First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, p. 143.
4 Charles Hodge, Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 120.
5 Robertson & Plummer, p.153.
6 F. W. Grosheide, First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 176.
Copyright 2008 by Joe Fogle. All rights reserved.