1 Corinthians 7

These notes are based on the NASB text.

General Principles Regarding Marriage

7:1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch [have sexual relations with] a woman.

In chapters 1-6, Paul dealt with the issues of divisions and immorality, which were reported to him by “Chloe’s people” (1:11). In chapter 7 he addressed a problem about which the Corinthians had written him. We do not have their letter nor their question(s), but we do have Paul’s answer(s). Warren Wiersbe points out, “As you study 1 Corinthians 7, please keep in mind that Paul is replying to definite questions. He is not spelling out a complete ‘theology of marriage’ in one chapter.”

The phrase “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” is a reference to a celibate lifestyle. Paul felt there was value in a celibate lifestyle. If an individual chose not to marry, he still had the responsibility to remain pure outside of marriage.

7:2 But because of immoralities [fornication, illicit sex which were prevalent in the city of Corinth], let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.

Paul here offers some very practical advice. In order to avoid sexual immoralities (not an easy thing to do in Corinth), spouses should engage in sexual relations only with one another in the context of a monogamous marriage relationship. Paul leaves no room for polygamy or homosexuality. Paul also suggests that one purpose of marriage is to avoid immoralities (fornication, illicit sex). See also Proverbs 5:15-23.

7:3 Let the husband fulfill [“to pay back, to pay one’s dues, to render…the present imperative indicates habitual duty” -Rienecker/Rogers] his duty [refers to the sexual relationship of marriage] to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.

Paul here writes of the sexual obligation in marriage, one of the many obligations in a marriage relationship. The husband and wife are to be sensitive and responsive to one another’s sexual needs. “The rabbis required that the marriage partners have regular relations with one another” (Rienecker/Rogers). “Failure at this point can lead to infidelity” (Adult Teachers Book, page 40). See also 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6.

7:4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

One of the reasons Paul instructed Christians husbands and wives to fulfill their duty to one another was because it is part of God’s plan. When two people unite in marriage they become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24) and belong to one another. They are to live in mutual submission.

7:5 Stop depriving [do not refuse] one another [of what they are entitled to], except by [mutual] agreement for a time [a temporary period] that you may devote yourselves to prayer [“Wholesome marriages are not built on sex alone but have a spiritual basis as well.” –Hobbs], and come together again [sexually, as before] lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control [“irrepressible desire for sexual relations” -Rienecker/Rogers].

Another of Paul’s reasons for instructing husbands and wives to fulfill their duty to one another (see verse 3) was to thwart Satan’s plan to destroy a marriage. The danger and temptation for a husband (or wife) to seek to have his (her) sexual needs met outside of the bonds of marriage was especially acute in the city of Corinth.

Paul notes four guidelines for abstinence from sexual relations in marriage:

[A] It must be by mutual agreement.
This requires that husband and wife be “in tune” with one another, especially in regard to physical and spiritual matters.

[B] It must be for a limited period of time.
“The rabbis taught that abstinence from intercourse was allowable for generally one or two weeks but disciples of the law may continue abstinence for thirty days against the will of their wives while they occupy themselves in the study of the law.” (Rienecker/Rogers)

[C] It must be for a spiritual purpose.
“One of my seminary teachers suggested that some marriages might be saved if couples took this advice. Instead of ‘trial separations,’ he suggested mutual prayer to overcome the impasse that separated them” (Bible Book Study for Adults, Pupil Book, page 34).

[D] It must be with the clear intention of reunion.

7:6 But I say this by way of concession, not of command.

“I do not state this as a binding rule. I state it as what is allowable” (Lightfoot).

Instructions Regarding Singleness and Marriage

7:7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.

It is likely that Paul was unmarried or a widower at the time of this writing. Some have suggested that his wife may have left him and returned to her family as a result of his conversion to Christianity. As a single man, Paul was fully occupied with the things of the Lord (see verse 32). He understood however, that singleness was not for everybody. See also Matthew 19:12.

7:8 But I say to the unmarried [whether once married or not] and to the widows [both men and women] that it is good [not necessarily better] for them if they remain even as I.

7:9 But if [a condition assumed as being true] they do not have self-control [over their sexual desires], let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn [with passion or sexual desire].

Paul re-stated in verse 9 what he stated in verse 2, it is better to marry than to burn with passion and fall into immoralities. “This is not the only reason for marrying, but it is the particular problem with which Paul dealt here” (Hobbs).

Instructions to Married Believers

7:10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord
[Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-12 and Mark 10:3-12], that the wife should not leave [used in the sense of separate or divorce] her husband.

7:11 (but if [in spite of the Lord’s prohibition] she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away [that is, divorce].

Paul urged the Corinthian Christians to stay married to their Christian spouses. If however, they were to separate or divorce, then they were to either: [A] not remarry or, [B] try to be reconciled to one another.

Instructions to Believers Married to Unbelievers

7:12 But to the rest
[those who have unbelieving partners] I say [with apostolic authority], not the Lord [Paul could quote no words from Christ regarding this situation as in verse 10], that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live [this word is used in the sense of being married] with him, let him not send her away [divorce her].

7:13 And a [Christian] woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her not send her husband away.

Perhaps the Corinthians, in their letter, had asked Paul for counsel regarding what they should do in the case of a marriage between a believer and unbeliever. Paul was not endorsing or advocating that it was permissible for a believer to marry an unbeliever. That would be contrary to his views as expressed in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1. Paul was addressing the issue of people who were converted after marriage and felt that they needed to put away their unbelieving/unconverted spouse. Paul advised that a Christian spouse should not seek to be divorced or separated from an unbelieving partner as long as the unbelieving partner was willing to live with him/her. Conversion must not become the ground of dissolving a marriage.

7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified [set apart for God’s service] through his wife [her influence in the home], and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy [That is, “they live in an atmosphere of godliness, created by their Christian parent, which is beneficial to their spiritual growth.” -Broadman Bible Commentary, Volume 10].

Paul is here referring to the influence a saved mate can have upon a home. A saved mate can introduce godly standards and model the difference Christ makes and thus influence an unsaved spouse and the children in the home. See also 1 Peter 3:1-2. If such a union is dissolved, the unbelieving spouse and children may not have an opportunity to know Christ.

7:15 Yet if the unbelieving one [insists upon] leaves [divorce], let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases [the believer is free to separate from an unbelieving partner and not under obligation to save the marriage against the wishes of an unbelieving partner], but God has called us to peace [“God has called believers a life of peace, not one of conflict and struggle with an unbelieving mate” -M.J. Berquist].

Separation in “mixed marriages” between Christians and non-Christians was to be initiated by the unbelieving partner. Regarding Paul’s statement, “but God has called us to peace,” Page H. Kelly comments that “maintaining peace was more important than maintaining a troubled marriage. Such a marriage was not worth preserving at whatever cost” (from the book Malachi: Rekindling the Fires of Faith, page 58).

7:16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

The salvation of an unbelieving mate should certainly be the goal of the believing partner in the marriage. Paul urged the believing partner to stay in the marriage in the hope that it would result in the salvation of the unbelieving partner. However, if the unbelieving partner wanted to leave, the believing partner was not under obligation to stay in bondage.

Instructions Regarding Living for God

7:17 Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one [his lot in life], as God has called each, in this manner let him walk [move forward, make progress in his Christian life]. And thus I direct in all the churches.

Paul advised the Corinthians that those who are converted should live a redeemed life in whatever state/status they find themselves in:

[A] the married should remain as they are

[B] the unmarried should remain as they are, if they have the gift of celibacy

[C] those married to unbelievers should remain married to them if their partners wish to continue the relationship

The word called “does not refer to God’s call to a person to become a Christian; it is a reference to his condition or circumstances in life at the time he became a Christian” (BBC, Vol. 10). Paul further illustrates his point in the following verses.

7:18 Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised.

7:19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.

If a Jew becomes a Christian he should not seek to become uncircumcised. “Paul here alludes to a practice introduced among Jews in Hellenistic times by which an attempt was made surgically to disguise or conceal their circumcision, either to avoid Greek scorn or persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes” (Mid-America Theological Journal, Volume 7, Number 1, page 51).

If a Gentile becomes a Christian he should not seek to become circumcised.

Circumcision and uncircumcision deal with outward aspects of life. A changed life should be characterized by obedience to the commandments of God. The Christian must seek to do God’s will regardless of who or where he is.

7:20 Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called.

7:21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.

Some in Corinth were slaves when they became Christians. They became new inside while their outward circumstances remained the same. Paul advised that even slaves continue to serve the Lord and live a redeemed life as slaves, but if they had an opportunity to become free, they certainly had the right to pursue that course.

7:22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.

7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become the slaves of men.

Paul interpreted freedom in terms of bondage to Christ who paid the price to free men from slavery to sin. Christ is the new Master to be obeyed. Whenever men fail to obey their new Master and make His will their pursuit, they become the slaves of men (men-pleasers).

7:24 Brethren, let each man remain with God in that condition in which he was called.

The strength for serving God in whatever state an individual was in at the time of his conversion is found “with God.”

Instructions Regarding Virgins

7:25 Now concerning virgins I have no command [concerning the subject of virgins] of the Lord, but I give an opinion [(“a deliberately formed decision from knowledge…not a mere passing fancy” –Robertson] as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.

In the closing verses of this chapter, Paul offered advice regarding the unmarried. Perhaps the Corinthians had asked in their letter, “What about our unmarried virgin daughters? Should they get married? Some of them aren’t getting any younger!”

In verses 26-35, Paul offered some of the reasons behind his counsel regarding the married and unmarried.

7:26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.

The reference to “the present distress” can be seen in two ways:
[A] As a reference to the immoral conditions in the city of Corinth.

[B] In an eschatological sense, as a reference to the calamities (see Matthew 24:8ff) to precede the second coming of Jesus.

7:27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.

Paul again urged his readers to “remain with God in that condition in which he was called” (verse 24).

7:28 But if you should marry [in spite of Paul’s advice to the contrary], you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble [tribulation, pressure, affliction] in life, and I am trying to spare you.

If an unmarried believer should however, marry another believer, it was not considered sin. But, wrote Paul, “such will have trouble in life.”

7:29 But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened [the world is hastening to an end…time and opportunity for serving the Lord has been shortened], so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none;

7:30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy as though they did not possess;

7:31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.

In view of the fact that “the time has been shortened,” all things in life must be put in the context of the bigger picture. The temporal must be put in the context of the eternal. Marriage is not to be the ultimate loyalty. The believer must not allow sorrow or pleasure or profit keep him from serving God. The believer, while in the world, must not be of the world because “the form of this world is passing away.”

7:32 But I want you to be free from concern [anxiety…being pulled in different directions]. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;

7:33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,

7:34 and his interests are divided. And the woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

7:35 And this I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint [to put a noose around your neck and deprive you of freedom] upon you, but to promote what is seemly, and to secure undistracted [unhindered] devotion to the Lord.

Paul’s counsel to remain unmarried was so that the believer would be “free from concern” and have more time and energy to serve the Lord. A married person must concern himself with the needs of his spouse and the needs of the home. An unmarried person, on the other hand, is not encumbered by many of those concerns and free to devote “undistracted devotion” to “the things of the Lord.”

Warren Wiersbe writes, “It is possible to please both the Lord and your mate, if you are yielded to Christ and obeying His Word. Many of us have discovered that a happy home and satisfying marriage are a wonderful encouragement in the difficulties of Christian service.”

7:36 But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she should be of full age [“past the bloom of her youth” –Wuest], and if it must be so [in Paul’s day, fathers arranged the marriages of the virgin daughters], let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry.

7:37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter [“This means the case when the virgin daughter does not wish to marry and the father agrees with her.” –Robertson], he will do well.

7:38 So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better [in light of the present distress mentioned in verse 26 and the shortened time mentioned in verse 29].

Paul still left the issue open ended. Each individual had to decide for himself what course of action he would follow concerning the matter of marriage.

Instructions Regarding Widows

7:39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

7:40 But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.

A Christian widow is free to marry again, “only in the Lord,” that is, to marry a Christian.

Practical Considerations
Husbands and wives should work at meeting each other’s needs.
Sex within marriage is wholesome and right.
Singleness, as well as marriage, is a viable life-style for Christians.
Christian couples should look for ways of solving their marital problems rather than reasons for getting a divorce.

WAS PAUL EVER MARRIED?

There is evidence to indicate that Paul may have been married, although it cannot be definitely established. The following are some of the reasons/explanations that have been offered in favor of the view that Paul had at one time been a married man.

[1] F.F. Bruce writes, “Marriage was normal and, indeed, expected in pious Jews when they came of age.” He adds, “Judah ben Tema, a rabbi of a later period (second half of the second century A.D.), specified eighteen as the appropriate age for a young man to marry.”

[2] Paul was a widower who never remarried (1 Corinthians 7:8), although it was within his right to do so (1 Corinthians 9:5).

[3] Paul’s wife left him when he became a Christian. When he “suffered the loss of all things” (Philippians 3:8) for the sake of Christ he lost his wife too. Perhaps this is why he wrote with understanding about the matter of an unbelieving partner walking out on a marriage (1 Corinthians 7:15).

[4] Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin. He cast his vote against believers according to his testimony before Agrippa in Acts 26:10. Members of the Sanhedrin were required to be married. Some argue against this saying that Paul was not a member of the court referred to in Acts 26:10, but only agreed with the verdict of guilty.

[5] J. Vernon McGee argues that Paul had been married at one time, otherwise his advice in 1 Corinthians 7 would be theorizing. McGee argues that “Paul always spoke from experience. It was not the method of the Holy Spirit of God to choose a man who knew nothing about the subject on which the Spirit of God wanted him to write.”

[6] McGee further argues for Paul’s experience in marriage because of the tender way in which he described the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:25.

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