Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 7:1 - 7:11

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Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 7:1 - 7:11

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A.—The propriety of marriage, and the duties involved


1     Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not 2to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication [But on account of the fornications], let every man have his own [ ἑáõôïῦ ] wife, and let every woman have her own 3[ ἴäßïí ] husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence [her due] and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4The 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. 5Defraud ye not one the other; except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and [om. fasting and] prayer; and come [be] together again, that Satan tempt you not for [through, äéὰ ] your incontinency. 6But I speak this by [as a, êáôὰ ] permission, and not of [as a, êáôὰ ] commandment 7For [But, äὲ ] I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one6after this manner, and another after that 8I say therefore 9to 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. 10And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.


Here we enter upon the second portion of this Epistle. Having first treated of those evils in the Church which he had learned by report, he, from chap. 7. and onwards, proceeds to give his opinion on those topics in regard to which the Corinthians had questioned him in their letter. This letter being lost, we can only infer what these questions were from the nature of the answers given. One was in relation to the propriety of marriage, and the performance of the duties it involved. This topic he treats of first, since it was closely connected with his earnest warning against fornication (1Co_6:12 ff.); for not only did it embrace the subject of the sexual relations; but that very depreciation of marriage also, which had begun to prevail in the Church, under the supposition that it was a sinful connection, which ought to be avoided, and, if possible, broken up when formed, was to be regarded as a reaction against the abounding licentiousness of the place.

This undervaluation of marriage, however, is by no means to be attributed (as by Grotius) [Whitby, A. Clark, Barnes] to the philosophic views current at that period; since these affected not so much the morality of the thing, as the cares and dangers which belonged to the marriage institution. It were better to infer here an inference—though only a subordinate one—of that aversion to marriage which was just then springing up (so Osiander). But whether, and how far this difference of sentiment was connected with the party divisions in the Church, is a matter of doubt. Yet, if there were such a connection, still we are neither to suppose, (with Gold-horn and others,) that it was with the Christian party in particular, whose alleged theosophic, ascetic character is altogether problematical; nor yet (with Schwegler) that it was with the Essenic Ebionite Christians, whose presence at Corinth cannot be certainly ascertained; nor yet with the Petrine party, who, rather in view of the example of their leader (1Co_9:5; Mat_13:14), and of the Jewish, Old Testament standpoint on the subject, must have held marriage in special honor. These questions must rather have originated with the Paulinists, who, through the precedent of their assumed leader, and by reason of such expressions of his as appear here, and were misunderstood by them, might have been led into an inordinate admiration of celibacy and disparagement of marriage, in opposition both to heathen immoralities, and to Jewish sensualism in this respect. With what modesty and wisdom Paul handles his subject will appear as we proceed.

[“The whole is written,” says Alford, “under the strong impression of the near approach of the end of the present state of things (1Co_7:29-31), and as advising the Corinthians under circumstances in which persecution, and family division for the Gospel’s sake might at any time break up the relations of life. The precepts and recommendations of this chapter are therefore to be weighed as those in 8. al., with reference to change of circumstances; and the meaning of God’s Spirit in them with respect to the subsequent ages of the Church, to be sought by careful comparison and inference not rashly assumed and misapplied. I may also premise that in hardly any portion of the Epistles has the hand of correctors and interpolators been busier than here. The absence of all ascetic tendency from the Apostle’s advice, on the point where asceticism was busiest and most mischievous, was too strong a testimony to be left in its original clearness.”

1Co_7:1-2, Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote to me.—[“Each of his replies is introduced by the preposition ðåñß , as here.” Words.].—it is good.—There is here a Brachylogy, as in 1Co_11:16; Rom_11:18. We might insert: ‘I say,’ or: ‘it is my opinion.’ [Some suppose that the Apostle is here taking up the language of the Epistle addressed to him and affirming it: ‘It is good, as you say, or inquire.’ And this is very possible, and may account for the use of the strong word êáëüí here. It is adopted concessively.] The question is, however, whether by it the Apostle means to express the idea of suitableness, or allowableness, in consideration of the superior advantage of celibacy by reason of the religious opportunities it gave (comp. 1Co_7:26); or whether he here has in view the moral beauty of continence. If we understand it relatively, then it cannot be inferred, as by Jerome, that the opposite is wrong, “malum est tangere;” and so the value and dignity of marriage as set forth in the context, will remain unaffected. “This agrees with the feeling in the previous chapter. Comp. below 1Co_7:7-8; 1Co_7:26; 1Co_7:34 (mid.), 35 (end), 40. ‘Good,’ i. e., becoming, suitable for liberty and exemption from the marriage due, 1Co_7:3, and for entire power over oneself, 1Co_7:4; [good, not in view of marriage as originally designed; for in that case it was not good for a man to be alone; but good in view of the evils which sin had engendered, and by which it had marred that which was designed to be one of man’s chief blessings]; though, on the other hand, the act of ‘touching,’ mentioned in 1Co_7:1, is always accompanied with modesty among the chaste. [“Much ingenuity,” says Stanley, “has been employed by the advocates of celibacy in making this word ( êáëüí ) mean ‘lofty’ or ‘noble,’ and by the advocates of marriage in depreciating it to mean ‘convenient for existing circumstances.’ The obvious meaning is the true one. It is used as in Aristotle and the Greek moral writers generally) for ‘good,’ like ‘pulchrum’ in Latin, opposed to ‘turpe,’= áἰó÷ñüí , ‘bad;’ and the only limitation to be put upon it is that supplied by the context.” It means, beautiful, praiseworthy, yet only under certain circumstances, and in view of the traits thus exhibited. And so all must admit it to be, as e. g., when practised by Paul. But not universally, for certainly he cannot be supposed to contradict intentionally what he says elsewhere of marriage, as “honorable in all;” or as a type of the union of the Church with Christ (Eph_5:23-32); or as a thing, which to forbid was one of the signs of the great apostacy].—for a man;—’ Áõèñþðῳ does not stand precisely for ἀíäñß , although, of course, as the context shows, the man is here meant; [“and that, as Meyer remarks, not merely in his sexual, but in his human capacity. Thus in its deeper reference it would include the other sex also.” Alf.].—Not to touch a woman.—This phrase the author formerly understood, with Rückert, to denote continence in the marriage state. In which case, then, the words in 1Co_7:2 : ‘to have his own wife,’ would mean sexual intercourse in the marriage state; and 1Co_7:3-5 would only be a carrying out of the same idea; and, êáëüí would be equivalent to ‘morally beautiful,’ in correspondence with the tender feeling implied. But, apart from all other grounds, both the whole context as well as the usage of language ( ἔ÷åéí ), leads me to abide by the common interpretation, which takes the words to mean sexual connection in general (as in Gen_20:6; Pro_6:29) of which that occurring in marriage is one species. And this first comes to view prominently in 1Co_7:2. [So Alf., Meyer, de Wette. And undoubtedly they are correct. But Hammond, Whitby, Henry, Hodge, Barnes and others, take the phrase as meaning marriage, directly and primarily, finding support in this from certain supposed classical analogies. But this is certainly a perplexing and needless limitation. Paul here evidently starts with a broad, and surely very credible proposition. ‘There is, he would say, ‘nothing wrong, as the Jews argued, but rather something very proper, nay, very honorable, in having nothing at all to do with women carnally,’ as there certainly was in Paul’s case, and in that of many others who for wise reasons have given themselves up to a life of chaste celibacy.]

In 1Co_7:2 he presents to us in contrast with the ideal êáëüí the real practical need.—But on account of [“ äéÜ with the Ace. indicates the ground (ratio), not the aim (not even here), and it is only by implication that the notion of design can be brought in. Fornications are the reason for which the injunction is given, in order thus to prevent them.” Winer, § XLIX.100] fornications.—The plural points to the manifold and irregular sexual vices which prevailed in Corinth (Bengel: vagas libidines), in consequence of the multitude of courtezans to be found there. Now to ward off the temptations thus offered to the unmarried, by the enjoyment of legitimate intercourse in the marriage state he says,—let every one have his own ( ἑáõôïῦ ) wife, and let every woman have her own ( ἴäéïí ) husband.—The ἑáõôïῦ and ἴäéïí point to the established relation of the monogamy. [The contrast between ôὴí ἑáõôïῦ ÷õíáῖêá and ôïὺ ἲäéïí ἂíäñá is a difference of idiom which runs all through the New Testament. ̓́ Éäéïò is never used for ãõíÞ , nor ἑáõôïῦ for ἂíÞñ , in speaking of husband and wife; perhaps from the seeming inappropriateness of using ἑáõôïῦ , except in the relation when the one party is, as it were, the property of another; perhaps from the importance of pointing out that the husband is the natural adviser of the wife.” Stanley. See Winer, XXII.]

[The Imp. ἐ÷Ýôù , let have, is not to be construed as permissive only, but it carries the force of a command [Jelf, Gr. Gram. § 420, Obs. 1 Corinthians 1 : “The Imperative is used when something of decision or authority is wanted, so that the more civil form of the Optative would be out of place”], as is evident from the analogy of the subsequent imperatives, and from the reason by which it is sustained. But, if a command, then of course we must limit the ‘each one,’ both of man and woman, to such as have not the gift of continence (comp. 1Co_7:3; 1Co_7:7; 1Co_7:36-37). Here then we have a view of marriage in its lower aspects and bearings, as a safeguard against incontinence. But this pedagogical or practical view of marriage, as meeting a contemplated necessity, by no means excludes the ideal view given in Eph_5:29 ff. For, as Neander says, “we must not overlook the fact that Paul is here not treating of marriage in general, but only in its relation to the condition of things at Corinth, where he feared the effect of moral prejudices concerning celibacy.” [Besides, it must be remembered that marital intercourse is not the same in kind with the illegitimate connection, but is refined and elevated by the pure love which binds the parties in life-long and absolute union for the very noblest ends, and of which it is the bodily expression. Hence the Apostle is here prescribing a veritable cure for the evil passion, and not simply allowing it indulgence within a certain sphere].

1Co_7:3-5. In order that the direction given in 1Co_7:2 may attain its purpose, he goes on to insist upon the full consummation of the marital relationship, being prompted to this perhaps by the representations made in the letter of the Church, of a tendency towards a false asceticism in this respect, or of the actual practice of it among them.—Let the husband render unto the wife her due, and likewise also the wife to her husband.—’ ÏöåéëÞí cannot therefore mean simply ὀöåéëïìÝíç åὔíïéá , due benevolence, as the Rec. Text has it [which was either substituted as an expository gloss on the supposition that ‘the due’ was one of affection merely, or as an euphemism], but it refers to the due of marriage, debitum tori. That marital intercourse should here be set forth as a matter of duty, belongs to the higher ethical aspects of the case. [See Harless, Christ. Ethik. § 52, A. a., Wuttke Sittenlehre, § 15, 3]. This he proceeds to establish more fully in the next sentence, omitting to connect it with any causal particle (for).—The wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband; and likewise also the husband hath not power over his own body, but the wife.—Here he shows that it is implied in the very nature of marriage, that the granting or withholding be not at the caprice of either party, but that each possesses a legitimate claim upon the body of the other, and has a right to its enjoyment. This is a reciprocity whereby alone marriage receives and maintains its monogamous character. The ellipsis at the close of each of these clauses is evident, and the nominatives must have their verbs supplied from what precedes. In the expression: the wife hath not power over her own, and: the husband hath not power over his own, Bengel detects an “elegant paradox.” [“The ground of this being another’s, while they are their own, is to be found in the oneness of body in which the marriage state places them.” Alf.]. It is to this ‘power’ that the next injunction refers: Defraud not one another. At any rate, it amounts to the same thing, whether we say, ‘of this power,’ or, ‘of your body,’ or, ‘of the due.’ What he forbids is the arbitrary refusal of intercourse when the other party desires it. Except it be, åἰìÞ ôé ἂí . [The ἂí belongs to ôé . On the attachment of this particle to other than verbs, see Jelf, § 430, Obs. a.]. There is here a limitation upon the above prohibition [which is elliptical in form; and, though it would naturally be supposed from the preceding verb, plainly implies a modification in meaning. It is not ‘defrauding’ that he allows, but ‘abstaining,’ as is evident from the appended condition], that both parties are agreed upon it, so that the rights of both parties are preserved: from mutual agreement, ἐê óõìöþíïõ . But even then the arrangement must only be for a time, ðñὸò êáéñí . This might indeed denote some particular, suitable occasion that might occur, calling for Such abstinence. But, according to later usage, it must be understood of some fixed definite period [Jelf, § 38, 2, b] And this meaning is sustained by the purpose expressed, in its whole extent. First, he mentions religious exercises, for which they might wish to have time and rest.—that ye may give yourselves to prayer,—undisturbed by the excitements of this mighty passion. Such extraordinary and protracted devotional exercises were, in later times, enjoined for particular festival seasons, connected with fastings (hence the addition in the Rec. Text of ôῇ íçóôåßᾳ êáὶ ). And it is possible that the beginnings of this custom are to be found in this period, though such seasons were evidently of a purely voluntary character. That indulgence in sexual intercourse did not comport with holy solemnities, was a point assumed alike in the Old Testament (Exo_19:15) and among pagan nations. [Yet, as Harless well says, Christliche Ethik, § 44, c., “we are not to suppose that the Apostle meant to say that such abstinence was a necessary condition to a spirit of prayer in general, but only that it was a suitable and necessary result of these peculiar circumstances in which the soul felt moved to special devotion toward God. To the Apostle who regarded the Christian’s entire life as one continuous and perpetual prayer, it was impossible that such abstinence should appear as an absolute requisite to prayer, from the simple fact that he allowed of no enjoyment whatever which was not accompanied with prayer and thanksgiving,” 1Ti_4:4].—And be together again.—This indicates euphemistically the resumption of marital intercourse. ’ Åðὶ ôὸ áὐôὸ , a constructio pregnans=‘come together and remain together.’ The dependence of ἦôå upon ἵíá is somewhat remarkable: hence the reading ÷åóèå (Imp.). It nevertheless rests on good grounds.

The limitation of their abstinence to a definite period, includes two objects, that they might have leisure for prayer, and might be united again. The reason for this is—that Satan may not tempt you through your incontinency.—By this he means a betrayal into that against which marriage was designed to be a safeguard, viz., those fornications which were caused by incontinence. That such incontinence existed among them was to be inferred, not only from their peculiar circumstances, but also from the fact of their being married, which showed that they had not the gift of continence (comp. 1Co_7:7). The betrayal through incontinence the Apostle ascribes to Satan. This is no mere form of speech, grounded on the supposition that all evil is to be attributed to Satan. Neither does it refer simply to seductions practised on them by the heathen, as though Satan were but another name for ‘heathen,’ the enemies of the Gospel. But it strictly accords with the whole doctrine of Scripture, and especially with Paul’s teachings, that there is such a hostile evil spirit existing, whose business it is to seduce the people of God, and who, on this account, is styled prëminently “the tempter” ( ὁ ðåéñÜæùí ) (Mat_4:3; 1Th_3:5). But the act of temptation ( ðåéñÜæåéí ), in so far as it proceeds from this spirit of evil, is virtually a putting to the proof, since it presupposes some impurity or moral weakness in the parties operated on; or implies the hope of some pernicious result to them, on the ground of some suspected vitiosity of temper. In any case, it aims to demonstrate their impurity and impiety, and to effect their fall, and so to bring shame upon God and Christ, and to cause scandal in the Church, and involve it in disgrace, and hinder its spread, and weaken it in inward power and extent (comp. Job_1:2; 2Co_2:11, etc.).— ÉÉåéñÜæåéí means, to entice, to sin, and that, too, with the intention of betraying (comp. Jas. 13ff.; Gal_6:1; Rev_2:10; Rev_3:10). But to derive ἀêñáóßá from êåñÜííõìé , as though it meant not mingling, i. e., in sexual intercourse, is a philological fiction of Rückert’s [one, also, which Words, adopts], which is untenable, if for no other reason than this, that êåñÜííõìé never appears as= ìßãíõìé in this signification. The subst. ἀêñáóßá from êåñÜííõìé denotes bad mixture, such as that of insalubrious air. But the ἀêñáóßá of the text is that which comes from ἀêñáôÞò and is= ἀêñÜôåéá , the opposite of ἐãêñÜôåéá [So Alford and Meyer. The latter takes the ‘your’ ( ὐìῶí ) as an emphatic allusion to the prevailing fault of the Corinthians. This Alford questions, but on hardly sufficient grounds.]

1Co_7:6. But this I speak as a permission, and not as a commandment.—[‘This’ ( ôïῦôï ). What? The thing is variously argued]. It refers neither to what follows in 1Co_7:8 [as Rosen., Macknight] because of what intervenes in 1Co_7:7; nor to 1Co_7:2 ff. [as Beza, Grotius, de Wette, Hodge], since the command there given, that each man have his own wife, etc., must in that case be taken concessively contrary to the direct obligation imposed in 1Co_7:3; nor yet simply to the clause preceding: “and be together again,” [“as the ascetics Orig., Tert., Jerome, Estius, and also Calvin, because this is but a subordinate member of the preceding sentence.” Alford: “and the sense thus given to the passage is not consistent with the context” Hodge]; but to 1Co_7:5, as a whole [so Alford, Meyer, Barnes]. The limitation imposed in regard to defrauding one another, he would not have taken as a command, as though persons were under obligation to practise longer or shorter abstinence by agreement. ‘By permission’ ( êáôὰ óõããíþìçí )=as an allowance or concession to your weakness. [‘Not as a command.’ “A proof of St. Paul’s authority. He is empowered to give a precept ( ἐðéôáãÞ ) or to bestow an indulgence” ( óõããíþìç ) Words.].

1Co_7:7. I wish rather ( äὲ ) that all men were as also myself.—The reason why he does not wish to impose that restriction as a command, he here proceeds to state by pointing [to the different temperaments of individuals in respect to continence,] primarily to his own peculiarity. [That continence is the particularity in his condition which he refers to is assumed by Chrysostom, and is most probable. So de Wette, Meyer, Barnes. But Words, understands it of his unmarried state.] The above construction of the connection occasioned, no doubt, the reading ãÜñ ; for, instead of äὲ ; but it comports equally well with the latter (which is better attested), if, with Meyer, we interpret thus: ‘I do not say this by way of command. I rather wish that all men might have the gift of perfect continence, as I myself have, so that marriage were unnecessary.’—To limit the expression ‘all men’ to Christians, is inadmissible. This comprehensive wish he utters in view of the near approach of Christ’s second coming, when humanity would be made like unto the angels, and all marrying and giving in marriage would cease.

But each one has his own gift from God.—He here explains what he meant in 1Co_7:6, when he said, ‘by permission,’ stating, on the other hand ( áëëÜ ), what hindered the realization of his wish. It was individual peculiarities, God had not given to every one alike the ability to practise continence. But whether by the word ‘gift’ ( ÷Üñéóìá ) he means an endowment of nature, or of grace, may be doubted. In view of the words ‘all men’ in the previous clause we might infer that he intended the former; a natural aptitude which existed as a Providential favor outside the sphere of redemption. But the uniform use of the word in this Epistle and in the New Testament generally inclines us to the opinion that it is the latter—a capacity granted by God within the Church, and therefore a proper gift of grace, grounded on an actual participation in Christ’s redeeming power,—attached it may be, however, to a person’s original disposition and temperament. Though the words ‘all men’ are indeed to be construed universally, yet the Apostle has here to do only with converts, and it is these that he has in his eye when he says, ‘each one’ and ‘gift.’ As Bengel observes, “that which in the natural man is a natural habit, becomes in the saints a gift of grace.” The gift here is the entire habit of mind and body in the Christian, in so far, e. g., as marriage or celibacy is better suited to him, along with the actions suited to each state, according to God’s commandments. But in a state not voluntarily assumed, the assistance of grace is more secure to the godly.” Comp. the words in Mat_19:11 : “To whom it is given.” The epithet ἴäéïí , his own, is further explained;—one, so, and another, so.—This can either be construed generally, or applied strictly to the two subjects in discussion, viz., to continence and celibacy, on the one hand, and to the marriage state, on the other. The context inclines to the stricter construction. In this case, the second ‘so’ would refer to the fitness of the Christian of the marriage state, for forming and governing the family life.

1Co_7:8-9. A special application of the foregoing in the way of advice.—I say then to the unmarried, and to widows,— êáὶ ôáῖò÷Þñáéò , especially to widows; [so the êáὶ must be interpreted, for widows being also unmarried cannot be regarded as a separate class.]—These, therefore, must be regarded as the parties singled out to be particularly addressed; while by the term, unmarried, single persons of both sexes are meant. And the emphasis is not to be placed on the latter, as though Paul were passing here to the consideration of a new topic—from the married to the unmarried; but it rests upon ‘I say,’ [“which is but a resumption of the ‘I say’ in 1Co_7:6, and brings this advice under the same category as 1Co_7:7.” Alford]. It is otherwise in 1Co_7:10, as may be seen from the position of the words: it is good, êáëïí , as in 1Co_7:1, for them, áὐôïῖò , masculine, if they should remain as I also am, i. e., unmarried. We are not to infer from this that Paul was a widower, as Clemens, Alex., Grotius [Luther, Ewald, Selden, Conybeare and Howson] suppose, for this is in no wise here intimated [so Alf., Meyer, Bengel and others. Words, leaves the case doubtful]. In view of his own gift (1Co_7:7), however, he wishes this advice to be taken conditionally. But if they are incontinent, let them marry.’ ’ Åãêñáôåýéí = åãêñáôÞ åἴíáé , to be master of one’s self—especially as it regards the sexual passions; a word of the later Greek. For it is better to marry than to burn. ÉÉõñïῦóèáé denotes the painful excitement of unsatisfied desire, which burns like a fire within, and inwardly overcomes the man, or at least disturbs and weakens the moral powers. Comp. Col_3:5; Sir_23:22-24. In saying ‘it is better,’ he intends no disparagement of marriage as being a lesser evil; but only contrasts a relation which, in this case, is morally allowable and sinless, with a state that is immoral, or at least troublesome to the moral life. “A second marriage among Christians is therefore not in itself unlawful; not a grievous transgression, as the Montanists and Novatians asserted; nevertheless the Church has always regarded second marriages with dislike, if only because the single marriage corresponds better with the idea of true Christian wedlock, which is a type of the union of Christ with His Church.” Bisping]. [Bisping, it must be remembered, is a Romanist].

1Co_7:10-11. And to the married.—This is connected directly, to the foregoing, meaning those who are enjoined to marry—hence, to Christians. To limit this to such as were newly married, or to some particular parties had in mind (Rückert), is warranted neither by the expression itself, nor by the context.—I command; ðáñáããÝëëù .—Here comes in the ἐðéôáãÞ of 1Co_7:6. It implies a stringent order, an injunction to do something (comp. Luk_5:14) 1Ti_6:13. And this he exhibits as a command of the Lord Himself, i. e., of Christ, the Head of the Church.—not I, but the Lord.—Here he has in mind the words of Christ in Mat_5:32; Mat_19:4; Mar_10:12, communicated to him by a reliable tradition. To suppose that he had received a special revelation on the subject, is altogether gratuitous. [Nor are we to imagine that Paul here intends to draw a contrast between what he himself commands and what the Lord had commanded, as to the degree of authority involved in each. For as he himself states in 1Co_7:40, ‘He had the mind of Christ;’ and what is spoken under the inspiration of the Spirit, is no less valid than that which proceeded from the lips of Jesus. And what he intends here is not to draw a contrast, but merely to assert the distinction just alluded to. ‘He is simply telling the Corinthians, that, so far as what he was about to say was concerned, they had no need to come to him to learn it.’ He was merely repeating what had already been enjoined by Christ Himself. ] The exception “except it be for fornication,” which does not appear in Luk_16:18, nor in Mark, is here dropped out, either because the tradition which came to him did not have the words, or because an instance of this sort had not occurred in Corinth (comp., however, 1Co_5:1), or because the matter was self-evident, fornication being itself a dissolution of the marriage bond.—that the wife.—The prominence given to the wife is not to be explained by supposing any reference to some existing case; but it may be accounted for on the ground of the greater inclination of the wife to obtain divorce; since she, as the weaker party, was more liable to suffer oppression, or was more naturally disposed to asceticism.—do not separate herself from her husband.—[“ ×ùñéóèῆíáé , the natural expression for the wife as not having power to dismiss her husband; ἂöéÝíáé , the milder form for the husband (see last clause), although it is in 1Co_7:13 used also for the wife. The words are taken from the phraseology of legal divorce; but the cases here spoken of are not so much regular divorces as accidental separations.” Stanley].’—but and if she should be separated.—This and the dependent clauses are a parenthesis, so that what follows is in direct connection with what precedes. The words ἐὰí äὲ êáὶ ÷ùñéóèῆ point to some possible case of divorce occurring hereafter contrary to the command of Christ, and not to any supposed actual separation which might have taken place before the latter should have reached them. The êáὶ does not belong to the whole clause, making it equivalent to ‘even if,’ etc., but simply to the verb, and may be translated by ‘actually,’ or ‘in fact.’ [“This is not intended as an exception to the law, but it contemplates a case which may occur in spite of the law.—There are cases undoubtedly which justify a woman in leaving her husband, which do not justify divorce.” Hodge.]—On the injunction—let her remain unmarried—See Mat_10:12.—or let her be reconciled to her husband.—The verb êáôáëëáãÞôù had best be taken like ÷ùñéóèῆ in a reflexive, sense, ‘reconcile herself.’ This does not, however, exclude the mediation of others. He means that she should do her part towards becoming united to her husband; to secure his love and devote to him her love again.—The injunction on the man is very short.—And that the man put not away his wife.—From the similarity of instruction given to both, we may infer that what was said to the woman in 1Co_7:10-11, applied also to the man (Osiander).


1. Marriage, its nature and obligations. In the Apostle’s view, marriage is a vital and life-long communion between man and woman, involving an equality of claims on the part of both. As a living fellowship, it extends over the entire personality, embracing also our physical nature. And this is precisely the peculiarity of marriage, distinguishing it from all other kinds of friendly connexion. While it involves the element of friendship—as a union of hearts mutually completing each other—it has, likewise, besides this, a mutually supplementing bodily union, viz., the sexual. This has, indeed, its psychical side; yet it comes to its full expression and consummation in the bodily life. Both are in this respect adjusted to each other, and each party needs the other for the proper fulfilment of its position in the sexual relations. The man requires the woman in order to the exercise of his procreative power, in which respect he is “the image of God” (1Co_11:7) the Creator; and the woman requires the man in order that her capacity for receiving may become an actual conception, and her constitutional fitness for being a mother may attain to its proper development and exercise.

These mutual needs, so divinely ordained, lead to reciprocal obligations and claims in their relations to each other. Each has a right in the body of the other, and each is bound to yield to the other for sexual intercourse, so that no capricious one-sided refusal is allowable. Only an occasional abstinence by mutual consent for higher moral and religious ends is permitted.

But another consideration comes in here. Men are sinful. All their sensual impulses, especially the sexual instincts—the strongest of them all—have escaped from the control of the Spirit, from which they ought to receive their first motion. Instead of being the pure expression and exercise of love—free surrender of oneself for the pleasure and gratification of another—sexual commerce has become one of the worst forms in which a degrading selfishness manifests itself—a selfishness which prompts persons to seek others only to use them for their own gratification. Among mankind thus corrupted, marriage, therefore, appears as providentially designed to guard against the inordinate and irregular satisfaction of sexual passion, so that it shall not be indulged in promiscuously, as opportunity might be afforded; but that two persons bound together during their whole life, and in their entire personality, shall devote themselves to each other even in reference to this particular, [that so, if possible, mere passion may be refined through the power of a purer affection and the discipline of domestic life].

The less now the virtue of continence—that is, the power of the spirit over the animal passions—is cultivated and trained in full strength, the more needful will it be to take care that the abstinence agreed upon for special reasons, be not too long extended, lest either party be exposed to temptation for unlawful indulgence. [See Whewell’s “Elements of Morality,” B. IV. chap. 7., Art. 630. Baxter’s “Christian Ethics,” Pt. 2 Chap. 1 and 7. “Harless, Christ. Elhik,”§ 52 A. a.; also “Wuttke Sittenlehre, § 152, 153].

2. Celibacy, its occasion, and how far praiseworthy. This stringency of the marriage obligation, which indeed, carries with it a wealth of moral and religious elements, is apt to evoke a reaction through the natural effort of the Christian after liberty and holiness—after an un-trammeled and undivided devotion to his Lord—after a perfect consecration of soul and body to his service, and after an undisturbed enjoyment of fellowship with Him. This effort resulting in celibacy, is morally justifiable only on certain conditions. These are: 1, Provided that it is not prompted by a carnal love of ease, and by a dread of domestic crosses, and is likewise free from all spiritual pride and ambition, which, by refraining from marriage, aspires to possess a special sanctity, and to merit a higher degree of blessedness and glory. 2, Provided it is not tinctured with mere caprice, or will-worship, or prudery, or vanity, or any such moral perverse-ness. 3, Provided it is prompted by a consciousness—not, indeed, of an incapacity for marriage, which would render the act morally reprehensible—but of a peculiar fitness for a single life vouchsafed by the Lord, and of a Divine call to some sphere of labor in God’s kingdom, to which the married state would offer impediments; or occasioned by providential obstructions put in the way of some desired and sought for marriage connections, and by the quiet pondering of the Divine will as indicated in such occurrences; and, 4, provided, in general, a lack of inclination for marriage—which, on looking up to God and invoking His direction in the matter, comes to be regarded as a Divine hint as to duty—leads a person to remain unmarried. [When these conditions exist, celibacy and widowhood are states wherein some of the noblest traits of the Christian life may be displayed, and are no less honorable than that of wedlock. To disparage them in any way, is to put contempt on the plain doctrine of the Gospel. But no less un-Christian, not to say unnatural, is it to ascribe any inherent superior excellence to these states, and to make them the essential conditions of superior sanctity, and to impose them by authority upon any class of persons in the Church, as, e. g., on the clergy. The Romish doctrine on this point is not merely utterly groundless, but contrary to the express teachings of Scripture, and to the example of most of the Apostles. Paul himself specifies “the forbidding to marry” among the doctrines of devils, and when we would expect him to counsel virginity according to Romish teaching, he says rather (1Ti_2:15) “the woman shall be saved in child-bearing, if they continue in faith and charity.”] Hence, where the above-mentioned conditions do not exist, and there appears to be a demand for marriage, and a well-grounded hope that it will be a fellowship in the Lord, and for the furtherance of his kingdom, and it appears to be the will of God, then does an obligation arise to enter into it [both for the good of the parties concerned, and] for the propagation of the race, and the rearing of future generations morally, socially and religiously in this relation.

The Apostolic counsels in regard to celibacy, given as they were in anticipation of Christ’s speedy coming, in which case the obligation to marriage is lessened by reason of the impending dissolution of all earthly things, acquire new force whenever sure signs lead us to expect this catastrophe as at hand. [See on this subject Baxter “Christian Ethics” Book 2 chap. 1; Wuttke “Sittenlehre” § 295; Schaff Hist. Ap. Ch., § 112.]

3. Divorce, its wrong and its right. The voluntary dissolution of a Christian marriage is a departure from a state ordained by God,—the rupture of a covenant with which members of His Church have entered with each other, in His name, and in which they have thus obligated themselves to live together as husband and wife, even under the most severe and trying circumstances, faithful unto death. A separation can properly take place only under the conditions appointed by God Himself, through Christ, viz., the actual dissolution of the marriage bond by the other party in adultery or fornication, which is in fact a surrender of one’s self to a third party in such wise as is allowable only in marriage, and is reserved by the ordinance of God exclusively for those thus allied. Should any one wish to separate from his consort out of disinclination to marital intercourse, or from a dread of it, under the idea that it involved defilement, or through a general desire for liberty in this respect, he would, in so doing, be guilty of violating the most solemn obligations, and become chargeable with immorality. When conscientious scruples arise in these respects, it becomes a Christian to consult his pastor, or some experienced Christian friend, and above all to lay the matter in prayer before God, that he may be enlightened and instructed from on high, and that his partner might be induced to enter into some agreement that would not infringe on his conscience. Even though marriage has become burdensome, a person must still bear it from a sense of duty, in obedience to the Divine ordinance, and in conformity with the claims of the institution.—Mere aversion on the part of the one or the other, or of both, mortifications, maltreatment, sickness however incurable, whether of body or mind, furnish no warrant for divorce. A temporary separation, accompanied with a readiness for reunion, may, under certain circumstances, be allowed as the only means for restoring again the disturbed relations, and causing a return to a right tone of feeling, and effecting a lasting improvement.

If anything else, however, can be accepted as a ground for divorce, subsumed as it were under the head of adultery, it is malicious desertion. This means, the deliberate forsaking of the one party by the other, with the unmistakable or declared design of abandoning the marriage connection altogether. And this is nothing less than the actual dissolution of the bond, by which the obligation of the other party to fidelity is annulled. Yet, in this case, no right-minded person will be in haste to obtain a formal divorce. Rather he will be inclined to wait as long as possible, in the hope of seeing some change occur in the temper of the other party, which will lead to reconciliation and cohabitation once more. And such forbearance will show itself, even in the case of adultery, for even in such circumstances may the spirit of Christian faith signalize its patience.—And then, in reference to the forming of a new connection; after so severe a chastisement, which not unfrequently wears the character of a judgment on the conduct of him who suffers it—it may be for the manner in which he contracted the marriage, or for the manner in which he has maintained it—a true Christian will be naturally disposed to consider with great care, whether he ought to enter into a new relation; and with prayer for heavenly instruction he will seek to ascertain what is God’s will in the matter, and whether it be not a mere selfish inclination (which we are very apt to take for God’s will) that is moving him to marry again. And the whole issue of things he will leave to God, in humble resignation to His decision. And should God’s providence seem to enjoin self-denial for a longer or shorter period, he will entreat Him day by day for the supplies of that grace which shall strengthen him to endure in all patience and purity.

But here a new point comes up. If the adultery committed, whether it be in the form of fornication or of malicious desertion, be not a momentary lapse not likely to be repeated, but is a settled thing, which no patience, or gentleness, or efforts at conciliation can overcome, then it will be right to infer that the Christian character of the guilty party is in such a case entirely renounced, and to treat him as standing in the relation of an unbeliever, or, still worse, of a heathen. Here, then, we would have, to all intents, an instance of mixed marriage, such as that spoken of in the next section. It would be in vain, then to look for the hallowing of one party by the other; and all continuance in a connection, which only obstructs the purpose of the Divine calling, and mars our peace, for some vague hope of recovering the lost, would be wholly unwarranted; and contrary to the Divine will.

From that which, according to the rule of Scripture, is right for the individual believer, we may infer the duty of the Church and the State in reference to marriage. First of all, the Church acknowledges itself as bound to the work of the Lord, and can, with good conscience, sanction no divorce and marriage of the separated parties again in other connections, contrary to His expressed will. The State, as an institution, which with its enactments and executive acts is rooted in the principles of Christianity, must aim to conform its marriage legislation to these. But inasmuch as strict conformity is not possible for it, the State must at least grant the Church the liberty of abiding by the decisions of her Lord, and protect it in the maintenance of its right. It must not require the Church to bless those un-Christian marriages which it may feel constrained to allow; nor must it hinder the Church from enforcing its discipline upon those who form permanent connections after a manner ordained by it, when not accordant with the Divine rule. Such is the position to be clearly and distinctly taken in the case.

But it is a question whether our mixed congregations do not admit, or even require some modification of such proceedings?—whether an extension of the principle of analogy already employed in granting divorces for malicious desertion, is not proper and necessary in other cases also, which may in like manner be regarded as a dissolution of the marriage tie. This is one of the pressing questions of the day, a further investigation of which would, however, lead us too far.

Much that is not good has place under the forbearance of our Heavenly Father. And it is a question whether the Church ought not to exercise a maternal patience towards much which she cannot sanction? This, in fact, no one will deny. Nevertheless she must hold by the authority of God’s word, and try to enforce it. And her wisdom will show itself in wise endeavors to combine the two in a befitting manner. Consult on this question Ev. Kirch. Zeit. and Neue Ev. Kirch. Zeit. for 1859 [also Whewell, Elements of Morality, § 633–635 and § 1027–1037; Neander., Life of Christ, § 155, note, and § 224; Herzog, Enc. Art. Ehe., Bax. Ch. Eth. B. 11, 1 Corinthians 9].


[I. Celibacy or the single state, when maintained for worthy ends, being good, and in accordance with Apostolic example: 1, instead of encountering ridicule, or held in reproach, should beheld in highest honor, 1Co_7:1; 1 Corinthians 2, ought not to be preferred voluntarily, unless in accordance with the clear will of God, as intimated in the gift of continence, 1Co_7:7; 1 Corinthians 3, should not be enforced by commandment upon any class of persons, 1Co_7:6; 1 Corinthians 4, when thus enforced it is apt to lead to gross immoralities, 1Co_7:2].

[II. Marriage, too, so far from involving spiritual contamination, as ascetics pretend, is: 1, good, as a safeguard against licentiousness and a help to purity, 1Co_7:2; 1 Corinthians 2, should be entered into with full consent to all its obligations, 1Co_7:3; 1 Corinthians 3, involves entire self-denial in affectionate regard each for the other, 1Co_7:4; 1 Corinthians , 4, can be suspended long only at a hazard to morals, 1Co_7:5; though, 5, a temporary suspension, like fasting, may occasionally be advisable, as furnishing greater freedom to devotion, 1Co_7:5. 6, Being a union for life, neither party is at liberty to move for its dissolution, and one can be released from the obligation only by the infidelity or death of the other, 1Co_7:10].

Starke:—In view of the race, it was not good for the first man to be alone; in view of special circumstances and gifts it may be good for particular individuals to abide alone, 1Co_7:1.—Spener.:—Marriage is an antidote to the poison of sensuality.—Hed.:—Marriage intercourse is not sinful lewdness—not a mere licensed fornication, 1Co_7:3.—Crusius:—In marriage a person parts with his liberty, and binds his entire person to another, 1Co_7:4.—Marriage pleasures, like all others, may be suspended awhile for purposes of more concentrated devotion, 1Co_7:5.—Hed.:—Abstinence is not commanded, only allowed—hence not to practise it is not sinful. Yet even here there must be moderation and self-discipline. All immodest indulgence and abuse of this holy state is an abomination in the sight of a holy God, 1Co_7:6.—Hed.:—Without the Divine gift of continence, it were better to marry. Yet even with this a person is at liberty to marry, for thus he is better able to preserve the purity of his married life, especially if he have a partner like-minded, 1Co_7:9.—Ibid:—The desire for marriage is divinely implanted like hunger for food. But alas for the heathenish dishonor and scorn—the hypocritical contempt—the un-Christian prohibition put upon this sacred institution by priests and soldiers!—Hed.:—Marriage is no exchange bank. Love must here rule. But what the devil unites, and fleshly lust knits, and avarice and ambition couples, has poor luck and little blessing or aid. Pious people endure, and are silent, and shun evil occasions, and seek peace, 1Co_7:10.—In the married state it often happens that one is not content with the other. But the only remedy in such cases is patience. It is no longer a question, what sort of a wife a man shall have, but how he shall best adapt himself to the one in possession.

Berl. Bib.:

1Co_7:2. A well-regulated marriage opposes a dam to a large current of scandals.

1Co_7:4. Many pretend that the man is not bound. But he is. He himself has concluded the bond and given the pledge, and both parties must recognize the debt.

1Co_7:5. In making vows a person must take himself into careful consideration. Few know the depths of corruption in them and the power of Satan. We must be humble. The agreement to abstain must arise from faith, and faith is humble. Earnest progress in the Divine life requires of them who marry, because of incontinence, that they cherish a constant, heartfelt confidence in God, and devote time and energy to the mortification of the body and to prayer. But since this cannot be properly done, avoid fleshly excitements; occasional abstinence becomes needful and obligatory. Yet nature must maintain its original rights; for it is not sin, but only tainted with sin. When purged by the blood of Christ, it resumes its prerogatives. It is God’s work, not the devil’s. In attempting to destroy the latter, I must not assail the former. Yea, the flesh often gains the more power by too much tampering with the body. In attempting more than we can carry out, we fall back sadly, and then the world taunts and vilifies.

1Co_7:7. Diversity of character gives rise to a variety of conditions, which must be harmonized by the unific power of Divine grace.

1Co_7:8. Every mode of life has its advantages and disadvantages, and a Christian must learn to strike the balance.

1Co_7:10. Marriage should be held sacred. The difficulties which attend it, God must be trusted to remove. If the law of Christianity be regarded as a law, it will, indeed, press hard; but there is mercy under such constraints, and every trouble should be considered an opportunity for the exercise of faith, hope, patience and love. Man is fickle and changeable. If now the marriage relation could be readily altered, this would serve greatly to foster this fickleness and levity, and so increase the evil. Hence, we see the holiness of the Divine ordinance even in respect to its apparent severity. Adultery alone is allowed as cause for divorce, and this because it breaks the bond. All other causes originate in a dread of the cross, and against this we must ever strive. Instead of following our natural inclinations when, e. g., a man has an invalid wife, he should reflect: ‘so must I remain; here is my opportunity to exercise love; here I ought to be gladly; here is a Lazarus. God is now putting me to the proof.’

1Co_7:11. “Let her remain unmarried,” and so let another burden press her, because she has wished to escape the burden of God’s law. “Or let her become reconciled,” this were better done. But it will cost more than a couple of words to do it. There will be needed earnest effort, a disposition to renew her covenant and begin it afresh in quite a different spirit from before.


1Co_7:1. A single life is commendable for a man only when it is maintained for the kingdom of Heaven’s sake. The worth of celibacy is conditioned on personal relations and the period in which a person lives.

1Co_7:4. Man and wife belong to each other—body and soul. There must be a corresponding surrender on the part of each.

1Co_7:5. It is our duty to put limits on the charm of marital intercourse, in order to have time and inclination for religious exercises. There is danger of clogging from too much indulgence. Hours of solitude and prayer preserve the sweetness and purity of marriage. Christianity hits the golden mean.

1Co_7:7. It is the token of a holy heart when a person can wish that all were like him.

1Co_7:8. A false asceticism comes not within the scope of the Apostle. 1. What he gives is advice, and that, 2. suited to the times. 3. Elsewhere he gives marriage the preference (Eph_5:2 f.), and reckons the prohibition of marriage among the doctrines of devils (1Ti_4:3); 4, and ascribes no merit to celibacy, which state has worth only when the heart is pure.

1Co_7:10. According to God’s law marriages are as indissoluble as is the union of Christ with His Church.


1Co_7:2. An apparently low view of marriage; but only its negative side here presented in view of particular circumstances. There is implied here an indirect exhortation to proud Christians not to sink into the slough of sin by a contempt of marriage.

1Co_7:3. The begetting of children, not the only legitimate end of marital intercourse. It is the outward expression of a true spiritual union].


1Co_7:5. The importance of abstinence in marriage for the purpose of prayer, no more proves the evil of the thing than the importance of fasting for the same purposes proves the evil of eating and drinking. But it is the part of believers to consider wisely when to eat and drink, and when to fast. So in the other case.

1Co_7:6. A false estimate of virginity led to three errors: 1, pronouncing it the most excellent of virtues, and the very worship of God; 2, adoption of it by numbers who had not the gift; 3, the enforcement of it on the ministry, and their consequent awful corruption—while many prudent and pious men were kept from the sacred calling, refusing to ensnare themselves in this way. See Inst. B. IV chap, XII, § 23–28]