Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 7:12 - 7:24

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Lange Commentary - 1 Corinthians 7:12 - 7:24


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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:

B.—Mixed marriages. The course to be pursued by the believer in different circumstances. The general principles involved, stated and illustrated in parallel cases

1Co_7:12-24

12But 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. 13And the woman which [who] hath a husband that believeth not, and if he2 be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him [her husband]. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by [in, ἐí ] the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by [in, ἐí ] the husband [the brother]: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us [you] to [in, ἐí ] peace. 16For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? 17But as God [the Lord] hath distributed [allotted] to every man, as the Lord [God6] hath called every one, so let him walk. 18And so ordain I in all churches. Is [Was] any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any [Has any been] called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. 20Let every man abide in the same 21calling wherein he was called. Art [Wert] thou called being a servant [slave]? care 22not for it: but [even] if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he [the slave] that is called in the Lord, being a servant [om. being a servant] is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also [om. also] he [the freeman] that is called, being free [om. being free], is Christ’s servant. 23Ye are bought with a price: be [become] not ye the ser vants of men. 24Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

1Co_7:12-14. But to the rest.—By these he evidently means those living in mixed marriage, haying been converted in wedlock. From this it is plain, that in what he has been saying he has had to do solely with parties who were both Christian. But now he comes to consider a relation to which the command of our Lord does not absolutely apply. That was a command for disciples alone; but here those were involved who did not acknowledge subjection to him; and the continuance of the connection depended largely on their own free will. In this case now, the Spirit of the Lord, dwelling in the Apostle, and developing more fully and completely the injunctions given by him on earth, was called to make known what was right, in accordance with the mind of Christ. And it is to this he points when he premises—say I, not the Lord.—[The distinction here made, is simply one of fact as to the form—not one of authority]. His injunction is still an expression of the Lord’s will—if any brother has an unbelieving wife, let him not put her away.—Yet this is conditioned on the pleasure of the wife—if she be pleased to dwell with him.—And this presupposes, on the one hand, that the husband, by reason of his higher love, and of his conviction of the sanctity of marriage, had an inclination to abide with his wife; and, on the other hand, that the wife had some respect for Christianity, and presented no obstacle to the practice of it. [“We see from this how despised the Christians were at that time by the heathen, since even wives would leave their husbands because they had been converted to Christianity.” Billroth. And the threat of this is one great obstacle to the conversion of men in heathendom at this day].— Ïἰêåῖí is used in the classics the same as here, and in this connection means, to house with. [Here Chrys. says: “He that putteth away his wife for fornication is not condemned, because he that is one body with her that is a harlot, is polluted; and the marriage bond is broken by fornication, but not by unbelief. Therefore it is lawful to put away a wife for the former sin, but not for the latter. But is not he who is joined with an idolatress one body? Yes, but not polluted by her. The holiness of the faithful husband prevails over the unholiness of the unbelieving wife. They are joined together in that respect in which she is not unholy. But not so in the case of an adulteress.” Words.].—And whatever woman have an unbelieving husband, and this one be pleased to dwell with her.—In êáὶ ïὖôïò there is a change of construction, which appears also often among the Greeks. It is the introduction of a demonstrative in an accessory clause. Otherwise it would be êáὶ áὐôïò , which the Rec. has. [On this oratio variata see Winer §LXII. 2, 1; also on the use of ὄóôéò for åἴ ôéò see Jelf, §816, 3, 7].—Let her not repudiate her husband.—The use of ἀöéÝíáé in reference to the wife is somewhat remarkable. It means [properly, to put away, and is the same word as that used in the case of the man; but] here, to have, to give up; [and so the E. V. renders it, making a distinction in the rendering by reason of the diversity of the subject. Alford well says, “this is unfortunate;” and there seems no adequate reason for it, as may be seen from what follows. Robinson translates alike in both cases]. Elsewhere, Mar_10:11, áðïëýåéí is predicated as well of the wife as of the husband. Bengel, whom Meyer follows, says, “the nobler part dismisses,” and this, in this instance, is the Christian party. According to Greek, as well as Roman law, the wife also had the liberty of obtaining divorce; among the Jews, too, the law in this respect was somewhat modified by Rabbinical definitions. Light. II:191. [Hence, there is good ground for affirming that it is not simple abandonment, but formal divorce that the Apostle here prohibits. So Hodge].

The above injunction he next proceeds to establish; and opposes the tendency to desertion arising from the dread of contamination through intimate communion with an unbeliever, by pointing to the fact, that in this case [the grace of Christianity triumphs over the disparity, and] the unbelieving party, [so far from desecrating the other, is himself sanctified by connection with the believing one.]—For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the believing wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother.—The verb ἡãßáóôáé , is sanctified, is not to be construed subjectively; since the supposition is, that the sanctifying principle—even faith, is here wanting. Neither does it point to a future conversion anticipated, (candidatus fidei); still less does it imply the sanctification of the marriage intercourse through the prayer of the believing party; but it denotes the Christian theocratic consecration. The unchristian partner standing, as he does, in vital union with a believer (one flesh), participates in his or her consecration, and is not to be regarded as profane, but as connected by this link to the Church of God, and to God’s people. The phrases, ἐí ôῇ ãõíáéêὶ ôῷ ἀäåëöῷ , in the wifein the brother, denote that the sanctification here comes through the Christian partner, whose character, as holy, passes over and is imputed to the unchristian partner. Hence, it followed that the marriage was still to be regarded as one acceptable to God, and that, therefore, the Christian party was to continue therein, so far as it was possible for him or her to do so. True enough it was, indeed, that the unbelieving party, by his consent to remain in such relation to the Christian community, afforded some ground for hope that he would, in the end, prove altogether acceptable to the Church, under whose spiritual influence he was thus brought; but this fact is not here distinctly expressed.

To prove, this relative sanctification of the unbelieving party, through connection with the believing one, he introduces the following apagogic statement.—Else were your children unclean, but now are they holy.—’ Åðåὶ áñὰ ; since then, i. e., in case this sanctification did not exist (comp. 1Co_5:10). His meaning is this: if that vital communion which existed between the married parties, of which one was a believer and another not, imparted to the latter no sacredness, then it would follow that the like vital union between Christian parents and their children, would not impart to the latter any sacredness,—that the children of Christians themselves must be regarded as impure and profane, like the heathen. But to such an inference he opposes the views already held among them, that these children were holy,—that they, by virtue of their vital connection with Christian parents, were to be regarded as properly belonging to God’s holy people. And if such a view were tenable, he argues a like result in favor of the unbelieving married parties; that they were similarly sanctified by a collateral union. [Hodge, however, with more correctness, states the argument differently. He says: “The most natural, and hence the most generally adopted view, is this: ‘The children of these mixed marriages are universally acknowledged as holy; that is, as belonging to the Church. If this be correct, as no one disputes, the marriages themselves must be consistent with the laws of God. The unbelieving must be sanctified by the believing partner, otherwise your children would be unclean, i.e., born out of the pale of the Church.’—The principle in question was not a new one, to be then first determined by Christian usage. It was, at least, as old as the Jewish economy, and familiar wherever Jewish laws and the facts of Jewish history were known. Paul circumcised Timothy, whose father was a Greek, while his mother was a Jewess, because he knew that his countrymen regarded circumcision in such cases as obligatory.” Act_16:1-3. Barnes most unaccountably interprets “unclean” to mean “illegitimate.” Then “holy,” of course, must mean legitimate, contrary to all usage.]—This whole argument militates against, rather than favors the existence of the practice of Infant Baptism at that period. (Comp. Meyer and de Wette, Stud. and Krit., 1830, p. 669ff.; [also Neander, Stanley and Alford in loco). Had such a practice existed, it would be fair to presume, that the Apostle would have alluded to it specifically, in confirmation of his position. Here, most of all, would have been the place to have mentioned it by name, as furnishing ecclesiastical authority for the view he had taken. The fact that he did not mention it, therefore, affords some reason for concluding that the rite did not exist.]—It is another question, however, whether this passage does not furnish an important ground on which to establish the rite of Infant Baptism. According to Jewish notions, the baptism of a female proselyte sufficed for that of her child, which was afterwards born of her, so that this did not then need to be baptized. But so far as baptism is a means of grace, we may infer from this statement of the Apostle, that there was a claim for it on the part of the child, who had been already consecrated to God by virtue of his having been born of Christian parents. That relation to the kingdom of God which is founded on parentage, is sealed through baptism; and the child is set apart in a solemn manner as a partaker of the fulness of grace imparted to the Church. [On the whole subject see John M. Mason’s Works, Vol. IV., pp 373–382, who takes this in direct evidence of Infant Baptism; and also Hodge’s note, who says: “Some modern German writers find in this passage a proof that Infant Baptism was unknown in the Apostolic Church. They say that Paul does not attribute the holiness of children to their parentage; if they were baptized—because their consecration would then be due to that rite, and not to their descent. This is strange reasoning. The truth is, they were baptized, not to make them holy, but because they were holy. The Jewish child was circumcised because he was a Jew, and not to make him one. So Christian children are not made holy by baptism, but they are baptized because they are holy.” See also Hooker, Ec. Pol. Ch. LX.]. Ὑìῶí refers to the Christian parents generally, who in mixed marriages were not excluded. Íῦí äὲ , but now, logical, as in 1Co_5:11. On ἅãéá compare Bengel and Osiander.

1Co_7:15-16. He here considers the possible alternative.—But if the unbelieving depart—How then?—let him depart.—‘That is his affair; he must be allowed to decide it for himself.’ And in such a case “let the brother or sister be patient, nor let him think that anything ought to be changed which cannot be changed.” Bengel. That which follows, annexed by no connecting particle, confirms this advice.—The brother or the sister is not bound in such cases.—He here assigns the reasons why a divorce should be allowed on the part of the Christian; and the words cannot simply mean: ‘he is not bound to crowd himself upon the other,’ [to insist upon the connection, as in the case where both are Christians (as Photius, Alford, Billroth)]; but they carry the further implication: ‘is not unconditionally bound to the marriage relationship like a slave,’—‘is free.’ ÄÝäåôáé , as in 1Co_7:39 (comp. Osiander). The words ἐí ôïῖò ôïéïßôïéò are either Masc. by such (not, to such) as separate themselves; or which is better, Neut.; under such circumstances (comp. Php_4:11; Rom_8:37; Joh_4:37). “The Apostle only means, that in matters of religious conviction, one person cannot be the slave of another, [that a married Christian person cannot be forced to remain with a heathen consort, if the latter will not allow the exercise of his own religious views. Under such circumstances separation should be allowed; but concerning liberty to marry again, nothing is here said.” Neander.]But in peace God hath called us.—This is directly connected with the foregoing, and confirms still further the propriety of the injunction: “let him depart.”—The determination to continue in marriage against the will of the other party, would lead to hatred and strife; and this would be contrary to the peaceful character of the Christian calling.— Ἐí åἰñÞíῃ , in peace, i.e., either: ‘to this end, that we may live in peace;’ in which case it would be equivalent to: unto peace [according to our English version] denoting the object of the call; or: ‘since he has proclaimed to us the Gospel of peace, the essential effect of which is peace,’—denoting the way and mode of the calling (comp. Eph_4:1; 1Th_4:7; Luk_11:11). Fundamentally, both constructions amount to the same thing; and imply that any separation would contravene the spirit of the Divine calling, inasmuch as it would increase existing estrangement and cause new outbreaks. [“Hence it is that the Rabbins, and Maimonides famous among the rest, in a book of his, set forth by Buxtorfius, tells us that ‘divorce was permitted by Moses to preserve peace in marriage, and quiet in the family.’ Milton.] This view corresponds to the whole train of thought, and agrees well with what follows. On the other hand, that view which regards the Apostle as here putting a limitation on the injunction: ‘let him depart,’ introduced adversatively by the particle, äÝ , as if he meant to say: ‘a separation, however, ought, if possible, to be avoided,’ is at variance with his line of argument [see below].

The Apostle yet further confirms his advice by obviating a doubt which contained a strong motive for resisting separation in the case supposed, viz.: whether the salvation of the unbelieving party, which might be secured by a continuance of the connection, would not hereby be cut off. This he meets by pointing to the utter uncertainty of the results of any efforts directed to this end.—For what knowest thou, O! woman, whether thou shalt save thy husband.—The meaning is, thou canst have no assurance that thou wilt be the means of saving him. [On the force of the åἰ , see Jelf Vol. II., § 877 B.].— Óþæåéí , to save, as in 1Co_1:18, is used here in a relative sense, q. d., to be the instrument of saving, as 1Co_9:22; Rom_11:14; 1Ti_4:10.—[“This verse is generally understood as stating a ground for remaining united, as 1Co_7:13, in hope that conversion of the unbelieving party may follow. Thus 1Co_7:15 is regarded as altogether parenthetical. But 1, this interpretation is harsh, as regards the context, for 1Co_7:15 is evidently not parenthetical,—and 2, it is hardly admissible grammatically, for, it makes åἰ = åἰ ìÞ ,—‘What knowest thou, whether thou shalt not save?’ Lyra seems first to have proposed the true rendering, which was afterwards adopted hesitatingly by Estius, and of late decidedly by Meyer, de Wette, and Bisping; viz., that the verse is not a ground for remaining united, in hope, etc., but a ground for consummating a separation, and not marring the Christian’s peace for so uncertain a prospect as that of converting the unbelieving party. Ôß ïὔäáò åἰ thus preserves its strict sense: what knowest thou (about the question) whether, etc.? and the verse coheres with the words immediately preceding, ἐí åἰñÞíῃ êἔêëçêåí ἡìᾶò ὁ èÝïò . Those who take åἰ for åἰ ìÞ , attempt to justify it by referring to 2Sa_12:22; Joe_2:14; Jon_3:9, where the LXX. have for Heb. íִé éåֹøֵòַ , ôßò ïἶäåí åἰ to express hope: but in every one of these passages the verb stands in the emphatic position, and the LXX. used this very expression to signify uncertainty.” Alford. These arguments seem conclusive. They are received also by Billr. and Neander, and are virtually advanced by Kling, in the 1st Ed. President Wolsey, in his very carefully digested articles on Divorce, in the New Englander for Jan., Ap. and July, 1867, which are well worthy of study on this whole subject, says of the attempt to make this a dissuasive against separation: “Logic will not bend to this meaning.” Words., Barnes and Hodge, however, do not admit their force. The latter says, “it is contrary to the whole animus of the Apostle. He is evidently laboring throughout these verses to prevent all unnecessary disruptions of social ties.” No such special pleading, however, is apparent. If there be a point aimed at, it would seem rather to be to put the believer in the highest spiritual condition preparatory to the coming of Christ, that his obligations previously incurred would admit of. And this liberation from the bondage of a heathen partner, ‘who has departed,’ is one of the blessings he secures. Yet it must be added, that while the grammatical argument, and some of the logical bearings, support Kling’s view, the sentiment involved in the other interpretation is thoroughly Scriptural (1Pe_3:1-2), and is favored by most interpreters because of its gracious tone. Most of the Homiletical and Practical remarks cited in this section proceed upon it.]

Obs. 1. Our passage, especially 1Co_7:15, forms, as is well known, the Scripture ground for divorce on account of malicious desertion. But the support given is not direct or absolutely reliable. The Apostle is here speaking only of mixed marriages, in which the will of the unbelieving party is the chief thing under consideration. But for purely Christian marriages there is no other ground allowed in Scripture for divorce but adultery or fornication, which is an actual rupture of the marriage tie. The only question therefore is, whether the language of Christ is to be interpreted as giving a law literally and universally obligatory, or only laying down a principle which admits of being applied analogically, so that other circumstances also that are in fact a breaking of the bond, may be taken as furnishing good ground for divorce. In the latter case, malicious desertion would very properly be regarded as one of these circumstances.

Obs. 2. In regard to the phrase, ‘is not under bondage’ (1Co_7:15), the question arises, whether, according to the intent of the Apostle, a second marriage is allowed or forbidden. The words themselves express neither the one nor the other, and it is altogether arbitrary to supply the clause: ‘but let her remain unmarried,’ from 1Co_7:11. Rather we may say with Meyer: “Because Paul does not apply our Lord’s prohibition of divorce to mixed marriages, he does not intend also to apply his prohibition of a second marriage in Mat_5:22 to such cases.”

[“Although a Christian may not put away his wife, being an unbeliever, yet if the wife desert her husband, he may contract a second marriage. Hence even Romish divines declare that in this case marriage is not indissoluble. Thus A. Lapide says here: ‘Observe that the Apostle in this case not only permits divorce of bed (thori divortium), but also of matrimony; so that the believing spouse is at liberty to contract a second marriage. Otherwise a brother or sister would be subject to servitude. And it is a great servitude to be held fast in matrimony, bound to an unbeliever; so that even though the latter desert you, you are not able to marry again, but must contain yourself and lead a single life.’ And in support of this opinion he refers to St. Augustine, de Adulterinis Conjugiis, c. 13 and 19. St. Thomas and Ambrosiast., who says: ‘The respect of a spouse is not due to him who contemns the Author of marriage, but a person is at liberty to unite himself to another.’ ” Words., who singularly contradicts this view in his comments on the next verse].

1Co_7:17. If not to each one as the Lord hath distributed, each one, as God hath called, so let him walk.—There are two points here in regard to which commentators differ: 1. The connection with what precedes, formed by åἰ ìÞ ; 2. The relation of the parallel clauses, beginning with ὡò : as,—whether they express essentially the same idea or different ideas. As it respects the second point, it is clear from what is specified in 1Co_7:18 ff., that Paul is here speaking of that position in life in which each one finds himself when called to be a Christian. The first of these clauses, then, designates this position as a lot appointed to each one by the Lord [“it is a dramatic metaphor, which will bring to mind a celebrated passage in Hamlet.” Bloomfield]; the second, as a position in which he received his call to salvation. It is to this position that the particles “as” and “so” refer. The two clauses, then, are not tautological. The use of the title ‘Lord,’ in connection with ‘distributeth’ ( ἐìÝñéóå ) is somewhat remarkable, since Paul generally employs this title of Christ. From this fact we are to explain the change of place between the two words, ‘the Lord’ and ‘God’ in the received text; since the former would rather be regarded as the subject of the verb ‘call,’ although the act of calling is also frequently referred back to God. This difficulty has led some to regard ‘gifts’ as the implied object of ‘distributed,’ i.e., the higher and Divinely-conferred qualifications for the state and calling of individuals (comp. 1Co_7:7). Thus Osiander, Bengel, and others. But in 1Co_7:7, the gift, which would then be treated of here, is referred back to God; and in the exposition which follows, so far from there being any hint of this, one would rather suppose that ‘Lord’ was to be taken as synonymous with ‘God.’ This might be explained on the score of a wish merely to change the form of expression, and of the fact that Paul was here speaking of the act of Lordship. The explanation of Reiche, who refers the words, “as the Lord hath distributed,” to the beneficence of Christ (comp. Meyer, ed. 3), is neither supported by the context nor warranted by the position they occupy before the words, ‘as God hath called.’

In respect to the first point, however, viz: the connection of this verse with the preceding by åἰ ìÞ , it must be confessed that an explanation altogether satisfactory does not exist. If we supply ÷ùñßæåôáé from 1Co_7:15, or óþáåéò from 1Co_7:16, then it would have read: åἰ äὲ ìÞ , or åἰ äὲ êáὶ ìÞ , and this would be a decided objection, apart from all other considerations arising from the unsuitableness of the idea obtained, viz: ‘but if she should not depart,’ or: ‘if thou dost not save her.’—If, again, we join åἰ ìç to what directly precedes, making it mean, or not, this would be both ungrammatical (hence the variation ἤ ìÞ ), and would only weaken the force of the question.—If, moreover, we should refer the clause åἰ ìÞ ὁ êýñéïò to the preceding words, this would be to rend asunder parallel clauses most unjustifiably, and the consequent explanation, nisi prout guemque Dominus adjuverit, would be both flat and inconsistent with the meaning of the words themselves. To take åἰ ìÞ as equivalent to ἀëëÜ , is contrary to usage.—If we render the words by: ‘only,’ then there is no suitable connection with the foregoing sentence; for to go back, as de Wette does, to ‘is not bound’ would be a very questionable overleaping of what intervened. But, not to say anything of the fact that it does indeed serve for the confirmation of ïὐ äåäïýëùôáé , yet it does not suit, inasmuch as the contents of 1Co_7:17 would then be put in entire contradiction to the above statement ( ïõ äåäïý .). We should then be obliged to supply some phrase like this: ‘in case that condition, viz: the departure of the unbelieving party, does not occur.’ It still remains for us, with Grotius and Meyer, to attach åἰ ìÞ to 1Co_7:16, in the sense of except, or unless, and to supply ïἴäáôå , you know, from 1 Corinthians 16 : ‘unless ye (know this, your obligation), let every one walk, etc.’ How hard this construction is, every one can perceive; where, instead of going straight on with the words: ‘that it is necessary for us so to walk as God hath called each one,’ we have the abrupt introduction of the imperative form. Besides, there arises also an incongruity between the contents of 1Co_7:16 and 1Co_7:17. (See what has been observed above). We prefer here to allow a (philological) non-liquet, and accept Bengel’s translation, which is most in accordance with the course of thought: ‘if this be not so, otherwise (ceteroquin).’ We might, perhaps, take åἰ ìÞ in the sense of if not, and understand it to imply: ‘provided no element comes in to destroy the purpose of the Divine calling’ (1Co_7:15), as in the case mentioned,—the desertion of the unbelieving party. [Is it not, after all, the simplest method to consider this as resuming the implication of the previous question, and making it the basis of the following injunction, q. d. ‘How knowest thou whether thou wilt convert thy husband? If not, if thou canst not know this fact, then let each one go quietly on his course, as the Lord has marked it out for him in his Providence. If it be to be deserted and left alone, let him accept that destiny, and not fight against it to the aggravation of all difficulties.’ In such a view of the words we have no need of inserting a äÝ . We would no more need it in Greek than in English. The argument is here on the rapids, and its flow is far from smooth].

[As to the two clauses, they are, as Kling asserts, by no means tautological, but seem to imply more than he states. In the first, Paul confines himself to the allotment of Providence in the case of desertion. But he at once recollects himself, as standing upon a broad principle, applicable not only to the parties directly in view, and their particular allotments ( ἐìÝñéóåí ), but also to all conditions and callings in life ( êÝêëçêå ). And here we see the reason why, in the first instance, he uses the term ὁ êýñéïò , the Lord, evidently referring to Christ. To the deserted one he intimates that it is the dear Saviour after all that rules in the lot, and it is not contrary to his or her salvation. It is a touch of tenderness. But when at once his view expands to all vocations and conditions of humanity, he uses the more seemingly universal epithet, God ( ὀ èÝïò ). And then it was natural for him to add]—and so I ordain in all churches.—He here shows the great breadth of the principle he enjoined, and the emphasis he put upon it. It was nothing framed for the case of the Corinthians alone, but ran through all his teachings. Hence, they were the more bound to abide by it. Each one every where was to continue walking ( ðåñéðáôåῖí ) in that course of life, and in that outward state, where Christianity found him. This thought afterwards is more definitely expressed by ìÝíåéí . “Here we learn the general fact that Christianity does not disturb existing relations, so far as they are not sinful, but only aims to infuse into them a new spirit. Hence, it opposes every thing revolutionary.” Neander.

1Co_7:18-19. Has any man been called who has been circumcised?—In illustrating his general precept, he takes into consideration, first, the religious position of the individual, with its outward token showing whether he was a Jew or not when making a profession of Christianity. In the one case, as little as in the other, does he approve of a change being attempted; because nothing at all depended upon these external signs, but every thing (comp. 1Co_3:7) upon the keeping of God’s commandments (comp. Rom_2:25 ff.),—upon the faith which works by love (Gal_5:6). In opposition to the externality of such self-chosen God-service he insists upon the moral character—the obedience that involves faith (comp. 1Jn_3:23) as that which alone has or imparts value for the kingdom of God (comp. Calvin and Osiander). In 1Co_7:18, as also afterwards in 1Co_7:21, some take the clauses to be questions; others as hypothetical statements. The latter is the more emphatic. Yet we might also regard them as direct assertions, as for example: “There is one who has been called, etc., let him not become uncircumcised.” The word ἐðéóðᾶóèáé denotes the drawing of the prepuce again over the glands—its artificial restoration which was effected by a surgical operation. This was often practised by the Jews of a later time, both when they lapsed into paganism, and when, from shame or fear of the heathen, in times of persecution, they wished to hide their nationality, and, also, when they appeared naked as combatants in public sports (comp. 1Ma_1:15; Josephus Antiq. xii. 5, 1; and Sübkert Stud. and Crit., 1835, p. 657 ff.). Such were called ñְùׁøּ ëִéí , recutiti. A like measure must have been resorted to by the Corinthian Jewish converts, who wished not to be behind the converts from heathenism in their entire abandonment of the law, and who, therefore, wished to wipe out all trace of Judaism from their persons.—Was any one called in uncircumcision ἐí ἀêñïâõóôßá , as in Rom_4:10 (comp. Act_15:1). The desire of the heathen converts to become circumcised we are to regard as a Jewish reaction against all such Hellenism. Both 1Co_7:18-19 are asyndetic by way of giving life and emphasis to the style.—Let him not be circumcised. The circumcision is nothing, and the uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping of the commandments of God.—[Supply: ‘that, indeed, is something, yea, everything.’ “In this, as in the two exactly parallel passages, Gal_5:6; Gal_6:15, the first clause is the same. ‘Circumcision availeth nothing, nor uncircumcision;’ thus asserting the two sides of the Apostle’s principle of indifference to the greatest of the Jewish ceremonies, exemplified in his conduct by the circumcision of Timotheus on the one hand, and by the refusal to circumcise Titus on the other. The peculiar excellence of the maxim is its declaration, that those who maintain the absolute necessity of rejecting forms, are as much opposed to the freedom of the Gospel, as those who maintain the absolute necessity of retaining them. In contradistinction to this positive or negative ceremonialism, he gives, in the several clauses of each of these texts, his description of what he maintains to be really essential. The variation of the three passages thus become valuable, as exhibiting in their several forms the Apostle’s view of the essentials of Christianity—‘Keeping the commandments of God,’ ‘Faith working by love,’ ‘A new creature.’ These describe the same threefold aspect of Christianity with regard to man, which, in speaking of God, is described under the names of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. In this passage, where man is viewed chiefly in his relation to the natural order of the world, the point which the Apostle wished to impress upon his hearers was, that in whatever station of life they were, it was still possible to observe the ‘commandments of God’ (perhaps with an implied reference to the two great commandments, Mat_22:36-39). In the two passages in the Epistle to the Galatians (1Co_7:6; 1Co_6:15), the more distinct reference to faith in Christ, and to the new creation wrought by His Spirit, is brought out by the more earnest and impassioned character of the argument.” Stanley].

1Co_7:20-22. Each one in the calling in which he is called, in this let him abide.—Paul here goes back to his general rule, thus finishing up the special application in 1Co_7:18, and introducing another illustration. The demonstrative, ‘in this,’ comes in by way of emphasis. The êëῆóéò , however, does not denote vocation, a position in life determined by the Divine Providence; for it nowhere else occurs with this meaning. (In Dion. H. the word êëÞóåéò is used to denote the distinctions among the citizens at Rome, i. e., classes, which, however, does not mean the same thing). Rather we might say, with Bengel, that it denotes “the state in which the Divine calling finds one, which is instar vocationis: as a calling.” [“As he was called, so let him remain.” Robinson]. But as applied, usage is against it. In the New Testament êëῆóéò is uniformly used to denote the calling or invitation unto God’s Kingdom. This goes out broadly to all men, of every condition in life, addressing them as they are. It says, ‘thou circumcised one, thou uncircumcised, thou slave, thou freeman, believe on the Lord Jesus!’ It takes the man, therefore, as he is, in his own peculiar position in society, and in this way designates this position as compatible with Christianity, and capable of being sanctified by it. Hence, no surrender of it is required. On the contrary, the injunction is to abide therein. So we at last reach the above-mentioned sense of the word, but not in such a way as to imply that êëῆóéò carries in itself this signification of a peculiar vocation. [Of course the injunction here given is supposed to be limited by the obvious consideration that there is nothing in the person’s condition which is inconsistent with the Divine vocation. If there be, a change will be necessitated.]—As a slave art thou called.—After specifying in 1Co_7:18 the religious distinction, which divided the entire human race at that time in respect to its outward token, and pronouncing it indifferent in relation to the kingdom of God, he comes now to the great distinction that existed in social life,—that between slaves and freemen, and affirms that a position of servitude even is by no means inconsistent with that of a Christian, and, therefore, that the slave, who becomes a believer, need not be troubled about changing his outward state.—Let it not concern youi.e., as though you, in this external bondage, could not, as a Christian, and as a freeman, pray or serve God; and must be curtailed of your Christian rights.—But if also thou art able to become free, use it rather, ἀëëἀ åἰ êáὶ äýíáóáé åëåýèåñïò ãåíÝóèáé , ìᾶëëïí ÷ñῆóáé . The meaning here is much disputed. Some supplement ÷ñῆóáé with ôῇ ἐëåõèåñßá , from åëåýèåñïò , take ἀëëÜ as equivalent to: ‘but’ (aber), and attach êáὶ , not to the whole sentence, but to åëåýèåñïò , and translate: ‘but if thou mayest in any way also become free, use this freedom rather.’ But against this it is justly objected: 1. that êáὶ ought in that case to stand before åëåýèåñïò , and 2. that what immediately precedes and what follows (1Co_7:22), as well as the scope of the whole clause, does not indicate that he is exhorting the slave to seek a change in condition. Rather the whole drift of the argument is the other way—to make men content with their lot, and so favors the other explanation, that which regards ἀëëÜ as equivalent to: sondern, on the contrary, and åἰ êáß to mean: even though, and makes the being called as a slave, the object of ÷ñῆóáé ; and then translates: ‘but even though thou mayest be made free, use your servitude rather, [as a means of discipline, and an opportunity for glorifying God by showing fidelity therein]. It may be said, indeed, that this conflicts with the general spirit of the Apostle. But in opposition to this Meyer justly observes: that the advice to improve opportunities for becoming free, which was rendered unimportant and trivial by the anticipation of the speedy advent of Christ, was, on the other hand, by no means incompatible with the exalted idea of Paul, that all men were one in Christ (Gal_3:28), and that in Christ the slave was free, and the freeman was a slave (1Co_7:22). Compare also Bengel (who adds explanatorily: for he, who might become free, has a kind master, whom it were better to serve than to seek other avocations, 1Ti_6:2, comp. 1Co_7:22 : and sets aside the apparent contradiction between this and 1Co_7:23, by saying: it is not said then, ‘be not,’ but ‘become not the servants of men’), and Osiander, who, in the end, observes, that the severity of the advice becomes moderated by the consideration of the very tolerable condition of slaves in the civilized States of Greece, where, in many respects, they enjoyed the protection of law, and the masters did not have the power of life and death over them. “The question assumes a different aspect altogether in the slave States of North America; for there the slaves are prevented from becoming Christians, and in this way good care is taken that the fundamental principles respecting the position of Christian slaves cannot come into application. And this is one of the most frightful violations of Christian principle.” Burger. [Thank God! we can put this into the past tense now].

for the slave who was called in the Lord is a freeman of the Lord, in like manner he who was called as a freeman is a slave of Christ.—The advice just given, is here sustained by a general truth, and the person who was called as a slave is comforted in respect to his condition. The Apostle shows how the converted slave must estimate his relation to Christ, viz., as swallowing up all the evils of his earthly lot, and conferring on him a blessed emancipation; and how the freeman has to regard his relation to Christ, viz., as one that puts him under obligations to obey. Mark the connection between the phrases ‘in the Lord’ and ‘of the Lord.’—By ‘called in the Lord,’ he signifies either, that which the calling involves, i.e., to be in Christ; or, what is simpler, the Being in whom the call is grounded. Or it may even denote the sphere in which the calling is to be fulfilled—the element in which the person called is to live. Hence it may be equivalent to: has become a Christian.—In the expression: ‘the Lord’s freeman,’ the Lord will, of course, not be understood as the person who had liberated the individual in question from His own service; since it was in Satan’s service that he was previously bound, but as the one to whom he belonged in consequence of his liberation from the yoke of the other, and for which he was under deep obligations to his deliverer. Yet he belongs to Christ, not as a slave, but as a freeman, since in the sphere of Christ there is liberty (comp. 2Co_3:17; Joh_8:32; Joh_8:36); there all slavery is done away, and the persons so liberated become His possession.—Of course the freedom here spoken of is moral and religious freedom—deliverance from the bonds of guilt, and from the power of sin; just as in the antithesis, the servitude meant is a state of moral and religious obligation to Christ—of absolute inward dependence on His grace and will. The points here contrasted belong together, as complements of each other (comp. Rom_6:16 if.). “Hence the distinction between master and slave is here virtually obliterated. To be the Lord’s freeman, and to be the Lord’s slave, are the same thing. The Lord’s freeman is one whom the Lord has redeemed from Satan, and made His own; and the Lord’s slave is also one whom Christ has purchased for Himself. So that master and slave stand on the same level before Christ. Comp. Eph_6:9.” Hodge.]

1Co_7:23-24. Ye were bought with a price.—The thought of belonging to Christ leads to the ground of this relation, viz., the purchase of the believer by Him (comp. 1Co_6:20).—From this the exhortation follows, not to be faithless to the obligation thus imposed, by coming under servitude to men.—become not the servants of men.—As the transition to the plural shows, he is here addressing the Corinthians at large. What he dissuades them from, is not simply men-pleasing in general, and compliance with their immoral demands; nor yet undue attachment to human guides; but rather such a subserviency to popular opinion as would cause them to seek a change in their external social position (so Fritzsche and Meyer). Paul is here showing the Christian slaves a trace of freedom, even under their outward yoke. The slaves who are obedient to their masters for the Lord’s sake (1Pe_2:13, belong in truth to no man. Hence, no Christian, dearly purchased and called from sin, death and the devil, to true liberty, should make himself so dependent on man, as to imagine that he was not really free, even though he had a master over him (Besser).—Less in accordance with the immediate connection Osiander says: “No one should abrogate his true freedom, or his true subjection, by sacrificing his faith to unbelieving masters or companions.” To suppose a reference here to slaves, implying that they should not serve men merely (Eph_6:6); or to freemen, that they should not dispose of their liberty; or, which would be better, that they should not become morally subject to men, is unwarranted.—The whole digression from 1Co_7:17 [entered upon by way of illustration], he concludes with an exhortation essentially the same as in 1Co_7:20.—Wherein each one was called, brethren, in that let him remain with God,—Here also the emphasis is on the words “in that” ( ἐí ôïýôù ); and its antecedent denotes that relation in life which a person occupied when called. The adjunct ‘with God’ ( ðáñὰ èåῷ ) is somewhat peculiar. It may mean: directing his mind towards God as in His presence (= ἐíþðéïí ôïῦ èåïí ͂); or: as in God’s sight, tanquam in spectante Deo, (Grotius); (comp. Psa_23:2; Eph_6:6), or: in communion with God. The injunction would then be: ‘let every one continue in his original condition and relations; and yet so conduct his affairs as not to disturb his fellowship with God in them.’ The last interpretation is undoubtedly to be preferred as introducing a new thought more definitely, and such a one too as refers that which is hinted at in 1Co_7:23, to its proper connection with the absolute principle of Christian life. [“To live near to God is, therefore, the Apostle’s prescription both for peace and holiness.” Hodge.]

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. Christianity as the absolute religion is distinguished by the fact, that it takes up into its own sphere every legitimate occupation or function in life; and either ennobles it by its sanctifying power, or allows it as something indifferent, so far as its spiritual work is concerned. The contrasts in religion between Jews and Heathen, externally symbolized by circumcision and uncircumcision, vanish in the Christian sphere; there the only thing which is held valid and imparts value, is the entering of man, with his entire personality, into holy covenant with God. This takes place by faith—faith which works by love; so that the uncircumcised, who is thus found in faith, is like to the circumcised, who in like manner believes. Hence, neither the one nor the other has any reason for passing out from his own state into that of the other; as though circumcision, the token of bondage to the law, were unworthy of a Christian who has been freed from the law; or as though uncircumcision, the sign of a position outside the covenant and promise, were a hinderance to a participation in the same.—The contrasts also of civil life, such as those which exist between the slave and the free, likewise vanish, so far as it respects the inward life. The slave, as be longing to Christ, is a freeman, bound only inwardly to Christ, whom he serves in everything which he has either to do or suffer in his position; since he does and suffers everything for His sake, or because it is the will of his Lord that he should do and suffer that which his position involves, and thus should honor Him, and prove that communion with Christ makes a servant faithful and zealous. On the other hand, the freeman, as a Christian, is bound to Christ; his acts proceed not from caprice, but in constant subjection to Christ’s will. As a person who is outwardly dependent on another, is a freeman when in communion with Christ, since in his devotion to Christ, all dependence upon other men is done away; so is the person who is outwardly independent of another, made a servant by his connection with Christ, since in his entire dependence on Christ, all arbitrariness, arising from his outward independence, is removed. Thus are both essentially alike; and the slave has no reason to strive after a change of his external position, as if his dignity as a free Christian man were conditioned upon it.

It is altogether another thing, however, when within the limits of Christendom a mighty irrepressible reaction arises against slaveholding, on the part of such as wish to be Christians, and to be counted a part of Christendom. For men who are destined one day to have part in Christ, the Son of Man, the Saviour of all (even though they have not as yet any actual part in Him), are even, on this account, bound to have their personality respected, and are not to be treated always as chattels. It is inconsistent, therefore, with the spirit of Christianity, for such as pass for Christians, to presume on perpetuating bondage; and Christendom ought not to rest until it has wiped out this stain. For such has been the tendency of the Gospel from the beginning. Ever since the first centuries, in proportion as Christianity has gained the ascendency, has it operated more and more to put an end to slavery.

2. Christian Freedom.—There is something great in the freedom of a Christian, into which he has been lifted by faith—a freedom wherein he is freed from all things, and is independent of all, and yet, through love, is the servant of all. (See Luther’s remarkable treatise, which has this title). In that faith, which apprehends the eternal word of God, and beholds the unseen and future world disclosed therein, he acquires the pilgrim sense, which looks on the fashion of this world as passing away, and keeps from all entanglement in its business, in its connections and possessions, in its use and enjoyment; nor allows himself to be captivated by it. Yet, on the other hand, so long as he is outwardly occupied with it, he overlooks or neglects nothing; but rather bestows upon it all requisite duty, care, and oversight; attending to it, while he stands inwardly about it. His chief occupation, viz: his care for the kingdom of God and for a participation in it, he in no way suffers to be disturbed; and, for the sake of the highest good, he is always ready to sacrifice everything else, however dear; indeed, in all his having, and holding, and using, he is intent only upon how he can serve the Lord, further His ends, prove himself to be His follower, and do every thing in His name and to his honor (1Co_10:31. Col_3:17).—So also in marriage he aims at the same thing, by his tender solicitude for his wife, by pious domestic discipline, by acquisition of a livelihood, by skill and fidelity in the use and enjoyment of temporal goods, by moderation, beneficence, etc. The same holds good, also, of joy and sorrow, and of the various experiences arising from the vicissitudes of life. In this also does the Christian maintain his inward freedom. Not that he is devoid of feeling—not that he affects a stoical apathy; rather, in the midst of deep emotions, his aim is to preserve a mastery over self, and keep composed in God; so that joy ever resolves itself into filial gratitude; and pain, into filial resignation; he is enthralled by no affections, he is carried away by no passionate desires.

[3. Importance of unity of religious faith in married life.—According to its true ideal, marriage is the union of a man and woman in their entire personalities, and for their entire earthly existence. Being mutual complements of each other, they combine to form a larger and complex whole; “for they are no more twain but one flesh.” But in order to the perfection and harmony of this union, and for the fulfilment of ends for which it was instituted, it is necessary that there be a prevailing fellowship in thought and feeling, in ends and aims, in interests and pursuits, not only in respect to their natural, but also in respect to their spiritual life. Thus only can their influence on each other be kindly, and they prove mutual helpers in joy and sorrow, in cares and labors; thus only can they properly contribute to the happy development of each other’s character, and suitably coöperate for the training of their children and management of their household; thus only can that good be realized, in all its fulness, which was contemplated when it was ordained that ‘man should not live alone.’

It follows, therefore, that precisely to the extent that the fellowship above spoken of fails, there will be a lack of sympathy and coöperation, and occasion furnished for alienation, strife and separation. The perfect oneness of the flesh is in danger of being interrupted and broken, when there is not also oneness of spirit. And to such evil and bitter consequences do those Christians expose themselves who become voluntarily allied in marriage to the children of this world. Supposing their faith sincere, the bond which unites them to their partners can only be the lower one of the natural life. In all their deeper experiences, in all their more important hopes and aims, there is essential and irreconcilable antagonism. “For what fellowship hath ighteousness with unrighteousness? and what Communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? and what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” Harmony, in such cases, can be preserved only by “agreement to disagree,” or by an inconsistent and irksome compliance of each with the wishes of the other in the greater part of those pursuits and pleasures which involve their common action. And when there is not in the worldling a conviction of the superior worth of religion, and a considerate affection, which tolerates what it cannot share in, the effect upon the religious life of the other can only be disastrous. Instead of that kindly sympathy and furtherance so needful to the cultivation of piety, there is perpetual obstruction interposed in the way of every higher duty. Household religion becomes impossible. And so also the religious instruction and training which the Christian parent would exercise upon the children, is neutralized by the irreligious example of the other.

For such evil results there can be no responsibility incurred when conversion has taken place after marriage. But those who have voluntarily hazarded them under earthly inducements must bear the burden of the blame and take the consequences, as the penalty for consenting to be unequally yoked, contrary to the very nature of the marriage rite. For the Christian the condition of a blessed marriage is, “in the Lord.” This is at once highest reason and Divine precept].

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

[1Co_7:12-24. This section shows 1. the method in which Christianity entered into, and revolutionized human society. 1. It assailed no existing social institutions from without; marriages, callings, conditions were to remain as they were. 2. It wrought from within, sanctifying and ennobling the individual character. 3. It employed the existing bonds of society, as conductors through which to diffuse its saving power—sanctifying wives through husbands, and husbands through wives; children through parents, and parents through children, and even servants through masters, and masters through servants. 4. It aimed at the preservation of peace, as far as possible, in consistency with being in God. 5. It ignored outward distinctions—counting the external condition as of little moment, in comparison with the inward state. 7. It begot contentment with the outward estate, by imparting a blessing which more than counterbalanced all earthly ill. 8. It reconciled the opposite poles of human condition, freedom and obligation in the love it engendered, making the slave a freeman, and putting the freeman under obligations to serve, and making all alike free, and alike obligated. And 9. It placed all in the presence of God, in whose sight it constrained believers to