Pulpit Commentary - 1 Corinthians 7:1 - 7:40

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Pulpit Commentary - 1 Corinthians 7:1 - 7:40

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Answers to the inquiries of the Corinthians respecting marriage.


The lawfulness of marriage, and its duties.


Now concerning.
This refers to questions of the Corinthians. It is good for a man not to touch a woman. The word used is not agathon, good, but kalon, fair; "an excellent thing." In 1Co_7:26
he limits the word by the clause, "good for the present necessity." There is no limitation here, and it is probable that St. Paul is quoting the actual words of the letter which he had received from Corinth. There had sprung up among them some antinomians, who, perhaps by perverting his own teaching or that of Apollos, had made liberty a cloak of lasciviousness. In indignant reaction against such laxity, others, perhaps, with Essene proclivities, had been led to disparage matrimony as involving an inevitable stain. Gnosticism, and the spirit which led to it, oscillated between the two extremes of asceticism and uncleanness. Both extremes were grounded on the assertion that matter is inherently evil. Ascetic Gnostics, therefore, strove to destroy by severity every carnal impulse; antinomian Gnostics argued that the life of the spirit was so utterly independent of the flesh that what the flesh did was of no consequence. We find the germs of Gnostic heresy long before the name appeared. Theoretically, St. Paul inclines to the ascetic view, not in the abstract, but in view of the near advent of Christ, and of the cares, distractions, and even trials which marriage involved in days of struggle and persecution. Yet his wisdom is shown in the cautious moderation with which he expresses himself. The tone of the letter written by Gregory the Great to Augustine with reference to similar inquiries about Saxon converts is very different. The example of St. Paul should have shown the mediaeval moralists and even the later Fathers how wrong it is "to give themselves airs of certainty on points where certainty is not to be had." Not to touch a woman. St. Paul means generally "not to marry" (comp. Gen_20:4 [LXX.]). Celibacy under the then existing conditions of the Christian world is, he admits, in itself an honourable and morally salutary thing, though, for the majority, marriage may be a positive duty. He is not dreaming of the nominal marriages of mediaeval ascetics, for he assumes and directs that all who marry should live in conjugal union.


. In this single word St. Paul practically refutes all the dangerous and unwarrantable inferences drawn by St. Jerome and others from the previous clause. St. Jerome argues: "If it is good for a man not to touch a woman, it must be bad to do so, and therefore celibacy is a holier state than marriage." He also says, "I suspect the goodness of a thing which the greatness of another evil enforces as a lesser evil." Such reasoning shows:

1. The danger of pressing words to the full extent of the logical inferences which may be deduced from them.

2. The errors which always arise from arguing upon isolated texts dissevered from their context, and from all consideration of the circumstances under which they were written.

3. The necessity of following the guidance of the Holy Spirit when he shows, by history and experience, the need for altering precepts with reference to altered conditions. There is in celibacy a moral beauty—it is kalon; there are cases in which it becomes a duty. But in most cases marriage, being no less a duty, as St. Paul proceeds to show, is even fairer and more excellent. Neither state, the wedded or the unwedded, is in itself more holy than the other. Each has its own honour and loveliness, and can only be judged of in connection with surrounding circumstances. Those who make St. Paul judge slightingly of marriage contradict his own express rules and statements (Eph_5:24
, Eph_5:31, Eph_5:32; 1Ti_2:15), and make him speak the current heathen language of heathen epicures, who, to the great injury of morals, treated marriage as a disagreeable necessity, which was, if possible, to be avoided. If the "it is a good thing" of St. Paul in 1Co_7:1 were to be taken absolutely, it would have to be corrected

(1) by the example of Christ, who beautified with his presence the marriage at Cana (Joh_2:1, Joh_2:2);

(2) by the primeval law which said, "It is not good for man to be alone" (Gen_2:18); and

(3) by the fact that marriage is the chosen analogue of the relation between Christ and his Church. But the very phrase he uses, as will be seen by reference to 1Co_9:15; Mat_15:26; Rom_14:21, etc., is a relative not an absolute one, and St. Paul uses it here concessively, but with the object of pointing out limitations which almost reversed it. To avoid fornication; rather, because o f fornication; i.e. because of the many forms of impurity which were current every where, but especially at Corinth. Some have argued that St. Paul takes a "low" and "poor" view of marriage by regarding it only in the light of a remedy against fornication. The answer is:

1. That the reason which he assigns is a true reason in itself, and with reference to the masses of mankind; for which reason it is adopted by our Church in her Marriage Service.

2. He is addressing those who were living in a corrupt and semi-heathen atmosphere.

3. He is not here speaking of the idealized and spiritual aspect of marriage, but only of large practical necessities. When he speaks of marriage as a high Christian mystery (as in 2Co_11:2; Eph_5:22-33), he adopts a very different tone. Let every man have. A rule, not a mere permission. He here implies the truth that married love bears no analogy whatever to the vagae libidines of those who live like "natural brute beasts." In marriage the sensuous impulse, by being controlled and placed under religious sanctions is refined and purified from a degradation into a sacrament. Instead of being any longer the source of untold curses to mankind, it becomes the condition of their continuance and an element in their peace, because it is then placed under the blessing of God and of his Church.


Due benevolence.
An euphemistic and needless modification by the copyists of the pure and simple expression of St. Paul, which, as shown by the best manuscripts, is "her due"—debitum tori. St. Paul is evidently entering on these subjects, not out of any love for them; but because all kinds of extreme views—immoral indifference and over scrupulous asceticism—had claimed dominance among the Corinthians.


The wife hath not power,
Marriage is not a capricious union, but a holy bond. "They two" become "one flesh."


Defraud ye not.
St. Paul purposely leaves the expression general. Primarily he is thinking of "the due" or "the power" which each has over the other, as is shown by the next verse; but he does not confine the expression to this. Except it be; literally, unless by chance. The exception he regards as something possible, but not normal. For a time. By this and the next words he disparages, by anticipation, the celibate and separate married lives which, in a corrupt age, were so much and so unwisely admired in the ascetic saints of the Middle Ages. Temporary separation for special reasons had been recognized from the earliest times (Exo_19:15
; 1Sa_21:4). Ye may give yourselves; rather, ye may have leisure. The verb is in the aorist, which shows that the "leisure" contemplated was for brief periods, not during continuous years. It was altered to the present by the officious copyists, who believed in external and mechanical rules of holiness. To fasting and prayer. "Fasting" is an ascetic interpolation, not found in à , A, B, C, D, F. On this interpolation, and perhaps on the analogy of the rule given by Moses at Sinai (Exo_19:15), rose the practice of married persons living apart at Lent (Stanley). Come together again. The prepossessions of ascetic scribes have again tampered with the text. The true reading is, "be together again" ( ῆτε ), not "come together" ( συνέρχησθε ). For your incontinency; rather, because of. Their past lives and their present temptations were a warning that they could not lay on themselves burdens which God did not require. They should not strive

"...to wind themsleves to high

For sinful man beneath the sky."

Violent, unnatural, self tormenting, repressions beyond what God demands, and adopted without reference to the strength or the circumstances of individual natures, only tend, as all ascetics have confessed, to increase rather than to diminish the force of sensual temptations.


I speak this.
The "this" applies to his advice in general, but especially to the last verse. By permission. This phrase is generally misunderstood. It does not mean that St. Paul was permitted though not commanded to give this advice, but that his gentle advice was given "by way of permission" to Christians, not "by way of injunction." He means to say that he leaves the details of their lives, whether celibate or married, to their individual consciences, though with large hearted wisdom and charity he would emancipate them from human and unauthorized restrictions. The clause is not, therefore, a parallel to the restrictions on the authority of his utterances, such as we find in 1Co_7:12
, 1Co_7:29, 1Co_7:40, and in 2Co_8:10; 2Co_11:17.


For I would.
The verb here used is thelo (will). In 1Ti_5:14
he says, "I prefer (boulomai) that the younger women marry." Even as I myself; endowed, that is, with the gift of continence, which would (in the expected nearness of Christ's coming) render marriage needless, and the condition of man like that of the angels in heaven, who neither marry nor are given in marriage. His proper gift. The "gifts" alluded to are the "graces" (charismata) of the Holy Spirit; and the grace of perfect continence does not exist equally in all (Mat_19:11). One after this manner, and another after that. The remark is general, but also has its special application to continence and marriage (Mat_19:12).


To the unmarried;
including widowers. In my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:75-82, I have given my reasons for believing that St. Paul was a widower. It is good for them. It is an expedient, honourable, and morally "beautiful thing," but, as he so distinctly points out further on, there might be a "better" even to the "good." Even as I. In the unmarried state, whether as one who had never married, or, as I infer from various circumstances, as a widower (so too Clemens of Alexandria, Grotius, Luther, Ewald, etc.); see my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:169). Tertullian and Jerome (both of them biassed witnesses, and with no certain support of tradition) say that St. Paul was never married.


If they cannot contain;
rather, if they have not continency. Let them marry. In 1Ti_5:14 he lays down and justifies the same rule with reference to young widows. It is better to marry than to burn. The original tenses give greater force and beauty to this obvious rule of Christian common sense and morality. The "marry" is in the aorist—"to marry once for all," and live in holy married union; the "burn" is in the present—"to be on fire with concupiscence." Marriage once for all is better than continuous lust; the former is permitted, the latter sinful.


rather, but. Unto the married; to Christians who have already married. I command. This is an injunction, not a mere permission as in 1Co_7:6. Not I, but the Lord. Because the rule had been laid down by Christ himself. Let not the wife depart. By divorce or otherwise. The wife is mentioned, perhaps, because the Christian wife, in the new sense of dignity and sacredness which Christianity had bestowed upon her, might be led to claim this spurious freedom; or perhaps the Christian women of Corinth had been more impressed than their husbands by the Essene notions of purity. The exception of divorce being permissible in case of fornication is assumed (Mat_5:32; Mat_19:9).


If she depart.
The reference throughout the verse is to separation due to incompatibility of temper, etc.; not to legal divorce.


Directions about mixed marriages.


To the rest.
That is, to those who are married, but are heathen. They were the remaining class about whose duties the Corinthians had made inquiry. Not the Lord. The Lord had made no express reference to such eases, since it had been no part of his mission to lay down minute details which would be duly settled from age to age by the wisdom taught by the Holy Ghost. She be pleased to dwell with him. It is assumed that, if she did not please, the poor Christian convert would have no protection of his fights; pagan courts would regard conversion as a sufficient reason for breaking off marriages.


Let her not leave him.
The verb is the same as in the clause rendered "let him not put her away."


Is sanctified;
literally, has been sanctified, the status has been rendered (so to speak) theoretically clean. By the wife; literally, in the wife. The bond is still holy; its holiness rests in the believing wife or husband. The reasoning would remove any scruples which Jewish Christians might derive from Deu_7:3
, etc. By the husband; rather, in the brother. The liberty implied by these remarks, contrasting so strongly with the rigid rules laid down in the days of Ezra (Ezr_9:1-15.; Neh_9:1-38.) recall the change of dispensation. Unclean; i.e. not placed in immediate covenant relation to God. But now are they holy. This does not necessarily imply that they were baptized as infants, but only that they were hallowed as the fruit of a hallowed union. See the remarkable words of Malachi (Mal_2:15). "If the root be holy, so are the branches" (Rom_11:16).


If the unbelieving depart.
The sense of the word rendered "depart" is rather "wishes to be separated." Is not under bondage; literally, has not been enslaved. Our Lord assumes one cause alone—unfaithfulness—as adequate for the disruption of the marriage tie; but he was not contemplating, as St. Paul is, the case of mixed marriages. To peace; rather, in peace. Peace is to be the sphere in which the calling comes, and in which it issues. Milton, in his 'Tetrachordon,' quotes Maimonides to the effect that "divorce was permitted by Moses to preserve peace in marriage and quiet in the family." Similarly, a voluntary separation might be the only possible means of preserving moral peace where the union was between souls separated from each other by so vast a gulf as those of a pagan and a Christian.


For what knowest thou, O wife,
etc.? The meaning is as follows:—You may, perhaps, plead that, by refusing to sever the union, the believing partner may convert the unbelieving; but that possibility is too distant and uncertain on which to act. St. Peter does indeed show that so blessed a result is possible; but he is only speaking of cases in which the unbelieving husband did not wish the union to be dissolved. The ancient misinterpretation of the passage (due to neglect of the context and of the argument as a whole) viewed it as an argument for mixed marriages, founded on the chance of thereby winning souls. Most misinterpretations of Scripture have done deadly harm; this one, however, has been overruled for good, and led, as Dean Stanley points out, to such happy marriages as that of Clotilde with Clovis, and Bertha with Ethelbert of Kent.


Corroborative instances of the duty of remaining in the state wherein each was called.


literally, if not. The phrase introduces a caution. The rule is that the circumstances of our lives are regulated by the providence of God, and must not be arbitrarily altered at our own caprice. Christ allotted his portion to each Christian, God hath called each man; that lot and that call are to guide his life. "Qua positus fueris in statione mane" (Ovid). Hath distributed; rather, apportioned. So ordain I in all Churches. He proceeds to give specific instances to which his rule applies.


Being circumcised.
The first instance he gives is that of Judaism and paganism. The circumcised Jew is to remain circumcised; the uncircumcised Gentile is not to undergo circumcision. Become uncircumcised. The Hellenising Jews in the days of the priest Menelaus (l Macc 1Co_1:15
; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 12.5, 1) had discovered a process for obliterating the appearance of circumcision; such persons were known as masochim. St. Paul does not permit the adoption of this course. In the rebellion of Barcocheba many obliterated the sign of circumcision, and were afterwards, at great danger to themselves, recircumcised. ('Yevamoth,' tel. 72, 1). Let him not be circumcised. This rule was of much more practical significance than the other. The early fortunes of Christianity had been almost shipwrecked by the attempt of Jewish rigorists to enforce this odious bondage on the Gentiles, and their deliverance flora it had been due almost solely to St. Paul. It was his inspired insight which had swayed the decision of the synod at Jerusalem (Act_15:1-41.); and at a later period his Epistle to the Galatians was the manifesto of Gentile emancipation. He proved that after Christ's death "circumcision" (peritome) became to Gentiles a mere physical mutilation (katatome) (Php_3:2).


Circumcision is nothing.
The Jews regarded it as everything; and to make this assertion at so early an epoch of Christian history, required all the courage of St. Paul, and proved his grand originality. He was the first to prove to the Jews that circumcision had become a thing intrinsically indifferent, which might, under some circumstances, be desirable (as in the ease of Timothy), but could never be reckoned among essentials. And uncircumcision is nothing. The same sentence occurs three times in St. Paul, summing up, as it were, the liberty which it had cost him endless peril and anguish to achieve. Each time he concludes it with a weighty clause to show what is everything: "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (1Co_7:19
); "... but faith which worketh by love" (Gal_5:6); "... but a new creation" (Gal_6:15). But the keeping of the commandments. So St. John says, "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments."


Let every man abide in the same calling,
etc. In accordance with this general principle, which illustrates the distinction between Christianity and violent social revolutions, St. John the Baptist had not bidden publicans or soldiers to abandon their callings, but to do their duty in that state of life to which God had called them (Luk_3:12-14
). The "calling" alluded to is not what is described as "a vocation," a calling in life, but the condition in which we are when we are called by God.


Being a servant.
This is the second instance of the rule. One who was converted whilst he was a slave is not to strive over anxiously for freedom. The word "emancipation" sometimes seems (as in the letter to Philemon) to be "trembling on Paul's lips," but he never utters it, because to do so would have been to kindle social revolt, and lead to the total overthrow of Christianity at the very commencement of its career. Our Lord had taught the apostles to adapt means to ends; and the method of Christianity was to inculcate great principles, the acceptance of which involved, with all the certainty of a law, the ultimate regeneration of the world. Christianity came into the world as the dawn, not as the noon—a shining light, which brightened more and more unto the perfect day. Care not for it. Do not be troubled by the fact, because in Christ "there is neither bond nor free" (Gal_3:28
), and because earthly freedom is as nothing in comparison with the freedom which Christ gives (Joh_8:36). But if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. The words may mean,

(1) "use freedom"—avail yourself of the opportunity of emancipation; or

(2) "use slavery"—be content to remain a slave. In favour of the first interpretation is the fact that there is nothing extravagant or fantastic in Christian morality; and that, considering what ancient slavery was—how terrible its miseries, how shameful and perilously full of temptations were its conditions—it sounds unnatural to advise a Christian slave to remain a slave when he might gain his freedom. Yet the other interpretation, remain a slave by preference, seems to be required:

1. By the strict interpretation of the Greek particles.

2. By the entire context, which turns on the rule that each man should stay in the earthly condition in which he first received God's call.

3. By the fact that even the Stoic moralists—like Epictetus, who was himself a slave—gave similar advice (Epict., 'Dissert.,' 3:26; 'Enchir.,' 1Co_10:32.)

4. By the indifference which St. Paul felt and expressed towards mere earthly conditions (Gal_3:28), as things of no real significance (Col_3:22).

5. By his appeal to the nearness of the day of Christ (1Co_7:29-31).

6. By the preponderance of high authorities—Chrysostom, Theodoret, Luther, Bengel, De Wette, Meyer, Alford, etc.—in favour of this view

7. By its parallelism to the advice given to Christian slaves in 1Ti_6:2, where they are urged to serve Christian masters all the more zealously because they were brethren.

8. Lastly, all the apparent harshness of the advice is removed when we remember that St. Paul was probably thinking only of the Christian slaves of Christian masters, between whom the relation might be as happy as that of Philemon to the forgiven Onesimus.


Is the Lord's freeman;
rather, freedman. Clearly the entire bearing of this verse favours the view which we have taken of the previous verse. Christ's servant. The sharp antithesis of this verse was often present to the mind of the early Christians. They knew that the bondage of Satan was so crushing that mere earthly bondage was, in comparison, as nothing; and that the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, though it might seem to take the form of service, was the sole perfect freedom. The freedmen of sin are the most hopeless slaves; the servants of God alone are free (see Rom_6:22
; 2Ti_2:26; 1Pe_2:16).


Ye are bought with a price;
rather, ye were bought, namely, by Christ; and the price paid for you was his blood (see 1Co_6:20
; 1Pe_1:18, 1Pe_1:19). Be not ye; rather, become not. The servants of men. There is a grand play of words in the advice to them not to become slaves, at the very moment when he is advising them to continue in slavery. In that which the world called "slavery" the Christian slave might enjoy absolute liberty. The price which a master paid for them was but an unmeaning shadow; they had been bought once and eternally by an infinitely nobler price, and that purchase was the pledge of absolute emancipation.


Therein abide with God.
The verse is a summary and reiteration of the advice contained in the whole paragraph. "With God;" literally, by the side of God; "as in God's sight;" "doing service as to the Lord;" "for conscience towards God." The words sum up the essence of all apostolic counsels to Christian slaves in Eph_6:5-8
; 1Ti_6:1, 1Ti_6:2; Tit_2:9, Tit_2:10; 1Pe_2:18, 1Pe_2:19, etc.


Advice respecting the unmarried.


Now concerning virgins.
This is doubtless another reference to questions contained in the letter from Corinth. No commandment of the Lord. Christ had never directly dealt with this subject. I give my judgment. The word "commandment'' is rendered in the Vulgate consillum, and the word "judgment" praeceptum; and thus, as Stanley points out, has originated the modern Romish distinction between "precepts" and "counsels of perfection," which, however, have clearly no connection with the real meaning of the passage. To be faithful. As a steward of his Word, which is the first essential of true ministry (1Ti_1:12
). "Faith makes a true casuist" (Bengel).


I suppose.
St. Paul only states this modestly, and somewhat hesitatingly, as his personal opinion. For the present distress; rather, on account of the pressing necessity; in the urgent and trying conditions which at the present moment surround the Christian's life, and which were the prophesied "woes of the Messiah" (Mat_24:3
, etc.). For a man; rather, for a person—whether man or woman. Be to be; that is, unmarried. The words are not improbably a quotation from the Corinthian letter. Otherwise we might explain the "so" to mean "as he is—whether married or unmarried."


Seek not a wife.
It is entirely alien from St. Paul's purpose to take this as an abstract or universal rule. He gives his reasons for it as a temporary necessity.


But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned.
This advice merely touches on the question of expediency, not on questions of absolute right and wrong. Such. Those who marry. Trouble in the flesh. Their marriage will in these days necessarily involve much trouble and discomfort. Common experience shows that in days of "trouble and rebuke and blasphemy" the cares and anxieties of those who have to bear the burden of many besides themselves, and those dearer to them than their own selves, are far the most trying. Perhaps St. Paul was thinking of the "Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days," of our Lord (Luk_21:23
). But I spare you. I desire to spare you from adding to the inevitable distress which will fall upon you in "the great tribulation"—"the travail throes of the Messiah," which we all expect.


But this I say.
I will not dwell on those coming trials, but will only remind you that they are imminent, and that when they come all earthly distinctions will vanish into insignifiance. The time is short; literally, the season has been contracted; in other words, "The end of all things is at hand" (1Pe_4:7
). The word sunestalmenos cannot mean "disastrous." The verb is used for "folding up" in Act_5:6; "Tempus in collecto est" (Tertullian). It remaineth, that. The reading and punctuation are here uncertain. The best reading seems to be "The time has been shortened henceforth, in order that," etc. The very object of the hastened end is that Christians should sit loose to earthly interests. As though they had none. They would thus be nearer to the condition of the "angels in heaven."


They that weep,
etc. Earthly sorrow and joy and wealth are things which are merely transient and unreal when compared with the awful, eternal, permanent realities which we shall all soon have to face.


As not abusing it;
rather, as not using it to the full—not draining dry the cup of earthly advantages. Like Gideon's true heroes, we must not fling ourselves down to drink greedily of the river of earthly gifts, but drink them sparingly, and as it were with the palm of the hand. The fashion of this world passeth away. So St. John says, "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof" (1Jn_1:1-10
:18). It is but as the shifting scene of a theatre, or as a melting vapour (Jas_4:14).


But I would have you without carefulness.
In these words he reverts to 1Co_7:28
, after the digression about the transiency of earthly relations. If they were "overcharged... with cares of this life," the day of the Lord might easily "come upon them unawares" (Luk_21:34).


Careth for the things that are of the world.
St. Paul's language must not be extravagantly pressed. It only applies absolutely to times in which the conditions are the same as they then were. The "anxious cares" which marriage involves may be more innocent and less distracting than those which attack the celibate condition; and when that is the case, marriage, on St. Paul's own principle, becomes a duty. Thus some of the best and greatest of our missionaries have found their usefulness as God's messengers vastly increased by marriage, in spite of the awful trials which marriage often involves. The apostles and brethren of the Lord felt the same. St. Paul's opinions here are, as he tells us, opinions only, and admit of many modifications. Advice given to men and women when Christians believed that the Lord was coming, perhaps in that very age, to judge the world, is not universally applicable to all ages. In St. Paul's later Epistles he does not revert to this advice, but assumes that marriage is the normal condition.


There is difference also,
etc. The reading, punctuation, and exact sense are surrounded with uncertainty, which does not, however, affect the general meaning. This is probably given correctly in our English Version. He implies that the married woman must of necessity be more of a Martha than a Mary. Nevertheless, two things are certain:

(1) that God intended marriage to be the normal lot; and

(2) that marriage is by no means incompatible with the most absolute saintliness.

It is probable that most, if not all, of the apostles were married men (1Co_9:5
). The spirit of St. Paul's advice—the avoidance of distraction, and the determination that our duty to God shall not be impaired by earthly relationships—remains eternally significant. Another common way of punctuating the words is, "The married man cares.., how he may please his wife, and is divided [in interests]."


For your own profit.
My advice turns simply on questions of expedience. Not that I may cast a snare upon you. He does not wish to "fling a noose" over them to win them over to his own private views, and entangle them in rules which they might not be able to bear. That which is comely. Seemliness; "the beauty of holiness" (Rom_13:13
). Without distraction. The phrases used in this clause make it probable that St. Paul had heard how Martha was "anxious" and distracted ( περιεσπᾶτο ) about much serving, while Mary sat at Jesus' feet (Luk_10:39-41).


. If any father thinks, by keeping his virgin daughter unmarried, he is acting in a way which may cause sin or scandal, then let him permit her to marry her suitor. The word "uncomeliness" is terribly illustrated in Rom_1:27
. (For "comely," see 1Co_7:25; 1Co_12:24.) His virgin. Obviously a daughter or ward. Pass the flower of her age. If she be more than twenty years old, which the ancients regarded as the acme of the woman's life. And need so require. If there be some moral obligation or necessity in the case. Let them marry. The "them" means the virgin and her unmarried lover.


The general meaning of the verse is that the father, who, from high motives, remained unshaken in the resolve to dedicate his daughter (as Philip did) to the virgin life, doeth well, though neither Jews nor pagans thought so. Having no necessity. Because the maiden did not wish to marry or was not sought in marriage.


Doeth well.
Because" marriage is honourable in all." Doeth better. Obviously not morally, because, if one course be morally better than another, we are bound to take it; but "better" with reference to expediency in "the urgent necessity" which rested on the Christian world in that day. It is quite clear that, if these words are meant to disparage matrimony in comparison with celibacy, or to treat celibacy in the abstract as a holier state that marriage, they have been set aside by the universal practice and theory of the Christian world. But, as we have seen, they are expressed by St. Paul only as a relative and diffident opinion. It is remarkable that not one word is said as to the choice of the virgin herself in the matter, which is one of the most essential points on which the decision must turn. St. Paul, no doubt, assumes the acquiescence or preference of the maiden as one of the elements in the absence of any "need" for her marriage; but also he writes after lifelong familiarity with the all but absolute control exercised by Jewish parents over their youthful daughters.


Only in the Lord.
The second marriage of the Christian widow must be a holy and a Christian marriage (2Co_6:14


Freer from cares, distractions, and entanglements. If she so abide. If she remain a widow. I think also that I have the Spirit of God; rather, I think that I also, as well as the other teachers who have claimed spiritual authority for the rules they have given you about these subjects. The claim to authoritative decision is obviously less emphatic than it is in 1Co_14:37
; still, it is an expression of personal conviction that he has the Spirit, not an implied doubt of the fact.


1Co_7:1-14, 1Co_7:25-28, 1Co_7:32-40

Paul's conception of marriage.

"Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me," etc. All that Paul here says of marriage is in answer to some communication which the Church had addressed to him On the subject, and what he says he declares is not "of commandment," that is, not by Divine authority, but by "permission." All Scripture is therefore not inspired, even all the counsels of St. Paul do not seem to have been so. So desirous did he seem to be that all he says on this subject should be regarded as coming from himself without any inspiration of God, that he declares it not only in the sixth verse, but also in the twenty-fifth verse, in which he says, "I have no commandment of the Lord." My purpose now is to gather up from all these verses Paul's personal ideas of marriage. His idea seems to be—

I. That marriage is not a DUTY BINDING ON MANKIND. It is not a moral obligation, like "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," etc. He says, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman" (1Co_7:1); again. "I would that all men were even as I myself" (1Co_7:7); and again, "It is good for them if they abide even as I" (1Co_7:8). In referring to the widow, he says, "She is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God" (1Co_7:40). So Paul seems to teach that the question of marriage is optional, not obligatory. Some may feel that celibacy is best for them, then let them remain single; others think that marriage is the most desirable state, then let them enter into that relationship. Now, it does strike one as something marvellous that this condition of life on which the very continuation of the human race depends should remain thus open and optional. Suppose that today every individual of the human race determined not to enter into this relationship, and to have no intercourse with the opposite sex, sixty years hence, at most, the race would be extinct; no man, woman, or child would be found on the earth. The earth would be as it once was, without a man, a school without a student, a theatre without a spectator, a temple without a worshipper. The answer to the question which some may give is this, that there is no reason for a written command on this subject—it is a law of nature. God does not command us to eat and drink, because it is not necessary—the law of our nature urges us to it. For the same reason he does not command us to marry. However, so it is, and it is a wonderful thought that upon the volition of this generation on this question, depends the continuation or noncontinuation of the race.

II. That marriage is PRIMARILY FOR SPIRITUAL ENDS. "The unbelieving husband is sanctified," etc. (1Co_7:14). The view given of the end of marriage in the Marriage Service, viz. the "procreation of children," is evidently not the idea that Paul had, and it is a somewhat degrading one. Paul's idea throughout seems to be that the grand purpose of marriage is mutual spiritual influence, correcting faults, removing unbelief, establishing faith, serving the Lord. Those who enter on this relationship from fleshly impulses and with fleshly ends misunderstand the ordinance and are never truly married. There is not only no union of soul, but an inner division. True marriage means such a mutual spiritual affection as welds two souls into one moral personality.


1. Mutual benevolence. "Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife to the husband." Benevolence, a hearty well wishing, each wishing the well being of the other. The New Version drops the word "benevolence."

2. Mutual identification. "The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife." The both are one. The equal rights of wife and husband are everywhere recognized in the Bible.

3. Mutual honesty. "Defraud ye not one the other." Deception is inimical to the true union of souls. Nothing cuts united hearts asunder so easily and effectively as artfulness and deception.

4. Mutual forbearance. "if any brother have a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwelt with her, let her not leave him" (1Co_7:12, 1Co_7:13). Should difference of opinion on religious subjects crop up, should the faith of one or the other in religious matters be shaken or wane, forbear, do not separate on that account, for the right may correct the wrong, the believing correct the unbelieving.

5. Mutual concession of personal freedom. "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace" (1Co_7:15). If the wife feels it in her conscience to be a duty to leave her husband, he should not coerce her, nor should she employ compulsion, should he feel it his duty to withdraw.

CONCLUSION. Such are roughly and briefly some of Paul's personal opinions on the question of marriage. They seem to be on the whole wise and just. We have made marriage a civil contract, and we bind two persons together for life who never possessed those mutual affinities which are the essence of marriage. The essence of marriage is this—the strongest mutual sympathies and aims that one being can have for another; the bond of marriage is the solemn mutual pledge. Those who are thus married are united by a cord stronger than adamant, finer than the finest web, too weak to fetter, yet too strong to break.


Abide in Christliness, whatever the condition in life.

"But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart," etc. As St. Paul seems desirous that most of his utterances in this chapter should not be regarded as the language of inspiration, but rather that of his own private judgment (for twice he gives the assurance), we may be justified in criticizing his opinions. His opinions here refer to three conditions in man's existence on earth: matrimonial life, ecclesiastical connection, and domestic slavery; and concerning each of these, he says, "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called," Now, if by "calling" here he means that condition of life in which we find ourselves, irrespective of our choice, or into which we have entered by depraved choice, I can scarcely think that his principle here can be accepted. Apply it for example to—

I. MATRIMONIAL LIFE. If two persons have entered into this, of all relationships the most solemn, whose temperaments, beliefs, tendencies, tastes, and habits are soon found to be so antipathetic as to produce nothing but constant quarrellings and mutual miseries, are they to "abide" in that state? If Paul means this, we cannot accept his counsel, for such unions are not marriages at all. But he does not mean that, for in the fifteenth and other verses of this chapter he seems to authorize a separation. "But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases." Chain two vessels together on the ocean, allowing them to be some yards or even feet apart, and in the storm they will soon tear themselves to pieces and go down into the depths. But if you so rivet them together that the twain will be one, they will be mutual helps, and they will stand the tempest. So in marriage. Unless the two souls are so tightly riveted or clasped together by the strongest mutual affection, it is better to separate. If they are only joined by a chain forged by civil or ecclesiastical law, the speedier that chain is snapped asunder the better for both. Philanthropy is justified in promoting the divorce of such, and in this age methinks, it will find plenty of this merciful work to do.

II. ECCLESIASTICAL CONNECTION. "Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised." Does Paul mean by this—If you find yourself in an ecclesiastical system which has worthless or pernicious rites and ceremonies, abide in it, make no effort to abolish the unspiritual institutions? If you are in a Church which exalts ceremonies and creeds, works for money and by money, and thus misrepresents the sublime genius of the gospel, continue where you are? If he does, we cannot accept his advice. But he does not mean this, for it is opposed, not only to his own teaching, but to his own religious life.

III. DOMESTIC SLAVERY. "Art thou called being a servant [slave]?" Does Paul mean—If you find yourself the legal property of another, and treated by your master as mere goods and chattels, make no effort to break your bonds and to win your freedom? If he meant this, we repudiate his doctrine; it strikes against those aspirations for liberty, which are as deep as the human soul and as wide as humanity. But he does not mean this, as the history of his life and the genius of his teaching show. What, then, does he mean? The principle, "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called," he here lays down in connection with these three things—matrimonial life, ecclesiastical connection, and. domestic slavery. And if he means by "calling," condition of life, it cannot apply to either. But by "calling" Paul does not mean this. "'Calling' here must not be regarded in the modern sense of profession or condition of life; it is nowhere so used in the New Testament, but always signifies God calling to us (see Rom_11:29; Eph_1:18). Continue to be Christians of the kind which God's call to Christianity made you. If you were circumcised, and so God's call into the Christian Church made you a circumcised Christian, continue so; don't do anything which would seem to imply, that some other change in addition to your call was necessary to complete your admission to the Church." Understanding the "calling" here, as I do, to be personal religion, or Christliness, which is elsewhere called the "heavenly calling," Paul's advice to abide in that state, in whatever relationship or condition we are found, is intelligible and right. In relation to matrimony, it will then mean this—Though you feel your conjugal relation to be such a bondage and misery that you break away from it, sever your connection with your partner, don't fail to "abide in your calling" or in your religion. Whatever your domestic grievances and storms and separations, hold fast to your religion. Though you lose your wife or your husband, hold fast your religion, your "calling." In relation to ecclesiastical connections, it will mean this—Whether you are "circumcised" or uncircumcised, whether you continue in your old Church connections or break away from them, "abide in your calling," your religion; that is something that is independent of all ecclesiastical institutions and ceremonies, can live with or without them. In relation to domestic slavery, it will mean this—Whether you are satisfied with your bondage, and settle down in it, or struggle to break your fetters and rise into full freedom, "abide in your calling," your religion. Personal Christianity may exist in all conditions of life; it is independent of family relations, independent of ecclesiastical institutions, independent of social distinctions, whether slave or master, rich or poor, and where it exists it should be retained amidst all changes and at all costs. "Abide in your calling."


Personal Christianity for the bond and the free.

"For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God." Although the remarks in our previous sketch include these three verses, there is sufficient meaning in them to justify, if not to require, a separate notice. Understanding, as before intimated, the expression, "called in the Lord," and again, "abide with God," to mean personal Christianity, the verses include three general truths.

I. That personal Christianity may be possessed BY THOSE IS SLAVERY AS WELL AS BY THOSE IS FREEDOM. "For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant [a slave], is the Lord's freeman." Slavery under the Greek and Roman governments was an established institution. In Corinth slaves abounded. Many of these had been converted by the gospel, and were in connection with the Corinthian Church. Naturally enough, some would desire their emancipation, and the more so as Christianity gave them a sublime sense of their manhood. Paul's advice is not to be too anxious on the subject of their enfranchisement, but rather to be anxious to "abide" in their "calling," their religion. Christianity is for man as man, not for him as rich or poor, erudite or rude, bond or free, but for him as a man; it comes to him as outward nature comes to him, with equal freeness and fitness for all. The physical, civil, or ecclesiastical condition of a man, therefore, in this life is no excuse for his not becoming a Christian: though bound in chains, his soul is free—free to think, to resolve, to worship, and it is with the soul that Christianity has to do. Hence religion in slavery is not an uncommon fact. Slaves were members of many of the first Churches, and religion reigned amongst a large number of those who were held in bondage in the Southern States of America.

II. That the possession of personal Christianity, whether by the bond or the free, INVESTS MAN WITH THE HIGHEST LIBERTY. He is the "Lord's freeman," whoever he is; the Lord has emancipated his soul, however firmly manacled his bodily limbs. All the inner chains that bound his soul, to mere earthly influence, fleshly pleasures, and sinful pursuits, are snapped asunder, and he revels in the liberty wherewith "Christ makes his people free." What freedom like this freedom from the dominion and consequences of moral wrong? This is the "glorious liberty of the children of God."

"He is the freeman whom the truth makes free,

And all are slaves besides."

III. That the possession of the highest liberty LESSENS NO MAN'S MIGHTY OBLIGATION TO SERVE CHRIST. "Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men." All creatures are the property of the Creator. No creature owns itself. The highest angel has nothing in him that he can call his own. Man is not merely the property of God on the ground of creatureship, but on the ground of Christ's interposition. "Ye are not your own: ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." This being the case, however free and independent of men, you must ever be the servant of Christ; serve him heartily, faithfully, loyally, and forever. His service is perfect freedom, his service is heaven.

CONCLUSION. See how Christianity is to work out necessary reformations for the world, not by force but by influence, not from without but from within, by working from the centre to the circumference. "There are," says F. W. Robertson, "two mistakes which are often made upon this subject: one is the error of supposing that outward institutions are unnecessary for the formation Of character, and the other that of supposing that they are all that is required to form the human soul. If we rightly understand the duty of a Christian man, it is this—to make his brethren free inwardly and outwardly: first inwardly, so that they may become masters of themselves, rulers of their passions, having the power of self rule and self control; and then outwardly, so that there may be every power and opportunity of developing the inward life; in the language of the prophet, "to break the rod of oppression, and let the oppressed go free."

"Who are the free?

They who have scorn'd the tyrant and his rod,

And bow'd in worship unto none but God;

They who have made the conqueror's glory dim,

Unchain'd in soul though manacled in limb,

Unwarp'd by prejudice, unawed by wrong,

Friends to the weak, and fearless of the strong;

They who could change not with the changing hour,

The self same man in peril and in power;

True to the law of right, as warmly prone

To grant another's as maintain their own;

Foes of oppression wheresoe'er it be;

These are the proudly free."



Views concerning marriage: the institution in itself and in relation to circumstances, obligations, and duties.

We have seen what a meeting place Corinth was for the schools of philosophy and Judaism—a sort of metropolitan Coliseum, in which the gladiators of intellect were in unceasing combat. Neither Rome, nor Athens, nor Jerusalem, afforded such a field of contention as this proud and sensual city, where worldly culture and elegance existed side by side with commercial wealth and luxury. Now, we know what occurs when the waters of the Gulf Stream, bearing northward its immense store of heat from the Gulf of Mexico, come in contact off Newfoundland with the Polar currents, and what a vast bank of fog rises from the condensation of warm vapour in a cold atmosphere. This may symbolize what was going on in Corinth at this time. A century before, the world had been agitated by the ideas and schemes of Julius Caesar, the foremost man of his age, and quite as great a revolutionizer of men's ways of thinking as of political institutions. Imperialism was now in the ascendancy, and the nations were ostensibly a nation—a colossal Rome. But the quickening of thought remained, and this inured to the advantage of Christianity. There was not only external tranquillity, but the precise kind of tranquillity which St. Paul needed; and, though local disturbances often arose and at times violent commotions, yet the Roman law was his best earthly friend. At Corinth he had taught and preached and founded a Church. For three years he had been absent, and, meantime, what collisions had set in, and, amidst the surging to and fro of opinions and prejudices and enmities, what disorders had been tolerated! Over everything and everywhere was felt the chilly mist, a twilight to some, a midnight to others, a bewildering gloom to all. This, however, was providential. Teachers must remand pupils to themselves. Such a new and singular force as St. Paul was in the world—such pre-eminently as he had shown himself in Corinth by his opposition to the views of Greeks and Jews, and by his uncompromising zeal in behalf of the distinctive tenets of the gospel—must be suffered to do its work independently of his presence and immediate oversight. And we now see in this chapter, more fully than before, what conflicts of intellect and passion were in progress, what strange alienations had transpired, and how far gone many of his disciples were from the path in which he had expected their feet to tread. Had anything escaped this billowy sweep of strife? It was even dashing against the institution of marriage, which men had agreed to honour as the most important and the most venerable of earthly interests. Incest had been tolerated in the Church, and St. Paul had found it necessary to argue on the highest religious ground against the sensual evils of fornication. Of late we have heard much concerning a scientific basis of morality. If, however, we follow St. Paul, who never contradicts history, we see that even enlightened instincts cannot be trusted when withdrawn from the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit. Men may theorize as they please. One thing, nevertheless, is certain, and that one thing is, that whenever practical men deal with social questions, they accept St. Paul as the thinker of humanity. Even instincts need God to control them. Proceeding to discuss the questions submitted to him by the Corinthians, he begins this chapter by considering marriage in that aspect which was under debate just then at Corinth. Marriage in the abstract is only in view so far as recurrence is necessary, in the conduct of the argument, to the fundamental principles inseparable from the relation. He treats it, in view of existing circumstances, as a matter to be decided by expediency, each one judging what is best. Whether the unmarried shall be married or not must be determined by themselves in the light of their personal organization, and by the indications of Providence and the Spirit. Freedom within the bounds of law is freedom to deny the use of lawful rights and privileges—so St. Paul had just argued—and marriage comes under this provision. But here as everywhere, "let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind," and so reverential is he in his attitude towards humanity, that in the application of expediency to marriage, he will go no further than offer advice. Under the circumstances, it was the only proper course for him to adopt. No sympathy could he feel with the reaction against marriage in itself, which had set in more than a century before among the Romans, and, while an effect, was also a cause of the widespread demoralization of the age. Doubtless the cares of a family in that troubled period, and the supposed nearness of Christ's advent, had their influence on his mind, and yet he is well aware that, in the lowest view of marriage, it was a protection against vice. Too well he knew the evils which were cursing society because of the popular freethinking on this subject. For five hundred and twenty years not a divorce had been known in Rome, but we may form some idea of the effect of class wealth and debauching leisure if we recall the facts that in the last days of the republic, Cato of Utica, a religious fanatic in his way, had separated from his wife because a friend wished to marry her and, after his friend's death, had made her his wife again. "On the whole," says Mr. Lecky, "it is probable that the Roman matron was from the earliest period a name of honour; that the beautiful sentence of a jurisconsult of the empire, who defined marriage as a lifelong fellowship of all Divine and human rights, expressed most faithfully the feelings of the people; and that female virtue shone in every age conspicuously in Roman biographies." But a deplorable change had set in, such a change that Augustus had found it necessary to take measures for the encouragement of marriage. Nowhere was this corruption more rife than in Corinth, that only repeated on a larger scale the social enormities daily witnessed at Baiae, Herculaneum, and Pompeii. Now, in this state of free thinking, with its attendant wickedness, St. Paul's duty was not without embarrassment. Towards the evil itself and its utter grossness his course was plain enough. On the other hand, there were questions of casuistry to be considered. Marriage as a safeguard of virtue, marriage as a union of hearts, marriage as the highest type of human oneness, marriage in its spiritual import—all involved in it as a Divine institution and as the basis, vitality, security, of all other institutions—this was realized then and always in his apostleship. But there were pure and honest minded persons among his Corinthian converts, who were troubled by doubts and misgivings, and to whom duty was by no means clear. The instincts of nature had something to say, end their voice was entitled to a hearing. And, at the same time, prudence and conscience were not to be dogmatically silenced. St. Paul saw what to do, and he did it. He was profoundly sensitive to principles, he was thoroughly sympathetic with persons, and his judgment was the product of a wise consideration of gospel truth and of the facts at Corinth with which he was dealing. There is an ideal view to which he refers in the opening verse of this chapter, but the practical view in contrast with it is that, in order to be guarded against temptation and escape falling into the worst of social sins, "Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." 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." Nor does he hesitate to say, "I would that all men were even as myself," and yet he qualifies this by stating that "every man hath his proper gift of God," a gift of grace, "one after this manner, and another after that;" so that, whether married or single, the "gift of God" must be recognized, since, as Bengel remarks, "that which in the natural man is a natural habit, becomes in the saints a gift of grace."—L.


Mixed marriages.

"To the rest," those cases in which one party was a believer and the other not, "speak I, not the Lord." Yet, while St. Paul does not claim to expound and apply a formal law, he must not be considered as abnegating for the time his apostolic office and giving an opinion simply personal. The decision pronounced here is a very weighty one, and obviously it is an utterance of God's will. "If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, what shall he do? That depends on the wife herself. The initiative step is not with the husband: "If she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away." So of the wife with respect to her husband. Obviously, then, personal will is contemplated, and the difference between marriage where both parties are Christians, and marriage where only one party is a Christian, lies in the fact that, in the latter instance, the continuance of the relationship is contingent on the adaptiveness of the parties each to the other and their ready disposition to be a mutual source of happiness. The will of the Lord is that they keep together, and they should endeavour to fulfil this will, but if controversies exist and the true ends of marriage are not only not met, but cannot be met, then at the option of the wife, the husband may put her away. The converse holds good, so that in the case of either party, individual will may interpose a bar to the continued union. "God hath called us to peace." In such a solemn act, no wilfulness, no passion, no worldly and selfish motives, must have place. "Peace," and "peace" only, c