1 CORINTHIANS 7
7:1-9 Should We Marry?
1Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. 2But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. 8Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Paul begins this chapter by turning to matters about which the Corinthians wrote him. Since he has been on the topic of sexual immorality, he works that question in.
So, remember that Paul wrote chapter 7 in the context of his discussion of sexual immorality. He, therefore, presents marriage as the alternative to sexual immorality. There are other places where Paul discusses the spiritual duties of spouses and other topics, (such as Ephesians 5) but not here. He did not seek to write a full commentary on marriage, but rather sought to answer specific questions sent to him. We also have a bit of a handicap to our understanding of this passage because we do not know the exact questions that the Corinthians submitted to Paul. It could be that the first question is: should Christians get married? This may have been partly motivated by the thought that Christ would return soon.
There is also some disagreement as to how to treat the words “it is good for a man not to marry”. Most translations set it out as an express teaching from Paul. Others, however, put these words in quotation marks to indicate it is a quote from the letter the Corinthians sent to Paul and is part of their question he will seek to answer.
The word for “man” here is generic (“anthropos”). It is not the word for “husband” (aner).
It may also have been motivated that some philosophies taught that marriage or sex was wrong, or at least not the preferred state. Others maintained that people have a duty to get married.
It appears from verse 7 that Paul was single and wished everyone could handle that. Down in verse 32 he explained why, which is basically that it allows one to devote themselves completely to God. But, he realized that was not the case.
Here are the things he says about marriage in these first 7 verses:
1 – it is good to be abstinent, which Paul equated to being single, but immorality and lust are not acceptable for the single person. So, marriage is good. Paul recognized in verse 7 that not everyone has the gift of abstinence. For those who do not, they should marry. It is better to marry than to burn with passion.
2-spouses have a duty to meet each other’s sexual needs. That duty exists, according to verse 5, except where the spouses mutually agree to abstain for a time and devote themselves to prayer. Present here again is the idea of the Christian giving up his or her own rights, saying that neither the husband nor wife owns their own body, but it belongs to the spouse.
7:10-16 Maintaining The Status Quo
10To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
12To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
15But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
It appears the question in verses 10-11 are: can believers divorce? This came up principally because some believed they needed to leave their families and devote themselves to Christ. In answer, Paul basically said “no”, but, if they do separate or divorce, they cannot remarry. Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger.
This teaching is the same as that of Jesus. He condemned divorce in Matthew 5:31-32, 19:9, Mark 10:2-12, and Luke 16:18. In verse 10 of our present passage, Paul emphasizes that this is a command of the Lord and not himself. He is passing along the teaching of Jesus.
You will also notice that Paul does not mention the exception for divorce stated by Jesus in Matthew, for adultery. I do not think Paul is trying to overrule Jesus in this matter. Rather, it is not the question at hand. The issue here was not that the spouse had committed adultery, but whether marriage was compatible with Christianity. In other words, now that I am a believer, should I divorce my spouse and commit myself solely to Christ, or should I stay married to my believing spouse?
The next question, in verses 12-15, may have been, if I become a Christian, should I leave my non-Christian spouse? Again, Paul answered “no”. However, in verse 15, he said, if the unbelieving spouse leaves, to let him or her and the believing spouse is not bound in that instance, which I take to mean that the believing spouse can remarry.
There are two reasons given for not divorcing the unbelieving spouse. First, Paul said the unbelieving spouse will be sanctified through the believing spouse, and that their children will be holy. What does this mean? It is not clear what Paul means here, but the idea seems to be that Christians married to unbelievers worried that their marriage was unholy, that they might be polluted by it and that their children would be an unholy product of that marriage. Paul said that would not be the case, but that God would recognize and honor the marriage of a believer and the children produced by that marriage would be legitimate, even if the spouse was not a believer. (Baptists do not usually teach covenant theology, but CT would teach that children of the elect are born into the covenant, just as the Jewish child was. Since one parent is a believer, or part of the covenant, his or her child will be also.)
This is written primarily in the context where one of the spouses became a Christian after the marriage. Paul instructed Christians in 2 Corinthians 6:14, not to be bound to unbelievers so that we would not have these problems. The current passage is not in contradiction to that instruction, but is an instruction of how to deal with the situation once it has occurred.
Second, he said in verse 16 that the marriage might result in the salvation of the unbelieving spouse.
In verse 12, Paul said this part of the message came from him, not the Lord. Some people use that to say that the first part of this passage, where Paul is referring to the direct teaching of Jesus, is authoritative, but the second part is not. I do not agree with that idea. Paul was an apostle and taught with that authority. We also know that all scripture is inspired by God, so I do not think we can separate scripture by who said it. Since it is scripture, obey it and, when we do not obey it, we confess it as sin.