1 Corinthians 7:2
Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
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(2) To avoid fornication.—Better, because of the (prevalent) fornication. This was so general in Corinth, and so little regarded as sin. that the unmarried were liable to be led into it.

It may at first sight appear as if the Apostle thus put marriage upon very low and merely utilitarian ground: but we must remember that he is here writing with a definite and limited aim, and does not enter into a general discussion of the subject. St. Paul gives a reason why those who wrote to him should marry, and the force of the argument does not extend beyond the immediate object in view. St. Paul’s view of the higher aspects of matrimony are fully set forth when he treats of that subject generally (2Corinthians 11:2; Romans 7:4; Ephesians 5:25-32).

7:1-9 The apostle tells the Corinthians that it was good, in that juncture of time, for Christians to keep themselves single. Yet he says that marriage, and the comforts of that state, are settled by Divine wisdom. Though none may break the law of God, yet that perfect rule leaves men at liberty to serve him in the way most suited to their powers and circumstances, of which others often are very unfit judges. All must determine for themselves, seeking counsel from God how they ought to act.Nevertheless - But (δὲ de). Though this is to be admitted as proper where it can be done, when a man has entire control of himself and his passions, and though in present circumstances it would be expedient, yet it may be proper also to enter into the marriage connection.

To avoid fornication - Greek On account of διὰ dia fornication. The word fornication is used here in the large sense of licentiousness in general. For the sake of the purity of society, and to avoid the evils of sensual indulgence, and the corruptions and crimes which attend an illicit contact, it is proper that the married state should be entered. To this vice they were particularly exposed in Corinth. See the introduction. Paul would keep the church from scandal. How much evil, how much deep pollution, how many abominable crimes would have been avoided, which have since grown out of the monastic system, and the celibacy of the clergy among the papists, if Paul's advice had been followed by all professed Christians! Paul says that marriage is honorable, and that the relations of domestic life should be formed to avoid the evils which would otherwise result. The world is the witness of the evils which flow from the neglect of his advice. Every community where the marriage tie has been lax and feeble, or where it has been disregarded or dishonored, has been full of pollution, and it will always be. Society is pure and virtuous, just as marriage is deemed honorable, and as its vows are adhered to and preserved.

Let every man ... - Let the marriage vow be honored by all.

Have his own wife - And one wife to whom he shall be faithful. Polygamy is unlawful under the gospel; and divorce is unlawful. Let every man and woman, therefore, honor the institution of God, and avoid the evils of illicit indulgence.

2. Here the general rule is given

to avoid fornication—More literally, "on account of fornications," to which as being very prevalent at Corinth, and not even counted sins among the heathen, unmarried persons might be tempted. The plural, "fornications," marks irregular lusts, as contrasted with the unity of the marriage relation [Bengel].

let every man have—a positive command to all who have not the gift of continency, in fact to the great majority of the world (1Co 7:5). The dignity of marriage is set forth by Paul (Eph 5:25-32), in the fact that it signifies the mystical union between Christ and the Church.

Nevertheless, to avoid fornication; in the Greek it is, Because of fornications; the sense of which can be no other than this which our translators give. The word is in the plural number, to signify that that which he meaneth by this term, is all sorts of impurities and uncleannesses, which are the products of the lusts of the flesh. These are sins of that nature and species, that if we cannot choose what in respect of some circumstances would be more convenient, we must balk it, rather than run into such a guilt. The apostle doth therefore determine, that in this case it was every man’s duty to marry, and every woman’s likewise; the reason of which must be, because God had ordained marriage as a means to bridle men, and restrain them from extravagant lusts.

His own wife, her own husband; a clear place against polygamy. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication,.... Or "fornications"; meaning either the frequent commission of that sin; or all sorts of uncleanness and pollution, which may be avoided by wedlock, and the proper use of the marriage bed, where the gift of continency is not bestowed: wherefore to prevent unlawful copulations, as of single persons with one another, or of a married person with a single one, the apostle advises, as being what is right and proper,

let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband; that is, let every man that has a wife enjoy her, and make use of her, and let every woman that has an husband, receive him into her embraces; for these words are not to be understood of unmarried persons entering into a marriage state, for the words suppose them in such a state, but of the proper use of the marriage bed; and teach us that marriage, and the use of it, are proper remedies against fornication; and that carnal copulation of a man with a woman ought only to be of husband and wife, or of persons in a married state; and that all other copulations are sinful; and that polygamy is unlawful; and that one man is to have but one wife, and to keep to her; and that one woman is to have but one husband, and to keep to him.

Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
1 Corinthians 7:2. In order, however, that offences in the way of fornication (see on this plural of the abstract, Kühner, II. p. 28; Maetzn. a[1065] Lycurg. p. 144 f.) may be avoided in practice, the rule holds good: Let every man have[1066] a wife of his own (properly belonging to himself in marriage), etc. On διά, comp Winer, p. 372 [E. T. 497]. Rückert, de Wette, and Maier are wrong in maintaining that ἐχέτω is permissive merely,

Rückert, indeed, making it so only to the extent of a man’s retaining his wife. The latter is disproved by 1 Corinthians 7:9-10, and the former by the fact that the immediately following ἀποδιδότω in 1 Corinthians 7:3 is not to be taken as permissive, any more than the γαμησάτωσαν which answers to ἐχέτω in 1 Corinthians 7:9. It is opposed, further, by the consideration that διὰ τὰς πορνείας is a determining element of a moral kind, which must therefore necessarily lead not to a mere permissibility, but to a positive obligation (already noted by Erasmus). This injunction, however, is a moral rule, to which exceptions may occur from higher considerations in cases where no danger of fornication is apprehended and there is the “donum continentiae,” as Paul himself had shown by his own example,—in which, nevertheless, no support whatever is given to any sort of celibacy enforced by law, a thing which, on the contrary, our text decidedly discountenances. Rückert thinks further that Paul exhibits here a very poor opinion of marriage; and Baur (in the theol. Jahrb. 1852, p. 15 ff.) has more fully developed this idea so as to assert that the apostle’s view of marriage is at variance with the moral conception of it which now prevails.[1068] Comp also Rothe, Ethik, III. p. 614. But can it be true, then, that he, who looked upon the union with Christ itself as the analogue of wedded life, valued marriage only as a “temperamentum continentiae”? No! what he does is this: out of all the different grounds on which marriage rested in his mind, he selects just that one which, in the first place, specially concerned his readers (remember the κορινθιάζεσθαι), and in the second place, had peculiar weight in connection with the nearness of the Parousia. That approaching catastrophe might furnish him with sufficient reasons for leaving unmentioned those higher ends of marriage which reached forth into a more remote future, and confining himself to the immediate practical relations of the brief, momentous present. See 1 Corinthians 7:26 ff. Keeping in view the present ἀνάγκη, the near approach of the Lord, and the necessity, therefore, of an undivided surrender to Him, Paul had, under these given circumstances, recognised in the state of single life what in and by itself was καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ, if only no fornication and heat were conjoined therewith. It is from this point of view, which was presented to him by the then existing condition of things (and hence without at all contradicting Genesis 2:18), that the apostle handles the subject, discussing it accordingly in a special aspect and from one particular side, while the wider and higher moral relations of marriage lie beyond the limits of what he has now in hand.

Observe, further, how sharply and decisively the expression in 1 Corinthians 7:2 (comp Ephesians 5:22; Ephesians 5:25) excludes not only concubinage and sexual intercourse apart from marriage generally, but also all polygamy.

[1065] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[1066] This ἔχειν is nothing else but the simple habere (to possess); it does not mean intercourse in marriage, which ought to be continued (Kling, Heydenreich, following Cameron and Estius). Paul comes to that only in ver. 3.

[1068] Comp. in opposition to this, Ernesti, Ethik des Ap. Paulus, p. 115 f.1 Corinthians 7:2 a single life is good in itself, “but” is not generally expedient at Cor[1001]—διὰ τὰς πορνείας, “because of the (prevalent) fornications” (the unusual pl[1002] indicating the variety and extent of profligacy: cf. 2 Corinthians 12:21); for this reason marriage, as a rule, is advisable here.—It must be Christian marriage, as opposed to heathen libertinism and Jewish polygamy: “let each (man) have his own wife, and each (woman) her proper husband”. The pr[1003] impv[1004], ἐχέτω (sc. directive, not permissive), signifies “have and keep to” (cf. 2 Timothy 1:13), The variation ἑαυτοῦ γυν.… ἴδιον ἄνδρα distinguishes the husband as head and principal (1 Corinthians 11:3); “if this passage stood alone, it would be unsafe to build upon it, but this diff[1005] of expression pervades the whole of the Epp.” (Lt[1006]: cf. 1 Corinthians 14:35; Ephesians 5:22, etc.; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1; 1 Peter 3:5). Throughout the passage there is a careful balancing of the terms relating to man and wife, bringing out the equality of the Christian law.—P. does not lay down here the ground of marriage, as though it were “ordained for a remedy against sin,” but gives a special reason why those should marry at Cor[1007] who might otherwise have remained single: see note on δέ, 1 Corinthians 7:1.

[1001] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.

[1002] plural.

[1003] present tense.

[1004] imperative mood.

[1005] difference, different, differently.

[1006] J. B. Lightfoot’s (posthumous) Notes on Epp. of St. Paul (1895).

[1007] Corinth, Corinthian or Corinthians.2. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication] Literally, on account of the fornications, i.e. the habitual practice of this vice in the Church of Corinth. See note on ch. 1 Corinthians 6:13. We are not to suppose (see Meyer) that we have the whole of the Apostle’s view of marriage, but simply that which connects itself with the question that has been asked him. To understand the doctrine of marriage, as generally delivered in the Christian Scriptures, we must compare St John 2; Ephesians 5:23-30; 1 Timothy 5:14; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Peter 3:1-7. “These are questions of casuistry, which depend upon the particular case, from which word the term casuistry is derived.” Robertson.

let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband] Calvin remarks that we have here a prohibition of polygamy.1 Corinthians 7:2. Διὰ, on account of) comp. the for, 1 Corinthians 7:5.—τὰς πορνείας, fornications) constantly practised at Corinth [and not even considered to be sins by the heathens, and especially by the Greeks.—V.g.], to which unmarried persons might be easily allured. The plural denotes irregular lusts, and is on that account more opposed to the unity of the marriage relation [wherein there is but one consort].—τὴν ἑαυτοῦ, his own) the same as ἴδιον, her own, which immediately after occurs. The same variation occurs in Ephesians 5:22-23. ἑαυτοῦ, his own, indicates the rights of the husband. Both words exclude all community, in which polygamy consists, comp. 1 Corinthians 7:4. Now the reason, why a man should have a wife, is the same as that, for which he should retain her, namely, to avoid fornication. Hence also concubinage is refuted, for a concubine is either a wife or she is not; if she is not, there is sin, if she is, then she ought to continue, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11.Verse 2. - Nevertheless. 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 (Ephesians 5:24, 31, 32; 1 Timothy 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 ver. 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 (John 2:1, 2);

(2) by the primeval law which said, "It is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 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 1 Corinthians 9:15; Matthew 15:26; Romans 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 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 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.
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