Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
1Co 7:1-40. Reply to Their Inquiries as to Marriage; the General Principle in Other Things Is, Abide in Your Station, for the Time Is Short.
1. The Corinthians in their letter had probably asked questions which tended to disparage marriage, and had implied that it was better to break it off when contracted with an unbeliever.
good—that is, "expedient," because of "the present distress"; that is, the unsettled state of the world, and the likelihood of persecutions tearing rudely asunder those bound by marriage ties. Heb 13:4, in opposition to ascetic and Romish notions of superior sanctity in celibacy, declares, "Marriage is HONORABLE IN ALL." Another reason why in some cases celibacy may be a matter of Christian expediency is stated in 1Co 7:34, 35, "that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction." But these are exceptional cases, and in exceptional times, such as those of Paul.
Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
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.
Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.
3, 4. The duty of cohabitation on the part of the married.
due benevolence—The oldest manuscripts read simply, "her due"; that is, the conjugal cohabitation due by the marriage contract (compare 1Co 7:4).
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.
4. A paradox. She hath not power over her body, and yet it is her own. The oneness of body in which marriage places husband and wife explains this. The one complements the other. Neither without the other realizes the perfect ideal of man.
Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
5. Defraud … not—namely, of the conjugal duty "due" (1Co 7:3; compare the Septuagint, Ex 21:10).
except it be—"unless perchance" [Alford].
give yourselves to—literally, "be at leisure for"; be free from interruptions for; namely, on some special "season," as the Greek for "time" means (compare Ex 19:15; Joe 2:16; Zec 7:3).
fasting and prayer—The oldest manuscripts omit "fasting and"; an interpolation, evidently, of ascetics.
come together—The oldest manuscripts read, "be together," namely, in the regular state of the married.
Satan—who often thrusts in his temptations to unholy thoughts amidst the holiest exercises.
for your incontinency—because of your inability to "contain" (1Co 7:9) your natural propensities, which Satan would take advantage of.
But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.
6. by permission … not of commandment—not by God's permission to me to say it: but, "by way of permission to you, not as a commandment." "This" refers to the directions, 1Co 7:2-5.
For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
7. even as I—having tile gift of continence (Mt 19:11, 12). This wish does not hold good absolutely, else the extension of mankind and of the Church would cease; but relatively to "the present distress" (1Co 7:26).
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
8. to the unmarried—in general, of both sexes (1Co 7:10, 11).
and widows—in particular.
even as I—unmarried (1Co 9:5).
But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
9. if they cannot contain—that is, "have not continency."
burn—with the secret flame of lust, which lays waste the whole inner man. (Compare Augustine [Holy Virginity]). The dew of God's grace is needed to stifle the flame, which otherwise would thrust men at last into hell-fire.
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
10. not I, but the Lord—(Compare 1Co 7:12, 25, 40). In ordinary cases he writes on inspired apostolic authority (1Co 14:37); but here on the direct authority of the Lord Himself (Mr 10:11, 12). In both cases alike the things written are inspired by the Spirit of God "but not all for all time, nor all on the primary truths of the faith" [Alford].
Let not the wife depart—literally, "be separated from." Probably the separation on either side, whether owing to the husband or to the wife, is forbidden.
But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
11. But and if she depart—or "be separated." If the sin of separation has been committed, that of a new marriage is not to be added (Mt 5:32).
be reconciled—by appeasing her husband's displeasure, and recovering his good will.
let not … husband put away … wife—In Mt 5:32 the only exception allowed is, "saving for the cause of fornication."
But 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.
12. to the rest—the other classes (besides "the married," 1Co 7:10, where both husband and wife are believers) about whom the Corinthians had inquired, namely, those involved in mixed marriages with unbelievers.
not the Lord—by any direct command spoken by Him.
she be pleased—Greek, "consents": implying his wish in the first instance, with which hers concurs.
And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
13. the woman—a believer.
let her not leave him—"her husband," instead of "him," is the reading of the oldest manuscripts The Greek for "leave" is the same as in 1Co 7:12, "put away"; translate, "Let her not put away [that is, part with] her husband." The wife had the power of effecting a divorce by Greek and Roman law.
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
14. sanctified—Those inseparably connected with the people of God are hallowed thereby, so that the latter may retain the connection without impairing their own sanctity (compare 1Ti 4:5); nay, rather imparting to the former externally some degree of their own hallowed character, and so preparing the way for the unbeliever becoming at last sanctified inwardly by faith.
by … by—rather, "in … in"; that is, in virtue of the marriage tie between them.
by the husband—The oldest manuscripts read, "by the brother." It is the fact of the husband being a "brother," that is, a Christian, though the wife is not so, that sanctifies or hallows the union.
else … children unclean—that is, beyond the hallowed pale of God's people: in contrast to "holy," that is, all that is within the consecrated limits [Conybeare and Howson]. The phraseology accords with that of the Jews, who regarded the heathen as "unclean," and all of the elect nation as "holy," that is, partakers of the holy covenant. Children were included in the covenant, as God made it not only with Abraham, but with his "seed after" him (Ge 17:7). So the faith of one Christian parent gives to the children a near relationship to the Church, just as if both parents were Christians (compare Ro 11:16). Timothy, the bearer of this Epistle, is an instance in point (Ac 16:1). Paul appeals to the Corinthians as recognizing the principle, that the infants of heathen parents would not be admissible to Christian baptism, because there is no faith on the part of the parents; but where one parent is a believer, the children are regarded as not aliens from, but admissible even in infancy as sharers in, the Christian covenant: for the Church presumes that the believing parent will rear the child in the Christian faith. Infant baptism tacitly superseded infant circumcision, just as the Christian Lord's day gradually superseded the Jewish sabbath, without our having any express command for, or record of, transference. The setting aside of circumcision and of sabbaths in the case of the Gentiles was indeed expressly commanded by the apostles and Paul, but the substitution of infant baptism and of the Lord's day were tacitly adopted, not expressly enacted. No explicit mention of it occurs till Irenæus in the third century; but no society of Christians that we read of disputed its propriety till fifteen hundred years after Christ. Anabaptists would have us defer baptism till maturity as the child cannot understand the nature of it. But a child may be made heir of an estate: it is his, though incapable at the time of using or comprehending its advantage; he is not hereafter to acquire the title and claim to it: he will hereafter understand his claim, and be capable of employing his wealth: he will then, moreover, become responsible for the use he makes of it [Archbishop Whately].
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.
15. if … depart—that is, wishes for separation. Translate, "separateth himself": offended with her Christianity, and refusing to live with her unless she renounce it.
brother or a sister is not under bondage—is not bound to renounce the faith for the sake of retaining her unbelieving husband [Hammond]. So De 13:6; Mt 10:35-37; Lu 14:26. The believer does not lie under the same obligation in the case of a union with an unbeliever, as in the case of one with a believer. In the former case he is not bound not to separate, if the unbeliever separate or "depart," in the latter nothing but "fornication" justifies separation [Photius in Æcumenius].
but God hath called us to peace—Our Christian calling is one that tends to "peace" (Ro 12:18), not quarrelling; therefore the believer should not ordinarily depart from the unbelieving consort (1Co 7:12-14), on the one hand; and on the other, in the exceptional case of the unbeliever desiring to depart, the believer is not bound to force the other party to stay in a state of continual discord (Mt 5:32). Better still it would be not to enter into such unequal alliances at all (1Co 7:40; 2Co 6:14).
For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
16. What knowest thou but that by staying with thy unbelieving partner thou mayest save him or her? Enforcing the precept to stay with the unbelieving consort (1Co 7:12-14). So Ruth the Moabitess became a convert to her husband's faith: and Joseph and Moses probably gained over their wives. So conversely the unbelieving husband may be won by the believing wife (1Pe 3:1) [Calvin]. Or else (1Co 7:15), if thy unbelieving consort wishes to depart, let him go, so that thou mayest live "in peace": for thou canst not be sure of converting him, so as to make it obligatory on thee at all costs to stay with him against his will [Menochius and Alford].
save—be the instrument of salvation to (Jas 5:20).
But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.
17. But—Greek, "If not." "Only." Caution that believers should not make this direction (1Co 7:16; as Alford explains it) a ground for separating "of themselves" (1Co 7:12-14). Or, But if there be no hope of gaining over the unbeliever, still let the general principle be maintained, "As the Lord hath allotted to each, as God hath called each, so let him walk" (so the Greek in the oldest reading); let him walk in the path allotted to him and wherein he was called. The heavenly calling does not set aside our earthly callings.
so ordain I in all churches—Ye also therefore should obey.
Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.
18. not become uncircumcised—by surgical operation (1 Maccabees 1:15; Josephus [Antiquities, 12.5.1]). Some Christians in excess of anti-Jewish feeling might be tempted to this.
let him not be circumcised—as the Judaizing Christians would have him (Ac 15:1, 5, 24; Ga 5:2).
Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
19. Circumcision … nothing, but … keeping of … commandments of God—namely, is all in all. In Ga 5:6 this "keeping of the commandments of God" is defined to be "faith which worketh by love"; and in Ga 6:15, "a new creature." Circumcision was a commandment of God: but not for ever, as "love."
Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.
20. the same calling—that is, the condition from which he is called a Jew, a Greek, a slave, or a freeman.
Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
21. care not for it—Let it not be a trouble to thee that thou art a servant or slave.
use it rather—Continue rather in thy state as a servant (1Co 7:20; Ga 3:28; 1Ti 6:2). The Greek, "But if even thou mayest be made free, use it," and the context (1Co 7:20, 22) favors this view [Chrysostom, Bengel, and Alford]. This advice (if this translation be right) is not absolute, as the spirit of the Gospel is against slavery. What is advised here is, contentment under one's existing condition (1Co 7:24), though an undesirable one, since in our union with Christ all outward disparities of condition are compensated (1Co 7:22). Be not unduly impatient to cast off "even" thy condition as a servant by unlawful means (1Pe 2:13-18); as, for example, Onesimus did by fleeing (Phm 10-18). The precept (1Co 7:23), "Become not (so the Greek) the servants of men," implies plainly that slavery is abnormal (compare Le 25:42). "Men stealers," or slave dealers, are classed in 1Ti 1:10, with "murderers" and "perjurers." Neander, Grotius, &c., explain, "If called, being a slave, to Christianity, be content—but yet, if also thou canst be free (as a still additional good, which if thou canst not attain, be satisfied without it; but which, if offered to thee, is not to be despised), make use of the opportunity of becoming free, rather than by neglecting it to remain a slave." I prefer this latter view, as more according to the tenor of the Gospel, and fully justified by the Greek.
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.
22. the Lord's freeman—(Phm 16)—rather, "freedman." Though a slave externally, spiritually made free by the Lord: from sin, Joh 8:36; from the law, Ro 8:2; from "circumcision," 1Co 7:19; Ga 5:1.
Christ's servant—(1Co 9:21). Love makes Christ's service perfect freedom (Mt 11:29, 30; Ga 5:13; 1Pe 2:16).
Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.
23. be not ye—Greek, "become not ye." Paul here changes from "thou" (1Co 7:21) to "ye." Ye all are "bought" with the blood of Christ, whatever be your earthly state (1Co 6:20). "Become not servants to men," either externally, or spiritually; the former sense applying to the free alone: the latter to Christian freemen and slaves alike, that they should not be servile adherents to their party leaders at Corinth (1Co 3:21, 22; Mt 23:8-10; 2Co 11:20); nor indeed slaves to men generally, so far as their condition admits. The external and internal conditions, so far as is attainable, should correspond, and the former be subservient to the latter (compare 1Co 7:21, 32-35).
Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
24. abide with God—being chiefly careful of the footing on which he stands towards God rather than that towards men. This clause, "with God," limits the similar precept in 1Co 7:20. A man may cease to "abide in the calling wherein he was called," and yet not violate the precept here. If a man's calling be not favorable to his "abiding with God" (retaining holy fellowship with Him), he may use lawful means to change from it (compare Note, see on 1Co 7:21).
Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.
25. no commandment of the Lord: yet … my judgment—I have no express revelation from the Lord commanding it, but I give my judgment (opinion); namely, under the ordinary inspiration which accompanied the apostles in all their canonical writings (compare 1Co 7:40; 1Co 14:37; 1Th 4:15). The Lord inspires me in this case to give you only a recommendation, which you are free to adopt or reject—not a positive command. In the second case (1Co 7:10, 11) it was a positive command; for the Lord had already made known His will (Mal 2:14, 15; Mt 5:31, 32). In the third case (1Co 7:12), the Old Testament commandment of God to put away strange wives (Ezr 10:3), Paul by the Spirit revokes.
mercy of the Lord—(1Ti 1:13). He attributes his apostleship and the gifts accompanying it (including inspiration) to God's grace alone.
faithful—in dispensing to you the inspired directions received by me from the Lord.
I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.
26. I suppose—"I consider."
this—namely, "for a man so to be," that is, in the same state in which he is (1Co 7:27).
for—by reason of.
the present distress—the distresses to which believers were then beginning to be subjected, making the married state less desirable than the single; and which would prevail throughout the world before the destruction of Jerusalem, according to Christ's prophecy (Mt 24:8-21; compare Ac 11:28).
Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.
27. Illustrating the meaning of "so to be," 1Co 7:26. Neither the married (those "bound to a wife") nor the unmarried (those "loosed from a wife") are to "seek" a change of state (compare 1Co 7:20, 24).
But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
28. trouble in the flesh—Those who marry, he says, shall incur "trouble in the flesh" (that is, in their outward state, by reason of the present distress), not sin, which is the trouble of the spirit.
but I spare you—The emphasis in the Greek is on "I." My motive in advising you so is, to "spare you" such trouble in the flesh. So Alford after Calvin, Bengel, and others. Estius from Augustine explains it, "I spare you further details of the inconveniences of matrimony, lest even the incontinent may at the peril of lust be deterred from matrimony: thus I have regard for your infirmity." The antithesis in the Greek of "I … you" and "such" favors the former.
But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;
29. this I say—A summing up of the whole, wherein he draws the practical inference from what precedes (1Co 15:50).
the time—the season (so the Greek) of this present dispensation up to the coming of the Lord (Ro 13:11). He uses the Greek expression which the Lord used in Lu 21:8; Mr 13:33.
it remaineth—The oldest manuscripts read, "The time (season) is shortened as to what remains, in order that both they," &c.; that is, the effect which the shortening of the time ought to have is, "that for the remaining time (henceforth), both they," &c. The clause, "as to what remains," though in construction belonging to the previous clause, in sense belongs to the following. However, Cyprian and Vulgate support English Version.
as though they had none—We ought to consider nothing as our own in real or permanent possession.
And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not;
30. they that weep … wept not—(Compare 2Co 6:10).
they that buy … possessed not—(Compare Isa 24:1, 2). Christ specifies as the condemning sin of the men of Sodom not merely their open profligacy, but that "they bought, they sold," &c., as men whose all was in this world (Lu 17:28). "Possessed" in the Greek implies a holding fast of a possession; this the Christian will not do, for his "enduring substance" is elsewhere (Heb 10:34).
And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
31. not abusing it—not abusing it by an overmuch using of it. The meaning of "abusing" here is, not so much perverting, as using it to the full [Bengel]. We are to use it, "not to take our fill" of its pursuits as our chief aim (compare Lu 10:40-42). As the planets while turning on their own axis, yet revolve round the sun; so while we do our part in our own worldly sphere, God is to be the center of all our desires.
fashion—the present fleeting form. Compare Ps 39:6, "vain show"; Ps 73:20, "a dream"; Jas 4:14, "a vapor."
passeth away—not merely shall pass away, but is now actually passing away. The image is drawn from a shifting scene in a play represented on the stage (1Jo 2:17). Paul inculcates not so much the outward denial of earthly things, as the inward spirit whereby the married and the rich, as well as the unmarried and the poor, would be ready to sacrifice all for Christ's sake.
But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:
32. without carefulness—I would have you to be not merely "without trouble," but "without distracting cares" (so the Greek).
careth—if he uses aright the advantages of his condition.
But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
34. difference also—Not merely the unmarried and the married man differ in their respective duties, but also the wife and the virgin. Indeed a woman undergoes a greater change of condition than a man in contracting marriage.
And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
35. for your own profit—not to display my apostolic authority.
not … cast a snare upon you—image from throwing a noose over an animal in hunting. Not that by hard injunctions I may entangle you with the fear of committing sin where there is no sin.
comely—befitting under present circumstances.
attend upon—literally, "assiduously wait on"; sitting down to the duty. Compare Lu 10:39, Mary; Lu 2:37, "Anna … a widow, who departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day" (1Ti 5:5).
distraction—the same Greek as "cumbered" (Lu 10:40, Martha).
But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.
36. behaveth … uncomely—is not treating his daughter well in leaving her unmarried beyond the flower of her age, and thus debarring her from the lawful gratification of her natural feeling as a marriageable woman.
need so require—if the exigencies of the case require it; namely, regard to the feelings and welfare of his daughter. Opposed to "having no necessity" (1Co 7:37).
let them marry—the daughter and her suitor.
Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.
37. steadfast—not to be turned from his purpose by the obloquy of the world.
having no necessity—arising from the natural inclinations of the daughter.
power over his … will—when, owing to his daughter's will not opposing his will, he has power to carry into effect his will or wish.
So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.
38. her—The oldest manuscripts have "his own virgin daughter."
but—The oldest manuscripts have "and."
The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
39. bound by the law—The oldest manuscripts omit "by the law."
only in the Lord—Let her marry only a Christian (2Co 6:14).
But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.
40. happier—(1Co 7:1, 28, 34, 35).
I think also—"I also think"; just as you Corinthians and your teachers think much of your opinions, so I also give my opinion by inspiration; so in 1Co 7:25, "my judgment" or opinion. Think does not imply doubt, but often a matter of well-grounded assurance (Joh 5:39).