1 Corinthians 7a
1 Corinthians 7:1-3… Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
The Apostle Paul has been lecturing the Corinthian Christians in the previous six chapters concerning their immature and immoral behavior. Now he turns his attention to some specific questions they had sent to him in a letter that is now lost. Their questions can be surmised by the answers Paul gives them in chapters 7-11. Chapter 7 deals with singleness, sex, and marriage.
The first question appears to have dealt with the issue of singleness and sex within marriage. The Jews valued marriage greatly, for most of them married. Many pagan belief systems, however, did not condone sex and believed in total abstinence as evidenced by the slogan “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” in v. 1 (“touch” being a euphemism for sex). Paul answers this in two ways. First, he believed this to be true IF one was single – a noble calling from God. But second, Paul clearly taught that for those who were married this was false.
Verse 2 explains verse 1. Although singleness is a noble way of life, it is a life of celibacy. But because man’s sexual desires can go out of control and give birth to “immoralities,” each man is to “have his own wife; each woman her own husband” (an idiom that doesn’t command marriage but means to “have sexually”), and sex must not be withheld from either. (A quick observation here of this passage proves that marriage is for TWO people!). Those who cannot control their sexual urges must not pursue a life of celibacy but should get married. The Corinthian culture brought many sexual temptations, and both celibates and married folks who were being deprived of sexual relations by the spouse were going to prostitutes. As a remedy and a rule of thumb, Paul advised them to get married.
In verse 3 the “duty” to be fulfilled by the husband/wife is the sexual obligation both have to the other. The “immoralities” verse 2 speaks of reflects the fact that temptations were everywhere then as they are today. When husbands and wives regularly withhold sexual relations with their partners they put their marriage in danger because sex may be sought elsewhere. Since the human sex-drive is so strong, this brings about marital problems when one deprives the other. Marriage partners of both sexes must not take this advice lightly in view of “immoralities.”
Food for Thought
Marriage problems are common to all marriages, and sexual problems are almost always at the forefront. The immoralities that exist today in our society are not much different than that which existed in the 1st century New Testament. The society around us is decadent, and it breeds temptation – sexual temptations. One cannot open the newspaper without finding an underwear ad that can, in and of itself, arouse sexual temptations (and I’ve never quite understood why underwear needs to be modeled!). To make matters worse, when one marriage partner deprives the other it breeds resentment and anger. It all too often leads to adultery – a sin condemned throughout the whole of scripture. Another issue this text addresses is singleness. Churches today love to publish pictures of giddy little American families that are supposed to represent them and show how happy their church is. But not only is this false advertisement, it can also alienate those whom God has gifted with celibacy. They are far too often left out of the otherwise “family” atmosphere and treated as a class of people all their own. This ought not be. Celibacy should never be scorned, for it must not go unnoticed that Paul himself encouraged it (v. 1).
1 Corinthians 7:4-7… The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 But this I say by way of concession, not of command. 7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.
Verse 4 is a commentary on verse 3 where Paul taught that the husband and wife are supposed to fulfill their duty (sexual duty) to each other. Now in v. 4 he explains why. Though husbands and wives are to love and take care of their own physical bodies (cf. Ephesians 5:29), their bodies are not their own. Ultimately they belong to God, for they are the temple of the Holy Spirit (cf. 6:19-20), but the authority of one’s body belongs to their spouse if they are married. So, where sex is concerned, since the husband belongs to the wife, and vice-versa, neither one can withhold sexual relations from the other. Authority over the husband’s body belongs to the wife, and authority over the wife’s body belongs to the husband. They are one flesh through sexual union, and verse 5 gives a specific command to stop depriving one another of a continual sexual union together. Apparently some in the Corinthian church – possibly saved from a life of promiscuous sex – were withholding sex from their spouses because it reminded them of their past life prior to coming to faith in Christ. Paul corrects that false attitude with his command.
Verse 5 does offer an exception to sexual deprivation. In the case where both partners agree to devote themselves to prayer and fasting for a time over an issue that requires their undivided attention, they are to remain celibate for time. But this instance must be agreed upon by both. When God told Moses He was coming down from the mountain to manifest Himself before all of Israel in Exodus 19:9-15, He told the people to consecrate themselves by washing their garments and abstaining from sexual relations. So, there will be times when Christian marriage partners must devote themselves to prayer, but they must also come back together sexually “lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Notice that it is Satan who does the tempting when sexual relations are tense between married couples, and the longer they withhold it from one another the more likely they are to be taken away by Satan into temptation.
Verse 6, in saying, “I say this by way of concession, not of command,” the “this” refers to the decision between both partners to devote themselves to prayer for a time without sexual intercourse (from verse 5). Paul is not commanding such but gives this advice when/if both partners do decide to deprive one another for a time while seeking the Lord. And verse 7 sums up Paul’s whole attitude toward marriage. He actually desires that anyone unmarried would remain that way, but he realizes that celibacy is a gift and not everyone has that gift.
Food for Thought
Husbands, don’t ever sexually deprive your wife. Wives, don’t ever turn aside your husband’s advances for intimacy. This is biblical instruction. Your bodies belong to one another, not yourselves, and because of this you don’t have authority over it. Your responsibility with your body is to take care of it because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. And the authority over your body rests in your spouse’s hands. The clear reason why husbands and wives should not deprive one another sexually is because Satan is on the prowl, and he seizes our weak wills and tempts us to sin against our bodies – the temple of God. Apply these truths if you’re married.
1 Corinthians 7:8-9… But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.
Verses 8-9 probably answer a question along the lines of “Should those who were married and divorced before becoming Christians remarry?” Paul addresses two categories of people in this passage: unmarried and widows. He also addresses a third category in 7:25, namely, virgins. “Virgins” represent those who have never been married (and who are sexually pure), “widows” represent those who were once married but were released from the marriage due to the death of their spouse, and the “unmarried” likely represents those who were once married but who are now divorced. Verses 10-11 are helpful for interpreting who the “unmarried” are: “the wife should not leave [divorce] her husband (but if she does let her remain unmarried).” Thus, the term “unmarried” signifies those who were once married but now aren’t and are distinguishable from “widows.” Basically, Paul seems to be speaking to a group of people who were married and divorced prior to conversion to Christ. There were no doubt others who had come to know Christ while their marriage partners did not. These folks were wondering if they could then divorce their unbelieving spouses and marry another – one who was a Christian.
Verse 8 is Paul’s answer to such questions. He says that it is “good” for widows and divorcees to remain “even as I.” In saying “even as I” Paul may very well be affirming the fact that he too was once married. He lumps himself in with these two groups as opposed to virgins. Furthermore, from what is known about Paul as a devout Jewish Pharisee it is likely that he at one time served on the Jewish Supreme Court (Sanhedrin), and it appears that membership on the Sanhedrin required one to be married. Romans 16:13 might also be an allusion to his mother-in-law, and it all adds up to a speculative argument for Paul’s once having been married. As such he is able to give the advice to those formerly married that it is “good” for them to remain single.
Verse 9 is a clear teaching that sex is a powerful entity, and those given to it should marry. If one can remain single they should. However, if the burning desire for sex (“do not have self-control) gets the best of them, then they should seek to be married. The clear teaching here is that it is better to be married than to attempt a life of being single and “to burn” – a phrase that literally means “to be inflamed with strong passion” – obviously referring to sexual passion.
Food for Thought
Two thoughts. First, those who have decided to marry often have engagements that can last for years. This ought not be because far too often it breeds burning passions that go haywire causing the well-meaning couple to venture way too far sexually. Since sex is for marriage and since sexual desire is powerful beyond most human’s ability to withstand, engagements should be much shorter for those who choose to be married. Man’s libido often overpowers his/her good intentions, and this is why the Bible encourages marriage for those who burn with passion.
Second, singles are too often looked down upon by matchmakers. Young singles are encouraged to get married; older singles are questioned as to why they remain single. Those who don’t have the gift of celibacy – who attempt to remain single – will grow more and more frustrated. Those who do have it are greatly blessed and must not be encouraged to marry. Paul wasn’t married, and Jesus wasn’t married. These two men prove that singleness is respectable and that it has a place in God’s kingdom of believers. When small Bible study groups and church ads only reflect families it is clear that singleness is frowned upon rather than upheld as good.
1 Corinthians 7:10-11… But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away.
In first century Palestine Jews divorced their wives quite regularly. Though God’s Law forbade divorce, Moses did permit it in Deut. 24:1 in order to protect wives that had been abandoned by their husbands. Jesus commented on this (Matt.19:7-10; Mark 10:2-12) by saying that Moses permitted divorce because men were hardhearted (modern-day “bone-headed”). Since Moses permitted divorce his writing of such became the subject of opposing interpretations. The teaching was (and is) clear, but because folks desire their own will Moses’ teaching was misinterpreted by many. Many were divorcing their wives simply because they got tired of them. Some even left because the wives burned their food! They would justify their divorces with their loop-hole interpretation of Moses’ permission to divorce. In a word, they were hardhearted.
While on the earth Jesus Christ gave specific instructions regarding marriage, and Paul reflects on that teaching in vv. 10-11 by telling his audience that his teaching just reflects Jesus’ teaching – “I give instructions, not I, but the Lord…” In Matthew 5:32 Jesus explicitly stated that divorce was only lawful in cases of sexual unfaithfulness by a spouse (same as Moses). In such a scenario, if the man was sexually unfaithful to his wife, divorced her, and then remarried, he became an adulterer. If the innocent wife remarried (which she often had to do), she too committed adultery, but her sin was caused by the husband who left her. In Matthew 19:4-6 Jesus taught that husband and wife become “one flesh” through their sexual union (also reflecting Moses’ teaching in Gen. 2:24), and because of this they should never divorce.
With all of this in view – especially the teaching of Matthew 5:32 – Paul instructs married wives in verse 10. They should never leave their husbands. The parenthetical statement “but if she does leave…”, however, is biblical support for separation. Marital separation should be permitted in cases of physical abuse and for times to cool down so as to come back together with a sound mind in order to work out various problems (this is my teaching, not the Lord’s). However, in cases of separation or divorce, the wife is specifically instructed to remain either unmarried or to be reconciled to her husband. Those are the only two options when sexual unfaithfulness is NOT the issue. The same teaching is true for the husband, but Paul sums that instruction up in one phrase: “the husband should not send his wife away.” Again, this answers the question the Corinthians likely asked… “Can we divorce our unbelieving spouses now that we’re Christians?” Paul says unequivocally “NO.”
Food for Thought
We’re told continually that one out of every two marriages ends in divorce. To make matters worse, it is also widely reported that marriages in the church also reflect this statistic. The church is losing its uniqueness. Marriage instructions are specific, and they leave no room for interpretation. But in the same way that the pious Jews (Pharisees) twisted the clear OT teaching that divorce was only lawful in cases of sexual unfaithfulness so too do Christians with slogans like, “that’s not the way I interpret it!” Malachi 2:16 says of God, “I hate divorce!” If He hates it, should we be indifferent to it? Never! The reason God hates it is because it represents failure. When two people endowed with the Holy Spirit, who are “one flesh” through their sexual union can’t work out their problems and remain faithful to one another, the devil has surely been victorious. As Christians let’s hold the standard high and be the “holy ones” God called us to be.
1 Corinthians 7:12-16… But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, let him not send her away. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, let her not send her husband away. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
In vv. 12-16 Paul now comments on issues that Jesus didn’t while he was on the earth. When he says, “I say, not the Lord…” this does not mean that he is offering an opinion that the recipients could take or leave. Neither does it deny inspiration. It simply means that Jesus had not taught specifically about this particular situation. But Paul is now setting forth the inspired Word straight from God Himself about all remaining matters concerning marriage, remarriage, and divorce. He is again answering specific questions the Corinthians wrote to him about.
The question Paul answers in vv. 12-13 is “should a Christian leave his/her unbelieving spouse?” The answer is “NO” as long as the unbelieving spouse agrees to remain married to his/her mate. This command was no doubt disappointing to some of the Christians in Corinth who were wanting to get out of their marriages. But Paul doesn’t just leave it at that. He explains why they need to remain married in v. 14. He says that the unbelieving partner is “sanctified” through their spouse who is a believer in Christ. The word “sanctified” literally means “holy; separate.” Now what it doesn’t say is that the unbelieving spouse is “justified” – the word denoting salvation. That the unbeliever is “made holy” through their Christian spouse simply means that they now live in a home where the Holy Spirit resides, and the mere fact that they will daily encounter the Holy Spirit in the life of their spouse means that they are “separated” – made “holy” – through that union. Furthermore, the children of such a union are also considered “holy.” If the union of a believer and an unbeliever terminates, then their children are considered “unclean.” Dr. J. MacArthur comments: “In God’s eyes a home is set apart for Himself when a husband, wife, or by implication, any other family member, is a Christian… the Lord guarantees that the presence of just one Christian parent will protect the children. It’s not that their salvation is assured but that they are protected from undue spiritual harm and that they will receive spiritual blessing.”
Verse 15 goes further to say that IF in the case where the unbelieving spouse insists on a divorce, the believing spouse can (and should) let them leave. It is clear that this kind of divorce does not in any way put the believing spouse in any danger of the sin of adultery. God has called us to “peace,” and living in a volatile union with an unbeliever is anything but. However, as long as they can live together they should, and Paul is clear as to why in v. 16. He challenges the believers that their union with their unbelieving spouse might just result in their salvation.
Food for Thought
If your marriage is a struggle because your spouse is an unbeliever, then God has spoken to you today in this Bible passage. This is God’s teaching, and because it is His, it is perfect and must be obeyed. To follow your own path will only make matters worse. Continue to pray for your spouse’s salvation and thank God that your children are sanctified by your union.
Paul’s Teaching on Marriage, Remarriage, and Sex
There were at least four types of marriages practiced in the Greco-Roman world:
- The contubernium – mainly for slaves but left to owners as to length of marriage.
- The usus – a common law marriage for those who lived together for one year.
- The coemptio in manum – a father would sell his daughter to a husband.
- The conferreatio – this is what the modern wedding ceremony is based upon.
- Wedding rings on the fourth finger
- Best man/matron of honor
- Families in their respective arrangements of the wedding
- Exchange of vows
- Wearing of a veil
- Bridal bouquet
- Wedding cake
- There was an active feminist movement in the 1st century against marriage/sex.
- Many Christians had multiple divorces and would live together b/f marriage
- Some taught that sex was “unspiritual”
- Some taught that celibacy and singleness was superior to marriage
- 1 Tim 4:1-5 says, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.”
1. Should a person marry? (vv. 1, 7)
2. Is sex wrong? (v. 1)
3. Does 7:2 teach that everyone is should marry? (“let each man” [who is already married])
4. Can one spouse withhold sex from the other? (vv. 3-4)
5. Are spouses obligated to give in to the other? (v. 5)
6. Withholding sex from one partner ushers in Satan’s temptations (v. 5) [likely the reason some were seeking prostitutes]
7. Three types of situations:
- Unmarried (v. 8) – divorced
- Widows (v. 8) – death of spouse
- Virgins (v. 25) – never been married
8. Should widows/divorcees remarry? (v. 8)
9. Can a person remarry following the death of a spouse? (1 Cor. 7:9, 39; Romans 7:2-3)
10. Can a person remarry after a divorce?
11. Can married folks seek a divorce? (v. 10)
12. Whom should divorcees remarry? (v. 11)
13. Can a believing spouse divorce his/her unbelieving spouse? (vv. 12-14)
14. Can a believing spouse allow his/her unbelieving spouse to divorce (v. 15)
15. Does staying married to an unbeliever have any purpose? (v. 16)
16. If one marriage partner doesn’t obey biblical guidelines should they divorce? NO
17. Can Christians marry unbelievers? (2 Cor. 6:14)