For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2000 James Melough

7:1.  “Now concerning the things where­of ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”    

The Corinthians had obviously written to Paul asking for information relative to marriage, and having dealt with the immorality in their midst, the Apostle then went on to answer their questions, and he began by declaring that it would be well for a man to remain single, but he hastened to take account of reality, and added immediately the nevertheless of verse 2.

7:2.  “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”

Western society, obsessed with emotion and sentiment, dwells on romantic love to the almost total exclusion of the fact that sex is a bodily appetite just the same as hunger and thirst, the fear being that to acknowledge this would be to somehow denigrate the sanctity of marriage. 

Other cultures, on the other hand, have emphasized the bodily appetite, to the almost total exclusion of love in the marriage relationship.  God, however, brings the two together, so that in our western culture the romantic love becomes the means whereby the physical need is provided for in marriage; and in other cul­tures, love almost invariably becomes a part of what began as simply a practical arrangement to meet a human need.  To focus on the mere physical need is indeed to denigrate marriage, but to focus exclusively on mere romantic love is to ignore reality.  The two are not mutually exclusive, but complimentary.

Paul faces reality and recognizes that sex is an appetite, which if not gratified in marriage, which God has ordained for that very purpose, will seek gratification illicitly, and thus cause men and women to sin.

The Apostle was not, as some have charged, against marriage, and in declaring that it was good for a man not to marry, it was only because he recognized that the man or woman unencumbered with the responsibilities which are the normal concomitant of marriage, enjoys more freedom to serve God, simply because he or she doesn’t have those responsibilities.

7:3.  “Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence:  and likewise also the wife unto the husband.”

Mutual affection is to mark every aspect of the marriage relationship, both partners having equal responsibility in this.

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.”

“Power” here means “authority over.”  In the marriage relationship, which makes husband and wife one, each partner must recognize that his or her body is now no longer under his or her exclusive control, but is shared equally by husband and wife together.

7:5.  “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.”

Defraud means literally to rob or despoil, and in the present context it means that neither husband nor wife is to deprive the other of the use of his or her body.  The benevolence mentioned in verse 3 will, of course, guard against unreasonable demands being made by either partner.

By mutual consent, normal marriage relations may be suspended, (but it is emphasized that the consent must be mutual), and the suspension is to be only temporary, so that both partners may give themselves to prayer without any distraction. (Fasting lacks the support of original manuscripts, and relative to fasting, it is to be noted that this was a Jewish exercise, legitimate for Jewish believers until the dissolution of Jewish autonomy in AD 70, but having no place in the life of any believers since then.  The spiritual equivalent of literal fasting is to renounce the pleasures of the world).

To prolong the suspension unduly is simply to render one or both partners susceptible to the enticement of Satan resulting from unsatisfied desire.

7:6.  “But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.”

The Apostle takes care to add that he is not imposing any rule upon them, and for an obvious reason.  Such things cannot be legislated.  Each couple, within these general guidelines, are to free to work out what best accommodates their own particular circumstances and needs.

7:7.  “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.”

Paul’s desire that all be single as he was, was not because he felt the married state to be inferior to the single, but as he was careful to explain, that each might be the better able to serve the Lord, free from the obligations attending the married state.

He was quick to acknowledge that not everyone had the God-given ability to live the celibate life; and it is to be noted that in this, as in everything else, to attempt to maintain the state without having been given the necessary gift, would be as disastrous as for one to attempt to be an evangelist, elder, or teacher, without having been given the necessary gift.

7:8.  “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.”

Some believe that the unmarried here refers to widowers rather than to those who have never been married, but it is not of paramount importance.  The point he makes is that the single man or woman, not having the responsibilities attached to the married state, has more freedom to serve God, the good attached to this single state obviously having eternity in view when each will be rewarded according to the faithfulness of his service here on earth.

7:9.  “But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”

If the sexual appetite is so strong as to be a distraction and impediment to service for God, then it is much better to marry.  To burn has reference to the frustration resulting from ungratified sexual desire, as one translation gives it “to be tortured by unsatisfied desire.”

7:10.  “And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her hus­band:”

This may not be taken to imply that what Paul had already written on the subject was not inspired.  It was!  What is being declared here is that relative to what Paul had just discussed, the Lord Himself had not given any teaching on the subject, but in regard to the matter of divorce He had, see for example, Mt 5:31-32; 19:3-9.  God forbids divorce, except where one or both partners have been guilty of fornication or adultery; and even then, what is said in Scripture concerning forgiveness (Mt 18:21-22), makes it clear that where forgiveness can preserve the marriage, that is by far the better course.  Where, however, the offender has contracted another marriage, thus rendering impossible the restoration of the original marriage, it seems that the offended partner is then free to marry another.

7:11.  “But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.”

Where another marriage hasn’t been contracted, but the offended partner refuses to forgive, and instead leaves the offending partner, even though the offender is willing to continue the marriage, he or she is not free to marry again.  It is emphasized that reconciliation is by far the better course.

7:12.  “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.”

This was undoubtedly meant to address the question that was sure to arise relative to what is recorded in Ezra 10 concerning the Israelites who had married heathen wives, and in some cases had had children by those wives.  There, such wives and children were to be put away.  Some believers unquestionably would be wondering whether marriages contracted prior to their conversion, would similarly have to be dissolved.  This was Paul’s answer.  The marriage was to continue.  And again, his “speak I, not the Lord” doesn’t mean that what he was writing was uninspired, but that the Lord, during His earthly ministry, had given no teaching on this matter.

Nor is this question one that was relevant only to Corinth in the first century.  There are many places in the world today where the identical situation exists.

7:13.  “And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.”

What applies to the man, applies also to the woman in the same circumstances.  She is not to leave her unbelieving husband if he is willing to continue the marriage.

7:14.  “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.”

This doesn’t mean that the unbelieving spouse and children are saved just because of their connection with the believing spouse or parent.  We have to remember that sanctified means simply to be set apart, and in this verse it means that the unbelieving spouse is set apart in the sense that he or she has the benefit of being joined to a believer who will not only continually seek opportunities to present the Gospel, but who will pray faithfully for the salvation of that unsaved loved one, and who will seek to live in such fashion as may lead to his or her conversion.  In this sense the unbelieving spouse is set apart from other unbelievers who usually have no one to care about their souls to the same extent.

Relative to the holiness of the children of such a mixed marriage, holy has virtually the same meaning as sanctified, so that what has been said above in connection with the unconverted spouse applies also to the children.  Such children and spouses, having before them the daily example of a godly life, being the objects of continual earnest prayer, and having multiplied opportunities to hear the Gospel, are set apart from the many others who are less fortunate.

7:15.  “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.”

If, however, the unbelieving spouse refuses to continue as a partner in that marriage, he or she is to be allowed to leave without the believing partner’s resorting to any form of coercion to prevent that departure.

The believer’s not being under bondage in such cases, means simply that God doesn’t bind him or her to attempt to continue a relationship which the unbelieving partner wishes to break.

God’s calling us to peace may mean either that we are to seek to preserve the relationship with the unbelieving partner only as long as it can be done peaceably; or it may mean that whatever the outcome, we are to walk in the enjoyment of the peace of knowing that God’s will is best.

7:16.  “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?”

This question is ambiguous, being understood by some to mean that there is the possibility that the believing spouse may be the means of leading the other to the Savior; but being understood by others as meaning “You have no guarantee that you will see your unbelieving partner saved.”  Certainly the latter is true, but surely believing spouses should be willing to do everything within their power to lead their unsaved partners to Christ.

7:17.  “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.”

“Distributed” may here have reference to verse 7 in which the ability to live unmarried is declared by Paul to be a gift given by God.  “As the Lord hath called,” on the other hand, clearly has reference to the state in which each one was when he became a believer, e.g., some were circumcised, some weren’t; some were slaves, some freemen; some married, others not, etc.  The emphasis is upon the fact that the change in the spiritual state is not to beget a determination to change the physical state also.  Paul would have each believer to be content with the circumstances of life as appointed by God, as he declared of himself, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Php 4:11).  The same exhortation is found in Hebrews, “Be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (He 13:5).

This command wasn’t just for the Corinthian assembly, but for every church, for those in the twentieth century as much as for those in the first.  Unfortunately it is an exhortation largely ignored today, that neglect contributing in no small measure to the present deplorable state of the church.

7:18.  “Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised.  Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.”

Since physical circumcision can’t be undone, Paul was clearly pointing to what normally accompanied circumcision or lack of it, i.e., the Jewish lifestyle associated with the former, the Gentile lifestyle with the latter.  In other words, he who was a Jew at the time of his conversion was not to attempt to change that fact; likewise he who was a Gentile.  Related to this is the fact that until A.D.70, when Jewish autonomy ended, there was one order appointed for believing Jews, and another for their Gentile brethren, see, e.g., Ac 15:19-29; 21:23-26.  It was, in fact, the attempt of Jewish believers to impose the Jewish lifestyle on believing Gentiles, that resulted in the convening of the council in Jerusalem, and the resulting decision as recorded in Ac 15.  After A.D.70, however, the Jewish order ceased, and the whole Church since then has been governed by the order appointed for Gentile believers.  We should note that the Jewish order prevailed during those early years because Israel was still being offered the millennial kingdom in which the Jewish ritual will be reinstated.  Had she accepted the King and the Kingdom then, there would have been no Church, and the Jewish order would have governed the life of believing Jew and Gentile alike.

7:19.  “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.”

In his Epistle to the Galatians Paul enlarges upon the truth concisely stated here: physical circumcision will not save a man, nor will lack of physical circumcision condemn him.  It is faith in the heart, not a physical sign in the body, that saves men.

As for “keeping the commandments of God,” this is not to be construed as teaching that we can be saved by law keeping.  We can’t!  What is largely ignored today, however, is that an obedient life is the outward evidence of a new spiritual state.  Where a man professes faith, but continues to walk in disobedience, he gives every reason for others to question the reality of his profession.

7:20. “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”

Having dealt with the convert’s matrimonial standing at the time of conversion; and then with the matter of whether he had been a Jew or a Gentile, Paul now takes up the matter of the convert’s occupation; and as in the case of the other two, so also with this: conversion is not to produce a determination to change one’s occupation (the obvious exception being that of the occupation which would require us to disobey God).

7:21.  “Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.”

Those who had become believers while bondslaves, were not to let that bondage trouble them.

The concluding clause is interpreted in two ways: (1) if you can legitimately obtain your freedom, by all means do so, (2) even if you can obtain your freedom, remain a bondslave and be a witness for Christ in your bondage.  The former meaning seems preferable.

7:22.  “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.”

The bondslave, called into union with Christ, becomes a spiritual freeman, his emancipation being from something infinitely worse than physical bondage: it is from slavery to sin, Satan and death.  In the light of deliverance from such slavery, physical bondage becomes but a small thing, a yoke easily endured. 

The other side of that coin, however, is that the convert, set free from bondage to sin, Satan and death, becomes the Lord’s slave.  But how different is that state!  The servant’s utmost good is the result of that service, for, unlike service to the former master, Satan, service to Christ brings fullness of blessing to the servant.

Vine draws attention to the fact that the believer is the Lord’s freeman, but Christ’s servant, and comments that “’The Lord’ speaks of authority; ‘Christ’ speaks of grace and love.”

Other translations render freeman as freedman, a fact which emphasizes the truth that in contrast with our new state of freedom, our former state was one of bondage, Christ’s finished work alone making emancipation possible.

7:23.  “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.”

The service to men can’t refer to literal employment, so it must therefore relate to spiritual service or bondage.  We are not to permit men to impose upon us anything that isn’t authorized in Scripture.  It was the Jewish leaders’ imposition of such restrictions upon the people that evoked the Lord’s most scathing censure; and it was similar evil work that called forth Paul’s denunciation in his Galatian Epistle.

7:24. “Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.”

This is the summation of what Paul has been saying.  Whether at the time of his conversion the believer was married or single, bondslave or freeman, he is to be satisfied to remain in that state, the obvious exception being a state that brought him into conflict with God, e.g., he is not to continue in an occupation that is immoral or illegal. 

“...with God” reminds us that if we are enjoying communion with Him, then every circumstance, no matter how difficult, will be lustered with His presence, and cast in a new light, the assurance being that He has either ordained or permitted that circumstance, so that we need have no anxious care concerning it, since “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Ro 8:28).

7:25.  “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.”

Again, this doesn’t imply that what Paul was saying wasn’t as much inspired as the rest of his utterances.  It was.  The explanation is that the Lord Himself was not imposing a rule relative to whether virgins ought to marry or remain single.  He was leaving the choice with them, or with those who would normally be making the decision, as for example, in those days, the father of a virgin daughter.  To help them make the decision, he was giving them the benefit of his opinion, the value of which was to be measured by the fact that God had called him to be an Apostle, that calling itself declaring the trust God imposed in his servant, the clear implication being that if God could trust him, then they too could trust his judgment.

7:26.  “I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.”

“I suppose” doesn’t mean that he was uncertain, but that he was giving his opinion, and as noted above, there was every reason to trust his opinion.  “... the present distress” is literally “the time of suffering that is now imminent, or that is already upon us.”  It may be that he was referring to the fact that, as the Lord Himself had declared, the obedient believer would have “tribulation” (Jn 16:33), i.e., pressure, affliction, anguish, persecution, trouble, etc., for, as noted already, one can’t be faithful to God without incurring the hatred of the world.  That being so, the single state was to be preferred, for the tribulation incurred by faithfulness would be compounded by the anguish of having to see a spouse and children endure it also.  The words “it is good for a man so to be” are generally understood to mean “it is better to remain in your present state,” and while it seems that he had in mind primarily the state of the unmarried, he was also emphasizing the desirability of remaining generally in the same state as existed at the time of conversion.  This is made clear by what follows.

7:27.  “Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed.  Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.”

This is literally, “If married, remain married.  If single, remain single.”  No attempt was to be made to dissolve the marriage bond, even if the spouse were an unbeliever; and in regard to those who were single, it was better, if possible, to remain so.

7:28.  “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.”

Few explanations of this verse are better than that of Phillips who translates it, “Yet I do believe that those who take this step are bound to find the married state an extra burden in these critical days, and I should like you to be as unencumbered as possible.”  Paul’s statement is briefly summed up in what he has already declared: the married state is good and ordained by God, but as far as service for God is concerned the single state is better, for the single believer’s service can be rendered without the distraction and care that are the concomitant of marriage.

The flesh here refers not only to the physical body, but to all the conditions relevant to the earthly state.

7:29.  “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;”

This doesn’t mean that the married are to live in celibacy (see verse 5), or that the responsibilities of marriage are to be abandoned, but rather, that married and single alike are to live in the realization that our time here on earth is brief, and is to be devoted as far as possible to the Lord’s service.

7:30.  “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;”

Paul is not here teaching stoicism, but rather, that weeping and laughter are to be recognized as natural responses to natural stimuli, and because they are, like everything pertaining to the natural state, are passing away.  He is continuing to teach that the circumstances attending this transient life on earth are not to be permitted to hinder to an unnecessary degree our service to the Lord.  We are neither to be morbidly occupied with life’s sorrows, nor given to giddy occupation with its joys.

Relative to acquiring possessions, we are to remember that we are but stewards of all we possess, and are responsible to use everything for God’s glory, holding all things in the knowledge that at the judgment seat of Christ we will have to give an account of our stewardship.   This responsibility, incidentally, excludes the idea of communal possession, but does not exclude the fact that we are to be ready to share what we have with those (especially other believers) who have genuine need.

7:31.  “And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.”

The admonition continues to be against an inordinate occupation with the things of this passing world.  Its sorrows, joys, business, etc., are not to engage our attention more than is absolutely necessary.  This would warn against attempting to accumulate riches, achieve success, acquire power or fame, etc., an admonition largely ignored by believers in today’s materialistic society.  The folly of such living is declared in that our departure to heaven will require us to abandon all of these things anyway.  What folly then, to bankrupt ourselves spiritually through the pursuit of these passing things!

7:32.  “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;”

7:33.  “But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.”

Paul would have them, and us, free from the care that accompanies possession of earthly riches and involvement with the world’s business, so that whether married or single, we might give ourselves wholeheartedly to the Lord’s business.  It goes without saying that this ideal will be better achieved where husband and wife are of the same mind in regard to the need of being about His business.

7:34.  “There is a 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.”

Having discussed the special problems of the married man, Paul now proceeds to take up the case of the married woman, and we should note that his statements concerning the care of the single woman and that of the wife for the things of the Lord, are not absolutes.  The wife may have just as much desire to serve the Lord, but her duties as wife make it impossible for her to give herself to that work as wholeheartedly as if she were single.

Relative to being “holy both in body and in spirit,” this is not to imply that there is anything unholy about marriage.  Here holy has the same meaning as in verse 14, i.e., set apart.  The unmarried woman is more set apart for the service of God in the sense that she has fewer demands upon her time than does the married woman.

7:35.  “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.”

Paul makes it clear that he wasn’t trying to impose restrictions upon them, literally, to put a halter around their necks.  What he was saying was for their eternal profit, and after all, in the final analysis, that is the only thing that matters, for as the unbeliever is asked to consider what it will profit him to gain the whole world, but lose his soul, so is the believer asked to consider what it will profit him to gain the world, but lose an eternal treasure in the process.

“Comely” in the present context means seemly or suitable.  Paul’s desire was that they should be living in a manner suitable to their high standing as men and women in Christ, that lifestyle requiring them to be ready always to serve the Lord without distraction.

7:36.  “But if any man thinketh 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.”

Able expositors are disagreed as to whether this verse is addressed to the father of an unmarried girl, or to an unmarried man.  We will therefore look at it from both viewpoints.  First, taking it as advice to the father of an unmarried girl, Paul is saying that if the father thinks he is acting improperly toward his daughter, especially if she is past her teens, and wants to marry her suitor, then the father should allow her to marry, and he will be doing nothing wrong.

If, on the other hand, Paul is addressing a man who is engaged to a girl, but who considers that his refusal to marry her (in response to the Apostle’s teaching relative to the spiritual advantages of the unmarried state), is unfair to her, and they have not been endowed with the gift of being able to live singly (verse 7), but would be consumed with desire for each other (verse 9), then they ought to marry, and it would be no sin.

There are yet other expositors who, because of what is written in verse 37, see this as relating, not to a virgin daughter, but to a man’s own virginity.

7:37.  “Nevertheless he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and has so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.”

This would seem to support the view of the third group just mentioned, that the reference is to a man engaged to a girl, but who decides not to marry her, thus keeping his own virginity.  Some, however, maintain that it applies also to a father in regard to giving his daughter in marriage.  Those espousing this latter view, claim that the “having no necessity” and having “power over his own will” refer, not to physical necessity on the part of a suitor, but to the father’s having no misgivings about refusing to allow his daughter to marry.  My personal opinion is that this latter view relative to a father is farfetched.

Since it’s unlikely that the matter will be settled until we get to heaven, it is well to remember that in regard to these matters Paul hasn’t been legislating, but rather, giving advice, so that there is room for individual discretion, having his assurance that no sin is involved either in marrying or staying single, in a father’s giving his daughter in marriage or not giving her.

7:38.  “So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.”

In Paul’s declaring the superiority of the single state over that of the married, it is to be remembered that it is better only with regard to the opportunity afforded those who remain single, to render a more undistracted service to the Lord.  The single state is not morally better than the married.

We might note also that there is less capricious tyranny than at first appears, on the part of the father involved in this decision of whether to give his daughter in marriage.  There is ample room for the daughter’s will to be taken into account also, for clearly there would be little good in compelling her obedience, having regard to the fact that the objective of her remaining single ought to be that she would be the better able to serve the Lord.  The rebel heart can render no acceptable service.

7:39.  “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.”

Having dealt with the case of the daughter under her father’s control, Paul here discusses the matter of the woman, who having married, was no longer under that control, and who, now being widowed, wasn’t under the control of her husband either.  Such a woman, he says, is free to decide for herself whether to remarry, the only requirement being that she remarry “in the Lord.”  This goes beyond the requirement that she not only not marry an unbeliever, but that she must be sure it is the Lord’s will for her to remarry at all.

7:40.  “But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.”

Clearly he is speaking here of an older widow, for in 1 Tim 5:14 he recommends that younger widows remarry.  Her happiness will consist, not only in her having here on earth the peace of knowing that she is in the current of God’s will, but of having in heaven the abundant eternal reward of faithful undistracted service.

Paul’s statement relative to his thinking that he had the Spirit of God, doesn’t mean that he was uncertain about it, but that in spite of contrary opinions others might have of him relative to this, he was certain in his own mind that he had the Spirit of God, so that what he had expressed as being simply his opinion, was in fact the mind of the Spirit of God.  This, however, doesn’t transmute his opinion into a command.  Having advised the saints of the difference between what was good, and what was better, they were still free to chose for themselves, and even in choosing only the good rather than the better, they weren’t sinning.

[1 Corinthians 8]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough