Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage (Paul: 1 Corinthians 7, Part 6)

Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 7:25).

Paul had received questions from the brethren at Corinth (1 Corinthians 7:1 cf. 7:10; 7:12; 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1-2; 16:12).  We have his answers.  We do not have the wording of the original questions.

“Paul, what advice do you give concerning virgins and widows?”  It seems that they asked something like this.

His answer was not a commandment from the Lord.  However, it was inspired advise[1 Corinthians 7:25 (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:11-12); 1 Corinthians 7:40; 14:37].  Robert Dodson comments, “This is not a matter of commandment, but neither is it mere human opinion.  It is the judgment of an inspired apostle” (Dodson, Brown Trail Class Notes).

I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress – that it is good for a man to remain as he is: Are you bound to a wife?  Do not seek to be loosed.  Are you loosed from a wife?  Do not seek a wife.  But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.  Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you” (1 Corinthians 7:26-28).

Paul answered: (1) “It is good for a man to remain as he is” (1 Corinthians 7:26).  It was best, in Paul’s judgment, for all not married (including virgin women) to remain unmarried.  This advice was due to the “present distress” (v. 26), which was soon to get much worse (v. 29-31).  No sudden changes in marital status were advised: (a) “Are you bound to a wife?  Do not seek to be loosed” (v. 27a).  The word “loosed” (lusis) “is commonly found in the papyri with reference to the ‘discharge’ of bonds or debts.  It clearly has reference here to breaking up the marriage – a divorce” (Editor Jim Laws, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, p. 399, The Spiritual Sword Lectureship).  This may have been said to caution the married not to divorce their mates because of the “present distress.”  Marriage is for “better and worse.”  It is designed for endurance.  (b) “Are you loosed from a wife” (v. 27b).  The word “loosed” (lelusai) does not necessarily mean divorced.  Thayer says of the word, “a single man, whether he has already had a wife or has not yet married.”  Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich says, “a previous state of being ‘bound’ need not be assumed.”  One who has been married can be loosed to remarry two ways: First, one is loosed when his mate dies (Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39); Second, one is loosed when he puts away his mate for fornication (Matthew 19:9).  (2) “But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries she has not sinned” (1 Corinthians 7:28).

And this I say for your own profit… But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth… let him do what he wishes.  He does not sin; let them marry… so then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better” (1 Corinthians 7:35-38).

There are two views of these verses.  (1) Some believe that this refers to an engaged man and his fiancé.  “His virgin” is understood to mean “his fiancé.”  The ESV renders it “his betrothed” with a footnote which reads, “Greek virgin.” What about the words “gives her in marriage”? (v. 38 NKJV).  While this is the ordinary meaning of the wording (cf. Matthew 22:30; Luke 17:27; 20:34-35), some argue that the wording sometimes simply means “to marry.”  The ESV reads, “he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains will do better.”  (2) Others believe that this refers to a father and his daughter.  “His virgin” is understood to mean, “his virgin daughter.” The NASB renders it “his virgin daughter,” with daughter in italics.  This is my view.  In my mind, it is the most natural understanding of the Greek in verse 38.  It also provides a most natural reason for the shift in verse 36: “let him do what he wishes.  He does not sin; let them marry.” Robert Dodson comments, “Jewish, Roman and Greek fathers controlled the marriage of their daughters…Paul assures the father that he has not sinned if he gives his daughter in marriage, but if this could be avoided it would be better for the same reasons Paul has already stated in this chapter”(Dodson, Brown Trail class notes). J.W. McGarvey comments, “Marriages in the East were then, as now, arranged by the parents. If a parent saw fit to marry his daughter he had a perfect right to do so and was guilty of no sin, but if he heeded the apostle’s warning as to the coming trials and kept his daughter free…he acted more wisely” (McGarvey, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans, p. 84).

However, regardless of which parties are in view (see above), the point is the same.  It was best not to marry at that time.  However, it was no sin to marry.

A wife is bound by law as long her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is a liberty to marry whom she wishes, only in the Lord.  But she is happier if she remains as she is – and I think I also have the spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:39-40).

Paul advised: (1) It was best for the widow not to marry.  He suggested that she would be happier (under the current situation) to remain unmarried (v. 40).  He reminded them, in a sarcastic way, that this was not just an opinion, but inspired advice (v. 40 cf. 1 Corinthians 14:37). (2) However, it was not a sin for her to remarry (v. 39).  Though, she was instructed that if she married, she was to marry “only in the Lord” (see article Marrying “Only in the Lord” ).

What about widowers?  Earlier, Paul spoke of “the unmarried” and “widows” (1 Corinthians 7:8).  The word “unmarried” is masculine.  It likely refers in context to widowers.

A very important point is stated, which should not be missed: marriage is a lifetime commitment (v. 39).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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