1 Corinthians


5. Celibacy, divorce and marriage, 7:1-40

ii] Marriage


Paul now qualifies his advice given in v1-5, namely, the advantage of an open and ongoing sexual relationship in marriage for curbing the temptation toward immoral sexual gratification. Paul notes that his words are not a "command", they are but a "suggestion", JB. There is much to be said for a celibate life, a life which he himself lives, but it is only for those who have the gifted temperament to live such a life. For Paul, celibacy has its advantages (cf., v32-35) and so he is happy to recommend it to "the unmarried" and "widows", but for those who do not have the temperament for the single life, it is better to marry than burn with sexual passion.


i] Context: See 7:1-5.


ii] Background: . The Enthusiasts / Ascetics in Corinth. Numerous attempts have been made to identify the enthusiasts / ascetics in Corinth, eg., a group influenced by the Essenes, so Barnett. They may be a single group, possibly nomist members of the congregation, those emphasizing the holiness of the law, such that doing, rather than receiving, is how a believer accesses the promised blessings of the covenant. There may be multiple groups: nomists, charismatics, libertarians, second coming enthusiasts.

Paul does not describe the social situation in the Corinthian church. The best we can say is that the enthusiasts / ascetics in the congregation are fired up with a realized eschatology which is prompting them to abandon normal every-day life - ending sex within marriage, separating from unbelieving partners, slaves walking off the job, leaving employment, .... All this is reinforced by congregational worship that is fired up with tongues and second coming preaching. Members are obviously exaggerating the worth of spiritual gifts, particularly tongues. Disorder has ensued as tongue-speakers take over the worship service. Paul's own realized eschatology may have initiated their form of fire-brand Christianity.

Local circumstances may well have reinforced this behavior. The Roman Empire, at this time, was experiencing severe drought, with food shortages and disorder affecting life in Corinth. For two years, in the food-bowl of the Empire, unseasonal floods along the Nile had wiped out the Egyptian grain harvest. At such times, disease often takes a hold, and so local believers may well have concluded that the tribulation is upon them. The creation of the Imperial Cult in Corinth in 54AD may also have prompted persecution of believers and so added to their sense of foreboding.


iii] Structure: Marriage:

Part 2: instructions on celibacy, marriage and divorces:

Issue: Sexual abstinence.

Qualification, v6:

Paul's approval of the celibate life is a concession.

Explanation, v7:

the qualities necessary for a celibate life are a divine gifting.

Teaching, v8-9:

there are advantages to the single life,

but it is better to marry than burn.


iv] Interpretation:

Paul concurs with the sentiment expressed by the ascetics, and wishes that many more had the "gift" of celibacy (a gift of freedom from sexual need) as he does, but such is a natural gift from God, as is the gift of a sexual passion, therefore each must naturally express their gifts. For Paul, a celibate lifestyle is acceptable if you have the "gift", as he has. Without the gift, it is best to get married, otherwise frustration will lead to immorality.

It is possible to read Paul's words as if marriage is a second best, but we can only come to this conclusion if we ignore Paul's argumentative style. In dealing with the Corinthian enthusiasts / ascetics he first aligns with their position, affirming the (their ???) maxim remain as you are, but he then amends it. Paul uses the same tactic when dealing with the issue of tongues. He speaks in tongues more than anyone, but tongues do not benefit everyone. In fact, it is better to prophecy than speak in a tongue, because prophecy builds up, whereas tongues are often just a meaningless noise. Similarly with celibacy, Paul is happily celibate (there is some debate on that; Was St. Paul Married?, Arens, TBT 66), but celibacy does not benefit everyone. In fact, celibacy can undermine a person's walk with the Lord, leading them into a life of sexual perversion. The somewhat embarrassing use of words in v9 take on a different slant when we understand that they are addressed to ascetics who are promoting celibacy.


Remain as you are: Throughout chapter 7, Paul bases much of what he says on the maxim remain as you are. He argues from this position, but then offers a qualification, eg., it is good to remain unmarried, BUT it's better to marry than burn - "Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned", 7:27-28. The maxim may be Paul's, although why does he so often qualify it? It seems likely that the maxim has become an important rule within the Corinthian congregation, possibly promoted by the enthusiasts / ascetics. Of course, the rule may well have originally come from Paul, but is being unwisely applied within the life of the congregation. Whatever its origins, Paul's argument is tactical, with the weight of his instruction upon the qualification rather than the maxim. The matter is one of ongoing debate.


Are the "unmarried" divorcees? The word agamoV, "unmarried", is specific to this chapter, and not used elsewhere in the NT. It would not normally be used for a single, not yet married person. If gender specific then the masculine could imply a "widower" and so stand neatly with taiV chraiV, "widow", but this is unlikely. What is more likely is that the masculine is not gender specific, and so if not referring to a not yet married person, then it probably refers to a person previously married, now single - separated, or divorced (possibly widowed, but see below), cf., 7:11, 32, 34, so Deming, Paul on Marriage; Schrage, The Ethics of the NT; Collins, Divorce in the NT. It does seem likely that the problem Paul is dealing with is sexually frustrated divorcees, widows and widowers and, although there is value in the single life, he suggests, certainly not the Lord, that they remarry rather than "burn".

The Lord's command on the matter is clear, v10-11, but since we are all flawed and can only do the best we can, we often have to make less than perfect choices in the Christian life. This approach is controversial, to say the least, but it may help in dealing with the gay community. The church is bound to affirm the creation ordinances, God's natural order of life, but it must also affirm God's grace. We are all flawed and can only survive under the grace of God. In the same way we accept a divorced and remarried believer, should we also accept a practicing gay believer? It is not the way it should be, but then none of us are the way we should be. Perfection is found in Christ alone. and each must face their Lord carrying their own "log" rather than worry about another person's "speck" (which is probably also a "log", but that's between them and the Lord).

Text - 7:6

The gift of celibacy, v6-9. Paul's opinion that there is value in a couple practicing self-denial, as long as it be by mutual agreement and not too burdensome, given the danger of sexual temptations, is a "suggestion" only, not a command of the Lord.

de "-" - but/and. Transitional connective, indicating a step in the argument; "Now as a concession", ESV.

kata + acc. "as... as." - [i say] according to [concession, not] according to [command]. Whereas the second use of the preposition in this verse likely expresses a standard, the first use is probably adverbial, modal, expressing manner; "by way of, in the manner of." The feminine noun suggnwmhn, "forbearance", so "concession, allowance", possibly extends to "a suggestion", JB; "it is, rather, a personal opinion of my own", Junkins. Paul is indicating that his instruction is his own view on the matter rather than a epitaghn, "a commandment of the Lord." A command in general may be in mind, but it seems more likely a word from Jesus / "command" of God is intended, cf., Tim.1:1. Although Paul wants to differentiate his instructions from the Lord's instructions, does that make his instructions less binding? Are the words of the apostle less inspired than Jesus' words? We are bound to answer "No", unless of course the apostle qualifies his words, as here!


Paul is happy to affirm the single life, but it all depends on a person's God-given temperament as to whether celibacy is for them.

qelw (qelw) pres. "I wish" - [but/and] i wish. It is interesting to note that in Rom.9:3 and Gal.4:20 Paul expresses a wish with a tendential / voluntative imperfect, "I could wish .....", but don't really. The present tense here indicates a real wish, but does he really wish that everyone is celibate like him? The wish may not be celibacy, but "to be like himself, not simply celibate, but as one who has a gift of grace (or charism) and uses it to God's glory", Pfitzner. Yet, celibacy is surely what he is talking about. Barnett takes Paul's desire on face value, given his belief that the eschatological tribulation is close at hand and that it will be very difficult to face this time with a family. Garland may be closer to the mark, suggesting that it is just an argumentative ploy, the kind of "I agree with you one hundred percent, BUT ........"

einai (eimi) pres. inf. "were" - [all men] to be. The infinitive introduces an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what Paul wishes.

wJV "as" - like, as. Comparative.

kai "-" - and [myself]. Probably ascensive; "as even I am", possibly emphatic "as indeed I am."

alla "but" - Adversative.

carisma (a atoV) "gift" - [each has one's own] gift. Presumably a grace-gift is intended which obviously marriage is not, given that it is a natural product of the created order. "In modern post-Freudian terms we might say that Paul's carisma lay in his capacity to sublimate his sexual drives (rather than in one direction merely repressing them, or in the other direction gratifying them) with the result that his creative energy is poured forth into the work of the gospel at every level of consciousness to great effect, and with no desire for something further", Thiselton. The capacity to sublimate sexual drives is the grace-gift and clearly one may have this ouJtwV, "manner" = "sort of gifting", but many will not.

ek + gen. "from [God]" - Expressing source / origin.

men ..... de ... "-" - on the one hand [thus] but on the other hand [thus]. Adversative comparative construction. The article oJ serves as a nominalizer, while the demonstrative adverb ouJtwV expresses "in this way / manner / sort of gifting ....... in that way / manner / sort of gifting"; "one has a certain ability, and another one has a different ability", TH.


Paul concludes his argument: the single life has its advantages, but if you don't have the grace-gift of celibacy then it is best to marry, rather than burn, v8-9.

de "now" - but/and. Transitional, here copulative, introducing a concluding thought; "So then, my advice to ......"

toiV agamoiV dat. adj. "to the unmarried" - The articular adjective serves as a substantive, dative of indirect object.

taiV chraiV (a) "the widows" - and to the ones bereft of their spouse. If agamoV is being used to refer to people previously married, now single, why does Paul specifically refer to widows? Schrage argues that there was a significant number of widows in the church facing financial difficulties, and it is for this reason Paul singles them out. Of course, the feminine may not be so gender specific as to exclude widowers, although the focus would be on widows as the more vulnerable group; see above.

autoiV dat. pro. "for them" - [it is good] to = for them. Dative of interest, advantage.

ean + subj. "to [stay unmarried]" - if. Introducing a conditional clause 3rd. class where the condition has the possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, they remain as I, then it is good for them." "To the unmarried and the widows I would say that they will do well to remain in the same state as I am myself, HOWEVER .......", Cassirer.

wJV "as [I do]" - as, like [i also remain]. Comparative.


Russell's article That Embarrassing Verse in First Corinthians, TBT 18, attempts to address the perception that Paul sees marriage "as little more than a remedy for a strong sex drive", Thiselton; see Fitzmyer and Barre below. Of course, if, as already noted, Paul's words are argumentative, that he is arguing against those who are promoting celibacy as against marriage, then that perception is eliminated.

de "but" - but/and. Adversative, as NIV.

ei + ind. "if" - Introducing a conditional clause 1st. class where the proposed condition is assumed to be true; "if, as is the case, ..... then ....."

egkrateuontai (egkrateuomai) pres. "they cannot control themselves" - they do not have self-control, restraint. The negated present tense may push toward the sense of the NRSV, "if they are not practicing self-control", ie., not that they are having difficulty living the single life, but that they are not (fully?) living the single life, although not married - they are in an illicit relationship, or "are falling into the same problem of porneia as the person's mentioned in v2", Fitzmyer. Most commentators reject this approach, arguing that Paul is addressing those who "have erotic desires and are struggling with them", Garland.

gamhsatwsan (gamew) aor. imp. "they should marry" - let them be married. The imperative, serving as a command, takes an aorist here, possibly indicating the the command is specific rather than general.

gar "for" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why those who are finding it difficult without a partner should marry.

gamhsai (gamew) aor. "to marry" - [it is better] to marry. The infinitive, as with purousqai, "to be burned", is epexegetic explaining what is kreitton, "better". Variant gamein, pres., gives the sense "it is better to be in the married state." If this variant is accepted then "burn", would not mean "burn with passion", but "burn with guilt", or even "burn in the fires of judgment / Gehenna", cf., Barre, To Marry or to Burn, CBQ 36. Most commentators still opt for "burn with passion", eg., Blomberg.

h] "than" - than [to be consumed with passion]. Comparative use of the particle.


1 Corinthians Introduction


[Pumpkin Cottage]