1 Corinthians


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

v] Celibacy, 7:25-40

c) Relationships and anxiety


In the context of what was a major concern for the Corinthian believers, namely, the issue of asceticism, Paul tackles the problem of unnecessary anxieties in the Christian life. The Corinthian believers need to be free from anxiety, whether it be the anxiety of the ascetics / celibates striving to please the Lord by their good works, or the anxiety of married members, distracted by family duties.


i] Context: See 7:25-28. Paul has argued so far that "there is no point in making any significant change in one's ordinary way of life", Thrall, although it is always "better to marry than burn". In v29-31 Paul moves past the issue of the relative worth of either the single or married life to focus on the more important issues, namely, eternal verities. Now in v32-35 Paul tackles the issue of damaging "anxieties" in the Christian life.


ii] Background: See 7:17-24.


iii] Structure: The third part of Paul's instructions on celibacy present as follows:

Proposition, v32a:

"I want you to be free from anxieties."

Explanation, v32b-34:

Anxieties - merimnaw, "be anxious about":

unmarried man - the Lord;

married man - this world / wife;

unmarried woman - the Lord;

married woman - this world / husband.

Purpose, proV, v35:

their "own good / advantage"

iJna, "in order that" ... undivided devotion to the Lord.


iv] Interpretation:

This passage is notoriously difficult to interpret. It is clear that in chapter 7 Paul is making the point that an unmarried state is not intrinsically better than a married state, as though sexual intercourse was somehow less than holy. The "doing" rather than "receiving" ethos of the ascetics / "nomists" in the congregation (see The "Christ" group / Peter group??? - See Introduction) has obviously created an unhelpful approach to sexual relations. Paul, in his typical argumentative style, affirms the ascetic ideal (celibacy is a worthy "gift" to pursue, v7, given the impending distress, v26, and the impermanence of this life, v31), but he ends up promoting a realistic compromise - "better marry than burn." The difficulty lies in placing this particular passage within the overall argument. Three possible interpretations present themselves:

a) At face value, Paul seems to be affirming the single life with its increased opportunities for service to the Lord, as opposed to the married life with its inevitable family distractions. With this approach there is bad "anxiety" (the troubles of the world experienced by married people) and good "anxiety (the increased opportunities of the unmarried to please the Lord). Such, of course, does not overrule the basic principle, "better marry than burn." So Barnett, Thrall, Pfitzner, Orr, Moffatt, Simon, Garland, Findlay, Naylor, Conzelmann, Fitzmyer, Thiselton, R&P;

b) Paul may actually be critical of the "anxiety" of the unmarried, rather than praising them. As ascetics they are striving to please the Lord by being celibate when God's pleasure can only be found in their relationship with Jesus, not in their "doing". At least the married only face the problem of divided loyalties, rather than the heresy of sanctification by works. With this approach both anxieties are bad. Paul wants the Corinthians to be "free from anxiety", "the anxiety of the celibate or unmarried person who is concerned about holiness in the flesh and spirit ... [and so is now] in a bout with Satan and/or his flaming passions", Ruef, and the anxiety of married persons, anxious about the affairs of the family and so divided in their loyalties. So Barrett, Ruef, Murphy-O'Connor NT Message;

c) It is possible that Paul's concern for the Corinthians, namely that they be free from anxiety, prompts him to give positive practical advice to both the unmarried and the married. With this approach both anxieties are good, ie. "anxiety / concern" is taken to mean "care for." Let the unmarried care for "the Lord's affairs" and the married care for their spouse, although for the married there is a downside since their "interests are divided." So, Fee.

Option (b) seems to fit the context best, but even Barrett has reservations. The Corinthian believers should be free from anxiety, whether it be the anxiety of the ascetics / the celibates striving to please the Lord by their actions, or the anxiety of the married members, distracted by their family duties. "It is not a matter of being anxious for worldly affairs because one is married, or anxious for the affairs of the Lord if one is not. Paul would say rather that the main thing is to abide in that status in which one was called in the faith of Christ", Ruef. Paul, following the teachings of Jesus, is making the point that in a believer's radically changed life of faith, anxiety over life's affairs, whether they be the affairs of the spiritual self or the fleshly self, has no place, for we are already everything in Christ. So, Paul encourages the Corinthians to set aside all their anxieties, and this with particular reference to the issue of sexual abstinence in marriage, marriage separation on ascetic / spiritual grounds and the ascetic single life, because in the end these things are "not a matter of what is right or wrong, but what is or is not expedient and profitable in particular circumstances", Barrett. Paul's practical advice to the Corinthians is that they "remain as they are", but if they need to re-gig their personal relationships, then do it - "better marry than burn", cf. v36-40.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 7:32

Life and its anxieties, v32-35. Just as Jesus once said to his disciples "do not be anxious about your life", so Paul similarly tells the Corinthian believers to possess a state of mind which is "without anxiety." A believer stands totally approved before God, possessing the fullness of divine blessings, and so there is no reason to be anxious about anything.

de "-" - but, and. Possibly just as a connective here, so NIV, possibly adversative, "but", Conzelmann, or consecutive, Fee, even inferential; "Now, given what I have just said, namely that the time is short and the things of this world are passing away, I would wish you to be free from anxious care, so consider the two conditions, of being married or unmarried."

einai (eimi) pres. inf. "[I would like you] to be" - [I desire/wish you] to be. The infinitive of the verb to-be introduces an object clause / dependent statement of perception, hoping, expressing what Paul wants; "I desire that you be ..." The accusative pronoun uJmaV stands as the subject of the infinitive forming an accusative infinitive construction.

amerimnouV adj. "free from concern" - free of care/anxiety/worry, without care, secure. Predicate accusative. Often expressed differently to the verb merimnaw, "is concerned." Possibly the "distractions" of life that Paul has already referred to, so "I should like you to be as free from worldly entanglements as possible", Phillips, although better "free from anxieties / worry / stress."

oJ agamoV adj. "an unmarried man" - unmarried. The adjective serves as a substantive, nominative subject of the verb "to be anxious for." The word may just mean "unmarried person", but here it is usually understood to mean an "unmarried man", as NIV, and this because it aligns with the "married woman now without a husband" and the "woman who has never been married" in v34.

merimna/ (merimnaw) pres. "is concerned about" - cares for / anxious for. The word "concerned / worried / anxious", which is used 4 times in v32-34, both with a positive and a negative sense / or both with a negative sense / or both with a positive sense, makes translation somewhat difficult. As noted above, it is likely that Paul uses the word with a negative sense "anxious" and not with a positive sense, "right concern", Moffatt, "gives his mind to", NJB, "devoting his concern to", Thiselton. So, "is anxious".

ta tou kuriou "the Lord's affairs" - the things of the Lord. The genitive "of the Lord" is adjectival, possessive; "the things that belong to the Lord", AV.

pwV + subj. "how" - how, in what way. This construction serves to introduce an indirect question; lit. "how may I please the Lord?"

aresh/ (areskw) aor. subj. "he can please" - he may please. Deliberative subjunctive; indirect question. The NIV, as with NJB, treats the phrase virtually as an indirect question which would be formed by the words "how might I please the Lord?", Fee.

tw kuriw/ (oV) dat. "the Lord" - Dative of direct object after the verb "to please".


The Corinthians are anxious about many things. Members who were married were worried about their divided responsibilities, how to please the Lord and at the same time "please their wife". Paul has already agreed that there are advantages in the single life, particularly as "the time is short", v29, and now he reinforces this truth; an unmarried man will have less worldly responsibilities and so more time for the Lord, whereas a married man will find "his interests are divided." Yet, this doesn't mean that the married life is sinful, less than holy, or unworthy of a believer. When faced with a quandary, Paul's rule of thumb is leave things as they are.

de "but" - but, and. Here usually understood as adversative, as NIV; "but, once a man has married, his thoughts are for the world's business", Barclay. Yet, if both married and unmarried persons are beset by anxiety, which is probably the case, then de is coordinative, "and".

oJ .. gamnsaV (gamew) aor. part. "a married man" - the one having married. The participle servers as a substantive.

ta tou kosmou (oV) - "the affairs of the world" - the things of the world. The genitive "of the world", as above, is adjectival, possessive; "the world's business." Given that Paul does not oppose the divine institution of marriage, nor criticize those who have married (in fact, as he argues, it's better to marry than burn with lust), then this reference to "worldly things" is at least neutral, if not positive. The attached interrogative (paralleling v32b) "how might I please my wife?" defines these "things" as right and proper, although it is not right to be anxious about them.

pwV + subj. "how" - As in v32..

th/ gunaiki (h aikoV) "his wife" - the wife. Dative of direct object after the verb "to please."

memeristai (merizw) perf. pas. "his interests are divided" - he has been divided, torn apart. The perfect tense expresses an existing state with ongoing consequences. The point is "marriage (properly) imposes demands and responsibilities that cannot be neglected, .... (thus) a married person is divided between duty to God and affection for wife and family... (Yet) Paul does not criticize the married for having these cares", Garland, but he does criticize their being anxious about them. This statement is central to Paul's argument indicating that the difficulty facing a married person is divided loyalties, although without the implication that such is improper. "A man who has married has anxieties about the affairs of the world ........ v33, and is pulled in two directions", Thiselton.


Paul now repeats his point, this time for single women, women who are no longer married and those not yet married, and also married women. The crucial difference with the men is found in the description of the single woman who pleases the Lord by being "devoted to the Lord (holy) in her whole person (body and spirit)." It is possible that Paul is quoting words used by the spiritual elite in Corinth.

Numerous textual problems exist with the opening clause "his interests are divided." Most modern translations align with the NIV, taking the opening clause as pointing backward, although as Metzger puts it, it is "the least unsatisfactory reading." Earlier translations tended to read the verse as "there is a difference between the married woman and the woman who has not married", eg. AV. Given the support of P46, c. 200AD, a text not available to the earlier translators, the modern translation seems best.

hJ gunh h agamoV "an unmarried woman" - the woman unmarried. An example of Grenville Sharp's rule where the two articles serve to distinguish. Paul is referring to a woman who is presently without a husband, ie. divorced, separated or widowed.

kai "or" - but, and. Probably not "or", as NIV, but rather "and", coordinative. The problem is that the verb merimna/, "is concerned / anxious", is singular, but it is singular because it is identifying a class of people, ie. a married woman who is now without a husband and a woman who has never married. Such are anxious about the Lord's business.

iJna + subj. "[her] aim [is to be]" - that [she may be]. Possibly forming a purpose clause, "in order to be holy", as NIV, even causal, "because she wants to be", TEV, but better introducing a noun clause, in apposition to "the Lord's affairs", explaining the content of "the Lord's business / requirements, namely that she be holy." Most commentators note that it is strange how Paul adds this qualifying clause for the women, but not the men. Barrett suggests it is actually a quote from the ascetics in Corinth, part of their striving for divine approval, thus implying that their concern / anxiety for "the Lord's affairs" is not positive because it is a striving iJna, "in order", that they may be aJgia, "holy" = sanctified, ie., a sanctification by works.

aJgia adj. "devoted" - holy. Predicate adjective. Set apart to the Lord in devoted attention and service. "Dedicated to God", Barclay, but note above.

tw/ swmati ... tw/ pneumati dat. "in [both] body [and] spirit" - in the body [and] in the spirit. Dative of respect; "with respect to the body/spirit." "Body" and "soul" together possibly express a devotion of the whole self to the Lord, bodily and spiritually (the inner self, the psychological faculty which is potentially sensitive and responsive to God*). Thiselton has "in order to be holy both publicly and in Spirit". Whereas Barrett has these words as a quote from the ascetics, Ruef suggests that Paul is actually noting the dichotomy that has developed in the ascetic's thinking, namely the distinction between "the affairs of the world" and "the affairs of the Lord." Holiness for them, when it comes to the affairs of the world, involves abstaining from sex. At this point Thiselton aligns with Ruef.

kai .... kai "[in] both [body] and [spirit]" - and ... and. Correlative use of the conjunctions.

de "but" - but, and. Here probably "and", coordinative, rather than adversative.

hJ .. gamhsasa (gamew) aor. part. "a married woman" - the one / woman having married. The participle serves as a substantive. "A married woman's thoughts are on the world's business; her aim is to please her husband."

tw/ andri (hr droV) dat. "her husband" - the husband. Dative of direct object after the verb "to please."


"With a further word of caution Paul moves on to a point of notorious difficulty", Barrett. When it comes to issues of getting married or staying single, the advice Paul has given "is not a matter of what is right or wrong, but what is or is not expedient and profitable", Barrett. Paul gives his advice to the end that it may "contribute to propriety and good order [in the church]", Fitzmyer.

proV + acc. "[I am saying this] for" - [I say this] to, toward [that which is advantageous of you yourselves]. Here expressing purpose, "for", as NIV. "I have said all these things to you for the purpose of your advantage"

uJmwn autwn "your own" - of you yourselves. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, objective, the pronoun being reflective, or intensive; "It's for your good I'm telling you this", Barclay.

to ... sumforon adj. "good" - that which [is] profitable, advantageous, beneficial. Barrett is surely right when he says that Paul's "argument is not a matter of what is right or wrong, but what is or is not expedient and profitable in particular circumstances." "Because I want to help you", TEV.

ouc iJna + subj. "not to" - not that. Forming a negated purpose clause; "not in order to ...." The image employed is of putting a halter around the neck of an animal. This may be an image of restriction / restraint but such is an assumption. A halter is used to restrain an animal, but also to forcefully direct it. The idea of direction seems more likely here. Paul is not trying to tell the Corinthians how they must act in matters outside Biblical writ - whether they should be celibate, or be married. Unlike the ascetics, Paul wants the Corinthians free from anxiety, anxiety promoted by advice like "the priest should not be in the church but in the world. The lay should not be in the world but in the church", Ruef. "What I have said to you is simply for your own advantage, I'm not trying to tell you what you must, or must not do, when it comes to celibacy or marriage."

uJmin dat. pro. "[restrict] you" - [I may not put around] you [a noose]. We would have normally had here a double accusative construction with "noose" serving as an object complement, except for the fact that epiballw takes a dative such that the pronoun serves as a dative of direct object after the epi prefix verb "to cast, throw around."

alla "but" - but. Adversative. "Instead".

proV + acc. "that you may live" - to, toward. The verb "you may live" is supplied by the NIV. Numerous possibilities have been suggested although most seem to miss the point, eg., "but to promote good order [in the church]", NRSV. Paul's advice was proV, "toward = for" to ... swmforon, "that which is advantageous" for the Corinthians, ie. it was pragmatic advice which is "expedient and profitable", Barrett. He now expands on /explains this idea, ie., the prepositional clause is appositional. His advice was proV, "toward = for (purpose)" their advantage, namely proV "with a view to" to euschmon "that which is seemly = seemliness" and euparedron "that which is suitable for waiting = due attention" to the Lord aperispastwV "without hindrance, encumbrance", cf. Barrett.

to euschmon adj. "in a right way" - that which [is] right, proper, good, respectable, ... The adjective serves as a substantive. This word takes the sense "that which is seen to contribute to propriety and good order", Fitzmyer, so "seemliness", Barrett, rather than the more ethically inclined "live in a right way", NIV.

aperispastwV adv. "in undivided" - without distraction. Usually translated as "undistracted / free from distraction / without distraction", but given the context, the distraction is that of "hindrance / encumbrance", the distraction of being wholly devoted to the service of God, tied down by the private duties of men and the relationships which cannot be violated, cf. Conzelmann, n#36, p134.

euparedon adj. "devotion" - devotion, dedication. As of "that which sits well in attendance upon [the Lord] = attending God's throne", Fitzmyer.

tw/ kuriw/ (oV) dat. "to the Lord" - Dative of interest, advantage; "undivided service for the Lord."


1 Corinthians Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]