Sex and Marriage
1Now for my response concerning the issues you’ve asked me to address. You wrote saying, “It is proper for a man to live in celibacy.” # 7:1 Or “not to marry.” The Aramaic can be translated “It is proper for a husband not to have intimacy with his wife at times.” Paul now responds to a series of questions posed by the church of Corinth. 2Perhaps. But because of the danger of immorality, # 7:2 Or “because of immoralities” or “because of prostitutions.” each husband should have sexual intimacy with his wife and each wife should have sexual intimacy with her husband. 3A husband has the responsibility of meeting the sexual needs of his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband. # 7:3 The Aramaic (and a few of the oldest Greek manuscripts) can be translated “The husband should pay back the love he owes to his wife and the wife to her husband.” 4Neither the husband nor the wife have exclusive rights to their own bodies, but those rights are to be surrendered to the other. 5So don’t continue to refuse your spouse those rights, except perhaps by mutual agreement for a specified time so that you can both be devoted to prayer. # 7:5 Some later manuscripts add “and fasting.” And then you should resume your physical pleasure so that the Adversary cannot take advantage of you because of the desires of your body. # 7:5 Or “[lack of] self-control.” 6I’m not giving you a divine command, but my godly advice. # 7:6 Or “concession.” There are at least two ways this could be interpreted: (1) Paul is saying that to be married is advisable but not commanded. This seems the most likely because of v. 7. (2) Paul is referring to the preceding paragraph, especially regarding the advice of abstinence during seasons of prayer. 7I would wish that all of you could live unmarried, just as I do. # 7:7 The Aramaic can be translated “I wish that all humanity lived in purity as I do.” It is possible that Paul was once married and became a widower. Some suggest he had to have been married at the time he persecuted the early church, since only married men could be part of the Sanhedrin and cast a vote. However, there is evidence that some Jewish leaders during his time were committed to celibacy. See Acts 26:10. Yet I understand that we are all decidedly different, with each having a special grace for one thing or another. # 7:7 Both being single and being married require a special grace from God.
8So let me say to the unmarried and those who have lost their spouses, it is fine for you to remain single as I am. 9But if you have no power over your passions, then you should go ahead and marry, for marriage is far better than a continual battle with lust. # 7:9 Or “better than to have a fire ever smoldering within them.”
10And to those who are married, I give this charge—which is not mine, but the Lord’s # 7:10 Paul is not stating that there is an opposition between what he says, in his teaching as an apostle, and what the Lord says. He is taking our Lord’s own teaching from Mark 10:5–12 and bringing it to the people. —that the wife should not depart from her husband. 11But if she does, then she should either remain unmarried or reconcile with her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. 12To the rest I say, which is not a saying of the Lord, if a brother has an unbelieving wife and she is content to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is content to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been made holy by his believing wife. And the unbelieving wife has been made holy by her believing husband by virtue of his or her sacred union to a believer. # 7:14 Or “The unbelieving husband is made holy because of the wife, and the unbelieving wife because of her husband.” By implication, Paul is making the point that in marriages where one is a believer and one an unbeliever, the spouses should remain together, for the righteous faith of a believer makes the marriage holy. Apparently, because of their desire to serve Christ, some of the Corinthians who had pagan spouses thought it would be best to divorce their spouses and find believing ones. Paul corrects that error and affirms the marriage covenant. Otherwise, the children from this union would be unclean, but in fact, they are holy. # 7:14 In the concepts of the Old Testament, the entire family is in covenant with God. Therefore, the children of even one believing parent are set apart for God. 15But if the unbelieving spouse wants a divorce, then let it be so. In this situation the believing spouse is not bound # 7:15 Or “enslaved.” to the marriage, for God has called us to live in peace.
16And wives, for all you know you could one day lead your husband to salvation. Or husbands, how do you know for sure that you could not one day lead your wife to salvation? # 7:16 Translators are almost equally divided over making this an optimistic possibility versus a pessimistic one. If the pessimistic choice of grammar is chosen, the verse could be translated “Wife, how do you know that you will save your husband? And husband, how do you know that you will save your wife?” Which would infer “It’s no use hanging on to a marriage with no hope of converting the unbelieving spouse, for how do you know it would ever happen?” Though both are possible, this translation has chosen the optimistic possibility.
Living the Life God Has Assigned
17May all believers continue to live the wonderful lives God has called them to live, according to what he assigns for each person, for this is what I teach to believers # 7:17 Or “in all the churches.” everywhere. 18If when you were called to follow Jesus you were circumcised, it would be futile to try to undo the circumcision. And if you were called while yet uncircumcised, there is no need to be circumcised. 19Your identity before God has nothing to do with circumcision or uncircumcision. # 7:19 Or “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing.” No doubt this statement was a tremendous shock to the Corinthians. To the Jews it would be earthshaking, for circumcision was the outward sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Paul, as elsewhere, places the emphasis not on outer things but on an inward transformation that longs to please God. What really matters is following God’s commandments. 20So everyone should continue to live faithful in the situation of life in which they were called to follow Jesus. # 7:20 Paul is teaching that no matter what a person’s situation is in life, the real change needed is not just in circumstances, but in a heart that is willing to be faithful to God in all things. We often wish we could be in different circumstances instead of looking for opportunities to serve God where we are. 21Were you a slave when you heard the call to follow Jesus? Don’t let that concern you. Even if you can gain your freedom, make the most of the opportunity. 22For truly, if you are called to a life-union with the Lord, you are already a free man! And those who were called to follow Jesus when they were free are now the Messiah’s slaves. 23Since a great price was paid for your redemption, stop having the mind-set of a slave. 24Brothers and sisters, we must remain in close communion with God, no matter what our situation was when we were first called to follow Jesus.
Instructions to the Single and Widowed
25Now let me address the issue of singleness. # 7:25 Or “virgins.” I must confess, I have no command to give you that comes directly from the Lord. But let me share my thoughts on the matter, as coming from one who has experienced the mercy # 7:25 Or “one who has been mercied.” of the Lord to keep me faithful to him. 26Because of the severe pressure we are in, # 7:26 Or “impending crisis.” Some scholars believe this severe pressure could refer to the great famine of AD 51, while others view it as imminent persecution. I recommend you remain as you are. 27If you are married, stay in the marriage. If you are single, # 7:27 The Aramaic can be translated “If you are divorced, don’t seek marriage.” don’t rush into marriage. 28But if you do get married, you haven’t sinned. # 7:28 Or “If you [men] do get married it is not sin, and if a [female] virgin marries, she hasn’t sinned.” This translation combines both statements with brothers and sisters. It’s just that I would want to spare you the problems you’ll face with the extra challenges of being married.
29My friends, what I mean is this. The urgency of our times mean that from now on, those who have wives should live as though without them. 30And those who weep should forget their tears. And those who rejoice will have no time to celebrate. And those who purchase items will have no time to enjoy them. 31We are to live as those who live in the world but are not absorbed by it, for the world as we know it is quickly passing away. 32Because of this, we need to live as free from anxiety as possible.
For a single man is focused on the things of the Lord and how he may please him. 33But a married man is pulled in two directions, for he is concerned about both the things of God and the things of the world in order to please # 7:33 The Aramaic can be translated “to beautify.” his wife. 34And the single woman is focused on the things of the Lord so she can be holy both in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world and how she may please her husband. 35I am trying to help you and make things easier for you and not make things difficult, but so that you would have undistracted devotion, serving the Lord constantly with an undivided heart.
36However, if a man has decided to serve God as a single person, yet changes his mind and finds himself in love with a woman, although he never intended to marry, let him go ahead and marry her; it is not a sin to do so. # 7:36 This is arguably one of the most difficult verses to translate in all the New Testament. You will find many possible translations and interpretations of this passage, which is loaded with cultural implications for the first-century church. Consulting a variety of translations is recommended. 37On the other hand, if a man stands firm in his heart to remain single, and is under no compulsion to get married but has control over his passions and is determined to remain celibate, he has chosen well. 38So then, the one who marries his fiancée does well and the one who chooses not to marry her does better.
39A wife is bound by the marriage covenant as long as her husband is living. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry again as she desires—but, of course, he should be a believer in the Lord. 40However, in my opinion (and I think that I too have the Spirit of God), she would be happier if she remained single.