1 Corinthians 7:1
Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good to abstain from sexual relations.
Advice on Details of Christian ConductR. Tuck 1 Corinthians 7:1-7
Celibacy and MarriageH. Bremner 1 Corinthians 7:1-9
Views Concerning MarriageC. Lipscomb 1 Corinthians 7:1-11
Celibacy and MarriageH. Bremner, B. D.1 Corinthians 7:1-17
MarriageJ. Lyth, D. D.1 Corinthians 7:1-17
MarriageM. Dods, D. D.1 Corinthians 7:1-17
Paul's Conception of MarriageD. Thomas, D. D.1 Corinthians 7:1-17
Paul's View of CelibacyDean Stanley.1 Corinthians 7:1-17
Celibacy and MarriageE. Hurndall 1 Corinthians 7:1, 2, 7-9, 25-35

We have seen what a meeting place Corinth was for the schools of philosophy and Judaism - a sort of metropolitan Coliseum, in which the gladiators of intellect were in unceasing combat. Neither Rome, nor Athens, nor Jerusalem, afforded such a field of contention as this proud and sensual city, where worldly culture and elegance existed side by side with commercial wealth and luxury. Now, we know what occurs when the waters of the Gulf Stream, bearing northward its immense store of heat from the Gulf of Mexico, come in contact off Newfoundland with the Polar currents, and what a vast bank of fog rises from the condensation of warm vapour in a cold atmosphere. This may symbolize what was going on in Corinth at this time. A century before, the world had been agitated by the ideas and schemes of Julius Caesar, the foremost man of his age, and quite as great a revolutionizer of men's ways of thinking as of political institutions. Imperialism was now in the ascendancy, and the nations were ostensibly a nation - a colossal Rome. But the quickening of thought remained, and this inured to the advantage of Christianity. There was not only external tranquillity, but the precise kind of tranquillity which St. Paul needed; and, though local disturbances often arose and at times violent commotions, yet the Roman law was his best earthly friend. At Corinth he had taught and preached and founded a Church. For three years he had been absent, and, meantime, what collisions had set in, and, amidst the surging to and fro of opinions and prejudices and enmities, what disorders had been tolerated! Over everything and everywhere was felt the chilly mist, a twilight to some, a midnight to others, a bewildering gloom to all. This, however, was providential. Teachers must remand pupils to themselves. Such a new and singular force as St. Paul was in the world - such pre-eminently as he had shown himself in Corinth by his opposition to the views of Greeks and Jews, and by his uncompromising zeal in behalf of the distinctive tenets of the gospel - must be suffered to do its work independently of his presence and immediate oversight. And we now see in this chapter, more fully than before, what conflicts of intellect and passion were in progress, what strange alienations had transpired, and how far gone many of his disciples were from the path in which he had expected their feet to tread. Had anything escaped this billowy sweep of strife? It was even dashing against the institution of marriage, which men had agreed to honour as the most important and the most venerable of earthly interests. Incest had been tolerated in the Church, and St. Paul had found it necessary to argue on the highest religious ground against the sensual evils of fornication. Of late we have heard much concerning a scientific basis of morality. If, however, we follow St. Paul, who never contradicts history, we see that even enlightened instincts cannot be trusted when withdrawn from the guidance and support of the Holy Spirit. Men may theorize as they please. One thing, nevertheless, is certain, and that one thing is, that whenever practical men deal with social questions, they accept St. Paul as the thinker of humanity. Even instincts need God to control them. Proceeding to discuss the questions submitted to him by the Corinthians, he begins this chapter by considering marriage in that aspect which was under debate just then at Corinth. Marriage in the abstract is only in view so far as recurrence is necessary, in the conduct of the argument, to the fundamental principles inseparable from the relation. He treats it, in view of existing circumstances, as a matter to be decided by expediency, each one judging what is best. Whether the unmarried shall be married or not must be determined by themselves in the light of their personal organization, and by the indications of Providence and the Spirit. Freedom within the bounds of law is freedom to deny the use of lawful rights and privileges - so St. Paul had just argued - and marriage comes under this provision. But here as everywhere, "let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind," and so reverential is he in his attitude towards humanity, that in the application of expediency to marriage, he will go no further than offer advice. Under the circumstances, it was the only proper course for him to adopt. No sympathy could he feel with the reaction against marriage in itself, which had set in more than a century before among the Romans, and, while an effect, was also a cause of the widespread demoralization of the age. Doubtless the cares of a family in that troubled period, and the supposed nearness of Christ's advent, had their influence on his mind, and yet he is well aware that, in the lowest view of marriage, it was a protection against vice. Too well he knew the evils which were cursing society because of the popular freethinking on this subject. For five hundred and twenty years not a divorce had been known in Rome, but we may form some idea of the effect of class wealth and debauching leisure if we recall the facts that in the last days of the republic, Cato of Utica, a religious fanatic in his way, had separated from his wife because a friend wished to marry her and, after his friend's death, had made her his wife again. "On the whole," says Mr. Lecky, "it is probable that the Roman matron was from the earliest period a name of honour; that the beautiful sentence of a jurisconsult of the empire, who defined marriage as a lifelong fellowship of all Divine and human rights, expressed most faithfully the feelings of the people; and that female virtue shone in every age conspicuously in Roman biographies." But a deplorable change had set in, such a change that Augustus had found it necessary to take measures for the encouragement of marriage. Nowhere was this corruption more rife than in Corinth, that only repeated on a larger scale the social enormities daily witnessed at Baiae, Herculaneum, and Pompeii. Now, in this state of free thinking, with its attendant wickedness, St. Paul's duty was not without embarrassment. Towards the evil itself and its utter grossness his course was plain enough. On the other hand, there were questions of casuistry to be considered. Marriage as a safeguard of virtue, marriage as a union of hearts, marriage as the highest type of human oneness, marriage in its spiritual import - all involved in it as a Divine institution and as the basis, vitality, security, of all other institutions - this was realized then and always in his apostleship. But there were pure and honest minded persons among his Corinthian converts, who were troubled by doubts and misgivings, and to whom duty was by no means clear. The instincts of nature had something to say, end their voice was entitled to a hearing. And, at the same time, prudence and conscience were not to be dogmatically silenced. St. Paul saw what to do, and he did it. He was profoundly sensitive to principles, he was thoroughly sympathetic with persons, and his judgment was the product of a wise consideration of gospel truth and of the facts at Corinth with which he was dealing. There is an ideal view to which he refers in the opening verse of this chapter, but the practical view in contrast with it is that, in order to be guarded against temptation and escape falling into the worst of social sins, "Let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." For, as Neander says, "we must not overlook the fact that Paul is here, not treating of marriage in general, but only in its relation to the condition of things at Corinth, where he feared the effect of moral prejudices concerning celibacy." Nor does he hesitate to say, "I would that all men were even as myself," and yet he qualifies this by stating that "every man hath his proper gift of God," a gift of grace, "one after this manner, and another after that;" so that, whether married or single, the "gift of God" must be recognized, since, as Bengel remarks, "that which in the natural man is a natural habit, becomes in the saints a gift of grace." - L.

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

1. Instituted by God, sanctified by Christ, it is pure and holy.

2. Yet circumstances, such as times of calamity, personal duty, &c., may render it undesirable

II. IS ADVISABLE FOR MANY (vers. 2-5). Because —

1. Of the force of natural passion.

2. It is a shelter from temptation.


1. Paul only counsels, does not command

2. The choice must be determined by the gift of God, which may render celibacy preferable, but every one must carefully estimate his case.

(J. Lyth, D. D.)

There are two preliminary considerations which throw some light on this passage.

1. Paul had to speak about marriage as he found it. Hence he makes no allusion to that which with us is the main argument and motive, viz., love. In the marriages of Jews and Greeks, love had, as a rule, little to do. The marriage was arranged by the parents.

2. He was here only giving answers to some special questions, and not discussing the whole subject (ver. 1). Certain scruples about marriage had arisen. Among the Jews marriage was a duty, "so much so that he who at the age of twenty had not married was considered to have sinned." Among the Gentiles the tendency to celibacy was so strong that it was considered necessary to counteract it by legal enactment. The questions referred to Paul resolve themselves into two. So we have —

I. PAUL'S COUNSEL TO THE UNMARRIED. This is summed up in ver. 8, "It is good for them if they abide even as I"; i.e., unmarried. But if any man's temperament be such that he cannot settle to his work without marrying; and if he is so full of natural cravings which make him feel sure he would be less distracted in married life — then, says Paul, let such an one by all means marry. But he adds, I do not say you ought to marry; I say you may, and in certain circumstances ought. Those among you who say a man sins if he do not marry, talk nonsense. Those among you who feel a quiet superiority because you are married are much mistaken. Personally, I would that all men were even as I myself, only I know that to many men it is not so easy as it is to me to live unmarried; and therefore I do not advise them to a single life.

1. This proceeds, not from any ascetic tendency, but from the practical bias of Paul's mind. He merely thought that unmarried men were likely to be most available for the work of Christ (vers. 32, 33). No doubt a good wife may stimulate a man to liberality, and may greatly increase his tenderness towards deserving objects; but he who has seven mouths to fill cannot have so much to give away as if he had but, one. With the unmarried man there need be no other consideration than this: How can I best serve Christ? With the married man there must always be other considerations. It is therefore to the unmarried that the State looks for the manning of the army and navy, that society looks for the nursing of the sick and for the filling of posts of danger, that the Church depends for a large part of her work, from teaching in Sunday schools to occupying precarious outposts in the mission field.

2. But Paul says also, Beware how you individually think yourself a hero, and able to forego marriage. Beware lest, by choosing a part which you are not fit for, you give Satan an advantage over you (ver. 35, cf. ver. 7). What is good for one man is not good for another; every man must ascertain for himself what is best for him. And this is precisely what is lacking in popular feeling about marriage. People start, and are encouraged to start in life, on the understanding that their happiness cannot be complete till they are married. Now, on the contrary, they should be taught to consider their own make and bent, and not to take this for granted. Marriage is but one path to happiness, and it is possible celibacy may be the straightest path for some. Above all life is very wide and multifarious, and to effect His ends God needs persons of all kinds and conditions.

3. This not only illustrates the judicial balance of the apostle's mind, but gives us the key to the whole chapter. The capacity for celibacy is a gift of God which may be of eminent service, but no moral value can be attached to it. There are many gifts of immense value which may belong to bad as well as to good men. In the Roman Church celibacy is regarded as a virtue in itself, so that men with no natural gift for it have been encouraged to aim at it, with what results we need not say. But while there is no virtue in remaining unmarried, there is virtue in remaining unmarried for the sake of serving Christ better. Some persons are kept single by mere selfishness; but all honour to that eldest son of an orphaned family who sees that it is not for him to please himself, but to work for those who have none to look to but him! There are here and there persons who from the highest motives decline marriage: persons conscious of some hereditary weakness, &c. We may be thankful that there are men and women of sufficiently heroic mould to exemplify the wisdom of the apostle's counsel. Such devotion is not for every one. There are persons of a domestic temperament who need the comforts of home-life, and nothing can be more ill-advised than to encourage such persons to turn their life into a channel in which it was never intended to run. But it is equally to be lamented that, where there are women quite capable of a life of self-devotion to some noble work, they should be discouraged from such a life by the false, foolish, and petty notions of society. No calling is nobler than marriage; but it is not the only calling.


1. Some of the Corinthians seem to have thought that, because they were new creatures in Christ, their old relations should be abandoned. Paul had shrewdness enough to see that if a Christian might separate from an unbelieving wife on the sole ground that he was a Christian, this easy mode of divorce might lead to a large influx of pretended Christians into the Church. He therefore lays down the law that the power of separation is to rest with the unbelieving, and not with the believing, partner (vers. 12-15). It frequently happened in the early ages that when a man was converted in middle life, and judged he could serve God better without the encumbrance of a family, he forsook his wife and children and betook himself to a monastery. This directly contravened the law here laid down (ver. 20), which is of wide application (vers. 21, &c.).

2. But the principle to which Paul chiefly trusts he enounces in vers. 29-31. Whatever is temporary in our relation to the present world it is foolish so to set our heart on, for death may end all our joy and usefulness. The man who is sent abroad for five years would consider it folly to accumulate a large collection of the luxuries of life; how many times five years do we expect to live, that we should be much concerned to amass goods which we cannot remove to another world? This world is a means, and not an end; and those use it best who use it in relation to what is to be. It is the thought of our great future which alone gives us sufficient courage and wisdom to deal with present things in earnest. The very intensity of our interests and affections reminds us that we cannot root ourselves in this present life, but need a larger room.

(M. Dods, D. D.)

That it —

I. IS NOT A DUTY BINDING UPON MANKIND — not a moral obligation like "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God," &c. (vers. 1, 7, 8, 40). Some may feel that celibacy is best for them, then let them remain single; others that marriage is most desirable, then let them marry Now does it seem strange that a condition upon which the continuation of the race depends should be thus left open? For were celibacy to rule, in about sixty years mankind would be extinct. But it may be replied that marriage is a law of nature and does not require a command any more than eating or drinking.

II. IS PRIMARILY FOR SPIRITUAL ENDS (ver. 14). Those who enter on this relation from fleshly impulses and with fleshly ends misunderstand the ordinance. True marriage means such a mutual spiritual affection as welds two souls into one moral personality.


1. Benevolence (ver. 3), each wishing the well-being of the other.

2. Identification (ver. 4). The two are one. The equal rights of husband and wife are everywhere recognised in the Bible.

3. Honesty (ver. 5). Deception is inimical to the true union of souls. Nothing cuts united hearts asunder so easily and effectually as artfulness.

4. Forbearance (vers. 12, 14). Should difference of religious opinion crop up, do not separate; for the believing may correct the unbelieving.

5. Concession of personal freedom (ver. 15). Conclusion: Paul's conception is wise and just. We have made marriage simply a civil contract; but its essence is the strongest sympathies and aims that one can have for another; the bond of marriage is the solemn mutual pledge. Those who are thus married are united by a cord finer than the finest web; too weak to fetter, yet too strong to break.

(D. Thomas, D. D.)

It is necessary to remember —

I. THAT WE HAVE HERE ONLY HALF OF THE APOSTOLIC MIND. Had this passage stood alone, we might then have been justified in taking it as an absolute preference of the single state. But inasmuch as Colossians 3:18, 19; Ephesians 5:22-33; Hebrews 13:4; 1 Peter 1:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 4:4 speak of marriage with high commendation, it is obvious that this passage expresses only one side of the truth. And it is also clear that it is this passage which must be qualified by the others and vice versa, inasmuch as he is here addressing himself to the answer of a particular question put under particular circumstances; in the others he is speaking without reserve on the general duties of a Christian life. This conclusion is confirmed by a consideration of this passage in detail. The preference for celibacy, although stated absolutely at first (vers. 1, 7, 8), is afterwards expressly founded on the impending calamities (vers. 26-31), and, apparently in connection with this, on the greater freedom thereby afforded from worldly cares (vers. 32-35). In one instance, that of recommending widows not to marry (vers. 8, 40). We have a precept (1 Timothy 4:14) reversing this; and whilst there is no trace here of the superior sanctity of celibacy, the prohibition of marriage on that ground is in 1 Timothy 4:1-3 classed among the signs of a false and dangerous system.


1. As being the expression of his natural temperament (ver. 7). But he never confounds his individual peculiarity with Christianity itself. He warns us that it is he who speaks and not Christ, and claims for his recommendation no higher authority than the requirements of the time.

2. As given in expectation of calamities.

3. As given without regard to the moral purposes of marriage, To a certain extent the highest form of Roman marriage was a union for high moral purposes; and the same may be said of the Jewish marriages in the Old Testament and Apocrypha. But even in these the sterner rather than the gentler affections were called forth; and in the Greek and Eastern provinces generally marriage was little more than what the apostle describes it, good only as preventing great evils. And just as his denunciations of Greek wisdom must not be extended without qualification to that higher philosophy of Socrates and Plato; so his denunciations of marriage must not be extended without qualification to that intimate union of pure domestic affections which rose out of the combination of the Teutonic and Christian elements.


1. That there are ordinary circumstances in Christian as well as in political life, under which the ordinary rules of right and expediency may be suspended or superseded by a higher claim. Philosophical historians have truly felt that the monastic system was to a great extent excused, if not justified, by the fact that it originated in an age when it seemed the only refuge from the dissolution of the existing fabric of society. An absolute dictatorship, whether of pope or emperor, has often been defended on the ground that it met the emergencies of a crisis of danger and transition. The enforcement of the celibacy of the clergy in the Middle Ages doubtless in part arose from the just instinct that they would else have sunk into an hereditary feudal caste. No one can deny that domestic ties must occasionally be severed by extraordinary calls, political, military, or religious. All these are instances of the adoption of a rule in peculiar circumstances which St. Paul's advice teaches us not to condemn at once, even though it may seem at variance with the broader principles of Christian life laid down elsewhere in the New Testament. Note in exact correspondence with this passage the declaration of Queen Elizabeth that "England was her husband and all Englishmen her children," and that she "desired no higher character or fairer remembrance of her than this inscription on her tombstone, 'Here lies Elizabeth, who lived and died a maiden queen.'"

2. That the highest duties of Christianity are compatible with every lawful condition of life. If the state of slavery be consistent with the cultivation of the true spirit of Christian liberty, if the great religious divisions of Jew and Gentile be alike compatible with the true service of God, then in all other states of life the spirit of the apostolic injunctions may be observed where, in the letter, they seem disregarded. Freedom from earthly cares may be maintained in the married as well as in the single state; indifference to worldly gain may exist in riches, no less than m poverty; our nearness to God depends not on our desertion of one religious community for another, but on our keeping His commandments.

(Dean Stanley.)


1. In what sense is it called good? Not in the sense of being in itself and always superior to marriage which is the image of the union between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:23-25). "Forbidding to marry" (1 Timothy 4:3) is a mark of false teaching. The law of consistency, then, bids us interpret Paul's statements here as in no sense depreciatory of the Divine ordinance of marriage. A single life is good in the sense of being in itself honourable, and in certain circumstances expedient. The apostle's "good" must always be read in the light of the "not good" of Genesis 2:18.

2. When is it to be preferred to marriage? Leaving out of view considerations of physical health, which may in certain cases render marriage imprudent or culpable, three answers are given in this chapter.(1) In circumstances of peculiar distress (ver. 26). In times of persecution or dearth it may be wise not to marry.(2) When called to some peculiar service for the Lord (vers. 32, 33; cf. Matthew 19:12).(3) Both these considerations must be taken with that in ver.

7. If a man has not the gift of continency, then his duty to marry is clear (ver. 9); if he has the gift, then he is free to give weight to reasons which may turn the balance in favour of celibacy. Even then, however, the higher ends of wedlock are not to be overlooked.

3. It is not to be made obligatory. The Church of Rome ascribes a peculiar excellence to the celibate state, as fitted to promote greater sanctity. There is no warrant for this here; while experience testifies to the dreadful evils to which it leads.


1. Is a safeguard against incontinence. The apostle is not treating of it in general, or in its higher aspects. Still the use here referred to is not to be overlooked in view of such licentiousness as prevailed at Corinth.

2. Implies the rendering of conjugal duty (vers. 3, 4). The one party exists for the other, and the other alone — the twain having become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

3. It is a union between one man and one woman. In polygamy the true idea of marriage is lost. The testimony of Scripture is all in favour of monogamy (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:4, 5; 1 Timothy 3:2); and the statements of the apostle here take this for granted. Domestic bliss is not to be found in the haunts of polygamy.

(H. Bremner, B. D.)

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