1 Corinthians Chapter 7:10-16, 32-39 Sunday School Notes

These are some of my notes for Sunday, June 27, 2010 in the Lifeway Explore the Bible series.

Books referenced in these notes are:

1. NIGTC: First Epistle to the Corinthians by Anthony Thiselton

2. BECNT: 1 Corinthians by David Garland

3. IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by Craig Keener

1 Cor 7:10-11
“Command” Greek verb paraggello, is used to give specific instructions to Christians on how to live (1 Cor 11:17, 1 Thess 4:11; 2 Thess 3:4,6,10,12; 1 Tim 1:3, 4:11, 6:13,17). (Garland)

This prohibition of divorce comes from a saying of Jesus (Mk 10:11-12) and is almost unique in ancient times. Roman marriages were little more than mutual contracts between husband and wife, and thus relatively easy to break through an equally mutual divorce arrangement.(BBCNT, Garland)

“Leave”: Among the Jews wives could only leave their husbands, not divorce them. In Roman society either part of a marriage could divorce the other. The two Greek terms (aphieto, chorizeto) used in this section of the letter are functionally equivalent to the English “divorce”.(BBCNT)

The issue here seems to be some form of religious celibacy, with the intent of better serving the Lord. In 1 Cor 7:5 Paul advises married Corinthians to practice only a temporary celibacy, while in 7:8-9 Paul shows a preference for celibacy but advises marriage as practical for those troubled by celibacy. The assumption in these later verses, then (7:10-11)is that some Corinthians were actually divorcing as a way to better serve God. Paul refers to Jesus’ command against divorces in dismissing this practice unconditionally. Paul’s bare reference to Jesus’ command implies that :

1.Jesus’ sayings were known to the Corinthians

2.The church did not make up sayings of Jesus to cover their own situations, or else why is Paul careful to distinguish his commands from Jesus’? (Garland)

The command to reconcile or stay unmarried fits Paul’s Jewish roots, for a divorced woman who remarries is forbidden to return to her first husband in Judaism. Paul implies the marriage bond is no broken by the divorce, and that both husband and wife must stay single or reconcile in order to meet Jesus’ command about marriage. That the woman specifically told to reconcile with the husband implies that the woman is behind the separation.(Garland)

1 Cor 7:12-13
Because most ancient marriages were arranged by the parents and entered into during teenage years, most early Christians would have been converted after their marriage. This is no sign that Christians willing married non-Christians. (BBCNT)

“The rest” here must refer to Christians married to unbelievers, whether pagan or Jew. Paul extends Jesus’ command here , in these two verses specifying that Christian spouses are unable to initiate divorce proceedings against their unbelieving partners, as long as the partners wish to continue the marriage.(Garland)

Mixed marriages then as now produce inevitable headaches, especially when children are involved. In ancient times the husband was the unquestioning head of the household, and it was the norm that his choice of gods was made for the entire household, family and slaves alike. For a wife to have a separate religion was seen as undermining individual marriages and the institution itself.(Garland)

There was OT precedent for divorce in mixed marriages (Ezra 10:3, 19), and Paul himself has written already about the problem of joining the holy to the unholy, Christian and non-Christian. Paul explains that sex within a mixed marriage is not unholy in verse 14, allaying that presumed fear of the Corinthians. (Garland)

1 Cor 7:14
Both Greco-Roman and Jewish law wrestled with the problem of children of socially mixed unions; Jewish law also took up the problem of religiously mixed unions.

Four views of what “is sanctified” means:

1.Sets apart the marriage to conform to the divine intention for marriage, as opposed to the ancient convenience sort of marriage.

2.The believing spouse will be a gospel witness to the non-believing spouse.

3.The believing spouse consecrates the unbelieving spouse and brings them into the Christian covenant.

4.Most likely of the four, the Corinthians believed contact with a non-Christian spouse would defile their Christianity. Paul declares in a reverse of 1 Cor 6:15-17 that marriage, a divine institution, can convey holiness to the “unholy” pagan spouse.(Garland)

Continuing the holy/unholy idea, Paul adds a second argument by inference. The children of these mixed faith marriages are not considered “unholy” by the Corinthians, yet surely they would have to be if the marriage that produced the children was itself unholy. But if the children are holy, then the marriage that produced it must also be holy. (Garland)

Paul argues children in a Christian/pagan marriage are not to be grounds for divorce, for the marriage exposes the children to the Gospel. Under Roman law children went to the father after divorce; therefore a Christian mother would hesitate to divorce for of abandoning her children to paganism. (BBCNT)

1 Cor 7:15
The key word here is “bound”, a legal term in Jewish divorce documents. “Bound” signifies the marriage bond, so “not bound” means they are free to remarry.(BBCNT)

Christians are not to dispute divorce from a non-Christian spouse because:

1.Under Roman law there was no grounds for dispute. Marriage was a freely made and dissolved partnership.

2.The non-Christian spouse is not bound by Christian commands.

3.The Christian spouse is not bound (enslaved) to the marriage which a non-Christian wishes to end. (Garland)

God called you in peace might have three meanings:

1.God calls Christians to live in peace with all, so fighting a divorce with a non-believer is wrong

2.God grants peace to men. Peace/harmony was the ancient goal of marriage, which were usually prearranged by parents. A peaceful marriage shouldn’t be made violent by seeking divorce on religious grounds.

3.God’s grant of peace also might mean that Christians should not be troubled in mind if they must divorce non-Christian spouses. (Garland)

1 Cor 7:16
Paul emphasizes the hope that the witness of the Christian spouse night help convert the unbelieving partner. (BBCNT)

Some think Paul is speaking in verse 16 to spouses clinging to marriage in hopes of converting their unbelieving spouses. However, since the law didn’t allow for this, it is more likely Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to remain married.

“How do you know” (Greek ti oidas) is used optimistically in 2 Sam 12:22, Est 4:14, Joel 2:14; Jonah 3:9). It is good to maintain the marriage if possible in hopes of being God’s best instrument for converting the spouse (1 Pet 3:1-2)(Garland)

It is good to remember that the ancient ideal marriage was one of peace and contentment, not personal fulfillment or happiness, for very many ancient marriages were arranged marriages. Thus Paul is in line with ancient ideas of marriage, in which duty outweighs all considerations. It is also well to remember that these verses are hardly the final NT word on marriage and divorce.(Garland)

1 Cor 7:32-35
Ancient Cynic philosophers avoided marriage (but not sex) to avoid distraction. Paul makes a similar argument here, though in 7:2,5,9 he admits some would find singleness quite distracting too. Paul re-emphasizes the usefulness of singleness for Christians, here.(BBCNT)

Some view these verses as being entirely negative, that Christians should be anxious (Greek merimnan) about nothing. This is plainly wrong. One cannot eliminate care and concern. And to be anxious to please the Lord is plainly a good thing(Rom 8:8; 2 Cor 5:9; Col 1:10; 1 Thess 2:15; 4:1); it is anxiety about the world and its concerns is what is wrong.(Mat 6:25-34)(Garland)

Paul is not saying the concerns of the married for wife and children are wrong. Instead he acknowledges that marriage is a God-endowed institution which requires responsibilities husbands, wives, and parents cannot in good Christian conscience avoid. Easier then to be single and do the Lord’s work, than divide oneself in two forms of unavoidable commitment. And divided (Greek memeristai, verse 34) is exactly how Paul describes a married man.

In verse 34 Paul applies this statement to women, but uses confusing language: the woman, the unmarried and the virgin (Greek he gyne he agamos kai he parthenos). This can be read three different ways:

1.two nouns treated as a compound subject: the unmarried woman and the virgin

2.a phrase describing one woman: the unmarried woman, that is, the virgin

3.a single noun with two adjectives describing it: the woman, unmarried and virgin/chaste

Garland opts for the third woman, thinking it fits the Greek use of parthenos better as well as the singular Greek verbs. He also points out that Paul deals with divorcees in 7:11 and widows in &:8-9, 39-40. He sees holy in body and spirit as parallel with “how he will please the Lord” in verse 32. Rather the combination of body and spirit indicates the whole person dedicated to pleasing God, rather than being divided by family concerns. All Christians are called to be holy in body, married or not (1 Thess 5:23; Rom 6:12,19, 12:1; 1 Cor 6:13, 19-20; 2 Cor 7:1; Philp 1:20; 1 Thess 4:4)(Garland)

In verse 35 Paul tells the Corinthians he is not saying this to trap the Corinthians into doing things they don’t wish to, but rather that his orders are meant to be both proper in appearance and useful in serving God without distraction. (Garland)

1 Cor 7:36-38
There is debate over whether this passage concerns fathers of virgins or their fiancees. Marriages were normally arranged by the parents, especially the father.

“Marriageable age” means something between twelve and sixteen. If the term (as likely) refers to a girl older than normal, then the age is probably twenty or more (the ancient and medieval old maid age). There is no evidence for the “spiritual engagments” of later centuries at this point in Christian history.(BBCNT)

Three translations give the three common interpretations of 7:36-38:

1Co 7:36-38 Moffatt NT At the same time, if any man considers he is not behaving properly to the maid who is his spiritual bride, if his passions are strong and if it must be so, then let him do what he wants — let them be married; it is no sin for him. (37) But the man of firm purpose who has made up his mind, who, instead of being forced against his will, has determined to himself to keep his maid a spiritual bride — that man will be doing the right thing. (38) Thus both are right alike in marrying and in refraining from marriage, but he who does not marry will be found to have done better.

1Co 7:36-38 NASB But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry. (37) But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. (38) So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.

1Co 7:36-38 NRSVA If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancée, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. (37) But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancée, he will do well. (38) So then, he who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

The “spiritual marriage” view given in Moffatt’s translation has several points against it:

1.No evidence of “spiritual marriage” until far after the first century AD.

2.Paul seems to explicitly sex as a strong component of marriage (1 Cor 7:1-5,9) and the lack of sex in marriage as a door for temptation (1 Cor 7:5)

3.If the couple are already married but celibate, why tell them to get married?

4.The husband is given the sole power to determine whether sex should take place or not, in contrast to 7:2-5 where the husband and wife are given power to determine about divorce.(Garland)

The “father with a virgin daughter” view also has problems:

1.Nothing in the previous verses sets up this interpretation of Paul’s words.

2.The language in verse 37 seems wildly out of place about a father and daughter.

3.Daughters are not normally just described as “virgins”.

4.It is bizarre that Paul would praise the father’s strength in keeping his daughter at home unwed, while ignoring completely the feelings of the daughter. See again 7:2-5.

5.“Past marriageable age” is a dubious translation from the Greek, which more likely refers to the man earlier in the sentence.

6.The distinction in the Greek terms for “give in marriage” and “marry” was not so strong by the first century, so it is not a make or break interpretative point.

7.Why tell a married father that marriage is okay but singleness is better? It makes more sense as an address to singles considering marriage. (Garland)

The third view is the most popular interpretation these days.

1.“His virgin” is odd but might be a sort of “his girl” in Greek.

2.“Improperly” is the Greek aschemonein, which in Greek literature about men and women routinely refers to sexual matters.

3.“Past marriageable age” is Greek hyperakmos, which is literally “over the top”, is used of sexual passion in ancient texts, and would logically refer back to the man’s improper action. Being past one’s prime in ancient Greek was parakme.

4.Having hyperakmos refer to the man also keeps him the subject of the verbs in verses 36-38.

5.“So it must be” would then refer to the fact that sexual passion will cause the man to do something sinful. Thus, in line with 7:9, it is better to marry than burn.

Verse 37 gives the criteria for a man who thinks he will not wed. Paul emphasizes that the man must choose singleness of his own will, and be sure he is in control of his sexuality. If both these are the case, then he does good not to marry.(Garland)

Verse 38 then reemphasizes the conclusion of verse 32-35, that marriage is good and a God-given institution, but singleness is better for Christian service, allowing a complete focus on doing God’s business.

1 Cor 7:39
Unlike virgins, widows and divorcees had a lot to say about whom they married in ancient times.

“Bound as long as her husband is living” is not an exclusion of remarriage after divorce, because people were no longer considered “husband” or “wife” after a divorce. But it does indicate that Christians were not to idly divorce. (BBCNT)

“In the Lord” is usually interpreted in one of three ways:

1.“as a Christian”: The widow is free to remarry but this is not license to change her lifestyle and fall from Christian behavior.

2.“still as a Christian”: Remarriage after being widowed is not grounds for expulsion from the church.

3.“but to a Christian”: Paul sees spiritual as well as practical reasons (the same as in 7:12-14) for widows not to marry outside the faith. (Thiselton, Garland)

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