Remain single? Get married? We have laid open a number of issues related to the aforementioned subject by looking at what the apostle Paul has to say in 1 Corinthians 7. Here, we conclude our discussion by offering eight things to consider when contemplating marriage and/or singleness.
The fifth major issue to consider is wisdom. That is, when contemplating marriage, one must make a biblically informed (wise) decision. In v. 36, Paul says, "But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry." Paul here refers to a man betrothed (engaged) to a woman.
We offer this translation for two key reasons. The first reason is that it is faithful to the Greek text. The second reason is that it fits the context in several ways. First, Paul begins in v. 25 by addressing those who are betrothed. Second, while still referring to those who are betrothed, he does more than repeat his exhortation from vv. 25-28 in vv. 36-38. He adds the dynamic of one who is acting improperly toward his betrothed virgin. Third, Paul continues his thought that marriage is not sin. It is simply better not to marry in view of the present distress. Fourth, by referring to the man not marrying his virgin based upon his own will and not under the compulsion of another is in keeping with Paul's refutation of the ascetics in the church who felt that marriage was at best unspiritual and at worst sin. Fifth, the phrase "keep his virgin in the state she is in" fits Paul's admonition to do just that. Sixth, the alternative interpretation given by some, that is, that Paul is speaking about fathers determining whether or not to allow their virgin daughters to marry, does not fit the context. To change subjects and deal with fathers determining whether or not they will allow their virgin daughters to marry is odd indeed. Seventh, shifting the subject to fathers and daughters poses more grammatical and interpretive problems than it solves. Eighth, allowing the text to flow from the current context poses no grammatical or interpretive problems that cannot be solved. Those issues will be dealt with below.
Now, several observations will illuminate Paul's point. The first observation is that when contemplating marriage, Christians must think about what's proper. First, Christians must marry to avoid impropriety. A man may feel he is acting improperly toward the woman to which he is betrothed or engaged. He may feel that not marrying when a commitment has been made is improper. He may feel he can't control himself with her in a sexual sense which would thus necessitate marriage. A number of other possibilities exist. Paul's point is that a man should marry the one to whom he is engaged if he feels it would be improper not to do so.
Second, Christians must marry when old enough. A woman, for example, must be of marrying age. The Greek word refers to that which has bloomed. Once she has bloomed, or come of age, the virgin is free to marry.
Third, Christians must marry when they should. Paul adds the phrase, "if it must be so." This phrase may refer to her desire to be married for whatever the reason. If the marriage must take place in that sense, then let the man do as he wishes and marry her. He does not sin in so doing.
Fourth, Christians may marry if they desire. The phrase "let them marry" would militate against the father/daughter interpretation cited above. Paul begins by saying that a man may feel he is acting improperly toward his virgin. If the man is the father acting improperly toward his daughter, it would seem that at the end of the verse, Paul would say that the father should "let her marry." He should let his daughter marry. The fact that Paul uses the term "let them marry" seems to indicate that a betrothed couple is in view rather than a father/daughter. In the end, the Christian must marry for God's glory.
The second observation is that when contemplating marriage, Christians must think about undue influence. In .v 37, the apostle writes, "Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well." The Christian man must be firm, be himself, be committed, be decisive, and be wise. Let me explain.
Paul allows that a man may not wish to go through with the marriage. Thus, he refers to one standing firm in his heart. He gives three qualifications in light of the ascetics who would impose their notion of spirituality upon the church. First, for a man not to follow through with his betrothal, he must not be under the constraint of anyone, especially the ascetics. Second, he must have authority over his own will. In light of the overall context, this statement may refer to him being able to control himself sexually (v. 9). In light of the immediate context, it most likely refers to his decision being his own and not that of the legalistic ascetics. Thus, he makes the decision without the warped influence of the ascetics.
To what decision has this man come? The phrase "to keep his own virgin" presents a minor translation problem on the surface. However, a close look at the Greek reveals that the word "keep" refers to keeping something in its current state. Thus, the man who has decided to keep his intended in a state of virginity, that is, not marry her, does well (in light of the present distress, v. 26).
The third observation is that when contemplating marriage, Christians must think about God's truth. Paul's point is that he who marries does well and he who does not marry does well also (or better). In v. 38, we read, "So then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better." On the surface, another translation problem exists. It seems that Paul shifts verbs. In v. 36, Paul says "let them marry." In v. 38, Paul seems to say "the one who gives his virgin in marriage." Getting married and giving one in marriage are two different dynamics. However, Paul uses a phrase in v. 38 that also may be translated "marry" and is commonly used in that sense. Thus, Paul actually says, in light of the context, "the one who marries his virgin." He is simply summarizing, in this instance, the principle he outlined previously. The one who marries the one to whom he is engaged does well, but the one who does not marry her does better. He does better, in Paul's opinion, in light of the present distress.
The fourth observation is that when contemplating marriage, Christians must think about lifelong commitment. We read in v. 39, "A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord." Paul seems to be tacking on something. However, this assumption is not the case. In light of the remote context of Paul's point, that is, that person's are better off remaining in the state in which they currently find themselves, and, in light of the immediate context of Paul’s discussion on virgins and betrothed virgins (25; 36), he seems to be speaking to the betrothed virgin, that is, the counter part to the man in v. 36. The sentiment of vv. 39-40 is the same as that of vv. 36-38, except it refers to the woman considering marriage. The sense is this: "a woman, that is, a virgin who marries, will be bound to her husband as long as he lives." Paul wants the woman to consider the permanence of the change she is about to create in her life. He goes on to say, "But, if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes." Again, it is not wrong to marry.
The fifth observation is that when contemplating marriage, Christians must think about their intended. It is not wrong to marry says Paul. But, he adds one qualifier: she must marry a believer. This is what Paul means when he says "only in the Lord."
The sixth observation is that when contemplating marriage, Christians must think about present distress. In v. 40, Paul affirms his position once again. "In my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is." Paul, in view of the present distress, feels that the virgin will be happier to remain a virgin and single. He feels the widow will be happier to remain unmarried.
The seventh observation flows from the positive side of the previous point in a sense. When contemplating marriage, Christians must think about uncluttered happiness.
The eighth observation is that when contemplating marriage, Christians must think about biblical counsel. Paul adds an interesting statement: "and I think that I also have the Spirit of God." We take Paul to be offering a bit of sarcasm. No doubt the ascetics believed themselves to be spiritually superior to the rest of the Corinthians. They had indeed slandered Paul and questioned his apostleship. Paul has authority. He is the Lord's spokesman here. He is in fact receiving and dispensing revelation from God. Without being arrogant, but, perhaps with a mild rebuke, in light of who he is, he simply says "I think that I also have the Spirit of God."
Practically, we can seek church leaders to help us with these decisions. They can often help to clarify biblical principles for us and give us good and wise biblical counsel.
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About Paul Dean
Dr. Paul Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. He serves as a Regional Mentor with the International Association of Biblical Counselors, speaks at several conferences throughout the year, and provides training for ministers and churches on a regular basis. Paul resides in the Upstate of South Carolina with his wife and three children.
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