First Corinthians — Lesson 11
1 Corinthians 7:25-40
About the "Virgins" (7:25-40)
After telling the married not to seek change, but to remain as they are, Paul now moves to a second, closely related item from their letter: whether some who are called "virgins" should get married. But much of Paul's answer is less than certain.
Besides a large number of details throughout, the difficulties are basically four: (1) the meaning of the term "virgins"; (2) the structure of the argument, which is especially related to the meaning of vv. 36-38 - whether it is the conclusion of the argument begun in v. 25, or whether it is "a special case"; (3) the intent and meaning of the central section (vv. 29-35) for the argument as a whole; and (4) the nature of the problem in Corinth as to (a) what was going on, (b) what they said in their letter, and (c)how it relates to the preceding issue (vv. 1-24).
The first two matters are interrelated, in that if one thinks vv. 36-38 are a special case, then the word "virgin" may or may not mean the same thing throughout the section. All of this is made more difficult by our uncertainties to whether Greek or Roman customs prevailed in the Corinth of Paul's day, and the exact nature of these customs in any case.
With the proper degree of hesitation due such difficult texts, we proceed on the basis of the following reconstruction:
(1) Since the subject matter, "virgins," is specifically mentioned in the three parts of the argument (vv. 28, 34, 36-38), common sense dictates that unless there are overwhelming reasons to think otherwise, the entire passage is a singular response to one issue. That means that what is begun in v. 26 is brought to its conclusion with the strong inferential conjunction "so then" in v. 38.
(2) Of the various options for the meaning of "virgins" (see on v. 25), that seems most probable which sees Paul as speaking to some who are betrothed and are now questioning whether to go through with their marriages.
(3) It is also highly likely, given the obvious similarities between this section and the preceding, that the same ascetic stance (namely v. 1b: "It is good for a man not to have relations with a woman") dictates their attitude here.
However, in this case, quite in contrast to the former where they were urging a change of status, they argued, "It is good for [such a] man to remain as he is" (v. 26), meaning "to keep his ëvirgin' a virgin" (v. 37). Indeed, it seems altogether likely that they have either said or implied that going through with the marriage would constitute "sin" (vv. 28, 36).
(4) Thus they have Paul on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, he is known to favor celibacy - or perhaps they have appealed to his own example (see v. 7) . On the other hand, he totally disagrees with their ascetic reasons for such a stance. His problem therefore is how to affirm celibacy without at the same time affirming their asceticism.
(5) This difficulty is increased in light of Paul's immediately preceding argument that people should stay as they are at the time of their call. For the merely single, that would be easy enough. But how do the betrothed stay as they are? Do they bring the betrothal to its normal conclusion (= marriage), or dissolve the relationship altogether?
(6) Probably because of his simultaneous agreement with their stance but disagreement with their theology, Paul's argument takes on a character of its own, quite unlike anything else in his extant letters. He begins with a caution, that what is about to be said, even though he thinks it trustworthy, is less than a command of the Lord; it is his "opinion" (v. 25). The argument is then laced with "I think" (36), "I am sparing you" (28), "I wish" (32), "I say this for your good" (35), "let him do as he wishes" (36), "he shall do well" (37). What imperatives do appear (v. 27) merely reiterate the stance of vv. 17-24, and as elsewhere are immediately qualified. Whatever else, this is not your standard Paul.
The net result is an argument that does indeed express his own (trustworthy) opinion that in their present situation celibacy is the better option; but it is not the only option. Marriage is a perfectly valid alternative; and whatever else, it is no sin. Despite the confusion of celibacy with asceticism on the part of so many scholars, Paul is no ascetic. Celibate, yes; ascetic, no. His new reasons are basically eschatological (i.e., the truly eschatological person has a radically altered perspective from which he or she views such relationships; vv. 29-31), although they also involve the prospect of "undivided" concern for the things of the Lord (vv. 32b-34). But whether they are married or unmarried he wants them to be "free of anxiety" (v. 32a).
The argument, then, is in three parts: (1) Vv. 25-28 offer the opening statement, in which he picks up their slogan, agrees with it, and then qualifies it. (2) Vv. 29-35 offer two interrelated reasons for his preference for celibacy, neither of which is to be understood as an attempt - as the pneumatics are doing - to put a noose around their necks (v. 35). (3) Rather (vv. 36-38), the two options, to marry or to refrain, are both open to them. If one feels a compulsion to be married, so be it (v. 36); but if one is under no such compulsion, so much the better (v. 37). So then (v. 38), the one does well, and the other, especially in the light of present conditions (v. 26), does even better. He concludes the whole discussion with a final word to the women (vv. 39-40), reminding them that they are bound to their one husband as long as he lives, but that on his decease they, too, have the same two options: to remarry (within the context of the faith) or to stay as widows, of which the latter is preferable. But again, this is his opinion, wherein he also thinks he has the mind of the Lord.
Singleness is preferable but not required (7:25-28).
This paragraph both announces the topic to be taken up next and gives Paul's basic response to it. But it also has its share of difficulties. As they have argued, and he agrees, "It is good for the virgins to remain as they are" (v. 26). But his own reason for it, "because of the present crisis," is less than clear. In v. 27 he seems to apply the slogan - by means of terse questions followed by imperatives, similar to those in v. 18. But the precise nature of these questions, both as to who is being addressed and their place in the immediate context, is also not clear. In any case, the final question at least (if not both) is qualified by the reality that marriage is no sin. Paul's own reasons for his opinion are then added to the qualification: The married will have distress in the present life, and Paul wishes to spare them.
25 The new topic is signaled by the second "now about" in the letter (see on v. 1). But who are the "virgins"? There are three basic views, each of which is determined in part by how one understands vv.36-38, and none of which is completely free of difficulties. (1) The nearly universal tradition of the church up to the twentieth century (cf. the NIV margin for vv. 36-38) has been "that the Corinthians consulted him about the special case of giving virgin daughters in marriage; whereupon Paul generalized, first stating the guiding principle (ver. 27), then applying it to both sexes (vv. 28-35), and finally dealing with the special point which the Corinthians had put to him (vv. 36-38).'' This position rests on some linguistic features of vv. 36-38 which suggest that the man being addressed has a jurisdictional relationship to the one who is called "his (own) virgin." The crucial item for this point of view is the change of verbs in v. 38 from gameo ("to marry") to gamizo (which in the Gospels means "to give in marriage"). But despite both this long history and some items in vv. 36-38 that can be seen to favor it, this view has far more difficulties than advantages: (a) Nothing in vv. 25-35 even remotely suggests that Paul is addressing such an issue; indeed, it is fair to say that without v. 38, with its change of verbs, this view would never have arisen, or at least would never have gained popularity. (b) The terms father, guardian, daughter, etc. never appear in the text; furthermore, there is no known evidence for one's speaking of a father-daughter relationship in terms of her being "his virgin." (c) Any number of other items in vv. 36-38 make this view extremely difficult to maintain (see on these verses).
(2) A second view understands "virgins" in this verse to refer to both men and women, who are committed to one another in a "spiritual marriage." That is, they are living together but without sexual relations. This has become difficult for some of the men, so they are wondering about the advisability of consummating the relationship physically. Although unknown this early elsewhere, this practice prevailed in several quarters of the church from the second century to the fifth, and it is certainly arguable that such an attitude could have prevailed in the Corinth of Paul's day. But besides the lack of firm evidence for such a practice as early as this, this view has against it (a) the fact that Paul opposes such a view in vv. 2-6, (b) the lack of any "hard evidence" within the text itself for such a position on the part of the Corinthians, plus (c) even more difficulties than the first view with various parts of vv. 36-38.
(3) The view adopted here is that it was a term that the Corinthians used in referring to some young betrothed women who along with their fiancÈs were being pressured by the pneumatics and were now themselves wondering whether to go through with the marriage. Paul's response is basically from the man's point of view because it was the cultural norm for men to take the initiative in all such matters. This assumes the influence of Roman culture since by the time of the early Empire it was common for men to act on their own behalf, without the father acting as patria potestas as in earlier days. This view has the distinct advantage of seeing both vv. 27-28 and 36-38 as being addressed to the same man, without the need of changing either topics or persons addressed. This view, however, is not without its share of difficulties in vv. 36-38, although they seem to be more easily answered than in the other cases.
Paul's first word is an attempt to put this whole matter into a proper perspective: "I have no command from the Lord." The last items taken up in the prior section were prefaced with words similar to these. In v. 10 he did have a command of the Lord, but in the matter addressed in vv. 12-16 he did not. Now he repeats that the Lord did not address this concern of theirs either. But more than that seems to be intended here; the issue itself lies in the category of concerns for which there are no commands of any kind, just advice or judgments (cf. v. 40). The Corinthian pneumatics apparently had turned their slogan into something close to law, the net result of which is that the betrothed would sin against the Spirit if they consummated their marriages. But the Lord did not give commands on this kind of issue; therefore Paul can only give advice.
Paul's judgment is not thereby to be understood as unimportant. Indeed, it is given by "one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy." The emphasis is not so much on his being a faithful apostle as on the trustworthiness of his judgment; what makes that so is that he has received mercy from the Lord. In many ways this is a remarkable qualifier. He appeals neither to his apostleship nor to his authority in Christ. Rather, his apostleship, and therefore his judgments on such nonessentials, are viewed in terms of the Lord's mercy to him (cf. 15:9-10), which probably means that they are to understand his advice as an expression of that same mercy. Thus the ultimate appeal is to Christ's mercies, not to his commands. Within this framework Paul will give his own judgment, which has as its aim not their obedience, but their own good (v . 35 ). In contrast to the Corinthian position that has led them to anxiety, he wishes just the opposite by what he has to say (v. 32).
26 This sentence begins (literally): "I think therefore this to be good because of the present crisis." That is, since I have no command but since my judgment is nonetheless to be considered trustworthy because of the Lord's mercies, "therefore" this is what I think is to your advantage in this matter. But before he gives the content of what is "good" for them, he adds "because of the present crisis." This is the first expression of the reason for his advice. Along with its companion word "troubles" in v. 28, this phrase probably expresses in its most succinct form what is being elaborated in vv. 29-35. But what exactly it intends is far from certain. Although Paul himself does not use either term in this way, both words are employed elsewhere in the NT to speak of the great eschatological woes that precede the Parousia. In light of v. 29 it is common to suggest that meaning here. Thus the RSV translates, "in view of the impending distress," suggesting that "present" really means "that which is about to come present." But that seems to fly full in the face of Paul's usage elsewhere, where the term "present" invariably means what is already present in contrast to what is yet to come (see esp. 3:22 and Rom. 8:38) . Therefore, whatever the "crisis " is, for Paul it is something they (or the church at large) are already experiencing. But what?
The word literally means "necessity"; it comes to refer especially to that in life which puts one under "compulsion" of any kind, whether from within or without (cf. v. 37; 9:7, 16). But it also is used to express any kind of "distress" or "calamity" that befalls one. Most likely this latter nuance is intended here. Thus there are basically two options, which finally may merge into one: (1) In light of 11:30, where Paul says that many of them "are weak and sick, and a number have fallen asleep," it is possible - indeed probable - that they are experiencing considerable "distress" within their community. There is no way to know exactly what it might be, but the death of some is no small matter. (2) In light of v. 28 it is possible that Paul has in view the larger "distress" that is the common lot of those who believe. In this case their own "present distress" is but a part of the larger experience of suffering that the church is undergoing until its final redemption at the coming of Christ. Most likely it is this latter that Paul has in view. His point would be: In light of the troubles we are already experiencing, who needs the additional burden of marriage as well?
But the question remains, how is this related to Paul's eschatology, especially to vv. 29-31? It is commonly argued, or assumed, that Paul is urging them to stay single in light of the imminent coming of Christ, which will be accompanied by a time of great woe. But that seems to miss Paul's own eschatological perspective both in vv. 29-31 and elsewhere. In 2 Thess. 3:6-15 he specifically urged exactly the opposite with regard to work, in a context where the alleged coming of the Day of the Lord (2:2) had caused some to cease working. But more importantly, in Paul's view the End has already begun; the form of this world is already passing away (v. 31). Christians do not thereby abandon the world; they are simply not to let this age dictate their present existence . They are already marked for eternity-in the world but not of it. On the other hand, until the final consummation they also may expect "distress" and "trouble" to be their common lot (I Thess. 3:3-4). Thus their present eschatological existence should indeed have bearing on the question at hand. But it is not because they are already spiritual, so that as the angels they neither marry nor give in marriage. Rather, it is because they must yet live out their lives "in the present distress." In light of our present existence, with its suffering and trouble, and in light of the increased troubles that will tend to befall the married (v. 28), the single person will do well to remain that way.
Paul ës judgment in light of the present distress is that "It is good for a man to remain as he is." Although one cannot be sure, it is probable that this also represents the Corinthian position on this matter, which Paul is citing. This seems to be the best explanation of the awkwardness of the sentence, with its repeated "it is good." (Paul's sentence literally reads: "I think this to be good because of the present distress, namely that it is good for a man to remain thus.") In this case, however, Paul is in full agreement; indeed, that was exactly his point in vv. 17-24. But by adding "because of the present crisis," he posits a different reason for it. Furthermore, quite in contrast to them, this new reason does not carry moral weight; therefore, he will also affirm those who do not follow this advice. Thus his answer throughout is both Yes and No.
27 What follows has formal similarities to vv. 18 and 21, including the way those two verses respond to vv. 17 and 20. There is the repeated "stay as you are" formula, whose point is immediately pressed with two short questions, marked by asyndeton (no joining particle), followed by their opposite imperatives. Thus he says: "It is good for a man to remain thus: Are you bound to a woman? Stay that way (in this case, lit., ëdo not seek to be loosed'). Are you free (i.e., ëloosed') from a woman? Stay that way (in this case, lit., ëdo not seek a wife')." All of that seems easy enough. The problem is that the language, being "loosed from a woman," is so highly unusual that it leads one to ask: (1) Who is being addressed? and (2) How do the questions relate to the immediate context?
The nearly universal view is that Paul is speaking in general terms to the married and the unmarried. Thus the NIV: "Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife." In this view what Paul does at the outset, in light of the formula "stay as you are," is to speak once again on both sides of the issue. First, he repeats what he has already said to the married: "No divorce." But that is not now his concern; rather, he uses that question to set up the second, which speaks to their present circumstances: "Do not seek marriage." What favors this view is the language "bound to a woman (= wife)," which is Paul's ordinary usage for the indissolubility of marriage as long as a mate is living (v. 39; Rom. 7:2). The difficulty lies with the word "loosed," which is otherwise unknown to denote divorce. If Paul had intended divorce, therefore, why did he use this strange noun? To which the answer is that Paul had both situations in mind, so he chose a word that could express "being loosed" (= divorced) for the married, whose corresponding verb could mean to "be free from" (= never married) for the case in hand - although the second question would then be a word to singles in general, rather than a specific word to the betrothed.
On the other hand, it is possible that both questions speak directly to the present situation . The clue lies with the word " loosed, " which is found throughout the papyri as a technical term for discharging someone from the obligations of a contract. If it means that here, then he is speaking first to the betrothed (the "virgins"): "Are you bound (= under obligation to) a woman? Then do not seek to break off the obligation." The second question would then expand the point to include all singles: "Are you free from such obligations? Do not seek a wife." To those who would argue that if Paul intended that, why did he not use "virgin" in the first question (i.e., "Are you bound to a virgin? Do not seek release"), the answer is the same as above. The one term that could cover all possibilities is "woman," which may refer both to a " woman" to whom one is engaged and a "wife" that one is encouraged not to seek.
Either of these is possible, but on balance the second one seems to fit the immediate context better. Otherwise the questions really are generalities and only indirectly address the matter at hand. But if the second view is correct, then the balanced sentences in v. 28, which qualify what is said here, speak to both questions; and the subjects, "you" and "the virgin," refer in particular to those who are already under obligation to one another.
28 As with almost all the situations in the preceding section, Paul immediately qualifies v. 27 by allowing its opposite. In this case, however, what is said is so clearly a full qualification that it renders the imperatives of v. 27 to be strictly advice. Furthermore, what is said is so nearly identical to vv. 36-38 that it is difficult to believe that the two are not the same piece of advice to the same people. As throughout the preceding section, even though the final form of the advice in vv. 36-38 speaks directly to the man, the word of exception here is to both parties: "If you (i.e., the man spoken to in vv. 26-27) do marry, you have not sinned; and if the (not "a") virgin marries, she has not sinned."
This is such a remarkable word from a Jewish man, in whose culture marriage was not only normal but in some cases viewed as next to obligatory, that one must ask how it is possible for him even to have thought of using such language in the first place. The best answer, of course, is that it reflects the Corinthian view, which was either specifically suggesting that marriage might be sin or else implying it by the obligatory way they were pressing their ascetic slogans. Thus, this is no grudging condescension to marriage on Paul's part, which by saying it is "no sin" is equal to "damning it with faint praise." To the contrary, Paul recognizes that the question of marriage lies totally outside the category of sin, which is also why there is no "command" of the Lord on this matter (cf. v. 25). Hence he urges that, despite his agreement with their slogan in this case, those who do not accept this advice do not in fact commit sin.
But because he really does believe that his advice is sound, he proceeds to qualify the qualifier, and thereby to repeat in a slightly different way his earlier reason, "because of the present distress" (v. 26). In this case he says: "But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this." Thus the argument has gone: (a) I agree, it is good for the "virgins" to remain single, but that is because of the present distress; but (b) it is certainly no sin to marry; nonetheless (c) those who do marry will experience many difficulties (because of the present distress), and I would spare them that. This kind of argument is advice only, and it reflects concern for them, not principles that would make singleness a better option. That the married will have "troubles in this life" is for Paul a matter of sober reality, almost certainly as the result of "the present distress." What there is about marriage that would cause such tribulation as is not true for the single, Paul does not tell them; and it would be idle speculation to try to read his mind at such a point -- especially when we are less than sure about the nature of the present distress. What does seem certain is that this is not a reference to eschatological woes as such, but to real affliction in the present life, probably enhanced by the ordeal that they are currently experiencing.
What follows (vv. 29-30) presents the perspective from which all such matters should be viewed. But in neither part of this explanation is there anything that seems to speak directly to the afflictions of the married as such. What is clear in this opening paragraph is that Paul prefers that the single remain single, but that his reasons for it are strictly pastoral and have nothing to do with the married or single state as such. Hence when he qualifies his preference with an exception here, it is a genuine qualification that affirms marriage as well. This would seem to be a considerable distance from the Corinthian position.
One of the unfortunate things that has happened to this text in the church is that the very pastoral concern of Paul that caused him to express himself in this way has been a source of anxiety rather than comfort. Part of the reason for this is that in Western cultures we do not generally live in a time of "present distress." Thus we fail to sense the kind of care that this text represents. Beyond that, what is often heard is that Paul prefers singleness to marriage, which he does. But quite in contrast to Paul's own position over against the Corinthians, we often read into that preference that singleness is somehow a superior status. That causes some who do not wish to remain single to become anxious about God's will in their lives. Such people need to hear it again: marriage or singleness per se lies totally outside the category of "commandments" to be obeyed or "sin" if one indulges; and Paul's preference here is not predicated on "spiritual" grounds but on his concern for them. It is perfectly all right to marry (provided the marriage is not forbidden on other grounds, e.g., adultery).
Unfortunately, our reading of the text in this way cuts in two ways. Our culture, especially Christian subculture, tends to think of marriage as the norm in such a way that singles are second-class citizens. For such people this text is merely "Paul's opinion," and is seldom listened to at all. That, too, misses Paul's point. Some are called to singleness still; they need to be able to live in the Christian community both without suspicions and with full acceptance and affirmation.
Paul's reasons for singleness (7:29-35).
The opening words of this section indicate that the apostle herewith intends to explain what has just been said. The section as a whole seems to function, therefore, as a kind of explanatory digression between Paul's opening response (vv. 25-28) and the more specific conclusion of vv. 36-38, both of which say the same thing: It would be good for the "virgins" to remain as they are; but it is no sin for them to marry. Unfortunately, it is an explanation that is no longer clear as to what is being explained, what precisely it means, and for whom it is intended.
The argument itself is in two parts (vv. 29-31, 32-35), whose relationship to each other is also something of a mystery. The basic content of the two parts can be fairly easily discerned. Vv. 29-31 present a framework the "shortened time") from which they are to view their present existence, especially their relationship to the world, whose present form, including all social, personal, and commercial expressions, is passing away. The question is, for what in vv. 25-28 does this serve as an explanation? How does this help them better to appreciate his advice that the "virgins" remain single?
Vv.32-34 take up the theme of "anxiety." Paul begins (v. 32a) with the general statement that he wants them to be in a state that is free from anxiety. This is followed by two sets of nearly balanced pairs (32b-34), in each of which the cognate verb merimnao (which may be either pejorative, "be anxious about," or positive, "care for") describes the condition of the unmarried and married, both men and women (including the virgin). The questions here are: (1) How does this relate both to vv. 29-31 and to vv. 25-28? (2) To what does merimnous refer? (3) How do the merimnao sentences relate to the opening general statement about being merimnous?
The section concludes with v. 35, in which Paul explains that he has said this (apparently all of vv. 29-34) for their advantage, and not to put a noose around their necks. Rather, he wants them to be able to do what is "seemly" and "constant" for the Lord without distraction. This in turn, especially the word "seemly," leads directly into vv. 36-38, where he first affirms those who will go through with their marriage and then those who will not, concluding that both do well, although the latter do "better."
The traditional interpretation of the two parts sees Paul as giving two reasons for remaining single: ( 1 ) In light of the imminent Parousia, to marry is to add additional troubles in the present age that is soon to pass away, so why marry? (2) The married man or woman is "distracted" by worldly affairs away from the constant devotion to Christ available to the unmarried, so celibacy is the better option. These may well be correct. But they also leave a number of unanswered questions, particularly as to how this responds to the ascetics who consider getting married as tantamount to sinning, and how this relieves the "anxiety" of the man in v. 36, who wants to get married, not to mention the general difficulty with the merimnous/merimnao interplay in vv. 32-34.
The proper understanding probably lies elsewhere, although precision is difficult to come by. But a few observations can be made: First, there must surely be some interrelationship between (a) remaining single, (b) the present distress, and (c) the eschatological viewpoint of vv. 29-31. What exactly that might be is not clear. In vv. 29-31 Paul does not mention the Parousia, nor suffering, nor living as though the End were tomorrow. Nor does he emphasize the futurity of the End vis-‡-vis their over realized eschatology. Rather, in view of the "time" and the fact that the "form" of this present world is passing away, he calls for a radically new understanding of their relationship to the world. This seems to fit exactly with the eschatological outlook of 4:1-5 and 6:1-6, where the reality that the future has already begun with Christ and the Spirit determines one's entire existence in the present. If this be so, then it is a general word that requires them to think of both marriage and celibacy in light of their new existence. The married will have troubles in this life because of the present hardships, and Paul would spare them that. But such-things do not determine one's existence; Christ does. And in him one lives out the present life totally determined by the future that has already come.
Secondly, this leads him to say that he does not want any of them to live in anxiety, especially not about the present distress nor about the future, which would mean also no anxiety about whether to marry or not. There are two kinds of existence, he points out. The unmarried either "care for" the things of the Lord (which is good) or are "anxious about" such things (which is bad); so also the married, who either "care for" or are "anxious about" their spouses. The specific difference between them is that the married are also divided, that is, they have the additional concern of the spouse. He concludes that all of this has been said for their advantage, so that whichever they are, they may not live in anxiety but in a way that is "seemly" and "constant" before the Lord. Out of such concern, then, he can move on to encourage both marriage and celibacy, even though he concludes finally with his obvious preference for the latter-probably still "because of the present distress."
The presence of the vocative, "brothers [and sisters]," indicates that with these words there is a slight turn in the argument. It seems also to broaden the perspective so as to be a word for the whole community on this matter. The sentence begins, literally, "this I say," pointing forward to what is to be said. The problem lies with trying to determine what the following words are intended to explain. On the one hand, it probably gives the eschatological explication of the two phrases "because of the present distress" and "will face many troubles in this life." That is, the "present distress" belongs to the eschatological framework of their present existence, from which they are to understand the advice to stay as one is (unmarried). But at the same time what is said moves considerably beyond a mere concern over celibacy as such. It finally becomes an appeal to the entire community to rethink its present existence, and especially seems to insist on their living within an eschatological framework as over against, presumably, their current ascetic-spiritual one.
Despite several grammatical difficulties, what follows is probably best understood as a single, complex sentence in Greek, whose structure is:
The basic premise: The time is compressed, or limited,
The purpose (or result): so that henceforth
[even] (1) those who have wives might be as if they did not,
and (2) those who mourn (might be) as if they did not,
and (3) those who rejoice (might be) as if they did not,
and (4) those who buy (might be) as if they possessed not,
and (5) those who use the world (might be) as if they did not have full use.
The reason: This world in its present form is passing away.
The crucial sentence is the basic premise, "the time is short"; but its intent is not at all easy to determine. Ordinarily, "time" is considered in a quantitative way to refer to "the amount of time left for Christians to do what they have to do." While there is perhaps a dimension of that involved, more likely the noun "time" refers to the eschatological event of salvation, which has been set in motion by Christ's death and resurrection and the gift of the Spirit. Their "present distress" is evidence that this time "has been compressed" or "is foreshortened,'' that God's people stand at the end of history, as it were. This does not so much mean that the final consummation is imminent (although in a sense that is always true for God's people) as that the future, which was set in motion by the event of Christ and the Spirit, has been "shortened" so that it is now in plain view. And that will absolutely condition how one lives in the present. Paul's concern, therefore, is not with the amount of time they have left, but with the radical new perspective the "foreshortened future" gives one with regard to the present age. Those who have a definite future and see it with clarity- live in the present with radically altered values as to what counts and what does not. In that sense it calls for those who want to get married to rethink what that may mean, especially in light of the present distress.
It may well be that this is a strong word against the Corinthians' general tendency to live and think on the basis of their former pagan past, which generally lacked such an eschatological perspective. Their outlook was that of having arrived (see 4:8)-not in an eschatological sense, but in a "spiritual" sense that made them ascetic with regard to the present age. Paul thus wants them to rethink their existence in terms of "the shortened time," with its certain future that they yet await (cf. 1:7).
This understanding of the basic premise seems to be borne out by the rhetoric of the purpose clause that follows. God has "compressed the time of salvation" so that "from now on" believers might have a totally new perspective as to their relationship with the world. This perspective is given in the form of five illustrations, expressed in the strongest kind of dialectical rhetoric. Taken literally, the five "as if not" clauses become absurdities, not to mention contradictory to what Paul clearly said earlier about marriage (vv. 2-6) and what he will elsewhere say about sorrowing and rejoicing (Rom. 12:15). But they are not to be taken literally; they are rhetoric, pure and simple. The question is, what is the point of such rhetoric?
What Paul is calling for is a radical new stance toward the world, predicated on the saving event of Christ that has marked off our existence in a totally new way. Just as in Christ the slave is a freedman and the free man is a slave (vv. 22-23) because one's existence is determined by God, so now one does not so much live "detached" from the world (after all, Paul expects the Corinthians to continue doing all five of these things) as totally free from its control. Therefore, one lives in the world just as the rest - married, sorrowing, rejoicing, buying, making use of it - but none of these determines one's life. The Christian is marked by eternity; therefore, he or she is not under the dominating power of those things that dictate the existence of others.
But what is the point of saying this in the present context? It has been suggested that because "the married" tops the list, this is really a plea for celibacy. That is, since the married should think like celibates, the single should stay celibate. But that is to take the passage too literally. Most likely it is a word to all of them about their entire existence. In this kind of rhetoric it makes no difference whether one is married or celibate. That is, the celibate, too, must live "as if not" in the same sense as all the others, because celibacy too belongs to what is passing away. Granted, Paul does not have a clause to form a pair with "the married"; that would not be possible in the case of "the not married." Paul's concern here seems to go beyond "staying celibate" to the very understanding of Christian existence that caused them to urge celibacy in the first place. The Corinthians think that the unmarried should stay as they are - for ascetic reasons related to their new spirituality. Paul is urging on them a wholly different worldview. Because of the "present distress" and "shortened time," the betrothed may wish to remain single; but being single or married in itself is not the crucial question. Either is all right, he has said and will say again; what is important is that in either situation one lives "as if not," that is, without one's relationship to the world as the determining factor.
The final two items need comment since they set up the concluding causal clause. Paul does not discourage buying and selling. As with the other items, the Corinthians are expected to continue doing such things. But Christians do not buy to possess; that is to let the world govern the reason for buying. Those who buy are to do so "as if not" in terms of possessing anything. The eschatological person "has nothing, yet possesses all things" (2 Cor. 6:10; cf. I Cor. 3:22). Thus the Christian can at the same time "use the present world." This is the clearest indication that Paul does not have a separatist's bent. The world as such is neither good nor evil; it simply is. But in its present form it is passing away. Thus while one uses the world, one must be "as if not," which in this case does not mean "not abuse" (KJV), but not to make full use of it, that is, be "not engrossed" or "absorbed" in it.
This final clause gives the reason for one's new stance toward the world: "This world in its present form is passing away." This is the determinative sentence; it is also eschatological. As elsewhere the use of the "progressive present" ("is in the process of passing away") reflects Paul's already/not yet eschatological perspective. The decisive event is the one that has already happened. In Christ's death and resurrection God has already determined the course of things; he has already brought the world in its present form under judgment. And so decisive is that event that it has "foreshortened the time." The result is that even now what others are absorbed in, the Christian is free from. All of these things-marriage/ celibacy, sorrowing/rejoicing, buying/using - belong to the world in its present form. Marriage thus belongs to the present scheme of things that is already on its way out. But so does their asceticism. These things may or may not be done, but in either case they belong to what is passing away.
With these words Paul now turns to another theme: "Now I would like you to be free from concern," meaning, apparently, "as long as you are in this present world." The question is, how does this relate to what has preceded (both vv. 29-31 and 25-28) and to whom is it addressed? Traditionally it has been viewed (correctly) as the lead-in to the four sentences that follow, expressing the two kinds of "concern" experienced by the married and unmarried. This view usually treats the adjective "free from concern" as though it were a noun, referring to the "extra cares" of married life. Thus it becomes a further exhortation - indeed warning against marriage. But even though in the sentences that follow Paul may indeed be giving a further reason for encouraging the unmarried to stay that way, "extra cares" is not that reason. And in any case that is not what this opening sentence is about.
The words "to be free from concern" translate the infinitive "to be" and the adjective "without anxiety" (amerimnous). They have to do with a state of being, not with "cares" as such. The question is, why this concern here? There seem to be two possibilities. (1) As the common view has it, the "you" may refer now to the "unmarried" of vv. 25-28. But in contrast to that view, the anxiety does not have to do with the worldly cares of marriage, but with the concern over whether or not to get married, especially since some are suggesting that it comes close to sin to do so. That seems altogether likely, but would best be understood as it is subsumed under the next view. (2) Since the sentence flows naturally out of vv. 29-31, Paul's concern most likely still has to do with living in the present age as an eschatological person. That is, because life is determined by one's new existence in Christ (already but not yet, with the "not yet" clearly in view), the believer should be free from the anxiety-ridden existence of those who are determined by the world in its present form. The Christian still buys and marries, but he or she does so "as if not." These things do not determine one's existence; the clear vision of the future does. Thus one is free from anxiety. In this sense the passage does indeed speak to the unmarried who are anxious about marriage. But Paul wants both married and unmarried to be this way. Their existences in the present scheme of things differ, as the next sentences point out, but both are to be without anxiety.
With the use of the cognate verb merimnao, Paul proceeds to describe the two kinds of existence, married and unmarried, in terms of the object of their "anxiety" or "concern." He begins with the men, and the two sentences he devotes to them are almost perfectly balanced, except for the crucial addition at the end of the second, "and is divided." Thus: The unmarried man (merimna) the things of the Lord, how he might please the Lord ("but" or "and") the married man merimna the things of the world, how he might please his wife. And he is divided.
What is not clear is how these sentences relate to the opening "wish" that they be "without anxiety," and to the rest of what has preceded as well. There are three options:
(1) Traditionally, v. 32a is interpreted as having to with the worldly cares of married life. Thus the merimna of the two clauses, though translated the same, is understood as positive in the first instance and negative in the second. The de therefore is adversative ("but"); the married man is not merely concerned for his wife, this concern makes his a clearly inferior existence. The difficulty with this view, however, is that, besides making merimna mean two different things in succeeding, nearly identical sentences, it really does seem to undercut what Paul says on either side of it. It is one thing to say that it is no sin to marry; but how is the married man helped to be "free from anxiety" if his existence is subordinated to the celibate's in this way, so that he is indeed "anxious" about the things of the world while the celibate gets to "serve" the Lord in a pleasing way?
(2) There is the view that in both cases the verb is pejorative. Both the married and unmarried "are anxious about," but neither of them should be. The anxiety to please the Lord is seen as stemming from the Corinthian asceticism. The asceticism itself is an attempt to win favor with God on the basis of a false standard. Thus "the ascetics who decry marriage are not rising above but falling below the Christian standard." This view has the distinct advantage of keeping the same meaning for all the merimna cognates. The difficulty with it is with the clause "to please the Lord," which Paul elsewhere uses in a good sense (Rom. 8:8; I Thess. 2:15; 4:1).
(3) It is possible to read both verbs positively, meaning to "care for"; (12:25; Phil. 2:20), and to view them both as legitimate activities. The married man "cares for the things of the world, how to please his wife" in the sense of vv. 30-31. That is a simple statement of reality. But he must do so without anxiety because of the eschatological determination of life in the present. In this case the usage of the verb is something of a play on the adjective in v. 32a: "I want you to be without ëconcern' even as you must concern yourselves' with life in the present age." The de functions as a contrast, but not as an adversative: one is one way, the other is another. The difference between the two men is that the married man "is divided." That does not mean that he is full of anxieties, but that he "cares for" both the Lord and his wife. The "division" may mean that he has less opportunity for service than is available to the unmarried; but it does not mean that the one is a superior existence, or that it is more full of anxiety. Had Paul intended that, then the married man would have a right to become anxious despite exhortations to the contrary.
Although either alternative (2) or alternative (3) makes good sense of the text, on balance the latter seems preferable. In light of the "foreshortened time" and the radical new understanding of our relationship to the present world, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the nature of the two kinds of existence. For him this means that celibacy is preferable; but at the same time he is trying to remove any anxiety that marriage might be wrong or "unseemly" in itself. Different, yes; more involved in the present world, yes; but inferior or sinful, no. What is crucial is that either lives without anxiety, even though they must continue to "use the world."
As throughout the chapter, Paul now repeats for the women what he has just said about the men. But there are three differences, two of them significant: (1) To the "unmarried woman" he adds "the virgin" as the compound subject of the first sentence; (2) in place of "how she might please the Lord," he writes "in order that she might be holy both in body and in spirit"; and (3) the verb "is divided" does not appear at the end of the second sentence. The first and third of these differences are related directly to a difficult textual choice. On the one hand, if one were to go with the Majority Text, then the four sentences are all in perfect balance except for item (2), which is a considerable difference indeed! But the presence of "and" before "is divided" and the nearly impossible meaning required for the verb "divide" rule in favor of the text as the NIV has translated it.
One of the reasons for the textual corruption is almost certainly related to the first of the differences noted above. Why would Paul begin the women's side by distinguishing two kinds of unmarried women? The answer to that must lie with the issue that was raised in vv. 25-28. This is sure evidence that "virgin" does not mean any unmarried woman, but must have a special sense in this section. It also adds support to our interpretation of vv. 32b-33. Paul is making some general statements about the nature of married and unmarried existence in the present age. But as he starts the section on the "unmarried woman," he is brought back specifically to the issue at hand, so he adds "and the virgin," meaning the "virgins" who are the subject under consideration.
The surprising - and more difficult - difference is the second one. There are basically two options as to what it means, depending on how one understands the sentences as a whole (see on vv. 32b-33 above). If the verb means "be anxious about," then this is probably a reflection of the Corinthians' point of view. They are striving to be holy in body as well as in spirit, by avoiding sexual relations. Such an understanding adds weight to the possibility of the "negative" view. If, on the other hand, the verb means "care for" in a positive sense, then Paul probably intends by the phrase "body and spirit" something like "holy in every way" or "completely," with "body and spirit" not to be thought of separately but together, as designating the whole person(see on 5:5; cf. I Thess.5:23; 2 Cor.7:1). It is also possible, of course, that in the case of the woman this language reflects the cultural ideal of the "chaste woman," so that her chastity is part of her "setting herself apart" for the Lord. In any case, given vv. 2-6, it is not possible that Paul is moving in the direction of the Corinthian asceticism, which viewed sexual relations per se as unholy or not "good." Neither celibacy nor chastity as part of one's "holiness" is the same thing as negating sexual relations as such in the name of holiness, even though these ideas were confused early on in some sectors of the church, partly as the result of this text.
This verse functions in two ways. First, it brings closure to the argument of vv. 29-35 by stating the purpose of what has been said; second, by referring to what is "seemly" before the Lord, it serves as a transition to the conclusion in vv. 36-38, which begins by speaking to the one who thinks he might be behaving in an "unseemly" way. The fact that it brings closure to the explanatory digression is signaled by "this . . . I say," which can only refer to what has preceded. The touto ("this") most likely includes all of vv. 29-35, so that the whole is enclosed by the "this I mean" of v. 29, which points forward to what is about to be said, and the present "this I say, " which points back to what has now been said. If so, then it refers to their eschatological existence as determining their life in the present world, including being without anxiety over the matter of whether to marry or not. Although Paul obviously leans toward being celibate, either existence is all right in the present as long as one is neither determined by it nor anxious over it.
The purpose of what has been said is stated in three parts, first positively, "for your own good" (lit. "for your own advantage"), which is then defined by a negative contrast, followed by a repetition of the purpose phrase with some specific content. The negative contrast, translated "not to restrict you" in the NIV, is a metaphor that literally means, "not to throw a noose around your necks." That seems to mean that Paul's foregoing explanation is intended to benefit them, probably in the direction of having new grounds for celibacy without anxiety. But at the same time what "benefits" is not a commandment; they are not to take his preferences, for any reason, as a burden around their necks. This makes best sense as a word to the betrothed, that they are not "bound" by Paul's word. After all, even if preferable from his point of view, celibacy is first of all a gift (v. 7). Therefore, he wants what has been said to be a liberating word, whichever direction they go. There are two kinds of existence in this present age, but those who have truly entered the new age live now "as if not," and are thereby free from the anxiety that enshrouds all others, including the Corinthian ascetics.
The final phrase, in which the "advantage" is spelled out more specifically, is less than clear. The Greek text literally reads: "but for what is seemly and constant to/for/before the Lord in an undistracted way." The concern appears to flow out of the preceding negative. By these words Paul does not want to restrict them, as the ascetics would do, but to free them for whatever is appropriate in their case (apparently either marriage or celibacy) so that they may have constant and unhindered devotion to the Lord. For the gifted celibate that would mean celibacy; but for the betrothed, whose gift is not celibacy but whose devotion to the Lord has been hindered by the ascetics' demanding that he be so, what is appropriate is marriage. This is not the standard view, which sees this as a final word of commendation for the celibate life, on the basis of vv. 32b-34, that this is the only way one can have unhindered devotion. But the word "seemly" or "appropriate" does not seem to fit well with such a view. Paul has not argued that celibacy is the way of life that is most appropriate or seemly. Rather, he has given eschatological reasons for preferring it. A betrothed person, who is anxious about whether or not to marry, is hardly living appropriately or with unhindered devotion. Thus, at the end, despite his setting forth to give new grounds for preferring celibacy, he again sets that preference in a context that equally affirms the "rightness" of marriage, which is what he will once more spell out in detail in the conclusion that follows.
Paul's point in all of this seems to have been twofold, and everything must be seen in light of his eschatological perspective. First, he really does prefer celibacy, and both the nature of eschatological existence itself - in light of the present distress - and the divided nature of one's caring when married speak in favor of it. But second, celibacy is not the only existence, nor is it to be preferred on moral grounds, only eschatological. All must live as eschatological people, free from anxiety. This is especially true for the betrothed, whose anxiety would have stemmed not from worldly cares but from the Corinthian ascetics. If the present distress and shortened time make celibacy preferable, they do not make marriage wrong. Rather, the married in particular must learn to live as truly eschatological people in a world whose present expression is passing away.
This passage in particular, instead of being viewed as to our advantage, has often been burdensome for the young. But that is probably less Paul's fault than our own. It is hard to perceive that his preference for celibacy does not also make it a superior existence, so that the married feel like second-class citizens in the church. Yet our real failure is to take the main point seriously enough, namely that we are to live out our lives in the present age, whether married or not, as those who have been determined by the "foreshortened time." Being eschatological people is to free us from the grip of the world and its values. We are to live "as if not," that is, as fully in the world but not controlled by its systems or values. Such freedom, which comes only from Christ, removes from one the anxiety about which existence is better. Whichever one is called to is better, as long as it is appropriate and allows one unhindered devotion to the Lord.
The irony of our present situation is that Paul insisted that his own preference, including his reasons for it, were not to be taken as a noose around anyone's neck. Yet we have often allowed that very thing to happen. Roman Catholicism has insisted on celibacy for its clergy even though not all are gifted to be so; on the other hand, many Protestant groups will not ordain the single because marriage is the norm, and the single are not quite trusted. The answer again lies in our becoming eschatological people who live in the present with such a clear vision of our certain future that we are free from such anxiety, and therefore also free from placing such strictures on others as well as on ourselves.
But Marriage Is No Sin (vv. 36-40).
These two paragraphs together bring the entire argument, including vv. 1-24, to a conclusion. Vv. 36-38 represent a notorious crux, evidenced by the three distinctly different options available in the NIV, NASB (cf. NIV mg), and NEB. The best solution is to see this section as flowing directly out of v. 35 and thus bringing to a specific conclusion the argument that began in v. 25, rather than a special case brought in at the end. Thus in v. 36 Paul repeats what was said in v. 28 to the man who wants to get married, that marriage is no sin. But for the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, staying single is the thing to do (v. 37). Both do well, he concludes (v. 38), although his final preference is for celibacy for the reasons given in the preceding argument, that is, "because of the present distress."
The final paragraph (vv. 39-40) is something of a puzzle. The question it raises is, what is it doing here as the final word? Two observations need to be made: (1) In keeping with the pattern throughout, this word functions in relation to vv. 36-38, which was addressed to the men, and serve as his balancing word to the women. However, (2) in this case it is not a word just to the virgins themselves-although it will include them-but a final word to the women that reaches all the way back to v. 1. In this way the concerns of both sections are repeated by way of conclusion. First, a woman is not to separate from her husband (vv. 1-24); but second, if he dies, then the same two options noted in vv. 36-38 are available to her. Staying single (in this case as widows) is to be preferred; but marriage is a viable option-as long as it is "in the Lord." The phrase "in the Lord" is often urged to require a Christian widow to marry a Christian. While that may be the safer route, it does not carry this meaning in other passages. In Eph. 6:1 Paul requires children to obey their parents "in the Lord." This does not mean that children are required to obey only parents who are Christians; it means that children must obey their parents as long as that which is commanded is in keeping with the Lord's commands. In Rev. 14:13 a blessing is pronounced upon those who die "in the Lord." This cannot mean that all who are "in the Lord" will be saved. The unfaithful "in the Lord" have no such promise. Those who die in keeping with the Lord's will will rest from their labors.
36 Paul's first directive is for the man who wants to go through with his marriage: "He should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married." That much seems clear enough; but the clause "he should do as he wants" is the apodosis (conclusion) of an extremely complex conditional sentence, whose double protases (one "if" clause imbedded in another) describe the conditions of the man-and perhaps his "virgin" that lead to this conclusion. The sentence looks like this:
1) Protasis l: "If anyone thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin,
2) Protasis 2: (if he [or she] be hyperakmos and thus it ought to be).
This is the basic position of the traditional "father-daughter" view.
The first protasis is a present particular, which implies that Paul knew that an actual situation like this existed in the community.
The second protasis is a supposition, reflecting something that might be so.
3) Apodosis: let him do as he wishes.
4) Explanatory addition: He is not sinning; let them marry.
Since the clause begins with a contrastive "but," and "acting improperly" is the antonym to "what is seemly" in v. 35, it seems probable that concern for this man was already in view in the argument of vv. 32-35. From the point of view of the ascetics his desire to consummate the marriage is "inappropriate"; indeed, they have apparently filled him with anxiety (v. 32) by their ascetic "noose" (v. 35). Thus Paul addresses this man's situation specifically, so that his own words in vv. 29-34 will not serve in the same negative way. What is not clear is what would make this man think his current behavior toward his betrothed was "unseemly" or "shameful." Since such an idea probably stems from the ascetics, it could refer either to his wanting to get married, which they would consider "unseemly," or to his keeping her betrothed without going ahead with the marriage, which could make her situation very difficult.
The second protasis interrupts the flow of thought, perhaps as Paul' s own hypothetical contribution as to why the man may think his current actions are shameful. Under any view it is a particularly difficult clause. Unfortunately, one cannot be certain as to either the subject of the verb or the meaning of the adjective hyperakmos. The subject may be either the virgin, who is the one most recently mentioned in the preceding clause, or the man, since an unexpressed subject in a dependent clause usually picks up the subject of the preceding clause. Grammatically, the latter seems preferable, but one cannot be sure. Likewise with the adjective. The compound is a particularly pejorative word describing disgraceful, dishonorable behavior.
This expression is one of the real difficulties for the "spiritual marriage" view. If they are already married spiritually, how might he now think he were behaving shamefully toward her? The "father-daughter" view answers this more easily, but not without difficulty. The father apparently had been considering keeping her a virgin (devoting her to the Lord on his own volition?), but now he is having some second thoughts. It should be noted that most commentators that take this view do not really wrestle with the fact that the young lady's wishes are not mentioned at all. The father is the prime actor throughout (see esp. on v. 37), which means that her virginity is not so much her "devotion" to the Lord as his.
The language "his virgin" here is one point in favor of the "spiritual marriage" view since that would be her proper designation. It is sometimes objected that "his virgin" is a strange way of speaking about one's betrothed, but that would be less so if the term comes from their letter and Paul is simply using it consistently throughout the argument. Here it would mean something close to "his girl." It is even more difficult for the father-daughter view since this is the place in particular where one would expect the word "daughter" to appear.
The apodosis and its further explanation indicate that the engaged man wants to get married: "let him do as he wishes." The Corinthian ascetics apparently have led him to believe that it may even be sin if he were to go through with it, which in turn has led to his "anxiety" and "unseemly behavior" toward his fiancÈe. Paul says, "Not so. If because he or she is hyperakmos and marriage ought to occur, then let him do as he wishes. He does not sin."
The final imperative, "let them marry," is particularly difficult for both the other views. For the father daughter view this is an inexplicable reference to a third party (the groom), who is not otherwise mentioned throughout the passage. If this view were correct, one would expect exactly what the NASB does, "let her marry." If the father is acting as patria potestas, it is especially strange that he should be told to "let them marry" as if the young man and woman were urging it on him. The verb itself also diminishes the probability of the "spiritual marriage" view, since there is no other evidence that it might mean to consummate sexually a marriage that had taken place much earlier.
37 From the one who wishes to marry, which probably reflected a real situation in the church, Paul turns to the one who might opt for the Corinthian and his point of view, that it is better to remain as he is. What is significant here is his description of this man. In no less than four different ways he repeats that such a man must be fully convinced in his own mind. First, he "has settled the matter in his own mind" ; second, he "is under no compulsion"; third, "he has authority concerning his own will," meaning no one else is forcing this action on him; and fourth, he "has made up his own mind. " This verbal tour de force strongly suggests that outside influences might lead him to take such an action, but against his own will. That seems precisely to be the case in Corinth. There were those who were urging such an action on the grounds that "It is morally good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman, and thus for the betrothed man to remain as he is." Paul agrees with the last part, that he would do well to remain as he is, but not on moral grounds. So Paul's word to the man who takes his (Paul's) own position is that he must take control of his own actions and not be "under compulsion," either from the ascetics or from what Paul himself has written in this letter. Hopefully, such a person recognized that he had the gift of celibacy in so making up his own mind.
What this man makes up his mind to do is "not to marry the virgin" (lit. "to keep his own virgin"). This tends to be a difficult clause for any view. Most likely he means something like "to keep her a virgin," hence "not to marry" her. It is not clear why he calls her "his own" virgin, but if indeed they are already engaged, then she is his own in that sense, and he would now with his own convictions keep his "virgin" a virgin. If he does come to that conclusion, Paul says, "he will do well."
38 With yet another strong inferential conjunction, "so then," Paul brings both the argument as a whole and the preceding two verses to a conclusion. The first sentence corresponds to v. 36 but uses language from the end of v. 37: "He who marries his virgin does well." That summarizes vv.28 and 36: He has not sinned if he marries; indeed, he "does well." The second sentence corresponds to v. 37 and summarizes what he has argued right along. From his point of view, given their present situation, "he who does not marry her will do even better." But not because one situation is inherently "better" than the other. That is precisely what he has argued against throughout. Therefore, one must go back to v. 26 for what makes it better; it is "because of the present distress."
But in so concluding Paul changes verbs, from gameo ("to marry") to gamizo (in Mark 12:25 and parallels, "to give in marriage"). Since "giving in marriage" is assumed to refer to a father's giving his daughter, this change of verbs is what brought about the "father daughter" interpretation of the passage. The verb gamizo, however, is not found outside the NT; in classical Greek gameo served both purposes. To the question whether the verb must carry the nuance "to give in marriage," the answer is No. There is sufficient evidence that the classical distinctions between eo and izo verbs had broken down in the koine period. But that still does not answer the question as to why Paul changed verbs in this set of sentences. The usual answer is "for the sake of variety," which may still be the best one. It is at least noteworthy that this is the only case in the chapter where the verb "to marry" has an object. All uses of gameo are intransitive; it may be that for Paul gamizo carried a transitive nuance, hence its usage here.
So at the end Paul has agreed, and disagreed, with the Corinthians in their letter. They prefer celibacy for "spiritual" reasons; he prefers it for pastoral and eschatological ones. But quite in contrast to them, he also affirms marriage; indeed, he does so strongly: Such a man "does well. " But there is one final word. These verses are addressed to the man; but in keeping with his response throughout, there is a final word for married women as well.
39 This final word to the women comes as something of a surprise. It assumes that the woman is married, which is not the perspective of vv. 25 38, but of vv. 1 24, where they were trying to dissolve their marriages. The passage appears, therefore, to function as a concluding word for both sections, by repeating in a different way the word of vv. 1 24, that they should not separate from their husbands, and by urging the same reality on the "virgins" from this section, who are to go through with their marriages.
The first statement, "A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives," runs so counter to Jewish understanding and practice at this point in history that it almost certainly reflects Paul's understanding of Jesus' own instructions (see on v. 10). As such it is a final word against divorce and remarriage. But there is no argument here, simply a matter of fact reiteration of a point made previously (vv. 10, 13). The concern in this case lies ultimately with the second issue, a woman's remarriage, and he repeats the advice just given in vv. 36 38.
The marriage bond is in effect until "her husband dies." After that, she has the same option as the man who wants to get married: "She is free to marry anyone she wishes." This sentence seems to eliminate the possibility that levirate marriage is in view; it also indicates that in this matter at least the woman had full freedom to make her own choice. As before, this is a perfectly valid option. In this case, however, Paul adds a proviso not needed in the previous case. If she chooses to remarry, it should be "only in the Lord." This is not so much a command that she may not marry outside the Lord as it is good sense. To be "in the Lord" is to have one's life come under the eschatological view of existence outlined in vv. 29 31.
40 This final sentence essentially repeats the stance of the foregoing argument, that remaining single is the better option; only in this case the appeal is to her own happiness, with no ground suggested as to why that might be so, except that this is "my own opinion" (see on v . 25). Very much as in v. 25, however, Paul is quick to point out that his opinion is not without good backing. In this matter, "I think that I too have the Spirit of God."
This last sentence may be taken in one of two ways. (1) It is possible that this is one more jab at the Corinthian pneumatics, implying "If you think you have the Spirit, remember that I, too, have the Spirit." (2) Or it may simply be a strengthening of his "opinion," as in v. 25, that he is not simply on his own in this matter. He also has the help of the Spirit in making such judgments. Since this is an issue on which they and he would tend to agree, it is more likely that the latter is intended, although it may also be a subtle word against those who were not so sure that he did possess the Spirit.
With these words the two matters relating to marriage are brought to a close. The argument as a whole has generally been against the Corinthian ideal of asceticism. Nonetheless, he agrees with the Corinthians that those who are now single, whether betrothed or widowed, are better off as they are. But since he disagrees with the theology that brought the Corinthians to their stance, he also affirms marriage over against their point of view. In the matter that follows (chaps. 8 10) all of that changes. Not only does he disagree with their stance but also with their reasons for it, as well as the way they have used his own behavior against him. It thus stands in sharp contrast to the relatively mild expression of these two sections.
Paul's judgments in these two paragraphs have often been a source of concern. Does not Scripture say in fact that singleness is better than marriage? To which the answer is No. First of all, this reflects Paul's own opinion (vv. 25 and 40), and he is concerned throughout that it not be taken as "Scripture," that is, as some form of commandment or principle. It is an ad hoc answer in light of some "present distress." But more importantly, vv. 36 38 are not a judgment on marriage or singleness per se at all, but on whether or not engaged couples in that setting should get married. Paul thinks it better for them if they do not; but he also makes it clear that marriage is a perfectly valid option. It has nothing to do with good and evil, or even with better or worse, but with good and better in the light of that situation. It is perhaps noteworthy that the entire discussion is carried on quite apart from one of the major considerations in our culture - love for one another. For Paul's discussion of marital love, see Ephesians 5.
God's Plan of Salvation
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)