An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 12)

M.A. Rudge

In chapter 7, Paul introduces the first of a number of subjects on which they had written to him, "the things whereof ye wrote unto me" (v. 1). It is suggested that there are five main subjects in the chapter, (i) liberty within the marriage relationship (vv. 1-9); (ii) liberty within difficulties in the marriage relationship (vv. 10-16); (iii) liberty in relation to our daily calling (vv. 17-24); (iv) liberty in relationship to celibacy (vv. 25-38); (v) liberty in widowhood (vv. 3 9-40).

Paul continues to deal with the subject of Christian liberty in response to seven major questions, mainly bearing upon the marriage relationship. He provides the answers. They are concerned with (i) the honorable status of celibacy. It is a "gift from God" to be able to live a single life and it is accepted that marriage is the general rule for the majority. The marriage relationship calls for prayerful recognition of certain rights and responsibilities (vv. 1-7). (ii) The "unmarried and widows" are advised that the unmarried state is "good" but "if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." (vv. 8,9). (iii) The married are commanded, that if difficulties arise in their marriage and separation becomes the only alternative, the wife is to remain unmarried and the husband must not ‘put [send her away] (vv. 10-11). (iv) Advice is given to "the rest" (v. 12), i.e. those whose circumstances differ from what has already been dealt with where one of the partners in the marriage relationship has been converted after marriage and the other partner remains unconverted and its effect upon the relationship of their children (vv 12-16). (v) The question dealt with in vv. 12 -16 is widened to cover adjustments that might be felt necessary in the "walk" and the "calling" of believers, following the other changes which conversion brings. The general guidance is against any change in these aspects of the believer’s calling, if he or she is able to "therein abide with God." (vv. 17-24). (vi) General guidance concerning the unmarried and married state, in view of "the present need" and that "the time is short." The important consideration is the need to "wait on the Lord without distraction"(w 25-38). (vii) Guidance for Christian widows (vv. 39-40).

"It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless to avoid (because of) fornication..." (vv. 1-7). The word "good", has the sense of what is ‘intrinsically good, honourable, beautiful, fitting.’ (Matt. 26:10; Mk. 7:27 ["meet"]; Luke 8:15 ["honest"]; 2 Cor. 8:21 ["honest things"]). The verb "to touch [a woman]," hapto, means primarily, "to fasten to, cling to, lay hold of" (Jn. 20:17). Here, in the negative form, it means simply that, "It is perfectly proper, honourable, morally fitting for a man to live in strict celibacy." There is nothing unbecoming in a man’s living in celibacy. The opening statement strikes a note which continues throughout the chapter, where Paul writes mainly in favour of the advantages of the unmarried state.

"Nevertheless to avoid (because of) fornication let every man have his own wife.." is not the normal high concept of marriage and is written against the background of a society in which fornication was a normal, accepted part of life, as well as taking account of marriage as a practical measure and as the general rule for the majority. "Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence and likewise the wife..." (v. 3) "Defraud ye not..." (v. 5), are a reminder that marriage brings certain rights and responsibilities, "the duty of marriage" (Ex. 21:10), which has the idea of what is due to each partner, including the body. In order to guard against unnecessary exposure to temptation, abstinence must be (i) by mutual consent, (ii) for a limited period and (iii) with spiritual exercises in view. Again, Paul is speaking of the believer’s body in the context of Christian liberty.

"For I would that all men were even as I myself But every man hath his proper gift of God... " (v. 7). In saying that he wished all men were as he was, Paul is speaking of celibacy as a gift from God. (Cp. Matt 19: 10-12). "Gift," charisma, is "a gift of grace, a gift involving grace, charis, on the part of God as the donor." "But every man hath his proper(own) gift from God...", means that grace is needed for the married state as well as being unmarried and the situations which are dealt with in the chapter, help us to appreciate this fact. Those who are married need to seek grace from God, if He is to be glorified in the marriage relationship.

"I say therefore to the unmarried and widows..." (vv. 8-9). The apostle’s guidance in verse 9, takes full account of the situation where the emotional struggle of the unmarried state ["cannot contain", "burn"], is detrimental to attending "upon the Lord without distraction" (v.35), which remains the overriding factor throughout.

"And unto the married I command yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband..." (vv. 10,11). In verses 10 and 11, the apostle is speaking to married couples where both partners are believers. In verses 12-16, he is speaking to married

couples, where one partner has been saved after marriage and the other partner is still unsaved. In both cases, answers are provided for difficulties in maintaining the married state and where the possibility arises of one partner leaving the other.

It is important to notice the way in which Paul introduces his answer to the situation where difficulties arise in a marriage, and where both partners are believers. He does not say, "But I speak by permission and not of commandment. For I would..." (vv. 6-7), nor does he say, "But to the rest, speak I, not the Lord..." (v. 12) or "I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment..." (v. 25); "...after my judgment..." (v. 40). He writes, "I command, yet not I, but the Lord... " The Lord’s "command" provides guidance where the wife departs, "is separated," from her husband. She is to remain unmarried. This is an emphatic confirmation of the lifelong bond of the marriage union. The "command" is a reference to "the law" governing the marriage relationship in Genesis 2:18-25, which is confirmed in the New Testament (Matt. 19:4-6, 8; Mk. 10:2-9; Rom. 7:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:11,39). The general guidance is that the wife should not "depart, be separated," from her husband (v.10), but in an extreme situation, where living together becomes intolerable, the specific command is "but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband..." (v. 11). Remarriage is forbidden, reconciliation is encouraged. There is no liberty for divorce. The first part of verse 11, is a parenthesis. The general guidance and command in verse 10, continues in verse 1 ib, "and let not the husband put away (send away, aphiemi) his wife." Presumably, the man is in his own home and remains there, whereas the woman leaves the domicile.

"But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not..." (vv. 12-16). Paul is now dealing with what is termed "a mixed marriage," where one partner is saved after the marriage has taken place. Again we notice, that a marriage between unsaved persons is recognized as having the same sanctity as a Christian marriage. Verses 12-14 are applicable where the unsaved partner is willing to continue the marriage and remains in the home and verses 15,16 are applicable to a situation where they are unwilling. In each case, the action to be taken is dependent upon the unbelieving partner.

There was no distinct command in the Lord’s teaching concerning this type of situation, which was to be treated differently to mixed marriages which were forbidden but had taken place under the law, where the unbelieving partner must be put away and the children were unclean (v. 14; Ex. 34:16; Deut. 7:3; Ezra 9:1,2; 10:3,11; Neh. 13:23-31). In contrast to what would formerly have been an unholy alliance, the unbelieving partner is "sanctified," as a result of association with the believer and the children are "holy." It is a case of "relative sanctification," the result of an association with that which is sanctified. (Cp. Ex. 3:5; 29:37; Matt. 23:19; 1 Tim. 4:4; Heb. 10:29; 2 Pet. 1:18). Relative sanctification does not imply any change in the spiritual condition of those who are concerned. They are still "the unbelieving." The verses do not sanction marriage to an unbeliever and the instruction concerning children is not a pattern for Christian marriage, so that it does not give any supposed authority for household baptism i.e. the baptism of children in a Christian marriage but simply confirms the sanctity of a marriage, which would other wise be an unholy alliance.

"...But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, 0 wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?..." (vv. 15-16). If the unbelieving partner does leave the marital home, the believer is to accept the situation. "A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases." This means that the believer is no longer bound by the normal responsibilities involved in the marriage relationship (vv. 3-5), and should not allow themselves to become unnecessarily distressed or reproachful about the situation, which could easily lead to a sense of bondage, and would be contrary to the principle that "God has called us to [‘in’] in peace." (v. 15). This is the general principle to be followed and could be a determining factor in the salvation of the unbelieving partner. "For what knowest thou, 0 wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband7 (v. 16). It is incredible that these verses have been used to teach that the bondage of marriage is in view and that if the unbelieving partner departs, the believer is free to divorce and remarry. The finality and possible acrimony of divorce, with remarriage in mind, is contrary to the whole tenor of the passage and would signal the giving up of any expectation that the unbelieving partner could yet be saved.

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Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. . . .Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Eph. 5:22-2 7