1 Corinthians 7


The date of this epistle has been placed at 55-56 AD. Nero, Nero Claudius Caesar was the Roman Emperor. During the later reign of Claudius, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus, 51 AD, all Jews were commanded to depart from Rome, Acts 18:2.

Growing tension existed between the Romans and the Jews. The Jews insisted that Jehovah God is the only God whereas the Romans viewed their emperors as deities and demanded all of Rome to worship them.

‘Those who confessed [i.e., to being Christians] were arrested, and then as a result of their information, a large number were implicated not so much on the charge of incendiarism as for hatred of the human race. They died by methods of mockery; some were covered with the skins of wild beasts and then torn by dogs, some were crucified, some were burned as torches to light at night. Whence [after the scenes of extreme cruelty] commiseration was stirred for them, although guilty of deserving the worse penalties, for men felt that their destruction was not on account of the public welfare but to gratify the cruelty of one [Nero] (Ann. XV. 44).’

The tension between Romans and Christians is likely the ‘distress’ under consideration in 1 Corinthians 7:26 during the days of Nero. This chapter deals with marital obligations in view of the distress upon the Christians.

In 1 Corinthians 7, we are going to see if a legal divorce has taken place, then couples don’t need to separate and go back to their former husband or wife, Deuteronomy 24:4, because God accepts them where they are. If that former divorce is legal and binding, they are free to remarry and Paul is not only going to teach us that God allows divorced people to get married, he commands it.

In the Biblical world outside of Palestine, there were different types of marriages under the Roman Empire. All of these were recognised as legal forms of marriage, even though they are quite different from our own British culture.


1. There is a form of marriage which is called ‘contubuernium’.

The word contubuernium means dwelling together, or the tent companionship where we have a man who owned many slaves and he would kind of breed them. He would take a woman and hook her up with a man and say, ‘you’ll breed’ and they would stay together for as long as the master wants them together.

If the master sells that couple to another master and he decides to move her to another man, then they become married, as far as people are concerned under the Roman Empire. Contubuernium is where a master decides between slaves who will have sex with each other and who will live together as husband and wife.


2. Another form of marriage is called ‘usus’, this is a marriage of common people under the Roman Empire.

The word usus means the act of making use of something. This is what the typical average person did, we would call it in our culture common-law marriage. In the Roman Empire, if a man took a woman and he lived with her for twelve months, they were considered married in the eyes of the people.

There was no legal document, there was no exchanging of vows, there is just an agreement between the two of them to live together. When they lived together for a full year, they were considered husband and wife.

Coemptio In Manum

3. In the Roman Empire there was another form of marriage called ‘coemptio in manum’.

Coemptio in manum is basically marriage by sale. There may be a father who has a daughter and he wants to get her related to somebody else, so he sells her to another family. Remember that in ancient society, families form their own trade unions, their own guild.

For example, if you were a tent maker but you couldn’t make the tent pegs, you would sell your daughter to the tent peg maker’s son, that would become the easiest and cheapest way to get tent pegs and that forms a relationship that yields a union between the two families.


4. The last one that was recognised in the Roman Empire was ‘confarreatio’.

This was the type of wedding that went on between nobility, it was a big affair, the girl dressed up, they had rings for each other to wear, they exchanged vows, and they had flowers. This sounds like what goes on today, it’s from this particular type of marriage in the Roman Empire that our tradition filtered down to the way we do marriages today and recognise it as a legal, binding marriage.

All four of these kinds existed in the Roman Empire. When Paul goes out and preaches the Gospel and when he comes into a community and begins to talk to people, there are going to be men who are married because they bought their wives.

There are going to be men and women who live together because their master has mated them and there are going to be people who have agreed to live together and have been living together for three or four years, but there has been no official ceremony. There are going to be some nobility who have gone through all the pomp and circumstance of getting married.

Are All Of These Recognised By God?

These people who have lived together for ten months but are not considered legally married yet, because you have to live together for twelve months, what do they do? Would Paul say, ‘you have to become nobility, you have to go through the nobility ceremony to make it legal!’ What’s his response? How do you treat them? Do they need to separate from each other?

Remember Corinth was an exceptionally corrupt city, it had a horrible reputation and it was the capital of sexual sin in that first century. You name it, it went on in Corinth. In fact, if you wanted to call somebody a downright ugly name, you called them a ‘Corinthian’. No one could be considered a more corrupt individual than to be called a ‘Corinthian’.

Obviously, when Paul comes and establishes a church in Corinth, there are going to be people who have all kinds of backgrounds when we think about sex. There are going to be temple prostitutes, adulterers, homosexuals, all kinds of marriages and divorces and remarriages, it’s going to be a mess from a sexual standpoint.

This raises some questions regarding marriage in the minds of these people at Corinth.

‘Now concerning the matters about which you wrote.’ 1 Corinthians 7:1

In the first six chapters Paul wrote about what he wanted to talk about, the problems that he saw there at Corinth, and now beginning in chapter 7 and going through the rest of the book, he’s going to be addressing some issues that were important to these Corinthians. They had contacted him with these questions, unfortunately, we don’t have the questions but we do have the answers. When we examine the answers, we can know what the questions were.

Is Sex Unspiritual?

The first question that comes as Paul addresses the sexual mess at Corinth is, ‘is sex unspiritual?’ Remember, they came out of all kinds of spiritual corruption as we have already mentioned. If it was sexually abnormal, it happened at Corinth. These people who have now converted to Christianity suddenly have this question raised.

They must have thought that sex must be bad, it must be corrupt, it must be an evil thing and so we probably ought to avoid it, shouldn’t we? Isn’t sex bad? Shouldn’t a true Christian avoid sex?

Paul’s Answer

‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.’ 1 Corinthians 7:1-7

Paul addresses the issue of celibacy in this chapter. Should we just cut off from sex altogether?

1. We are told that ‘celibacy is good’.

He says, ‘it is well for a man not to touch a woman’. 1 Corinthians 7:1. That is a sexual euphemism, that’s another way of saying it’s good not to have sexual relations or not to be married, so you have that legitimate right. The reason he said that is because ‘of the present crisis,’ 1 Corinthians 7:26.

When he writes to the Corinthians, there is something going on that it would be better for these people not to be married because of the pressure that it would bring on them.

We will look at this passage in more detail a little later, but for now, he’s saying that if they are married and this persecution comes and they see their wife being tortured, it would be a motivation for them to renounce Jesus in order to stop her from suffering.

Because of the present crisis, they are better off not getting married to keep that pressure off them as they face loyalty to Jesus in a time of persecution. He isn’t saying that marriage, in and of itself, is bad, this is an observation made based on what is happening at that point in time but he does say that celibacy is good.

2. He says that ‘celibacy is tempting’.

Notice he says in, ‘because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.’ 1 Corinthians 7:2. We are born with sexual drives, some peoples are stronger than others, but we all have them. If they cannot control them, Paul says they are better off getting married, even in the face of the present crisis.

Even with this persecution that is coming on the church, they will be in a better condition to go ahead and get married and have normal sexual relations, than try to be celibate and be tempted into immorality. Celibacy is good, but celibacy can be tempting.

That is always true in any sexually oriented society, then and now. We live in a sexually oriented society, if a man is determined to be celibate, but can’t control himself, then Paul’s counsel to him would be to get married. Use God’s legitimate method for relieving the sexual drive.

3. Paul says that ‘celibacy is wrong for married couples.’

That seems like a strange piece of advice, but remember here were people who were married, people who came to Jesus and suddenly came to this conclusion that sex must be bad. They were saying what they needed to do was to never have sex again, Paul says, ‘no, that’s wrong.’ 1 Corinthians 7:3-7.

There is to be the satisfaction of our partner’s needs and to abstain is to commit sin. We have a responsibility to meet the needs of our partner, that’s why God created the institution of marriage.

Notice he talks about the wife’s body and the husband’s body. If we go back at look at the end of 1 Corinthians 6, we’ll see a tie here. If we draw a line under the word ‘body’ in 1 Corinthians 6, you will find that it occurs several times and then Paul goes straight into marriage.

Why did he pick marriage first? Because he says we’re talking about the body, he says they are to use their body to meet their partner’s sexual needs. There is a continuity of thought between 1 Corinthians 6-7.

Celibacy, Paul says, in a marital relationship isn’t to be practised. Here’s what the Talmud has to say. The Talmud is the Jewish commentary on the oral and writs, ‘if a man vows that he will not have intercourse with his wife, the school of Shammai allows him two weeks; the school of Hillel, one week.’

Where Paul said they aren’t to deprive each other, they aren’t to be celibate except for a period of time and it has to be done by mutual consent. Now how long is ‘a set time’? Shammai says you can do that for two weeks, again, this is the Jewish culture. Hillel, who was the more liberal person, says only one week. ‘If by the end of that period the man does not annul his vow and resume cohabitation with his wife, he is compelled to divorce her.’

In other words, it was the viewpoint of the rabbis that if a husband and wife lived together, and a man couldn’t meet the sexual needs of his wife after two weeks, he had to divorce her. Why? So she could get marry somebody who would meet her sexual needs, and vice versa. A woman could also free herself from marriage by vowing to withhold herself from her husband.

If a wife didn’t like her husband, she could refuse to give him sex for two weeks and under the Law, as far as the rabbis were concerned, he had the right to because he had a right to be married to somebody who would meet his sexual needs. If she persists in her attitude and divorces her without payment of the ‘catuba’, which is like giving the dowry back, she surrenders it. The Jewish rabbis considered two weeks to be the maximum set period of time.

Paul doesn’t give that to us, he just says it’s to be for ‘a set time’ and it is to be by mutual consent. He says you don’t withhold sex and use it as a weapon in war in the marriage. Wives shouldn’t use it to get leverage on their husbands or wives, don’t refrain from having sex because you are angry with your husband.

Paul says that if there is the abstinence of the sexual relationship, it must be by mutual consent and only for a set time, and that is for ‘the purpose of prayer’. It’s for the development of one’s spiritual life, but then they come back together.

1 Corinthians 7:3 literally says they should keep on fulfilling their marital duties. A husband should keep on fulfilling his marital duties, then he says in 1 Corinthians 7:6-7 that if they practice celibacy, it will be because celibacy is a gift.

Notice Paul says, ‘I say this as a concession.’ 1 Corinthians 7:6. Remember in the Greek New Testament there are no punctuation marks. We don’t know where one sentence ends and the next one begins, that has to be decided by the translator. There are no question marks, commas, periods, parentheses or any of that stuff, the translator had to make a judgment.

I think there is one we can make here that will help us understand what he’s saying. He says, ‘I say this as a concession, and not as a command’. I don’t think that is what he is referring to, I think we ought to punctuate it this way. At the end of 1 Corinthians 7:6, there should be a colon instead of it period, ‘I say this as a concession,
not as a command.’

What is it that he says? ‘I wish all men were as I am.’ In other words, he isn’t commanding everybody to be celibate, he could say, I wish everybody was single, it’s going to free them up for their spiritual development, although he will talk about that later in the chapter.

He’s saying that celibacy isn’t a command, it’s a matter of concession, it’s a gift of God. ‘But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.’ Some people have the gift of celibacy, they have the ability to remain single and don’t have an overpowering sexual drive that needs to be satisfied.

What did Jesus say about that? ‘Some men were born as eunuchs, some were made to be eunuchs and some decide to be eunuchs as an act of will, but not everybody can receive that’. Matthew 19:12

Paul said, ‘some people have that gift and some don’t’. Most don’t and in the marital relationship, we don’t practice celibacy. The husband and the wife meet each other’s sexual needs. Sex isn’t unspiritual, even in a corrupt society that perverts’ sex and misuses sex, sex in and of itself isn’t bad. It’s created by God, it’s intended to be used, it’s intended to be fulfilled within the marriage relationship. So that is the initial question that Paul deals with here. Is sex a sin?

Should Those Who Were Formerly Married, Remarry?

The next question that Paul raises, we could ask it this way, should those who were formerly married, remarry? To understand this, we need to think about marital status, Let’s begin with the word ‘virgin’ which Paul will use in this chapter.

What is a virgin, ‘parthenos’? A simple definition here is a person who has never been married. Again, we’re talking about marital status which is what this chapter is about. A virgin is a person who isn’t married nor never has been, so we would say has never had sex, they had never entered into that relationship.

Secondly, there is the other end of that spectrum. Who is a widow, ‘chera’? One who has been freed by death, they had been married but now is no longer married because their mate has passed away.

Next, we have ‘married’, ‘gamos’ we know what that is, they are not free, but they are free to have sex with each other. The final category Paul mentions is the ‘unmarried’ ‘agamos’.

Who are the unmarried?

I believe that the unmarried are the divorced. Some say that’s people who have never been married but not correct, it’s the virgins who are the people who have never been married. The word, ‘unmarried’ in Greek, is the word ‘agamos’ the Greek word ‘gamos’ gives us our word marriage. We have ‘monogamy mono’, ‘one’; ‘gamos’, ‘monogamous’, one marriage. Polygamy, ‘poly’, many, many marriages. ‘Gamos’ means marriage and ‘agamos’ means unmarried.

A person can’t be ‘agamos’ unless they have been ‘gamos’. A person can’t be unmarried unless they have been married, any more than a person can untie their shoelaces until first of all they were tied. The word ‘agamos’ occurs four times in the New Testament and they are all in this chapter.

Agamos And Gamos

‘I want you to be free from anxieties. The UNMARRIED ‘agamos’ man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the MARRIED ‘gamos’ man is anxious about the affairs of the world.’ 1 Corinthians 7:32-33

We have two broad categories contrasted, people who are married and people who aren’t married. It says nothing about their marital status, it only compares whether they have been into the act of marriage or not. Look at the next verse, which is the pivotal verse.

‘And the UNMARRIED ‘agamos’ woman and the VIRGIN ‘parthenos’ are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband.’ 1 Corinthians 7:34

Paul makes a distinction between the unmarried person and the virgin, they aren’t one and the same, they are two different people. He puts both of them together in opposition to the married woman. Look at the following verses.

‘To the UNMARRIED ‘agamos’ and the WIDOWS ‘chera’ I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.’ 1 Corinthians 7:8

‘To the MARRIED ‘gamos’ I give this command—not I but the Lord that the wife should not separate from her husband, but if she does separate, let her remain UNMARRIED ‘agamos’.’ 1 Corinthians 7:10-11

She had been married, ‘gamos’ and was told to not separate, but if she does decide to separate, she is to remain unmarried, ‘agamos’. That shows me that a person has to be ‘gamos’ first, then when they leave their mate, they are then ‘agamos’. That tells me that being unmarried in this case means being a divorced person.

In this chapter, Paul talks about married people, he talks about two categories of married people. He will give instructions to virgins, to widows and to the ‘agamos’, to the divorced people. Those are the only categories that exist in the marital relationship and Paul has advice for all of them.

If we deny that ‘agamos’ refers to divorced people, then we have a huge segment of society that existed in the first-century church, just as surely as it does today, which had no counsel from Paul. But if we understand the ‘agamos’ to be the divorced person, then this chapter has counsel for every category of marital relationships.

Those Who Are Unmarried And The Widows

‘To the unmarried and the widows, I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am.’ 1 Corinthians 7:8

Here are two categories of people who have been formerly married, one is free by death, the other is free by divorce. Paul’s counsel has already been said in 1 Corinthians 7:1, ‘it’s better not to marry’.

Now he tells these people who were formerly married, but now are free by death or by divorce that they shouldn’t get married. He says it’s ‘good’ for them to stay unmarried. Again, this is because of the present crisis that is going on in the first century, 1 Corinthians 7:26.

Who is the person who has the greatest struggle with sexual sin? It’s the man who has experienced it, if a man has experienced sex, it’s harder for him to turn it down, than a man who has never had it.

Here you have a widow and here you have a divorced person, they are both used to having their sexual needs met and now because of death or divorce, those needs aren’t being met.

Paul says it’s good for them, because of what is happening in our culture right now, the current crisis, that they don’t get married, ‘but if they are not practising self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.’ 1 Corinthians 7:9.

I don’t think Paul is talking about people who have never been married and people who have been married and lost their mate by death. He’s talking about both categories who have experienced sexual fulfilment.

He says to the person who was formerly married, ‘gamos’, but now is unmarried, ‘agamos’, the person who is divorced and the person who has lost their mate by death. If they can’t control themselves, if they need their sexual needs met, get married!

That’s a pretty clear command of Scripture to divorced individuals to remarry. He didn’t say anything about the reason why, he didn’t ask if it was a valid, a ‘scriptural divorce’, he said if they’re divorced, get married to meet their sexual desires if they need to.

Remember that this was written against a backdrop in which Paul said it would be better to remain single. It would be better not to get married, but if their needs must be fulfilled, if it’s tempting them to commit sin sexually that God doesn’t want them to commit, then get married to meet those needs legitimately.

Paul says that he counsels younger widows to get married, not to be put on the church roll, but to get married. Here he says it’s because of the present crisis, 1 Corinthians 7:26. Years later evidently when that crisis has passed, he says, ‘I teach younger widows to get married’ in a discussion he has on widows there in 1 Timothy 5:14

I believe that the grace of Jesus Christ that saves the soul also saves the body from a lifetime of frustration and anxiety. In Matthew 19:1-9, Jesus isn’t dealing with divorce, He’s dealing with ‘abandonment’, He says if a man ‘abandons’ his wife and goes out and marries somebody else when he is not legally divorced from his first wife, then he commits adultery when he marries.

If she has been abandoned and has no legal divorce, ‘apostasion’, and she marries somebody else, then they commit adultery. That doesn’t apply when there has been a death or when there has been a legal divorce. That’s why Paul can say here to divorced people, as well as widows, get married if you must. Paul doesn’t contradict Jesus’ words, those two passages of Scripture fit perfectly together.

What is his counsel to the formerly married? Should they remarry? Paul says it would be better to remain single because of what’s happening in their culture, but to avoid sexual sin, go ahead and get married. What are the alternatives for those who are married? This falls into two categories that we need to observe here.

We are dealing with one category, married people. In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, he’s going to be dealing with two Christians who are married. In the next section, 1 Corinthians 7:12 and following, he is going to deal with a marriage where one is a Christian and one isn’t.

That’s ‘the rest’, a believer married to an unbeliever. We can imagine some Christians who were married to unbelievers thinking they have to get rid of their unsaved partner because if they are married to a non-believer, they have the devil in their house, they have sin in their life and have to get rid of their unbelieving mate.

The married couples who were both Christians were thinking, they are both Christians now, they both have come to believe in Jesus, but when they first got married, no one told them it was a permanent deal. No one told them they couldn’t just slip in and out of it whenever they wanted to.

They didn’t understand God’s laws, they are now asking if they could get a divorce and hunt around until they find somebody that they are really sure that they want to spend the rest of their life with. Paul addresses these questions in this section.

Christians Who Are Married

‘To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not DIVORCE his wife.’ 1 Corinthians 7:10-11

It’s here we come to some difficulty in understanding, the two words we have talked about earlier, ‘apoluo’, which is practical divorce, send away or abandonment where you didn’t live with them anymore, and ‘apostasion’, which was a certificate of divorce which was the official document granting a divorce, Matthew 5:31-32.

Those two words don’t occur in this chapter, if you’re using the N.I.V., you will find the word ‘divorce’ used many times, but neither one of the two words that Jesus uses are used in this chapter. He uses different words, so we’re going to have to try and figure some things out and see if we can come up with a consistent interpretation.

When Paul says, ‘to the married I give this command, not I but the Lord,’ he is addressing a situation that Jesus addressed back in Matthew 19:1-9. When Jesus spoke in Matthew 19, He was speaking where both people were part of a covenant relationship with God because He was speaking to Jews and all Jews were in a covenant relationship with God, both the husband and the wife would have both belonged to God.

Now as Christians both belong to God as part of the covenant. So, what are our options? ‘A wife mustn’t separate from her husband’, the word for ‘separate’ here is the very same word that Jesus used when He said, ‘what God has joined together, let not man separate’, Matthew 19:6, it means, ‘to divide’, it gives us the idea of divorce.

He says a wife mustn’t separate from her husband, if she does, she has to remain unmarried, ‘agamos’ or her other option is to be reconciled to her husband.

Notice Paul also says that ‘a husband mustn’t divorce’ his wife’, the word he uses here is ‘aphiemi’ and it means ‘to send from’ ‘to send forth’. It’s kind of like ‘apoluo’ which meant, ‘to lose from’, which gave us the idea of abandonment, Matthew 5:31-32.

This word means to ‘send from’, ‘to send away’. Paul is dealing here with the same issue of a practical divorce rather than a legal divorce, that is a husband mustn’t abandon his wife and go off and leave her.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t deal with the issue of what if they do? What if a wife does separate from her husband and marries someone else? What if a husband does divorce his wife, what happens if he marries again? That issue isn’t addressed by Paul.

Just like Jesus, Paul is giving us the ideal here, he’s telling us what it is because they are both Christians. He’s giving them the ideal that they are to strive for permanency in their marriage relationship, divorce isn’t to be an option. Christians should never consider that as an alternative, they should never think, that if they can’t get along, they’ll just get a divorce.

Paul is saying where you have both believers in a marriage relationship, divorce should never be considered as an option. He not even going to talk about it because they are to remain together, that is what they’re to work on and that is what they’re to strive for.

What If Divorce Does Happen?

I think Jesus’ counsel comes in in these cases, where Jesus says, if divorce does take place, it must be a legal divorce. They can’t just put her away, they can’t just abandon her. They have to make it legal, Matthew 5:31-32, but, that’s not what God wants, Matthew 19:4-6.

God wants unity, He wants that picture of Jesus and the church reflected in their marriage. Divorce is not to be a consideration, it’s not to be an option for married couples. He said that mustn’t happen, but if it does happen make it legal, and give them the certificate of divorce.

Those Who Are Married To An Unbeliever

‘To the rest I say—I and not the Lord—that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you. Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.’ 1 Corinthians 7:12-16

Here is a situation where it is a little different, Paul says, ‘to the rest I say—I and not the Lord.’ Now the Lord never addressed a mixed marriage, He never addressed the issue where one was a member of the church and the other wasn’t, or where one was in the covenant and the other wasn’t because Jesus only spoke with the Jews. He worked among the Jews and with the Jews, everybody was under God’s covenant.

The Gospel had gone outside of Palestine and gone into a Gentile world and some people heard the Gospel and they have responded and their mate hasn’t. What are we to do in a situation like that?

Well, ‘to the rest’, if a brother has a wife who isn’t a believer and she is willing to live with him, he mustn’t ‘divorce’ ‘aphiemi’ ‘put her away’. And, if a woman has a husband who isn’t a believer and he’s willing to live with her, she mustn’t ‘divorce’ ‘aphiemi’ him, ‘put him away’.

Paul says if Christians are married to an unbeliever, then they should still live with them. God recognises that marriage, it’s not an invalid marriage because their mate didn’t become a Christian. That doesn’t mean they are saved, that isn’t what the word ‘sanctified’ means here. He means that the relationship is acceptable to God, the marriage is a sanctified marriage, it’s endorsed, it’s accepted by God.

Otherwise, he said, ‘your children would be unclean’, the Greek word for unclean is ‘akathartos’ which impure. What does Paul mean by that? He simply means they are illegitimate. They are thinking, that if they’re married to an unbeliever, God mustn’t recognise their marriage. Paul says, if that’s true, then their kids are illegitimate, but ‘as it is, they are holy’, 1 Corinthians 7:14.

They had to recognise that if they are married to an unbeliever and they became a Christian, God still accepts their marriage. The Christian must accept them, they should go on in that marriage and don’t try to get out of it.

What happens if the unbeliever doesn’t like that marriage? What if the unbeliever doesn’t like the fact that their other half has become converted to Jesus Christ? They don’t like their husband or wife’s godliness, their holiness, or the fact that they won’t engage in the things that they used to engage in anymore. What happens then?

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:15, that if the unbelieving partner decides to terminate the marriage, they can terminate it. We have already seen that Christians, people who are in a covenant relationship with God, should never desire to divorce, divorce isn’t to be an option.

Neither practical divorce in abandonment nor a legal divorce in the courts is to be considered as an option for Christians, they are to maintain the ideal. In a mixed marriage, the Christian is still to maintain the ideal.

But the unbeliever isn’t under God’s laws, they aren’t a Christian and therefore they are not bound by God’s martial laws. If they want to terminate the relationship, Paul says let them do so, there isn’t anything anyone can do to stop that. In that case, the Christians aren’t bound.

If you aren’t bound, that means you are free. Right? If you are free, you can remarry, if you can’t remarry, you’re not free, you’re still bound. Paul says the Christians aren’t bound, if they’re not bound, we assume they are free they wouldn’t be free if they couldn’t remarry.

Look at what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:16 ‘How do you know, wife, if you will save your husband or not? How do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?’ N.I.V.

I personally believe that many have interpreted those questions exactly the reverse of the way that Paul meant them. Many have always said, ‘if the unbeliever leaves, they go out, they’re not bound to meet their needs sexually or bed and board, but they’re still, in the eyes of God, married to them. After all, if they just hang in there, they might convert them’.

Paul is saying, they don’t have to hang on to it because they don’t know that they will convert them, they don’t know that they will come to Jesus Christ or yield their life to Him as Lord, so they don’t have to persistently hold on to a relationship that the unbeliever wants to terminate.

If the unbeliever says, they’ve had it and they’re getting out of this relationship, and they terminate it, then God says that it is terminated. They aren’t bound, they’re free, if they are free, then I believe they are free to remarry.

If that isn’t true, then I wonder why Paul gave this piece of counsel, why he didn’t just repeat 1 Corinthians 7:11? Why did he not say, in that case, then their options are to remain unmarried or be reconciled to their mate?

He didn’t say that, he said they aren’t bound, they don’t know that Christian will save them, they don’t know that the Christian will ever bring the unbeliever into the faith, so if they want to go, if they want to dissolve it, let them go, the Christian isn’t bound.

Over in Romans Paul uses the illustration that says a woman is bound to her husband in marriage for life, Romans 7:2. Notice he doesn’t deal with the case of divorce, he’s using the illustration of the ideal, but he talks about marriage as bondage. They were bound in their marriage but here in Corinthians Paul says if the unbeliever departs, the Christian isn’t bound.

Those Who Were Jews And Gentiles

‘However, that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.’ 1 Corinthians 7:17-20

Here Paul addresses an issue that is closely related to what we have just mentioned, does salvation change their marital condition? Paul has already addressed that basically and said ‘no’, but now he addresses it by way of illustration.

Paul’s only point in this is, that whatever your marital condition was when you were converted to Christianity, remain in it. He has just been discussing this issue of being married to an unbeliever, should I get out of it? The emphasis in these illustrations is, ‘no’, don’t get out of it.

Was someone circumcised or uncircumcised when they became a Christian? Many Jewish men were already circumcised when they became Christians, but they don’t need to become uncircumcised. Many Gentiles weren’t circumcised when they became Christians, but they don’t have to become circumcised.

In other words, those who were Jews don’t need to change the fact that they were Jews, and those who were Gentiles don’t need to change the fact they were Gentiles, Romans 2:27 / Romans 2:29 / Galatians 3:28 / Galatians 5:6 / Galatians 6:15 / Colossians 3:11.

What is important as a Christian is not changing one’s marital situation, but obeying the will of God, John 14:15 / John 15:14 / 1 John 2:3 / 1 John 3:24 / 1 John 5:2. They must remain in the condition, the situation in which they were when they were called to Christianity.


‘Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.’ 1 Corinthians 7:21-24

Was someone a slave when they became a Christian? They can remain a slave and become a Christian slave, that’s a relationship, there’s a man attached to another man, they are a slave. If one person is a Christian and the other isn’t, they are an unbeliever, should the Christian try and get out of the marriage? No, each man, is responsible to God, they should remain in the situation they were in when God called him.

Because they are married to an unbeliever doesn’t mean the Christian has to terminate the relationship to be acceptable to God. This is written in the context of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. He is simply saying that Christians need to remain in that situation and they should make a go of that marriage. Divorce isn’t to be an option for a Christian, they can serve God, even with a mate who isn’t a believer.

Those Who Are Virgins

‘Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord. so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.’ 1 Corinthians 7:25-35

Paul now goes on to deal with another issue, should those that have never been married marry? Remember I’ve pointed out before and tried to demonstrate that an unmarried woman is different from a virgin. Paul says it would be all right to get married, but singleness would be better because of the present crisis. 1 Corinthians 7:26.

We don’t know what ‘the crisis’ was that was present at that time, but there was some kind of critical situation that was causing Paul to think it would be better for virgins not to get married right now, because that is going to come in and put pressure on them.

There will be family pressure, if someone would come in and torture their family or their wife, they would be willing to renounce, they would be willing to give up on Jesus to get them out of that torture, to get them out of that difficult situation.

Paul says because of the present crisis, I think that it’s good for them to remain as they are, he says this for their own good and not to restrict them. He’s not trying to tell them that you have to be celibate, he’s not trying to tell them that they cannot get married, he’s telling them it makes sense.

Right now, if they are unmarried, they can give devotion to the Lord. They can think about how to please Him, and when the pressure is on, whatever this crisis is, they would be able to give their attention to the Lord and keep themselves from apostatising.

But if they get married, they are going to devote their attention to the world. They’ve got to meet the needs of their mate. What will it take to please them? What would it take to make them happy? They would have divided allegiance.

Paul didn’t say it was wrong to have that kind of divided allegiance because God created marriage. But they can’t give 100% focus to pleasing the Lord and that mate becomes a problem when persecution comes on. It would be better if they kept themselves in a single state so their family cannot be used against them.

Paul also tells them because of the intimate relationship between two people in marriage, there’ll be problems there, 1 Corinthians 7:28. He tells them that those who marry will face many troubles in this life, he says, he would spare them that.

There’s enough persecution and enough problems being a Christian in this ungodly society that is seeking to persecute the church without compounding that with the problems that come when they get into marriage.

Those Who Are Engaged To Be Married

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

The next question is simply this, should an engaged man break off the engagement? Or if you have the King James translation, the question would be, should fathers impose lasting virginity on their daughters?

In this context, it’s unclear what Paul is talking about. Is he talking about a man who wants to give his daughter in marriage or is he talking about a man who wants to take a daughter in marriage? We aren’t sure how to translate it.

I believe Paul is saying if a young man and a young girl are engaged and they have been engaged for a while and the girl is getting along in years, I mean she is 16 or 17 or maybe 18 years by now. Remember that they did marry pretty early back then and that would be getting on in years.

Paul says if they are under compulsion and the young man is having a hard time controlling his will, what does he mean? It’s better not to marry because of the present crisis, but the compulsion is his sex drive. So, if he is under compulsion, then go ahead and get married, they aren’t sinning. They are just not doing what is best because of the present crisis, but it’s all right to get married.

If they decide not to get married, if he has control over himself, and he says it’s no big deal, he can handle that and stay single, that’s fine. Then he who marries the virgin does right and he who doesn’t marry her does even better. Why does he do better? Because of the present crisis.

Widows Remarrying

‘A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment, she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.’ 1 Corinthians 7:39-40

Should widows remarry? I think they are wondering, if two people have been married and one of them dies, are they still married to that person. Some were thinking the widow can’t marry anyone else because they’re still married to that person, they can’t go out and marry anybody else.

Paul says that a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives and no longer, that’s his point. Anyone that argues that widows took that individual and married him and when he died, they’re still married to him and they can’t marry someone else, they thought this was wrong. Jesus says otherwise in, Luke 20:27-40. If a husband dies, the widow is free to marry anyone she wishes.

Paul didn’t believe that marriage went on through death, he didn’t believe that death maintained the marriage relationship. He believed that death terminated the marriage relationship and, therefore, a woman was free to remarry, evidently people were saying they weren’t.

The interesting and difficult phrase is this, ‘she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.’ That is an interpretive translation, in other words, that isn’t a literal word for word translation. That’s an attempt to translate what the translators believe the idea means and you have to do that at times.

If the Bible was given a literal word for word translation all the way through, it wouldn’t make sense. Anyone who has studied a second language knows you can’t give a literal translation all the time. Here, the translators are trying to capture what they feel the idea is here.

Only In The Lord

In the Greek text, it says, ‘that a woman is free anyone she wishes to marry only in the Lord’. Now, what does ‘only in the Lord’ mean? Does it mean that the person she marries must be a Christian? That is certainly one alternative. I think the way to figure this out is to look at the phrase ‘only in the Lord’ every time it occurs in the Bible, it only occurs three times.

‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord.’ Ephesians 6:1

Does that mean that if children have Christian parents, they have to obey them and if they don’t have Christian parents, they don’t have to obey them? No.

I think it means that children are to obey their parents in the sphere of the Lord’s authority. They have to obey their parents the way the Lord says to obey their parents. ‘In the Lord’ means in the way that the Lord guides them, in the way the Lord teaches them, in a way that shows they are in submission to the Lord.

‘Wives submit to your husbands in the Lord’. Colossians 3:18

Does that mean that if her husband is a Christian, the wife has to submit to him, but if her husband is not a Christian, the wife doesn’t have to submit to him? No.

Paul’s counsel is to the wives, wives are to submit to their husbands. How? In the Lord, in the way, the Lord would have them do it. Submit to him in the way the Lord leads him to submit to Him, not in the world’s concept, but in Jesus’ concept. Wives are to submit to their husbands in a way that is pleasing, and acceptable to the Lord. ‘In the Lord’ signifies a realm of authority.

Widows may marry anyone they wish only ‘in the Lord’. What does that mean? If it means that she is free to marry, but he has to be a Christian, then I wonder why Paul doesn’t lay down that same stipulation for the divorced person. Why doesn’t he lay down the same stipulation for a virgin? Why is it that only for a widow would he say that they have to marry a Christian?

I can’t find any reason to hold on to that point of view, I’m not saying that isn’t the best thing to do, I’m simply saying that I don’t believe the text mandates that. In that society where a woman had no rights, one of the worst things that could happen, would be for her to become an old woman who had no husband.

Now a virgin will be taken care of by her father, a divorced woman who is younger stands a chance of remarrying. but a widow, a woman who is up in years, who has no respect in the community, who has no rights, who can’t go out and get a job, she is at the mercy of whatever.

The first guy that comes along and proposes to her may take advantage of her, she isn’t to just pursue that immediately. If she gets remarried, she needs to do it in a way that will honour the Lord. Remember the purpose of marriage? Matthew 19:6. Remember what it is that God wants them to get out of a marriage and do it in a way that pleases the Lord.

I think this is a provision for the elderly woman to keep her in a state of panic from just marrying the first thing that comes down the road. The pressure would be on her, it wouldn’t be on other people who were in a position of getting married.

Paul says, in his judgment, that he thinks a widow would be happier if she stays as she is. That’s interesting because later in 1 Timothy 5:14, Paul will say, ‘I counsel younger widows to get married’.

They would be in the same stage as the virgin or the young divorcee. There would be opportunities for them, the older ones don’t have to, in fact, here he counsels them to just go ahead and stay single and serve the Lord and give the Lord their undivided attention and then he says, I think ‘I have the Spirit of God’. Paul believes he’s giving them the judgment that God wants them to know on this matter.


In Matthew 5:21-32 and Matthew 19:1-9, Jesus deals with the problem of ‘abandonment’, He says, ‘If a man puts away ‘apoluo’ his wife, ‘if he abandons her’, he must give her a certificate of divorcement ‘apostasion’.’

The man must make it legal. If he puts her away, but he does not make it legal and she marries somebody else, she is committing adultery. If he marries another woman without having put her away legally, he commits adultery. There must be the legal, official termination of the marriage for there to be freedom to remarry.

Paul comes along and says in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, that it would be better to stay unmarried for several reasons, in the present crisis, they can give devotion to the Lord, it will keep them from getting trapped in a relationship with an unbeliever who would make it difficult for them to function properly.

But he says if the pressure is there, the sexual, emotional and psychological needs are there to be fulfilled and they must have them fulfilled and he says to get married.

In 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, he tells the divorced and the widows that they can get married, he tells the virgin in 1 Corinthians 7:25-35, that they can get married. He tells the man who is engaged to the virgin that he can get married, that may not be the best thing to do because of the present crisis, but they can do it and do it in a way that will honour God, have a marriage that will uphold His ideals.

Then he says where both are believers, they mustn’t contemplate divorce, they must do all they can to maintain that marriage. If they are married to an unbeliever, if they become converted after they are married, they are to maintain that marriage because it’s an acceptable marriage to God. If the unbeliever terminates it, it’s terminated, it wasn’t what they wanted. They didn’t pursue it, they didn’t ask for it, and they terminated it. Therefore, they aren’t bound in such circumstances.

The Christian has an ideal to uphold. The Christian looks to save the marriage, strengthen the marriage, to make the marriage last. But, sometimes it happens and Jesus gives the guidelines for what to do when it does happen.


The lesson we learn from this chapter is that fornication is sinful, those who lack self-control must marry, perform their sexual duties toward their mates and let it be the guide as to whether one is ‘re-married.’

The second lesson we learn from 1 Corinthians 7 is the fact that God’s marriage bond is intended to remain unbroken.

Go To 1 Corinthians 8



"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."