ADVICE FOR EMERGENCY.
708. Turn to 1 Corinthians 7. This chapter has been used by the Church to combat the false teaching of the superior holiness of celibacy, to that extent that its natural sense is difficult to grasp. Paul did not have sacerdotal celibacy in mind when he wrote it, but he did have a tribulation in mind, as verses 29-31 and other verses prove.
Three of the Gospels (Matthew 24:19; Mark 13:17; Luke 21:23) record a warning of Christ’s, that no woman should be found pregnant or with little children when that Day came; and the fact that every account of Christ’s prophecy of this period repeats this “woe,” proves that the warning had taken deep hold on the hearts of the disciples. Nothing could be more natural to suppose than that the Corinthians had asked Paul in their letter some question like this: “If our wives are not to bear children, in view of the coming tribulation, shall we not separate altogether, husbands from wives?” (Read par. 111).
709. Paul’s advice is suited to an emergency, but not intended for permanent conditions. This letter was written in A.D. 57, and sore tribulation began in A.D. 64 by the martyrdom of the Roman church (see Lessons 41, 42), and persecutions throughout the Roman Empire; and in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. (See also Luke 23:29). Expecting this tribulation under Rome, who knew but that it might prove to be the great tribulation?
Verse 1. Paul’s answer to this unrecorded question is, that it is well for a person to have no intimate relations with his wife (the word translated “woman” is also the ordinary word for wife).
Verse 2. But he does not recommend an actual separation, “because of fornications.” The A. V. does not render this accurately. There is no such word as “avoid” here. Corinth was an exceedingly wicked city. Profane history says that every other house was one for prostitution. There were over a thousand “religious” slave-prostitutes kept at the Temple of Venus in that city. Pagan religion and fornication went together, in worship. Men recently converted from a paganism which made a virtue of fornication, if thrown out of homes by the break-up of their domestic relations, from very loneliness might backslide into these corrupt conditions. So each man should keep his home and wife, each woman her husband. Or, if this did not happen, separated wives and husbands might become estranged, and remarry without Scriptural grounds for divorce; and this would amount to fornication.
710. Verse 3. The expression “due benevolence” has been given the same vile translation, “duty of marriage” of Exodus 21:10. See our notes, pars. 603-606 in refutation of any such sense. Such a meaning, here, would make Paul teach, between these two verses, “It is good not to do so, but nevertheless be sure to do so.” It would not only put verse 1 at variance with verse 2, but also at variance more or less, in spirit at least, with the teachings of verses 5 (as we shall presently explain), 7, 8, 11, 26, 27, 29, 32, 34, 37, 38, and 40. In fact, it makes of the chapter a mass of contradictions. All Paul means by this verse is that the husband should continue to minister to his wife by performing his usual duties of support, protection, and heavy tasks about the home; and that the wife should continue her domestic ministrations. This is “due” from each to the other. It is doubtful whether “benevolence” belongs to the original text.
Verse 4 speaks of the power of restraint, not of self-indulgence, in view of the teaching of continence for an emergency, of verse one. The one can exert this over the other.
711. Verse 5. Dean Alford, in another passage (Mark 10:19), shows that the word rendered “defraud” is equivalent to “covet.” This “coveting” in the marriage relation brings about the defrauding of time that should go to prayer, and the “incontinency” spoken of at the end of the verse. Sexual union must be of mutual consent “as to time.” The expositors who make out that Paul is speaking of incontinent continence, lend themselves to cheap sophistry. The word “fasting” here is probably an unauthorized addition to the original text.
Verse 7. “His proper gift.” If this meant, as is taught, “the gift of continence,” then we must believe that Paul taught that other men had from the Lord “the proper gift of incontinence!” (See par. 703).
Verse 9. See Lesson 86. “Cannot,” here, is a corrupt rendering; the original says “do not.” Guilty couples should get married.
712. Verses 12-16 teach that the matter of absolute avoidance of the matrimonial relation, in case one is married to an unbeliever, or else divorce, is not to be enjoined. There is but one cause for divorce, at least, as Christ taught; and the date of the approaching tribulation was too uncertain to found such rigid teaching as this upon it. This was emergency advice to believing couples expecting at any moment, what however might not occur for many years, ¾the close of the age and its attendant tribulation.
Verses 20, 24. The teaching of these verses has been much abused,¾for instance, to teach a slave that he should not struggle for his freedom. There is excellent reason for believing rather that Paul would direct attention to our one calling of eminence, our “high calling in Christ Jesus,” and teach us at all cost to abide in that calling, and do nothing which would mar our title to that high calling.
Verses 21 and 23 show that Paul did not instruct slaves to be contented with slavery.
Verse 25. Answers to another question from Corinth begin here, and the answers are somewhat obscure. Evidently the question relates to virgin persons of both sexes, as shown by verses 26, 27; the word “virgin” is applied to males in Revelation 14:4. In verse 28 the word is used in its more common female sense.
Verses 26-35. Paul makes it clear that he is not talking of what is “right” and “wrong” in the ordinary sense, but what is wise, or less wise, in the emergencies of the time.
713. Verse 36. The sense is obscure. Most expositors think it refers to fathers disposing of their virgin daughters. Others think that it refers to a man disposing of his virginity in marriage, because he is getting older, than the usual time for marriage. My own belief is that Paul is speaking of affianced young men, and their duty towards their betrothed virgins. If marriage is delayed so long that he feels he is not treating her right in the matter (in those days it was a reproach to a maiden to remain long unmarried), then “let them marry.”
Verse 37. The word “nevertheless” is misleading, as though showing a contrast. The Greek word should have been given its usual rendering¾“But the young man who has deliberately made up his mind not to marry, and with whom there is no (such) need to marry (as spoken of in the previous verse,¾on account of his betrothed), and has decided to keep his virginity (under the present stress of the times), does well not to marry.” This I believe to be Paul’s teaching.
Verse 38. Dr. Adam Clarke calls attention to the many ancient authorities who read, here, not “giveth her in marriage,” but merely “marries,” and “does not marry.” Note that the word “her” in the Bible is italicized; it does not occur in the original. “He that marries doeth well, and he that marries not doeth better.”
714. As to that expression “giveth” in relation to the marriage of a woman: Such an expression occurs nowhere in the entire Greek N. T. The O. T. sometimes uses the word “give” of a woman’s marriage. She is often “given” or “sold” to a husband in the O. T. but no such idea is conveyed by any expression used of the marriage of a woman in the N. T. This is an English importation into both the A. V. and the R. V., because we have not two words which distinguish between the male and the female part in marriage, such as the Greek has.