EXEGESIS OF 1 CORINTHIANS CHAPTER 7 – THE ISSUE OF SINGLEHOOD
Institution of marriage
The old adage that marriage was made in heaven certainly carries a great deal
of biblical weight. God created Eve for Adam and brought her to him. Man seems to be the passive innovator in this chain of events……
18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."
22 Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
And Adam, inspired by the Holy Spirit had this to say….
24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
NIV This scripture has never been rescinded, both in the Old as well as the New Testaments…
Since Adam was the head of all Mankind, Genesis 2:24 represents a universal truth for all mankind, both Christians and Non Christians in today’s context.
The second universal truth is borne out in the latter half of verse 28 below. God blessed them and said to them to ‘be fruitful and multiply’. Actually God did not just ‘say to them’ (for the verse itself was certainly more of a command than a request).
"27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them,"Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it;
NKJV Note that this Scripture has never been rescinded too…
In the Christian context, God not only joins two believers together in Holy Matrimony but also participates in the Covenant of marriage as a Witness and Guardian of the union….
6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate."
Marriage, therefore, reflects His (God’s) General Will for ALL CHRISTIANS EXCEPT FOR THE ONE FOLLOWING SITUATION…
12 For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother's womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it."
Strong’s Greek-Hebrew dictionary defines a eunuch as a ‘castrated person, by extension an impotent or unmarried man’.1 The eunuch lacks male hormones and has no sexual desire, therefore the words ‘impotent or unmarried man’ in Strong’s definition should be viewed in a singular context. The term ‘eunuch’ is always used in the masculine gender and in the context of the above verse, our Lord mentions three classes of MEN who do not marry, viz,
i) Those who were born eunuchs i.e. those with congenitally absent testicles or mal-developed testicles.
ii) Those who were voluntarily castrated (in olden times) so that they can take care of the King’s harem.
iii) Those who have renounced marriage for the sake of God’s Kingdom. This of course must be a calling of God.
Only (iii) above is a valid scriptural situation. Those who are born eunuchs and those who are made eunuchs by men remain single not because of a calling of God.
So we have the general rule and the (single) scriptural exception. Other than for MEN who are called to be single for the sake of God’s Kingdom, no other exception exists biblically. It is pertinent to add at this juncture that the only two New Testament figures with this singular calling are the Lord Jesus Himself and Apostle Paul. This reflects the rarity of the calling. Another notable feature is the fact that those equipped with this calling have an itinerant ministry (hence the need to remain single).
The biblical principles enunciated above are paramount in the exegesis of 1 Corinthians Chapter 7. Since ‘Scripture does not contradict itself’, we must constantly bear these principles in mind when we examine the verses in 1 Corinthians Chapter 7.
1 Corinthians Chapter 7
Before delving into the specifics of the verses in this Chapter, let me first state that Paul was writing a letter to the Corinthian Church and not a scientific textbook with facts detailed out in an ordered fashion. Paul writes in the style of Paul but his writings in the New Testament are wholly and totally inspired. So it may be necessary to dissect his inspired thoughts and to put them in a proper order so as to have a correct understanding of God’s Will on the matter of Singlehood and Marriage.
First of all, let me mention that Paul in this letter directs his thoughts to three different categories of people, viz, MEN, VIRGINS AND WIDOWS.
1 Cor 7:1-7
7:1 Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. 2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
In 1 Corinthians Chapter 7 verses 1 to 7, he is speaking to MEN. He wished that there were Men like him not married for the sake (and calling) of God’s Kingdom but understands that this is not the case and that Men have natural sexual desires which must be fulfilled within the Covenant of Marriage. In verse 5, he goes on to say that sexual deprivation between a husband and wife is a matter of mutual consent and only for the purpose of PRAYER (AND FASTING -IN THE KJV VERSION). Prolonged separation between husband and wife (for all other reasons) is not God’s will for the Christian couple
1 Cor 7:8-9
8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
In verses 8 and 9, he is speaking to UNMARRIED MEN and widows. Verse 8 is actually an extension of verse 7 where Paul wished that all MEN were as he was with a gift (of singlehood) from God. But if they have a natural sexual desire it means that they do not have God’s gift of continence and therefore should marry. His command to widows is in the same vein that if a widow (who by definition was married before) continues to stay single as a calling, this is acceptable. It can be assumed that widows are fairly advanced in years because Paul in 1 Timothy 5:14 directs younger widows to re-marry…
1 Tim 5:14
14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.
NIV Paul inspired by the Holy Spirit defines the role of young widows and by extension younger women also. This may be summed up in three simple words…marriage, reproduction, homemaking. This is the noblest calling ever bestowed on a woman. Do not give the enemy room to maneuver outside this spiritual umbrella!
Let us skip the next few verses and go to verses 24 and 25…
1 Cor 7:24-25
24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.
25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy.
In verse 25 he deals with the subject of virgins, a virgin being an unmarried young woman without any previous sexual exposure. We need to go back to verse 24 to understand verse 25 better (remember that in the original epistle there were no verses). Paul was talking of the subject of remaining in the situation God calls a person to and says that as for virgins he has no command from the Lord. What he meant was that there is no directive from the Lord for virgins to remain in the situation that they were i.e. virgins. In other words, they can and should marry.
1 Cor 7:26-28
26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. 27 Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
Verse 26 should be viewed in the context of verse 24. He is saying that a Man (Take note of the word ‘Brothers’ in verse 24) must remain in the situation that he is called to be in. Verses 26 and 27 clearly refer to MEN again because Paul says in the latter part of verse 27 ‘Do not look for a wife’. Then in verse 28 he mentions a virgin in passing and says that she does not sin if she marries. Likewise, those MEN who do not have the gift of continence should marry without any fear of sinning against God.
1 Cor 7:32-35
An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs-how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world-how he can please his wife- 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world-how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
In verses 32 to 35, he extols the virtues of being single and totally zealous for the ministry (devoid of all distractions It is not the state of being single that makes one virtuous but the freedom of a single man to be undivided in his devotion to the Lord that makes him virtuous. This, of course, is on the proviso that one has a calling for singlehood as discussed in the preceding paragraphs.
Last but not least Paul again visits the issue of continence as a sign of God’s calling…
1 Cor 7:36-38
36 If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin-this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.
If a MAN has sexual desires for the virgin he is engaged to he should marry her. But if he is sure that God has a calling for him to be single and he knows that he has the gift of continence allowing him to lead a life of singlehood, let him NOT MARRY and fulfill the high calling God has bestowed upon him. Here the context is again of Man as in the masculine gender.
God’s calling of Singlehood taken in the context of 1 Corinthians Chapter 7 and also in conjunction with Matthew Chapter 19 verse 12 relates only and specifically to MEN. The only exception is in 1 Corinthians verse 8 where widows who have the gift of remaining single (after the death of their husbands) can continue to remain unmarried. AMEN
1. Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright (c) 1994, Biblesoft and International Bible Translators, Inc.
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