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
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
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
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
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,
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.