Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
Verses 1-40. - Answers to the inquiries of the Corinthians respecting marriage. Verses 1-11. - The lawfulness of marriage, and its duties. Verse 1. - Now concerning. This refers to questions of the Corinthians (comp. 1 Corinthians 7:25; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1). It is good for a man not to touch a woman. The word used is not agathon, good, but kalon, fair; "an excellent thing." In ver. 26 he limits the word by the clause, "good for the present necessity." There is no limitation here, and it is probable that St. Paul is quoting the actual words of the letter which he had received from Corinth. There had sprung up among them some antinomians, who, perhaps by perverting his own teaching or that of Apollos, had made liberty a cloak of lasciviousness. In indignant reaction against such laxity, others, perhaps, with Essene proclivities, had been led to disparage matrimony as involving an inevitable stain. Gnosticism, and the spirit which led to it, oscillated between the two extremes of asceticism and uncleanness. Both extremes were grounded on the assertion that matter is inherently evil. Ascetic Gnostics, therefore, strove to destroy by severity every carnal impulse; antinomian Gnostics argued that the life of the spirit was so utterly independent of the flesh that what the flesh did was of no consequence. We find the germs of Gnostic heresy long before the name appeared. Theoretically, St. Paul inclines to the ascetic view, not in the abstract, but in view of the near advent of Christ, and of the cares, distractions, and even trials which marriage involved in days of struggle and persecution. Yet his wisdom is shown in the cautious moderation with which he expresses himself. The tone of the letter written by Gregory the Great to Augustine with reference to similar inquiries about Saxon converts is very different. The example of St. Paul should have shown the mediaeval moralists and even the later Fathers how wrong it is "to give themselves airs of certainty on points where certainty is not to be had." Not to touch a woman. St. Paul means generally "not to marry" (comp. Genesis 20:4 [LXX.]). Celibacy under the then existing conditions of the Christian world is, he admits, in itself an honourable and morally salutary thing, though, for the majority, marriage may be a positive duty. He is not dreaming of the nominal marriages of mediaeval ascetics, for he assumes and directs that all who marry should live in conjugal union.
Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
Verse 2. - Nevertheless. In this single word St. Paul practically refutes all the dangerous and unwarrantable inferences drawn by St. Jerome and others from the previous clause. St. Jerome argues: "If it is good for a man not to touch a woman, it must be bad to do so, and therefore celibacy is a holier state than marriage." He also says, "I suspect the goodness of a thing which the greatness of another evil enforces as a lesser evil." Such reasoning shows:
1. The danger of pressing words to the full extent of the logical inferences which may be deduced from them.
2. The errors which always arise from arguing upon isolated texts dissevered from their context, and from all consideration of the circumstances under which they were written.
3. The necessity of following the guidance of the Holy Spirit when he shows, by history and experience, the need for altering precepts with reference to altered conditions. There is in celibacy a moral beauty - it is kalon; there are cases in which it becomes a duty. But in most cases marriage, being no less a duty, as St. Paul proceeds to show, is even fairer and more excellent. Neither state, the wedded or the unwedded, is in itself more holy than the other. Each has its own honour and loveliness, and can only be judged of in connection with surrounding circumstances. Those who make St. Paul judge slightingly of marriage contradict his own express rules and statements (Ephesians 5:24, 31, 32; 1 Timothy 2:15), and make him speak the current heathen language of heathen epicures, who, to the great injury of morals, treated marriage as a disagreeable necessity, which was, if possible, to be avoided. If the "it is a good thing" of St. Paul in ver. 1 were to be taken absolutely, it would have to be corrected
(1) by the example of Christ, who beautified with his presence the marriage at Cana (John 2:1, 2);
(2) by the primeval law which said, "It is not good for man to be alone" (Genesis 2:18); and
(3) by the fact that marriage is the chosen analogue of the relation between Christ and his Church. But the very phrase he uses, as will be seen by reference to 1 Corinthians 9:15; Matthew 15:26; Romans 14:21, etc., is a relative not an absolute one, and St. Paul uses it here concessively, but with the object of pointing out limitations which almost reversed it. To avoid fornication; rather, because o f fornication; i.e. because of the many forms of impurity which were current every where, but especially at Corinth. Some have argued that St. Paul takes a "low" and "poor" view of marriage by regarding it only in the light of a remedy against fornication. The answer is:
1. That the reason which he assigns is a true reason in itself, and with reference to the masses of mankind; for which reason it is adopted by our Church in her Marriage Service.
2. He is addressing those who were living in a corrupt and semi-heathen atmosphere.
3. He is not here speaking of the idealized and spiritual aspect of marriage, but only of large practical necessities. When he speaks of marriage as a high Christian mystery (as in 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-33), he adopts a very different tone. Let every man have. A rule, not a mere permission. He here implies the truth that married love bears no analogy whatever to the vagae libidines of those who live like "natural brute beasts." In marriage the sensuous impulse, by being controlled and placed under religious sanctions is refined and purified from a degradation into a sacrament. Instead of being any longer the source of untold curses to mankind, it becomes the condition of their continuance and an element in their peace, because it is then placed under the blessing of God and of his Church.
Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.
Verse 3. - Due benevolence. An euphemistic and needless modification by the copyists of the pure and simple expression of St. Paul, which, as shown by the best manuscripts, is "her due" - debitum tori. St. Paul is evidently entering on these subjects, not out of any love for them; but because all kinds of extreme views - immoral indifference and over scrupulous asceticism - had claimed dominance among the Corinthians.
The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.
Verse 4. - The wife hath not power, Marriage is not a capricious union, but a holy bond. "They two" become "one flesh."
Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
Verse 5. - Defraud ye not. St. Paul purposely leaves the expression general. Primarily he is thinking of "the due" or "the power" which each has over the other, as is shown by the next verse; but he does not confine the expression to this. Except it be; literally, unless by chance. The exception he regards as something possible, but not normal. For a time. By this and the next words he disparages, by anticipation, the celibate and separate married lives which, in a corrupt age, were so much and so unwisely admired in the ascetic saints of the Middle Ages. Temporary separation for special reasons had been recognized from the earliest times (Exodus 19:15; 1 Samuel 21:4). Ye may give yourselves; rather, ye may have leisure. The verb is in the aorist, which shows that the "leisure" contemplated was for brief periods, not during continuous years. It was altered to the present by the officious copyists, who believed in external and mechanical rules of holiness. To fasting and prayer. "Fasting" is an ascetic interpolation, not found in א, A, B, C, D, F. On this interpolation, and perhaps on the analogy of the rule given by Moses at Sinai (Exodus 19:15), rose the practice of married persons living apart at Lent (Stanley). Come together again. The prepossessions of ascetic scribes have again tampered with the text. The true reading is, "be together again" (ῆτε), not "come together" (συνέρχησθε). For your incontinency; rather, because of. Their past lives and their present temptations were a warning that they could not lay on themselves burdens which God did not require. They should not strive
"...to wind themsleves to high
For sinful man beneath the sky." Violent, unnatural, self tormenting, repressions beyond what God demands, and adopted without reference to the strength or the circumstances of individual natures, only tend, as all ascetics have confessed, to increase rather than to diminish the force of sensual temptations.
But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.
Verse 6. - I speak this. The "this" applies to his advice in general, but especially to the last verse. By permission. This phrase is generally misunderstood. It does not mean that St. Paul was permitted though not commanded to give this advice, but that his gentle advice was given "by way of permission" to Christians, not "by way of injunction." He means to say that he leaves the details of their lives, whether celibate or married, to their individual consciences, though with large hearted wisdom and charity he would emancipate them from human and unauthorized restrictions. The clause is not, therefore, a parallel to the restrictions on the authority of his utterances, such as we find in vers. 12, 29, 40, and in 2 Corinthians 8:10; 2 Corinthians 11:17.
For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
Verse 7. - For I would. The verb here used is thelo (will). In 1 Timothy 5:14 he says, "I prefer (boulomai) that the younger women marry." Even as I myself; endowed, that is, with the gift of continence, which would (in the expected nearness of Christ's coming) render marriage needless, and the condition of man like that of the angels in heaven, who neither marry nor are given in marriage. His proper gift. The "gifts" alluded to are the "graces" (charismata) of the Holy Spirit; and the grace of perfect continence does not exist equally in all (Matthew 19:11). One after this manner, and another after that. The remark is general, but also has its special application to continence and marriage (Matthew 19:12).
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.
Verse 8. -To the unmarried; including widowers. In my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:75-82, I have given my reasons for believing that St. Paul was a widower. It is good for them. It is an expedient, honourable, and morally "beautiful thing," but, as he so distinctly points out further on, there might be a "better" even to the "good." Even as I. In the unmarried state, whether as one who had never married, or, as I infer from various circumstances, as a widower (so too Clemens of Alexandria, Grotius, Luther, Ewald, etc.); see my 'Life of St. Paul,' 1:169). Tertullian and Jerome (both of them biassed witnesses, and with no certain support of tradition) say that St. Paul was never married.
But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
Verse 9. - If they cannot contain; rather, if they have not continency. Let them marry. In 1 Timothy 5:14 he lays down and justifies the same rule with reference to young widows. It is better to marry than to burn. The original tenses give greater force and beauty to this obvious rule of Christian common sense and morality. The "marry" is in the aorist - "to marry once for all," and live in holy married union; the "burn" is in the present - "to be on fire with concupiscence." Marriage once for all is better than continuous lust; the former is permitted, the latter sinful.
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
Verse 10. - And; rather, but. Unto the married; to Christians who have already married. I command. This is an injunction, not a mere permission as in ver. 6. Not I, but the Lord. Because the rule had been laid down by Christ himself (Mark 10:11, 12; Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:6; Luke 16:18). Let not the wife depart. By divorce or otherwise. The wife is mentioned, perhaps, because the Christian wife, in the new sense of dignity and sacredness which Christianity had bestowed upon her, might be led to claim this spurious freedom; or perhaps the Christian women of Corinth had been more impressed than their husbands by the Essene notions of purity. The exception of divorce being permissible in case of fornication is assumed (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9).
But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
Verse 11. - If she depart. The reference throughout the verse is to separation due to incompatibility of temper, etc.; not to legal divorce.
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
Verses 12-16. - Directions about mixed marriages. Verse 12. - To the rest. That is, to those who are married, but are heathen. They were the remaining class about whose duties the Corinthians had made inquiry. Not the Lord. The Lord had made no express reference to such cases, since it had been no part of his mission to lay down minute details which would be duly settled from age to age by the wisdom taught by the Holy Ghost. She be pleased to dwell with him. It is assumed that, if she did not please, the poor Christian convert would have no protection of his fights; pagan courts would regard conversion as a sufficient reason for breaking off marriages.
And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
Verse 13. - Let her not leave him. The verb is the same as in the clause rendered "let him not put her away."
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
Verse 14. - Is sanctified; literally, has been sanctified, the status has been rendered (so to speak) theoretically clean. By the wife; literally, in the wife. The bond is still holy; its holiness rests in the believing wife or husband. The reasoning would remove any scruples which Jewish Christians might derive from Deuteronomy 7:3, etc. By the husband; rather, in the brother. The liberty implied by these remarks, contrasting so strongly with the rigid rules laid down in the days of Ezra (Ezra 9; Nehemiah 9.) recall the change of dispensation. Unclean; i.e. not placed in immediate covenant relation to God. But now are they holy. This does not necessarily imply that they were baptized as infants, but only that they were hallowed as the fruit of a hallowed union. See the remarkable words of Malachi (Malachi 2:15). "If the root be holy, so are the branches" (Romans 11:16).
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.
Verse 15. - If the unbelieving depart. The sense of the word rendered "depart" is rather "wishes to be separated." Is not under bondage; literally, has not been enslaved. Our Lord assumes one cause alone - unfaithfulness - as adequate for the disruption of the marriage tie; but he was not contemplating, as St. Paul is, the case of mixed marriages. To peace; rather, in peace. Peace is to be the sphere in which the calling comes, and in which it issues. Milton, in his 'Tetrachordon,' quotes Maimonides to the effect that "divorce was permitted by Moses to preserve peace in marriage and quiet in the family." Similarly, a voluntary separation might be the only possible means of preserving moral peace where the union was between souls separated from each other by so vast a gulf as those of a pagan and a Christian.
For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
Verse 16. - For what knowest thou, O wife, etc.? The meaning is as follows: - You may, perhaps, plead that, by refusing to sever the union, the believing partner may convert the unbelieving; but that possibility is too distant and uncertain on which to act. St. Peter does indeed show that so blessed a result is possible ("That, if any obey not the Word, they also maybe won... by the conversation of the wives," 1 Peter 3:1); but he is only speaking of cases in which the unbelieving husband did not wish the union to be dissolved. The ancient misinterpretation of the passage (due to neglect of the context and of the argument as a whole) viewed it as an argument for mixed marriages, founded on the chance of thereby winning souls. Most misinterpretations of Scripture have done deadly harm; this one, however, has been overruled for good, and led, as Dean Stanley points out, to such happy marriages as that of Clotilde with Clovis, and Bertha with Ethelbert of Kent.
But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.
Verses 17-24. - Corroborative instances of the duty of remaining in the state wherein each was called. Verse 17. - But; literally, if not. The phrase introduces a caution. The rule is that the circumstances of our lives are regulated by the providence of God, and must not be arbitrarily altered at our own caprice. Christ allotted his portion to each Christian, God hath called each man; that lot and that call are to guide his life. "Qua positus fueris in statione mane" (Ovid). Hath distributed; rather, apportioned. So ordain I in all Churches. He proceeds to give specific instances to which his rule applies.
Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.
Verse 18. - Being circumcised. The first instance he gives is that of Judaism and paganism. The circumcised Jew is to remain circumcised; the uncircumcised Gentile is not to undergo circumcision. Become uncircumcised. The Hellenising Jews in the days of the priest Menelaus (1 Macc. 1:15; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 12:05, 1) had discovered a process for obliterating the appearance of circumcision; such persons were known as masochim. St. Paul does not permit the adoption of this course. In the rebellion of Barcocheba many obliterated the sign of circumcision, and were afterwards, at great danger to themselves, recircumcised. ('Yevamoth,' tel. 72, 1). Let him not be circumcised. This rule was of much more practical significance than the other. The early fortunes of Christianity had been almost shipwrecked by the attempt of Jewish rigorists to enforce this odious bondage on the Gentiles, and their deliverance flora it had been due almost solely to St. Paul. It was his inspired insight which had swayed the decision of the synod at Jerusalem (Acts 15.); and at a later period his Epistle to the Galatians was the manifesto of Gentile emancipation. He proved that after Christ's death "circumcision" (peritome) became to Gentiles a mere physical mutilation (katatome) (Philippians 3:2).
Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
Verse 19. - Circumcision is nothing. The Jews regarded it as everything; and to make this assertion at so early an epoch of Christian history, required all the courage of St. Paul, and proved his grand originality. He was the first to prove to the Jews that circumcision had become a thing intrinsically indifferent, which might, under some circumstances, be desirable (as in the case of Timothy), but could never be reckoned among essentials. And uncircumcision is nothing. The same sentence occurs three times in St. Paul, summing up, as it were, the liberty which it had cost him endless peril and anguish to achieve. Each time he concludes it with a weighty clause to show what is everything: "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God" (ver. 19); "... but faith which worketh by love" (Galatians 5:6); "... but a new creation" (Galatians 6:15). But the keeping of the commandments. So St. John says, "Hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments."
Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.
Verse 20. - Let every man abide in the same calling, etc. In accordance with this general principle, which illustrates the distinction between Christianity and violent social revolutions, St. John the Baptist had not bidden publicans or soldiers to abandon their callings, but to do their duty in that state of life to which God had called them (Luke 3:12-14). The "calling" alluded to is not what is described as "a vocation," a calling in life, but the condition in which we are when we are called by God (comp. 1 Corinthians 1:26; Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 4:1).
Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
Verse 21. - Being a servant. This is the second instance of the rule. One who was converted whilst he was a slave is not to strive over anxiously for freedom. The word "emancipation" sometimes seems (as in the letter to Philemon) to be "trembling on Paul's lips," but he never utters it, because to do so would have been to kindle social revolt, and lead to the total overthrow of Christianity at the very commencement of its career. Our Lord had taught the apostles to adapt means to ends; and the method of Christianity was to inculcate great principles, the acceptance of which involved, with all the certainty of a law, the ultimate regeneration of the world. Christianity came into the world as the dawn, not as the noon - a shining light, which brightened more and more unto the perfect day. Care not for it. Do not be troubled by the fact, because in Christ "there is neither bond nor free" (Galatians 3:28), and because earthly freedom is as nothing in comparison with the freedom which Christ gives (John 8:36). But if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. The words may mean,
(1) "use freedom" - avail yourself of the opportunity of emancipation; or
(2) "use slavery" - be content to remain a slave. In favour of the first interpretation is the fact that there is nothing extravagant or fantastic in Christian morality; and that, considering what ancient slavery was - how terrible its miseries, how shameful and perilously full of temptations were its conditions - it sounds unnatural to advise a Christian slave to remain a slave when he might gain his freedom. Yet the other interpretation, remain a slave by preference, seems to be required:
1. By the strict interpretation of the Greek particles.
2. By the entire context, which turns on the rule that each man should stay in the earthly condition in which he first received God's call.
3. By the fact that even the Stoic moralists - like Epictetus, who was himself a slave - gave similar advice (Epict., 'Dissert.,' 3:26; 'Enchir.,' 10:32.)
4. By the indifference which St. Paul felt and expressed towards mere earthly conditions (Galatians 3:28), as things of no real significance (Colossians 3:22).
5. By his appeal to the nearness of the day of Christ (vers. 29-31).
6. By the preponderance of high authorities - Chrysostom, Theodoret, Luther, Bengel, De Wette, Meyer, Alford, etc. - in favour of this view
7. By its parallelism to the advice given to Christian slaves in 1 Timothy 6:2, where they are urged to serve Christian masters all the more zealously because they were brethren.
8. Lastly, all the apparent harshness of the advice is removed when we remember that St. Paul was probably thinking only of the Christian slaves of Christian masters, between whom the relation might be as happy as that of Philemon to the forgiven Onesimus.
For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant.
Verse 22. - Is the Lord's freeman; rather, freedman. Clearly the entire bearing of this verse favours the view which we have taken of the previous verse. Christ's servant. The sharp antithesis of this verse was often present to the mind of the early Christians. They knew that the bondage of Satan was so crushing that mere earthly bondage was, in comparison, as nothing; and that the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, though it might seem to take the form of service, was the sole perfect freedom. The freedmen of sin are the most hopeless slaves; the servants of God alone are free (see Romans 6:22; 2 Timothy 2:26; 1 Peter 2:16).
Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.
Verse 23. - Ye are bought with a price; rather, ye were bought, namely, by Christ; and the price paid for you was his blood (see 1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:18, 19). Be not ye; rather, become not. The servants of men. There is a grand play of words in the advice to them not to become slaves, at the very moment when he is advising them to continue in slavery. In that which the world called "slavery" the Christian slave might enjoy absolute liberty. The price which a master paid for them was but an unmeaning shadow; they had been bought once and eternally by an infinitely nobler price, and that purchase was the pledge of absolute emancipation.
Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
Verse 24. - Therein abide with God. The verse is a summary and reiteration of the advice contained in the whole paragraph. "With God;" literally, by the side of God; "as in God's sight;" "doing service as to the Lord;" "for conscience towards God." The words sum up the essence of all apostolic counsels to Christian slaves in Ephesians 6:5-8; 1 Timothy 6:1, 2; Titus 2:9, 10; 1 Peter 2:18, 19, etc.
Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.
Verses 25-40. - Advice respecting the unmarried. Verse 25. - Now concerning virgins. This is doubtless another reference to questions contained in the letter from Corinth. No commandment of the Lord. Christ had never directly dealt with this subject. I give my judgment. The word "commandment" is rendered in the Vulgate consillum, and the word "judgment" praeceptum; and thus, as Stanley points out, has originated the modern Romish distinction between "precepts" and "counsels of perfection," which, however, have clearly no connection with the real meaning of the passage. To be faithful. As a steward of his Word, which is the first essential of true ministry (1 Timothy 1:12). "Faith makes a true casuist" (Bengel).
I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.
Verse 26. - I suppose. St. Paul only states this modestly, and somewhat hesitatingly, as his personal opinion. For the present distress; rather, on account of the pressing necessity; in the urgent and trying conditions which at the present moment surround the Christian's life, and which were the prophesied "woes of the Messiah" (Matthew 24:3, etc.). For a man; rather, for a person - whether man or woman. Be to be; that is, unmarried. The words are not improbably a quotation from the Corinthian letter. Otherwise we might explain the "so" to mean "as he is - whether married or unmarried."
Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.
Verse 27. - Seek not a wife. It is entirely alien from St. Paul's purpose to take this as an abstract or universal rule. He gives his reasons for it as a temporary necessity.
But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
Verse 28. - But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned. This advice merely touches on the question of expediency, not on questions of absolute right and wrong. Such. Those who marry. Trouble in the flesh. Their marriage will in these days necessarily involve much trouble and discomfort. Common experience shows that in days of "trouble and rebuke and blasphemy" the cares and anxieties of those who have to bear the burden of many besides themselves, and those dearer to them than their own selves, are far the most trying. Perhaps St. Paul was thinking of the "Woe unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck in those days," of our Lord (Luke 21:23). But I spare you. I desire to spare you from adding to the inevitable distress which will fall upon you in "the great tribulation" - "the travail throes of the Messiah," which we all expect.
But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;
Verse 29. - But this I say. I will not dwell on those coming trials, but will only remind you that they are imminent, and that when they come all earthly distinctions will vanish into insignifiance. The time is short; literally, the season has been contracted; in other words, "The end of all things is at hand" (1 Peter 4:7). The word sunestalmenos cannot mean "disastrous." The verb is used for "folding up" in Acts 5:6; "Tempus in collecto est" (Tertullian). It remaineth, that. The reading and punctuation are here uncertain. The best reading seems to be "The time has been shortened henceforth, in order that," etc. The very object of the hastened end is that Christians should sit loose to earthly interests. As though they had none. They would thus be nearer to the condition of the "angels in heaven."
And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not;
Verse 30. - They that weep, etc. Earthly sorrow and joy and wealth are things which are merely transient and unreal when compared with the awful, eternal, permanent realities which we shall all soon have to face.
And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
Verse 31. - As not abusing it; rather, as not using it to the full - not draining dry the cup of earthly advantages (comp. 1 Corinthians 9:18). Like Gideon's true heroes, we must not fling ourselves down to drink greedily of the river of earthly gifts, but drink them sparingly, and as it were with the palm of the hand. The fashion of this world passeth away. So St. John says, "The world passeth away, and the lust thereof" (1 John 1:18). It is but as the shifting scene of a theatre, or as a melting vapour (James 4:14).
But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:
Verse 32. - But I would have you without carefulness. In these words he reverts to ver. 28, after the digression about the transiency of earthly relations. If they were "overcharged... with cares of this life," the day of the Lord might easily "come upon them unawares" (Luke 21:34).
But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
Verse 33. - Careth for the things that are of the world. St. Paul's language must not be extravagantly pressed. It only applies absolutely to times in which the conditions are the same as they then were. The "anxious cares" which marriage involves may be more innocent and less distracting than those which attack the celibate condition; and when that is the case, marriage, on St. Paul's own principle, becomes a duty. Thus some of the best and greatest of our missionaries have found their usefulness as God's messengers vastly increased by marriage, in spite of the awful trials which marriage often involves. The apostles and brethren of the Lord felt the same. St. Paul's opinions here are, as he tells us, opinions only, and admit of many modifications. Advice given to men and women when Christians believed that the Lord was coming, perhaps in that very age, to judge the world, is not universally applicable to all ages. In St. Paul's later Epistles he does not revert to this advice, but assumes that marriage is the normal condition.
There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
Verse 34. - There is difference also, etc. The reading, punctuation, and exact sense are surrounded with uncertainty, which does not, however, affect the general meaning. This is probably given correctly in our English Version. He implies that the married woman must of necessity be more of a Martha than a Mary. Nevertheless, two things are certain:
(1) that God intended marriage to be the normal lot; and
(2) that marriage is by no means incompatible with the most absolute saintliness.
It is probable that most, if not all, of the apostles were married men (1 Corinthians 9:5). The spirit of St. Paul's advice - the avoidance of distraction, and the determination that our duty to God shall not be impaired by earthly relationships - remains eternally significant. Another common way of punctuating the words is, "The married man cares.., how he may please his wife, and is divided [in interests]."
And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
Verse 35. - For your own profit. My advice turns simply on questions of expedience. Not that I may cast a snare upon you. He does not wish to "fling a noose" over them to win them over to his own private views, and entangle them in rules which they might not be able to bear. That which is comely. Seemliness; "the beauty of holiness" (Romans 13:13). Without distraction. The phrases used in this clause make it probable that St. Paul had heard how Martha was "anxious" and distracted (περιεσπᾶτο) about much serving, while Mary sat at Jesus' feet (Luke 10:39-41).
But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.
Verse 36. - Uncomely. If any father thinks, by keeping his virgin daughter unmarried, he is acting in a way which may cause sin or scandal, then let him permit her to marry her suitor. The word "uncomeliness" is terribly illustrated in Romans 1:27. (For "comely," see 1 Corinthians 7:35; 1 Corinthians 12:24.) His virgin. Obviously a daughter or ward. Pass the flower of her age. If she be more than twenty years old, which the ancients regarded as the acme of the woman's life. And need so require. If there be some moral obligation or necessity in the case. Let them marry. The "them" means the virgin and her unmarried lover.
Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.
Verse 37. - Steadfast. The general meaning of the verse is that the father, who, from high motives, remained unshaken in the resolve to dedicate his daughter (as Philip did) to the virgin life, doeth well, though neither Jews nor pagans thought so. Having no necessity. Because the maiden did not wish to marry or was not sought in marriage.
So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.
Verse 38. - Doeth well. Because" marriage is honourable in all." Doeth better. Obviously not morally, because, if one course be morally better than another, we are bound to take it; but "better" with reference to expediency in "the urgent necessity" which rested on the Christian world in that day. It is quite clear that, if these words are meant to disparage matrimony in comparison with celibacy, or to treat celibacy in the abstract as a holier state that marriage, they have been set aside by the universal practice and theory of the Christian world. But, as we have seen, they are expressed by St. Paul only as a relative and diffident opinion. It is remarkable that not one word is said as to the choice of the virgin herself in the matter, which is one of the most essential points on which the decision must turn. St. Paul, no doubt, assumes the acquiescence or preference of the maiden as one of the elements in the absence of any "need" for her marriage; but also he writes after lifelong familiarity with the all but absolute control exercised by Jewish parents over their youthful daughters.
The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
Verse 39. - Only in the Lord. The second marriage of the Christian widow must be a holy and a Christian marriage (2 Corinthians 6:14).
But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.
Verse 40. - Happier. Freer from cares, distractions, and entanglements. If she so abide. If she remain a widow. I think also that I have the Spirit of God; rather, I think that I also, as well as the other teachers who have claimed spiritual authority for the rules they have given you about these subjects. The claim to authoritative decision is obviously less emphatic than it is in 1 Corinthians 14:37; still, it is an expression of personal conviction that he has the Spirit, not an implied doubt of the fact.