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Third Millennium Study Bible
Notes on 1 Corinthians 7:1-2

It is good for a man not to marry - 1 Corinthians 7:1

Paul begins by saying, "Now for the matters you wrote about." This was not the first letter to Corinth. See "Overview of the Book of 1 Corinthians" below.

Paul then says, "It is good for a man not to marry," or literally, "not to touch a woman." Barnett explains:

Although Paul's preference was for singleness, his teachings here and in other letters recognised that a majority of believers would be married. Throughout this chapter, however, Paul appears to be answering a group who held quite extreme and negative views about sexual relationships. Some of them were urging sexual abstinence within marriage (see on 1 Cor. 7:1, 3-5), others that they should withdraw altogether from their marriages with unbelievers (see on 1 Cor. 7:10-14).

Pratt agrees, saying this:

Some members of the Corinthian church had gone to the opposite extreme of those who had justified prostitution (1 Cor. 6:12-20). They claimed that it was good for a man not to marry.
So, as can be seen in the verses following, Paul acknowledged that there is some value in remaining unmarried under certain conditions (1 Cor. 7:7-8, 26), and he gave specific, valid reasons why a Christian might decide to remain single (1 Cor. 7:29-35). The thrust of the paragraph, however, was intended to correct those who demanded celibacy.

In a different context, Paul spoke of marriage in only positive terms (e.g., Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Tim. 3:2) and even condemned those who had forbidden people to marry (1 Tim. 4:3). Moreover, Paul affirmed the Old Testament, which continually advocates godly marriage, sex, and procreation as God's plan for humanity (e.g., Gen. 1:28-29; 2:18). As Pratt observes:

In light of Paul's love for the Old Testament Scriptures that advocate marriage and children as blessings from God, it seems unlikely that Paul himself would have suggested celibacy for all people. In fact, Genesis 2:18 says, "It is not good for the man to be alone." He knew that God himself ordained marriage for the betterment of humanity. Like Jesus before him, Paul saw celibacy as an unusual condition. He probably paraphrased the position of others in this way to contrast it with the Old Testament outlook.

Immorality - 1 Corinthians 7:2

Corinth was well known for its sexual immorality. Barclay tells us the Greek word korinthiazesthai, or to corinthianize, meant "to live with drunken and immoral debauchery." Here Paul probably had in mind the specific matter of Christians employing prostitutes, which is a subject he had addressed in the preceding passage (1 Cor. 6:15-20). Kistemaker explains:

Elsewhere Paul exhorts his readers that they should avoid fornication (1 Thess. 4:3), for it is God's will that they be sanctified. He fully realizes that the evils of sexual immorality form the fabric of Corinthian life. Paul literally says, "because of fornications." The plural illustrates the frequent occurrences of relations with prostitutes. Paul goes straight to the heart of the problem that existed in the Corinthian community. He points to illicit sexual relations some of the Christians had; they were part of a pagan society that registered no objections to fornication.

Given Paul's solution to this problem is "each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband," it is likely that some married partners were refusing sexual relations with their spouses and that those spouses consequently had employed prostitutes to fulfill their sexual desires. Morris adds:

Paul is agreeing that celibacy is good, but he is also pointing out that temptation abounded: there is so much immorality (the word is plural, pointing to many acts). In the face of such temptation each should be married.

So, as in chapter 8 when Paul discusses idol food and its dangers (i.e. 1 Cor. 8:10), here in chapter 7 he stresses the dangers involved in the Church's current practices of marriage and/or the lack thereof (cf. 1 Cor. 5:11; cf. 6:12-20). Calvin says, "The question is not as to the reasons for which marriage has been instituted, but as to the persons for whom it is necessary." Paul's solution then was that each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. But as Pratt points out, the word "have" does not mean initiate:

The verb "have," used in a sexual context, does not suggest initiating a marriage, but continuing a sexual relationship. It is best to understand Paul not as exhorting unmarried people to marry, but rather married people to continue sexual relationships with each other (cf. 1 Cor. 5:1)."
So, Paul's solution to the problem of immorality and prostitution was that a married couple should maintain an active sexual relationship, thereby curbing the motivation for immorality.

See WCF 22.7; 24.2; WLC 138.

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