Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
A solution of several difficult cases concerning marriage and married persons, Co1 7:1-6. God has given every man his proper gift, Co1 7:7. Directions to the unmarried and widows, Co1 7:8, Co1 7:9. Directions to the married, Co1 7:10, Co1 7:11. Directions to men married to heathen women, and to women married to heathen men, Co1 7:12-16. Every man should abide in his vocation, Co1 7:17-24. Directions concerning virgins, and single persons in general, Co1 7:25-28. How all should behave themselves in the things of this life, in reference to eternity, Co1 7:29-31. The trials of the married state, Co1 7:32-35. Directions concerning the state of virginity or celibacy, Co1 7:36-38. How the wife is bound to her husband during his life, and her liberty to marry another after his death, Co1 7:39, Co1 7:40.
1 Corinthians 7:1
The things whereof ye wrote unto me - It is sufficiently evident that the principal part of this epistle was written in answer to some questions which had been sent to the apostle in a letter from the Corinthian Church; and the first question seems to be this: "Is it proper for a man to marry in the present circumstances of the Church?" The question concerning the expediency or inexpediency of marriage was often agitated among the ancient philosophers; and many, though inclined to decide against it, because of the troubles and cares connected with it, tolerated it in their opinions; because, though an evil, it was judged to be a necessary evil. The words of Menander are full to this effect: Γαμειν, εαν τις την αληθειαν σκοπῃ, κακον μεν εστιν, αλλ' αναγκαιον κακον· "If a man consider marriage in a proper point of view, it is an evil; but then it is a necessary evil." Metellus Numidicus spoke of it nearly in the same way. Si sine uxore possemus, Quirites, esse, omnes ea molestia careremus; sed quoniam ita natura tradidit, ut nec Cum Illis salis commode, nec Sine Illis ullo modo vivi possit, saluti perpetus potius quam brevi voluptati consulendum. "If, O ye Romans, we could live unmarried, we should be saved from a great deal of trouble; but, seeing that nature has so ordered it that we cannot live very comfortably with wives, and without them cannot live at all, marriage should be adopted, not for the sake of the short-lived pleasure, but rather for perpetual safety." But this was not the common opinion; the Jews absolutely required that every man should marry, and reputed those as murderers who did not. - See on Co1 7:6 (note). By the laws of Lycurgus unmarried persons were prohibited from seeing the public games. By the laws of the Spartans bachelors were punished. And Plato declares all such unworthy of any honor. And to this the commentator says, Amen.
Not to touch a woman - Γυναικος μη ἁπτεσθαι· The learned reader need not be informed in what sense ἁπτομαι is used among the Greeks, and langere among the Latins. For examples Wetstein may be consulted.
1 Corinthians 7:2
To avoid fornication - Δια τας πορνειας· verto, propter exercendam libidinem, vel ut libidinem licite exercere liceat. Probo hanc notionem ex Hebraeo, ibi זנה, zanah, est libidinem exercere, Hos 4:10 : For they shall eat and not have enough; they shall commit whoredom, תזנו, libidinem exercebunt, and shall not increase. Here the prophet certainly does not speak of whoredom in our sense of the word; for the persons he mentions expected to have children, which cannot be said of those who are addicted to improper connections: the prophet speaks concerning married persons, whom he threatens with a privation of children, notwithstanding libidinem exercebant in order to have numerous families. See Schoettgen. The following verse shows that this is the apostle's meaning.
Let every man have his own wife - Let every man have one woman, his own; and every woman one man, her own. Here, plurality of wives and husbands is most strictly forbidden; and they are commanded to marry for the purpose of procreating children.
In the Jewish constitutions there are some things not only curious, but useful, respecting marriage. "There are four causes which induce men to marry:
1. Impure desire;
2. To get riches;
3. To become honorable;
4. For the glory of God.
Those who marry through the first motive beget wicked and rebellious children. Those who marry for the sake of riches have the curse of leaving them to others. Those who marry for the sake of aggrandizing their family, their families shall be diminished. Those who marry to promote the glory of God, their children shall be holy, and by them shall the true Church be increased."
1 Corinthians 7:3
Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence - Την οφειλομενην ευνοιαν· Though our version is no translation of the original, yet few persons are at a loss for the meaning, and the context is sufficiently plain. Some have rendered the words, not unaptly, the matrimonial debt, or conjugal duty - that which a wife owes to her husband, and the husband to his wife; and which they must take care mutually to render, else alienation of affection will be the infallible consequence, and this in numberless instances has led to adulterous connections. In such cases the wife has to blame herself for the infidelity of her husband, and the husband for that of his wife. What miserable work has been made in the peace of families by a wife or a husband pretending to be wiser than the apostle, and too holy and spiritual to keep the commandments of God!
1 Corinthians 7:4
The wife hath not power, etc. - Her person belongs to her husband; her husband's person belongs to her: neither of them has any authority to refuse what the other has a matrimonial right to demand. The woman that would act so is either a knave or a fool. It would be trifling to attribute her conduct to any other cause than weakness or folly. She does not love her husband; or she loves some one else better than her husband; or she makes pretensions to a fancied sanctity unsupported by Scripture or common sense.
1 Corinthians 7:5
Defraud ye not one the other - What ye owe thus to each other never refuse paying, unless by mutual consent; and let that be only for a certain time, when prudence dictates the temporary separation, or when some extraordinary spiritual occasion may render it mutually agreeable, in order that ye may fast and pray, and derive the greatest possible benefit from these duties by being enabled to wait on the Lord without distraction.
That Satan tempt you not for your incontinency - It is most evident that the separations permitted by the Apostle, for he enjoins none, are only for a season, on extraordinary occasions; and that the persons may come together again, lest Satan, taking advantage of their matrimonial abstinence, might tempt either party to illicit commerce.
There are a multitude of rules prescribed in such cases by the rabbins, and indeed even by heathen writers; for this was a matter in which common sense could always judge; and under the direction of experience, heathens, as well as those favored with Divine revelation, could see what was proper in all such cases.
Incontinence, εικρασια, want of strength to regulate one's desires or appetites; from α, negative, and κρατος, strength. It is remarkable that the apostle supposes that even this temporary continence might produce incontinence; and universal observation confirms the supposition.
1 Corinthians 7:6
I speak this by permission, etc. - It was a constant custom of the more conscientious rabbins, to make a difference between the things which they enjoined on their own judgment, and those which they built on the authority of the law. Thus Rabbi Tancum: "The washing of hands before meat is in our own power; washing after meat is commanded." In relation to this point Dr. Lightfoot produces some examples from the Jewish writers: "The man is commanded concerning begetting and multiplying, but not the woman. And when does the man come under this command? From the age of sixteen or seventeen years; but, if he exceeds twenty years without marrying, behold he violates and renders an affirmative precept vain. The Gemara says: It is forbidden a man to be without a wife; because it is written, It is not good for man to be alone. And whosoever gives not himself to generation and multiplying is all one with a murderer: he is as though he diminished from the image of God, etc." We may understand the apostle here as saying that the directions already given were from his own judgment, and not from any Divine inspiration; and we may take it for granted that where he does not make this observation he is writing under the immediate afflatus of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 7:7
For I would that all men, etc. - He wished that all that were then in the Church were, like him self, unmarried; but this was in reference to the necessities of the Church, or what he calls, Co1 7:26, the present distress: for it never could be his wish that marriage should cease among men, and that human beings should no longer be propagated upon earth; nor could he wish that the Church of Christ should always be composed of single persons; this would have been equally absurd; but as the Church was then in straits and difficulties, it was much better for its single members not to encumber themselves with domestic embarrassments.
Every man hath his proper gift of God - Continence is a state that cannot be acquired by human art or industry; a man has it from God, or not at all: and if he have it from God, he has it from him as the author of his nature; for where it does not exist naturally, it never can exist, but either by miraculous interference, which should never be expected, or by chirurgical operation, which is a shocking abomination in the sight of God. See the note on Mat 19:12 (note).
1 Corinthians 7:8
The unmarried and widows - It is supposed that the apostle speaks here of men who had been married, in the word αγαμοι, but were now widowers; as he does of women who had been married, in the word χηραι, but were now widows. And when he says ὡς καγω, even as I, he means that he himself was a widower; for several of the ancients rank Paul among the married apostles.
1 Corinthians 7:9
But if they cannot contain - If they find it inconvenient and uncomfortable to continue as widowers and widows, let them remarry.
It is better to marry than to burn - Bishop Pearce translates the original thus: For it is better to marry than to be made uneasy. Πυρουσθαι, says he, "signifies primarily to burn; but in a metaphorical sense, to be troubled, vexed, or made uneasy. So in Co2 11:29 : Who is offended and I burn not, και ουκ εγω πυρουμαι, and I am not troubled. So in Terence, Uro hominem, is I vex him." It would be well to soften the sense of this word in reference to the subject of which the apostle speaks. He cannot mean burning with lust, no more than Virgil means so when he says, Aen. iv. ver. 68: Uritur infelix Dido, the unfortunate Dido is tormented; and in Eccl. ii. 68: Me tamen urit amor, love torments me. All this may be said with the strictest truth in such cases where the impure fire referred to above has no existence.
A curious story, which certainly casts light on the phraseology of this place, is related by Dr. Lightfoot, from the tract Kiddushin, fol. 81. "Some captive women were brought to Nehardea, and disposed in the house and the upper room of Rabbi Amram. They took away the ladder (that the women might not get down, but stay there till they were ransomed.) As one of these captives passed by the window, the light of her great beauty shined into the house. Amram (captivated) set up the ladder; and when he was got to the middle of the steps (checked by his conscience) he stopped short, and with a loud voice cried out Fire! Fire! in the house of Amram! (This he did that, the neighbors flocking in, he might be obliged to desist from the evil affection which now prevailed in him.) The rabbins ran to him, and (seeing no fire) they said, Thou hast disgraced us. To which he replied: It is better that ye be disgraced in the house of Amram in this world, then that ye be disgraced by me in the world to come. He then adjured that evil affection to go out of him, and it went out as a pillar of Fire. Amram said: Thou art Fire, and I am Flesh; yet for all that I have prevailed against thee." From this story much instruction may be derived.
1 Corinthians 7:10
I command, yet not I, but the Lord - I do not give my own private opinion or judgment in this case; for the Lord Jesus commands that man shall not put asunder them whom God hath joined, Mat 5:32; Mat 19:6. And God has said the same, Gen 2:24. The following extracts will prove that the law among the Jews was very loose relative to the firmness of the marriage bond: -
A woman might put away or depart from her husband by giving this simple reason to the elders, who would give the following certificate.
"In ____ day of ____ week, of ____ year, A., daughter of B., put away before us and said: My mother, or my brethren, deceived me, and wedded me or betrothed me, when I was a very young maid, to C., son of D.; but I now reveal my mind before you, that I will not have him."
Sometimes they parted with mutual consent, and this also was considered legal, as was also the marriage of the separated parties to others. Witness the following story: "A good man had a good wife; but because they had no children, they mutually put away each other. The good man married a bad (a heathen) wife, and she made him bad (a heathen); the good woman married a bad (a heathen) husband, and she made him good." Divorces were easily obtained among them, and they considered them the dissolving of the marriage bond; and, in consequence of these, the parties might remarry with others. This was contrary to the original institution of marriage, and is opposed both by our Lord and the apostle.
1 Corinthians 7:11
But, and if she depart - He puts the case as probable, because it was frequent, but lays it under restrictions.
Let her remain unmarried - She departs at her own peril; but she must not marry another: she must either continue unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband.
And let not the husband put away his wife - Divorces cannot be allowed but in the case of fornication: an act of this kind dissolves the marriage vow; but nothing else can. It is a fact that, among the Jews, the wife had just as much right to put away her husband as the husband had to put away his wife. As divorces were granted, it was right that each should have an equal power; for this served as a mutual check.
1 Corinthians 7:12
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord - As if he had said: For what I have already spoken I have the testimony of the Lord by Moses, and of my own Lord and Master, Christ; but for the directions which I am now about to give there is no written testimony, and I deliver them now for the first time. These words do not intimate that the apostle was not now under the influences of the Divine Spirit; but, that there was nothing in the sacred writings which bore directly on this point.
If any brother - A Christian man, have a wife that believeth not, i.e. who is a heathen, not yet converted to the Christian faith, and she be pleased to dwell with him, notwithstanding his turning Christian since their marriage, let him not put her away because she still continues in her heathen superstition.
1 Corinthians 7:13
And the woman - Converted from heathenism to the Christian faith; which hath a husband, who still abides in heathenism; if he be pleased to dwell with her, notwithstanding she has become a Christian since their marriage; let her not leave him because he still continues a heathen.
1 Corinthians 7:14
The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife - Or rather, is to be reputed as sanctified on account of his wife; she being a Christian woman, and he, though a heathen, being by marriage one flesh with her: her sanctity, as far as it refers to outward things, may be considered as imputed to him so as to render their connection not unlawful. The case is the same when the wife is a heathen and the husband a Christian. The word sanctification here is to be applied much more to the Christian state than to any moral change in the persons; for ἁγιοι, saints, is a common term for Christians - those who were baptized into the faith of Christ; and as its corresponding term קדושים kedoshim signified all the Jews who were in the covenant of God by circumcision, the heathens in question were considered to be in this holy state by means of their connection with those who were by their Christian profession saints.
Else were your children unclean - If this kind of relative sanctification were not allowed, the children of these persons could not be received into the Christian Church, nor enjoy any rights, or privileges as Christians; but the Church of God never scrupled to admit such children as members, just as well as she did those who had sprung from parents both of whom were Christians.
The Jews considered a child as born out of holiness whose parents were not proselytes at the time of the birth, though afterwards they became proselytes. On the other hand, they considered the children of heathens born in holiness, provided the parents became proselytes before the birth. All the children of the heathens were reputed unclean by the Jews; and all their own children holy. - See Dr. Lightfoot. This shows clearly what the apostle's meaning is.
If we consider the apostle as speaking of the children of heathens, we shall get a remarkable comment on this passage from Tertullian, who, in his treatise De Carne Christi, chaps. 37, 39, gives us a melancholy account of the height to which superstition and idolatry had arrived in his time among the Romans. "A child," says he, "from its very conception, was dedicated to the idols and demons they worshipped. While pregnant, the mother had her body swathed round with bandages, prepared with idolatrous rites. The embryo they conceived to be under the inspection of the goddess Alemona, who nourished it in the womb. Nona and Decima took care that it should be born in the ninth or tenth month. Partula adjusted every thing relative to the labor; and Lucina ushered it into the light. During the week preceding the birth a table was spread for Juno; and on the last day certain persons were called together to mark the moment on which the Parcae, or Fates, had fixed its destiny. The first step the child set on the earth was consecrated to the goddess Statina; and, finally, some of the hair was cut off, or the whole head shaven, and the hair offered to some god or goddess through some public or private motive of devotion." He adds that "no child among the heathens was born in a state of purity; and it is not to be wondered at," says he, "that demons possess them from their youth, seeing they were thus early dedicated to their service." In reference to this, he thinks, St. Paul speaks in the verse before us: The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife - else were your children unclean; but now are they holy; i.e. "As the parents were converted to the Christian faith, the child comes into the world without these impure and unhallowed rites; and is from its infancy consecrated to the true God."
1 Corinthians 7:15
But if the unbelieving, depart - Whether husband or wife: if such obstinately depart and utterly refuse all cohabitation, a brother or a sister - a Christian man or woman, is not under bondage to any particular laws, so as to be prevented from remarrying. Such, probably, the law stood then; but it is not so now; for the marriage can only be dissolved by death, or by the ecclesiastical court. Even fornication or adultery does not dissolve the marriage contract; nor will the obstinate separation of any of the parties, however long continued, give the party abandoned authority to remarry. If the person have been beyond sea, and not heard of for seven years, it is presumed he may be dead; and marriage has been connived at in such cases. If there be no person to complain, it may be presumed that there is none injured. But I have known instances where even a marriage after seven years' absence has been very unfortunate; the husband returning at the end of ten or twelve years, and to his utter distress finding his wife married to another man, and with issue of that marriage! There can be no safety in this case, unless there be absolute certainty of the death of the party in question.
God hath called us to peace - The refractory and disagreeing party should not be compelled to fulfill such matrimonial engagements as would produce continual jarring and discord. At the same time each should take care that he give no cause for disagreements and separations, for the author of the Christian religion is the author of peace, and has called us to it.
1 Corinthians 7:16
For what knowest thou, O wife - You that are Christians, and who have heathen partners, do not give them up because they are such, for you may become the means of saving them unto eternal life. Bear your cross, and look up to God, and he may give your unbelieving husband or wife to your prayers.
1 Corinthians 7:17
But as God hath distributed to every man, etc. - Let every man fulfill the duties of the state to which God in the course of his providence has called him.
So ordain I in all Churches - I do not lay on you a burden which others are not called to bear: this is the general rule which, by the authority of God, I impose on every Christian society.
1 Corinthians 7:18
Is any man called being circumcised? - Is any man who was formerly a Jew converted to Christianity?
Let him not become circumcised - Let him not endeavor to abolish the sign of the old covenant, which he bears in his flesh. The Greek words μη επισπασθω, let him not draw over, are evidently an elliptical expression: the word την ακροβυστιαν, the fore-skin, being understood; which, indeed, is added by the Armenian and the Itala, and several of the Latin fathers. It is a fact that it was possible by the assistance of art to do this; and Celsus himself prescribes the mode, De Medic. vii. 25. By frequent stretching, the circumcised skin could be again so drawn over, as to prevent the ancient sign of circumcision from appearing. Some in their zeal against Judaism endeavored to abolish this sign of it in their flesh: it is most evidently against this that the apostle speaks. Many false Jews made use of this practice, that they might pass through heathen countries unobserved; otherwise, in frequenting the baths they would have been detected.
Let him not be circumcised - Let no man who, being a Gentile, has been converted to the Christian faith, submit to circumcision as something necessary to his salvation.
1 Corinthians 7:19
Circumcision is nothing - Circumcision itself, though commanded of God, is nothing of itself, it being only a sign of the justification which should be afterwards received by faith. At present, neither it nor its opposite either hinders or furthers the work of grace; and keeping the commandments of God, from his love shed abroad in a believing heart, is the sum and substance of religion.
1 Corinthians 7:20
Let every man abide in the same calling - As both the circumcised and uncircumcised, in Christ, have the same advantages, and to their believing the same facilities; so any situation of life is equally friendly to the salvation of the soul, if a man be faithful to the grace he has received. Therefore, in all situations a Christian should be content, for all things work together for good to him who loves God.
1 Corinthians 7:21
Art thou called being a servant? - Δουλος εκληθης, Art thou converted to Christ while thou art a slave - the property of another person, and bought with his money? care not for it - this will not injure thy Christian condition, but if thou canst obtain thy liberty - use it rather - prefer this state for the sake of freedom, and the temporal advantages connected with it.
1 Corinthians 7:22
For he that is called - The man who, being a slave, is converted to the Christian faith, is the Lord's freeman; his condition as a slave does not vitiate any of the privileges to which he is entitled as a Christian: on the other hand, all free men, who receive the grace of Christ, must consider themselves the slaves of the Lord, i.e. his real property, to be employed and disposed of according to his godly wisdom, who, notwithstanding their state of subjection, will find the service of their Master to be perfect freedom.
1 Corinthians 7:23
Ye are bought with a price - As truly as your bodies have become the property of your masters, in consequence of his paying down a price for you; so sure you are now the Lord's property, in consequence of your being purchased by the blood of Christ.
Some render this verse interrogatively: Are ye bought with a price from your slavery? Do not again become slaves of men. Never sell yourselves; prefer and retain your liberty now that ye have acquired it.
In these verses the apostle shows that the Christian religion does not abolish our civil connections; in reference to them, where it finds us, there it leaves us. In whatever relation we stood before our embracing Christianity, there we stand still; our secular condition being no farther changed than as it may be affected by the amelioration of our moral character. But slavery, and all buying and selling of the bodies and souls of men, no matter what color or complexion, is a high offense against the holy and just God, and a gross and unprincipled attack on the liberty and rights of our fellow creatures.
1 Corinthians 7:24
Let every man - abide with God - Let him live to God in whatsoever station he is placed by Providence. If he be a slave, God will be with him even in his slavery, if he be faithful to the grace which he has received. It is very likely that some of the slaves at Corinth, who had been converted to Christianity, had been led to think that their Christian privileges absolved them from the necessity of continuing slaves; or, at least, brought them on a level with their Christian masters. A spirit of this kind might have soon led to confusion and insubordination, and brought scandals into the Church. It was therefore a very proper subject for the apostle to interfere in; and to his authority, the persons concerned would doubtless respectfully bow.
1 Corinthians 7:25
Now concerning virgins - This was another subject on which the Church at Corinth had asked the advice of the apostle. The word παρθενος, virgin, we take to signify a pure, unmarried young woman; but it is evident that the word in this place means young unmarried persons of either sex, as appears from Co1 7:26, Co1 7:27, Co1 7:32-34, and from Rev 14:4. The word παρθενος, virgin, is frequently applied to men as well as to women. See Suidas, under the word Αβελ· οὑτος παρθενος και δι καιος ὑπηρχε, He (Abel) was a virgin, and a righteous man. In Co1 7:36 the word is supposed to mean the state of virginity or celibacy, and very probable reasons are assigned for it; and it is evident that persons of either sex in a state of celibacy are the persons intended.
I have no commandment of the Lord - There is nothing in the sacred writings that directly touches this point.
Yet I give my judgment - As every way equal to such commandments had there been any, seeing I have received the teaching of his own Spirit, and have obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful to this heavenly gift, so that it abides with me to lead me into all truth. In this way I think the apostle's words may be safely understood.
1 Corinthians 7:26
This is good for the present distress - There was no period in the heathen times when the Church was not under persecutions and afflictions; on some occasions these were more oppressive than at others.
The word αναγκη signifies, necessity, distress, tribulation, and calamity; as it does in Luk 21:23; Co2 6:4; Co2 12:10. In such times, when the people of God had no certain dwelling-place, when they were lying at the mercy of their enemies without any protection from the state - the state itself often among the persecutors - he who had a family to care for, would find himself in very embarrassed circumstances, as it would be much more easy to provide for his personal safety than to have the care of a wife and children. On this account it was much better for unmarried persons to continue for the present in their celibacy.
1 Corinthians 7:27
Art thou bound unto a wife? - i.e. Married; for the marriage contract was considered in the light of a bond.
Seek not to be loosed - Neither regret your circumstances, notwithstanding the present distress, nor seek on this account for a dissolution of the marriage contract. But if thou art under no matrimonial engagements, do not for the present enter into any.
1 Corinthians 7:28
But, and if thou marry - As there is no law against this, even in the present distress, thou hast not sinned, because there is no law against this; and it is only on account of prudential reasons that I give this advice.
And if a virgin marry - Both the man and the woman have equal privileges in this case; either of them may marry without sin. It is probable, as there were many sects and parties in Corinth, that there were among them those who forbade to marry, Ti1 4:3, and who might have maintained other doctrines of devils besides. These persons, or such doctrines, the apostle has in view when he says, They may marry and yet not sin.
Trouble in the flesh - From the simple circumstance of the incumbrance of a family while under persecution; because of the difficulty of providing for its comfort and safety while flying before the face of persecution.
But I spare you - The evil is coming; but I will not press upon you the observance of a prudential caution, which you might deem too heavy a cross.
1 Corinthians 7:29
The time is short - These persecutions and distresses are at the door, and life itself will soon be run out. Even then Nero was plotting those grievous persecutions with which he not only afflicted, but devastated the Church of Christ.
They that have wives - Let none begin to think of any comfortable settlement for his family, let him sit loose to all earthly concerns, and stand ready prepared to escape for his life, or meet death, as the providence of God may permit. The husband will be dragged from the side of his wife to appear before the magistrates, and be required either to abjure Christ or die.
Linquenda tellus, et domus, et placens
Uxor; neque harum, quas colis, arborum
Te, praeter invisas cupressos,
Ulla brevem dominum sequetur.
Hor. Odar. lib. ii., Od. xiv., v. 22.
Your pleasing consort must be left;
And you, of house and lands bereft,
Must to the shades descend:
The cypress only, hated tree!
Of all thy much-loved groves, shall thee,
Its short-lived lord, attend.
Poor heathenism! thou couldst give but cold comfort in such circumstances as these: and infidelity, thy younger brother, is no better provided than thou.
1 Corinthians 7:30
They that weep, etc. - There will shortly be such a complete system of distress and confusion that private sorrows and private joys will be absorbed in the weightier and more oppressive public evils: yet, let every man still continue in his calling, let him buy, and sell, and traffic, as usual; though in a short time, either by the coming persecution or the levelling hand of death, he that had earthly property will be brought into the same circumstances with him who had none.
1 Corinthians 7:31
And they that use this world - Let them who have earthly property or employments discharge conscientiously their duties, from a conviction of the instability of earthly things. Make a right use of every thing, and pervert nothing from its use. To use a thing is to employ it properly in order to accomplish the end to which it refers. To abuse a thing signifies to pervert it from that use. Pass through things temporal, so as not to lose those which are eternal.
For the fashion of this world - Το σχημα του κοσμον τουτου signifies properly the present state or constitution of things; the frame of the world, that is, the world itself. But often the term κοσμος, world, is taken to signify the Jewish state and polity; the destruction of this was then at hand, and this the Holy Spirit might then signify to the apostle.
1 Corinthians 7:32
Without carefulness - Though all these things will shortly come to pass, yet do not be anxious about them. Every occurrence is under the direction and management of God. The wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder of it he shall restrain, and none can harm you if ye be followers of that which is good. We should all take the advice of the poet: -
"With patient mind thy course of duty run;
God nothing does, nor suffers to be done,
But thou wouldst do thyself, couldst thou but see
The end of all events as well as He."
He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord - He has nothing to do with a family, and therefore can give his whole time to the service of his Maker, having him alone to please.
1 Corinthians 7:33
But he that is married - He has a family to provide for, and his wife to please, as well as to fulfill his duty to God, and attend to the concerns of his own soul. The single man has nothing to attend to but what concerns his own salvation: the married man has all this to attend to, and besides to provide for his wife and family, and take care of their eternal interests also. The single man has very little trouble comparatively; the married man has a great deal. The single man is an atom in society; the married man is a small community in himself. The former is the centre of his own existence, and lives for himself alone; the latter is diffused abroad, makes a much more important part of the body social, and provides both for its support and continuance. The single man lives for and does good to himself only; the married man lives both for himself and the public. Both the state and the Church of Christ are dependent on the married man, as from him under God the one has subjects, the other members; while the single man is but an individual in either, and by and by will cease from both, and having no posterity is lost to the public for ever. The married man, therefore, far from being in a state of inferiority to the single man, is beyond him out of the limits of comparison. He can do all the good the other can do, though perhaps sometimes in a different way; and he can do ten thousand goods that the other cannot possibly do. And therefore both himself and his state are to be preferred infinitely before those of the other. Nor could the apostle have meant any thing less; only for the present distress he gave his opinion that it was best for those who were single to continue so. And who does not see the propriety of the advice?
1 Corinthians 7:34
There is a difference also between a wife and a virgin - That is: There is this difference between a married and an unmarried woman. The unmarried careth (only) for the things of the Lord, having no domestic duties to perform. That she may be holy - separated to Divine employments, both in body and spirit. Whereas she that is married careth (also) for the things of the world, how she may please her husband, having many domestic duties to fulfill, her husband being obliged to leave to her the care of the family, and all other domestic concerns.
On this verse there is a profusion of various readings in MSS., versions, and fathers, for which I must refer to Griesbach, as it would be impossible to introduce them here so as to make them look like sense.
1 Corinthians 7:35
This I speak for your own profit - The advices belong to yourselves alone, because of the peculiar circumstances in which you are placed. Nothing spoken here was ever designed to be of general application; it concerned the Church at Corinth alone, or Churches in similar circumstances.
Not that I may cast a snare upon you - Ουχ ἱνα βροχον ὑμιν επιβαλω - Here is a manifest allusion to the Retiarius among the Romans, who carried a small casting net, which he endeavored to throw over the head of his adversary and thus entangle him. Or to a similar custom among the Persians, who made use of a noose called the camand; which they employed in the same way. One of these lies before me; it is a strong silken cord, one end of which is a loop to be held in the hand, and the rest is in the form of a common snare or noose, which, catching hold of any thing, tightens in proportion as it is pulled by the hand that holds the loop.
The apostle, therefore, intimates that what he says was not intended absolutely to bind them, but to show them the propriety of following an advice which in the present case would be helpful to them in their religious connections, that they might attend upon the Lord without distraction, which they could not do in times of persecution, when, in addition to their own personal safety, they had a wife and children to care for.
For that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction , - The original αλλα προς το ευσχημον και ευπροσεδρον τῳ Κυριῳ απερισπαστως, of which our version is only a paraphrase, is thus translated by Bishop Pearson: But for the sake of decency, and of attending more easily upon the Lord without distraction. This is much more literal than ours.
1 Corinthians 7:36
Uncomely towards his virgin - Different meanings have been assigned to this verse; I shall mention three of the principal.
1. "In those early times, both among the Hebrews and Christians, the daughters were wholly in the power of the father, so that he might give or not give them in marriage as he chose; and might bind them to perpetual celibacy if he thought proper; and to this case the apostle alludes. If the father had devoted his daughter to perpetual virginity, and he afterwards found that she had fixed her affections upon a person whom she was strongly inclined to marry, and was now getting past the prime of life; he, seeing from his daughter's circumstances that it would be wrong to force her to continue in her state of celibacy; though he had determined before to keep her single, yet he might in this case alter his purpose without sin, and let her and her suitor marry."
2. "The whole verse and its context speaks of young women dedicated to the service of God, who were called παρθενοι, virgins, in the primitive Church. And a case is put here, 'that circumstances might occur to render the breach of even a vow of this kind necessary, and so no sin be committed.'"
3. "The apostle by παρθενος, does not mean a virgin, but the state of virginity or celibacy, whether in man or woman." Both Mr. Locke and Dr. Whitby are of this opinion, and the latter reasons on it thus: -
It is generally supposed that these three verses relate to virgins under the power of parents and guardians and the usual inference is, that children are to be disposed of in marriage by the parents, guardians, etc. Now this may be true, but it has no foundation in the text, for τηρειν την ἑαυτου παρθενον is not to keep his daughter's, but his own virginity, or rather his purpose of virginity; for, as Phavorinus says, He is called a virgin who freely gives himself up to the Lord, renouncing matrimony, and preferring a life spent in continency. And that this must be the true import of these words appears from this consideration, that this depends upon the purpose of his own heart, and the power he has over his own will, and the no necessity arising from himself to change this purpose. Whereas the keeping a daughter unmarried depends not on these conditions on her father's part but on her own; for, let her have a necessity, and surely the apostle would not advise the father to keep her a virgin, because he had determined so to do; nor could there be any doubt whether the father had power over his own will or not, when no necessity lay upon him to betroth his virgin. The Greek runs to this sense: if he had stood already firm in his heart, finding no necessity, viz. to change his purpose; and hath power over his own will, not to marry; finding himself able to persist in the resolution he had made to keep his virginity, he does well to continue a virgin: and then the phrase, if any man think he behaves himself unseemly towards his virgin, if it be over-aged, and thinks he ought rather to join in marriage, refers to the opinions both of Jews and Gentiles that all ought to marry. The Jews say that the time of marriage is from 16 or 17 to 20; while some of the Gentiles specify from 30 to 35. If any think thus, says the apostle, let them do what they will, they sin not: let them marry. And then he concludes with those words applied to both cases: so then, both he that marries doeth well, and he that marries not, doeth better.
This last opinion seems to be the true sense of the apostle.
It may be necessary to make a few general observations on these verses, summing up what has been said.
1. Παρθενος here should be considered as implying not a virgin, but the state of virginity or celibacy.
2. Ὑπερακμος, over-aged, must refer to the passing of that time in which both the laws and customs of Jews and Gentiles required men to marry. See above, and see the note on Co1 7:6.
3. Και οὑτως οφειλει γινεσθαι, And need so require; or, if there appear to be a necessity; is to be understood of any particular change in his circumstances or in his feelings; or, that he finds, from the law and custom in the case, that it is a scandal for him not to marry; then let him do what he wills or purposes.
4. Instead of γαμειτωσαν, let Them marry, I think γαμειτω, let Him marry, is the true reading, and agrees best with the context. This reading is supported by D*EFG, Syriac, in the Arabic, Slavonic, one of the Itala, and St. Augustine. Si nubat, if he marry, is the reading of the Vulgate, several copies of the Itala, Ambrose, Jerome, Ambrosiaster, Sedulius, and Bede. This reading is nearly of the same import with the other: Let him do what he willeth, he sinneth not, let him marry; or, he sinneth not if he marry.
5. The whole of the 37th verse relates to the purpose that the man has formed; and the strength that he has to keep his purpose of perpetual celibacy, being under no necessity to change that purpose.
6. Instead of ὁ εκγαμιζων, he who giveth her in marriage, I purpose to read ὁ γαμιζων, he who marrieth, which is the reading of the Codex Alexandrinus, the Codex Vaticanus, No. 1209, and of some others: with Clement, Methodius, and Basil. Την ἑαυτου παρθενον, his own virgin, is added after the above, by several very ancient and reputable MSS, as also by the Syriac, Armenian, Vulgate, Ethiopic, Clement, Basil, Optatus, and others; but it seems so much like a gloss, that Griesbach has not made it even a candidate for a place in the text. He then who marrieth, though previously intending perpetual virginity, doeth well; as this is agreeable to laws both Divine and human: and he who marrieth not, doeth better, because of the present distress. See Co1 7:26.
1 Corinthians 7:39
The wife is bound by the law - This seems to be spoken in answer to some other question of the Corinthians to this effect: "May a woman remarry whose husband is dead, or who has abandoned her?" To which he replies, in general, That as long as her husband is living the law binds her to him alone; but, if the husband die, she is free to remarry, but only in the Lord; that is she must not marry a heathen nor an irreligious man; and she should not only marry a genuine Christian, but one of her own religious sentiments; for, in reference to domestic peace, much depends on this.
1 Corinthians 7:40
But she is happier if she so abide - If she continue in her widowhood because of the present distress; for this must always be taken in, that consistency in the apostle's reasoning may be preserved. If this were not understood, how could St. Paul tell the widow that it would be more happy for her to continue in her widowhood than to remarry? She who had tried both the state of celibacy and the state of marriage could certainly best tell which was most for her comfort; and he could not tell any thing but by an express revelation from heaven, relative to the future state of any widow: it is certain that he can never be understood as speaking in general, as there are multitudes of persons abundantly more happy in their married than in their single state; and there are many widows also much more happy in their second marriage than they have been in their first.
After my judgment - According to the view I have of the subject, which view I take by the light of the Divine Spirit, who shows me the tribulations which are coming on the Church. But, says he, Co1 7:28 : I spare you - I will not be more explicit concerning coming evils, as I wish to save you from all forebodings which bring torment.
I think - I have the Spirit of God - Δοκω δε κᾳγω Πνευμα Θεου εχειν might be translated, I am Certain that I have the Spirit of God. This sense of δοκειν (which we translate to seem, to think, to appear, etc.) I have noticed in another part of this work. Ulpian, on Demosthen. Olynth. 1, says, Το δοκειν ου παντως επι αμφιβολου ταττουσιν οἱ παλαιοι αλλα πολλακις και επι του αληθευειν· The word δοκειν is used by the ancients, not always to express what is Doubtful, but often to express what is True and Certain. - See Bp. Pearce. The apostle cannot be understood as expressing any doubt of his being under the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, as this would have defeated his object in giving the above advices; for if they were not dictated by the Spirit of God, can it be supposed that, in the face of apparent self-interest, and the prevalence of strong passions, they could have been expected to have become rules of conduct to this people? They must have understood him as asserting that he had the direction of the Spirit of God in giving those opinions, else they could not be expected to obey.
1. In the preceding chapter we have met with subjects both of difficulty and importance. As to the difficulties, it is hoped that they have been so generally considered in the notes that few or none of them remain; and on the subjects of peculiar importance much time has been spent, in order to impress them on the mind of the reader. The delicacy of some of them would not admit of greater plainness; and in a few instances I have been obliged to wrap the meaning in a foreign language.
2. On the important subject of marriage I have said what I believe to be true, and scruple not to say that it is the most useful state in which - the human being can be placed; and consequently that in which most honor may be brought to God. I have listened with much attention for the better part of half a century to the arguments against marriage and in favor of celibacy; and I have had the opportunity of being acquainted with many who endeavored to exemplify their own doctrine. But I have seen an end of all their perfection: neither the world nor the Church are under any obligations to them: they either married when they could do it to their mind and convenience; or, continuing in their celibacy, they lived a comparatively useless life; and died as they should, unregretted. The doctrine is not only dangerous but anti-scriptural: and I hope I have sufficiently vindicated Paul from being its patron or supporter.
3. While I contend for the superior excellence of the marriage state, I hope I shall not be understood to be the apologist of indiscriminate marriages - no, many of them are blamable in a very high degree. Instead of consulting common sense and propriety, childish affections, brutish passions, or the love of money are the motives on which many of them have been contracted. Such marriages are miserable; must be so, and should not be otherwise; and superficial people looking at these form an estimate of the state itself, and then indulge themselves in exclaiming against an ordinance of God, either perverted by themselves or the equally foolish persons who are the subjects of their animadversion. That genuine Christians can never be so useful in any state as that of marriage I am fully convinced; but to be happy, the marriage must be in the Lord. When believers match with unbelievers, generally pars sincera trahitur; the good becomes perverted; and Satan has his triumph when he has got an immortal soul out of the Church of Christ into his own synagogue. But who among young people will lay this to heart? And how few among young men and young women will not sell their Savior and his people for a husband or a wife!
4. The doctrine of second marriages has been long a subject of controversy in the Church. The Scriptures, properly understood, have not only nothing against them, but much for them. And in this chapter St. Paul, in the most pointed manner, admits of them. A widow may marry again, only let it be in the Lord; and a widower has certainly the same privilege.
5. The conversion which the Scripture requires, though it makes a most essential change in our souls in reference to God, and in our works in reference both to God and man, makes none in our civil state: even if a man is called, i.e. converted in a state of slavery, he does not gain his manumission in consequence of his conversion; he stands in the same relation both to the state and to his fellows that he stood in before; and is not to assume any civil rights or privileges in consequence of the conversion of his soul to God. The apostle decides the matter in this chapter, and orders that every man should abide in the calling wherein he is called.
6. From the 20th to the 23rd verse the apostle refers to the state of slavery among the Greeks; and from what he says we find that even among the slaves there were Christian converts, to whom, though he recommends submission and contentment, yet he intimates that if they could get their freedom they should prefer it; and he strongly charges those that were free not to become again the slaves of men, Co1 7:23; from which we learn that a man might dispose of his own liberty, which, in a Christian, would be a disgrace to his redemption by Christ. The word ελευθερος, which we translate freeman, means properly freed-man, one who had been a slave but had regained his liberty. It is the same as libertus among the Romans, one who was manumitted. The manumission was performed three several ways:
1. The consent of the master that the slave should have his name entered in the census; or public register of the citizens.
2. The slave was led before the praetor, and the magistrate laid his wand, called vindicta, on his head, and declared him free.
3. By testament or will, the master bequeathing to the slave his freedom. The manner in which the second mode of manumission was performed is curious. The praetor having laid the rod vindicta upon the slave's head, pronounced these words, Dico eum liberum esse more Quiritum, "I pronounce him free according to the custom of the Romans." This done he gave the rod to the lictor, or serjeant, who struck the slave with it upon the head, and afterwards with the hand upon the face and back. The head also of the slave was shaven, and a cup given him by his master as a token of freedom, and the notary entered the name of the new freed-man in the public register, with the reasons of his manumission: it was customary also to give him another surname.
7. Among our Saxon ancestors, and also after the conquest, there was a species of slavery: all the villani were slaves to their respective lords, and each was bound to serve him in a great variety of ways. There is a profusion of curious examples of this in the ancient record preserved in the bishop's auditor's office in the cathedral of Durham, commonly known by the name of the Bolden Book. This record has been lately printed under the direction of his majesty's commissioners on the public records of the kingdom, in the supplement to Domesday Book.
8. Among our Saxon ancestors manumissions were granted on various accounts:
1. A person might, if able, purchase his own freedom.
2. One man might purchase the freedom of another.
3. Manumissions were granted to procure by their merit the salvation of departed souls.
4. Persons were manumitted also in order to be consecrated to the service of God. These manumissions were usually recorded in some holybook, especially in copies of the four Evangelists, which, being preserved in the libraries of abbeys, etc., were a continual record, and might at all convenient times be consulted. Several entries of these manumissions exist in a MS. of the four Evangelists, s. 4, 14, in the library of Corpus Christi or Bennet college, Cambridge.
I shall produce a specimen of one of the several kinds mentioned above, giving the original only of the first; and of the others, verbal translations.
1. The certificate of a man's having purchased his own freedom.
"Here is witnessed, in this book of Christ, that Aelfwig the Red hath redeemed himself from Abbot Aelfsig, and the whole convent, with one pound. And this is witnessed by the whole convent at Bath.
May Christ strike him blind
Who this writing perverts."
This is a usual execration at the end of these forms, and is in rhyme in the original.
2. Certificate of one having purchased the liberty of another.
"Here is witnessed, in this book of Christ, that Aedric Atford has redeemed Saegyfa, his daughter, from the Abbot Aelfsig, and from the convent of Bath, to be for ever free, and all her posterity."
3. Certificate of redemption in behalf of one departed.
"Here is witnessed, in this book of Christ, that Aelfric Scot and Aegelric Scot are manumitted for the soul of Abbot Aelfsig, to perpetual liberty. This was done with the testimony of the whole convent."
4. Certificate of persons manumitted to be devoted to the service of God.
"Here is witnessed, in this book of Christ, that John bought Gunnilda the daughter of Thurkill, from Goda, widow of Leafenath, with half a pound. With the testimony of the whole convent.
May Christ strike him blind
Who this writing perverts.
And he has dedicated her to Christ and St. Peter, in behalf of his mother's soul."
9. When a man was made free, it was either in the church or at some public meeting: the sheriff of the county took him by the right hand and proclaimed him a freeman, and showed him the open door and the public highway, intimating that he was free to go whithersoever he pleased, and then gave him the arms of a freeman, viz. a spear and a sword. In some cases the man was to pay thirty pence to his master of hide money, intimating that he was no longer under restraint, chastisement, or correction. From which it appears that our ancestors were in the habit of flogging their slaves. See the laws of Ina, c. 24, 39; of Wm. the Conqueror, c. 65; and of Hen. I. c. 78.
10. Among the Gentoos the manumission of a slave was as follows: The slave took a pitcher, filled it with water, and put therein berenge-arook (rice that had been cleansed without boiling) and flowers of doob, (a kind of small salad), and taking the pitcher on his shoulder he stands near his master; the master then puts the pitcher on the slave's head, breaks it so that the water, rice, flowers, and doob that were in the pitcher may fall on the slave's body: when this is done the master thrice pronounces, I have made thee free; then the slave steps forward a few paces towards the east, and then the manumission is complete. See Code of Gentoo laws, chap. 8: sec. 2, page 160. It is evident that the whole of this ceremony is emblematical:
1. The pitcher represents the confined, servile state of the slave.
2. The articles contained in it, his exclusion while in a state of slavery from the grand benefits and comforts of life.
3. The water contained in the pitcher, his exclusion from the refreshing influences of heaven; for slaves were not permitted to take part in the ordinances of religion.
4. The clean, unboiled rice, his incapacity to have secular possessions; for slaves were not permitted to possess lands either by inheritance or purchase: a slave could sow no seed for himself, and consequently have no legal claim on support from this staff of life.
5. The doob or salad shut up, his being without relish for that state of being which was rendered insupportable to him by his thraldom.
6. The breaking of the pitcher, his manumission and enjoyment of liberty: being as free to go whithersoever he would as the water was to run, being now disengaged from the pitcher.
7. The shedding of the water, rice, flower, etc., over his body, his privilege of enjoying and possessing every heavenly and earthly good.
8. His stepping towards the east, his acknowledgment to the supreme Being, the fountain of light and life, (of whom the sun was the emblem), for his enlargement; and his eagerness to possess the light and comfort of that new state of happiness into which he was now brought in consequence of his manumission.
11. The description that Dr. John Taylor gives, in his Elements of Civil Law, of the state of slaves among the ancients, will nearly suit with their state among our ancestors, though scarcely as bad as their state in the West Indies. "They were held among the Romans, pro nullis; pro mortuis; pro quadrupedibus: - for no men; for dead men; for beasts: nay, were in a much worse state than any cattle whatever. They had no head in the state, no name, no tribe or register. They were not capable of being injured, nor could they take by purchase or descent, had no heirs, and could make no will. Exclusive of what was called their peculium, whatever they acquired was their master's; they could neither plead nor be impleaded; but were entirely excluded from all civil concerns; were not entitled to the rights of matrimony, and therefore had no relief in case of adultery; nor were they proper objects of cognation or affinity. They might be sold, transferred, or pawned, like other goods or personal estate; for goods they were, and such were they esteemed. They might be tortured for evidence, punished at the discretion of their lord, and even put to death, by his authority. They were laid under several other civil incapacities, too tedious to mention." When all this is considered, we may at once see the horrible evil of slavery, and wonder at the grace which could render them happy and contented in this situation see the preceding chapter, Co1 7:20-22. And yet we need not be surprised that the apostle should say to those who were free or freed, Ye are bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
12. I have entered the more particularly into this subject, because it, or allusions to it, are frequently occurring in the New Testament, and I speak of it here once for all. And, to conclude, I here register my testimony against the unprincipled, inhuman, anti-Christian, and diabolical slave-trade, with all its authors, promoters, abettors, and sacrilegious gains; as well as against the great devil, the father of it and them.