In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul tackles the subject of virginity as opposed to the state of marriage. It’s a tricky subject which many have struggled with, and many have been offended. Looking carefully at the Greek, however, straightens out some of the problems caused by our English translations. Some questions do remain of course, but this is my assessment of what Paul is actually saying.

1 Corinthians 7:25-40 MCV

25 Now, about virgins I have no command from the Lord, but I will give my opinion, as one who by the Lord’s mercy may be relied on.

It would seem Paul had received some kind of enquiry from the Corinthians regarding the options open to virgins of either sex. He is still clarifying that living a life free of sin is the target, so he wants to make clear that marital states are unimportant in themselves.

26 I think it best, because of the present need, to retain your current condition.

Exactly what this “present need” was is not clear, but it’s not going to derail Paul’s determination that all should remain in the situation their calling found them. Whatever our condition, we cannot improve it by changing our circumstances since even utter destitution with intimate fellowship with Christ is riches indeed. In wanting to change our circumstances, what we are yearning for are actually the illusions of the world—the illusion that we can be in control of our own lives and circumstances without looking to God.

27 If you’re pledged to a wife don’t seek to be released; if you’re not, don’t seek a wife. 28 Though if you should marry you’ve not sinned, and if the betrothed marries she has not sinned, but may well have troubles in this life which I would spare you. 29 But this I say brethren: the time is short so from now on those who have wives should live as though they don’t;

This is not Paul releasing married men to philander, he’s saying “don’t be absorbed in these worldly concerns at the expense of God’s program.”

30 those who weep as though they didn’t; those who rejoice as though they didn’t; those who purchase something as though it were not theirs to use; 31 and they who deal with the world, without using it, for the essence of the world is to deceive.

All the other translations tell us that the fashion, or way of the world, is passing away. Presumably they are hoping that this is the effect of having the gospel out there, but the Greek word means “mislead” or “lead away,” and a realistic assessment of history shows that if anything, the essence of the world, as antagonistic to the things of God, is getting stronger, not passing away. It does, however, lead us away from the truth of God, deceiving us to our destruction.

Dealing with the world is as dangerous as using our flesh, so God has directed us to have nothing to do with its methods, and always remain terribly aware that it will burn us if we get too close. It’s all about humbly placing every aspect of our lives utterly into God’s hands in prayer to provide and direct, and not using worldly methods to try to control anything for ourselves, but trusting Him to have our best interests at heart always.

32 I would like you untroubled by concerns—he that is unmarried is committed to the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord, 33 but he that is married is concerned about his worldly responsibilities—how he may please his wife. 34 This difference also separates a married woman from a virgin—the unmarried woman is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is distracted by the things of the world—how she can please her husband.

Other translations are divided on whether this verse stresses that the married man is divided between his wife and the Lord, or that the difference between the married and unmarried woman matches the difference between the married and unmarried man. I have gone for the latter since the Greek merízō (divided) is clearly attached to the two states of the woman, not to the concerns facing the man in the previous verse.

I think the concerns facing the married woman are very similar to the perfectly legitimate concerns that found Martha distracted by her domestic duties. This is what Paul is urging the single people in Corinth to avoid if they can, by not marrying.

35 Again, I’m saying this for your benefit, not to compel your obedience but so that you may honourably and diligently serve the Lord without distraction.

All the other translations include here some reference to “laying a trap,” “casting a noose,” or “ensnaring,” but Thayer’s Greek Lexicon explains that bróchos (noose) also means “to constrain to obey some command,” so the difficulty of seeing his recommendation as a possible trap, when it clearly couldn’t be, is not a problem—he’s simply saying, “Don’t worry, this is not another rule for you to slavishly follow, just helpful advice for those who want to take their discipleship seriously.”

36 But if anyone is being unfair to his betrothed, who feels she is getting too old and so it ought to happen, if he is willing, let him do as she wants, he is not sinning, let them marry!

The other translations get very scrambled on this passage. Most conclude that it is advice to fathers on giving their daughters away in marriage, leading to some very peculiar authoritarian attitudes towards their girls—especially those who are getting past it! The translations which tackle the subject as pertaining to a man’s feelings towards his fiancée, universally take it to mean he is inappropriately lusting for her—so getting married is obviously the only answer!

But what Paul is actually addressing here is the situation between a man and his fiancée—she is keen to start a family but feels her youth slipping away; if he is willing, then he should stop unfairly delaying her and get married, and it won’t be a sin. Paul is still stressing that he is not trying to lay another rule on them.

37 Yet he who stands settled in his heart, feeling no pressure but having control over his own will, and has decided in his heart to retain his chastity, does best.

Most translations here hang on to their assumption that Paul is talking about the couple in verse thirty-six or the father with his aging daughter—none have realised that he is talking about the choice of celibacy. This is addressing the man who (like Paul himself) is single, master of his own life choices, and has chosen the celibate lifestyle.

38 So then, he that marries is doing well, but the one who doesn’t is doing better.

Those translations which were advising fathers with regard to giving away their daughters in marriage, insist that (cruelly) not allowing the girl to marry is the better option! Those talking about a man and his fiancée suggest that it’s better to leave her longing for a marriage she will never see. But we know that cruelty is never an option for a disciple of Christ and so is no option for an assembly either.

39 A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband lives, but if her husband dies, she is free to marry another—if he belongs to the Lord,

Another example of someone who is single. The binding by the law is stopping her divorcing or marrying a second husband while the first still lives.

40 but she is more blessed if she remain as she is, in my opinion, and in that I’m sure I have the Spirit of God.

Paul wants to let her know that while remarrying is entirely legal, and therefore not sinful, once she is widowed, she will find her discipleship easier and more fruitful, and so she will be more blessed, if she accepts her new situation as from God and gets on with her life as a single widow.

When he says, “I’m sure I have the Spirit of God,” he means that his spirit has a settled peace from God in regard to the points he’s just been making.

Bless you folks, Geoff >ᴥ<