Welcome back to my study/review of 1 Corinthians. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.
1 Corinthians 7:25-31
25 Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. 29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
Paul continues answering questions, this time concerning unmarried people. Verse 25 starts with those who are betrothed.
betrothed = παρθένος parthénos, par-then’-os; of unknown origin; a maiden; by implication, an unmarried daughter:—virgin.
This definition is important, as commentaries typically translate the ESV’s
“betrothed” as “virgins.”
KJV: 25 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.
NIV: 25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.
NASB: 25 Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I am offering direction as one who [n]by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.
Starting with The Pulpit Commentaries at 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).
The note here lets us know that Paul is again offering his own judgment, rather than stating what the Lord has said directly on the subject (because the Lord did not speak directly on this subject.) The note from Ellicott’s Bible Commentary on verse 25 clarifies the question Paul has been asked.
(25) Wow concerning virgins . . .—A new subject is here introduced—viz., the duty of parents regarding their young unmarried daughters. Ought they to give them in marriage? The answer occupies to 1 Corinthians 7:38. On this subject the Apostle states that he has no actual command from Christ. It was a point to which our Lord had not directly alluded in His teaching, and so the Apostle gives his opinion as one who has obtained mercy to be a faithful instructor. The contrast here is not between Paul inspired by the Lord and Paul not inspired, but, as in 1 Corinthians 7:12, between Paul quoting the words of Christ and Paul himself instructing as an inspired Apostle.
Christians in Corinth were wondering whether they should give their young daughters to be married. This is a good question in light of Paul’s advice about marrige, and his wish that others could be like him and remain unmarried. As the note says, the answer is here from Paul’s apostolic authority, but not a quote from something Jesus or existing Scripture. Continuing with Ellicott into the next verse:
(26) I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress.—Better, I think then that it is good because of the impending distress—that it is good for a person to be so—i.e., to continue in the state in which he is, married or unmarried, as the case may be.
The construction of this sentence is strikingly characteristic of a writing which has been taken down from dictation. The speaker commences the sentence, and afterwards commences it over again: “I think it is good,” &c., and then, “I say I think it is good.”
From this verse to the end of 1 Corinthians 7:35 the Apostle deals again with the general question of marriage, introducing a new element of consideration—“the impending distress”; and at 1 Corinthians 7:36 he returns to the immediate subject with which he had started in 1 Corinthians 7:25, viz., duty of parents regarding their young unmarried daughters. The “impending distress” is that foretold by Christ, Matthew 24:8 et seq. The Apostle regarded the coming of Christ as no distant event, and in the calamities already threatening the Church, such as the famine in the time of Claudius (Acts 11:28), and in the gathering persecutions, he heard the first mutterings of the storm which should burst upon the world before the sign of the Son of Man should appear in the heavens.
It is good for a man.—It is most important to remember how much stress St. Paul lays upon this point as the ground of his preference for celibacy. As the reason for the preference has ceased to exist, so the advice, so far as it springs from that cause, is no longer of binding obligation (see 1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
This verse – and note – reiterates Paul’s advice in the chapter so far. His recommendation to Christians is that they maintain the status they were in when they were called. From The Pulpit Commentaries:
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. 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.
The note speculates that Paul is living with a belief that the return of the Lord might be imminent. That choice is in keeping with Jesus’s advice. Interestingly, too, given that the Romans burned the temple in Jerusalem within a short time of this letter, causing tremendous upheaval, the advice has some immediate practicality to it also. Returning to Ellicott:
(29) But this I say, brethren.—This does not introduce a reiteration of what he has said already, but commences a solemn and affectionate warning, urging on them earnestly that, whether they applied or did not apply the principle to marriage, still that it is true, and of vast importance in regulating all life,—that men should live as ever expecting the return of the Lord. Let us not for one moment think that this principle was evolved by St. Paul from a mistaken belief that the Second Advent was close at hand. This principle of life was taught by Christ Himself. He warned men against living carelessly because they thought “the Lord delayeth His coming.” They were to be ever on the watch, as servants for the unexpected return of their master—as guests for the coming of the bridegroom. It was not the opinion that Christ would soon come which led St. Paul to hold and teach this principle of Christian life. Perhaps it was his intense realisation of this eternal truth which the Lord had taught, his assimilation of it as part of his very being, from which the conviction arose that the Advent was not only in theory always, but, as a matter of fact, then near at hand. Hope and belief mysteriously mingled together in one longing unity of feeling.
It may be asked, if the Apostles were mistaken on this point, may they not have been mistaken about other things also? The best answer to such a question, perhaps, is that this was just the one point on which our Lord had said they should not be informed, and it is the one point on which they were not informed. “Times and seasons” were to be excluded from their knowledge (Acts 1:6).
The time is short: it remaineth . . .—Better, The time that remains is shortened, so that both they that have wives, &c. (the Greek word for “remain” (to loipon) is used frequently by St. Paul in a sort of adverbial way, 2 Corinthians 13:11; Ephesians 6:10; Philippians 4:8). The words “so that” do not introduce a series of apostolic exhortations based upon and growing out of the previous statement regarding the brevity of the remaining time, but they express what was God’s intention in thus making the time short. St. Paul regards everything as having its place and purpose in the divine economy. If the time were long (and the teaching applies equally—for the principle is the same—to the brevity of life), then, indeed, men might live as having “much goods laid up for many years” (Luke 12:19); but the time of life is short, that each may keep himself from being the slave of the external conditions and relationships of life. Such is the force of the series of striking contrasts with which the Apostle now illustrates the habit of life which God intended to follow from the shortening of the time.
The note here is important as you sometimes see the lack of omniscience from Paul about the Second Coming used as an argument against Christianity itself. Ellicott reminds us that Christ said only the Father knows when the second coming will occur. Paul’s advice is to live as though that return could happen at any moment.
Matthew 24:36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
Matthew 24:42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.
Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries:
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.
As not abusing it; rather, as not using it to the full—not draining dry the cup of earthly advantages. 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” (1Jn 1:1-10 :18). It is but as the shifting scene of a theatre, or as a melting vapour (James 4:14).
The message in these two verses is to view mortal life as a temporary arrangement and to place greater focus on eternal things.
The next section should conclude our journey through 1 Corinthians 7. Paul will continue giving advice concenring the unmarried.
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