Exposition of 1 Corinthians 7:32–40 Complicated living for God

1 Corinthians 7:32–40

 32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs — how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world — how he can please his wife — 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world — how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin — this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.

39 A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. 40 In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is — and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

Christians often want someone to tell them what to do to please God. But life is very complicated and each Christian has an important responsibility to decide how to please God in spite of the complications.

The section including 1 Cor. 7:32–40 is best understood in light of Paul’s contextual statement “this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31b). When you combine that fact with the need to please the Lord while living in a world that God has judged by the death of Christ, you have a very challenging path ahead. That was true in Corinth as well as for us today.

In verses 32–35, Paul discusses how this challenge might be simplified at the cost of forsaking marriage. That this is a choice not everyone can make is the subject Paul takes up in verses 36–38. If Paul thinks others should make celibacy their choice, as he has done (1 Cor. 7:38b), we might also consider that they need his support in making that sacrifice. It is important to note that Paul does not dictate what choice is to be made but leaves it to the people involved. They must figure out how to live for God most effectively.

In terms of making an application of verses 39–40 to remarriage today, the most vital clause would be “he must belong to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39b). When Christian women allow themselves to “fall in love” with a non-Christian man, a spiritual disaster is coming! Of course, we could say the same thing of a Christian man marrying an unbelieving woman. We should not be confused about advising someone in this situation. Such relationships literally amount to sleeping with the enemy of God.

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

Exposition of 1 Corinthians 7:1–16 Sexual relations within marriage

1 Corinthians 7:1–16

 1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”

2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

The seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians has been the subject of considerable debate within the church over the centuries. Before we dive into the details, a few general ideas will help us. First, Paul does not use this chapter to give a complete theology of marriage. Instead, he is trying to resolve a dangerous idea that is wrecking marriages and tempting men to use prostitutes.

What is that idea? You find it in the quotation recorded in 1 Cor. 7:1 (“It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman”). Gordon Fee explains: “There has been considerable pressure within the church to dissolve or abstain from marriage. Paul’s response [to believers in various circumstances] is the same: ‘Stay as you are.’”[1] Another important theme advanced by Paul is explained by David Garland: “Throughout the chapter, Paul goes out of his way to underscore that women have the same obligations and rights as their male counterparts.”[2] That concept was revolutionary in first-century societies.

Why did this problem exist in the Corinthian church? First, the powerful influence of sexual attraction is a constant in all cultures. Making that influence more volatile was a raging debate among Greek philosophers about the importance of marriage in society; Roman society — dominant in Corinth — doted on Greek religion and philosophy. The Corinthian believers were not doing well in figuring out how all of that mixed with their new faith in Christ. Garland says, “An ascetic [self-denying] attitude toward sexuality was as much part of the intellectual landscape as was licentiousness [self-indulgence], and it was attractive to many for a variety of reasons.”[3]

In a setting where sexual immorality was common and where men were commonly accorded a greater license to roam sexually, Paul commands marital sex on an even-handed basis: “Each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2). The verbal forms are present imperatives, and Greek grammar expert Daniel Wallace reminds us that “when an action is commanded, the force of the present imperative will usually be iterative [i.e., do it again and again].”[4] When we consider the similarity of our own culture to that of Corinth, these commands could solve a lot of problems.

Interpretation in this chapter always applies a principle expressed by Garland: “Scripture does not use a verb that means ‘to have sexual intercourse’ but employs euphemistic [figurative] language instead.”[5] The NIV has applied that principle in translating 1 Cor. 7:1–2, but in older translations, such as the King James Version, the meaning is less obvious.

It helps to understand that, in the Greco-Roman world, “the purpose of marriage was the procreation of legitimate heirs who would inherit and continue the name, property and sacred rites of the family.”[6] Paul does not even mention procreation and instead urges that sexual desire finds its proper place within marriage.

Verses 3–4 look on sexual intimacy between marriage partners as a mutual obligation. Fee makes the outstanding observation that “Paul’s emphasis . . . is not on ‘you owe me’ but on ‘I owe you.’”[7] These verses are the heart of this section and exemplify Christian love.

The literary structure of 1 Cor. 7:1–5 dictates that verse 5 is parallel to verse 2. That being so, the necessity of a Christian husband and wife having regular sexual relations directly relates to temptation inspired by Satan, who tries to exploit any lack of self-control.

The main problem in verse 6 lies in determining how much of the previous text the word “this” refers to. The best solution is to apply it only to the second half of verse 5. Paul is not commanding a brief lull in sexual relations for the purpose of prayer, but he concedes that the marriage partners may agree to such a plan.

The meaning of verses 7–16 is relatively easy compared to the section we have covered above. Further information about issues of divorce and remarriage in 1 Cor. 7:7–16 may be found at the following link on the Christ Fellowship website: http://www.christfellowshipeldorado.com/am_cms_media/unveiled-studyguidepdf.pdf (See Week 3 starting on page 28 for the material on divorce and remarriage from 1 Cor. 7:10–16.).

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 269.

[2] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 250.

[3] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 251.

[4] Daniel Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 722.

[5] Garland, 1 Corinthians, 254.

[6] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 494, citing R.B. Ward.

[7] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 280.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 2:24–25

Genesis 2:24–25
24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become a new family.  25 The man and his wife were both naked, but they were not ashamed.
(NET Bible)

First Family

Any counselor can tell you that the relationship with in-laws is one of the greatest stressors on many marriage relationships. Knowing the relative priorities of these relationships can save you a world of heartache.

But who has the wisdom and authority to set those priorities? What priorities have been set? What is the nature of the husband-wife relationship?

Genesis 2:24 is very familiar to many Christians who have heard some form of it used in wedding ceremonies. However, a Bible student must always be aware that the interpretation of such heavily used verses may have been shifted away from the original meaning toward a contemporary adaptation.

To begin understanding what the verse is saying, consider Gordon Wenham’s historical input:

The traditional translation ‘leaves’ suggests that the man moves from his parents and sets up home elsewhere, whereas in fact Israelite marriage was usually patrilocal, that is, the man continued to live in or near his parents’ home. . . . On marriage a man’s priorities change. Beforehand his first obligations are to his parents: afterwards they are to his wife.[1]

The uniting of the man and woman is a powerful bond. The NET Bible Notes say, “In this passage it describes the inseparable relationship between the man and the woman in marriage as God intended it.”[2]

The NET Bible’s shift from “one flesh” (KJV, ESV, RSV, NIV 1984, NIV 2011) to “a new family” seems to replace a powerful metaphor of marital unity with a much weaker abstraction. The semi-poetic nature of Genesis 1–11’s language resists the incursion of such anachronistic language. Further, the Hebrew word for “family” does not occur here. Since the language here is figurative rather than idiomatic, there is not adequate justification for replacing the metaphor (“one flesh”) with the paraphrased abstraction (“a new family”).

Genesis 2:25 gives us a last, idyllic glimpse at the unaffected happiness of the man and woman in the Garden of Eden. The environment did not require clothing, and there was no other reason to have it; unfortunately, there would be a reason before long. Wenham says, “They were like young children unashamed at their nakedness.”[3] The man and woman are together with nothing to hide from one another; that too would soon change.

Victor Hamilton explains that the significance of nakedness changed over time: “With the exception of this verse, nakedness in the OT is always connected with some form of humiliation.”[4] In Genesis 3 we will find out why.

The verb used for the phrase “they were not ashamed” needs clarification due to cultural differences between us and the ancient Israelites. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says, “[The English phrase] ‘to be ashamed’ stresses the inner attitude, the state of mind, while the Hebrew means ‘to come to shame’ and stresses the sense of public disgrace, a physical state.”[5] With our cultural stress on individualism, we find it less natural to think of shame as a public status rather than a private feeling.

With sadness we look back to a lost Eden that we might have inherited. But our sorrow gives way to joy in knowing that we can regain all that was lost and much more through faith in Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 70.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 2:24.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 71.

[4] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 181.

[5] R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 vols. (Chicago: Moody, 1980) 1:97, bosh, to be ashamed, q.v.