Marriage Principles: 1 Corinthians 7

Joe R. Price

No small amount of controversy and division has resulted from mishandling 1 Corinthians 7. We can understand the passage by keeping it in its immediate context (the Corinthian concerns about marriage) as well as its broader context (the subject of marriage).

The Christians in Corinth had written Paul about marriage, and chapter 7 is his reply as one who had the Spirit of God and was counted trustworthy (7:40, 25).

Marriage prevents fornication (1 Cor 7:2-7). Marriage protects the purity of man and woman. The marriage bed is undefiled (Heb 13:4). With marriage comes the mutual responsibility to address these God-given desires; failure to do so is sin (1 Cor 7:3-5).

To the unmarried and widows (1 Cor 7:8-9). These people are not restrained by marriage vows and the lifelong marriage obligation God establishes in marriage (see Rom 7:2-3). They have either never entered a God-approved marriage, they have put away their spouse for the cause of fornication (and are thus free to remarry, Matt 19:9), or their spouse has died. While Paul’s preference was that all men had self-control to refrain from marriage (due to the present distress he later discussed, 7:7, 26), he understood some could not do so (7:9). Marriage is available to them.

To the married (1 Cor 7:10-11). Paul charged the married, “A wife is not to depart from her husband…and that the husband leave not his wife” (ASV). His charge accords with the command of Jesus: “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt 19:6). The word translated “depart” (chorizo) in 1 Cor 7:10 is also used in Matthew 19:6 (“put asunder” or “separate”). Scripturally married people are under obligation to maintain their union. The sin of ending one’s marriage is not to be compounded by then marrying another person. One who sunders (chorizo) his/her marriage must “remain unmarried, or else be reconciled” (7:11). While Jesus gave an exception allowing for remarriage in Matthew 19:9, that exception is not in view here. The one who puts away his wife for a cause other than fornication puts asunder what God joined together; he violates Matthew 19:6, 9. He cannot remarry without increasing his sin.

To the rest (1 Cor 7:12-16). Having addressed all the married, Paul now addresses a subset of married people: Christians who are married to unbelievers. While the Lord had not dealt specifically with this consideration, the inspired apostle now would. Paul says these marriages are legitimate before the Lord, therefore, if the unbeliever is content to live with the faithful Christian, do not end the marriage (7:12-13). The Christian brings a godly influence into the home which should not be underestimated (7:14). Since the Christian has never been enslaved to his/her spouse, if the unbeliever is not content to live with a Christian, “let him depart” (7:15). Christians are not to “become slaves to men” by yielding to their will rather than the will of God (7:23; Acts 5:29). So, while a believer is not to end his/her marriage with an unbeliever, it may be that the unbeliever departs. We are bondservants of Christ and He has called us to peace (7:15-16).

“Let him depart” does not give the right to remarry. That subject has already been discussed in verses 10-11 to the married, which included believers married to unbelievers. Those who use 1 Cor 7:15 for the right to remarry after desertion do so in violation of Matt 19:6 and 1 Cor 7:10-11.

A foundation principle (7:17-24). Christians walk with God and can do so in every non-sinful condition and non-sinful relationship in which we were called by the gospel. Whether circumcised or not, whether slave or free, whether married or single, one can “remain with God in that state in which he was called” (7:24, NKJV). This does not give permission to remain in a sinful marriage relationship (such as the adultery of an unscriptural remarriage, Matt 19:9). We have been bought at a price and must not become slaves of men (7:23).

The present distress (7:25-40). The present state of trial persuaded Paul that if one possessed the self-control to remain single he should do so (7:8, 17, 20, 24, 26-27). Given this context of distress, he wanted to spare them from the added trial and distraction marriage would present (7:28, 32, 35). One with a marriage obligation should not end it. But, given the present distress, if one was not bound to a spouse he should not seek a wife (7:27). Yet, since God-approved marriages are not sinful, the option to marry is available to those free to do so (7:28). The marriage bond is for life, and after ended by death the liberty of marriage in the Lord is granted to the widow, though widows are not commanded to marry again (7:39-40).

1 Corinthian 7 assures us of the blessedness of marriage while looking practically at its responsibilities and constraints. Properly handling the text will prevent sin, promote godly homes and yield an abiding allegiance to Christ.