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1 Corinthians 7:25–28

“If you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned” (v. 28).

Addressing various questions about marriage and sexuality in 1 Corinthians 7:1–24, Paul directs believers to apply to their own circumstances the principle of remaining in the state wherein Christ called them. Thus, married couples should enjoy all the benefits of marriage, divorce should be avoided except in specific cases, single people are not required to get married, and so on. But what about those in an in-between state, those who are not married and yet are not fully “single” because they are betrothed? Paul addresses such individuals beginning in today’s passage.

The Apostle’s counsel to the betrothed presents difficulties for interpretation. One reason for this is that much of what Paul says seems to be tentative and highly contextual in a way that his directives to others is not. For example, after admitting that he has no teaching from Jesus given during His earthly ministry on the subject, Paul says such things as “I think” (v. 26) and refers to various options not as sinful or holy but as “well” and “better” (v. 38). Such language suggests that the Apostle is tailoring his advice to the specific circumstances in Corinth and not making a universal point that singleness is inherently superior to married life. This is important because many interpreters have viewed this portion of 1 Corinthians 7 as Paul’s presenting unmarried life as the Christian ideal.

That Paul’s teaching is here particularly tailored to the unique situation of the first-century Corinthians seems to be confirmed by verse 26, where Paul says his advice comes “in view of the present distress.” Some commentators believe that Paul is speaking of the Christian era generally and the trials that accompany being a believer, which would mean that he thinks singleness is always better than married life. Increasingly, however, scholars are calling this identification of “the present distress” into question for a variety of reasons. Several factors make it more likely that Paul has in view something unique to Corinth and the surrounding area. For instance, the distress could be related to the unworthy manner in which the Corinthians were taking the Lord’s Supper, which caused many of them to die (11:27–30). There was also a notable famine in AD 51, which could be the background for this distress.

In any case, Paul provides enduring direction in his advice to betrothed believers. Most importantly, he tells us it is no sin to remain single and no sin to get married. Both are holy options (7:28).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Some Christians have been wary of getting married because they believe it is God’s second best. As we will see, there are realities of married life that create concerns that single people do not have. However, that does not mean married life is a lower calling. If God has called a person to be married, that person is bound to fulfill that holy calling as the Lord’s perfect will.

For Further Study
  • Genesis 24
  • Ruth 4:13
  • Matthew 22:23–33
  • 1 Timothy 4:1–5

Calling and Concern

Time Grows Short

Keep Reading The Christian Ethic

From the March 2021 Issue
Mar 2021 Issue