To Marry or Not to Marry? – That is the Question – 1 Corinthians 7:25-40

But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord — how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world — how he may please his wife. 1 Cor 7:32-33

Earlier in the chapter (vv. 8, 9) Paul gave brief advice to the unmarried, which here now, in this text he expands upon. While the meaning, overall teaching, and emphasis of the passage is very clear, there are several exegetical difficulties which become obvious by the way that various Bible versions translate the details of the text.

The difficulties include:

1) Who are the ‘virgins’ (parthenoi) that the text (vss. 25, 28, 34, 36, 37) refers to? Are these generally women who have never been married, or does this refer to some who are betrothed and now questioning whether they should marry? If it is the latter, then what does verse 26 mean when it says, “it is good for a man to remain as he is?” Are we to think that Paul’s advice is that a betrothed couple should remain betrothed indefinitely?

2) Who are the male counterparts of these virgins (vss. 36-38)? Is this a reference to the young ladies’ fathers or to their espoused partner – and husband-to-be? If it’s the father, then why does it say in verse 36, “let them marry?” And if this refers to fathers, what does verse 37 mean when it speaks of their being, “steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will?

3) Then there is the question of whether this is a ‘special case?’ Being that this is the only place in Scripture that advocates singleness over marriage, one may wonder how this text may be rightly applied beyond the culture of First Century Corinth. What exactly is the “present distress” of verse 26, which seems to set the context of this advice? Does this refer generally to this Gospel-age between Christ’s ascension and second coming? Or is this a reference to a particular crisis that was going on in Corinth at the time?

Of course our interpretive challenge is once again understood as we realize that we are “reading someone else’s mail,” as it were; and we are not made fully aware of the problems at Corinth as to what was going on, and what were the questions they asked in their letter to Paul. Despite these difficulties, the text drives home some very important points about single and married life and living under the New Covenant. It helps us establish Biblical priorities when it comes to issues of marriage and family. So while the details of the text might indeed be culturally specific, the broad lessons from the text are far reaching and clearly applicable to how we live our lives today.

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