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7. Sexual Immorality and Marriage
1Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2But, because of fornications, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3Let the husband render unto the wife her due: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4The wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power over his own body, but the wife. 5Defraud ye not one the other, except it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer, and may be together again, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency. 6But this I say by way of concession, not of commandment. 7Yet I would that all men were even as I myself. Howbeit each man hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that. 8But I say to the unmarried and to widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9But if they have not continency, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. 10But unto the married I give charge, yea not I, but the Lord, That the wife depart not from her husband 11(but should she depart, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband); and that the husband leave not his wife. 12But to the rest say I, not the Lord: If any brother hath an unbelieving wife, and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave her. 13And the woman that hath an unbelieving husband, and he is content to dwell with her, let her not leave her husband. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15Yet if the unbelieving departeth, let him depart: the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us in peace. 16For how knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O husband, whether thou shalt save thy wife? 17Only, as the Lord hath distributed to each man, as God hath called each, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all the churches. 18Was any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Hath any been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but the keeping of the commandments of God. 20Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called. 21Wast thou called being a bondservant? Care not for it: nay, even if thou canst become free, use it rather. 22For he that was called in the Lord being a bondservant, is the Lord's freedman: likewise he that was called being free, is Christ's bondservant. 23Ye were bought with a price; become not bondservants of men. 24Brethren, let each man, wherein he was called, therein abide with God. 25Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: but I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be trustworthy. 26I think therefore that this is good by reason of the distress that is upon us, namely, that it is good for a man to be as he is. 27Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. 28But shouldest thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Yet such shall have tribulation in the flesh: and I would spare you. 29But this I say, brethren, the time is shortened, that henceforth both those that have wives may be as though they had none; 30and those that weep, as though they wept not; and those that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and those that buy, as though they possessed not; 31and those that use the world, as not using it to the full: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 32But I would have you to be free from cares. He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34and is divided. So also the woman that is unmarried and the virgin is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35And this I say for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is seemly, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. 36But if any man thinketh that he behaveth himself unseemly toward his virgin daughter, if she be past the flower of her age, and if need so requireth, let him do what he will; he sinneth not; let them marry. 37But he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power as touching in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, shall do well. 38So then both he that giveth his own virgin daughter in marriage doeth well; and he that giveth her not in marriage shall do better. 39A wife is bound for so long time as her husband liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is free to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. 40But she is happier if she abide as she is, after my judgment: and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.
8. I say, then, to the unmarried. This depends on what goes before, and is a sort of inference from it. He had said that the gifts of God are variously distributed — that continency is not in the power of all, and that those who have it not ought to have recourse to the remedy. He now directs his discourse to virgins, to all that are unmarried, and to widows, and he allows that an unmarried life ought to be desired by them, provided they have the power; but that regard must always be had by each individual to the power that he possesses. The sum is this, that an unmarried life has many advantages, and that these are not to be despised, provided every one measures himself according to his own size and measure. 392392 “Se mesure a son aulne (comme on dit) c’est a dire, selon sa faculte;” — “Measures himself by his own ell, (as they say,) that is to say, according to his ability.” Hence, though virginity should be extolled even to the third heavens, this, at the same time, always remains true — that it does not suit all, but only those who have a special gift from God. For as to the objection that is brought forward by Papists — that in baptism, also, we promise to God purity of life, which it is not in our power to perform, the answer is easy — that in that we promise nothing but what God requires from all his people, but that continency is a special gift, which God has withheld from many. Hence those who make a vow of continency, act precisely as if any unlearned and illiterate person were to set himself off as a prophet, or teacher, or interpreter of languages.
We must also notice carefully the word continue; for it is possible for a person to live chastely in a state of celibacy for a time, but there must be in this matter no determination made for tomorrow. Isaac was unmarried until he was thirty years of age, and passed in chastity those years in which the heats of irregular desire are most violent; yet afterwards he is called to enter into the married life. In Jacob we have a still more remarkable instance. Hence the Apostle would wish those who are at present practicing chastity, to continue in it and persevere; but as they have no security for the continuance of the gift, he exhorts all to consider carefully what has been given them. This passage, however, shows that the Apostle was at that time unmarried; for as to the inference drawn by Erasmus, that he was married, because he makes mention of himself in connection with married persons, it is frivolous and silly; for we might, on the same principle, infer that he was a widower, 393393 “Qu’il estoit sans femme,” — “That he was unmarried.” because he speaks of himself in connection with widows. 394394 “Entre ceux qui n’estoyent point mariez;” — “Among those that were unmarried.” Now the words intimate, that at that time he was unmarried; for I do not give any countenance to the conjecture, that he had put away his wife somewhere, and had of his own accord abandoned the use of the marriage bed. For where, in that case, had been the injunction, 395395 “Car comment se fust-il done acquitte de ce qu’il commande yci aux gens mariez?” — “For how, in that case, would he have discharged the duty that he enjoins upon married persons?” Come together again without delay? (1 Corinthians 7:5.) It would certainly be an absurdity to say, that he did not obey his own precepts, and did not observe the law which he imposed upon others. It is, however, a singular token of modesty, that, while he is himself endowed with the gift of continency, he does not require others to bind themselves to his rule, but allows them that remedy for infirmity which he dispenses with. Let us, then, imitate his example, so that if we excel in any particular gift, we do not rigorously insist upon it on the part of others, who have not as yet reached that height.
9. But if they cannot contain While he advises to abstain from marriage, he always speaks conditionally — if it can be done, if there is ability; but where the infirmity of the flesh does not allow of that liberty, he expressly enjoins marriage as a thing that is not in the least doubtful. For this is said by way of commandment, that no one may look upon it as mere advice. Nor is it merely fornicators that he restrains, but those also who are defiled in the sight of God by inward lust; and assuredly he that cannot contain tempts God, if he neglects the remedy of marriage. This matter requires — not advice, but strict prohibition.
For it is better There is not strictly a comparison here, inasmuch as lawful marriage is honorable in all things, (Hebrews 13:4,) but, on the other hand, to burn is a thing that is exceedingly wrong. The Apostle, however, has made use of a customary form of expression, though not strictly accurate, as we commonly say: “It is better to renounce this world that we may, along with Christ, enjoy the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom, than to perish miserably in carnal delights.” I mention this, because Jerome constructs upon this passage a childish sophism 396396 “Vn sophisme plus que puerile;” — “A worse than childish sophism.” — that marriage is good, inasmuch as it is not so great an evil as to burn I would say, if it were a matter of sport, that he foolishly amuses himself, but in a matter so weighty and serious, it is an impious scoff, unworthy of a man of judgment. Let it then be understood, that marriage is a good and salutary remedy, because to burn is a most base abomination in the sight of God. We must, however, define what is meant by burning; for many are stung with fleshly desires, who, nevertheless, do not require forthwith to have recourse to marriage. And to retain Paul’s metaphor, it is one thing to burn and another to feel heat. Hence what Paul here calls burning, is not a mere slight feeling, but a boiling with lust, so that you cannot resist. As, however, some flatter themselves in vain, by imagining that they are entirely free from blame, if they do not yield assent to impure desire, observe that there are three successive steps of temptation. For in some cases the assaults of impure desire have so much power that the will is overcome: that is the worst kind of burning, when the heart is inflamed with lust. In some instances, while we are stung with the darts of the flesh, it is in such a manner that we make a stout resistance, and do not allow ourselves to be divested of the true love of chastity, but on the contrary, abhor all base and filthy affections.
Hence all must be admonished, but especially the young, that whenever they are assailed by their fleshly inclinations, they should place the fear of God in opposition to a temptation of this sort, cut off all inlets to unchaste thoughts, entreat the Lord to give them strength to resist, and set themselves with all their might to extinguish the flames of lust. If they succeed in this struggle, let them render thanks unto the Lord, for where shall we find the man who does not experience some molestation from his flesh? but if we bridle its violence, before it has acquired the mastery, it is well. For we do not burn, though we should feel a disagreeable heat — not that there is nothing wrong in that feeling of heat, but acknowledging before the Lord, with humility and sighing, 397397 “Auee pleurs et humilite;” — “With tears and humility.” our weakness, we are meanwhile, nevertheless, of good courage. To sum up all, so long as we come off victorious in the conflict, through the Lord’s grace, and Satan’s darts do not make their way within, but are valiantly repelled by us, let us not become weary of the conflict.
There is an intermediate kind of temptation 398398 “Il y a vne autre espece de tentation moyenne entre les deux que i’ay dites;” — “There is another kind of temptation, intermediate between the two, that I have mentioned.” — when a man does not indeed admit impure desire with the full assent of his mind, but at the same time is inflamed with a blind impetuosity, and is harassed in such a manner that he cannot with peace of conscience call upon God. A temptation, then, of such a kind as hinders one from calling upon God in purity, and disturbs peace of conscience, is burning, such as cannot be extinguished except by marriage. We now see, that in deliberating as to this, one must not merely consider whether he can preserve his body free from pollution: the mind also must be looked to, as we shall see in a little.
10. To the married I command. He now treats of another condition of marriage — its being an indissoluble tie. Accordingly, he condemns all those divorces that were of daily occurrence among the heathens, and were not punished among the Jews by the law of Moses. Let not, says he, the husband put away his wife, and let not the wife depart from her husband. Why? Because they are joined together by an indissoluble bond. It is surprising, however, that he does not make an exception, at least in case of adultery; for it is not likely that he designed to curtail in anything the doctrine of Christ. To me it appears clear, that the reason why he has made no mention of this 399399 “Il n’a pas voulu toucher ce poinct;” — “He has not chosen to touch upon this point.” is, that as he is discoursing of these things only in passing, he chose rather to send back the Corinthians to the Lord’s permission or prohibition, than to go over everything in detail. For when persons intend to teach anything in short compass, they content themselves with a general statement. Exceptions are reserved for a minuter and more extended and particular discussion.
But as to what he subjoins — not I, but the Lord — he intimates by this correction, that what he teaches here is taken from the law of God. For other things that he taught he had also from the revelation of the Spirit; but he declares that God is the author of this, in respect of its being expressly taken from the law of God. If you inquire as to the particular passage, you will nowhere find it in so many words; but as Moses in the beginning testifies, that the connection between a husband and wife is so sacred, that for the sake of it
a man ought to leave his father and mother. (Genesis 2:24.)
It is easy to gather from this, how inviolable a connection it is. For by right of nature a son is bound to his father and mother, and cannot shake off that yoke. As the connection of marriage is preferred to that bond, much less ought it to be dissolved.
11. But if she depart That this is not to be understood of those who have been put away for adultery, is evident from the punishment that followed in that case; for it was a capital crime even by the Roman laws, and almost by the common law of nations. But as husbands frequently divorced their wives, either because their manners were not congenial, or because their personal appearance did not please them, or because of some offense; 400400 “Pource qu’elles n’estoyent assez belles, ou pour quelque autre despit ou desplaisir;” — “Because they were not handsome enough, or on the ground of some other offense or dislike.” and as wives, too, sometimes deserted their husbands on account of their cruelty, or excessively harsh and dishonorable treatment, he says that marriage is not dissolved by divorces or dissensions of that nature. For it is an agreement that is consecrated by the name of God, which does not stand or fall according to the inclination of men, so as to be made void whenever we may choose. The sum is this: other contracts, as they depend on the mere inclination of men, are in like manner dissolved by that same inclination; but those who are connected by marriage are no longer free, so as to be at liberty, if they change their mind, to break in pieces the pledge, 401401 The phrase used by our Author — frangant tesseram — (break the pledge) contains an allusion to the custom among the Romans of having, on occasion of a league of hospitality being formed, a tally (tessera) or piece of wood cut into two parts, of which each party kept one. If either of the parties acted inconsistently with the engagement, he was said — confregisse resseraph — to have broken the pledge. See Plaut. Cist. 2. 1:27. — Ed. (as the expression is,) and go each of them elsewhere in quest of a new connection. For if the rights of nature cannot be dissolved, much less can this, which, as we have said already, is preferred before the principal tie of nature.
But as to his commanding the wife, who is separated from her husband, to remain unmarried, he does not mean by this that separation is allowable, nor does he give permission to the wife to live apart from her husband; but if she has been expelled from the house, or has been put away, she must not think that even in that case she is set free from his power; for it is not in the power of a husband to dissolve marriage. He does not therefore give permission here to wives to withdraw, of their own accord, from their husbands, or to live away from their husband’s establishment, as if they were in a state of widowhood; but declares, that even those who are not received by their husbands, continue to be bound, so that they cannot take other husbands.
But what if a wife is wanton, or otherwise incontinent? Would it not be inhuman to refuse her the remedy, when, constantly burning with desire? I answer, that when we are prompted by the infirmity of our flesh, we must have recourse to the remedy; after which it is the Lord’s part to bridle and restrain our affections by his Spirit, though matters should not succeed according to our desire. For if a wife should fall into a protracted illness, the husband would, nevertheless, not be justified in going to seek another wife. In like manner, if a husband should, after marriage, begin to labor under some distemper, it would not be allowable for his wife to change her condition of life. The sum is this — God having prescribed lawful marriage as a remedy for our incontinency, let us make use of it, that we may not, by tempting him, pay the penalty of our rashness. Having discharged this duty, let us hope that he will give us aid should matters go contrary to our expectations.