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Directions concerning Marriage


Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” 2But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6This I say by way of concession, not of command. 7I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.

8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. 9But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

10 To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband 11(but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

12 To the rest I say—I and not the Lord—that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you. 16Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife.

The Life that the Lord Has Assigned

17 However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. 18Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. 20Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.

21 Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. Even if you can gain your freedom, make use of your present condition now more than ever. 22For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ. 23You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of human masters. 24In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.

The Unmarried and the Widows

25 Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26I think that, in view of the impending crisis, it is well for you to remain as you are. 27Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28But if you marry, you do not sin, and if a virgin marries, she does not sin. Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that. 29I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; 33but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife, 34and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. 35I say this for your own benefit, not to put any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and unhindered devotion to the Lord.

36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his fiancée, if his passions are strong, and so it has to be, let him marry as he wishes; it is no sin. Let them marry. 37But if someone stands firm in his resolve, being under no necessity but having his own desire under control, and has determined in his own mind to keep her as his fiancée, he will do well. 38So then, he who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better.

39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord. 40But in my judgment she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.


As he had spoken of fornication, he now appropriately proceeds to speak of marriage which is the remedy for avoiding fornication. Now it appears, that, notwithstanding the greatly scattered state of the Corinthian Church, they still retained some respect for Paul, inasmuch as they consulted him on doubtful points. What their questions had been is uncertain, except in so far as we may gather them from his reply. This, however, is perfectly well known, that immediately after the first rise of the Church, there crept into it, through Satan’s artifice, a superstition of such a kind, that a large proportion of them, through a foolish admiration of celibacy, 367367     “C’est a dire, l’abstinence du mariage;” — “That is to say, abstinence from marriage.” despised the sacred connection of marriage; nay more, many regarded it with abhorrence, as a profane thing. This contagion had perhaps spread itself among the Corinthians also; or at least there were idly-disposed spirits, who, by immoderately extolling celibacy, endeavored to alienate the minds of the pious from marriage. At the same time, as the Apostle treats of many other subjects, he intimates that he had been consulted on a variety of points. What is chiefly of importance is, that we listen to his doctrine as to each of them.

1. It is good for a man. The answer consists of two parts. In the first, he teaches that it were good for every one to abstain from connection with a woman, provided it was in his power to do so. In the second, he subjoins a correction to this effect, that as many cannot do this, in consequence of the weakness of their flesh, these persons must not neglect the remedy which they have in their power, as appointed for them by the Lord. Now we must observe what he means by the word good, when he declares that it is good to abstain from marriage, that we may not conclude, on the other hand, that the marriage connection is therefore evil — a mistake which Jerome has fallen into, not so much from ignorance, in my opinion, as from the heat of controversy. For though that great man was endowed with distinguished excellences, he labored, at the same time, under one serious defect, that when disputing he allowed himself to be hurried away into great extravagancies, so that he did not keep within the bounds of truth. The inference then which he draws is this “It is good not to touch a woman: it is therefore wrong to do so.” 368368     Our Author, when commenting on Matthew 19:10, animadverts in strong terms on Jerome’s manner of handling the subject of marriage, as discovering “a malicious and wicked disposition.” Harmony, volume 2 p. 386. — Ed. Paul, however, does not make use of the word good here in such a signification as to be opposed to what is evil or vicious, but simply points out what is expedient on account of there being so many troubles, vexations, and anxieties that are incident to married persons. Besides, we must always keep in view the limitation which he subjoins. Nothing farther, therefore, can be elicited from Paul’s words than this — that it is indeed expedient and profitable for a man not to be bound to a wife, provided he can do otherwise. Let us explain this by a comparison. Should any one speak in this way: “It were good for a man not to eat, or to drink, or to sleep” — he would not thereby condemn eating, or drinking, or sleeping, as things that were wrong — but as the time that is devoted to these things is just so 369369     “C’est autant de perdu quant aux choses spirituelles;” — “It is so much of loss as to spiritual things.” much taken from the soul, his meaning would be, that we would be happier if we could be free from these hindrances, and devote ourselves wholly 370370     “Nous employer entierement et incessaumment;” — “Employ ourselves entirely and unceasingly.” to meditation on heavenly things. Hence, as there are in married life many impediments which keep a man entangled, it were on that account good not to be connected in marriage.

But here another question presents itself, for these words of Paul have some appearance of inconsistency with the words of the Lord, in Genesis 2:18, where he declares, that it is not good for a man to be without a wife. What the Lord there pronounces to be evil Paul here declares to be good I answer, that in so far as a wife is a help to her husband, so as to make his life happy, that is in accordance with God’s institution; for in the beginning God appointed it so, that the man without the woman was, as it were, but half a man, and felt himself destitute of special and necessary assistance, and the wife is, as it were, the completing of the man. Sin afterwards came in to corrupt that institution of God; for in place of so great a blessing there has been substituted a grievous punishment, so that marriage is the source and occasion of many miseries. Hence, whatever evil or inconvenience there is in marriage, that arises from the corruption of the divine institution. Now, although there are in the meantime some remains still existing of the original blessing, so that a single life is often much more unhappy than the married life; yet, as married persons are involved in many inconveniences, it is with good reason that Paul teaches that it would be good for a man to abstain. In this way, there is no concealment of the troubles that are attendant upon marriage; and yet, in the meantime, there is no countenance given to those profane jests which are commonly in vogue with a view to bring it into discredit, such as the following: that a wife is a necessary evil, and that a wife is one of the greatest evils. For such sayings as these have come from Satan’s workshop, and have a direct tendency to brand with disgrace God’s holy institution; and farther, to lead men to regard marriage with abhorrence, as though it were a deadly evil and pest.

The sum is this, that we must remember to distinguish between the pure ordinance of God and the punishment of sin, which came in subsequently. According to this distinction, it was in the beginning good for a man, without any exception, to be joined to a wife, and even yet, it is good in such a way, that there is in the meantime a mixture of bitter and sweet, in consequence of the curse of God. To those, however, who have not the gift of continency, it is a necessary and salutary remedy in accordance with what follows.

2. But to avoid fornication He now commands, that those who are liable to the vice of incontinency should have recourse to the remedy. For though it may seem that the statement is universal, it ought, nevertheless, to be restricted to those who feel themselves urged by necessity. As to this, every one must judge for himself. Whatever difficulty, therefore, is perceived to be in marriage, let all that cannot resist the promptings of their flesh, know that this commandment has been enjoined upon them by the Lord. But it is asked — “Is this the only reason for entering into matrimony, that we may cure incontinency?” I answer, that this is not Paul’s meaning; for as for those that have the gift of abstinence from marriage, he leaves them at liberty, 371371     “Il laisse la liberte de se marier ou ne se marier point;” — “He gives liberty to marry or not marry.” while he commands others to provide against their infirmity by marrying. The sum is this — that the question is not as to the reasons for which marriage has been instituted, but as to the persons for whom it is necessary. For if we look to the first institution, it could not be a remedy for a disease which had as yet no existence, but was appointed for begetting offspring; but after the fall, this second purpose was added.

This passage is also opposed to (τολυγαμία) polygamy For the Apostle desires that every woman have her own husband, intimating that the obligation is mutual. The man, therefore, who has once pledged his fidelity to a woman as his wife, must not separate from her, as is manifestly done in case of a second connection.

3. The husband to the wife. He now prescribes the rules to be observed in the marriage connection, or he teaches what is the duty of husband and wife. And in the first place he lays down a general doctrine as to mutual benevolence — that the husband love his wife, and the wife her husband; for as to the interpretation which others give to the expression due benevolence — duty of marriage — I do not know how far it is suitable. The reason that inclines them to this view is, that it is immediately added, The husband has not power of his own body, etc.; but it will suit better to regard that as an inference drawn from the preceding statement. Husband and wife, therefore, are bound to mutual benevolence: hence it follows, that they have, neither the one nor the other, the power of their own body. But it may be asked, why the Apostle here puts them upon a level, instead of requiring from the wife obedience and subjection. I answer, that it was not his intention to treat of all their duties, but simply of the mutual obligation as to the marriage bed. In other things, therefore, husband and wife differ, both as to duty and as to authority in this respect the condition of both is alike — as to the maintaining of conjugal fidelity. For this reason, also, polygamy (τολυγαμία) is again condemned; for if this is an invariable condition of marriage, that the husband surrenders the power of his own body, and gives it up to his wife, how could he afterwards connect himself with another, as if he were free?

5. Defraud ye not one the other Profane persons might think that Paul does not act with sufficient modesty in discoursing in this manner as to the intercourse of a husband with his wife; or at least that it was unbecoming the dignity of an Apostle. If, however, we consider the reasons that influenced him, we shall find that he was under the necessity of speaking of these things. In the first place, he knew how much influence a false appearance of sanctity has in beguiling devout minds, as we ourselves know by experience. For Satan dazzles us with an appearance of what is right, that we may be led to imagine that we are polluted by intercourse with our wives, and leaving off our calling, may think of pursuing another kind of life. Farther, he knew how prone every one is to self-love, and devoted to his own gratification. From this it comes, that a husband, having had his desire gratified, treats his wife not merely with neglect, but even with disdain; and there are few that do not sometimes feel this disdain of their wives creep in upon them. It is for these reasons that he treats so carefully of the mutual obligations of the married life. “If at any time it comes into the minds of married persons to desire an unmarried life, as though it were holier, or if they are tempted by irregular desires, 372372     “Ou qu’ils soyent tentez de se debaucher en pallardises;” — “Or are tempted to defile themselves with whoredoms.” let them bear in mind that they are bound by a mutual connection.” The husband is but the one half of his body, and so is it, also, as to the wife. Hence they have not liberty of choice, but must on the contrary restrain themselves with such thoughts as these: “Because the one needed help from the other, the Lord has connected us together, that we may assist each other.” Let each then be helpful to each other’s necessity, and neither of them act as if at his or her own disposal.

Unless by mutual consent He requires mutual consent, in the first place, because the question is not as to the continency of one merely, but of two; and besides, he immediately adds two other exceptions. The first is, that it be done only for a time, as perpetual continency is not in their power, lest if they should venture to make an attempt beyond their power, they might fall before Satan’s stratagems. The second is, that they do not abstain from conjugal intercourse, on the ground of that abstinence being in itself a good and holy work, or as if it were the worship of God, 373373     “Un seruice agreable a Dieu;” — “A service agreeable to God.” but that they may be at leisure for better employments. Now though Paul had taken such pains in guarding this, yet Satan prevailed so far as to drive 374374     “Solicite et induit plusieurs;” — “Enticed and induced many.” many to unlawful divorce, from a corrupt desire for an unmarried life. The husband, leaving his wife, fled to the desert, that he might please God better by living as a monk. The wife, against her husband’s will, put on the veil — the badge of celibacy. Meanwhile they did not consider that by violating their marriage engagement they broke the Lord’s covenant, and by loosing the marriage tie, they cast off the Lord’s yoke.

This vice, it is true, was corrected in some measure by the ancient canons; for they prohibited a husband from leaving his wife against her will, on pretense of continency; and in like manner a wife from refusing to her husband the use of her body. In this, however, they erred — that they permitted both together to live in perpetual celibacy, as if it were lawful for men to decree anything that is contrary to the Spirit of God. Paul expressly commands, that married persons do not defraud each other, except for a time The bishops give permission to leave off the use of marriage for ever. Who does not see the manifest contrariety? Let no one, therefore, be surprised, that we make free to dissent on this point from the ancients, who, it is evident, deviated from the clear statements of the word of God.

That ye may have leisure for fasting and prayer. We must take notice, that Paul does not speak here of every kind of fasting, or every kind of prayer. That sobriety and temperance, which ought to be habitual on the part of Christians, is a kind of fasting. Prayer, too, ought to be not merely daily, but even continual. He speaks, however, of that kind of fasting which is a solemn expression of penitence, with the view of deprecating God’s anger, or by which believers prepare themselves for prayer, when they are undertaking some important business. In like manner, the kind of prayer that he speaks of is such as requires a more intense affection of the mind. 375375     “L’affection du coeur plus ardente et extraordinaire;” — “A more ardent and extraordinary affection of the mind.” See Institutes (volume 3.) For it sometimes happens, that. we require (leaving off everything else) to fast and pray; as when any calamity is impending, if it appears to be a visitation of God’s wrath; or when we are involved in any difficult matter, or when we have something of great importance to do, as, for example, the ordaining of pastors. 376376     “Comme quand on vent elire ou ordonner des pasteurs et ministres;” — “As when persons wish to elect or ordain pastors and ministers.” Now it is with propriety that the Apostle connects these two things, because fasting is a preparation for prayer, as Christ also connects them, when he says,

This kind of devils goeth not out but by fasting and prayer. (Matthew 17:21.)

When, therefore, Paul says, that ye may be at leisure, the meaning is, that having freed ourselves from all impediments, we may apply ourselves to this one thing. Now if any one objects, that the use of the marriage bed is an evil thing, inasmuch as it hinders prayer, the answer is easy — that it is not on that account worse than meat and drink, by which fasting is hindered. But it is the part of believers to consider wisely when it is time to eat and drink, and when to fast. It is also the part of the same wisdom to have intercourse with their wives when it is seasonable, and to refrain from that intercourse when they are called to be engaged otherwise.

And come together again, that Satan tempt you not Here he brings forward the reason, from ignorance of which the ancients have fallen into error, in rashly and inconsiderately approving of a vow of perpetual continency. For they reasoned in this manner: “If it is good for married persons sometimes to impose upon themselves for a time a voluntary continency with mutual consent, then, if they impose this upon themselves for ever, it will be so much the better.” But then, they did not consider how much danger was involved in this, for we give Satan an occasion for oppressing us, when we attempt anything beyond the measure of our weakness. 377377     “Par dessus nos forces, et la mesure de nostre imbecilite;” — “Beyond our strength, and the measure of our weakness.” “But we must resist Satan.” 378378     “Mais (dira quelqu’vn)il faut resister a Satan;” — “But (some will say) we must resist Satan.” What if arms and shield be wanting? “They must be sought from the Lord,” say they. But in vain shall we beseech the Lord to assist us in a rash attempt. We must, therefore, carefully observe the clause — for your incontinency: for we are exposed to Satan’s temptations in consequence of the infirmity of our flesh. If we wish to shut them out, and keep them back, it becomes us to oppose them by the remedy, with which the Lord has furnished us. Those, therefore, act a rash part, who give up the use of the marriage bed. It is as if they had made an agreement with God as to perpetual strength. 379379     “Qu’il leur donnera tousiours la puissance de s’en passer;” — “That he would give them always the power to do without it.”

6. By permission That they might not, by taking their stand upon a precept of the kind that he had prescribed, loosen unduly the restraints of lust, 380380     “Leurs affections desordonnees;” — “Their inordinate affections.” he adds a limitation — that he had written these things on account of their infirmity — that they may bear in mind that marriage is a remedy for unchastity, lest they should inordinately abuse the advantage of it, so as to gratify their desire by every means; nay more, without measure or modesty. He has it also in view to meet the cavils of the wicked, that no one might have it in his power to object in this way: “What! are you afraid that husbands and wives will not of their own accord be sufficiently inclined to carnal delight that you prompt them to it?” For even the Papists, those little saints, 381381     “Les hypocrites qui veulent estre estimez de petis saincts;” — “Hypocrites, who wish to be regarded as little saints.” are offended with this doctrine, and would gladly have a contest with Paul, on the ground of his keeping married persons in mutual cohabitation, and not allowing them to turn aside to a life of celibacy. He assigns, then, a reason for his doctrine, and declares, that he had not recommended connubial intercourse to married persons with the view of alluring them to delight, or as though he took pleasure in commanding it, but had considered what was required by the infirmity of those that he is addressing.

Foolish zealots 382382     “Les sots et indiscrets zelateurs;” — “Foolish and inconsiderate zealots.” for celibacy make a wrong use of both clauses of this verse; for as Paul says that he speaks by permission, they infer from this, that there is therefore something wrong in conjugal intercourse, for where there is need of pardon, 383383     “Ou permission et pardon ha lieu;” — “Where permission and pardon have place.” there must be sin. Farther, from his saying that he speaks not by commandment, they infer, that it is, therefore, a holier thing to leave off the use of marriage and turn to celibacy. To the former, I answer, that as there is, I acknowledge, an inordinate excess in all human affections, I do not deny that there is as to this matter an irregularity, (ἀταξία,) 384384     The term ἀταξία is used by our author in the Harmony (volume 1) to mean disorder, as contrasted with the orderly condition of the kingdom of God It contains an allusion to the disorderly conduct of soldiers, who quit their ranks It is used in this sense by Thucydides (7:43.) — Ed which, I allow, is vicious. 385385     “Vn appetit desmesure, lequel ie concede estre vicieux;” — “An immoderate desire, which, I allow, is vicious.” Nay more, this affection, I allow, is beyond others violent, and next to brutish. But, on the other hand, I also maintain, that whatever there is of vice or baseness, is so covered over by the honorableness of marriage, that it ceases to be a vice, or at least is not reckoned a fault by God, as Augustine elegantly discourses in his book “On the advantage of Marriage,” and frequently in other places. You may then take it briefly thus: 386386     “Pour resolution done de ce poinet en peu de paroles, disons en ceste sorte;” — “For a solution, then, of this point in a few words, let us express it in this way.” conjugal intercourse is a thing that is pure, honorable and holy, because it is a pure institution of God: the immoderate desire with which persons burn is a fault arising from the corruption of nature; but in the case of believers marriage is a veil, by which that fault is covered over, so that it no longer appears in the sight of God. To the second I answer: as the term commandment is properly applied to those things which relate to the duties of righteousness, and things in themselves pleasing to God, Paul on this account says that he does not speak by commandment He has, however, sufficiently shown previously, that the remedy, which he had enjoined, must necessarily be made use of.

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