1 Cor. 7:36-39 – Decisive Principles Regarding Marriage

Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 08 Feb. 2008


25. Now concerning virgins, I don’t have an order from the Lord, but I am going to give advice

                        as one who has been treated mercifully under the Lord - in order to be faithful:

            26. Therefore I think this would be a good thing to begin on account of the current necessity,

            that it would be good for a man to be like this:

                        27. Have you been bonded to a wife? Stop seeking an annulment;

                        Have you been released from a wife? Stop seeking a wife.

            28. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned,

                        and if a virgin does get married she has not sinned,

                        but these will have stress in the flesh, and as for me, I am going easy.

            29. Brothers, the appointed time has been shortened.

            As for the rest, I’m bringing this up in order that:

                        even those having wives might be like those not having [wives],

                        30. and those who weep like those who are not weeping,

                        and those who rejoice like those who are not rejoicing,

                        and those who shop like those who do not own [anything],

                        31. and those who use this world like those who are not making absolute use,

                                    for the order of this world is passing away.

            32. Now, I want you to be free from cares.

                        The unmarried man cares about the things of the Lord –

                                    how he may please the Lord,

                        33. but the married man cares about the things of the world –

                                    how he may please his wife, 34. and his [attention] is divided.

                        Both the unmarried woman and the virgin cares for the things of the Lord

                                    in order that she might be holy in the body and in the spirit,

                        but the married woman cares about the things of the world –

                                    how she may please her husband.

35. Now, I am saying this toward the bearing together of your own selves,

            not in order to throw a lasso on you,

            but rather toward your good order and good service in the Lord without being yanked around.

            36. But if someone thinks [it tends] to disorder his virgin,

                                    if she happens to be of age

                                    and [if] it ought to become thus,

                        let him do what he wants; he is not sinning – let them marry!

                        37. But that which has been standing in his heart, steadfast,

                                    not having [a condition of] necessity,

                                                but he has authority concerning his own will,

                                                and he has rendered judgment on this in his own heart

                                    to keep his own virgin, he will do well.

                        38. Thus both the one who gives his own virgin in marriage does well,

                        and the one who does not give in marriage will do better.

            39. A wife has been bound for however much time her husband may live,

                        but if the husband happens to fall asleep [die],

                        she is released to whomever she wants to be married – only in the Lord,

                        40. but she is happier if she remains thus [released],

by my advice – and I suppose I also have the Spirit of God.


Intro: Those Sweet Short Years

There is no greater blessing on earth than a good marriage. A young couple was visiting with an older couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. "Fifty years!" the young husband exclaimed, "That is a long time to be married to one person." The old gentleman looked over at his wife with love in his eyes and said, "It would have been a lot longer without her." In Christian marriage, two people grow more and more one with every passing year. They are "fellow heirs of the grace of life" and they are more than happy to share. Each is helping the other on the way to eternity.


As Paul wraps up his answer to the Corinthian’s question of whether or not it’s o.k. to marry, he zooms out of the more temporary sorts of limitations we looked at last week and ends with some more universal principles regarding marriage:


A)    Father-daughter relationship:

1.      This is supported by the vast majority of Bible scholars throughout history

2.      The Greek word for the woman is “virgin” – the ESV unnecessarily limits the meaning of the word to “betrothed” virgins.

3.      The command is plural “let THEM marry” presumably directed to a father rather than to the man who wants to get married – the NAS is off-track here.

4.      The majority of Greek manuscripts use a Greek word in v.38 that means “give in marriage” rather than “marry” which again would be presumably addressed to fathers rather than to those who want to get married.

This is the interpretation I favor, but there are meaningful applications of the other interpretations, so I want to share them as well:

B)    Fiancé and Fiancée

1.      It appears this idea came up in the mid-1900’s, and there are a lot of contemporary translations and Bible commentaries that advocate for this position.

2.      The modern Critical Greek New Testaments which prefer the readings of the oldest discovered Greek manuscripts have the regular Greek verb for “marry” in v.38 rather than the transitive “give in marriage,” so it might not necessarily be addressing the father.

3.      This passage clearly has application to those who are engaged to be married, so it is worth considering from that angle.

C)    Celibate cohabitation

1.      There were people in the early church that experimented with co-ed living arrangements while trying to remain sexually pure. The problem was that so many of these supposedly celibate couples were having babies, so early church leaders condemned such living arrangements.

2.      Epistles of Clement concerning Virginity (around 100ad)
1st - “…shameless men, who, under pretext of the fear of God, have their dwelling with maidens, and so, expose themselves to danger, and walk with them along the road and in solitary places alone - a course which is full of dangers, and full of stumbling-blocks and snares and pitfalls; nor is it in any respect right for Christians and those who fear God so to conduct themselves… who have chosen for themselves a life of holiness…
2nd – “…we, if God help us, conduct ourselves thus: with maidens we do not dwell, nor have we anything in common with them… if it chance that the time for rest overtake us in a place… we turn in to one who is a brother… we are afraid lest any one should make insinuations against us in words of falsehood. For the hearts of men are firmly set on evil. And, that we may not give a pretext to those who desire to get a pretext against us … There is Joseph, faithful, and intelligent, and wise, and who feared God in everything…[yet a woman] cast the righteous man into every kind of distress and torment, to within a little of death, by bearing false witness… Therefore let us, who are consecrated, be careful not to live in the same house with females who have taken the vow. For such conduct as this is not becoming nor right for the servants of God…”
This is corroborated by other church fathers, such as Chrysostom.

3.      Decrees of the Council of Nicaea (325ad):
#3. “This great synod absolutely forbids a bishop, presbyter, deacon or any of the clergy to keep a woman who has been brought in to live with him, with the exception of course of his mother or sister or aunt, or of any person who is above suspicion.”

4.      This may seem like a relic of medieval monasticism, but think again. Nowadays we send children away from their parents to universities just as they are reaching marriageable age, where they live closely alongside members of the opposite sex. Is it any wonder that sexual immorality is so rampant on university campuses?

5.      Two months before I got married, I set up my fiancée in an apartment that I could also move into after we got married. Naturally that was a convenient location to spend time with her, but my Dad gave me some very wise advice. He warned me not to spend time alone with her in that apartment. Why? Quite aside from our own temptations, he knew what the neighbors would assume if I were to spend time alone with her there.

6.      Since the practice of celibate cohabitation is fraught with so much danger and has been opposed throughout history by wise leaders in the church, and since Paul says that the one who stays “as-is” and does not marry does better than the one who marries, I do not think Paul can be talking about celibate cohabitation in this passage. The phrase “his own virgin” which shows up in vs. 36, 37, and 38 also wouldn’t make sense with this interpretation.



A)    Possibility of disorder or improper/unbecoming behavior

1.      In v. 31, Paul says that the “schema” or order of the world is passing away,
- in v.35 he says that he is writing so that the Corinthians may have “eu-schema” lit. “good order” (also translated “right” or “proper” order),
- and now in v. 36 he says that marriage is recommended for one who thinks to be “a-schema” - dis-orderly or improper “towards his virgin.”
- The grammatical structure of this 1st class conditional clause in Greek indicates that Paul thought that the men really were treating their virgins improperly.

2.      How would this apply to Fathers: “toward his virgin [daughter]” (NAS)

(a)    Incest

(i)     Four few years ago, I was sitting in a church presbytery meeting and they asked for volunteers to serve on a committee. I was available at the time, so I volunteered. Then I was given my committee assignment: Investigate a rumor that one of the pastors had committed incest, and follow up on the investigation with appropriate action. Yikes! From what I recall of the story, the pastor’s daughter had gone off to college with another girl in the church. A teacher took advantage of the other girl sexually, and while trying to comfort her friend over the situation, the pastor’s daughter confided that she, too had been abused – by her father! The other young woman then started asking around back at her home church to see who else knew, and so the lid of secrecy was blown open. We called the pastor in for an interview, and he wouldn’t tell us anything except that he thought he had sinned, that she was not a minor so he hadn’t done anything illegal, and that he thought he should keep on pastoring that church. My committee had no choice but to take him out of the pulpit!

(ii)   Two years before that, a co-worker in my mission organization went to jail for abusing his elementary-school-age daughters.

(iii) Just a few weeks ago, another family friend emailed to say that she had discovered her husband sexually abusing their daughters.

(iv) I suspect that these are not isolated incidents. The shame of a daughter being violated and the fear of a father who doesn’t want to be found out both combine to keep anyone else from hearing about it in many cases.

(v)   Lev. 18:17 explicitly outlaws sexual relations with a daughter.

(vi) Men, you better not be caught dead being a predator toward girls! You are responsible before God to be a protector of your daughters, to preserve their purity before God, to defend them to your last breath.

(b)   Control-freak: Another way that fathers act inappropriately towards daughters

(i)     Knock-Knock. Who’s There? Control-freak… Now you say, ‘Control Freak Who?’

(ii)   Some fathers act in a dysfunctional way toward their daughters by exercising abusive control.

(iii) This is the way most of the commentators I read explained this passage:

·         John Calvin said that the “unseemliness “would be if singleness does not fit her nature, but the father was demanding that she remain single.

·         JFB: The uncomeliness is speaking of leaving a daughter unmarried.

·         A.T. Robertson: The daughter desires to marry, and the marriage would be appropriate, but the father won’t allow it.

·         Clark: describes the shame of being a spinster.

(iv) In the August 2008 issue of No Greater Joy Magazine, the issue of Dysfunctional Patriarchial Families was addressed. This article hit a real nerve as letters poured in from all over the country affirming that this problem was widespread. The author of the article, Michael Pearl, wrote:

·         “While we sat around one evening, [some visiting missionaries] casually asked us to pray that their daughter find a husband before they left for Mozambique in the Fall. I asked in a shocked manner, ‘Why on earth would you want her to marry now? She is such a blessing to you and knows the language. Surely you need her to help you with the other children.’ The mother lifted her arched brows as she pondered how she would answer me. Her look conveyed her surprise at my lack of understanding. ‘We will be in a foreign country for the next 4 years. All that time she will be at the prime of her marriageable age. We feel it is best for her to marry an American. God called my husband to Mozambique as a missionary…not our adult children. We have obeyed God and raised them up to serve HIM…not US. We don’t add; we multiply. It is time for her to live her life.’ …I am thankful for the testimony of [this missionary] family... They are a prototype to help us understand the problems that are arising among some older homeschooling families... Briefly, it is the failure of the parents to understand, appreciate, and respect the individuality of their adult children. They sacrifice the individual identities of their children on the altar of their own emotional needs, making them nurse when they should be killing and dressing their own food, making them obey when they should be learning to command. They seem to think that grown children are God’s gift to them rather than their gift to God. Through letters and personal contact, we see more and more of this cult-like isolationism, parents demanding absolute allegiance to the family group, and fearing outside contact might break up their “fellowship.” Adult kids who want to launch out on their own are told that they are rebellious and disloyal and are causing grief to those who have nurtured them. Emotionally needy parents manipulate their grown children into remaining loyal to the unit… Daughters sit at home serving the younger children and doing Mama’s chores—waiting for God’s choice. Daddy and Mama hold their merchandise guardedly, waiting for a buyer who never comes. What is pitiful is the whole process is done in hopes of getting the perfect will of God, but one vital ingredient is missing—encouraging your children to become responsible, autonomous, well educated, and experienced adults as soon as possible. You should have trained your sons to be men by the time they are fifteen, independent by the time they are eighteen. Your daughters should be capable of living apart from the family by the time they are eighteen and should be allowed to make their own life’s decisions somewhere between the ages of eighteen and twenty. Unmarried, grown (18 years old) children may remain at home; it is good if they do; but the parent-child relationship should evolve into an adult-adult relationship...”

(v)    Thus far we have applied propriety toward fathers and daughters…

3.      Applied to Fiancés or other singles: (“toward the virgin he [is engaged to]” - NIV)

(a)    If you are afraid you will fall into fornication, consider going ahead & getting married!

(b)   v.2 “on account of the immoralities let each man have his own wife”

(c)    v. 9. “if they are not controlling themselves, let them get married, for it is better to marry than to be burned.”

(d)   WARNING: Marriage will not solve your problem with lust or impurity. These sins tend to carry on after you get married, so they must be confessed and abandoned now.

(e)    But if you’ve got your ducks in a row and are concerned that you might do something improper if you don’t go ahead and get married, then go for it!

(f)    As a practical application, I don’t recommend long engagements.

SUMMARY: Whether applied to Fathers or to Singles, the principle to observe is that one should get married if marriage can be used to bring an end to an improper situation.

B)    of age/past the flower of youth/getting along in years/huperacme - lit. “above the acme”

1.      I think that the ESV translation “if his passions are strong” is out in left field.

2.      Plato sets the “huperacme” at 20 years of age in his Republic. This follows the Mosaic law which also set the age of independent adulthood at 20 (Ex. 30:14 & 38:26; Num. 1:3)

3.      Paul does not explain exactly what age he means, so we should be careful not to be too legalistic about the 20-year mark, but if your girl’s under-age, marriage isn’t an option. There’s a decisive principle.

4.      Here we have a Biblical basis to support a legal age of marriage rather than allowing child marriages like many non-Christian nations do. God’s word is full of wisdom, isn’t it?

The next decisive principle has to do with…

C)    “what ought to be/what must be/appropriateness”

1.      Again, Paul is not explicit in what he means here, but I believe the principle is that due consideration needs to be given to the appropriateness of the marriage.

2.      When my wife and I were preparing to marry, we went down to the courthouse in Trenton, GA, and they required us to take a blood test to establish whether we were too closely related to marry or not. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to marry my cousin.

3.      In other world cultures, however, it’s not appropriate NOT to marry a cousin! The social stresses that would develop from marrying an outsider could destroy a marriage in those cultures, so they don’t do it.

4.      Sometimes even your worship traditions crop up and make a marriage inappropriate – at least it was so in the eyes of the Baptist father and daughter that one of my Presbyterian brothers-in-law got engaged to. They had to break off the engagement.

5.      Romeo, you may want to marry Juliette, but you’d better consider well if it’s appropriate. Those Capulets and Montagues can be merciless with each other, and like it or not, you join her family when you get married, so you’d better like her family.

6.      By the way, there’s nothing wrong with cross-cultural marriages, but cross-cultural marriages have more stress on them, so there may be a better choice who could make you more effective in serving God.

So far, we’ve looked at avoiding disorderly conduct, being of age, and oughtness/appro­priateness as factors for deciding about marriage. Here is another implied factor:

D)    Parental permission

1.      End of v.36 “let them marry”
v.37 “if he has authority regarding his will (poorer translations say “power/control”),
& Majority reading of v.38 “he who gives in marriage… he who does not give in marriage” These imply that there is a party with authority in the matter to decide whether or not to let them marry and to give the virgin in marriage. Normally that person is her father.

2.      Our tradition of asking the girl’s father for her hand in marriage should be observed with all seriousness.

3.      Most parents want what is best for their children and have years of wisdom and experience to help them tell who will be good and who will be bad company for their children. Even non-Christian parents have a lot of good common sense. So make them part of the decision-making process!

4.      Our wedding tradition symbolizes this authority by having the father walk his daughter down the aisle to the minister and say “I do” when the minister asks “Who gives this woman to be married?” The father then lets go of his daughter’s hand and places her hand in the new husband’s hand, relinquishing his authority over her and handing that authority over to her new husband.

5.      On this verse, Calvin wrote, “Let us bear in mind, therefore, that this limitation is the proper rule — that children allow themselves to be governed by their parents, and that they, on the other hand, do not drag their children by force to what is against their inclination, and that they have no other object in view, in the exercise of their authority, than the advantage of their children…”

The 5th & 6th decisive factors in marriage are found in v.39:

E)    Marry “only in the Lord”

1.      The NIV’s “he must belong to the Lord” is not a literal translation, but gives the common consensus of what “only in the Lord” means.

2.      If you are a Christian, you should only marry another Christian. That is a decisive factor in whom to marry.

3.      “in the Lord” can also have a larger meaning of getting married and living a married life while being devoted to Jesus – “in the Lord.”

F)     Marriage is binding until death parts

1.      Only marry if you’re willing to stick with it your whole life.

2.      For those already married: daydreaming about who you might marry if your spouse died is as good as thinking of murdering your spouse – don’t even allow yourself to go there.

3.      Interestingly enough, the only place this word “bound” shows up regarding marriage in the O.T. is in the Song of Solomon (7:5) where it is portrayed as an enjoyable thing!

4.      You may be tempted to chafe from time to time at the limitations imposed by your marriage vow, but decide to enjoy your marriage instead.



So the decisive factors Paul brings up here regarding marriage are: Avoiding disorderly conduct, Being of-age, Appropriateness of the marriage, Parental permission, Marrying “in the Lord” and Marrying until death do you part.


Someone once asked, "Is there anything more beautiful than a boy and girl clasping clean hands and pure hearts in the path of marriage?" The answer is ,"Yes, there is a more beautiful thing: it is the spectacle of an old man and an old woman finishing their journey on that path. Their hands are gnarled, but still clasped; their faces are seamed but still radiant; their hearts are tired and bowed down but still strong. They have proved the happiness of marriage and vindicated it from the jeers of cynics.






1Peter 1:13-15 NASB  Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;


Psalter 131 (Beth-keyboard)






Mat 5:27-48 NASB  "You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell. It was said, 'WHOEVER SENDS HIS WIFE AWAY, LET HIM GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.' But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; anything beyond these is of evil. You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.




Rejoice Ye Pure in Heart (RT#604 - Beth-keyboard)


Hosea 2:13-23

NT Text

Romans 7 – Lector: Chip


Teach Me O Lord (RT#532 - Keyboard & Cello?)


1 Corinthians 7:36-40 Decisive Principles Regarding Marriage




Come, Now is the Time to Worship (with ensemble)


Mat 26:26-29 NASB  While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take, eat; this is My body." And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom."


Father, I Adore You (a cappella)


Deut 28:11-13 May the LORD cause you to abound in prosperity, in the offspring of your body and in … the produce of your ground. May the LORD open for you His good storehouse, the heavens, to give rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hand; so that you may lend to many nations, but not borrow. The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and make you come out on top, and not at the bottom, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God, which I have charged you today, to observe carefully…




Which explanation of the relationship between the man and the woman in these verses seems most likely to you?


What general principles concerning marriage are laid down here in this passage?


What is the main thrust of the teaching in ch. 7?


What is God calling you to do in response to this passage?



First  Corinthians  7




36  ει  δε  τιςX-NSM  ασχημονειν PAN  επι  τηνASF  παρθενονASF  αυτουGSM  νομιζειPAI-3S  εαν  ηPAS-3S  ‘υπερακμοςA-NSM  και  ‘ουτως ADV  οφειλειPAI-3S  γινεσθαιPNN  οR-ASN  θελειPAI-3S  ποιειτωPAM-3S  ουχ-N  ‘αμαρτανειPAI-3S  γαμειτωσαν PAM-3P  

36  But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.

37οςR-NSM  δε  εστηκενRAI-3S  εν  τῃ  καρδιαDSF  αυτου  εδραιος NSM  μη-N  εχωνPAP-NSM  αναγκηνASF  εξουσιαν ASF  δε  εχειPAI-3S  περι  του  ιδιουGSN  θεληματοςGSN  και  τουτο ASN  κεκρικενRAI-3S  εν  τῃ  ιδια  καρδιαDSF  τηρεινPAN  την  εαυτου  παρθενονASF  καλως  ποιησειFAI-3S  

37  Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

38  ‘ωστε  και  ‘ο  γαμιζωνPAP-NSM  τηνASF  εαυτου3GSM  παρθενον ASF  καλωςADV  ποιειPAI-3S  και  ‘ο  μη-N  γαμιζωνPAP-NSM  κρεισσονA-ASN  ποιησειFAI-3S  

38  So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

39  γυνηNSF  δεδεταιRPI-3S  εφ’  ‘οσον K-ASM  χρονονASM  ζηPAI-3S  ‘ο  ανηρNSM  αυτηςGSF  εαν  δε  κοιμηθη APS-3S  ‘ο  ανηρNSM  ελευθεραA-NSF  εστινPAI-3S  ‘ῳR-DSM  θελειPAI-3S  γαμηθηναιAPN  μονον  εν  κυριῳDSM  

39  The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

40 μακαριωτεραNSF-C  δε  εστιν PAI-3S  εαν  ‘ουτωςADV  μεινηAAS-3S  κατα  την  εμηνS-1ASF  γνωμηνASF  δοκωPAI-1S  γαρ/δε  καγω1NS-K  πνευμαASN  θεουGSM  εχεινPAN  

40  But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.