Copr. 1998, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.  All Scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society,  unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard.

INTRODUCTION: This week our study is 1 Corinthians 7 and Paul’s controversial statements about marriage. Let’s dive in!


     A. Read 1 Corinthians 7:1-2. Paul’s letter is a response to one or more letters the Corinthian church had written to him. Looking at v.1, what do you find is one of the topics about which the Corinthians wrote to Paul? (Whether to get married.)

     B. When a client writes me a letter with several questions, it is common that I repeat each question (in at least an abbreviated form) before I answer it. This helps to make my advice less confusing. With this background, in the second half of v.1, is Paul stating his opinion or just repeating the question of the Corinthians? (Our lesson suggests (Sunday) that Paul is just repeating the question. If that were true, then v.8 is pretty hard to explain.)

          1. Let’s give the lesson the benefit of the doubt and say that the second half of v.1 is not Paul’s opinion, but a mere repetition of the Corinthians’ question. Is Paul recommending marriage in vv. 1-2? (This would hardly qualify as a ringing endorsement! The phrase, “damned by faint praise,” keeps coming to mind.)

          2. If Paul is in favor of marriage, what is his basis for supporting marriage? (Verse 2: to avoid sexual immorality. What a grudging and negative support for marriage!)

a. If they were not surrounded by this sinful atmosphere, would Paul endorse marriage? (It seems not.)

     C. Read vv. 3-6. Is verse 3 a continuation
of Paul’s thought in v. 2? (No doubt. To avoid sinfulness, each
spouse should do his or her “duty” to the other.)

          1. Just in case
you had any doubt, the word translated “duty” (ofeileen) is the same word for the obligation to pay taxes (Romans 13:7) or overdue debts (Matthew 18:32).

          2. Is a pattern
beginning to emerge in Paul’s view of the marriage relationship?

     D. As you consider the general Biblical view
of marriage, is it consistent with these verses in 1 Corinthians
7?  Is the general Biblical view of marriage that:

          1. It is permitted
to avoid sin; and

          2. The sexual
relationship is a duty, akin to paying your taxes or overdue debts?

a. What is the Biblical view of marriage set forth in Genesis 2:18 at creation? (“Not good for man to be alone.” Obviously, no issue of a sexually immoral atmosphere in Eden.)

b. What is the Biblical view of marriage set forth by Moses? (Deuteronomy 24:5. A matter of happiness that is more important than defending Israel — as least in the beginning.)

c. What is the Biblical view of marriage set forth by Jesus? (See Matthew 19:4-6. Jesus refers back to the Genesis situation.)

          3. Has Paul completely
fallen off the wagon? How can his advice be so at odds with the rest of the Bible?

a. Is it possible for Paul’s advice to be at odds with the rest of the Bible since 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching….?” ALL Scripture!

(1)(This afternoon, when you get home, consider how 1 Corinthians 1:14-16 fits into the “God- breathed” idea. Can the Holy Spirit be forgetful? Uncertain?  Consider also Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 7:12 that he is giving personal advice, and not God’s advice. Does the Holy Spirit let the human instrument get off on a “toot of his own?” Is this consistent with the concept of “God-breathed” Scripture? It seems the answers must be, “Yes — at least to some extent.”)

b. Before we conclude that Paul is “off on a toot,” we need to read more of what he says so that we can properly interpret his writings.

     E. Read 1 Corinthians 7:7-16. Is there a common
principle in here? A common thread in Paul’s statements
about marriage? (Yes. Skip ahead to vv. 32-34. He seems to
be focussing on promoting the kingdom of God. If you are single,
you can focus more completely on promoting the kingdom.
If you cannot stand to be single because of your passions, you
should marry (v.9). If you are married to an unbeliever, if you
stay with them you may convert (sanctify) him (v.14). But you
are not required to remain married to an unbeliever who wants
out. Why? “God has called us to live in peace.” (v.15))

     F. Is Paul’s advice on marriage more practical
advice than eternal principles?

     G. Does God have “hard and fast” rules about
marriage?  Has He always had “hard and fast” rules? (Turn with
me to Matthew 19. Read Matthew 19:3-12.

          1. What does
Jesus seem to say is the ideal? (If you marry, stay married.)  Since Jesus refers back to Genesis 2:24, and God said (in Genesis 2:18) that it was good to be married, Jesus endorses marriage by this reference.)

          2. Did God ever
make exceptions to this rule? (Yes. Verse 8 says that divorce was permitted “because your hearts were hard.” (See Deuteronomy 24:1-4.) Note that Jesus says “it was not this way from the beginning.” This shows us that at least some of His listeners thought that divorce had always been permitted.)

          3. What is the
disciples’ reaction to hearing this rule on divorce? (They are shocked! If you cannot get out of a marriage, they thought it better not to marry in the first place! (v.10))

          4. What does
verse 11 mean?

a. Is Jesus accepting the disciples’ remark “it is better not to marry” and saying that not everyone can refrain from marriage to avoid the “marriage standard?”

b. Or, is Jesus saying that  we still have an exception to the rule of “no divorce and remarriage?”

          5. Does v. 12
tend to support “a” or “b” above?

(The short answer is, “I don’t know.”  My initial reaction is that

Jesus still allows an exception. Consider the dialogue in vv. 9-12.

Jesus first gives (in the view of the disciples) a shockingly

difficult standard for marriage. In response, the disciples say,

“If this is true, forget marriage!” What “word” (v.11 “not everyone

can accept this word…”) then, would Jesus logically be referring

to? The “no divorce” “word” He gave in v.9 or the “word” of the

disciples to “forget marriage?”  It seems more reasonable that

Jesus is referring to His original statement of the standard, and

not the disciples’ reaction. On the other hand, verse 12 seems to

be an acknowledgement that the disciples have suggested the only

“safe course” (celibacy) to avoid the “no divorce” rule. But He

seems to say this is not for everyone. Some are able to renounce

marriage to advance the kingdom of heaven. Having given you my reaction, three commentaries
that I read

(Matthew Henry; Adam Clarke; Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown all

disagree with me and say that the “word” Jesus refers to in v. 11

is the disciples’ statement about abstaining from marriage. Elwell

agrees with me that the “word” of v.11 refers to Jesus’ no divorce

standard, but concludes that the balance of v.11 means that if you

cannot meet the standard, you best not get married. I defer to

these commentators and am grateful this is not an issue for me

because I have been married only once, to the “wife of my youth.”)

     H. Do you see a parallel in Matthew 19:12 and
Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 7:32-33? (Jesus does not
endorse or condemn the idea that a person can renounce marriage
“because of the kingdom of heaven.”  Since He does not
condemn that idea, we cannot say Paul was “off on a toot” when he
elaborates on the idea that a single person can be more fully
devoted to promoting the kingdom. A critical principle
of the gospel is giving up yourself to promote the kingdom.
This fits into that principle.)


     A. Many years ago, my wife’s father died. Right
after his death, the children were suggesting changes
to the home, etc. that his widow might like to make.  She
was adamant, vociferous even, that she believed in “sameness.” 
No changes! Then a few months later, she remarried and
left hardly anything unchanged!  Let’s read what
Paul says about “sameness:” 1 Corinthians 7:17-24.

          1. Is Paul referring
only to our marriage situation remaining static? (No.)

          2. If Paul is
going beyond marriage, how would you apply this message to your situation today?

          3. I have seen
individuals, after they became converted, change their career to go to the seminary or become a literature evangelist. What does Paul advise on this? (The key is found in vv. 20 and 24: do what God called you to do.  If God has called you to witness in your current job, do not believe you must quit your job, uproot your family and go to the seminary to please Him. Even a lawyer can promote the gospel!)


     A. Read 1 Corinthians 7:25-31. Does Paul give
us an explanation for his advice promoting being
single and remaining as we are? (Yes, the “present crisis.”
(v.26. See also vv. 29,31)

          1. What do you
think Paul meant by the “present crisis?” (It could be trouble of any sort.  However, his reference in v.31 to “this world in its present form is passing away” must be a reference to the second coming of Christ. The fact that Paul believed the second coming was imminent is clear from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  If he had not thought that Jesus was coming within his lifetime, he would have simply said, “Hey, its not a problem (your friends dying, that is). We are all going to be dead before Jesus comes again!”)

     B. Read Ephesians 5:23-33. How is this positive
view of marriage (and even a reference back to the
Genesis view!) consistent with the “dark” view of marriage
that Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 7? (Barclay suggests (Letters
to the Corinthians, pp. 69-70) that when Paul wrote
Ephesians he realized that Jesus was not coming back immediately. 
“Had Paul thought that he and his converts were
living in a permanent situation, he would never have written
as he did [in 1 Corinthians 7].” The notes to the NIV Study
Bible place the writings of 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians
before Ephesians. (However, the time spread is not
very much.) Although Barclay’s suggestion is certainly
subject to debate, I think he has it right; especially when you
consider that Paul’s comments on remaining single in the
first half of 1 Corinthians 7 all focus on promoting the gospel.)

     C. What lesson, if any,  about marriage
from 1 Corinthians 7 can we profit from today? (God approves
of being married or being single. Although the general tenor of
the Bible is to uphold the institution of marriage, a person
may very well elect to remain single to more effectively
promote the kingdom of heaven.)



r being single. Although the general tenor of
the Bible is to uphold the institution of marriage, a person
may very well elect to remain single to more effectively
promote the kingdom of heaven.)