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Sex and Marriage

Now for my response concerning the issues you’ve asked me to address. You wrote saying, “It is proper for a man to live in celibacy.”[a] Perhaps. But because of the danger of immorality,[b] each husband should have sexual intimacy with his wife and each wife should have sexual intimacy with her husband. A husband has the responsibility of meeting the sexual needs of his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband.[c] Neither the husband nor the wife have exclusive rights to their own bodies, but those rights are to be surrendered to the other. So don’t continue to refuse your spouse those rights, except perhaps by mutual agreement for a specified time so that you can both be devoted to prayer.[d] And then you should resume your physical pleasure so that the Adversary cannot take advantage of you because of the desires of your body.[e] I’m not giving you a divine command, but my godly advice.[f] I would wish that all of you could live unmarried, just as I do.[g] Yet I understand that we are all decidedly different, with each having a special grace for one thing or another.[h]

So let me say to the unmarried and those who have lost their spouses, it is fine for you to remain single as I am. But if you have no power over your passions, then you should go ahead and marry, for marriage is far better than a continual battle with lust.[i]


10 And to those who are married, I give this charge—which is not mine, but the Lord’s[j]—that the wife should not depart from her husband. 11 But if she does, then she should either remain unmarried or reconcile with her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say, which is not a saying of the Lord, if a brother has an unbelieving wife and she is content to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is content to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been made holy by his believing wife. And the unbelieving wife has been made holy by her believing husband by virtue of his or her sacred union to a believer.[k] Otherwise, the children from this union would be unclean, but in fact, they are holy.[l] 15 But if the unbelieving spouse wants a divorce, then let it be so. In this situation the believing spouse is not bound[m] to the marriage, for God has called us to live in peace.

16 And wives, for all you know you could one day lead your husband to salvation. Or husbands, how do you know for sure that you could not one day lead your wife to salvation?[n]

Living the Life God Has Assigned

17 May all believers continue to live the wonderful lives God has called them to live, according to what he assigns for each person, for this is what I teach to believers[o] everywhere. 18 If when you were called to follow Jesus you were circumcised, it would be futile to try to undo the circumcision. And if you were called while yet uncircumcised, there is no need to be circumcised. 19 Your identity before God has nothing to do with circumcision or uncircumcision.[p] What really matters is following God’s commandments. 20 So everyone should continue to live faithful in the situation of life in which they were called to follow Jesus.[q] 21 Were you a slave when you heard the call to follow Jesus? Don’t let that concern you. Even if you can gain your freedom, make the most of the opportunity. 22 For truly, if you are called to a life-union with the Lord, you are already a free man! And those who were called to follow Jesus when they were free are now the Messiah’s slaves. 23 Since a great price was paid for your redemption, stop having the mind-set of a slave. 24 Brothers and sisters, we must remain in close communion with God, no matter what our situation was when we were first called to follow Jesus.

Instructions to the Single and Widowed

25 Now let me address the issue of singleness.[r] I must confess, I have no command to give you that comes directly from the Lord. But let me share my thoughts on the matter, as coming from one who has experienced the mercy[s] of the Lord to keep me faithful to him. 26 Because of the severe pressure we are in,[t] I recommend you remain as you are. 27 If you are married, stay in the marriage. If you are single,[u] don’t rush into marriage. 28 But if you do get married, you haven’t sinned.[v] It’s just that I would want to spare you the problems you’ll face with the extra challenges of being married.

29 My friends, what I mean is this. The urgency of our times mean that from now on, those who have wives should live as though without them. 30 And those who weep should forget their tears. And those who rejoice will have no time to celebrate. And those who purchase items will have no time to enjoy them. 31 We are to live as those who live in the world but are not absorbed by it, for the world as we know it is quickly passing away. 32 Because of this, we need to live as free from anxiety as possible.

For a single man is focused on the things of the Lord and how he may please him. 33 But a married man is pulled in two directions, for he is concerned about both the things of God and the things of the world in order to please[w] his wife. 34 And the single woman is focused on the things of the Lord so she can be holy both in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world and how she may please her husband. 35 I am trying to help you and make things easier for you and not make things difficult, but so that you would have undistracted devotion, serving the Lord constantly with an undivided heart.

36 However, if a man has decided to serve God as a single person, yet changes his mind and finds himself in love with a woman, although he never intended to marry, let him go ahead and marry her; it is not a sin to do so.[x] 37 On the other hand, if a man stands firm in his heart to remain single, and is under no compulsion to get married but has control over his passions and is determined to remain celibate, he has chosen well. 38 So then, the one who marries his fiancée does well and the one who chooses not to marry her does better.


39 A wife is bound by the marriage covenant as long as her husband is living. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry again as she desires—but, of course, he should be a believer in the Lord. 40 However, in my opinion (and I think that I too have the Spirit of God), she would be happier if she remained single.


  1. 7:1 Or “not to marry.” The Aramaic can be translated “It is proper for a husband not to have intimacy with his wife at times.” Paul now responds to a series of questions posed by the church of Corinth.
  2. 7:2 Or “because of immoralities” or “because of prostitutions.”
  3. 7:3 The Aramaic (and a few of the oldest Greek manuscripts) can be translated “The husband should pay back the love he owes to his wife and the wife to her husband.”
  4. 7:5 Some later manuscripts add “and fasting.”
  5. 7:5 Or “[lack of] self-control.”
  6. 7:6 Or “concession.” There are at least two ways this could be interpreted: (1) Paul is saying that to be married is advisable but not commanded. This seems the most likely because of v. 7. (2) Paul is referring to the preceding paragraph, especially regarding the advice of abstinence during seasons of prayer.
  7. 7:7 The Aramaic can be translated “I wish that all humanity lived in purity as I do.” It is possible that Paul was once married and became a widower. Some suggest he had to have been married at the time he persecuted the early church, since only married men could be part of the Sanhedrin and cast a vote. However, there is evidence that some Jewish leaders during his time were committed to celibacy. See Acts 26:10.
  8. 7:7 Both being single and being married require a special grace from God.
  9. 7:9 Or “better than to have a fire ever smoldering within them.”
  10. 7:10 Paul is not stating that there is an opposition between what he says, in his teaching as an apostle, and what the Lord says. He is taking our Lord’s own teaching from Mark 10:5–12 and bringing it to the people.
  11. 7:14 Or “The unbelieving husband is made holy because of the wife, and the unbelieving wife because of her husband.” By implication, Paul is making the point that in marriages where one is a believer and one an unbeliever, the spouses should remain together, for the righteous faith of a believer makes the marriage holy. Apparently, because of their desire to serve Christ, some of the Corinthians who had pagan spouses thought it would be best to divorce their spouses and find believing ones. Paul corrects that error and affirms the marriage covenant.
  12. 7:14 In the concepts of the Old Testament, the entire family is in covenant with God. Therefore, the children of even one believing parent are set apart for God.
  13. 7:15 Or “enslaved.”
  14. 7:16 Translators are almost equally divided over making this an optimistic possibility versus a pessimistic one. If the pessimistic choice of grammar is chosen, the verse could be translated “Wife, how do you know that you will save your husband? And husband, how do you know that you will save your wife?” Which would infer “It’s no use hanging on to a marriage with no hope of converting the unbelieving spouse, for how do you know it would ever happen?” Though both are possible, this translation has chosen the optimistic possibility.
  15. 7:17 Or “in all the churches.”
  16. 7:19 Or “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing.” No doubt this statement was a tremendous shock to the Corinthians. To the Jews it would be earthshaking, for circumcision was the outward sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Paul, as elsewhere, places the emphasis not on outer things but on an inward transformation that longs to please God.
  17. 7:20 Paul is teaching that no matter what a person’s situation is in life, the real change needed is not just in circumstances, but in a heart that is willing to be faithful to God in all things. We often wish we could be in different circumstances instead of looking for opportunities to serve God where we are.
  18. 7:25 Or “virgins.”
  19. 7:25 Or “one who has been mercied.”
  20. 7:26 Or “impending crisis.” Some scholars believe this severe pressure could refer to the great famine of AD 51, while others view it as imminent persecution.
  21. 7:27 The Aramaic can be translated “If you are divorced, don’t seek marriage.”
  22. 7:28 Or “If you [men] do get married it is not sin, and if a [female] virgin marries, she hasn’t sinned.” This translation combines both statements with brothers and sisters.
  23. 7:33 The Aramaic can be translated “to beautify.”
  24. 7:36 This is arguably one of the most difficult verses to translate in all the New Testament. You will find many possible translations and interpretations of this passage, which is loaded with cultural implications for the first-century church. Consulting a variety of translations is recommended.

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