Concerning Widows - Page 1 (series: Lessons on 1st Corinthians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

December 31, 2012
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe

Lesson 6.6: Concerning Widows
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 7.39-40

1 Cor 7.39-40 (KJV)

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


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.

The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth;
This seems to be written in response to another question put to him by the Corinthians, which went something like this: “Is it permitted for a woman to remarry whose husband is dead, or who has abandoned her?" To which he replies, in general, that as long as her husband is living the law binds her to him alone; but, if the husband dies, she is free to remarry, but only in the Lord; that is she must not marry a heathen nor an irreligious man; and she should not only marry a genuine Christian, but one of her own religious point of view; because, if there is going to be domestic peace, much depends on this.
Paul’s earlier council to widows is found in 1 Corinthians 7.8-9, where he counseled them to remain unmarried if they are equipped to do so. The only restriction he placed on a widow, who wanted to remarry, was the obligation to marry another believer (he must belong to the Lord)—an obligation though previously unstated, he no doubt meant to apply to all who sought marriage partners. That point alone, however, affected a widow’s options. Within that condition she might choose whom she wanted, and find with that husband great happiness, though Paul added that she would be happier if she remained single. Perhaps Paul was aware of the increasing ease with which women in the Roman Empire, since the reign of Augustus, had obtained divorces from their husbands.

This was the sixth question Paul answered in this chapter; and the answer to this one was easy. Yes, widows can marry again, but "only in the Lord." It was never intended that Christians marry unbelievers, as Paul spelled out more fully in 2 Cor. 6:14: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” The meaning is that Christians are not to pair off with unbelievers. All intimate associations with unbelievers are forbidden. The primary reference is to intermarriage and to taking part in heathen celebrations; but all close fellowship with unbelievers is included. It is a rare and exceptional thing when mixed marriages between Christians and unbelievers can produce anything but sorrow. As Barclay said: “One thing it must be, Paul laid down here; it must be a marriage in the Lord ... Long, long ago, Plutarch, the wise old Greek, laid it down that ‘marriage cannot be happy unless husband and wife are of the same religion.’” Saints should choose Christian alliances and associations.

A woman is bound to her husband, by the law of marriage (Biblical Law), for as long as he lives; the bond of marriage between them can only be dissolved by the death of one of them, by an act of adultery, and by willful desertion: “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man” (Romans 7:2-3; KJV). The uniform doctrine of the New Testament is that marriage is a contract for life, between one man and one woman, unbreakable by the will of the parties or by any human authority; but the death of either party leaves the survivor free to marry another.

Something to Keep in Mind
There is no place in Christian marriage for a “trial marriage,” nor is there any room for an “escape hatch” attitude: “if the marriage doesn’t work, we can always get a divorce.” For this reason marriage must be built on something sturdier than good looks, money, romantic excitement, and social acceptance. There must be Christian commitment, character, and maturity. There must be a willingness to grow, to learn from each other, to forgive and forget, and to minister to one another. The kind of love Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 13 is what is needed to cement two lives together.

But if her husband be dead,

The word rendered “dead” is rendered "asleep" in other places, although its meaning is death: death is often expressed by sleeping in Scripture, since the dead will not always remain in such a state, but be raised from death at the last day, just as persons are awaken out of sleep.

Taking this clause and the one following together we have; “But if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will.” God’s Law does not place a limit on the number of times a person can marry. It is certain, from this passage that second marriages are not unlawful; because then the widow could not be at liberty to marry whom she pleased, or to marry a second time at all.

Something to Keep in Mind

William Barkley wrote this about a second marriage: “In many ways a second marriage is the highest compliment that the one who survives can pay to the one who has gone before; for it means without his or her, life was so lonely as to be insupportable; it means with him or her the married state was so happy that it can be fearlessly entered into again. So far from being an act of disrespect it can be a mark of honor to the dead.

she is at liberty to be married to whom she will;
From this we understand that second marriages are lawful, although it was a practice that was condemned by many of the ancients. The liberty that a widow has is greater than that of an unmarried woman, because she is under the power, and at the disposal of her parents; but a widow is at her own disposal, and she must make the decision in her own heart; and since death has dissolved her former obligation, she is at liberty to marry, or not marry, and to marry whom she pleases, so long as that person is not disqualified or forbidden by the laws of God. At the same time, Paul believes that a widow is happier if she remains as she is—that is, if she remains single. Essentially, Paul wants the widow not to remarry without carefully considering that God might be calling her to a life of celibacy. I will say it again; Paul prefers celibacy, but not because sex itself is evil (as some of the Corinthian Christians were thinking). Instead, the unmarried state can be superior because it offers a person (if they are so gifted) more opportunity to serve God.

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