Lesson 6.5 Engagement and Marriage - Page 1 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

December 29, 2012
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe

Lesson 6.5: Engagement and Marriage
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 7.36-38

1 Cor 7.36-38 (KJV)
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.
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 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

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.

But if any man think
Apparently, Paul had been asked a question pertaining to the duty of a father toward his daughter with regard to marriage, and this passage contains his response, since this and the following verse are addressed to fathers, and Paul’s advice concerns his single daughter. It will help in understanding this passage to know the control which the father had over the marriage of his daughter in ancient times. According to the practice both of Jews and of Greeks, the father had total control over his daughter’s marriage; whether she could be married, when she could marry and to whom. From what we have learned so far, it is clear that the apostle regarded marriage at that time as undesirable. In this short passage, he tells fathers that they are perfectly free to exercise their own judgment in giving their daughters in marriage or keeping them single.

that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin,
“His Virgin” in this context is his daughter, or his ward, or any unmarried female committed to his care, and it does not mean a virgin, in the sense of never having sexual relations with a man, but the state of virginity or celibacy, whether in a man or woman. The term “uncomely” signifies behaving improperly, and in this passage where Paul is giving advice relating to marriage, it probably means denying his daughter the right to marry—perhaps for the reasons mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7.25-34—which would expose her to criticism, and she would lose respect. Remember that in this ancient culture, a young person's parents had the primary responsibility for arranging their marriage.

The Jews say that the time of marriage is from 16 or 17 to 20; while some of the Gentiles specify from 30 to 35. This is called “the flower of her age” in the next clause. If a father would keep his daughter at home past this age, they would say of her, “she passed the flower of her age,” and she would be disgraced in the eyes of many. Forcing her to live a single life may be contrary to her nature, especially if she lacks self-control, and by doing so, he may cause her to be tempted to do that which is improper; to commit fornication, which would damage the reputation of both him and her.

if she pass the flower of her age
If she passes the marriageable age or the age of “full sexual maturity,” she is considered ripe for marriage, and that could occur as early as twelve years and a half old, at which age virgins were judged fit to marry: consequently, the Jews had a saying, “if thy daughter, ‘is ripe’, or has come to ‘the flower of her age,’ make thy servant free and give her to him.” It is well known that in Paul’s day it was regarded as particularly dishonorable to remain unmarried; and the authority of a father, therefore, might be the means of involving his daughter in shame and disgrace. When this would be the case, it would be wrong to prohibit her marriage. Any denial of marriage to an aging daughter would seem inappropriate to a loving parent, who should feel no sense of sin in giving his daughter's hand in marriage.

and need so require,
That is, if circumstances of any kind seem to require her marriage; if she does not have the gift of continence (self-control, having power over sexual desires); if she is in danger of falling into the sin of fornication, and the father or guardian are aware of this; if it will encourage her happiness; and if she would be unhappy, and regarded as dishonored, if she remained in a state of celibacy, she ought to be allowed to marry.

In Corinth, there was a grave danger facing a girl who had reached the age for marriage. If she wanted to marry, and her farther would not allow her to do so, she might disgrace her father and ruin her own testimony by marrying the wrong person. In that case, what God intended to be morally beautiful would become morally ugly and bring about a scandal in the church and in the community.

let him do what he will, he sinneth not:
“Let him do what he will,” because he has all the authority and power in this case; since in the east the authority resided with the father. He may either give her in marriage or not, as he pleases. But in this case it is advisable that she marry. Paul says it is not wrong for a father to allow his young daughter to marry, even though singleness was desirable at the present time, due to the persecution of Christians.

“He sinneth not” means the father has not made a mistake; he will do nothing wrong by allowing his daughter to marry. Marriage is lawful, and in this case it is advisable; and he may consent to it, for the reasons stated above. Therefore, let him do what he wishes. He can let them marry: he is under no obligation by what the apostle had said to detain her in a single life; he may give her in marriage if he pleases.

let them marry.
Let the young men and young women marry if they are so disposed; there is no reason why they should not; there is nothing contrary to it in the word of God, or in the advice given by the apostle; according to him, it was much better to marry than to burn, or to be exposed to any snare and temptation. This was the advice for parents and guardians, and it has no reference at all to some passionate suitor shacked up with his girlfriend. But, because singleness does have its benefits, Paul will recommend it, not only to individuals, but also to fathers in regard to the marrying off of their daughters. “He who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better: For Paul, the choice between married and single was not the choice between good and bad, but between better and best.” And for Paul, and the present circumstances, he regarded singleness as best. But in spite of Paul’s foregoing advice, he does not intend to discourage marriage, especially in situations where it becomes necessary for the happiness of the individuals involved. Note, Paul had already said in 1 Corinthians 7.35 that he was not laying down a hard-and-fast rule for everybody to follow, regardless of circumstances.

Even though our modern approach to marriage and dating was completely foreign to the Corinthians, the council Paul gave them still applies today. It is a wise thing for couples to council with their parents and Christian leaders, in the church, so that they don’t rush into something that they will regret afterward.

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