This Bible study and quiz will help us understand the Apostle Paul's teaching on marriage which is the primary teaching on marriage in the New Testament. Please read our text from I Corinthians 7 verses 1 to 9.
1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Let's first go through the verses and try to understand Paul's teaching. In verse 1 Paul says it is good - which we can interpret as "preferred", if men do not have sex with women at all. He then goes on to say that since single men do end up committing "sexual immorality" - which we can assume means having sex with women; it is better that they get married and have their own wife and that the women get married and have their own husband. So Paul teaches that sex before marriage is "sexual immorality". This is the primary teaching in the Bible that all sex before marriage is sin. The Old Testament had laws which stated that having sex with a virgin was wrong and having sex with a married or engaged woman was wrong. Now Paul says all sex before marriage is wrong.
Then in verse 7, Paul comes back to his preference that everyone should be single. In verse 7 Paul says "Now to the unmarried and the widows I say" It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry."
Paul seems to think the only reason a man and woman should marry is when they cannot control their sex drive. Paul even encourages men who are dating a virgin to not marry her if he can control himself. Paul does not see the importance of having children, having a family, having companionship, having a stable society with families, or protecting women by them being married; Paul does not seem to think any of these reasons are important enough to encourage marriage. He sure seems out of touch with reality by our standards today.
Can you imagine if we actually lived by Paul's teaching and we all stayed single? When I was young I actually did consider staying single all my life because of Paul's teaching. I would be a very lonely person today if I had taken his advice. The Catholic priests have tried it and it does not work. If Christians did not marry we would have died out centuries ago. But then again, maybe Paul was not speaking to us. Maybe we shouldn't be so hard on Paul because maybe he was only trying to save married couples from the pain of living during the end times. Maybe Paul thought Christ was coming back during his lifetime.
So why was the Apostle Paul discouraging marriage? Why did Paul prefer that everyone stay single? We can find our answer when we read further down in the Chapter. Please read I Corinthians verses 25 to 38.
25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.
In these verses Paul reveals why he is not in favor of marriage. Phrases like "because of the present crisis", "those who marry will face many troubles in this life", "time is short, From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not ... for this world in its present form is passing away", and "that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord"; these phrases show Paul's thinking. So what was the "present crisis", why was "time short", why should people not live normal? If we look in the book of Acts you see Christians were selling their houses and living in a church commune. Paul really thought the world was going to end in it's current form, Paul had a doomsday mentality. But why?
If we read Matthew Chapter 16 verses 26 to 28 we see why Paul thought Christ was coming back in his lifetime and why his generation could expect to go through all the trials and tribulations that Jesus predicted.
26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
In these verses Jesus says that he will return with angels and reward each person according to what they have done. It sounds like he is referring to his second coming. Then Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom." The next chapter describes the Transfiguration which is where Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah and a bright cloud and God said, "“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” So Bible scholars say the verses above are referring to the Transfiguration. However the verses indicate Jesus would come with angels and reward each person according to what they have done, and that did not happen. So it looks like the text is a bit off on recording what Jesus said.
Regardless, Paul and the early church believed the end of the world would happen in their lifetime. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2-11 indicate this.
So lets move back to our original text, to the verses on marriage. Let's read again I Corinthians 7 verses 3 to 5.
3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command.
This is the only teaching in the Bible on how a husband and wife's sexual life should be carried out. Paul says that the husband should "fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband". We can assume that maritial duty means sex. Paul goes on to say the "wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband" and the "husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife". Those are pretty strong words. Then Paul goes on to say, "Do not deprive each other ..." of sex and Paul explains that when a couple does not have sex regularly it can lead to a lack of self-control which could end up where the one who is not getting sex might end up committing adultery.
So do a husband and wife have to give sex to each other? No. Paul goes on to say "I say this as a concession, not as a command." You don't have to let your husband rape you.
God intended for sex to be a mutually fulfilling experience between the husband and wife. So husbands should not force themselves on their wives. And wives should not feel they are sinning if they do not want sex with their husband. But when a husband or wife wants sex and their spouse does not want sex, that should raise a red flag in the marriage. A happy marriage is one where the couple likes to please each other.
So let's summarize what we have learned. Paul seems to discourage marriage; possibly because he was single and people seem to think everyone should be like them; partly because he thought the end of the world was going to take place within his lifetime; and partly because he wanted Christians to be totally devoted to God. Paul also calls sex before marriage "sexual immorality" and therefore sin. Paul instructs married couples to have sex regularly so they are not tempted to sin.
Ok, so now let's take a little quiz to see what we have learned.