Potential Jerusalem Marriages
The sense of verse 1 Corinthians 7:25 is the same as that of verse 1 Corinthians 7:12 in that Paul is not suggesting that people are free to disregard his advice, but rather that he is speaking about things that have not been covered in Scripture before.
The first concern is to discover who Paul is talking to and who he is talking about. The English Standard Version (ESV) translates the Greek word “parthenos” as betrothed. The ESV varies from the well-established translation as “virgins,” and I see no good reason to translate the word as anything other than virgins.
But we also need to remember that the word “virgins” in Paul’s day simply indicated unmarried females living in their father’s home, women living under their father’s family covenant. Paul, no doubt writing a letter to be read to a gathering of men, was simply turning his attention from the special case of mixed marriages to the general case of potential marriages — young girls. It was as if Paul said, “Gentlemen, let us now consider your unmarried daughters.” No doubt, some of these daughters were engaged to be married, others may have been involved in the various stages of the marital partner selection process. In those days the mate paring process began very early in the lives of children in contrast to common practices today. All young women would have been very interested in and concerned about their future roles as wives, mothers and homemakers.
No similar instruction in Scripture
Again, Paul reminded his audience that they would not find similar instructions anywhere else in Scripture because he was in the process of applying what he knew about Scripture, and about Christ’s role as Messiah, to their present circumstances. Previously he had dealt with the new circumstance of mixed marriages. Here Paul was addressing another unusual circumstance that First Century Christians had been thrown into. That circumstance was not only the gospel explosion that was growing in the wake of persecution, but the fact of persecution itself.
Verse 26 mentions a “present necessity” (ESV) or “present distress” (King James Version). He was not talking about life as it normally unfolds, not about ordinary circumstances involved in raising a family, but the extraordinary or special circumstances that surrounded the impending destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. Consequently, what he had to say to and about unmarried girls during that time of difficulty and increasing persecution of the church — of Christians — does not have the same application to Christians living during ordinary times, more peaceful times. He would go on to say that there would be great difficulty establishing a home and rearing a family during the period of great social upheaval and widespread persecution against Christians that was underway at the time.
Faith more important
He was also saying that the Christian faith is more important than family values. Ideally they work together, but when they don’t, Christian faith trumps family values. Christians needed to be light on their feet, ready at a moment’s notice to run and to hide from those who would threaten them with death. And having a family — babies and children in tow — would add to the stress and difficulties that would be involved. The same advice would apply to the Jews in Germany during the Nazi persecutions. It just wasn’t a good time to try to establish a new Jewish family in Germany at that particular time in history.
Following his rule for all people in all churches (1 Corinthians 7:17), he recommended that people — daughters — remain in whatever state they were in. They should not draw attention to themselves by engaging in the legalities and/or public celebrations of marriage. They should avoid garnering public attention to themselves.
At the same time, Paul was well-aware that the complete avoidance of marriage was neither possible nor necessary. “But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned” (1 Corinthians 7:28). He was not saying that it would be a sin to marry during such a time, only that marriage would be difficult, more difficult than usual because of the growing persecution. Verse 28 goes on to say, “Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.”
What kind of trouble
Exactly what kind of troubles did Paul mean? A more literal translation renders the phrase “trouble in the flesh.” The Greek word is “sarx” and refers to the meaty covering of the human skeleton.
There are two biblical purposes for marriage: 1) companionship and 2) children. Paul was referring to children. He said that during the time of persecution, children would be an additional burden for Christian families. During times of persecution Christians would need to move quickly, run fast and hide quietly — and children would add to the difficulties of doing these things. Paul was not speaking about sex, except that children are the natural product of sexual relations. He was not speaking about the experience of sex, but about the product — children.
Difficult to understand
Paul was aware that this recommendation would be both difficult to understand and difficult to accomplish. He went on, “This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short” (1 Corinthians 7:29). What appointed time? The Greek word is “kairos,” which literally means the “right or opportune moment.” The ancient Greeks had two words for time, “chronos” and “kairos.” The former refers to chronological or sequential time — ordinary time, but the latter signifies “a time in between,” a moment of undetermined duration in which something special happens. It refers to a period of time in which several dynamic events overlap to produce a particularly meaningful historical or personal event. The birth of Christ, for instance, was such a “kairos” moment in history.
In this case Paul was referring to the impending destruction of Jerusalem. He was aware of the winds of war — the political rhetoric, the growing persecution and the movement of troops. It was in light of these things that Paul spoke to these new Christians, and to the fathers of young girls and their impending “prospects,” to use a word from a former age. The winds of change were about to sweep the establishment of Judaism from the stage of history. War was immanent, Roman soldiers were gathering outside Jerusalem.
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