1 Corinthians Jewish New Testament and comments of David H. Stern

chapter 7
1. Now to deal with the questions you wrote about: “Is it good for a man to keep away from women?”
The questions you wrote about. From here al least through 15:58 and perhaps through 16:9 Sha'ul is answering questions raised by the leaders of the Corinthian Messianic community (see 1:10—1 l&N).

Is it good for a man to keep away from women, that is, to be celibate? From Sha'ul's remark. "I wish everyone were like me" (v. 7), many infer that he regarded celibacy as the preferred condition for believers; and from vv. 8-9, 26-27, 32-34, 38 and 40 one can build a case that Sha'ul had a rather jaundiced view of marriage. Some critics of Christianity, basing their judgment on this chapter and the Christian tradition of celibate monastic orders and a celibate Roman Catholic priesthood, find Christianity inferior to Judaism on the ground that its teaching on marriage contravenes both nature and Torah. Moreover, demographic statistics provide supportive evidence; for even today, when Jewish teaching has less influence on Jewish young people, 98% of Jewish men in the United States marry, as compared with only 93% for the population as a whole. However, in evaluating Sha'ul's teachings here, one must keep in mind the circumstances for which he wrote, particularly these three points:

(1) The Messianic community in Corinth had emerged from a wildly pagan background and even at the lime of this letter was not fully able to control its impulses toward sexual license (vv. 2, 5, 9; not to mention Chapters 5-6). Sha'ul's immediate purpose was to remedy this deficiency.

(2) Sha'ul tailored his remarks to his audience, who were still "babies, so far as experience with the Messiah is concerned" (3:1), even though he did intend his letter to be read by others (1:2). This means that he had to provide clear-cut rules, since he could not count on their spiritual discernment to develop appropriate responses in each individual case. It is risky to entrust "babies" with decisions beyond their capacity.

(3) Most importantly, the tone of the whole chapter is governed by an underlying sense of urgency — "there is not much time left" (v. 29) in "a time of stress like the present" (v. 26). Apparently the Corinthians required no proof of this, since Sha'ul gave none. What was this urgency? Many commentators think they were looking toward the Lord Yeshua's imminent return (compare v. 31); however, elsewhere Sha'ul cautioned against over-preoccupation with that subject and pointed out that certain events must take place first (2 Th 2:1-3). My conclusion is that the urgency pertained to the particular situation in Corinth; and although the specifics are not stated, Sha'ul and the Corinthians agreed that there was a need to act quickly, put forth extra effort and take special measures in order to deal with it (vv. 29-35). Therefore, some of Sha'ul's strictures should be regarded as special responses suitable to situations of great urgency. One may reply that believers ought to consider all situations urgent, and there is truth in that; nevertheless, the truth in it is not so overwhelming as to turn every one of Sha'ul's remarks on marriage into ironclad rules for all times and all places. Rather, the applicability of each rule to believers generally must be examined in context; and this we shall do. Also see Rv 14:4N. 

2. Well, because of the danger of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
3. The husband should give his wife what she is entitled to in the marriage relationship, and the wife should do the same for her husband.
4. The wife is not in charge of her own body, but her husband is; likewise, the husband is not in charge of his own body, but his wife is.
5. Do not deprive each other, except for a limited time, by mutual agreement, and then only so as to have extra time for prayer; but afterwards, come together again. Otherwise, because of your lack of self-control, you may succumb to the Adversary’s temptation.
6. I am giving you this as a suggestion, not as a command.
7. Actually, I wish everyone were like me; but each has his own gift from God, one this, another that.
8. Now to the single people and the widows I say that it is fine if they remain unmarried like me;
9. but if they can’t exercise self-control, they should get married; because it is better to get married than to keep burning with sexual desire.
Concerning celibacy, then, Sha'ul's overall counsel is against it. When he says, "I wish everyone were like me" (v. 7), he is not wishing that everyone were celibate. Were that his meaning, then — reductio ad absurdum — he would be wishing (depending on the assumed context) that the Messianic Community or the human race would die out from not reproducing itself.

What he actually wishes is that everyone were as little distracted by wayward sexual impulses as he is. Then they would have self-control (vv. 5, 9) and would be able to devote themselves to the Lord's work with undivided attention (vv. 33-35). However, he realizes that such a disposition cannot be willed into being but is a gift from God (v. 7) which has not been given to everyone. Therefore, if single people can't exercise self-control, they should get married; because it is better to get married than to keep burning with sexual desire (v. 9; literally, as in KJV, 'better to marry than to burn"). At 1 Ti 5:14 he specifically counsels widows under age 60 to remarry. Marriages should be monogamous (v. 2) and should provide sexual satisfaction to both parties (vv. 3-4); indeed, this is a matter of entitlement; and special note should be taken of this teaching by those who think of Christianity as "anti-sex." Moreover, Sha'ul's counsel here is surprisingly "modern" in that he insists that spouses be "considerate of each other's needs" (to use today's terminology). Apparently there was in Corinth a movement toward celibacy within marriage (see also vv. 36-37) — extremes spawn extremes, so where libertinism flourishes one often finds asceticism as a reaction. Therefore, in v. 5 Sha'ul finds it necessary to advise married couples against such sexual abstinence, except by mutual agreement, for a limited time, and then only so as to have extra time for prayer, which is to say that the practice has no merit in itself but only insofar as it facilitates greater devotion to the Lord; but afterwards, come together again, lest you succumb to the Adversary's (Satan's) temptation to engage in illicit sex. And even after all this, Sha'ul adds that he is giving you this as a suggestion, not as a command (v. 6&N), so that no one should think sexual abstinence within marriage is ever required. It may be, however, that the early believers observed the Jewish practice of niddah, abstinence from sexual relations during the period of the wife's menstrual flow and for one week thereafter (Leviticus 15; see MJ 13:4&N). 

10. To those who are married I have a command, and it is not from me but from the Lord: a woman is not to separate herself from her husband
11. But if she does separate herself, she is to remain single or be reconciled with her husband. Also, a husband is not to leave his wife.
Sha'ul was taught this command from the Lord by Yeshua himself (Mt 5:31-32, 19:3-9; Mk 10:1-12; Lk 16:18). The terms "separate herself' and leave" include both "separation" and "divorce" in the modem sense of those terms. This teaching applies to a marriage in which both partners are believers, members of God's people (this was also the context of Yeshua's remarks). In the two passages of Mattiiyahu's Gospel, Yeshua gave an exception to this rule: adultery. Adultery is the only explicitly stated ground for divorce between believers.

A woman is not to separate herself from her husband. But if she does... This is "second-best" advice — "Don't do this! But if you do, then proceed as follows:..." Another example is seen in 1 Yn 2:1. Christianity tends to be more black-and-white than Judaism, less willing to deal with real-life situations wherein the best solutions are impossible or unlikely, so that it is necessary to deal with second-bests. Judaism, because its ethical perceptions have been shaped by legal questions brought for judgment concerning who should do what in specific circumstances, has been more willing to consider "second-bests." However, on this matter the New Testament itself demonstrates its affinity with Judaism. 

12. To the rest I say — I, not the Lord: if any brother has a wife who is not a believer, and she is satisfied to go on living with him, he should not leave her.
13. Also, if any woman has an unbelieving husband who is satisfied to go on living with her, she is not to leave him.
14. For the unbelieving husband has been set aside for God by the wife, and the unbelieving wife has been set aside for God by the brother — otherwise your children would be “unclean,” but as it is, they are set aside for God.
15. But if the unbelieving spouse separates himself, let him be separated. In circumstances like these, the brother or sister is not enslaved — God has called you to a life of peace.
16. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
The New Testament teaches a second ground for divorce, besides adultery (vv. 10-1 I&N), but it applies only in the case of a marriage between a believer and a nonbeliever. Since a believer is expected not lo marry a nonbeliever (v. 39&N, 2C 6:14&N), such a marriage should arise only if one of two married unbelievers becomes a believer. The ground is stated explicitly in v. 15, and it is clear that if the unbelieving spouse separates himself, the believing spouse can get a divorce and remarry, because in circumstances like these, the brother or sister is not enslaved. Anything less than freedom to obtain a divorce and remarry would be enslavement to a marriage that retains only formal existence. On the other hand, for a believing spouse to leave his or her unbelieving partner would be a clear violation of vv. 12-13.

The meaning of v. 14 is obscure. In what sense are the children of believers or of a mixed marriage between a believer and an unbeliever set aside for God? Christians who favor infant baptism (for example, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians) use this text as justification. Those who oppose it (Baptists and most Pentecostals) understand the verse to mean only that such children have a "head start" toward salvation, in that they can be brought up "in the fear and admonition of the Lord" (Ep 6:4, KJV). 

17. Only let each person live the life the Lord has assigned him and live it in the condition he was in when God called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the congregations.
Let each person live the life the Lord has assigned him, whether single or married, and let him live it in the condition he was in when God called him. Sha'ul applies this to two "conditions" — being Jewish or Gentile (vv. 18-20), and being enslaved or free (vv. 21-24), repeating at the end of each of these sections his admonition not to seek unnecessary change in one's religious, social or economic status when the time can be better spent serving the Lord. 

18. Was someone already circumcised when he was called? Then he should not try to remove the marks of his circumcision. Was someone uncircumcised when he was called? He shouldn’t undergo b’rit-milah.
Someone already circumcised when he was called, thai is, a Jewish believer, should not try to remove the marks of his circumcision. From this we can reasonably infer thai he should not assimilate into Gentile or so-called "Christian" culture but should remain distinctly Jewish. For Sha'ul is obviously talking about more than physical circumcision, although the specific operation of "de-circumcision" was actually performed by Jewish Hellenizers in the days of King Antiochus IV (whose desecration of the Temple in 165 B.C.E. resulted eventually in the feast of Chanukkah; see Yn 10:22N). Of this Josephus writes:

"Menelaus and the sons of Tuvyah were distressed, so they went to Antiochus and informed him that they wanted to leave the laws of their country and the Jewish way of living according to them, and to follow the king's laws and the Greek way of living; and in particular, they desired his permission to build themselves a gymnasium in Jerusalem. After he gave them permission, they also hid the circumcision of their genitals, so that even when they were naked they might appear to be Greeks. Accordingly, they discontinued all the customs of their own country and imitated the practices of the Goyim." (Antiquities of the Jews 12:5:1)

The same event is described in the Apocrypha as one of the causes of the Maccabean revolt (1 Maccabees 1:11-15), and allusions to the phenomenon are found in Assumption of Moses 8:3 and in the Mishna (Avot 3:11).

Curiously, when a Jew comes to believe that a fellow Jew, Yeshua, is the Jewish Messiah promised in the Jewish Scriptures, today's Jewish community considers it the very epitome of assimilation into the Gentile world. Yet here is a verse from one of the books of the New Covenant with Israel, inaugurated by this same Yeshua, which strongly discourages a Messianic Jew from assimilating. This dissonance results from several historical factors which in the past have made it all but impossible for a Jewish believer to obey Sha'ul's instruction:

(1) First, since New Testament times (Yn 9:22) a Jew who acknowledges Yeshua as the Messiah has usually been excommunicated by his own Jewish people, or at best regarded with suspicion; so that even if he wants to follow Jewish customs or remain loyal, it isn't easy for him to do so in isolation.

(2) Second, no longer welcome in the Jewish community, he enters the community of believers. But here, although Jews and Gentiles are equal in God's sight, Gentiles are the vast majority. He finds himself a lone Jew in a sea of Gentiles, or vastly outnumbered, with few or no other Jewish believers to support him in his efforts to preserve his Jewishness. Gentile believers rarely try to make up for this lack; and even if they try, as a practical matter they seldom have enough knowledge of Judaism to be truly helpful.

(3) Third, the Church has usually maintained a mistaken view of conversion. Instead of understanding that a Jewish believer converts from sin to righteousness (the same as a Gentile believer), it has thought he converts from Judaism to Christianity. By the 4th century C.E. the Church was requiring Jewish believers to sign documents in which they had to agree to stop following Jewish customs or associating with unsaved Jews. Further, since the Church promulgated this view, one is not surprised to find that the Jewish community regarded it as authoritative and used it as evidence that a Jewish believer is no longer Jewish. Were this view correct, it would be proper to urge Jewish believers to eliminate Jewish practices. But it is not true, as I point out throughout this commentary, showing that the first Jewish believers remained fully Jewish and encouraging today's Jewish believers to do the same.

(4) Fourth, the Church has misunderstood the New Testament's teaching about the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Community (12:13 below, Ga 3:28&N) and therefore misused it to force Messianic Jews to assimilate. Members of every other ethnic group are encouraged to maintain their culture and express their faith within it. But when a Messianic Jew does so he may be accused of "legalizing" (Ro 6:14&N), "Judaizing" (Ga 2:l4b&N) and "raising again the middle wall of partition" (Ep 2:11-16&NN).

(5) Fifth and last, it cannot be denied that some Jewish believers have had a measure of self-hate (although this unfortunate phenomenon is also found among non-Messianic Jews). In their desire to be accepted by their new Gentile friends in the Church they may have said or done things that depreciate Judaism or Jewishness. On the one hand, Judaism's failure to recognize Yeshua as the Messiah is a sin of grievous dimension. On the other, no Messianic Jew should ingratiate himself with Gentile Christians by appealing to antisemitic impulses. Jewish self-hate is simply not a concomitant of the Gospel.

The challenge to today's Messianic Jews is to establish, despite these factors, a community in which we express fully the ties we have with our Jewish people and also with our Gentile Christian brothers in the Lord.

18b Someone uncircumcised when he was called shouldn't get circumcised. That is, a Gentile believer should not convert to Judaism. This does not speak of a Gentile Christian who wants to give up his faith in Yeshua and convert to non-Messianic Judaism — of course Sha'ul would not countenance that. Rather, he says that Gentile believers should not undergo conversion to Judaism while retaining iheir faith in Yeshua. At the time Sha'ul was writing there was a strong Judaizing movement, but Sha'ul does not deal here with this error (elsewhere he does; see Acts 15&NN and the whole book of Galatians). Here his chief concern is with the use of time (see vv. 25-40N); his advice to Gentiles is not to waste time converting to Judaism when it is unnecessary (v. 19) and there are more important things to do, namely, serving the Lord.

On the controversial question of whether there might ever be circumstances under which Gentile Christians could legitimately convert to Judaism in the light of what the New Testament teaches, see Ga 5:2-4&N, which continues the present discussion. 

19. Being circumcised means nothing, and being uncircumcised means nothing; what does mean something is keeping God’s commandments.
Being circumcised means nothing. By themselves, out of context, these words are a slap in the face of Judaism, in which circumcision confirms a man's membership in God's people under the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:1-14). But in context, with the rest of the verse, the meaning is that in God's Messianic Community, Jews and Gentiles have equal standing before God (12:13; Ro 3:22-23, 29-30; Ga 3:28, 5:6,6:15; Co 3:11). On this ethnic ties, cultural expressions, customs and social or religious status have no bearing; in this regard, being Jewish or Gentile does not matter. What matters is keeping God's commandments, elsewhere in similar contexts equated with "faith working itself out in love" (Ga 5:6) and "being a new creation" (Ga 6:15). One may argue that God's commandments to Jews differ from his commandments to Gentiles. Determining whether that is true requires lengthier analysis, for which see my Messianic Jewish Manifesto, Chapter V (entitled "Torah"). But the requirement to keep the applicable commandments is identical for Jews and Gentiles, and the trust in Yeshua which forms the basis for being acceptable in God's sight is also identical for Jews and Gentiles. For this, "being circumcised means nothing" (see Ro 4:9-12). 

20. Each person should remain in the condition he was in when he was called.
21. Were you a slave when you were called? Well, don’t let it bother you; although if you can gain your freedom, take advantage of the opportunity.
22. For a person who was a slave when he was called is the Lord’s freedman; likewise, someone who was a free man when he was called is a slave of the Messiah.
23. You were bought at a price, so do not become slaves of other human beings.
24. Brothers, let each one remain with God in the condition in which he was called.
25. Now the question about the unmarried: I do not have a command from the Lord, but I offer an opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is worthy to be trusted.
26. I suppose that in a time of stress like the present it is good for a person to stay as he is.
27. That means that if a man has a wife, he should not seek to be free of her; and if he is unmarried, he should not look for a wife.
28. But if you marry you do not sin, and if a girl marries she does not sin. It is just that those who get married will have the normal problems of married life, and I would rather spare you.
29. What I am saying, brothers, is that there is not much time left: from now on a man with a wife should live as if he had none —
30. and those who are sad should live as if they weren’t, those who are happy as if they weren’t,
31. and those who deal in worldly affairs as if not engrossed in them — because the present scheme of things in this world won’t last much longer.
32. What I want is for you to be free of concern. An unmarried man concerns himself with the Lord’s affairs,
33. with how to please the Lord; but the married man concerns himself with the world’s affairs, with how to please his wife;
34. and he finds himself split. Likewise the woman who is no longer married or the girl who has never been married concerns herself with the Lord’s affairs, with how to be holy both physically and spiritually; but the married woman concerns herself with the world’s affairs, with how to please her husband.
35. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to put restrictions on you — I am simply concerned that you live in a proper manner and serve the Lord with undivided devotion.
36. Now if a man thinks he is behaving dishonorably by treating his fiancee this way, and if there is strong sexual desire, so that marriage is what ought to happen; then let him do what he wants — he is not sinning: let them get married.
37. But if a man has firmly made up his mind, being under no compulsion but having complete control over his will, if he has decided within himself to keep his fiancee a virgin, he will be doing well.
38. So the man who marries his fiancee will do well, and the man who doesn’t marry will do better.
Several ambiguities in the Greek render this passage particularly obscure. The man may be the girl's fiance (my understanding) or her father, since the word rendered "fiancee" is, literally, "virgin." If he is her father, the issue is whether he should marry off his daughter.

If there is strong sexual desire, so that marriage is what ought to happen, literally, "if he/she is overripe, and thus it ought to be." This may speak of either his or her passions, or the phrase may be rendered, "If she is past the best age for marriage and therefore is entitled to get married."

The idea that the man (whether fiance or father) should decide for the woman is certainly not "politically correct"; although it makes sense that if it is the fiance that the passage is speaking about, and if it is his choice to remain celibate "for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven" (Mt 19:10-12). he certainly won't be doing her a favor by marrying her and forcing her to live celibately too! But in any case, the decision is not to be imposed against her will; for either her passions arc explicitly taken into account (see above); or, if not, Sha'ul's attitudes aboul how a husband should behave toward his wife ("Husbands, love your wives, just as the Messiah loved the Messianic Community," Ep 5:25) and a father toward his daughter ("Fathers, don't irritate your children and make them resentful," Ep 6:4), as well as his tone throughout this chapter, militate against his meaning here to condone sexual oppression or "male chauvinism" in any form. 

39. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives, but if the husband dies she is free to marry anyone she wishes, provided he is a believer in the Lord.
Provided he is a believer in the Lord. The plain sense of this verse limits widows who remarry to marrying believing men. There is no direct instruction to believers who have never married (but see 2C 6:14-7:1 &N). However, it is usually supposed that if Sha'ul had dealt with the subject in relation to them, he would have given the same advice. If this is a reasonable assumption, then both the New Testament and non-Messianic Judaism prohibit exogamy ("marrying out"). A believer is to marry a believer, and a Jew is to marry a Jew. But may a Gentile believer marry a Jewish believer? This verse of the New Testament permits it, while non-Messianic Judaism prohibits it.

But if the New Testament "has been made Torah" (MJ 8:6&N), should a Messianic Jewish understanding of halakhah permit Messianic Jews to marry Messianic Gentiles? The question is controversial, and cases can be made for both "Yes" and "No." A marriage between Jewish and Gentile believers demonstrates to all me unity of Jew and Gentile in the body of the Messiah. But if a Messianic Jew chooses to restrict his marriage pool to other Jewish believers, he testifies to the Jewish community that he wants to preserve the Jewish people, and that Messianic Judaism does not imply assimilation (the chief expression of which is intermarriage).

In this regard there is an asymmetry between the woman and the man, because a Messianic Jewish woman who marries a Messianic Gentile man will still have Jewish children, but a Messianic Jewish man with a Messianic Gentile wife will have non-Jewish children. (See Ac 16:3N on the status of mixed-marriage children, also a controversial subject).

Another consideration for a Messianic Jewish woman concerned for the salvation of other Jewish people is that her ability to pursue her concern will be largely in her husband's hands, since "the head of a wife is her husband" (11:3). If her Gentile husband is called by God to work in an area other than Jewish ministry, she may have little opportunity for it herself. In contrast, a Messianic Jewish man with a call to the Jews normally would not be prevented from pursuing it by his wife's not having such a call herself, since, as a rule, a wife's call is to help her husband (Genesis 2:18; in this first approximation I am skirting individual circumstances and sexual equality issues). Intermarriage between Jewish and Gentile believers is discussed further in Messianic Jewish Manifesto, pp. 180-181. 

40. However, in my opinion, she will be happier if she remains unmarried, and in saying this I think I have God’s Spirit.
The principle of remaining in the condition in which one is called to faith, which Sha'ul has repeated three times and illustrated by two extraneous examples (w. 17-24), is now applied to the question at hand, the one about the unmarried (v. 25). In a time of stress like the present (v. 26) when there is not much time left (v. 29), because the present scheme of things in this world won't last much longer (v. 31), it is good for a person to stay as he is (v. 26). One should decide in favor of a major change in one's life only if the change will help one to be free of concern (v. 32) for the world's affairs (vv. 33, 34) and more able to give undivided devotion (v. 35) to the Lord's affairs (vv. 32, 34).

But Sha'ul takes extraordinary pains to show that he is not opposed to marriage. He assures his readers that he does not have a command from the Lord but only an opinion (v. 25), which he offers in the most tentative language (I suppose, v. 26), that if a man is unmarried, he should not look for a wife (v. 27). He then not only hastens to add that if you marry you do not sin (v. 28), but also makes his suggestion but one instance of how people should generally not be preoccupied with their temporal activities. In other words, he is not discriminating against the unmarried, for the married, the sad, the happy, and those who deal in worldly affairs should all live as if unattached to these conditions (vv. 29-31). He is not opposed to marriage or to sexual fulfillment therein, his object is not to put restrictions on you (v. 35); rather, he wants to spare you the normal problems of married life (v. 28) that split a person's concern and divide his energies (vv. 32-34). See also 9:4—6.

v. 6,10,12,17,25,40 In no other chapter of the New Testament is the writer so at pains to state precisely the degree of authority to be attributed to each of his pronouncements. I am giving you this as a suggestion, not as a command (v. 6). For those who are married I have a command, and it is not from me but from the Lord (v. 10). To the rest I say — I, not the Lord (v. 12). This is the rule 1 lay down in all the congregations (v. 17). I do not have a command from the Lord, but 1 offer an opinion as one who by the Lord's mercy is worthy to be trusted (v. 25). In my opinion,... and in saying this I think I have God's Spirit (v. 40). Although the word "Lord" in these passages refers not to God the Father but to Yeshua, nevertheless if God inspired the entire Bible, how can there be such variations in authority? My answer is that one need not think of inspiration by God as being so heavy-handed as not to admit of refinements. God created everything, including nuances in authority. From the quotations cited here we learn that Sha'ul himself can be humble when giving his opinion, since he is apparently unaware that he is writing what will be accepted by future generations as Scripture inspired by God. God's authority is discovered to have been behind his opinions and suggestions by virtue of the letter's becoming recognized by believers as God-inspired and accepted into the canon of the New Testament. 

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