It is with great trepidation that I seek to share these words of Sha’ul and Yeshua. Although I can not repent of behalf of all the evils that have been done because of misogyny, I can repent for my part. I can also confess that the sins that have been committed by men against women are wicked, and evil, and have produced more pain and suffering than can be measured. I realise that this teaching could stir up painful memories, but my hope is that this study will bring healing, forgiveness, restoration and intimacy between each of us and between, us and God.[Read 1 Cor. 7:1-16][i]
Firstly, it is important to understand that when Yeshua was here on earth, the status and therefore value of women was extremely low. In ancient Greek culture, “Pandora, the first woman, was responsible for unleashing evil in the world.”[ii] “Similar to the Greek women, Roman women were not allowed to speak in public.”[iii] The Roman law of marriage, Cum Manu, also placed the wife under the full legal control of her husband and prohibited her from the ownership of any property.[iv] The Oral Law of Rabbinic Judaism also demeaned women[v] by forbidding a Torah scholar from conversing with a woman in the marketplace (even wife, daughter or sister)[vi] and that by doing so a man is doing evil to himself and inheriting hell.[vii] The Sages said that a woman should not read the Torah, out of respect for the congregation[viii], and Rabbi Eliezer said that whoever teaches his daughter Torah is considered as if he taught her foolishness.[ix] Josephus mentions that a woman’s testimony was not valid at that time,[x] and only men were allowed to get a divorce and that for any reason[xi] (also see Matt. 19:3). Into this world came Yeshua. Yeshua “loved women and treated them with great respect and dignity”[xii], conversed with women publicly, and entrusted the greatest news of all time, His resurrection, to the testimony of women. Sha’ul follows Yeshua’s lead in elevating the status and value of women to equivalence with men.
Counsel on Marriage
(Vs. 1) In this entire chapter, Sha’ul responds to the congregation in Corinth with what he believes it the better option, celibacy, and he contrasts this option with the acceptable alternate of marriage. He is very clear that the call to celibacy is a gift, and that this gift is not given to everyone (vs. 7). Last week, I jokingly mentioned verse 1 when asked to what extent a relationship should go to before marriage. However, the statement “to touch a woman” occurs nine times in ancient Greek literature, and in every case, it denotes the specific act of sexual intercourse.[xiii]
(Vs. 2-5) Sha’ul acknowledges that Biblically ordained marriage is a beach-head against sexual immorality. Remember how last week we discussed how Gnostic teachings led many people toward asceticism? The Greek philosophical dualism (Gnosticism) led people to believe that, “only when a person lives in the realm of the spirit as exclusively as possible, is he or she truly pleasing to God.”[xiv] Here Sha’ul counters that belief by showing that sexual relations are an obligation and a right of both the husband and the wife. Although there can be a brief time of abstinence within marriage for prayer, there is no place for permanent or non-mutual abstinence. It is very important to note how Sha’ul consistently applies the benefits to both men and women evenly. In other letters, such as Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, Sha’ul is stricter with the men as to the husband’s responsibilities toward their wives. All these teachings countered the culture of degradation toward women. What did the world look like for women living in the 1st century? We can look to an example where Christianity is not the majority. In Islamic nations, for instance, the Qur’an says in Sura 4:34, that since Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, if a woman demonstrates ill conduct, that men should first admonish, then refuse to share their beds and last beat them.[xv] This is not much different from the Greco-Roman world to which Sha’ul was writing.
(Vs. 5-9) As mentioned before, celibacy is Saul’s preferred option, but he also understands that it is not a requirement. Sha’ul is very deliberate in showing that celibacy was his opinion, but not a Biblical mandate. He then applies this recommendation in (vs. 8-9) for those who are unmarried and widows. Later in the passage, he will give some reasons for why (vs. 25-35). But there is an understanding here “that one of the main purposes of marriage is so that one can find sexual fulfillment in a God-glorifying context.”[xvi]
(Vs. 10-11) Sha’ul then quotes from Yeshua in (Mk. 10:5-9), “A wife is not to be separated from her husband (but if she gets separated, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband is not to divorce his wife.” Sha’ul is on firm ground by quoting Yeshua, and at the same time acknowledging the brokenness of mankind by saying “if.” This entire chapter should be seen as an application of Yeshua’s teaching in (Matt. 5:31-32, and 19:1-12). Yeshua never lowered the standards for us, but instead raises us up by His grace and provides us a way of atonement and forgiveness. The marriage covenant is supposed to reflect the covenant between God and His people. However, none of us measure up. We are all scared and broken. Each of us desperately needs Yeshua’s blood to wash us clean from sin and heal our broken hearts.
(Vs. 12-15) Sha’ul now goes into a discussion about marriages where only one of the people has come to Yeshua after already being married. These verses do not apply to “missionary dating” where a young believer marries an unbeliever with the hope that they will come to Messiah (see vs. 39). But for those who find themselves in this place, do not seek a divorce. Your life’s example of Yeshua will be the closest thing that your unbelieving husband or wife will ever see. As the Ruach makes you holy, and sanctifies you, it will be a living testimony of the power of God. Sha’ul also acknowledges that there are many times when the unbeliever will separate from the believer. In these cases, since we a called to shalom, peace, we should let them go.
Remaining as We Are Called[Read 1 Cor. 7:17-40]
(Vs. 17-24) Sha’ul was very clear throughout his ministry, that there were no external requirements for following Yeshua. Here he tells the congregation in Corinth, that they are not unique in this regard. Rather Sha’ul continuously declares that however Yeshua called us, in that way we should remain. There is no requirement that the un-circumcised become circumcised (as the Judaizers claimed) or for the circumcised become un-circumcised (as the Hellenizers insisted). Sha’ul then goes on to show that there is also no requirement to change our social status. External slavery does not constrain or define who we are in Messiah. By the same token, our freedom and wealth does not make us better than those more impoverished than ourselves. Rather we should realise that we are the slaves of Messiah and are called to serve Him.
(Vs. 25-31) Here Sha’ul applies the principle of remaining as we are, to marriage. However, he is very clear that this is his opinion, and not a requirement. As we mentioned before, he now gives the reasons for celibacy. Sha’ul mentions a present troubling time, a time of personal suffering and persecution. This could have referred to the riots that had happened in Thessalonica just prior to Sha’ul coming to Corinth and may have already been experienced by those in Corinth. Sha’ul states that he is trying to spare the people from trouble in this life (vs. 28). Regardless, whether we are married or unmarried, we must devote our lives to the Lord, because the time is short. Our lives do not consist of our material wealth and possessions, nor of our children and spouses. Rather we must glorify God now since this world is passing away.
(Vs. 32-35) When we are married, our focus can not be entirely on pleasing Adonai. Rather, as many of you already know, it takes a lot of time and energy to invest in our spouses and children. Adonai understands this. Isaiah in speaking of Adonai says, “Like a shepherd, He tends His flock. He gathers the lambs in His arms carries them in his bosom, and gently guides nursing ewes.” This is repeated in (John 10:11) where Yeshua states, “I am the Good Shepherd.” So, whether we are married or un-married, we can serve the Lord, however Sha’ul is simply explaining that the un-married will have fewer cares and concerns.
(Vs. 36-38) Some of this chapter may sound a little strange in how it is worded. Part of the reason is that most marriages at that time, were arranged. The direction seems to be toward fathers who are hesitant about arranging marriages for their daughters.[xvii] While getting married is inadvisable to Sha’ul, he is also very clear that this is only his opinion, and not a command. We should also take care, that we do not treat our opinions as commands from God, but also take care not to treat God’s commands as opinions.
(Vs. 39-40) Sha’ul finishes this section with a final direction and recommendation. The direction is for widows, or those who do not have someone arranging their marriage. Make sure that the man is “in the Lord.” This admonition, Sha’ul needed to repeat in (2 Cor. 6:14) where he talks of not being unequally yoked to unbelievers. Since most marriages are not arranged in our culture, it is important to impress upon those seeking to get married, that aside from our decision to follow Yeshua, who we choose to marry will affect the course of our lives more than any other decision. Finally, Sha’ul cannot help but give his opinion about celibacy one last time.
With regards to marriage, the Lord is calling us to walk in
His ways which are higher than ours. He brings us to a place of repentance so
that there may be forgiveness and healing. He empowers us through the Ruach HaKodesh to live lives that
reflect His glory. Sha’ul contrasts his opinion on celibacy with the Biblical
definition of marriage, one man with one woman, for life. Both celibacy and
marriage are acceptable, but Sha’ul believes that celibacy will bring fewer hardships
especially in times of persecution. He clearly annunciates his preference, but also
acknowledges that marriage can also bring glory to God. So whether we are
single or married, may our lives bring glory to God.
[i] All Scripture quotations are taken from the Tree of Life (TLV) version unless otherwise noted.
[ii] Science and Technology in World History, Vol 1: The Ancient World and Classical Civilization, David Deming, pg. 120.
[iii] A History of Women in Religion, Dorothy J. Lucas, pg. 22.
[x] Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus, Book 4, Ch. 8, Vs. 15.
[xi] Divorce in the Bible, Blu Greenberg, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/divorce-in-the-bible/
[xii] Christianity: The Best Thing That Ever Happened to Women, Sue Bohlin, https://bible.org/article/christianity-best-thing-ever-happened-women
[xiii] The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Rev. Ed., Vol 11, pg. 314.
[xiv] Ibid. pg. 314.
[xv] Qur’an, translated by Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali, Sura 4:34.
[xvi] Ibid, pg. 317.
[xvii] Ibid, pg. 327.