Marriage, sex and divorce

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Now you’ve seen the title, perhaps this would be a good time to review your own gut feelings about these matters about which Paul has a great deal to say in chapter 7.

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Bible passage 1 Corinthians 7:1–16

1 Corinthians 7

 1Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. 2But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5Do not deprive each other except 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. 6I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

 8Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

 10To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

 12To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

 15But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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Marriage as protection…
Greek society did not hold to the same code of ethics as Jewish people. The second half of verse 1 is probably another quotation from them. It may reflect an overzealous response to sexual immorality and could be translated more literally ‘It’s good for a man not to touch a woman’. Marriage is seen as a sort of hedge against immoral behaviour (vs 1–7). Equal friendship and affection were much less common.

…but not perfection
For Paul, singleness is a positive and enabling choice in life, though he recognises that not everyone has the gift of celibacy (vs 8,9), which is a great, but demanding calling (he says a great deal more about this in 7:25–40).

Finally, Paul disapproves of divorce (vs 10–16). The marriage bond is a sacred and indissoluble bond – to be preserved if at all possible. Paul holds out the hope that a believing partner may have a long-term impact for good on their unbelieving spouse.


There is a great deal more teaching on these matters in the rest of Scripture and Paul is, as ever, writing to a very specific context. Do some further study to get a wider perspective.

Robert Willoughby

Deeper Bible study

If you are married, thank God for your spouse and pray for them; if you are single, ask God for grace to serve him and do his will.

If an alien from another planet landed on Earth and saw much of our advertising they might conclude that everything in our world is about sex. A new reader of 1 Corinthians might think something similar, but that is just how the Corinthian world functioned – and ours today. Paul’s response to an earlier letter from the church at Corinth should not be taken as ‘an exact blueprint nor a cut and dried legal code which we can neatly and unthinkingly follow’1, but as general principles.

There were false teachers at Corinth who were against marriage itself, hence the opening salvo, probably a quote from the earlier letter, ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman’ (v 1). In Paul’s mind, marriage is a bastion against the prevailing immorality of the society around, as well as providing the environment where a husband and wife can fulfil their marital duty one to the other. Marriage also, as well as singleness, is a gift from God (v 7). Churches today need to be more singles-friendly too. God has a plan for us all, whether single or married, to do his will – and he knows and understands our needs.

A healthy marriage of two believers in which each seeks to meet the needs of the other, is still a fortress against an immoral culture. Married partners are expected to talk together about their sexual needs (v 5) and their prayer lives too, suggesting a close connection between the sexual intimacy marriage offers and the closeness of two praying spouses. The believing partner in a marriage where one is not a Christian has more impact than they may realise (v 14). They should not underestimate the power of prayer and a Christian lifestyle (1 Peter 3:1,2).

Eric Gaudion


1 Paul Barnett, 1 Corinthians, Christian Focus, 2011, p109

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year.

Jonah 1,2

Revelation 10

Sex and the kingdom

If we follow the Maker’s instructions in all things, our lives will be better, more satisfying and blessed by God. Nowhere is this more true than in the context of marriage.

Listen to this sketch by Richard England in which he imagines the response of a particular married couple in the church at Corinth to the first reading of confirmed bachelor Paul’s instructions to husbands and wives about sex and the kingdom.


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  • Angela Munday | Thursday, 14 December 2017

    Marriage is a gift from our Creator God who knows what will benefit some of His much-loved children. God's plans for us are perfect and can be trusted always. Maybe imperfections need to be acknowledged and work needs to be done to enable the building of a strong bond between two loving people; the needs of each other being met in a complete union that is blessed by God. Marriage, into which God is invited, shows "love that is patient and kind" that is beautiful and glorifies our Father God.

  • Thelma Edwards | Thursday, 14 December 2017

    .......and there was silence on WordLive comments! It would seem this theme is either not "pressing our buttons" this morning or is likely to be too contentious to unpack further. For me it brings back into focus the current undercurrent of confusion and concern following a series of sermons on The Big Questions which included the controversial topics on evolution and homosexuality and which also mentioned marriage, divorce, adultery. The result is people have resigned and left the church because they do not like 'the direction of travel'. It has set those who believe every single word of the Bible is to be adhered to at odds with those who look at the context ( as was mentioned today), and suggest that it is hard to know how much of Paul's teachings were for his time and place and how much is to be literally applied now. There are those who accept what they believe to be the teaching about homosexuality and yet they themselves are divorced and remarried which others day Jesus spoke against. It's very messy and sad. Society norms have deteriorated so far away from Biblical truths in the name of equality, human rights, tolerance, grace and love, and these have infiltrated the Church so much that we have lost our Light and distinctiveness. No wonder our Nation is in a mess is the Church has lost its way too.

  • Thelma Edwards | Thursday, 14 December 2017

    Sorry - "day Jesus" should read "say Jesus" and "is the Church" should read "if the Church" I pressed too quickly. Thanks Angela for your comment - agreed.

  • Ruth Chisholm | Thursday, 14 December 2017

    The Richard England sketch takes up the thought of yielding to each other within a place of feeling loved and safe. Isn't that the spiritual element in all of us, and is universally sought after, and then often found to be disappointing in our human relationships and needs working through. The perfect answer is found in the intimate relationship that we are called to with our Lord, that place of trust, unconditional love and a safe place. The best of human relationships aren't perfect but our Lord Jesus is faithful and will never let us down.

  • Peter White | Thursday, 14 December 2017

    Years ago, I was going through a divorce, and I really struggled with this, and similar, passages from Paul. I shared my feelings with my elderly great-uncle who was a wise 'father in Christ' to me. He understood my struggling and gave me a bit of advice that has been with me from that date to now. He said; 'I sometimes struggle with Paul, but whenever I do, I always get back to Jesus". Applying uncle Alf's advice helped me then and it still helps me today. Jesus brings me back into focus and illuminates Paul's wonderful teachings.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Thursday, 14 December 2017

    For analytical purposes, this chapter can be divided into the instructions that Paul said were commandments from God (1 Corinthians 7:1-5, 10-11, and 18-24), and those that Paul said were his own opinions (1 Corinthians 7:6-9, 12-17, and 25-40). That means only 35 percent of the verses in this chapter are direct commands from the Lord, while 65 percent of the verses are Paul’s opinions. The scriptures that Paul identified as being his own opinions and not direct commandments from the Lord deal with celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:6-9), conditions under which a believing spouse can leave a marriage and arguments against doing so (1 Corinthians 7:12-17), and once again, the virtues of remaining single (1 Corinthians 7:25-40). The verses that Paul identified as being direct instructions from the Lord deal with an encouragement for everyone to be married and sexual conduct within marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1-5), a command against divorce (1 Corinthians 7:10-11), and an admonition to sanctify the marital situation people find themselves in at the time of conversion (1 Corinthians 7:18-24).

  • Barbara Sabin | Thursday, 14 December 2017

    My Mentor always said like PETER ' that is Paul if you want to know the truth ask WWJD what would Jesus do' on the subject of Marriage Matthew 19 reads 4 He said to them, “Have you not read that He Who made them in the first place made them man and woman? 5 It says, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will live with his wife. The two will become one.’ 6 So they are no longer two but one. Let no man divide what God has put together.” 7 The proud religious law-keepers said to Jesus, “Then why did the Law of Moses allow a man to divorce his wife if he put it down in writing and gave it to her?” 8 Jesus said to them, “Because of your hard hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives. It was not like that from the beginning. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sex sins, and marries another, is guilty of sex sins in marriage. Whoever marries her that is divorced is guiltyof sex sins in marriage .” When I stood in Church and made my vows of Marriage I promised I would love my husband for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health 'til death us do part, my husband made the same vows , we have faithfully kept them for fifty seven years. We have had good and not so good times, times of wealth and times of hardship, we have been healthy and had illness and now we expect that Jesus will come one day and take us to be with Him and one of us will be alone for a time. We have had four children one died before he was married the other three are married, two of them have been divorced and remarried. We tried to talk to them about the sanctity of marriage but they said 'things are different now' We love them and have tried to show them that marriage is good. Marriage is hard work but with love, trust and tolerance it is a special union.

  • David Chipchase | Thursday, 14 December 2017

    Reading Barbara's Matt 19 reference, I understand v9 to mean if A divorces B because of B's adultery and then A marries C, A is not guilty of sex sins in marriage. Am I correct? William Barclay in his commentary made some interesting comments about this chapter in Matthew. I will see if I can find it.

  • Ruth Lewis | Thursday, 14 December 2017

    BARBARA, Beautiful comment!!!

  • Ruth Lewis | Thursday, 14 December 2017

    I agree with your comment THELMA. My husband and I have been happily married for 44 years. I pray for him everyday and he prays for me. I am so very grateful to God for a Godly husband!!! I do not take it for granted what God has done in my life. It makes me love Him even more. I don't even have the words to express to Him how grateful I am#sogladHeknowsmyheart!!!

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