December 31, 2012
Commentary on First Corinthians
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #6: Questions Concerning Marriage, 1 Corinthians 7.1-7.40



Lesson 6.6: Concerning Widows
 Scripture: 1 Corinthians 7.39-40

1 Cor 7.39-40 (KJV)

39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.


39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth;
This seems to be written in response to another question put to him by the Corinthians, which went something like this: “Is it permitted for a woman to remarry whose husband is dead, or who has abandoned her?" To which he replies, in general, that as long as her husband is living the law binds her to him alone; but, if the husband dies, she is free to remarry, but only in the Lord; that is she must not marry a heathen nor an irreligious man; and she should not only marry a genuine Christian, but one of her own religious point of view; because, if there is going to be domestic peace, much depends on this.

Paul’s earlier council to widows is found in 1 Corinthians 7.8-9, where he counseled them to remain unmarried if they are equipped to do so. The only restriction he placed on a widow, who wanted to remarry, was the obligation to marry another believer (he must belong to the Lord)—an obligation though previously unstated, he no doubt meant to apply to all who sought marriage partners. That point alone, however, affected a widow’s options. Within that condition she might choose whom she wanted, and find with that husband great happiness, though Paul added that she would be happier if she remained single. Perhaps Paul was aware of the increasing ease with which women in the Roman Empire, since the reign of Augustus, had obtained divorces from their husbands.

This was the sixth question Paul answered in this chapter; and the answer to this one was easy. Yes, widows can marry again, but "only in the Lord." It was never intended that Christians marry unbelievers, as Paul spelled out more fully in 2 Cor. 6:14: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” The meaning is that Christians are not to pair off with unbelievers. All intimate associations with unbelievers are forbidden. The primary reference is to intermarriage and to taking part in heathen celebrations; but all close fellowship with unbelievers is included. It is a rare and exceptional thing when mixed marriages between Christians and unbelievers can produce anything but sorrow. As Barclay said: “One thing it must be, Paul laid down here; it must be a marriage in the Lord ... Long, long ago, Plutarch, the wise old Greek, laid it down that ‘marriage cannot be happy unless husband and wife are of the same religion.’” Saints should choose Christian alliances and associations.

A woman is bound to her husband, by the law of marriage (Biblical Law), for as long as he lives; the bond of marriage between them can only be dissolved by the death of one of them, by an act of adultery, and by willful desertion: “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man” (Romans 7:2-3; KJV). The uniform doctrine of the New Testament is that marriage is a contract for life, between one man and one woman, unbreakable by the will of the parties or by any human authority; but the death of either party leaves the survivor free to marry another.

Something to Keep in Mind

There is no place in Christian marriage for a “trial marriage,” nor is there any room for an “escape hatch” attitude:  “if the marriage doesn’t work, we can always get a divorce.” For this reason marriage must be built on something sturdier than good looks, money, romantic excitement, and social acceptance. There must be Christian commitment, character, and maturity. There must be a willingness to grow, to learn from each other, to forgive and forget, and to minister to one another. The kind of love Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 13 is what is needed to cement two lives together.

But if her husband be dead,
The word rendered “dead” is rendered "asleep" in other places, although its meaning is death: death is often expressed by sleeping in Scripture, since the dead will not always remain in such a state, but be raised from death at the last day, just as persons are awaken out of sleep.

Taking this clause and the one following together we have; “But if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will.” God’s Law does not place a limit on the number of times a person can marry. It is certain, from this passage that second marriages are not unlawful; because then the widow could not be at liberty to marry whom she pleased, or to marry a second time at all.


Something to Keep in Mind

William Barkley wrote this about a second marriage: “In many ways a second marriage is the highest compliment that the one who survives can pay to the one who has gone before; for it means without his or her, life was so lonely as to be insupportable; it means with him or her the married state was so happy that it can be fearlessly entered into again. So far from being an act of disrespect it can be a mark of honor to the dead.

she is at liberty to be married to whom she will;
From this we understand that second marriages are lawful, although it was a practice that was condemned by many of the ancients. The liberty that a widow has is greater than that of an unmarried woman, because she is under the power, and at the disposal of her parents; but a widow is at her own disposal, and she must make the decision in her own heart; and since death has dissolved her former obligation, she is at liberty to marry, or not marry, and to marry whom she pleases, so long as that person is not disqualified or forbidden by the laws of God. At the same time, Paul believes that a widow is happier if she remains as she is—that is, if she remains single. Essentially, Paul wants the widow not to remarry without carefully considering that God might be calling her to a life of celibacy. I will say it again; Paul prefers celibacy, but not because sex itself is evil (as some of the Corinthian Christians were thinking). Instead, the unmarried state can be superior because it offers a person (if they are so gifted) more opportunity to serve God.

The apostle places a limitation on her liberty to remarry in the next verse; there he asserts that she marry in the Lord—that is, she must marry a Christian. In our choice of relationships, and when changing our conditions, we should always have an eye to God. Note, Marriages are likely to have God's blessing only when they are made in the Lord, when persons are guided by the fear of God, and the laws of God, and act in dependence on the providence of God, when choosing a mate—when they can look up to God, and sincerely seek his direction, and humbly hope for his blessing upon their conduct.

There may have been some teaching in either Jewish or Greek society stating that a widowed woman could not marry again because she was bound forever to her husband, even if he had died. Paul said clearly that this was not to be the case. But the widow or widower should still be careful about whom he or she chooses to get married to—that part is prescribed by God, because He would not have them marry unbelievers.

only in the Lord.
It has been pointed out several times all ready, that the apostle’s preference was the single state, and that he received that instruction from the Holy Spirit. Later, in another letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2  Co 6:14; KJV).  Christians should only marry Christians, and the one they choose should have a proper sense of their obligations to Christ, and they should live in a manner that would promote His glory. The apostle thought that could not be done if she were allowed to marry a heathen, or one of a different religion. That is the same sentiment he advances in 2 Corinthians 6:14; and it was his intention, undoubtedly, to affirm that it was not proper for a widow to marry anyone who was not a Christian. The reasons at that time would be obvious:
1. They could not have fellowship around the most important of all subjects, if the one was a Christian and the other a heathen: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” (2 Cor 6:14-15; KJV).
2. If she should marry a heathen, would it not show that she did not have as deep a conviction of the importance of her religion as she ought to have? If Christians were required to be "separate," to be "a peculiar people,” and not "to be conformed to the world," how could these precepts be obeyed if the society of a heathen was voluntarily chosen, and if she became united to him for life?
3. She would in this way greatly hinder her usefulness; put herself under the control of one who had no respect for her religion, and who would demand her time and attention, and as a result interfere with her ability to serve God.
4. She would greatly endanger her piety. There would be danger from the opposition, the taunts, and the sneers of the enemies of Christ; from the negative influence of living with a man who had no respect for God; from his introducing her into a society that was ungodly, and that would tend to mar the beauty of her piety, and to draw her away from her devotion to Jesus Christ.

40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

But she is happier if she so abide,
That is, she will be happier if she continues to be a widow: the apostle's meaning is, that she would be more free from the cares of the world, and less liable to be bothered by the trouble that faced Christians at that time; she would live in peace and tranquility, and she would have more leisure time to serve the Lord. In his judgment, which was surely influenced by the persecution that prevailed at that time, she will be happier if she remains a widow. 1 Tim. 5:14—“I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully”—might be thought to conflict with this, but it does not, when we remember that Paul's advice here is due to prevailing circumstances, which is something which must always be considered. The question of marriage or remarriage is one of far-sighted considerations.

How could St. Paul tell a widow that she would be happier if she were to continue as a widow, rather than to remarry? She had tried both the state of celibacy (as an unmarried young woman), and the state of marriage; certainly, she could tell which state was the best for her. But Paul could not tell anything relative to the future state of any widow, unless he had been informed by an express revelation from heaven. It is certain that he can never be understood as speaking in general terms, since there are multitudes of persons abundantly more happy in their married than in their single state; and there are many widows who are much happier in their second marriage than they were in their first.

after my judgment:
Paul makes it clear again that this is his judgment, his advice; which he received by the light of the Holy Spirit, who has shown him the tribulations that are coming upon the church. But, he says in 1 Corinthians 7:28: I spare you-I will not be more explicit concerning the evils that lie ahead, because I wish to save you from all warnings and revelations which bring anxiety and fear. However, in light of the present circumstances and what lies ahead for them, he sticks by the advice he had given previously to unmarried persons, whether young women or widows; that they will be happier if they remain unmarried, providing they are equipped for that life. The important thing, though, is to serve God, to put God first in your life. If a person is married, God should still be first in his life. Unfortunately, there are many Christian couples who are compatible—at least they are not going to the divorce court—but God does not have first place in their marriage.

In deciding your marital status, the most important consideration is not what your Christian friends will say or how society in general will regard you. The question you need to ask yourself is: In what way can I put God first in my life?

and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.
The expression “I think also that I have the Spirit of God,” has been understood by some to suggest that Paul did not know for sure if he was writing under inspiration. This is not the case at all. The verb think (Gr dokeō) does not suggest doubt in any way; in point of fact, “dokeo” is often used to express what is TRUE and CERTAIN. A better translation of the phrase is, “and I consider also that I have the Spirit of God.” The apostle cannot be expressing any doubt of his being under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, since that would have defeated his object in giving the above advice; because, if the advice was not dictated by the Spirit of God, it could not have become rules of conduct for the people of God, for the reason that there would have been suspicion that Paul’s writing was motivated by self-interest, and strong passions. They must have understood that the apostle’s words were directed by the Holy Spirit, or else they could not have been expected to obey. The judgment of the church through the ages concurs in this. As Wesley said: “Whoever would conclude from this that Paul was not certain he had the Holy Spirit neither understands the true import of the words, nor considers how expressly he lays claim to the Spirit, both in this epistle—“For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16; KJV); “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor 14:37; KJV); and the other—“Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me, which to you-ward is not weak, but is mighty in you” (2 Cor 13:3; KJV). Furthermore, we do not believe that any man or any group of men is endowed with the authority to set aside or countermand any declaration in the sacred text upon the basis of their interpretations of related passages. What Paul said, STANDS. Let people keep their hands off of it!

Paul is not giving a command in this short passage; he is only advising in the Spirit; but these two verses are just as much inspired as any other verse in the Bible.


Each person must ask himself or herself the following questions if marriage is being contemplated:
1. What is my gift from God?
2. Am I marrying a believer?
3. Are the circumstances such that marriage is right?
4. How will marriage affect my service for Christ?
5. Am I prepared to enter into this union for life?


Do you have any questions or comments?

 Dr. Henry Cloud has a humorous method for helping people understand that, because of sin, all families have a certain level of dysfunction. During a lecture he will ask everyone who did not come from a dysfunctional family to stand. He then tells the rest of the crowd to look at those who are standing so they can see what a person in denial looks like. The ever-popular practice of blaming our families for current personal struggles would be greatly reduced if more of us would accept the reality that a perfect family is impossible this side of heaven.

An Interview with Dr. Henry Cloud, Seeds Tape Ministry, May 11, 1997