What situation is Paul addressing in 1 Corinthians 7:27b?

I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.

1 Corinthians 7:26-28 ESV emphasis mine

Is someone who is "free from a wife" someone who is a widower or perhaps someone who has divorced? Or does it refer to someone who has never married, but is not pledged to a wife either? Perhaps all these circumstances?

3 Answers 3


1 Corinthians 27-29:
"Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none..."

My emphasis on 'the time is short' (verse 29) is because Paul expected the end of the world in his own lifetime. This is made more clear in 1 Thessalonians (4:17): "the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who remain, will be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air."

The Christians in Thessalonica had become disturbed over the death of a number of their fellow believers. When he converted these people, Paul had taught them that the end of the age was imminent and that they were to enter the kingdom when Jesus returned, but members of the congregation had died before it happened. Paul wrote to assure the survivors that even those who have died will be brought into the kingdom.

Expecting the parousia within his own lifetime, and the lifetimes of most of his Christians, Paul saw no need to change things as they are. Those who are already married should stay married (seek not to be loosed), while it would be better for those not yet married to remain unmarried. Nevertheless, those who choose not to wait, but marry before the end-time will not have sinned.


If we read the New Testament in its historical context, we must cannot underestimate the importance of the end of the old covenant in AD70. The imminent warnings of the apostles (as Covenant prophets) to the first Christians all relate to that event. Peter Leithart writes:

Given the high view of marriage and sexuality in Scripture, Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians are odd and out of character. Why would Paul think it good for everyone to be as he is?

Jeremiah 16 provides a clue. In verse 2, Yahweh instructs Jeremiah not to take a wife or raise children “in this place,” because Yahweh is bringing distress on the fathers, mothers, and children who are born in doomed Jerusalem: “They will die of deadly diseases, they will not be lamented or buried; they will be as dung on the surface of the ground and come to an end by sword and famine, and their carcasses will become food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth” (v. 4). In view of the present distress, Yahweh says, Jeremiah ought not marry or have children. Jeremiah would remain unmarried as a prophetic sign of Yahweh’s determination to withdraw peace from His bride (v. 5).

As Paul makes clear in various places, he is an apostle like Jeremiah, not only in being called from the womb but also in his singleness, a sign of the approaching doom on Jerusalem and Judaism.

Many scholars miss the Old Covenant context of the warnings in the gospels, epistles and especially the Revelation. They might object that this means the New Testament doesn’t apply to us. But one could ask the same thing of the book of Ezekiel. The real question is, was it written to us? We must interpret before we can apply.

The interpretation of this passage above must take into account that its context is a first century distress. The distress came and went. Being single is not a principle that applies consistently to the church throughout history. It is a "wartime" measure.

"And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days!" (Matthew 24:19)

A fair question to ask would be why is Paul warning the Christians living in Corinth about an event coming upon Jerusalem? The answer is that the events predicted in Matthew 24 (the end of the age/Old Covenant era) affected the entire empire. Leithart again:

Madden examines the Jewish War (66-70 AD) in some detail, using it as an illustration of the difficulty of controlling religiously motivated terrorism, and he interestingly points out that Diaspora Jews not only celebrated the exploits of Palestinian guerillas but also initiated conflicts in their own cities:

“As news of the violence in Jerusalem spread [in 66], the killing was mirrored across the region and then the empire. . . . Diaspora Jews sympathized with their coreligionists, but few would condone this sort of slaughter. And yet, in some places in the Middle East, Jews celebrated the massacre of Romans. Several cities with large Jewish populations saw open warfare between them and their Gentile neighbors. . . .

“In places like Alexandria, Caesarea Maritima, Caesarea Philippi, Tyre, and Ascalon, the Jews had the worst of it, with many thousands killed. In other places like Sebaste, Gaza, Anthedon, Gaba, and the Decapolis it was the Jews who won out, massacring the Gentiles.” After six thousand Romans were killed in Caesarea Maritima, the citizens of Damascus “poured into the streets killing Jews wherever they could find them.”

This is of interest partly because of the light it sheds on the New Testament. Paul and the other apostles write to Christian communities scattered about the Mediterranean about a coming day of retribution. On a preterist reading of the NT, these are likely references to the Jewish War and AD 70. But why would Christians in Corinth or Rome care? Madden’s information clarifies this: As in the book of Esther, the conflict of “true Jews” and the “Agagites” is not confined to a single region or city but spreads throughout the empire.

  • 2
    (-1) This isn't a bad answer, but as it is currently worded it may not be a good fit for this site. For instance, you say "we cannot underestimate the importance of the end of the old covenant in AD70" but you provide no exegetical support for the Old Covenant ending in AD70. Actually, this is a heavily debated issue -- even amongst Christians, who are the only group who might agree with that assertion. If you could use the text more, and possibly remove this statement, it would go a long way toward improving the answer. Also, I would separate "application" and put it at the end.
    – Jas 3.1
    Commented Dec 10, 2013 at 19:32

I think this passage is given as an illustration of where our focus should be and the urgency with which we should labor. It suggests that we should be content with what we have and not focus on earthly things, rather on the author of our faith. We should avoid all hindrances to our service for the Lord, even to the extent of trying to get married, as this would detract from our main purpose, which is to serve him. As far as marriage and re-marriage, there are other passages that clearly state God's will against divorce and re-marriage. So I would take that off as one of the options.

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