1 Corinthians 7:8-9 NRSV

8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. 9 But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.

This presents multiple alternatives in preferential order:

  1. Remain unmarried, but practice self-control
  2. Marry
  3. Remain unmarried, but not practice self-control (where not practicing self-control involves or necessitates being aflame with passion)

Given these alternatives, what do 'not practicing self-control' and 'being aflame with passion' involve? Sexual desire? Lust? Trying to get remarried? Romantic relationships? Sexual acts? Intercourse?

  • 1
    The alternative reading is that it is better to marry than to fall into fornication and one's eternal destiny would therefore be in a lake of fire.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 5:17
  • Some have understood the instructions on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 to be specific to those engaged full-time in missionary labors (such as Paul himself). This would, for example, reconcile the passage in the OP with Paul's rather different counsel in 1 Timothy 4:1-3. Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 6:01
  • @HoldToTheRod That seems difficult, although not impossible, to square with 1 Tim 5:11 which seems to give the same advice, but widows outside ministry are in mind for the chapter, v16 "If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family..."
    – matt2048
    Commented Feb 28, 2021 at 8:35
  • @matt2048 - There was no preferential order of the choices in the question. The women had to picked the right one according to their desire. A wrong choice would lead to their own destruction. A right choice would allow them, no matter which one was picked, continued their Christianity. Commented Jul 29, 2022 at 14:29

4 Answers 4


The choices Paul set out were to either marry, or be unmarried. But, if they remained single, they would have to be strong enough not to give in to fornication, for that is a sin before God.

But, we must remember the time frame and the events that were coming upon them when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians in about 55 AD. (See DatingTheNewTestament) His advice to those 1st century AD Christians was for their condition during the tribulation and suffering they were about to endure, not only from the then current persecution from the Jews in Jerusalem, but from the near persecution Nero would release about AD 64-66, and then the Roman-Jewish wars they would face in AD 67-70.

Those 1st century Christians were going to have to flee to the mountains (Matt. 24:15-16; Mark 13:14; Luke 21:20-21) to get out of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas before Vespasian and Titus descended upon them in the war.

So, Paul's instructions were not a command from God, but a thoughtful precaution of the times, because a wife or small children would make it harder for them to flee. Those who try to mandate Paul's advice for their time are ignoring the circumstances in Judea in the 1st century AD. This is still good advice in periods of trouble and war if people have the will and strength of self control.


Were the words in 1 Cor 7:8-9 from God? It is unlikely, for nothing near we heard from the prophets and Jesus. More concisely to say, it should be Paul's perspective based on his spiritual enlightenment from God. However, a man's perspective has a limitation by the era he lived, and we should put a little more effort to think how it is applicable for today.

1 Cor 7:9 is one of this typical controversial statement. Let's review it again;

9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Cor 7:9 NIV)

It sounds like marriage is to resolve one issue, avoid improper sexual relationship or fornication. This doesn't seem to be the teaching from God. God sees marriage a sacred relationship. He uses marriage to represent His covenant with Israel. He emphasizes 'Love' in the marriage, in Greek, 'Love' is 'Agape'. So did Paul downgrade marriage to mainly sexual relationship?

It may be worth noting that in the scripture, it often disclose marriage is a rough relationship, as if Israel has a rough relationship with God. God sees a marriage is holy when there is sacrifice love and perseverance in keeping the marriage, keeping the covenant amongst them.

Paul could be plainly to make a statement in 1 Cor 7:9 to ask the believers avoid sin due to improper sex. It did not eliminate the need of love and perseverance in a marriage, for it is a sure thing to do as God's people. It can be see in his teaching in Ephesians

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:22 & 25 NIV)

Therefore we cannot draw any conclusion by looking at one statement alone. Sometimes, an idea is so much complicated that it requires to read all related statements to get the real picture.

  • Fair enough, Vincent, + 1. Commented Jan 15 at 19:45

When passion is not under control during an interim period of being unmarried, and not finding the person desirable enough to propose marriage to, if sin occurs the sins of the believer simply need to be confessed. Referring to Christians (who are already washed), scripture states that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Since confessing means to agree with, then we are agreeing with God that we were wrong and have sinned. God forgives us, through confession, on an ongoing basis because He is “faithful and just.” He is faithful by forgiving our sins, which He has promised to do for all those who have received Christ as Savior. He is just by recognizing that the sins have already been paid for by the blood of Christ.

It’s no wonder that the New Testament states that the blood of Christ speaks a much better message than the blood of Abel, in Hebrews 12:24.

Relying on confession doesn't mean that we should simply plan on going on and on with immoral activities, using confession as a crutch. Christians have a born-again, "renewed" spirit that continues to mature during our lifetime. As our spirit matures, our measure of faith increases. God uses various trials and difficult situations to help us to use what measure of faith we currently have, in order to help our faith to increase more.

In situations like being unmarried, when you really, really want to be, confessions may seem like a regular thing for a while, but we can continue to ask God for wisdom about what on earth can we do to help control the passion, and decisions about what we personally need to look for in a marriage partner. Always consider this important verse:

James 1:5 ESV: If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

As you wait on the Lord to be delivered from your situation, it is always beneficial to simply read through the Bible carefully. You may want to consider fasting one meal a day and having one glass of red wine in the evening at home (without driving afterward). Also consider this verse:

Isaiah 40:31 NET Bible But those who wait for the LORD's help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles' wings, they run without growing weary, they walk without getting tired.

  • Like this too, except for what I already advised you about in your previous answer, + 1. Commented Jan 15 at 19:36
  • Your edits show me that you are, honorably and respectfully, taking note of what I have to say. Kudos to you. Love the fact that you have switched from the Holy Spirit reference to the all important reference to God Himself, and not just within this answer. I'm not sure, however, if you actually know how to Bold, Italicize, or even 'block-quote' within your answers. If you check out below (as if you were about to answer) you'll find symbols for these 3 tools in the header, the 1st, 2nd, and 4th symbol respectively. Just hit on those before utilizing and hit again to change back..... Commented Jan 16 at 1:10
  • .... to achieve the same effect in "Comments", however is a little different. For bolding you need to press and hold "shift", then hit ** on either side of what you want to bold, similarly with italicize, only you don't need two asterisks on either side, as you need just one. If you make a mistake, you have up to 5 minutes to "Edit". One more thing, I don't think having "numbers" for "user" handles is to one's benefit. I'm a 72 year old Englishman, so I use the handle "Olde English", which is much easier for other BH members to identify with. You can edit in your "Profile"?? Commented Jan 16 at 1:32
  • Thanks for the great tips. That should make it easier and faster.
    – KeyWise
    Commented Jan 16 at 4:37

1 Cor 7:8-9 implies that Paul was practicing self-control.

1 Thessalonians 4:4

each of you must know how to control his own body in holiness and honor

What do 'not practicing self-control' and 'being aflame with passion' involve?

1 Corinthians 7:2

But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.

1 Corinthians 6:18

Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.

1 Timothy 5:

14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. 15Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.

Unmarried and not practicing self-control leads to general sexual immorality, fornication, slander, and ultimately turning his back on Christ and following Satan.

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