Instructions Regarding Virgins (7:25-28a)Now Paul begins to discuss some of their questions about virgins -- that is, young women who have never been married. Should they consider getting married? We examine these verses with a considerable amount of care, since there is some disagreement about various verses. There are four issues we need to consider in this passage:228
First, the meaning of the term "virgins." "Virgin" is parthenos, "one who has never engaged in sexual intercourse, virgin, chaste person," here, a female of marriageable age with focus on virginity.229 Paul seems to be talking about virgins who are betrothed to be married, who are wondering if they should go ahead and get married, since in verse 36 he says, "If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to..." (literally, "his virgin").
Second, the nature of the problem. Paul seems to have a dilemma on his hands. On the one hand he personally tends to favor celibacy, but he totally disagrees with the ascetic reasons that seem to drive this group of people in Corinth. In their letter to him they probably expressed this asceticism in terms like, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman" (7:1) and considered marriage of a betrothed couple a sin (7:36). He has suggested that Christians shouldn't be quick to change their status. But in the case of a betrothed virgin, she can't stay perpetually engaged. She needs to either get married or call off the marriage.
Historically, this passage has been taken three ways by the church.
Let's begin now with verse 25:
"Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy." (7:25)
Note that Paul isn't relating a command232 or teaching of Jesus here, but giving his own advice233 on the matter. Throughout this section Paul is trying hard not to have his words interpreted as a new law. The passage is filled not so much with imperatives as laced with qualifying words such as "opinion" (7:25), "I think" (7:40), "I am sparing you" (7:28), "I wish" (7:32), "I say this for your good" (7:35), "let him do as he wishes" (7:36), and "he shall do well" (7:38).
"Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are." (7:26)
What is the "present crisis" Paul refers to? "Crisis" (NIV, NRSV), "distress" (KJV) is anankē, "a state of distress or trouble, distress, calamity, pressure."234 Though this word is usually employed to describe eschatological woes -- the troubles right before Christ's coming -- here it is used to describe some kind of present crisis that the church is experiencing.235 We can see two possibilities:
Now Paul sums up his general counsel thus far to various groups of people in the church.
"27 Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned." (7:27-28a)
The ascetics in Corinth seemed to be suggesting that sex in marriage was unspiritual, that to desire to marry was sinful. Paul disagrees, though he encourages celibacy where it seems practical. In the next several verses, he explains why.