Don't Burn:1 Corinthians 7:9

Question: What did Paul have in mind when he warned against "burning" in 1 Corinthians 7:9? 


Answer: 


What is this “burning” (πυρόω)? First, it is a metaphorical use – not a picture of touching a pan and being physically burned. And it is passive, thus to be burned up or inflamed. There are two possibilities as to what this might mean. The first is to be burned as in judgment or as in hell (cf 3:15). This is attractive… marry or continue in sin and suffer judgment. However, I think the second possibility is best – burned as in inner passions (as ESV, NIV, NAU). So Paul uses it in NAU  2 Corinthians 11:29 Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concernThus it is marry or continue being consumed by inner passions.  


So the reason (gar) for Paul’s advice to get married is that getting married is much to be preferred than burning. A comparative picture is being painted. On the one side is getting married; on the other side is burning. Paul is clearly favoring getting married – it is “better” (kreittwn  meaning more advantageous or preferable = thus better Gingrich 450). The “better” is not a comparison between being single per se and being married – it is between being married and being consumed by desires for sexual intimacy as a single person. 


“In this case, then, Paul is not so much offering marriage as the remedy for the sexual desire of “enflamed youth,” which is the most common way of viewing the text, but as the proper alternative for those who are already consumed by that desire and are sinning.” (Fee 289). 


A word to those who are engaged to be married – I don’t have anyone specifically in mind – just general advice. Once you are committed to being married, it is probably wise that you not have an extended engagement period. Why elevate sexual temptation? Better to deal with the practical issues of being married before the optimal time than to deal with immorality.