Corinthians 7 – Marriage & Marriage in Ancient Rome

Hands Out

1 A European
A European painting of an Emperor of China inspecting his fantasy fishing fleet with his concubines.
In ancient China, successful men often supported several concubines. For example, it has been documented that Chinese Emperors accommodated thousands of concubines.

A concubine’s treatment and situation were highly variable and were influenced by the social status of the male to whom she was engaged, as well as the attitude of the wife.

The position of the concubine was generally inferior to that of the wife. Although a concubine could produce heirs, her children would be inferior in social status to “legitimate” children. Allegedly, concubines were occasionally buried alive with their masters to “keep them company in the afterlife.

You know Father, that there was a time when I didn’t believe in You.  When I finally got smart enough to realize that You are what I’ve always been told You are, I still didn’t believe in the fornication thing.

My mother would always tell me that if I have sex with a woman I’m not married to then I’ve basically dismissed You.  But then I read the Bible and got to know You Guys and now I understand it fully.  Sorry about that.

Tomorrow we’ll look at…

1 Corinthians 7

1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

“Good for a man not to touch a woman” – Paul spoke strongly in favor of the married state and in 1 Tim 4:1-3 he taught that forbidding to marry would be a sign of the end-time apostasy.

Another possible again quoting a slogan of the Corinthians suggesting it was good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.  He refutes this idea in v. 2 by standing that sexual relations have their proper expression in marriage.

2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

“Fornication” – example: The temple to Aphrodite on the Acrocorinth, the rocky eminence above Corinth, at one time had in service 1,000 prostitute priestesses.

3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.

“Render unto the wife due benevolence” – married couples should have normal sexual relations.  Permanent abstention deprives the other partner of his or her natural right and may be conducive to temptation.

4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

“Likewise” – both husband and wife have conjugal rights and exclusive possession of the other in this area.

5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

2 The Temple
The Temple of Aphrodite is located in ancient Aphrodisias about 70 miles east of Kusadasi and comprises one of the oldest groupings of archeological ruins in all of Turkey.
Although the once magnificent Temple of Aphrodite is now in ruins, the ruins themselves are quite breathtaking, rivaling those found at Knossos on the island of Crete and Ephesus, which is not far away.

It is possible to get here from both Izmir and Kusadasi using a number of buses and taxis, but guided tours are the most practical.

“Defraud you not one the other” – of sexual fulfillment.

“Satan tempt you not for your incontinency” – the Christian deprived of normal sexual activity with his or her marriage partner may be tempted by Satan to sexual immorality.  The normal God-given sexual drive in the human being is strong.

6 But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.

“Permission, and not of commandment” – although marriage is desirable and according to God’s plan, it was not mandatory under the difficult circumstances at Corinth.  In another situation (1 Tim 5:14) Paul urges that “the younger women marry.”

7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.

9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:

“I command, yet not I, but the Lord” – Paul is citing a command from the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry that married couples must stay together (Matt 5:32; Mk 10:2-12; Lk 16-18).  Paul probably heard such commands from other disciples or from Jesus Himself by a special revelation.

3 Aphrodite Pudica
Aphrodite Pudica (Roman copy of 2nd century A.D.),
Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. Her Roman equivalent is the goddess Venus.

As with many ancient Greek deities, there is more than one story about her origins.

According to Hesiod’s Theogony, she was born when Cronus cut off Uranus’s genitals and threw them into the sea, and she arose from the sea foam (aphros).

According to Homer’s Iliad, she is the daughter of Zeus and Dione.

11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

“But if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled” – Paul argues that in the light of Christ’s command she or he is not to marry again.  Rather, the separated or divorced couple are to be reconciled.  Clearly the ideal is that marriage should not be permanently disrupted.

12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.

“Any brother hath a wife that believeth not” – the apostle is talking here about couples already married, when one of them becomes a Christian, if at all possible, they so0uld remain together, unless the unbeliever refuses to remain.

13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

“The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife” – the unbelieving partner is influenced by the godly life of the Christian partner; so that family is under the holy influence of the believer and in that sense is sanctified.

15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.

16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

17 But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.

18 Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised.

“Circumcised…uncircumcised” – Jew…Gentile.  in the religious sphere, Christian Jews should not try to obliterate physically the fact that they are Jews, and Christian Gentiles should not yield to Jewish pressure for circumcision.

19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.

20 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.

21 Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.

“If thou mayest be made free, use it rather” – if a Christian slave has an opportunity to get his freedom, he should take advantage of it. 

In the Roman empire slaves were sometimes freed by Roman patricians.  There is nothing wrong with seeking to improve your condition, but be content at every stage.

22 For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.

23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.

“Bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men” – Christians in all stations of life should realize that their ultimate allegiance is not to men but to Christ, who bought them with His blood.

24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.

4 Acrocorinth
Acrocorinth, “Upper Corinth”, the acropolis of ancient Corinth, is a monolithic rock overseeing the ancient city of Corinth, Greece. “It is the most impressive of the acropoleis of mainland Greece,” in the estimation of George Forrest.

“I give my judgment, as one…faithful” – Paul is not giving a direct command from Jesus here, but his own judgment. 

Even though he put it this way, he is certainly not denying that he wrote under the influence of divine inspiration.  And since he writes under inspiration what he recommends is clearly the better occurs of action.

26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, and that it is good for a man so to be.

27 Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife.

28 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.

29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;

30 And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not;

31 And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.

32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:

33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.

34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

35 And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.

36 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.

5 2

“He behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin…pass the flower of her age…let them marry” – “Virgin” here means “daughter.”  In the light of hostility toward believers in Corinth, a man might refrain from giving his daughter in marriage.

But if he then realizes that his daughter is getting beyond her prime marriageable age and the situation thus seems unfair to her, it is perfectly proper for him to give her in marriage.

37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

“Hath power over his own will…doeth well” – the man who determines that there is no need for him to give his daughter in marriage under the circumstances has made a good decision too.

38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

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.

“Bound by the law as lo9ng as her husband liveth” – marriage is a lifelong union.

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

Marriage in Ancient Rome

Marriage in ancient Rome was a strictly monogamous institution: a Roman citizen by law could have only one spouse at a time.

6 Roman couple
Roman couple joining hands; the bride’s belt may show the knot symbolizing that the husband was “belted and bound” to her, which he was to untie in their bed (4th century sarcophagus.
Marriage in ancient Rome was a strictly monogamous institution: a Roman citizen by law could have only one spouse at a time.

The practice of monogamy distinguished the Greeks and Romans from other ancient civilizations, in which elite males typically had multiple wives. Greco-Roman monogamy may have arisen from the egalitarianism of the democratic and republican political systems of the city-states. It is one aspect of ancient Roman culture that was embraced by early Christianity, which in turn perpetuated it as an ideal in later Western culture.

The practice of monogamy distinguished the Greeks and Romans from other ancient civilizations, in which elite males typically had multiple wives.

Greco-Roman monogamy may have arisen from the egalitarianism of the democratic and republican political systems of the city-states.

It is one aspect of ancient Roman culture that was embraced by early Christianity, which in turn perpetuated it as an ideal in later Western culture.

Marriage had mythical precedents, starting with the abduction of the Sabine Women, which may reflect the archaic custom of bride abduction.

Romulus and his band of male immigrants were rejected conubium, the legal right to intermarriage, from the Sabines.

According to Livy, Romulus and his men abducted the Sabine maidens, but promised them an honorable marriage, in which they would enjoy the benefits of property, citizenship, and children.

These three benefits seem to define the purpose of marriage in ancient Rome.

The word matrimonium, the root for the English word “matrimony,” defines the institution’s main function. Involving the mater (mother), it carries with it the implication of the man taking to woman in marriage to have children.

It is the idea conventionally shared by Romans as to the purpose of marriage, which would be to produce legitimate children; citizens producing new citizens.

Consortium is a word used for the sharing of property, usually used in a technical sense for the property held by heirs, but could also be used in the context of marriage. Such usage was commonly seen in Christian writings.

However, the sharing of water and fire (aquae et ignis communiciatio) was symbolically more important.

It refers to the sharing of natural resources. Worldly possessions transferred automatically from the wife to the husband in archaic times, whereas the classical marriage kept the wife’s property separate.

 In order for the union of a man and woman to be legitimate, there needed to be consent legally and morally.

Both parties had to be willing and intend to marry, and both needed their fathers’ consent. If all other legal conditions were met, a marriage was made.


7 A group portrait
A group portrait of a mother, son and daughter on glass (c. 250 AD), once thought to be the family of Valentinian III.
The lives of elite Roman women were essentially determined by their marriages. We are best informed about families with both wealth and political standing, whose largely inherited money would follow both their sons and their daughters.

In the earliest periods of Roman history, Manus Marriage meant that a married woman would be subjugated by her husband, but that custom had died out by the 1st century B.C. in favor of Free Marriage which did not grant a husband any rights over his wife or have any changing effect on a woman’s status.

Adultery was a sexual offense committed by a man with a woman who was neither his wife nor a permissible partner such as a prostitute or slave.

A married man committed adultery mainly when his female partner was another man’s wife or unmarried daughter.

The punishment varied at different periods of Roman history and depending on the circumstances.

Although prohibitions against adultery and harsh punishments are mentioned during the Republic (509–27 B.C.) historical sources suggest that they were regarded as archaic survivals, and should not be interpreted as accurate representations of behavior.

Adultery was normally considered a private matter for families to deal with, not a serious criminal offense requiring the attention of the courts, though there were some cases when adultery and sexual transgressions by women had been brought to the aediles for judgment.

According to Cato (2nd century B.C.), a husband had an ancient right (ius) to kill his wife if he caught her in the act of adultery.

The existence of this “right” has been questioned; if it did exist, it was a matter of custom and not statute law, and probably only applied to those in the manus form of marriage, which had become vanishingly rare by the Late Republic (147–27 BC), when a married woman always remained legally a part of her own family.

No source records the justified killing of a woman for adultery by either a father or husband during the Republic.

Adultery was sufficient grounds for divorce, however, and if the wife was at fault, the wronged husband got to keep a portion of her dowry, though not much more than if he had repudiated her for less serious forms of misconduct.


One of the most important aspects of the practical and business-like arrangement of Roman marriage was the dowry. The dowry was a contribution made by the wife’s family to the husband to cover the expenses of the household. It was more customary than compulsory.

8 There were several
There were several ways of celebrating a marriage, of which the simplest involved the consent of both parties, without rites or ceremony.
There were three others, each giving the husband legal power over his wife:

By cohabiting for a year without the woman being absent for a total of three nights.

By a symbolic form of purchase, in the presence of a holder of a pair of scales and five witnesses.

By full ritual, in the presence of the pontifex maximus.

Ancient papyrus texts show that dowries typically included land and slaves but could also include jewelry, toilet articles (used to make women more attractive, such as mirrors), and clothing.

These items were connected with legacy and if the wife died early in the marriage, the dowry could be returned to her family and buried with her to give a more elaborate burial than was typical for the time, however that was not always the case.

The dowry was also how Roman families maintained their social status relative to each other. It was important to ensure that upon the end of a marriage, the dowry was returned to either the wife or her family.

This was done in order to improve her chances of remarriage as well as to maintain the family resources. In ancient Rome, the dowry became the husband’s full legal property.

In actuality, however, the purpose of the dowry often affected the husband’s freedom to use the dowry.

For example, if the dowry was given to help in the maintenance of the wife, or if a legal provision was made for the wife or her family to reclaim the dowry should the marriage dissolve, the husband was restricted as to how he could make use of the dowry.

The fate of the dowry at the end of a marriage depended on its original source. A dowry of dos recepticia was one in which agreements were made in advance about its disposal. The agreement made beforehand determined how this dowry would be recovered.

One of dos profecticia was a dowry given by the father of the bride. This type of dowry could be recovered by the donor or by a divorced daughter if her pater died.

A dowry of dos adventicia was given by the daughter herself, though it came from her pater.

This dowry usually came in non-traditional forms, for example, in lieu of a debt settlement, instead of being given as a direct charge on the pater’s estate. The wife usually recovered this dowry. However, if she died, the husband retained this dowry


9 Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce
Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce

Divorce, like marriage, changed and evolved throughout Roman history. As the centuries passed and ancient Rome became more diversified, the laws and customs of divorce also changed and became more diversified to include the customs and beliefs of all the different people.

Divorce had always been a common occurrence in Rome and from the beginning of ancient law in Rome men have always had the possibility of divorcing their wives.

Although this custom was usually reserved for serious marital faults, such as adultery, making copies of the household keys, consuming wine, or infertility, it could be employed by a husband at any time.

For many centuries only husbands had this privilege but wives were finally included in this process and given permission to divorce their husbands as Rome entered into the classical age.

Since marriage was often used as a political tool in ancient Rome, especially in the upper classes, divorces were common when new political opportunities presented themselves.

Anytime a new opportunity arose, a man or woman would divorce their current spouse and marry a new one. A man or woman could form valuable family ties through their various marriages and divorces to different families.

A motivated man or woman might marry and divorce a couple times in their lifetime if they thought it to their advantage.

One of the main reasons for divorce, besides serious marital fault, was a desire to no longer remain married to a spouse.

Since one of the defining characteristics of marriage was a will to be married and an attitude of regarding one another as husband or wife, the marriage ended when the will or attitude ended.

A husband or wife would notify their spouse that they no longer desired to be married and the marriage would end.

It is interesting to note that only one spouse’s will was required for a divorce and that a divorce was still final even if the other spouse did not receive the notice of divorce. All that mattered was that one spouse wanted it to end, and it ended.

Divorce in ancient Rome was usually a private affair and only the parties involved were notified of it. A divorce did not have to be recognized or ratified by the church or state and no public record was kept of a divorce.

The lack of divorce records often led to some confusion with the numerous marriages and divorces going on.

One of the main components of a marriage was the exchange of the dowry between the husband and the wife or the wife’s guardian.

This would sometimes lead to disputes when the marriage ended because both parties wanted to claim the dowry.

It became an established custom that if the wife were not at fault for the ending of the marriage, then she was able to reclaim her dowry. This would often happen if the husband had committed offenses during the marriage, such as adultery.

Since either a husband or a wife could initiate a divorce, it became understood that if the wife wanted the divorce and there were children involved, then a husband could have some claim on the dowry based on the children.

Divorce from
Free Marriage

10 Roman divorce
Roman divorce was as simple as marriage.
Just as marriage was only a declaration of intent to live together, divorce was just a declaration of a couple’s intent not to live together. All that the law required was that they declare their wish to divorce before seven witnesses.

The Manus Marriage custom ended in the 1st century B.C. and the Free Marriage divorce emerged. With this, the reasons for any divorce became irrelevant. Either spouse could leave a marriage at any point.

Property during a marriage was kept separate under Roman Law, and this left only the dowry in common. In cases of adultery, husbands got to keep a portion of the dowry, but without the involvement of adultery women would take most if not all of their dowry with them, as well as their personal property.

However, the woman had to get permission from the government to have a divorce while the man could simply just kick the woman out of the house.

Remarriage and Widowhood

Remarriage was very common in ancient Rome society and many men and women were usually married at least twice in their lifetimes. This is due to the fact that there was a high infant mortality rate, high death rate, and low average life expectancy in ancient Rome.

Men and women did not live very long. This high mortality rate plus the high divorce rate, common in ancient Rome, led to many instances of remarriage. Since children were expected in marriage, each spouse usually brought at least one child to the new marriage.

Remarriages thus created a new blending of the family in ancient Roman society, where children were influenced by stepparents and some instances where stepmothers were younger than their stepchildren.

Most wives were encouraged to remarry after either the death of the husband or a divorce. Ancient physicians believed that a woman was liable to get very sick if she was deprived of sexual activity and it could even lead to a woman getting ‘’hysteric uterine constriction.”

There was even legislation passed during the rule of Augustus that required widows and widowers to remarry to be able to fully inherit from people outside of their immediate family.


Concubinage (Latin: contubernium; concubine=concubina, considered milder than paelex) was the institution practiced in ancient Rome that allowed men to enter into certain illegal relationships without repercussions, with the exception of involvement with prostitutes.

11 Statue of Yang
Statue of Yang Guifei (719-756), the favoured concubine of Emperor Tang Xuanzong of China.
Concubinage is an interpersonal relationship in which a person (usually a woman) engages in an ongoing sexual relationship with another person to whom they are not or cannot be married.

00105b The inability to marry may be due to differences in social rank (including slave status), or because the non-concubine is already married. The woman in such a relationship is referred to as a concubine.

00105b Historically, concubinage was frequently voluntary by the woman and/or her family, as it provided a measure of economic security for the woman involved.

This de facto polygamy – for Roman citizens could not legally marry or cohabit with a concubine while also having a legal wife – was “tolerated to the degree that it did not threaten the religious and legal integrity of the family”.

The title of concubine was not considered derogatory (as it may be considered today) in ancient Rome, and was often inscribed on tombstones.

Emperor Augustus’ Leges Juliae gave the first legal recognition of concubinage, defining it as cohabitation without marital status.

Concubinage came to define many relationships and marriages considered unsuitable under Roman law, such a senator’s desire to marry a freedwoman, or his cohabitation with a former prostitute.

While a man could live in concubinage with any woman of his choice rather than marrying her, he was compelled to give notice to authorities.

This type of cohabitation varied little from actual marriage, except that heirs from this union were not considered legitimate.

Often this was the reason that men of high rank would live with a woman in concubinage after the death of their first wife, so that the claims of their children from this first marriage would not be challenged by the children from this later union.

Concerning the difference between a concubine and a wife, the jurist Julius Paulus wrote in his Opinions that “a concubine differs from a wife only in the regard in which she is held,” meaning that a concubine was not considered a social equal to her patron, as his wife was.

While the official Roman law declared that a man could not have a concubine at the same time he had a wife, there are various notable occurrences of this, including the famous cases of the emperors Augustus, Marcus Aurelius, and Vespasian.

Suetonius wrote that Augustus “put Scribonia [his second wife] away because she was too free in complaining about the influence of his concubine”. Often, in return for payment, concubines would relay appeals to their emperor.

Concubines did not receive much protection under the law, aside from the legal recognition of their social stature. They largely relied upon their patrons to provide for them.

Early Roman law sought to differentiate between the status of concubinage and legal marriage, as demonstrated in a law attributed to Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, circa 716-673 B.C.:

12 Palace of the concubines
Palace of the concubines

“A concubine shall not touch the altar of Juno. If she touches it, she shall sacrifice, with her hair unbound, a ewe lamb to Juno.”

This fragment gives evidence that concubines existed early in the Roman monarchy, but also notes the banning of their involvement in the worship of Juno, the goddess of marriage.

Later the jurist Ulpian wrote on the Lex Julia et Papia,

“Only those women with whom intercourse is not unlawful can be kept in concubinage without the fear of committing a crime”.

He also said that “anyone can keep a concubine of any age unless she is less than twelve years old.”

…how marriage has changed over centuries.

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