“I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn” (1Corinthians 7:8,9). (KJV)
Numerous scholars describe the word “burn” in verse 9 in various ways, but predominantly as a metaphor meaning “passions of sexual desires", which can be observed by the interpretations found in different Bible commentaries and revisions of the King James Version.
However, this description or interpretation, in my opinion, is wholly inaccurate. It is incorrect on the basis of both context and logic. It is not metaphorical, but literal. Let me explain how I came to this conclusion.
Contextually, the Apostle Paul is not prescribing Biblical marriage (understanding what this means is important) as the cure or remedy for passionate sexual desires, as these scholars purport. As if, lusts or passions sexually will cease once one is married. Tell this to the countless number of Christian married people who have fallen into pornography and/or have had sexually intimate encounters with another person while married.
I understand and concede that sexual passions can be regulated more easily within marriage, but the management of the regulation depends on the person doing the regulating.
Rather, what Paul is stating is that Biblical marriage is the only acceptable means for any sexually intimate involvement that may derive from lustful sexual passions or any other incontinent prompting, “Let every man have his own wife and let every woman have her own husband” (1Corinthians 7:2).
The alternative to Biblical marriage for any sexual intimacy, regardless of its origin or need for being carried out, is fornication (adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, polygamy). This is what Paul emphasized and admonished must be avoided (1 Corinthians 7:2). Hell’s fire will indeed be the burning (“to burn”) result when sexual intimacy is exercised through one of these inordinate sexually intimate encounters and not in the realm of Biblical marriage, as Paul promoted.
One’s sexual appetites with another, however they may ensue, can only be satisfied through one of these applications: marriage or fornication.
Logically, as I have already alluded to, marriage does not completely subdue sexual desires, but rather, is the proper outlet for them. Men and women are still capable of “burning with sexual passions” for someone other than their spouse, which can lead one to commit fornication. There is plenty of evidence to show this to be true.
Also, should it be depicted that all who “cannot contain” in verse 9 are guilty of “burning in passions sexually?” Is this the only disposition that will qualify? How about a widow or other unmarried person being exceedingly lonely, and because of it surrender to do what they wouldn’t do normally sexually just to be with someone, yet not because of uncontrollable sexual passions? Could this loneliness be a catalyst tempting them to engage in a fornicated sexually intimate connection, damning their soul to hell’s fire (“to burn”)?
For Paul to describe these Christians who “cannot contain” in the way these scholars portray them, it would be very close to the description he used to identify the “vile affections” practiced by the homosexual men in Romans 1:27 who, he said, “burned in their lusts one toward another.” This was meant metaphorically, which in this instance is justified and logical.
Is it possible that these incontinent unmarried Christian people in Corinth were not sex crazed, but human beings who had basic sexual needs? Even Jesus declared to His disciples concerning men avoiding marriage in Matthew 19:11 saying, “All men cannot receive this…”
Furthermore, since Paul’s real intent was not to recommend singleness as a better way altogether, but only for the time of their “present distress” (persecution of Christians(1Corinthians 7:26)), do you suppose that during such an uncertain and fearful time, these incontinent would be consumed in sexual passions as certain professing Christians are today in pornography and sexual promiscuity; without persecution?
Therefore, in a very pointed and straight forward way, Paul declared in verse 9, it is better to satisfy sexual needs or any other incontinency that may culminate in sexual intimacy within the confines of Biblical marriage, than to engage in them outside of God’s sanctioned way and receive the just reward, which will come upon the disobedient (fornicators) – burning.
The fornicators of Sodom and Gomorrah understand this burning. They experienced the “vengeance of eternal fire” for their ungodly sexual intimacies (Jude 7).
So, Paul’s purpose in prescribing marriage for the unmarried who “cannot contain” is not a remedy against sinful desires, nor a remedy to keep us from the misery of burning sexual passions, but, rather, to keep us from fornication, for whatever reason one’s incontinency might evolve inspiring sexual intimacies.
“To burn” is not a symptom of being unmarried and incontinent, but, rather, a pending future consequence of committing fornication, where one’s incontinency produces fornicated sexual intimacy and death.