The verses I’m writing about this week are 1 Corinthians 7:39-40, which state part of Paul’s advice regarding marriage. I usually check different Bible versions to find one that might express the scripture clearly in a slightly unfamiliar way. This might give distinctive perspectives for a woman whose husband dies. These four versions do that for me.
A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God. 1 Corinthians 7:39-40 NIV
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord. But in my opinion it would be better for her to stay single, and I think I am giving you counsel from God’s Spirit when I say this.
1 Corinthians 7:39-40 NLT
A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.1 Corinthians 7:39-40 NRSV
A wife must stay with her husband as long as he lives. If he dies, she is free to marry anyone she chooses. She will, of course, want to marry a believer and have the blessing of the Master. By now you know that I think she’ll be better off staying single. The Master, in my opinion, thinks so, too. 1 Corinthians 7:39-40 MSG
Paul covers a lot of subjects in 1 Corinthians 7, and these two verses are no exception. What is common to all four versions is the statement that the woman, after the death of her husband, “is free to marry anyone”, provided that the man is a believer who belongs to and loves the Lord. However, Paul presents another option which he strongly recommends as coming from his understanding of the Spirit of God. She is also free to choose to remain single.
An example of a single woman who may have been a widow, and a group of women who may have included some widows is found in Acts 16:12-15
From there we [Paul and Silas] reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days.
On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there. One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God. As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. She and her household were baptized, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.
It appears that Lydia was a woman of independent means, possibly having inherited the business and was highly esteemed in the community. Paul and Silas respected her, too.
Acts 16:16-39 tells the story, familiar to most of us, of Paul and Silas being imprisoned in Philippi.
When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town. Acts 16:40 NLT
There are other stories of faithful women mentioned in the Bible. Take some time this week to read about: Anna, an elderly widow prophetess, Luke 2:36-38, and Tabitha (which in Greek is Dorcas) Acts 9:36-42. It doesn’t say if she is a widow or not, but she is described as, ”a believer who was always doing kind things for others and helping the poor”.