1 – What are we to make of Paul’s clarification in 1 Cor 7:12 where he says “But I (not the Lord) say to the rest…”?
This seems a bit confusing. Is Paul saying this bit is less the word of God than other bits? Well, I don’t think that’s what he’s trying to say here. Paul is talking about divorce in these verses, and he makes a distinction between what Jesus said in Luke 16:18, Mark 10:2-12 and Matthew 19:3-12. Of these three, it’s only Matthew that records Jesus saying that divorce because of adultery is permissible (not desirable).
So what Paul is saying in these verses is that he’s describing a different situation, another exception, that Jesus did not speak about. So he makes the clarification – “I (not the Lord)…”.
2 – What are we to make of verse 1?
The NIV unhelpfully translates this making it sound like Paul is telling them not to marry. It should read “Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to touch (i.e. have sex) with a woman’.”
So in the Corinthian church there were libertines (anything goes) and ascetics (nothing goes), and while the end of 1 Cor 6 is probably a corrective to the former, the latter is a corrective to the latter. You’re not more spiritual if you don’t have sex, and that’s not the way to combat sexual immorality. What you need to do (Paul says) is to have one wife, and give yourself to her. That’s the way you combat sexual immorality.
3 – What would you say to a Christian wanting to marry a non-Christian hoping they ‘convert’?
I’d say it’s crazy. Here’s my reasoning.
1 – Beside our relationship with God (which marriage is a pale imitation of), marriage is the most intimate relationship you can have. If our souls are oriented towards God, and he is the focus of our lives and service – it is going to introduce incredible stress if two people in a ‘one flesh’ relationship are pulling in different directions.
2 – In theses verses (v.12-16) he’s not encouraging Christians to enter into that relationship. He’s acknowledging that many will become Christians after they enter into that relationship and find themselves in that situation. He’s giving people a framework for how to understand that situation, not encouragement to enter it.
3 – In my experience it (generally) doesn’t work and causes enormous grief & strain. Strain both in the marriage, grief in raising kids, struggles with how time is spent and priorities are ordered. Marriage is hard enough – this just introduces a whole ‘nother level of difficulty. Often (not always) it can result in the person who was a Christian walking away from their faith. People entering into the relationship always think they’re the exception…but that’s why they’re called exceptions. Because it’s not the norm.
4 – How come women are described as virgins and men are not?
The word Paul uses here is parthenon which can be used about men (See Rev 14:4), but is more generally used to describe a women of marriageable age who hasn’t had sex. When we see the word, our emphasis is drawn to the ‘not having sex’ part of it, as where Paul’s emphasis here is the ‘not married’ component.
So I think he’s just using the term here to describe women who haven’t been married so as to distinguish from those he deals with elsewhere.