This verse has been translated in various ways. I would like to quote verses 36-38 from three different translations before we attempt to explain it.

NASB says, “But if ANY MAN thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his VIRGIN DAUGHTER, if she should be of full age, and if it must be so, let him do what he wished, he does not sin; let her marry. But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to KEEP HIS VIRGIN DAUGHTER, he will do well. So then both he who GIVES HIS OWN VIRGIN DAUGHTER in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.”

NIV reads, “If ANYONE is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward THE VIRGIN HE IS ENGAGED TO, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.”

DARBY states, “But if ANYONE think that he behaves unseemly to HIS VIRGINITY, if he be beyond the flower of his age, and so it must be, let him do what he will, he does not sin: let them marry. But he who stands firm in his heart, having no need, but has authority over his own will, and has judged this in his heart to KEEP HIS OWN VIRGINITY, he does well. So that he that marries himself does well; and he that does not marry does better.”

As you can see, these translations are quite different and the meanings are altogether different as well. In the NASB the “man” being spoken of is a FATHER who has a VIRGIN DAUGHTER. Allow me to quote the commonly held view with this translation. “In Paul’s day a man exercised rigid control over his home. It was up to him whether his daughters married or not. They could not do so without his permission. Thus this verse is taken to mean that if a man refuses to allow his daughters to marry, that is a good thing, but if he allows them to marry, then he is not sinning.” Many have adopted this translation and interpretation, yet it SEEMS hard to fit this into the context of the rest of the chapter.

In the NIV, the “man” is simply a MAN engaged to a VIRGIN WOMAN. If he marries his fiancée he isn’t sinning, but if he decides not to marry her, it is better. This translation fits in better with the context of the chapter, for from the beginning of the chapter Paul has been trying to give advice to those who are considering marrying or staying single. (That is why the NASB translation doesn’t seem to fit, for in that case it deals with a “father” who is “considering marriage or not marrying for his daughter, and not for himself.) According to this view, the man is not sinning if he marries due to strong and passionate sexual urges, but if he has his passions under control and remains single, he does even better.

Lastly, in the DARBY VERSION, the “man” is a MAN who is concerned about HIS OWN VIRGINITY. According to this rendering, the man has reached full manhood. If he doesn’t feel he has the gift of controlling his sexual urges (see verses 7-9), he should marry and if so he isn’t sinning. But if he is able to maintain self-control and is determined to remain single, he will be better off. (283.9) (DO)