1 Corinthians Chapter 7:1-11

Starting Chapter 7.

1 Περὶ δὲ ὧν ἐγράψατε, καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ γυναικὸς μὴ ἅπτεσθαι:

But regarding the things I wrote you about, it is better for a man not to fasten (himself) to a woman.

Most translations render this as ‘touch’ a woman. I think there are slightly different connotations. ‘Touch’ would mean remain celibate completely. ‘Fasten to’ would have more the context of ‘marry’. The former is, technically, the more stringent sanction, but Paul does not countenance sex outside of marriage, so this is close to a distinction without a difference. Basically, Paul’s idea is celibacy.

Working backwards, not entirely sure what the ‘things I wrote you about’ refers to; whether it’s a reference back to Chapter 5, or to something previous. Was there a letter to the Corinthians before First Corinthians?

1 De quibus autem scripsistis, bonum est homini mulierem non non tangere;

2 διὰ δὲ τὰς πορνείας ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἐχέτω, καὶ ἑκάστη τὸν ἴδιον ἄνδρα ἐχέτω.

On account of debauchery, let each of you have a wife, and let each (female) her own personal man.

Here’s my point about sex outside of marriage. I am not familiar with Jewish customs of the time, but I suspect this was a fairly non-controversial attitude. The Greeks and Romans had other ideas, of course. Sex between a husband and wife was generally for procreation; for men, sex with prostitutes or other men was not necessarily considered a terrible thing. Paul does not find that acceptable; and it really kind of matters if the Corinthians were primarily Jews or Gentiles. If the former, this isn’t telling them anything they don’t already know; if the latter, this may be a big deal. Or, a third possibility is that Jews living in Corinth had become sufficiently Hellenized that they followed the Greek sexual mores. The point is that, for Paul, marriage is really only the lesser of two evils. It’s not something to be encouraged. Most dualist religions abhorred marriage, and marital sex because it’s purpose was to procreate. Procreation created more physical creatures that were inherently base, and debased.

2 propter fornicationes autem unusquisque suam uxorem habeat, et unaquaeque suum virum habeat.

3 τῇ γυναικὶ ὁ ἀνὴρ τὴν ὀφειλὴν ἀποδιδότω, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἡ γυνὴ τῷ ἀνδρί.

Let a man give over (or even ‘pay’) his obligation to a woman, in the same way that the woman owes it to her man.

This is the injunction to conduct marital relations. That is what husband and wife owe each other, since the purpose of marriage was to create a legitimate heir.

3 Uxori vir debitum reddat; similiter autem et uxor viro.

4 ἡ γυνὴ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει ἀλλὰ ὁ ἀνήρ: ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ ἀνὴρ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει ἀλλὰ ἡ γυνή.

For a woman does not exercise authority over her own body, but her husband (does); in the same way a man does not exercise authority over his own body, but the woman does.

This is perhaps the most non-sexist statement I’ve ever read that was written before…1978 (kidding! Or not…) When I first started this, my thought was, ‘oh boy, here we go…’ but that’s what can happen when you assume you know what’s coming. This goes back to the ‘obligation’ in the previous verse. The thing is, until the past century, and then mainly in the West, marriage was not about hearts and flowers; it was a much more like a business arrangement than a romantic entanglement. Here, we get a sense of this obligation under the terms of the contract: one surrenders one’s body to the other partner.

4 Mulier sui corporis potestatem non habet sed vir; similiter autem et vir sui corporis potestatem non habet sed mulier.

5 μὴ ἀποστερεῖτε ἀλλήλους, εἰ μήτι ἂν ἐκ συμφώνου πρὸς καιρὸν ἵνα σχολάσητε τῇ προσευχῇ καὶ πάλιν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ ἦτε, ἵνα μὴ πειράζῃ ὑμᾶς ὁ Σατανᾶς διὰ τὴν ἀκρασίαν ὑμῶν.

Do not defraud (each) other, unless out of consent towards a season, so that you be freed for prayer and again you would be upon the other, so that Satan does not tempt you on account of the incontinence of you.


Do not withhold from each other, unless (you do so) out of an agreement, and for a (specified) time, so you can have time to pray. But again, go to each other, so that Satan does not tempt you due to your excess of desire.

The first version is altogether too literal, but it took some working out. One of the biggest problems, IMO, in translating Greek is figuring out which preposition to use with the dative. By? For? From? Of (dative of possession)? And so it was here. Sometimes it’s a matter of just trial and error until you get something that sounds right. This was one of those instances. For me, anyway. And there are times that the Latin is immensely helpful. Latin has an ablative case which should help, but the ablative and dative endings are often identical, so it may not be that much help, either.

Anyway, here we really see the contract aspect of marriage. …If the party of the first part, and the party of the second part both agree, there will be a cessation of marital relations until one week after the signatories both agree and both sign the agreement…But that is, essentially, what Paul is saying. The last line is good, too: don’t hold out too long, so that you can’t control yourself and end up succumbing to temptation–presumably with someone other than your spouse. Somehow, I suspect he’s addressing the men here, primarily.

5 Nolite fraudare invicem, nisi forte ex consensu ad tempus, ut vacetis orationi et iterum sitis in idipsum, ne tentet vos Satanas propter incontinentiam vestram.

6 τοῦτο δὲ λέγω κατὰ συγγνώμην, οὐ κατ’ ἐπιταγήν.

I say this upon leniency, not upon command.

Here’s an interesting situation. The word rendered ‘leniency’ is better translated by the modern translations, I think, than the KJV. The latter rendered this as ‘permission’; it works, but I’m not sure that word in English brings across the sense of ‘favor’. Paul is making a concession, which is how the three modern versions I use render the word.

And what a sport that Paul is! He’s granting them this favor, this concession. Remember, we were discussing the idea of cutting a deal to forego marital relations so that both partners could spend more time in prayer.

Or am I being too flippant about this? That is always a possibility.

6 Hoc autem dico secundum indulgentiam, non secundum imperium.

7  θέλω δὲ πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἶναι ὡς καὶ ἐμαυτόν: ἀλλὰ ἕκαστος ἴδιον ἔχει χάρισμα ἐκ θεοῦ, ὁ μὲν οὕτως, ὁ δὲ οὕτως.

But I prefer all men to be also as I am; but each has his blessing from God, one in this way, while another in that way.

Boy, you read those first few lines and it can give the impression that Paul is pretty full of himself. “Well, be like me…” But he’s referring specifically to his unmarried status. At least, that seems the most likely interpretation, given the context. How old was Paul? The story is that he held the cloaks when Stephen was stoned by the crowd, which means he was probably no older than a young teen. Of course, that assumes that the story was literally true, and I have serious reservations about Acts, just as I have about Luke and John regarding their historical reliability. But still, Paul had been at this for close to twenty years at this point (per his reckoning in Galatians); and he had a stint as a persecutor of the followers of Jesus, and he’d created a rather fearsome reputation for himself. I don’t expect that was the work of young men, and it takes time to build a reputation. So, my point is, Paul was a fully mature man at this time, and it was extremely unusual for men not to marry back then.

So what does it say about Paul that he bucked tradition and remained unmarried? I’m really not certain. Was he married when he was a persecutor? He bragged about being a Pharisee’s Pharisee, and such upstanding men had a duty to marry; and to procreate, which is why one’s body belonged to one’s spouse.

I don’t have answers. I can speculate, but no more.

However, Paul understands–this isn’t a concession, I think–that each has his/her own gifts. This will come up again shortly.

7 Volo autem omnes homines esse sicut meipsum; sed unusquisque proprium habet donum ex Deo: alius quidem sic, alius vero sic.

8 Λέγω δὲ τοῖς ἀγάμοις καὶ ταῖς χήραις, καλὸν αὐτοῖς ἐὰν μείνωσιν ὡς κἀγώ:

But I say to those unmarried, and to the widows, it is better remaining as I am.

Note: he says, “like me”. He doesn’t say “like Jesus”, or “like the other apostles”. In fact, this latter may be because at least some of the apostles were married, and they brought their wives with them on preaching journeys. There is a point in one of Paul’s letters where he complains about these entourages, and the financial burden they put on some of the communities. But what about Jesus?

That Paul does not mention Jesus here is significant, I believe. Not that I think this has any bearing on, or provides evidence for the idea that Jesus may have been married. Rather, this shows that it is Paul who is making rules here, and he’s doing it on his authority. In the same way he was allowing pagan converts to forego Jewish dietary restrictions, circumcision, etc., on his own authority.

I was going to leave off after the last paragraph, but it occurs to me that this is a Big Thing. Paul is setting rules on his own authority. This implies (requires, actually) that Paul does not feel it necessary to verify these ideas with others. He feels that he is free from the strictures of the James Gang, or the Jerusalem Assembly, or pretty much anyone else. The question is, why does he feel this confidence? A few chapters back, and in Galatians, we saw Paul obviously feeling defensive when talking about other gospels, or here when he talked about other leaders like Apollos.

Here is my take on this, and I can pretty much guarantee you won’t hear this suggested elsewhere (or, maybe I just need to read more). Paul’s confidence springs from his conversion experience. He told us in Galatians that the gospel was not revealed to him by men, but by Jesus the Christ himself. Maybe the boldness–or just the implications–of this statement is/are only now truly dawning on me. This gives Paul licence to make statements like this, on his own authority because he is only transmitting the message that he received. He is, in standard Christian terms, full of the Holy Spirit, who shows him the proper interpretation of the gospel. Now, it did not come to him all at once, of course, but when situations arise, he feels confidence that his inner message is coming by virtue of the Holy Spirit.

Really, this shouldn’t surprise me. Inspiration by the Holy Spirit in translating or understanding Scripture, or the will of God is a very mainstream Christian belief. But it does, because the Holy Spirit, as we understand the term, had not been defined yet. Paul doesn’t even believe Christ is co-eternal with the Father, let alone believe in the Third Person. But Paul would understand the idea of being filled with the sacred breath. (Aside: I believe this is how his Jewish ancestors would have understood this, but I’m not certain about that.) I hope you see the difference. Saying that “God has filled me with the sacred breath, so I understand his will” is different from “He was inspired by the Holy Spirit”. The second proposition personifies the idea of ‘sacred breath’ in a way that the first doesn’t. However, “he was filled by the sacred breath/filled by the Holy Spirit” are virtually identical in implication.

Part of the point of this is that this attitude explains why Paul gets so miffed at other gospels, or the showy wisdom of Apollos: Paul was granted a direct revelation. I don’t think he believes the same about others.

8 Dico autem innuptis et viduis: Bonum est illis si sic maneant, sicut et ego;

9 εἰ δὲ οὐκ ἐγκρατεύονται γαμησάτωσαν, κρεῖττον γάρ ἐστιν γαμῆσαι ἢ πυροῦσθαι.

But if not being able to be continent, they should be married, for it is better to marry than to burn.

Now this is really interesting. I have translated this as is; the KJV has basically the same translation. The NIV, NASB, and ESV all add “burn with passion“. Now, I think I happen to agree with the implication. I think. Up until this minute I have to admit that I took this as “to burn in the lake of unquenchable fire”. Which is it? In fact, I have a very clear recollection of my HS religion (CCD) teacher quoting this, and leaving no doubt that he was talking about Hellfire.

Reading this now, my sense is that the addition of the extra phrase–and it was added; it is not there at all in either the Greek, or the Latin–is appropriate, in the sense that it does clarify the meaning of the passage. This does not mean ‘burn in Hell’. One reason to believe this is that, to this point, Paul has not made any allusions to an afterlife, nor to Gehenna, nor to unquenchable fire as we saw in Mark. Given that, ‘hell-fire’ seems completely inaccurate.

The addition of the phrase to the more modern translations again represents a consensus translation; but, rather than settling on a meaning for a passage that is unclear, this is the flagrant addition to the text. That seems very bold. What, if anything, does it say about inerrancy? I don’t ask that to be provocative; my question is sincere. And you have the KJV which does not include the phrase; since that is generally considered the inerrant translation, then I suppose my question is actually moot.

Aside from all that: and this is important. Here we are beginning to get the Christian attitude about celibacy. What this implies is that this attitude did not come from Jesus. And this, in turn, has major–MAJOR–implications for the QHJ people. I’m wading through J D Crossan’s The Birth Of Christianity (more on that later), but a big chunk of it is a discussion about whether Jesus’ message was ascetic, which has implications for whether Jesus’ message was apocalyptic, which has implications…Suffice it to say that if the later Christian attitude towards celibacy did not come from Jesus, but from Paul, it may be necessary to look at Jesus’ message in rather a different light. If he wasn’t preaching about celibacy and/or asceticism, then I think this means we have to re-evaluate the idea that his message was apocalyptic or eschatological. Now, Paul obviously believed that Jesus was coming back, and soon, but what Paul believed and what Jesus preached are not necessarily the same thing. Paul never met the living Jesus. Paul was not instructed by Cephas and James. Paul believed he received the message directly from the Christ. There is a chance–perhaps not a great one, but a real one–that Paul was the author of the apocalyptic thinking. Remember, the idea of apocalypse was more prevalent in the second half of Mark–the Christ half–than it was in the Wonder-Worker section. 

9 quod si non se continent, nubant. Melius est enim nubere quam uri.

10 τοῖς δὲ γεγαμηκόσιν παραγγέλλω, οὐκ ἐγὼ ἀλλὰ ὁ κύριος, γυναῖκα ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς μὴ χωρισθῆναι

But to those having been married I preach, not I but the lord, a woman shall not depart from a man

“Depart” is a bit clumsy, or overly literal, but it’s the basic root of the word. It can mean, ‘leave the country’; in modern Greek, it’s the word used for a plane departing. The more idiomatic word would, of course, be ‘leave’, as in, ‘leave your husband’. 

10 His autem, qui matrimonio iuncti sunt, praecipio, non ego sed Dominus, uxorem a viro non discedere

11 ἐὰν δὲ καὶ χωρισθῇ, μενέτω ἄγαμος ἢ τῷ ἀνδρὶ καταλλαγήτω καὶ ἄνδρα γυναῖκα μὴ ἀφιέναι.

but if he should be left, let (him) remain unmarried, or to the man let her be reconciled, and the man shall not leave the woman.

11 — quod si discesserit, maneat innupta aut viro suo reconcilietur — et virum uxorem non dimittere.

Again, a tad clumsy, but I think the meaning is clear enough. Stay married. Don’t get divorced. But if you do get divorced, don’t remarry.

Given my comments on Verse 9, we are are seeing here the beginnings of the celibacy movement. Now, the question becomes, where is this pointing? Or what is the impetus? On the one hand, Paul seems to dislike sexual activity per se; on the other,  is it possibly related to the immanent return of the Christ? What is, after all, the point of procreating if the current mode of existence is coming to an end? At least, one presumes that the return of the Christ, and the way that his followers will rise into the air to join him will put an end to the current mode of existence.

In the two books by J D Crossan that I’ve read, he talks a lot–I mean a lot— about resistance movements and cross-cultural studies of anti-imperial reactions by the subject population, and tells us how apocalypse is sort of the last refuge of a defeated people. It’s the reaction brought about by prolonged helplessness in the face of the superior power of the ruling empire. If I’m reading the development of the followers of Jesus correctly, Jesus himself may not have been persecuted–at least, not until he was executed. His brother James was allowed to live, and to preach and organize for perhaps three decades after Jesus’ death. That does not indicate much official resistance to the message. But Paul was a persecutor, and he indicates that he and his assemblies are still being persecuted by unnamed groups. Does the apocalyptic thinking arise from this?

There will be more–much more–on this.


About James, brother of Jesus

I have a BA from the University of Toronto in Greek and Roman History. For this, I had to learn classical Greek and Latin. In seminar-style classes, we discussed both the meaning of the text and the language. U of T has a great Classics Dept. One of the professors I took a Senior Seminar with is now at Harvard. I started reading the New Testament as a way to brush up on my Greek, and the process grew into this. I plan to comment on as much of the NT as possible, starting with some of Paul's letters. After that, I'll start in on the Gospels, starting with Mark.

Posted on February 3, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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