1 Corinthians Chapter 7:12-24

Chapter 7 continues. It’s been very interesting so far. We were talking about marriage and celibacy, and whose idea this all was.

12 Τοῖς δὲ λοιποῖς λέγω ἐγώ, οὐχ ὁ κύριος: εἴ τις ἀδελφὸς γυναῖκα ἔχει ἄπιστον, καὶ αὕτη συνευδοκεῖ οἰκεῖν μετ’ αὐτοῦ, μὴ ἀφιέτω αὐτήν:

For the rest I say (this), not the Lord. If some brother has a non-believing wife (lit = ‘woman’), and she agrees to live with him, let him not divorce her.

In Greek, as in Spanish and Latin, the use of the pronoun in the nominative case as the subject is not necessary (and is usually avoided). The nominative first person singular is << ἐγώ >>   (“ego”), just as it is in Latin. So, by inserting it here, Paul is really emphasizing that it is he himself who is speaking. In English, we would add the ‘my/him/ herself to get this emphasis across. 

Now, is Paul contradicting something the Lord said? Is that why he emphasizes that this is he speaking? Did the Lord tell his followers to divorce women who were not followers of Jesus? That’s kind of the implication, but there is nothing whatsoever anywhere else in the NT that comes close to indicating this. Anyone? 

 12 Ceteris autem ego dico, non Dominus: Si quis frater uxorem habet infidelem, et haec consentit habitare cum illo, non dimittat illam;

13 καὶ γυνὴ εἴ τις ἔχει ἄνδρα ἄπιστον, καὶ οὗτος συνευδοκεῖ οἰκεῖν μετ’αὐτῆς, μὴ ἀφιέτω τὸν ἄνδρα.

And if some woman has a non-believer husband (lit = ‘man’) and he agrees to live with her, let her not divorce the man.

This is kind of interesting. The bottom line is that, throughout this section, Paul is telling the community to stick to the way things are. If you’re married, stay married, even if to someone who’s not a believer. If you’re single or widowed, stay that way. But then, if the end of all times is immanent, then why rock the boat?

 13 et si qua mulier habet virum infidelem, et hic consentit habitare cum illa, non dimittat virum.

14 ἡγίασται γὰρ ὁ ἀνὴρ ὁ ἄπιστος ἐν τῇ γυναικί, καὶ ἡγίασται ἡ γυνὴ ἡ ἄπιστος ἐν τῷ ἀδελφῷ: ἐπεὶ ἄρα τὰ τέκνα ὑμῶν ἀκάθαρτά ἐστιν, νῦν δὲ ἅγιά ἐστιν.

For the non-believing man is blessed in this women (by being in this marriage), and the non-believing woman is blessed in this man (by being married to this man); for they say that their children are unclean, but now they are blessed.

Even back then, the products of mixed marriages were considered…suspect. I recall the standard line when an interracial couple wanted to marry was ‘think of the children’. Here, Paul is showing an admirable sense of toleration and acceptance, to a level that was rare for the time. He was willing to accept the offspring of such a marriage, even though many of the cultural norms of his time considered such children unclean.

This strikes me as something Paul sort of came to on his own. Once again, this is issue is not really addressed in the parts of the NT that deal with Jesus. Jesus was the idea man; it was Paul, and those like him, who had to implement the ideas and make them work in the practical world. And again, this is something that really does reflect on the question of just what Jesus’ actual message was. Why did Jesus not consider this? Because he spent his entire ministry talking to other Jews? And, as such, the idea of a mixed marriage just didn’t come up? That is very possible. It is not necessary, IMO, to read into Jesus’ message (0r lack of message) about mixed marriages that he expected the Apocalypse (in the Capital-A sense of the word) soon, which rendered such questions moot. I am not sure that such was part of Jesus’ message; but, if not, where did Paul get it? Did he make it up? 

Actually, I consider that to be a real possibility. That Paul took the idea of “the kingdom” and morphed it into, or mixed it up with, the coming apocalypse. But, more on that as the themes develop.

 14 Sanctificatus est enim vir infidelis in muliere, et sanctificata est mulier infidelis in fratre. Alioquin filii vestri immundi essent; nunc autem sancti sunt.

15 εἰ δὲ ὁ ἄπιστος χωρίζεται, χωριζέσθω: οὐ δεδούλωται ὁἀδελφὸς ἢ ἡ ἀδελφὴ ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις: ἐν δὲ εἰρήνῃ κέκληκεν ὑμᾶς ὁ θεός.

But if the non-believer departs, let him/her depart. The the brother or the sister or sister are not enslaved in this way. But in peace God has called you. 

Rather an interesting way to put the point across about a life-long, unbreakable commitment. Guess the “ball and chain” metaphor hadn’t been invented yet; probably because the ball-and-chain hadn’t been invented. Slavery would easily have been the best metaphor for this.

 15 Quod si infidelis discedit, discedat. Non est enim servituti subiectus frater aut soror in eiusmodi; in pace autem vocavit nos Deus.

16 τί γὰρ οἶδας, γύναι, εἰ τὸν ἄνδρα σώσεις; ἢ τί οἶδας, ἄνερ, εἰ τὴν γυναῖκα σώσεις;

For what do you know, woman, if you will save your husband (lit= ‘the man’)? Man, what do you know if you will save your wife? 

Most modern translations render this as ‘how do you know whether you will save your spouse?’ That works; it’s just not particularly literal, but this is one of those times when not being too literal is justified..

Now, this doesn’t exactly square with Jesus discussion on marriage in Mark, where divorce wasn’t allowed. This passage is often used to show Paul disagreeing with Jesus. While this is true, it also misses some of the point. Yes, Paul here is condoning divorce where Mark tells us that Jesus would not do so. However, context means a lot in this discussion. Jesus was talking to Jews, about a Jewish man married to a Jewish woman. As such, the circumstances here are very different. Just to be clear, I do think that the way Paul talks about this does lend weight to the idea that Jesus did talk about marriage in something like the terms that Mark relates. The way he refers to the Lord, then more or less contradicts him is, I think, very significant. So we can chalk that up as an authentic saying of Jesus. JD Crossan is of the opinion that the earliest stratum of Jesus sayings were the so-called wisdom sayings. This doesn’t exactly fit in with that. Rather, it’s the sort of something someone who was really interested in Jewish law would say. IOW, it’s not exactly anything revolutionary, nor particularly apocalyptic. What this says about Jesus’ ‘program’ will require some additional consideration; however, this is, I believe, a very important clue since it’s the first thing that we’ve been able to demonstrate is authentically traceable to Jesus.

When discussing Verse 14, my speculation was whether Paul’s directive to celibacy arose from the idea of the immanent Parousia. If so, we really have to ask if there are any implications for Jesus’ attitude towards an, or the apocalypse couched inside his attitude about no divorce. However, while I’m not sure we’re justified to draw any such conclusions, we still have to ask the question.

 16 Quid enim scis, mulier, si virum salvum facies? Aut quid scis, vir, si mulierem salvam facies?

17 Εἰ μὴ ἑκάστῳ ὡς ἐμέρισεν ὁ κύριος, ἕκαστον ὡς κέκληκεν ὁ θεός, οὕτως περιπατείτω: καὶ οὕτως ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις πάσαις διατάσσομαι.

Except as to each as the lord has assigned, (or as) each (whomever) as God has called, let him go about it in this way (let it be done in this way). And I will command all the communities thus.

KJV: But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so I ordain I in all churches.

NASB: Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches.

My translation leaves a lot to be desired. But…once again, we come across another situation where the literal translation really doesn’t seem to work all that well. This does seem to be a particular problem of Paul. I never had to resort to something like this in Mark.

The idea behind this verse, I think, is that each has to listen to his or her own conscience. Or, probably more accurately, to the Voice of God that speaks to all of us. This sentiment would become very important for the Protestant Reformers of the 16th Century. It may not have arisen solely, or even primarily from this passage, but it is the sort of thinking that did lead to the break from Rome.

17 Nisi unicuique, sicut divisit Dominus, unumquemque, sicut vocavit Deus, ita ambulet; et sic in omnibus ecclesiis doceo.

18 περιτετμημένος τις ἐκλήθη; μὴ ἐπισπάσθω. ἐν ἀκροβυστίᾳ κέκληταί τις; μὴ περιτεμνέσθω.

Was anyone having been circumcised called? Let him not be uncircumcised! Who is called by non-circumcision? Let him not be circumcised.

Now we’re back to the circumcision debate. Currently, I’m reading a book called What Paul Meant by Garry Wills. Wills was educated in Classics, but went on to a career as a political pundit. He is also a Catholic, and a knowledgeable individual, even if not an expert in this field. Now, he brings up the point that Paul would have spent his time preaching in synagogues, and that many–if not most–of his converts would have come from the ranks of those usually called “God-fearers”. These were pagans who were interested in following Jewish law, even if they didn’t always fully convert. His point is that these God-fearers would have been very important to the Jewish community, acting as intermediaries between the Jews and the pagans, and that they also would have been financial supporters of the synagogue. As such, the authorities of the synagogue would not have been thrilled that Paul was winning them over to the teachings of Jesus. Here we have, perhaps, the root cause of the animosity between the Jews and Paul, the reason that Paul persecuted the nascent church. This also, then, explains the continued debate about whether or not circumcision was necessary or even desirable. For the orthodox Jews, of course, it was both. For the pagans, it was a stumbling block to them converting. So, for Paul to accept the uncircumcised as full members of the community, when the Jews could not, put the latter at a significant disadvantage when trying to attract the God-fearers to their respective communities. So the issue was a fundamental one, and, as such, it kept coming up.

 18 Circumcisus aliquis vocatus est? Non adducat praeputium! In praeputio aliquis vocatus est? Non circumcidatur!

19 ἡ περιτομὴ οὐδέν ἐστιν, καὶ ἡ ἀκροβυστία οὐδέν ἐστιν, ἀλλὰ τήρησις ἐντολῶν θεοῦ.

Circumcision is nothing, and (being) uncircumcised is also nothing, but keeping the commands of God (is something). 

That it did keep coming back to circumcision really does support Wills’ contention that the God-fearers were the primary consideration. This would only have mattered to pagans. And Paul truly wants to avoid further divisions amongst an already riven community. Now, this makes me wonder: JD Crossan says that Apollos was a Jew. Was he preaching circumcision? If so, this would be another way for Paul to undermine his authority, or at least his influence.

 19 Circumcisio nihil est, et praeputium nihil est, sed observatio mandatorum Dei.

20 ἕκαστος ἐν τῇ κλήσει ἧ ἐκλήθη ἐν ταύτῃ μενέτω.

Each in the calling to which s/he has been called, in this let him/her remain.

IOW, maintain the status quo. Now, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to see the danger of this passage, how it could be and likely was used to defend an unjust status quo.

 20 Unusquisque, in qua vocatione vocatus est, in ea permaneat.

21 δοῦλος ἐκλήθης; μή σοι μελέτω: ἀλλ’ εἰ καὶ δύνασαι ἐλεύθερος γενέσθαι, μᾶλλον χρῆσαι.

Were you a slave (when) having been called? Do not let it be a concern to you. But, if you are able to become free, better you do this.

And this is exactly what I was thinking of: the slave owners in the American South prior to the civil war used passages such as Verse 20 to claim that slavery had a Biblical justification. And such passages have been used very often by repressive regimes.

To be clear, in context, I do not believe that Paul is saying that we should all meekly submit to authority. That is certainly not the message of Paul’s actions. Rather, the times were extraordinary in his view: The Christ was returning. Soon. As such, minor worldly details like marital status, or free/slave really didn’t matter, because these states would prove to be very temporary.

21 Servus vocatus es? Non sit tibi curae; sed et si potes liber fieri, magis utere!

22 ὁ γὰρ ἐν κυρίῳ κληθεὶς δοῦλος ἀπελεύθερος κυρίου ἐστίν: ὁμοίως ὁ ἐλεύθερος κληθεὶς δοῦλός ἐστιν Χριστοῦ.

For the slave having been called in the Lord, is a free person of the Lord.  In the same way, the free person called is a slave of the Christ.

Because here, Paul continues with his egalitarian message that we saw in Galatians 3:28, in which he said that, for God and his Christ, there were no distinctions between Jew and Greek, slave and free. Plus, the image of the “slave of Christ” is used by Paul in a number of instances. It’s meant to emphasize our level of total dependence on God. This egalitarianism mattered. A lot. This was a radical departure from the class-stratified society of the ancient world. In fact, this message is probably one of the most appealing message of Christianity, one that facilitated its acceptance by so many people.

Being a classicist, I have to point out that this message was not necessarily novel with Christianity. Rather, the idea of a universal siblinghood (f.k.a. ‘brotherhood’) was part of the beliefs of the Stoics. And, as we have seen, Greek ideas were part of the predominant culture of the Eastern Mediterranean. However, a lot of reading of the development of religious thought has taught me that ideas are constantly being rediscovered; they show up in one religion, then in another a few thousand miles away and a few hundred years later. Yes, the first may have influenced the second, but the connection is not necessary, and should not be accepted unless there is real proof of direct influence. Dualism is the best example of this. Dualistic ideas showed up in Mediaeval Europe in several places and at different times. For a long time, it was believed that these beliefs represented a direct descent from Manicheanism. However, subsequent examination showed this theory had serious flaws, and now it’s generally acknowledged that these dualistic ideas came about on their own.

For example, when I read the first edition of Malcolm Lambert’s Medieval Heresy back in grad school, he argued for direct affiliation. When I recently (well, within the last decade) read the second edition, Lambert had modified his original position in favor of the idea of independent development. I give him credit for this. Too many academics are reluctant to make such a correction.

22 Qui enim in Domino vocatus est servus, libertus est Domini; similiter, qui liber vocatus est, servus est Christi!

23 τιμῆς ἠγοράσθητε: μὴ γίνεσθε δοῦλοι ἀνθρώπων.

You were bought dearly. Do not become slaves of men.

Two things. Taking the second first, we have the ‘slaves of men’. By ‘men’ he means ‘slaves of the world’, or simply ‘non-spiritual’, hearkening back to Chapter 2. So, speaking of dualism, we get another example of Paul’s quasi-dualistic thinking.

Then the first idea. This is the idea of being ‘bought’. We saw this back in 6:20. We will see it again later in the chapter. We don’t see it anywhere else except 2 Peter 2:1 and a couple of times in Revelation. The repetition in this letter, and nowhere else in the Pauline corpus is very, very interesting. This narrow occurrence seems to indicate that it was something that Paul considered important for a while. That it did not occur earlier could indicate it was a concept, or an analogy that he only thought of in the middle of his career. That he did not develop it seems to indicate that he came to find the idea, or the analogy, unsatisfactory for whatever reason. But it remain in the sacred text, so the church fathers had to deal with it. They had to take this into consideration when they were working out the implications of the sacred text, and it had an impact on later theological developments. As we mentioned, the problem was, if we were purchased, the question was from whom? And was Jesus’ death a ransom? Which is one possible translation of ‘redemption’, or was Jesus an expiating sacrifice? This is how the bulk of the NT portrays Jesus’ death, but then, where does the idea of purchase, which is a form of ransom, arise? It seems to be something Paul came up with, and even he wasn’t completely sold on the idea. However, it carried forward since nothing in sacred scripture can be overlooked.

23 Pretio empti estis! Nolite fieri servi hominum.

24 ἕκαστος ἐν ᾧ ἐκλήθη, ἀδελφοί, ἐν τούτῳ μενέτω παρὰ θεῷ.

24 Unusquisque, in quo vocatus est, fratres, in hoc maneat apud Deum.

Each in the state s/he was called, brother, in this state let him/her remain in God.

So, stick to the status quo. My sense is that Paul says this because he believes the conditions will only be temporary.

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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 9, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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