1 Corinthians Chapter 7:25-40

This one took much longer than I expected. Probably should have broken it in two pieces. Apologies for the delay in posting, and for the length of the post.

We’ve been talking about Paul’s admonitions to ‘remain as you are’, especially regarding the marital state. This also includes ideas on celibacy.

25 Περὶ δὲ τῶν παρθένων ἐπιταγὴν κυρίου οὐκ ἔχω, γνώμην δὲ δίδωμι ὡς ἠλεημένος ὑπὸ κυρίου πιστὸς εἶναι.

But regarding virgins, I do not have a command from the Lord, but I give judgement as one having been shown compassion under (by) the Lord, to be faithful.

Here Paul is being very honest. He has no idea what Jesus commanded on the subject of virginity. At least, that’s how I believe this should be taken. And again, this echoes what we said earlier about celibacy, that this was not a concern of Jesus. He did not give his judgement on the subject; as such, we have to be extremely suspicious of interpretations of Jesus’ teaching that state, or even imply, that Jesus was fired up and gung-ho for the coming apocalypse. Paul is; I don’t think the same is true for Jesus. That is why Paul is telling us that this is his opinion, his considered judgement (the word has both senses), because Paul believes that this is how we should conduct ourselves. This is very important, I believe.

This seems to be saying that, as we would say it, Paul has prayed on the matter. God has shown him compassion. so Paul is able to be faithful to God’s will. Paul is not claiming to be inspired by the Holy Spirit–or by the sacred breath, either–in so many words, but that is the gist of this. Which should tell us that Paul was not always acting on precepts direct from Jesus. This was not a sacred text sort of relationship for Paul. He was not reading Jesus’ words–or even remembering them–or sifting through them for guidance. Rather, he is looking into himself, as one shown compassion by God, and giving his opinion. As such, this is a very signficant revelation for how the assembly grew into the Church.

More, I think we need to keep this very much in mind when we are talking about the historical Jesus. Or, maybe we should be mindful of this when others begin to parse texts in Matthew or Luke, arriving at indications of other traditions, ones that may very well trace back to Jesus. I do not think that is what happened. I think we had people like Paul, and James, each adding their own twist to what they believed to be Jesus’ central message. Given the interpretations of Paul and James, it’s but a small step to Matthew and Luke creating the message that they believe Jesus gave, because he should have given this message.

This makes the path backward to the historical Jesus a thorny one indeed.

25 De virginibus autem praeceptum Domini non habeo; consilium autem do, tamquam misericordiam consecutus a Domino, ut sim fidelis.

26 Νομίζω οὖν τοῦτο καλὸν ὑπάρχειν διὰ τὴν ἐνεστῶσαν ἀνάγκην, ὅτι καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ τὸ οὕτως εἶναι.

So I consider this good thing to start on account of the present necessity, that it is good for a man to be in this way (= ‘as he is’; i.e., ‘in his present state).

Here, << ὑπάρχειν >> presents something of a problem. The base meaning is ‘to start’, or possibly ‘to become’. Here, it is taken as ‘to be’, or just ‘is’. Not only do my crib translations do this; the Latin below does it, too. The Vulgate renders this as ‘esse‘, which is the verb ‘to be’. Now, looking through the other NT uses, some form of ‘to be’ seems to be a fairly common usage. So, perhaps I shouldn’t be too much of a stickler and render this as “to start”.

So I consider this to be good on account of the present necessity, that it is good for a man to be in this way (= ‘as he is’; i.e., ‘in his present state).

The next issue is << ἀνάγκην >>. The word means ‘necessity’ or ‘compulsion’, and this is how it gets used in most of the NT, including most of Paul’s uses of the word. And the Vulgate renders this as ‘necessitatem’,  which means pretty much what it sounds like. And yet, most English translations, starting with the KJV, render it here as ‘distress’. Now, if you squint your eyes a bit and let your mind drift, you can see the connection between ‘compulsion’ and ‘distress’. And Liddell & Scott acknowledge ‘distress’ as a legitimate definition, even if it is used this way mostly in the NT.

Back in 1 Thessalonians, we had Paul talking about ‘troubles’, or ‘trials’. This hearkens back to those passages. And Christian commentary has been very consistent in the idea that the early church (even before that word was really appropriate, given all the modern implications) was under constant persecution from both Jews and Romans. The problem is that the words Paul uses are a bit generic, or soft, to carry the idea of persecution. So, especially in this passage, I want to stand by my choice to render this in its base meaning of ‘necessity’. For what Paul is saying is that, under the necessity of the immanent coming of the Lord, we must need remain in our current state. So I don’t think ‘distress’ is at all appropriate.

26 Existimo ergo hoc bonum esse propter instantem necessitatem, quoniam bonum est homini sic esse.

27 δέδεσαι γυναικί; μὴ ζήτει λύσιν: λέλυσαι ἀπὸ γυναικός; μὴ ζήτει γυναῖκα.

Have you been given to a woman? Do not seek to be loose (= free from the commitment). Have you been loosened (=divorced or separated) from your wife? Do not seek a woman/wife.

More of ‘stick with the status quo’. (Parents of kids between the ages of, say, 8 and 16 will recognise the quote.)

27 Alligatus es uxori? Noli quaerere solutionem. Solutus es ab uxore? Noli quaerere uxorem.

28 ἐὰν δὲ καὶ γαμήσῃς, οὐχ ἥμαρτες: καὶ ἐὰν γήμῃ ἡ παρθένος, οὐχ ἥμαρτεν. θλῖψιν δὲ τῇ σαρκὶ ἕξουσιν οἱ τοιοῦτοι, ἐγὼ δὲ ὑμῶν φείδομαι.

But if you have been married, do not sin. And if you are married, or a virgin, do not sin. For such things have tribulations for the flesh, but I spare you. 

Not quite sure, so comment deferred.

28 Si autem acceperis uxorem, non peccasti; et si nupserit virgo, non peccavit. Tribulationem tamen carnis habebunt huiusmodi, ego autem vobis parco.

29 τοῦτο δέ φημι, ἀδελφοί, ὁ καιρὸς συνεσταλμένος ἐστίν: τὸ λοιπὸν ἵνα καὶ οἱ ἔχοντες γυναῖκας ὡς μὴ ἔχοντες ὦσιν,

But this I say, brothers, the time is having been shortened (is short). (For) the rest (of time) in order also those having wives should be as those not having wives.

The ‘in order’ in that last clause is obviously terrible English, but I wanted to get across (however badly) the twin ideas of being consequent, and being purposed that << ἵνα >> carries here. It’s also present in the Latin ‘ut‘ that you will see below.

My take on these two verses is that we should all maintain celibacy. That way, we don’t sin (V-28), and that way we live without wives (i.e., no sexual activity) as a consequence of the short time that remains. Not sure about you, but don’t exactly see how little remaining time warrants sexual abstinence unless you perceive sexual activity to be more or less a bad thing in & of itself. A lot of ascetically inclined religious views have held this view. Many of the dualistic religious movements that circulated through Europe in the later Middle Ages believed exactly that. Paul was, apparently, of the same mindset.

Just to reiterate, at risk of being annoying, this insistence on celibacy comes from Paul, not Jesus.

29 Hoc itaque dico, fratres, tempus breviatum est; reliquum est, ut et qui habent uxores, tamquam non habentes sint,

30 καὶ οἱ κλαίοντες ὡς μὴ κλαίοντες, καὶ οἱ χαίροντες ὡς μὴ χαίροντες, καὶ οἱ ἀγοράζοντες ὡς μὴ κατέχοντες,

And those crying, (should be) as not crying, and those rejoicing (should be) as those not rejoicing, and those purchasing (should be) as those not holding,

30 et qui flent, tamquam non flentes, et qui gaudent, tamquam non gaudentes, et qui emunt, tamquam non possidentes,

31 καὶ οἱ χρώμενοι τὸν κόσμον ὡς μὴ καταχρώμενοι: παράγει γὰρ τὸ σχῆμα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου.

and those using this world (should be) as those not abusing; for the form of this world is passing.

First, these two verses are still operating on the verb << ὦσιν >> back in V-29t; that’s where the ‘should be’ comes from. The subsequent clauses are governed by the main verb of the sentence. Second, the crying/not crying & other contrasts are, obviously, rhetorical devices. The choice of contrasting pairs is, IMO, largely irrelevant. He could have said ‘those who are brown-haired should be as those who are not brown-haired. Feel free to disagree, but I don’t see any true significance; crying/happy is a pretty obvious contrast.

Sort of an aside: does this remind anyone of the first/last contrast that we saw in Mark? Was this a rhetorical device of Jesus? Against this, I would say that the first/last comparison was pretty much the only time that Jesus used such a contrasting pair. Or am I forgetting something? So, if it wasn’t Jesus, did the yes/no contrast come from Paul, which then got adapted by Mark as first/last? Or, is this just such a common technique that it gets used all the time by writers who have no necessary affiliation? I suspect this third possibility, and bring it up only to make us wary about seeing connections that may not really exist.

The real point of these passages is the part about “the form of this world is passing away”. I find it odd that he says ‘the form’ and not just ‘this world’. Why? This brings us back into the whole crazy world of apocalyptic thinking. Sometimes it’s the complete end of the world; this is, from what I gather, the standard current interpretation of Revelations among a lot of Christians these days. Here, the world is more or less destroyed while the Elect are taken up to heaven. (My apologies if I’ve not understood properly). Sometimes it’s just the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine; thanks R.E.M.), and the coming of a heavenly kingdom. This is how I read Revelation: the world as currently configured will be replaced by a city or a kingdom descending from the sky; hence, the new Jerusalem. This also seems to match what Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians. Finally, there is simply a change in the configuration of the world, but the leadership is all of this world, even if the new leader (as anyone with any German knows, that is a rather uncomfortable turn of phrase) is chosen or designated by God.

Paul, it seems to me, falls into the middle sort. That is what both 1 Thessalonians and this verse seem to say. Or, it seems that Paul’s two passages say this pretty explicitly. Does this matter? I suppose, from a theoretical point of view, if one wants to be all academic and delve into apocalyptic taxonomy. From a “practical” stand point, it probably doesn’t matter at all. The current order will have been replaced.

31 et qui utuntur hoc mundo, tamquam non abutentes; praeterit enim figura huius mundi.

32 θέλω δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀμερίμνους εἶναι. ὁ ἄγαμος μεριμνᾷ τὰ τοῦ κυρίου, πῶς ἀρέσῃ τῷ κυρίῳ:

I wish (that) you be unconcerned. The unmarried (man) is concerned about the things of the lord, how to please the lord.

Comment deferred

32 Volo autem vos sine sollicitudine esse. Qui sine uxore est, sollicitus est, quae Domini sunt, quomodo placeat Domino;

33 ὁ δὲ γαμήσας μεριμνᾷ τὰτοῦ κόσμου, πῶς ἀρέσῃ τῇ γυναικί,

Bug the married man is concerned about the things of the world, how to please his wife,  (V-34) and he is divided.

Tacked on the first bit of Verse 34, since that’s where the sentence ends properly.

There you have it: the argument for asceticism and/or celibacy summarized neatly. The Roman Rite still uses this as a reason for not allowing priests to marry. I’m not denying that it’s true, but it becomes a question of priorities and definitions. Or the other way around: what is holy? What is most holy? What about the family? Isn’t that a holy thing? Of course. 


We have to keep in mind that Paul had a very, very short time-horizon. Raising the next generation was not the priority because there would not be time to raise the next generation. I’m not sure we grasp how immediate the return of the Christ was for Paul. So, we need to dwell for a moment on passages like this in order to get a better, deeper understanding of how urgent this all was for Paul.

Which leads to this question: what was there in Mark that gave us anything like the same sense of urgency? I am very much looking forward to Matthew now that we’ve gotten a little deeper into Paul’s conception of how it was. We have to keep going back to whether any of this urgency came from Jesus. Given that other apostles traveled with their wives (that will be coming up in a couple of chapters), it seems as if they did not have quite the same sense of immediacy that Paul had. As such, this seems to indicate that this apocalyptic strain arose from Paul; or, at least, it was greatly magnified, or intensified, by Paul. So maybe apocalypticism was not a major part of Jesus’ message. That is my growing sense; but, as always, I reserve the right to change my mind when presented with additional evidence.

33 qui autem cum uxore est, sollicitus est, quae sunt mundi, quomodo placeat uxori,

34 καὶ μεμέρισται. καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἡ ἄγαμος καὶ ἡ παρθένος μεριμνᾷ τὰ τοῦ κυρίου, ἵνα ᾖ ἁγία καὶ τῷ σώματι καὶ τῷ πνεύματι: ἡ δὲ γαμήσασα μεριμνᾷ τὰ τοῦ κόσμου, πῶς ἀρέσῃ τῷ ἀνδρί.

and he is divided. (included with Verse 33). And  the unmarried woman and the virgin is concerned with the things of  the Lord, so that both the affairs of (lit= ‘to’) the body and of the spirit are holy. The married woman, on the other hand, is concerned with the affairs of the world, as how she pleases her husband.

This celibacy/ascetic thing works for the goose as well as the gander; it’s equally bad for both. 

34 et divisus est. Et mulier innupta et virgo cogitat, quae Domini sunt, ut sit sancta et corpore et spiritu; quae autem nupta est, cogitat, quae sunt mundi, quomodo placeat viro.

35 τοῦτο δὲ πρὸς τὸ ὑμῶν αὐτῶν σύμφορον λέγω, οὐχ ἵνα βρόχον ὑμῖν ἐπιβάλω, ἀλλὰ πρὸς τὸ εὔσχημον καὶ εὐπάρεδρον τῷ κυρίῳ ἀπερισπάστως.

I say this for your profit (or ‘benefit’), not so that I throw a snare over you, but towards the gracefulness and assiduousness to the Lord without distraction. [that’s the very literal rendering.] Or-

What’s the first you notice about the last part of that sentence, beginning with “but”? That there is no verb? No, I didn’t forget it; there isn’t one there. This brings up all sorts of problems. My first impulse was this:

…that you contemplate without distraction the beauty and the constancy of the Lord.

“Of the Lord” requires reading this as a dative of possession; the “c’est a moi” construction in French. While this is a possible reading, it’s probably not the most natural reading. The key, or the trick, is the preposition, ‘pros‘ << πρὸς >>, the most common meaning, especially with the accusative, is ‘motion towards’, which explains my literal translation. But if you take ‘in the direction of’ a bit more figuratively, you arrive at ‘about’ or ‘for’. So one is moving mentally towards…<< τὸ εὔσχημον >>this is kind of an odd word. In its Classical sense, it’s more or less some kind of synonym for ‘beauty’ (comely; graceful of mien…). Liddell & Scott also give it a late meaning of ‘dignified’ or ‘honourable’.  Here, perhaps we can split the difference and use ‘seemly’, or rather, the noun form of ‘seemliness’. I don’t think that’s doing too much violence to either the spirit or the letter.

But it’s “seemliness and…” And what? Here, interestingly, L&S cite this passage as the only use of this word, and they translate as “constant waiting on the Lord.” I will argue with Biblical scholars; I will not argue with Liddell and Scott; although, if I ever considered it, here would be the time to do so. This leaves us with:

towards seemliness, and waiting on the Lord without distraction. 

Which eliminates the dative of possession. But we’re still lacking a verb. Given the preposition used, my impulse is to use something like ‘turn’. So, all together, we have:

I say this for your profit (or ‘benefit’), not so that I throw a snare over you, but so you turn towards seemliness and and waiting on the Lord without distraction. 

As for the content, the idea of the snare is interesting; how would pointing out the benefit of celibacy be a trap? Is this because the inability to maintain this ideal would mean that the members of the community have fallen into sin, and so Paul is catching them in flagrente, as it were? Some more of Paul’s particular brand of reasoning. That took a whole lot less time than figuring out what it’s likely that Paul actually said. 

35 Porro hoc ad utilitatem vestram dico, non ut laqueum vobis iniciam, sed ad id quod honestum est, et ut assidue cum Domino sitis sine distractione.

36 Εἰ δέ τις ἀσχημονεῖν ἐπὶ τὴν παρθένον αὐτοῦ νομίζει ἐὰν ᾖ ὑπέρακμος, καὶ οὕτως ὀφείλει γίνεσθαι, ὃ θέλει ποιείτω: οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει: γαμείτωσαν.

If someone considers to be (acting) unseemly towards his virgin, if she is (sexually) mature, and in this way he becomes obligated, let him do as he may wish. He does not sin. Let them marry.

First, the NASV takes the ‘virgin’ as ‘virgin daughter‘. My other cribs render this as ‘virgin fiancee’, and I would agree with that. Second, this ‘unseemly’ behaviour is sexual passion (which, we might say, Paul always considers unseemly and improper). Some of this bloodless translation is a relic of the Victorian era prudishness that infects Liddell & Scott; it was compiled in the latter 19th Century, after all. But, overall, this is more or less a restatement of ‘it’s better to marry than to burn with passion’. Why? Because the passion will distract you from holy things. Yes, being married will do that, but I think Paul believes–perhaps rightly–that the state of constantly being inflamed is much worse, and may lead to much more unseemly sorts of passion. 

36 Si quis autem turpem se videri existimat super virgine sua, quod sit superadulta, et ita oportet fieri, quod vult, faciat; non peccat: nubant.

37 ὃς δὲ ἕστηκεν ἐν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτοῦ ἑδραῖος, μὴ ἔχων ἀνάγκην, ἐξουσίαν δὲ ἔχει περὶ τοῦ ἰδίου θελήματος, καὶ τοῦτο κέκρικεν ἐν τῇ ἰδίᾳ καρδίᾳ, τηρεῖν τὴν ἑαυτοῦ παρθένον, καλῶς ποιήσει:

For he who stands firmly in his heart, not having compulsion, he has power over his own desires, and this he has decided (lit = ‘judged’) in his own heart to keep watch on his virgin, he will do well.

Basically, stiff upper lip, be in control of yourself, keep a lid on your passions, and you will do the right thing. Primarily by your fiancee, but also in general. This is a root of what became later Christian practice–or at least, later Christian teaching. Few could actually live up to this ideal; the fact that so few, even those actively in the church, could live up to this, was a large factor in the causation of the Reformation.

37  Qui autem statuit in corde suo firmus, non habens necessitatem, potestatem autem habet suae voluntatis, et hoc iudicavit in corde suo servare virginem suam, bene faciet;

38 ὥστε καὶ ὁ γαμίζων τὴν ἑαυτοῦ παρθένον καλῶς ποιεῖ, καὶ ὁ μὴ γαμίζων κρεῖσσον ποιήσει.

Therefore, he also does well in the marrying of his virgin, and the not marrying he does even better.

In case we didn’t get the message the first four or five times: Stay Celibate!

This is where Paul gets his bad rap, I think. He doesn’t just tell us that celibacy is better; he tells us over and over and over again. It gets to the point that it’s not an admonition; it’s something bordering on obsession. Now, one could argue two different ways: that the city of Corinth was notorious for the lax morals of its citizens. I have the idea that this is true, but I’m not sure that the idea didn’t come from Paul’s letters. That is, I’m not sure that I have independent verification. But, assuming this, we can take Paul’s continued harping on this theme as necessary to correct an existing condition. 

Or, we can assume that the morals of the citizens of Corinth weren’t all that much different from the morals in other places. And, let’s recall, some members of the community may have been Jews who, presumably, did not sink into the depravity that the pagans often did. In this case, the continued harping indicates that this was an issue for Paul, so he projected it on to the members of the community. I think, generally, that the former suggestion is more likely closer to the truth; this was not so important an issue in the other letters that we’ve read; however, I think that, some of this anyway, is because of Paul. I think this was an issue for him.

38 igitur et, qui matrimonio iungit virginem suam, bene facit; et, qui non iungit, melius faciet.

 39 Γυνὴ δέδεται ἐφ’ ὅσον χρόνον ζῇ ὁ ἀνὴρ αὐτῆς: ἐὰν δὲ κοιμηθῇ ὁ ἀνήρ, ἐλευθέρα ἐστὶν ᾧ θέλει γαμηθῆναι, μόνον ἐν κυρίῳ.

For a woman is bound for however much time that a man lives; if the man sleeps, she is free to marry whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

First, the word for ‘bound’ is the same word used for the Gerasene demonaic who could not be fettered. So there is an undertone of enslavement here. This implication is increased by the idea of her being ‘freed’ upon the husband’s death.

Second, ‘alone/only in the Lord’? I am not at all sure what that means. Or, I understand the words here, but not the intent. All of my cribs render this as ‘only’, but the concept behind it is ‘single’;the word is << μόνον >>, “monon“, the is the root of ‘mono-rail’ and ‘monk’. It is the neuter singular nominative used as an adverb. The Latin isn’t a lot of help here, since it seems to be going in a different direction.

Most of my crib translations give this as ‘only in the Lord’, as I have, but the NIV translates this as “she must belong to the Lord”. This is an entirely different thing, unless I absolutely do not understand (always a possibility) what is meant by ‘alone in the lord’. The Revised English Bible gives this as ‘provided the marriage is within the fellowship of the Lord’. OK. There’s a lot there that I don’t see, but they are smarter people than I am…Bottom line is that, once again, Paul has managed to confound a lot of modern readers.

39 Mulier alligata est, quanto tempore vir eius vivit; quod si dormierit vir eius, libera est, cui vult nubere, tantum in Domino.

40 μακαριωτέρα δέ ἐστιν ἐὰν οὕτως μείνῃ, κατὰ τὴν ἐμὴν γνώμην, δοκῶ δὲ κἀγὼ πνεῦμα θεοῦ ἔχειν.

But she is more blessed is if in this way she remains, according to my opinion, for I seem to have the holy spirit. 

40 Beatior autem erit, si sic permanserit secundum meum consilium; puto autem quod et ego Spiritum Dei habeo.

I can’t seem to get the last part about the sacred breath part correctly, in a way that gets across the full impact of the Greek. Apparently, St Jerome couldn’t figure it out either, because my translation is pretty much matches what the Latin gives us.

And I’m also struck by how Paul sort of pulls rank by claiming to have the sacred breath in him. This would make it very difficult to argue with him; after all, would that not be like arguing with God? If Paul is full of God’s breath, if he has been breathed into (in-spired), then how can a human compete with that? So he’s told us that he is speaking, not the Christ/Lord, but now he tells us that he is speaking with the breath of God. Isn’t there something of a contradiction there? Seems like it to me. 

So I wonder if this was not Paul’s overall technique: make a statement on his own authority, then say he was speaking with God’s breath. This would certainly be a way to assert one’s authority. Such an inference, of course, is just that: an inference, one with no way to verify or falsify. However, given what we’ve read of Paul so far, such a tactic seems like it would be consistent with Paul’s personality. Feel free to disagree.


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 18, 2014, in 1 Corinthians, epistles, Paul's Letters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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