Women in Ministry: Stan Gundry could change

I have just come across an interesting piece by Stan Gundry, entitled Women in Ministry: Can we change? In it Gundry tells how, with the help of his wife Pat, he moved from believing that women should be entirely submissive and silent in church to an egalitarian position on this issue. He is by the way Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, Publishing Group at Zondervan Corporation, who publish the TNIV Bible.

Thanks to Codepoke for this link.

Codepoke has also written about 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, one of the most difficult biblical passages for egalitarians. Wayne Leman has also written about this passage at the Better Bibles Blog, and created a storm of controversy in the comments. Both Codepoke and Wayne argue that this passage was not written by Paul, but is a quotation from the letter which the Corinthians had sent to Paul. Well, I discussed such quotations in 1 Corinthians in part 3 of my recent series on Paul, Sex and Marriage, and I didn’t list 14:34-35 as such a quotation. But it now seems to me quite likely, but not certain, that these verses, which contradict what Paul writes elsewhere, are a quotation from the Corinthians’ letter and so should not be understood as Paul’s teaching.

Simeon and Wesley on Calvinism

When I was as Christian student in Cambridge in the 1970’s I was encouraged to look to Charles Simeon as one of my heroes. He had faithfully preached the evangelical gospel in that city for more than 50 years, and was one of the main leaders of the evangelical awakening in the Church of England which started started in the late 18th century.

Another Christian hero of mine is John Wesley, the great preacher of a generation before Simeon. But he is considered suspect in some circles as an Arminian and for his teaching on Christian perfection.

And so I was interesting to see this account on Adrian’s blog of a conversation between Simeon and Wesley. Simeon starts by saying

Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers.

But after asking Wesley some questions, he concludes:

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree.

Would that Calvinists and Arminians today could agree so easily! Almost all evangelicals today can agree on the points which Wesley and Simeon agreed on – although perhaps for some including myself

so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart

is something of an overstatement.

But the difficulty today comes when Calvinists go beyond what Calvin taught, and Scripture teaches, into teachings like limited atonement (Christ died only for the elect, contra 2 Corinthians 5:14) and double predestination (some are predestined not to be saved, contra 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9); and when Arminians drift towards Pelagianism, the equally unbiblical teaching that people can bring about their own salvation. While I am sure there will continue to be disagreements about some of the details (and I hope to look for resolution of some of the issues when I continue my Kingdom Thermodynamics series), there should be sufficient common ground here that all evangelicals can work together in harmony.

Meanwhile Adrian is starting a campaign for an electronic edition of “the massive 21-volume set of Simeon’s sermons that form a commentary on the Bible”. If you are interested in getting this, please let him know.

Paul, Sex and Marriage 6: Conclusions and Bibliography

This is the last part of my 1988 essay What did Paul really say about sex and marriage? 1 Corinthians 7:1-16, consisting of the conclusions and the bibliography, also a link to the Appendix.


The Christians were not unique in the first century Hellenistic world in rejecting the conventional way of life in favour of a commitment embracing every aspect of their life to a higher cause. Another such grouping was the Cynics: Epictetus gives an ironical portrayal of the life-style of these wandering philosophers, who saw themselves as “kings” (III.xxii, pp. 130-169). The Cynics did not reject marriage, but the Stoic philosopher points out the difficulties in marriage and family life for those living in such a way (p. 155). The Christians in Corinth, who also saw themselves as “kings” (4:8), surely thought similarly when they first began to reject marriage; and thus far Paul was prepared to go along with them, for the argument of 7:25-35 accords with that of Epictetus.

The Corinthian Christians, however, were taking the point further by also rejecting sexual relations within marriage, and not on pragmatic grounds (for Paul does not consider birth control as a reason for abstinence) but because of an emerging idea that all sexual relations were unclean or unholy. This idea was foreign to the Hellenistic world, although already known at Qumran, but it could well have arisen afresh among the Corinthians; if sex outside marriage was wrong, and marriage was discouraged, then must not all sexual activity be less than fully holy? The Corinthians did not ask Paul this question; they answered it for themselves and many adopted the ascetic view. As a result some were depriving or divorcing their partners without agreement; and the frustrated partners, attracted by the opposite view held by some at Corinth that Christians could do what they liked with their bodies (countered by Paul in 6:12-20), were going to the prostitutes.

This was the situation which Paul confronted in 7:1-16. It was a situation he could certainly not tolerate; nor could he lay the blame entirely on the immoral partners. His Jewish upbringing had taught him that sexual relations within marriage were good, even obligatory; and nothing in the Christian gospel had led him to reject that – indeed, he affirmed it as a general rule for the married (7:3). Yet he could find something to commend in the Corinthian view, by taking καλόν in the sense of a good option rather than the only or highest good: firstly, temporary abstinence for prayer, by agreement, can be a good thing (7:5); and secondly, for some to whom God has given the ability singleness is right (7:7). On these points Paul departs from his Jewish background, adopting Hellenistic pragmatism. This he urges also on the Corinthians: for some, the need to satisfy the sexual urge is so strong that if the outlet within marriage is denied they will not resist the temptation of other outlets; and therefore partners are not in general to deprive each other. These instructions were given because of cases of sexual immorality and are therefore not unconditionally binding, but the recent scandals among American television evangelists illustrate that no Christian group today, any more than the first century Corinthians, can consider itself immune from immorality and so able to ignore this teaching.

It has been most unfortunate for the history of the church that this passage has been so badly misinterpreted, so that the Corinthians’ views have been attributed to Paul and given his apostolic authority. One influence has been on Christian practice: through the centuries celibacy has been promoted in the church on a basis of apostolic authority which can now be seen to be quite spurious; and today such ideas lie behind the Roman Catholic prohibition of birth control which continues to lead to the birth of millions of children wanted neither by their parents nor by society. [At this point a faculty member has written a marginal note, with which I agree: “The connection would need a more careful argument than is offered here, but is probably correct”.] Another influence has been on Christian theology; Augustine taught on this basis that all sexual intercourse was tainted with sin, from which he developed his doctrine of original sin, which underlies his theology of infant baptism and of grace and election – two of the most controversial issues amongst evangelicals today. This serves to show the great danger of exegesis and application of a passage without a proper linguistic understanding of its content or its context.


Semantic display of 1 Corinthians 7:1-16

according to a method modified from Beekman and Callow

[The Appendix cannot be displayed here for technical reasons. It can be viewed as a PDF file here.]


Bible books Names in full in italics. Quotations in Greek are from UBS3.
AV The Holy Bible, Authorised King James Version, Collins 1950.
Balch D.L. Balch, 1 Cor 7:32-35 and Stoic Debates about Marriage, Anxiety, and Distraction, Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 102/3, 1983, pp. 429-439.
Barrett C.K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Black’s New Testament Commentaries, A & C Black, London 1968.
Bauer W. Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, English translation2 by Arndt and Gingrich, University of Chicago Press 1979.
Beekman/Callow J. Beekman and J. Callow, Translating the Word of God, Zondervan, Grand Rapids 1974.
Bruce F.F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, New Century Bible, Oliphants, London 1971.
Collins R.F. Collins, The Unity of Paul’s Paraenesis in 1 Thess. 4.3-8. 1 Cor. 7.1-7, A Significant Parallel, New Testament Studies, vol. 29, 1983, pp. 420-429.
Conzelmann H. Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, English translation by J.W. Leitch, Hermeneia, Fortress Press, Philadelphia 1975.
de Ste. Croix G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World, Duckworth, London 1981.
Downing F.G. Downing, Strangely Familiar, no publisher or date.
Elliott J. K. Elliott, Paul’s Teaching on Marriage in 1 Corinthians: Some Problems Considered, New Testament Studies, vol. 19, 1972-73, pp. 219-225.
Epictetus Epictetus, Discourses, with English translation by W.A. Oldfather, vol. II, Loeb Classical Library, Heinemann, London 1928.
Fee, 7:1 G.D. Fee, 1 Corinthians 7:1 in the NIV, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 23/4, 1980, pp. 307-314.
Fee G.D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 1987.
Hurd J.C. Hurd, The Origin of 1 Corinthians, SPCK, London 1965.
James E.O. James, Marriage and Society, Hutchinson, London 1952.
JB The Jerusalem Bible, New Testament, Darton, Longman and Todd, London 1967.
Jeremias J. Jeremias, Zur Gedankenführung in den Paulinischen Briefen, in J.N. Sevenster and W.C. van Unnik (eds.), Studia Paulina, Bohn, Haarlem 1953, pp. 146-154.
Lewis/Reinhold N. Lewis and M. Reinhold, Roman Civilization, vol. 2, Harper & Row, New York 1966.
Liddell/Scott H.G. Liddell and R. Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon9, Oxford University Press 1940.
Malina B.J. Malina, The New Testament World, SCM, London 1983.
Moiser J. Moiser, A Reassessment of Paul’s View of Marriage with Reference to 1 Cor. 7, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, vol. 18, 1983, pp. 103-122.
Moule C.F.D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek, Cambridge University Press 1953.
Murphy-O’Connor, Slogans J. Murphy-O’Connor, Corinthian Slogans in 1 Cor 6:12-20, The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, vol. 40, 1978, pp. 391-396.
Murphy-O’Connor, Divorced J. Murphy-O’Connor, The Divorced Woman in 1 Cor 7:10-11, Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 100/4, 1981. pp. 601-606.
NASB New American Standard Bible, 1971, revised 1977.
NEB The New English Bible, New Testament, Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press 1961.
NIV The Holy Bible, New International Version3, 1984, anglicised 1986.
Oepke A. Oepke, article γυνή, TDNT vol. 1, pp. 776 ff.
Phillips J.B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English2, Bles, London 1960.
Phipps W.E. Phipps, Is Paul’s Attitude Towards Sexual Relations Contained in 1 Cor. 7.1?, New Testament Studies, vol. 28, 1982, pp. 125-131.
RSV The New Testament, Revised Standard Version2, 1971.
TDNT Kittel and Friedrich (ed.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, English translation, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 1964-1976.
TEV Good News Bible, Today’s English Version (New Testament4) 1976.
TNT The Translator’s New Testament, British and Foreign Bible Society, London 1973.
Turner N. Turner, Syntax, volume III of J.H. Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, T & T Clark, Edinburgh 1963.
UBS3 The Greek New Testament3(corrected), United Bible Societies, Stuttgart 1983.
Zerwick/Grosvenor M. Zerwick and M. Grosvenor, A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament, revised edition, Biblical Institute Press, Rome 1981.

Paul, Sex and Marriage 5: Semantic Analysis of 7:1-16

This is part 5 of my 1988 essay What did Paul really say about sex and marriage? 1 Corinthians 7:1-16. The Greek text here is adjusted as in part 3. Not all of the material in this section is of immediate relevance in 2006, but the introductory analysis is significant in proving that Paul treated men and women identically in family matters, and the discussion of 7:1 clarifies some continuing misunderstandings.


The following discussion of the features of semantic interest in this passage is based on a semantic analysis according to the method of Beekman and Callow, with some modifications. The semantic display resulting from this analysis is given in the Appendix. This method of analysis has the advantage over some others of requiring direct semantic relationships between kernel sentences not only to be shown to exist but also to be classified; sometimes a definite classification is impossible because of ambiguity or complexity in the relationship, but the attempt to classify is very helpful in understanding the passage. Additional points of semantic interest not covered by the analysis, such as non-literal language, are also considered in the discussion.

One striking feature about this passage is that men and women are treated completely equally with deliberate parallel passages, as illustrated here:

7:2 ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἐχέτω
καὶ ἑκάστη τὸν ἴδιον ἄνδρα ἐχέτω.
7:3 τῇ γυναικὶ
ἀνὴρ τὴν ὀφειλὴν ἀποδιδότω,
ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ γυνὴ
τῷ ἀνδρί.
7:4 γυνὴ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει
ἀλλὰ ἀνήρ,
ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἀνὴρ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει
ἀλλὰ γυνή.
7:2 [… each (man) his own woman should have
and each (woman) her own man should have.
7:3 to the woman
the man should give back the duty,
and in the same way also the woman
to the man.
7:4 the woman does not have authority over her own body
but the man,
and in the same way also the man does not have authority over his own body
but the woman.]
7:8 Λέγω δὲ τοῖς ἀγάμοις
καὶ ταῖς χήραις
7:8 [But I say to the unmarried
and to the widows …]
7:10 γυναῖκα ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς μὴ χωρισθῆναι,
7:11 καὶ ἄνδρα γυναῖκα μὴ ἀφιέναι.
7:10 [… woman from man not to separate,
7:11 and man woman not to divorce.]
7:12 εἴ τις ἀδελφὸς
γυναῖκα ἔχει ἄπιστον
καὶ αὕτη
συνευδοκεῖ οἰκεῖν μετ᾽ αὐτοῦ,
μὴ ἀφιέτω αὐτήν·
7:13 καὶ γυνὴ εἴ τις
ἔχει ἄνδρα ἄπιστον
καὶ οὗτος
συνευδοκεῖ οἰκεῖν μετ᾽ αὐτῆς,
μὴ ἀφιέτω τὸν ἄνδρα.
7:12 [… if any brother
has an unbelieving woman
and she
is willing to live with him,
let him not divorce her;
7:13 and if any woman
has an unbelieving man
and he
is willing to live with her,
let her not divorce the man.]
7:14 ἡγίασται γὰρ ἀνὴρ ὁ ἄπιστος ἐν τῇ γυναικί
καὶ ἡγίασται γυνὴ ἡ ἄπιστος ἐν τῷ ἀδελφῷ·
7:14 [for is sanctified the unbelieving man in the woman
and is sanctified the unbelieving woman in the brother;]
7:15 … οὐ δεδούλωται ἀδελφὸς
ἀδελφὴ ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις …
7:15 [… is not bound the brother
or the sister in such things …]
7:16 τί γὰρ οἶδας, γύναι, εἰ τὸν ἄνδρα σώσεις;
ἢ τί οἶδας, ἄνερ, εἰ τὴν γυναῖκα σώσεις;
7:16 [for how do you know, woman, if the man you will save?
or how do you know, man, if the woman you will save?]

The parallel given in 7:8 will be explained in the discussion below. In obvious contrast to all these parallels stand 7:1b, καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ γυναικὸς μὴ ἅπτεσθαι [good for a person not to touch a woman], which has no parallel concerning how women should treat men, and 7:7a, θέλω δὲ πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἶναι ὡς καὶ ἐμαυτόν [but I want all people to be as also myself] – which tends to confirm that these are quotations.


The first four words of this verse are grammatically difficult. Formally the relative pronoun ὧν should refer back to an antecedent, which could only be the preceding passage in general, giving the meaning and concerning these (previously mentioned) things you wrote “It is good …”; but recognition of Περὶ δὲ [but about] as a discourse marker rules this out. The relative must therefore be taken in the non-classical (but common in the New Testament) sense of that which; περὶ ὧν [about which] stands for περὶ τούτων ἃ [about the things which] (Zerwick and Grosvenor). Since the discourse marker introduces what the author says on a new subject, there must be an implicit I say (cf. λέγω [I say] in 7:6,8) here. Thus the meaning could be Concerning the things which you wrote [I say] … . If the remainder of the verse is not taken as a quotation, this formula must introduce all of Paul’s response to the Corinthians’ letter, which is most of the rest of this letter. This view is not satisfactory, because of the repeated Περὶ δὲ at 7:25. 8:1, 12:1 and 16:1,12, and the earlier use of the Corinthians’ letter, most clearly at 6:12. There is however no difficulty if the latter part of 7:1 is taken as a quotation, for it then indicates a specific subject brought up by the Corinthians with which Paul deals in 7:1-16 (or 7:1-24). The meaning is thus something like Concerning these words, “It is good …”, which you wrote, [I say] … . This is a powerful argument for finding a quotation here. Thus in 7:2 Paul begins the content of what he is saying on the subject raised by the Corinthians’ statement; because he is also taking issue with their statement he introduces it with a strictly unnecessary δὲ.

The last part of 7:1, γυναικὸς μὴ ἅπτεσθαι, literally not to touch a woman, is an example of non-literal language, and one whose meaning is not immediately clear. AV, RSV, NASB, JB translate literally, leaving the reader to decide whether the phrase is metaphorical; but the translator, who should be familiar with first century Greek idioms, is much better able to decide such points than the reader, who might supply a quite inappropriate metaphorical meaning. TNT substitutes an explanation of the euphemism, but its not to have intercourse with a woman is too blunt. Phillips’ to have no physical contact with women is much better, a plausible literal translation which is also an equivalent English euphemism for sexual intercourse. NIV and TEV make explicit an alternative understanding of the metaphor, as not to marry, and NEB has a third understanding, surely too strong: have nothing to do with women. Fee, 7:1 showed that the Greek idiom regularly refers to sexual intercourse, and argued that the NIV translation is an attempt to harmonise with the context on the basis that there is no quotation here. The best translation therefore seems to be that of Fee, not to have relations with a woman.


The first difficulty here is the meaning of διὰ τὰς πορνείας [because of the immoralities]; the problem is that πορνείας is plural. Barrett concludes that the meaning here is cases of sexual immorality, which is quite plausible, but so would be various forms of sexual immorality. The reference is not hypothetical, for at least one case of πορνεία had actually occurred (5:1).

The relationships between these three verses, which follow one another with no conjunctions (asyndeton), are not immediately clear, partly because the husband/wife parallelism obscures the structure. One side of the argument in isolation reads:

7:2 Because of cases of sexual immorality:

The main clauses in 7:2, in the context, are not to be taken as get married to the single, but as live as married to the already married; this is the general principle which is clarified in the following verses. 7:3 is central as it specifies the application to sexual intercourse, in euphemistic language. 7:4 amplifies the ὀφειλή [duty] of 7:3, explaining the reason for it and leaving no doubt as to its content. The opening of 7:5 is a summary introducing the exception clause.

There is thus a chiasmus in 7:3-4: 7:3 starts with husband-wife, then wife-husband; 7:4 explains first wife-husband and then husband-wife. An oddity emerges from this analysis: if, as Fee believes, the main problem at Corinth was that certain wives were depriving their husbands and driving them to the prostitutes, the most vital of Paul’s points, that each wife must give her husband what she owes him, is the one point which is not spelt out in full; perhaps Paul deliberately lets his readers work out the last step for themselves for greater impact, as he may also be doing in 7:17-24 where the application to marriage is left implicit.


This is another difficult verse to analyse. The general principle Do not deprive one another is modified by an exception, which is not hypothetical (Fee, p. 281) for the conditions can really be met; rather, it is optional in that the couple may deprive one another if the conditions are met but are under no obligation to meet them. The one condition clause includes four separate conditions: there must be agreement; the arrangement must be temporary, or perhaps for a pre-determined time; the purpose must be prayer; and (equivalently to the second condition) the couple must again be ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ [together], presumably another euphemism for sexual intercourse. The reasons for laying down these conditions, or at least the last one, are to avoid temptation presumably to extra-marital sex. The semantic content of this verse is not difficult to understand if one remains at arm’s length from its grammatical form, which is obscure.


The question then arises of how 7:6 relates to the preceding verses. The traditional interpretation takes the whole of 7:2-5 as a concession because of cases of sexual immorality (7:2), whereas Paul’s ideal is stated in 7:1b. This is a possible understanding of 7:6, but conflicts with the conclusion that 7:2-4, rather than 7:1, represents Paul’s position. A more likely concession is the clause explicitly identified as such, the exception in 7:5; 7:6 is thus a clarification of εἰ μήτι ἂν [except] pointing out that Paul is not commanding such periods of separation but merely permitting them.


This verse brings a further difficulty. Introduced by δὲ, or possibly by γὰρ [for] although the textual evidence for this is less good, Paul makes the strong statement I want all people to be as I am, qualified only by the following contrasting clause. As Barrett points out, θέλω [I want] cannot be translated I should like (NEB) or I could wish (Fee, p. 285); indeed, the δὲ may be best understood as contrasting this definite wish with the indefinite concession of 7:5,6. Yet Barrett’s own explanation of 7:7 reads more into this statement than could have been seen by the Corinthians. Two points may help to clarify it. Firstly, this seems to be a quotation from the Corinthians, turned back round to make Paul the speaker; they had perhaps justified their renunciation of sexual relations by writing You said you wanted all of us to be like you, and you are celibate. Secondly, the similarity must be noted between this and the repeated Become imitators of me (4:16, 11:1) which forms an inclusio around this part of the letter; here Paul shows the limits of such imitation with the contrasting clause about different gifts, which applies not only in the area of sexual relationships, as chapter 12 beings out. The verse can perhaps be paraphrased as follows: But this, as you wrote, I do want for everyone of you, that you become like me, imitators of me – not identical to me, for each of you has his own gift … .

In the last part of the verse, it should be noted that the pairing is οὕτως … οὕτως [thus … thus], not τοῦτο … τοῦτο [this … this]; the reference is not directly to different gifts (contra NIV) but to different ways of living, parallelling ὡς καὶ ἐμαυτόν [as also myself]. The word χάρισμα [gift] here need not be taken as a technical term for a spiritual gift; rather it is what God graciously gives (χαρίζομαι) or assigns to each man, to live in his own individual way – a message expanded in 7:17-24.


These verses are comparatively straightforward to analyse. Fee argues from contemporary usage that the ἀγάμοι [unmarried ones] of verse 8 are widowers, as Paul himself probably was, rather than those never married. This certainly fits better with the man-woman parallelism of these verses; it also distinguishes this passage from 7:25 ff. and reduces the tension with 7:2. It should certainly not be assumed from its etymology that ἄγαμος is equivalent to unmarried. The first part of verse 9 is grammatically a condition, but semantically it serves to identify those who should get married, being equivalent to οἱ μὴ ἐγκρατευόμενοι [those who are not controlled].

In 7:9, πυροῦσθαι [to burn] is a clear example of non-literal language. AV and NASB translate literally as burn; no doubt some have misunderstood this literally as referring to martyrdom (cf. 13:3, AV, NASB ?), as perhaps they have JB be tortured. The word could be a reference to judgment and punishment in the fires of hell – which are surely metaphorical – but, as Fee argues from the wide context, a more likely metaphorical meaning is in this case the one chosen by NIV and TEV (cf. also RSV, NEB, TNT, Phillips): burn with passion, i.e. sexual desire. This desire was hardly unsatisfied (Phillips), for οὐκ ἐγκρατεύονται [they are not controlled], in the present indicative, implies that they were already satisfying it.


7:10, as punctuated in UBS3 and translated in NIV, RSV etc., opens with a contradiction: I command … not I; for not I but the Lord is taken as a parenthesis. The Greek could be taken instead as I do not command, but the Lord commands, taking ἐγώ [I] as the subject of παραγγέλλω [(I) command] and supplying an implied παραγγέλλει [(he) commands]; this avoids any contradiction and maintains the parallel with the opening of 7:12 if, as in UBS3 but not in NIV, I, not the Lord is not parenthetic there. In any case the meaning is little affected: Paul appeals to the authority of the Lord Jesus for these instructions.

The man-woman parallelism is broken in two ways in these verses. Firstly, the instruction to the woman is μὴ χωρισθῆναι, do not become separated, but that to the man is μὴ ἀφιέναι, do not divorce. In the cultural context there may have been a technical distinction between what was possible for a man and for a woman (although in 7:13 μὴ ἀφιέτω [let her not divorce] is addressed to a woman), but in view of the perfect parallels elsewhere it seems certain that Paul intended men and women to be treated as nearly as possible equally. Thus it is inappropriate to make a distinction in applying this passage in a modern culture in which men and women are equal with regard to divorce. Secondly, the prohibition of remarriage for those who have, despite Paul’s instructions, divorced is given explicitly only to woman, but Paul presumably intended it to apply equally to divorced men. The clause ἐὰν δὲ καὶ χωρισθῇ [but if she also divorces], like the first clause in 7:9, identifies the subject of the following clause, but ἐὰν [if] with the subjunctive indicates uncertainty: the situation might not, and should not, arise.


These verses are relatively straightforward in themselves, although their relationship to the following verses is obscure. It is not immediately clear who οἱ λοιποῖ [the rest] are; they must be those not included in 7:8 or 7:10, but the content of Paul’s instructions shows that they are those married to unbelieving partners. Thus οἱ γεγαμηκότες [the married (ones)] of 7:10 must be the married couples who were both within the church; and if 7:8 is indeed addressed only to the widowed Paul is postponing his instructions to those never married until 7:25. The indefinite conditional clauses εἴ τις ἀδελφὸς … [if any brother …] and γυνὴ εἴ τις … [if any woman …] again serve to identify specific classes of man and woman and are not true conditions. 7:12 is the beginning of a complex multiple chiasmus stretching to the middle of 7:14, as is shown by the terms used for men and women: ἀδελφὸς … γυναῖκα … γυνὴ … ἄνδρα … ἄνδρα … ἀνὴρ … γυναικί … γυνὴ … ἀδελφῷ [brother … woman … woman … man … man … man … woman … woman … brother] (italics mark the unbelieving partners).


The first half of this verse is very difficult theologically, since its teaching seems to conflict with the rest of Paul’s theology. Semantically it is not so difficult in itself. Ἡγίασται [is sanctified] is presumably a divine passive; it is God who has caused the change, through the believing partner. The easiest solution to the theological problem is the semantic one of taking ἅγιος [holy] and ἁγιάζω [sanctify] here in quite a different sense to Paul’s normal usage, a sense determined rather by the context, but it is difficult to find such a sense that does justice to the word’s important place in the argument. For Paul here is giving the reason for his prohibition of divorce in 7:12,13: God has caused a real change in the husband, despite his unbelief, so that he and the children of the marriage, although they too might not believe, are in some sense holy and are not to be rejected as unholy or defiled – and similarly for the wife. Thus ἄπιστος [unbelieving], twice in this verse, is a contraction of a concessive clause although he/she does not believe.

The second half of the verse is difficult to analyse, if not to understand. It is linked equally to both of the preceding statements, about husband and wife. The words ἐπεὶ ἄρα illustrate the danger of treating New Testament Greek as if it were Classical Greek: Liddell and Scott give the meaning since then, quoting Homer as their example, but that cannot be the sense here. A synchronic study of Paul’s use of ἐπεί gives a different picture: several times (Romans 3:6, 11:6,22, 1 Corinthians 5:10,7:14, 14:26, 15:29 – see Bauer on ἐπεί, Turner, p. 318, and Zerwick and Grosvenor on these verses) he uses it in the sense of otherwise, i.e. [if that were not the case] then. Here one must supply the double condition if the unbelieving husband or the unbelieving wife were not holy, a condition contrary to the fact as already stated, although this is not indicated in the consequence clause. This is introduced to highlight the significance of the last clause, the climax of the verse, which is the result or perhaps the purpose of the unbelieving partners being made holy.


This verse, which concerns the unbelieving partner who wishes to separate from the believer, provides the contrast to the preceding three verses concerning the unbeliever who wishes to remain married. Since this letter is not addressed to the unbelievers, the imperative χωριζέσθω [let him/her separate], grammatically addressed to the unbeliever, is semantically addressed to the believing partner; the English let him do so (NIV) is to be taken in its more basic sense allow him to do so. The believer must therefore accept that the marriage is truly terminated; this is underlined by οὐ δεδούλωται [is not enslaved], a metaphor since there is no question of literal slavery, and a significant one because it introduces the analogy between marriage and slavery which probably underlies 7:21-23. Since in the cultural context and therefore in the presupposition pool legal divorce automatically conferred the right of remarriage (Murphy-O’Connor, Divorced, p. 604), Paul surely intended to allow remarriage in this case of a believer divorced by an unbeliever; the contrast with 7:11 concerning two believers must be deliberate, and Fee’s argument that remarriage is not permitted (pp. 302-303) does not stand.

Most English translations (NIV, AV, RSV, NASB, NEB, JB; also the punctuation of UBS3) connect the last clause of this verse to the preceding clauses, making a major division at the end of the verse; but it is then difficult to explain the δὲ at the start of the clause: RSV appears to mistranslate it as for, and NIV, TEV, JB suggest this nuance, whereas the translations which retain but (AV,NASB,NEB) scarcely make sense. Fee argues that this clause is to be taken instead with the following verse, as in Phillips’ translation; together they give a further reason, in addition to that of 7:14,15, for the couple to remain together if possible. This analysis also makes more sense of the link between this clause and 7:17-24, in which the term κέκληκεν [has called], introduced here without explanation, is interpreted and linked back to the subject of marriage; this link would be much more awkward if 7:16 reverted to another subject.


This final verse on marriage between believers and unbelievers consists of two rhetorical questions. Formally, how do you know …? is equivalent to you do not know … , but to reduce the text to that, as a semantic analysis must do, is to lose the thrust of Paul’s style, here giving a last point to ponder for anyone who is considering divorce from an unbeliever. Paul distinguishes σῴζω [save], which for the unbeliever is future and uncertain, from ἁγιάζω [sanctify], which for the same person is past with continuing effects (7:14); the precise nature of the distinction is a theological difficulty which can only be answered by reference to Paul’s teaching elsewhere. Here, as in 9:22, Romans 11:14 and 1 Timothy 4:16 (the only cases in the Pauline letters), σῴζω [save] is given a human grammatical subject, but all these passages are rhetorical, and as with ἁγιάζω [sanctify] in 7:14 Paul surely sees the true subject as God and the human as the means he uses.

Paul, Sex and Marriage 4: Discourse Structure of 1 Corinthians

This is part 4 of my 1988 essay What did Paul really say about sex and marriage? 1 Corinthians 7:1-16. The Greek text here is adjusted as in part 3.

This in fact concludes the part of the essay which is most likely to be of interest to readers in 2006. So, while I do intend to complete this series (as well as my unfinished series on Kingdom Thermodynamics), I may do so rather more slowly than up to this point.


A further requirement for a correct linguistic understanding of the passage is to determine its relationship to the surrounding material, the co-text, within the structure of the complete discourse, in this case the whole of 1 Corinthians. Therefore, an analysis of the main discourse components in the whole letter is necessary, and it must be based on linguistic criteria, rather than the theological presuppositions which often determine commentators’ analyses.

4.1. The Traditional Understanding

It is generally agreed by commentators that much of 1 Corinthians is a response by Paul to issues brought up in the letter sent to him by the Corinthians – although some of the issues he deals with came to his notice through other reports from Corinth (e.g. 1:11). The traditional view, expressed by Hurd (p. 48), is that 7:1 introduces the answers to a series of questions which the Corinthians had asked Paul in their letter, and indeed that most of the material from 7:1 to 16:12 is in answer to specific questions. By contrast, 1:10 to 6:20 is generally taken (e.g. by Barrett, p. 28) as written in response to the other reports.

Fee questions this standard view. He sees the combative style of the supposed replies as showing that Paul is not answering their questions but challenging their statements (pp. 5-6). This accords with the conclusion of Jeremias, originally on chapter 8 but also applying in chapters 6 and 7, that Paul repeatedly quotes a statement from the Corinthians and then takes issue with it.

In every commentator’s analysis, it seems, a new main section starts at 7:1, indicating the start of Paul’s replies to the Corinthian questions; some make an equally important division at 5:1. It would be necessary to take 7:1 as such an important new start if the second part of the verse were not a quotation from the Corinthian letter, for then the first part would refer to every matter raised in that letter, including those dealt with in the chapters following chapter 7. But if it is indeed a quotation, the second part serves to specify as the subject of the section starting at 7:1 one particular issue amongst those raised by the Corinthians, the issue of sexual relations; and Paul’s response to this issue does not continue beyond the end of chapter 7.

Although he rejects most of its basis, Fee sticks to the most extreme form of the traditional analysis, in which the section starting at 7:1 continues right through to 15:12. His most important argument for keeping to this analysis is based on the repeated opening phrase Περὶ δὲ [But about], found at 7:1,25, 8:1, 12:1, 16:1,12, which he takes as introducing some, but not all, of Paul’s responses to the Corinthians’ points (p. 267). Yet Fee recognises the close affinity between 6:12-20 and chapter 7, and that already at 6:12 Paul quotes and corrects a Corinthian position (p. 250 note 8); but he relegates this important point to a footnote and does not let it affect his overall analysis.

4.2. Major Discourse Markers

The main linguistic criterion for analysis of this letter is the occurrence in it of discourse markers, such as recurring introductory formulae.

The formula Παρακαλῶ δὲ ὑμᾶς, ἀδελφοί [But I encourage you, brothers], found in 1 Corinthians at 1:10. 4:16 (modified) and 16:15, is recognised as a commonly occurring introductory formula in Greek letters and official documents (see Fee, p. 52). It is found in Paul’s letters also in 1 Thessalonians 4:1,10, 5:14, where it is used to introduce three of a series of six mostly ethical exhortations; there, the fullest form Λοιπὸν οὖν, ἀδελφοί, ἐρωτῶμεν ὑμᾶς καὶ παρακαλοῦμεν [Then finally, brothers, I ask and encourage you] is found introducing the first exhortation (4:1), and the other five are introduced by various abbreviated forms including Οὐ θέλομεν δὲ ὑμᾶς ἀγνοεῖν, ἀδελφοί, περὶ [But I do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, about] (4:13, cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1, 12:1), and, most briefly, Περὶ δὲ [But about] (5:1). It can be concluded that similarly in 1 Corinthians the fullest formula is a high level discourse marker and the shorter forms are lower level markers.

According to the traditional analysis of 1 Corinthians, the formula at 1:10 introduces a new main division of the letter – as indeed it must do since it follows the conventional thanksgiving which opens the letter. The occurrences of the same formula at 4:16 and at 16:15 are not generally recognised as of equivalent importance, but linguistic considerations suggest that they should be. There is some difficulty about making a division at 4:16 because the οὖν [therefore] looks backwards. A better understanding of this division can be obtained by looking at the subject matter of the section starting at 1:10, an exhortation that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you (1:10, NASB); this subject is carried through, with a digression on wisdom, at least to 3:23, and there then follows a practical conclusion (4:1-5a) and a brief doxology (4:5b), a conventional closing discourse marker. Thus the main division is at 4:6, which is the start of a link passage stretching to 4:15, taken up by the οὖν [therefore] of 4:16.

The exhortation of 4:16 has as its content μιμηταί μου γίνεσθε [become imitators of me], which forms an inclusio with the identical statement in 11:1, which is rounded off by καθὼς κἀγὼ Χριστοῦ [as also I of Christ]. There is little unity in the subject matter of 4:16-11:1, but its unity as a discourse component can be defended by its distinctness from the preceding and succeeding long sections, on divisions and on worship respectively, as well as from the discourse markers; the material is also united in being dominated by ethical exhortations on immorality and on idolatry, always closely linked in the New Testament.

At 11:2 a new section begins with an ironical pun, all the more striking if it is based on a quotation from the Corinthians’ letter. In view of the preceding verse, the praise which Paul would have preferred to have been able to give was πάντα μου μεμίμησθε, you have imitated me in all things; but instead he uses the very similar words πάντα μου μέμνησθε, you have remembered me in all things – somewhat fainter praise. He continues the irony with the double-edged word κατέχω, which can have the meaning as in Romans 1:18 of suppress rather than hold to. This introduces the new section, whose subject is τὰς παραδόσεις κατέχετε [you hold to/suppress the traditions], in both senses: received practices are in view in chapters 11-14, 16 and received teaching in chapter 15. The section closes at 16:13,14 with a summary. 16:15-18 is a brief final exhortation, again introduced by the standard discourse marker, and the letter closes with final greetings.

4.3. Immorality, Idolatry and Other Evils

The section from 4:16 to 11:1 can be analysed further by consideration of the discourse markers. 6:12 marks an abrupt new start: the quotation from the Corinthians is brought in with no conjunction – asyndeton, relatively uncommon in Greek. This verse matches 10:23, and can be taken as paired with it to form an inclusio, so that 6:12 to 10:23 becomes a section on its own. It serves to confirm this that all the quotations already identified from the Corinthian letter with which Paul takes issue are found within this inclusio. 10:24-33 is a closing summary with specific practical instructions, omitted earlier perhaps to avoid confusion with general principles. An inclusio can also be discerned marking off 4:18 to 6:11 as a separate section, for it begins and ends on the subject of the kingdom of God – not a frequent theme in Paul’s writings.

Furthermore, the sections 4:18-6:11 and 6:12-10:23 are linked in that the latter takes up the list of evils with which the former ends, in 6:9,10. In 6:12-20 Paul expands on his reminder to the Corinthians not to be πόρνοι [immoral people]; in 8:1-13 and 10:14-22 they are not to be εἰδωλολάτραι [idolaters]; in 7:1-40 not μοιχοί [idolaters]; 9:1-27 perhaps reminds them not to be λοίδοροι [slanderers]; πλεονέκται [greedy people] and μέθυσοι [drunkards] are considered later, in 11:21,33-34. Homosexuality and theft are not dealt with explicitly, but Paul hints at the latter in chapter 9 and possibly the former in 11:2-16. There is another list of vices in 10:7-10; the first two are clearly those dealt with in chapter 8 and in 6:12-7:40 respectively, and the last two probably relate to chapter 9. Thus Immorality, Idolatry and Other Evils would be an appropriate title for 6:12-10:23.

4.4. Chapter 7 in the Discourse

Within the inclusio of 6:12-10:23 the clearest discourse marker is the repeated introductory formula Περὶ δὲ [But about], found at 7:1,25, 8:1. An important conclusion from the analysis already made is that the first of these markers should not be taken, despite the traditional commentators’ analysis, to have a special status as marking the start of a primary division of the letter. From the start of chapter 9 the situation becomes more complex, and will not be considered here. 7:17-24 is somewhat anomalous: it is a unit in itself, with the repeated ἕκαστος [each] (7:17,20,24) giving a general principle which is illustrated by two pairs of examples; it is linked back to the advice of 7:8-16, and especially the appeal for peace on the basis of the Christian calling in 7:15; but its principles are applied in 7:25-40. Therefore it seems best to take chapter 7 as three discourse elements, 7:1-16, 7:17-24 and 7:25-40. The first and the last of these are separate elements and should be treated as such, although much of the subject matter is in common, and one can reasonably expect a consistent treatment of it within this small part of the letter, in addition to conformity in both sections to the general principles of 7:17-24. Only the first of these elements is considered further in this essay.

4.5. Concluding Observations

The above discourse analysis of 1 Corinthians, using linguistic criteria alone, is very different from the traditional commentators’ analysis. Only if the evidence for a new analysis were overwhelming could one expect such a widely held traditional view to be overturned. This essay does not claim to provide the required conclusive evidence, but only to suggest the alternative as worthy of further consideration. The final conclusions in Section 6 are not greatly affected by the choice of analysis, except on the one point assumed, and agreed by Fee, that the Περὶ δὲ [But about] formula of 7:1 serves to introduce only part of chapter 7 and not the majority of the letter.

Paul, Sex and Marriage 3: The Letter from the Corinthians and Paul’s response

This is part 3 of my 1988 essay What did Paul really say about sex and marriage? 1 Corinthians 7:1-16. The Greek text here is fully accented, although in the original essay accents were omitted for technical reasons. For the benefit of the many of you, my readers, who don’t know Greek, I have added (in square brackets) my own rather literal translations; with their help you can probably understand most of my argument.


3.1. Acknowledged Quotations

Modern commentators generally agree that 1 Corinthians incorporates quotations from the letter of the Corinthians to Paul, to which Paul is writing in part in response. Hurd surveyed 24 studies before 1965, and found eight widely accepted quotations and one doubtful one (pp. 67-68). Sometimes commentators choose to find quotations as a way to avoid theological difficulties; the study by the well-known New Testament scholar Jeremias has special value because he limits himself to linguistic arguments and, from the point of view of the student of chapter 7, because he is not concerned with explaining this chapter but rather finds quotations in it as a by-product of his study of chapter 8.

The widely accepted quotations (Hurd’s list with the addition of 7:26, which he elsewhere suggests as a statement of the Corinthians’ position (p. 179)) are as follows:

6:12 BFHJ πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν … πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν [all things are permissible to meall things are permissible to me]
6:13 bFHJ τὰ βρώματα τῇ κοιλίᾳ καὶ ἡ κοιλία τοῖς βρώμασιν, [the foods for the stomach and the stomach for the foods]
? bf ὁ δὲ θεὸς καὶ ταύτην καὶ ταῦτα καταργήσει [but God will destroy both these and these]
6:18 ?bfh πᾶν ἁμάρτημα ὃ ἐὰν ποιήσῃ ἄνθρωπος ἐκτὸς τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν [every sin which a person (anthropos) might do is outside the body]
7:1 BFHJ καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ γυναικὸς μὴ ἅπτεσθαι [good for a person (anthropos) not to touch a woman]
7:26 BFhJ τοῦτο καλὸν ὑπάρχειν … καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ τὸ οὕτως εἶναι [this to be good … good for a person (anthropos) to be like this]
8:1 BFHJ πάντες γνῶσιν ἔχομεν [we all have knowledge]
8:4 BFHJ οὐδὲν εἴδωλον ἐν κόσμῳ … οὐδεὶς θεὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς [nothing an idol in the world … no one a God if not one]
8:5,6 ? bH εἴπερ εἰσὶν λεγόμενοι θεοὶ εἴτε ἐν οὐρανῷ εἴτε ἐπὶ γῆς, ὥσπερ εἰσὶν θεοὶ πολλοὶ καὶ κύριοι πολλοί, ἀλλ᾽ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατήρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν, καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστός δι᾽ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι᾽ αὐτοῦ [if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (TNIV)]
8:8 BFHJ βρῶμα … ἡμᾶς οὐ παραστήσει τῷ θεῷ, [food … will not present us to God]
FHj οὔτε ἐὰν μὴ φάγωμεν ὑστερούμεθα, οὔτε ἐὰν φάγωμεν περισσεύομεν [neither if we do not eat do we lack, nor if we eat do we abound]
10:23 BFHJ πάντα ἔξεστιν … πάντα ἔξεστιν [all things are permissible … all things are permissible]
11:2 BfH πάντα μου μέμνησθε καὶ, καθὼς παρέδωκα ὑμῖν, τὰς παραδόσεις κατέχετε [in everything you remember me and, as I passed on to you, you hold the traditions]


Italics indicate probable alterations to the Corinthians’ text. B, F, H and J indicate that quotations are acknowledged by Barrett, Fee, Hurd and Jeremias respectively; lower case letters are used where these authors are uncertain. Jeremias does not consider every passage. For the purposes of this essay it will be assumed that these passages are indeed quotations from the Corinthians; the ones indicated with question marks will be considered uncertain.

3.2. Linguistic characteristics

Even in the limited amount of quoted material already identified some unifying linguistic characteristics can be found.

The first to be considered is the use of καλός [good]. This word occurs 39 times in the Pauline letters, but only four times is the neuter καλόν used with the dative, indicating what is good for someone to do; all four are in 1 Corinthians, three in chapter 7 and two in the quotations already identified, 7:1,26. It seems clear therefore that καλόν with the dative was a Corinthian idiom. Thus καλὸν αὐτοῖς ἐὰν μείνωσιν ὡς κἀγώ [good for them if they remain as also me] in 7:8 is most probably a further adapted quotation from the Corinthian letter; in 9:15 Paul echoes their language in καλὸν … μοι [good … for me].

A second characteristic is the use of ἄνθρωπος [person (anthropos)] in both 7:1 and 7:26 for man as opposed to woman, where ἀνήρ [man (aner)] is normally expected. These are the only unambiguous examples in Pauline writing of this use, except in Ephesians 5:31 where Genesis 2:24 is quoted. This provides added evidence that there is a quotation in 6:18, for in context the ἄνθρωπος in this verse is probably male. The similar use of ἄνθρωπος in 7:7, contrasting with the regular pairing of references to men and women in 7:1-16, strongly suggests that here also there is an adapted quotation from the Corinthians: θέλω δὲ πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἶναι ὡς καὶ ἐμαυτόν [but I want all people (anthropos) to be as also myself]. The similarity of this to καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ τὸ οὕτως εἶναι [good for a person (anthropos) to be like this] in the acknowledged quotation of 7:26 is more evidence for this further quotation.

Another remarkably common word in the acknowledged quotations is πάντα [all things], occurring seven times (although four are in the repeated quotation πάντα ἔξεστιν [all things are permissible]), with other forms of πᾶς [all] occurring twice, and again in 7:7. It is difficult to conclude much from such a generally common word, but it is especially common in 1 Corinthians in comparison to Paul’s other letters (used as a pronoun 38 times in this letter and only 55 times in all the others), and therefore it does seem to have been something of a Corinthian catch-word.

3.3. Paul’s Responses to the Corinthians’ Points

Jeremias concluded that in the case of each of the quotations in chapter 8, Paul quotes a statement from the Corinthians and then takes issue with it. This seems to apply equally to all of the quotations identified, except for 11:2, which has a different character and purpose from the others. Paul’s responses are as follows, in bold print:

6:12 πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν ἀλλ᾽ οὐ πάντα συμφέρει· [all things are permissible for me but not all things benefit;
πάντα μοι ἔξεστιν ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐγὼ ἐξουσιασθήσομαι ὑπό τινος. all things are permissible for me but I will not be mastered by anything.]
6:13 τὰ βρώματα τῇ κοιλίᾳ καὶ ἡ κοιλία τοῖς βρώμασιν, [the foods for the stomach and the stomach for the foods,
? ὁ δὲ θεὸς καὶ ταύτην καὶ ταῦτα καταργήσει. but God will destroy both these and these.
τὸ δὲ σῶμα οὐ τῇ πορνείᾳ ἀλλὰ τῷ κυρίῳ, καὶ ὁ κύριος τῷ σώματι· But the body not for immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body;
6:14 ὁ δὲ θεὸς καὶ τὸν κύριον ἤγειρεν καὶ ἡμᾶς ἐξεγερεῖ … but God both raised the Lord and will raise us out …]
6:18 ? πᾶν ἁμάρτημα ὃ ἐὰν ποιήσῃ ἄνθρωπος ἐκτὸς τοῦ σώματός ἐστιν· [every sin which a person might do is outside the body;
ὁ δὲ πορνεύων εἰς τὸ ἴδιον σῶμα ἁμαρτάνει. but the one doing immorality sins against his/her own body.]
7:1 Περὶ δὲ ὧν ἐγράψατε, καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ γυναικὸς μὴ ἅπτεσθαι· [Now about the things you wrote, good for a person not to touch a woman;
7:2 διὰ δὲ τὰς πορνείας ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἐχέτω … but because of immmoralities each (man) should have his own wife …]
7:7 θέλω δὲ πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἶναι ὡς καὶ ἐμαυτόν· [but I want all people to be as also myself;
ἀλλὰ ἕκαστος ἴδιον ἔχει χάρισμα ἐκ θεοῦ, ὁ μὲν οὕτως, ὁ δὲ οὕτως. but each has his/her own gift from God, one like this, but another like this.]
7:8 … καλὸν αὐτοῖς ἐὰν μείνωσιν ὡς κἀγώ· [… good for them if they remain as also me;
7:9 εἰ δὲ οὐκ ἐγκρατεύονται, γαμησάτωσαν, κρεῖττον γάρ ἐστιν γαμῆσαι ἢ πυροῦσθαι. but if they are not controlled, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn.]
7:25 Περὶ δὲ τῶν παρθένων … [Now about the virgins …
7:26 Νομίζω οὖν τοῦτο καλὸν ὑπάρχειν … ὅτι καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ τὸ οὕτως εἶναι … Therefore I consider this to be good … that good for a person to be like this …
7:28 ἐὰν δὲ καὶ γαμήσῃς, οὐχ ἥμαρτες· καὶ ἐὰν γήμῃ ἡ παρθένος, οὐχ ἥμαρτεν … but if you also marry, you did not sin; and if the virgin marries, she did not sin …]
8:1 Περὶ δὲ τῶν εἰδωλοθύτων, οἴδαμεν ὅτι πάντες γνῶσιν ἔχομεν. [Now about the idol-sacrificed things, we know that we all have knowledge.
ἡ γνῶσις φυσιοῖ, ἡ δὲ ἀγάπη οἰκοδομεῖ … Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up …]
8:4 Περὶ τῆς βρώσεως οὖν τῶν εἰδωλοθύτων, οἴδαμεν ὅτι [So then, about the food sacrificed to idols: we know that
οὐδὲν εἴδωλον ἐν κόσμῳ, καὶ ὅτι οὐδεὶς θεὸς εἰ μὴ εἷς. “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.”
8:5 ? καὶ γὰρ εἴπερ εἰσὶν λεγόμενοι θεοὶ εἴτε ἐν οὐρανῷ εἴτε ἐπὶ γῆς, ὥσπερ εἰσὶν θεοὶ πολλοὶ καὶ κύριοι πολλοί, For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”),
8:6 ? ἀλλ᾽ ἡμῖν εἷς θεὸς ὁ πατήρ ἐξ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς εἰς αὐτόν, καὶ εἷς κύριος Ἰησοῦς Χριστός δι᾽ οὗ τὰ πάντα καὶ ἡμεῖς δι᾽ αὐτοῦ. yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
8:7 Ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐν πᾶσιν ἡ γνῶσις· τινὲς δὲ τῇ συνηθείᾳ ἕως ἄρτι τοῦ εἰδώλου ὡς εἰδωλόθυτον ἐσθίουσιν, καὶ ἡ συνείδησις αὐτῶν ἀσθενὴς οὖσα μολύνεται. But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. (TNIV)]
8:8 βρῶμα δὲ ἡμᾶς οὐ παραστήσει τῷ θεῷ, [but food will not present us to God,
οὔτε ἐὰν μὴ φάγωμεν ὑστερούμεθα, οὔτε ἐὰν φάγωμεν περισσεύομεν neither if we do not eat do we lack, nor if we eat do we abound
8:9 βλέπετε δὲ μή πως ἡ ἐξουσία ὑμῶν αὕτη πρόσκομμα γένηται τοῖς ἀσθενέσιν … but look lest somehow your authority itself becomes a stumbling-block for the weak …]
10:23 πάντα ἔξεστιν ἀλλ᾽ οὐ πάντα συμφέρει· [all things are permissible but not all things benefit;
πάντα ἔξεστιν ἀλλ᾽ οὐ πάντα οἰκοδομεῖ. all things are permissible but not all things build up.]


Several of Paul’s responses begin with ἀλλ᾽ οὐ πάντα [but not all things] or ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ ἐν πᾶσιν [but not in everyone]; with these Paul gives qualified assent to the Corinthian statement but points out restrictions on its validity; the response in 7:7 is semantically similar. Most of the other responses begin with δὲ [and/but], which most commonly has a mild adversative force; again it would seem that Paul is giving his own more balanced statement without completely rejecting the Corinthians’ view – no doubt his language would have been more forceful and explicit, as at 6:15-18a, if he had wished to do so. In 6:13-14, the contrasts are complex: the strongest one is οὐ τῇ πορνείᾳ ἀλλὰ τῷ κυρίῳ [not for immorality but for the Lord], but Paul is making his point through a weaker contrast, in which he affirms the Corinthians’ slogan about food and the stomach but rejects their implied – or perhaps explicit in their letter – extension of the same principle to sexual behaviour.

In 8:1 there is no immediate δὲ, for Paul starts his response with a consequence of the Corinthian position, not using a conjunction, before using δὲ to introduce his own mildly contrasting position. In 8:5,6 there is again an interlude explaining the Corinthian position, here perhaps in their own words and introduced with καὶ γὰρ [for also], before Paul expresses his main point of response to 8:4 in 8:7. In 7:25-28 there is a similar structure, it seems: 7:27, with no conjunction, gives specific cases of the Corinthian position, before Paul gives his own mildly contrasting position in 7:28 (for in the second part of the verse Paul shows that he is not totally rejecting the Corinthian view). 7:27 seems to be in Paul’s words, not the Corinthians’, for it is very similar to 7:18,21, and that confirms that Paul is in agreement. Thus Paul is not rejecting what the Corinthians had said, but is putting it in perspective, as advice in the present situation rather than a command the breaking of which would be a sin.

Paul, Sex and Marriage 2: The Presupposition Pool

This is part 2 of my 1988 essay What did Paul really say about sex and marriage? 1 Corinthians 7:1-16.


For a correct understanding of the passage it is necessary to determine the presuppositions shared by Paul and the Corinthian recipients of the letter. This presupposition pool is in two parts. Firstly, Paul and the recipients shared a common Hellenistic culture, although combined with disparate non-Greek influences, Roman at Corinth and Jewish for Paul; thus a certain shared understanding of marriage and sexual relations could be assumed by Paul as he wrote. Secondly, this letter is not the first contact between Paul and the Corinthians – Paul had spent eighteen months in the city (Acts 18:11), founding and establishing the church there, and he had sent at least one previous letter to the Corinthians (5:9) and had received at least one from them (7:1) – and Paul could presuppose at least some memory and understanding of what had been said and done previously.

2.1. Cultural Presuppositions

The city of Corinth, abandoned for a century, had been refounded in 44 B.C. as a Roman colony. It was repopulated initially by Italians, but as it grew rapidly it attracted settlers, and therefore cultural influences, from all over the Empire. The church, to which this letter is addressed, had attracted a broad cross-section of the community, it seems from the limited evidence; some of the believers had a Jewish background, and some had Latin names, but much in the letter points to a predominantly Greek readership. The relevant cultural presuppositions are therefore neither Jewish ones nor specifically Roman ones, but those of the Hellenistic cultural mix which dominated the eastern half of the Empire.

Collins argues that singleness was very rare in Hellenistic culture, pointing to laws of Augustus penalising unmarried Roman citizens. They were more highly taxed and were forbidden to inherit; the purpose was to increase the birth rate (see Lewis and Reinhold, pp. 47-52). Yet there was widespread evasion and opposition to these laws: Tacitus wrote that people were not driven thereby to marriage and the rearing of children in any great numbers, so powerful were the attractions of the childless state (Annals III.xxv, quoted by Lewis and Reinhold, p. 50). Thus the laws are in fact evidence that singleness was known and culturally acceptable. Confirmation of this comes from the Stoics. Musonius, a contemporary of Paul, and his pupil Epictetus agreed that marriage is a duty for most men but that for a few in special circumstances it is not advantageous as it can distract from higher pursuits (Balch, pp. 433-434). Epictetus condemned as subversive of the state, destructive of the family the teaching that people ought not to marry (III.vii, p. 55). Thus this teaching was known; and the general Hellenistic attitude was far from that of the Jewish rabbis: He who has no wife is not a proper man (quoted by Collins, p. 424).

Divorce was certainly easy, at least for the husband, and was very common, so that some men and women had several partners in turn (Oepke, pp. 779-780). Sexual relations outside marriage were also more-or-less acceptable, again at least for the man, who could take a concubine or go to prostitutes. These cultural presuppositions were clearly challenged by Paul’s teaching; yet his views on them have precedents in the teaching of pagan philosophers as well as of Jews. Remarriage was considered generally desirable for the widowed and for the divorced; indeed the laws of Augustus sought to enforce remarriage of women after a suitable interval. There were few suggestions that remarriage was improper in either case.

2.2. Presuppositions from Previous Contact

Paul should have been able to presuppose that the Corinthians understood the basic Christian teaching he had given them. But he had already found that in fact he could not do this, for they were still mere infants in Christ … not yet ready for solid food, more advanced teaching (3:1,2). In continuing to give them milk in this letter he surely avoided assuming understanding of his previous teaching, whether given during his stay in Corinth or in the earlier letter which they had so seriously misunderstood (5:9,10). Paul did speak of specific personal circumstances, of which a common knowledge could be presupposed, in 1 Corinthians (e.g. 5:1-5), but this is unlikely to be a factor in chapter 7, with its very general language.

Therefore the only important shared presuppositions from previous contact were those relating to the letter Paul had received from the Corinthians (7:1). The basic point is that Paul could presuppose that the Corinthians would immediately recognise when he quoted from or alluded to their letter. Yet today these cannot be recognised directly, as their letter is not available; one must rely on the linguistic and theological evidence in Paul’s letter. Unfortunately on the important points in chapter 7 the theological evidence is disputable. Therefore in the following section the linguistic evidence is examined in order to determine as far as possible where Paul was quoting from the Corinthians’ letter.

Paul, Sex and Marriage 1: Contents and Introduction

Over the last few days, as part of my Bible translation work, I have been looking at 1 Corinthians. This reminded me of an essay which I wrote about this book, nearly 20 years ago, in fact in 1988. At the time I was a student at London Bible College, now London School of Theology. Studying for this essay helped me to form some of my current views about issues of sex and marriage, as well as about the structure of the book. And I have found myself referring back to this essay a number of times, including in the last few days.

For some time I have meant to put this essay on the Internet. This is because at least some of the questions which I raise and methods by which I answer them (see especially the last paragraph of the Introduction, at the end of this first part) are very relevant to recent discussions here, and on other bl0gs including the Better Bibles Blog.

So, here is the essay, at least the first part – with links to further parts to be added later. This is based on a scan of my printed copy of the essay, as unfortunately my original computer files were lost. I have retyped the Greek and/or copied the text from computer files of the New Testament text. The text has not been edited only to correct scanning errors. I have attempted to preserve the bold and italic marking of the original, except in section headings, but not the page layout.


Peter Richard KIRK

Essay submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the B.A. degree of the Council for National Academic Awards

London Bible College
B.A. Part Two
Lecturer: Dr. F.P. Cotterell

23rd February, 1988




2.1. Cultural Presuppositions

2.2. Presuppositions from Previous Contact


3.1. Acknowledged Quotations

3.2. Linguistic Characteristics

3.3. Paul’s Responses to the Corinthians’ Points


4.1. The Traditional Understanding

4.2. Major Discourse Markers

4.3. Immorality, Idolatry and Other Evils

4.4. Chapter 7 in the Discourse

4.5. Concluding Observations














APPENDIX – Semantic Display of 1 Corinthians 7:1-16 [External link to a PDF file]



The popular image of the apostle Paul is that he was a misogynist who disapproved of marriage, sex, and in general of everything enjoyable in life. On the basis of this caricature many have rejected the Christian faith, and many others who call themselves Christians have rejected Paul’s teaching in favour of a religion of love and liberty which, equally simplistically, they take as the true or original Christian message.

Most of the passages from Paul to which such people take exception are in his first letter to the Corinthians. In it there are two passages, 11:2-16 and 14:34-35, which seem to be degrading women, at least in their place in the church, and there is a whole long chapter on marriage and sexual relations, chapter 7, which has traditionally been taken as disapproving of both and allowing them only as grudging concessions to human weakness. Yet modern commentators have produced very different interpretations of these contentious passages. For example, Fee, summing up chapter 7, says: Does not Scripture say in fact that singleness is better than marriage? To which the answer is No (p. 357); on 11:2-16 he concludes that such a “church custom” … is not to be raised to Canon Law (p. 530); and on 14:34-35 that it is not authentic … certainly not binding for Christians (p. 708).

Are such reinterpretations valid? Or are they a case of making the bible fit one’s cultural presuppositions? One way of answering this question is to analyse the contentious passages in their context using linguistic criteria, rather than by theological ones which tend to be coloured by traditional interpretations. This essay is an attempt to answer the question in this way for chapter 7, by analysing the first sixteen verses; the remainder of the chapter is both more obscure and less directly relevant to the central question: did Paul disapprove of all marriage and all sexual relations, or did he not?

Gradually breaking through

I have taken a break from my series Kingdom Thermodynamics partly because I needed to give some more thought to the theological side of this issue, and partly because I have been rather busy with my Bible translation work. I hope that this post will have some relevance to that series, but also be less technical and so accessible to all my readers.

I was prompted to begin that series by what I had been reading from the book Breakthrough about which I posted on 28th October. I have been continuing to read it, although slowly, and gathering from it material relevant to my series.

Here is an extract which is of some relevance, from the chapter on the Parables of the Kingdom, p.112:

We usually speak of ‘the present and the future’ because we orientate ourselves in the present and look towards the future. But Jesus speaks of the present from the future. He stands with God in the ultimate future of his kingly reign and speaks into the present. This is one of the reasons for saying that Jesus addresses men [sic] as God. Only God can speak from the future.

Then from pp.113-114:

This future impinges on the present with such force that the ‘now’ is filled with significance. Right now the Son of Man is preaching the word of the kingdom (Matthew 13:37); good and bad seed are sown together; the mustard seed looks insignificant; the fish are encircled by the great net, and the seed is being scattered abroad (Mark 4:26-29). …We should be aware that we live in a pregnant present overshadowed by an ultimate future. The danger is that we will be mystified by the hidden way in which the future is being manifest now and miss its overpowering significance. How does the little bit of leaven affect all the meal (Matthew 13:33)? How can the mustard seed become a great tree? How can a Galilean carpenter be the Messiah of the age to come? Why is there a delay before the bridegroom appears? If we conclude that the urgency has passed, we are seriously mistaken. There is no time to allow a tree to fail to bear fruit. If it does not bear within one more season, chop it down (Luke 13:6-9)!

Becoming snagged on the exact relationship between the present and the future will do us no good. We have to accept that it is a mystery. …

Well, I need to bear these last comments in mind on the subject of Kingdom Thermodynamics. I can’t claim to be be able to discover “the exact relationship between the present and the future”. But I hope it will do some good to look into it a bit more closely, when I have the time!

Now for some extracts from the chapter on Kingdom Lifestyle, first from the section “Entering the Kingdom”, p.121:

This leads to one of the most fundamental principles in kingdom theology. The call to repentance is uttered in the context of kingdom intervention. The kingdom is here, therefore repent! Repentance is part of our response to the good news that the kingdom is near. The presence of the kingdom must initiate repentance and not vice versa. Only when the powers of the age to come are present in the announcement of the gospel can one anticipate true repentance. …… The rabbinical concept of repentance placed the initiative with man and his responsibility to repent. Jesus placed the initiative with God and the dynamic intervention of his reign. When Jesus preached repentance, the offer of grace was no mere verbal promise. When Jesus spoke, things happened. His words were events. When he announced liberty, people were set free. It was in this context, with the power of the Holy Spirit evident amongst the people, that Jesus demanded the most uncompromising repentance. This suggests that the greater the evidence of the power of God, the greater the possibility of deep repentance. When God’s power is not evident, a powerful call to repentance only produces legalism.

And then from the section “Living in the Kingdom”, pp.125-126:

The beatitudes can only be understood against the background of the presence of the future. Christians are people who have met Jesus, and to meet Jesus is to meet the end. We have been taken out of this present world and already live by the powers of the age to come. Yet at the same time we live in this world. We are caught in the tension between two worlds, but the power, reality and values of the kingdom determine our lives rather than the standards of this world….

If the Sermon on the Mount were taken as the moral standard men have to attain, no one could ever hope to enter the Kingdom of God. Jesus is not prescribing a new set of rules. He is describing what happens to those who pass out of this age and begin to live in the age to come. A revolutionary change takes place in our lives when we are overtaken by the powers of the age to come. … It is a description of the lifestyle of the new man in Christ, the new creature for whom the old has passed away and everything has become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Finally, at the end of the chapter, p.136:

… If we could escape from this world and live completely in the kingdom, it would be great. If we could forget about the kingdom and live only in this world, things would be safe. But neither is possible. We will continue to be part of both kingdoms at the same time. Our lives are disturbed in a most wonderfully upsetting way so that we can never see anything in quite the same way again.

My reading gradually continues!

Kingdom Thermodynamics 4: The Crunch

Note: This is not completely new material. I realised after I posted it that part 3 of this series was rather long, and so I have split it, making the second half of it into this part 4.

In part 3 of this series I discussed the boundary conditions in time, how they might apply to the universe, and how they relate to causality. I also showed how they are in tension with the biblical picture in which God knows and purposes the future, the final state of the universe.

In this post I will look more closely at the final state of the created universe, and how it compares with the initial state.

We observe that the universe is now not in a completely random state but has some order. The Second Law of Thermodynamics implies that its initial state was even less random, technically with lower entropy than at present. It also implies that the final state of the universe will be more random, with higher entropy.

Cosmologists have observed that the background radiation which they interpret as being left over from the Big Bang is extremely uniform across the sky. This implies that at least from an extremely early stage, if not from the very beginning, the universe expanded isotropically, i.e. in the same way in all directions, to a very high degree of accuracy. This isotropy implies order and low entropy; the very early universe was not in a random state but in an extremely special one. Theologians might see the hand of God in this; cosmologists have sought to explain it with physics, but in a way which would require that the Second Law of Thermodynamics did not apply in the first fraction of a second (actually only something like 10-32 seconds in some expansion theories) after the Big Bang.

My argument here is not in fact at all dependent on the Big Bang theory. It would work equally well if the universe was created in a form similar to its present one, even as recently as 4004 BC. But its initial state, at least once the act of creation was complete and the normal laws of physics took over, must have been not completely random, but with order and so low entropy. It first came into being “formless and empty” (Genesis 1:2 TNIV), Hebrew tohu wabohu; these words may imply a state of chaos, but if so God created order within it during his work of creation before putting it in “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21 TNIV).

As for the final state of the universe, cosmologists generally assume that it will be highly disordered. According to them, there are two possibilities: either the universe will continue to expand for ever but will gradually become more and more disordered, with entropy eventually approaching a maximum, the so called Heat Death; or the universe will collapse again into a Big Crunch, which, according to most, will be very different from the Big Bang in that it will be highly disordered and anisotropic, a state of high entropy. Both Heat Death and a disordered Big Crunch can be considered as unconstrained; there are no final boundary conditions here.

However, some cosmologists have speculated that at some time in the future, probably at about the time that the universe reaches its maximum size, the Second Law of Thermodynamics will go into reverse, and that entropy will start to decrease, such that the universe will collapse in an isotropic Big Crunch which will look just like the Big Bang in reverse. Thus the history of the universe will be at least in general terms symmetric in time. But these cosmologists have realised, without as far as I know discussing this in detail, that such a reversal of the Second Law would have complex and severe philosophical implications, and for this reason the idea is not a popular one.

Nevertheless, they have an interesting idea which is helpful to illustrate the direction in which I am arguing here. In the standard cosmological model, there are tight boundary conditions on the initial state of the universe, constraining it to be isotropic, so in a state of order and low entropy; but there are no final boundary conditions, as required by the principle of causality, implying that the final state is disordered. But if there will also be an isotropic Big Crunch, that is a final and tightly constraining boundary condition. Now as I have tried to make clear, there is only one law of physics which disallows this, the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and that applies only because of causality. An isotropic Big Crunch is possible only if causality does not apply completely, that is, if at least in principle current events can be caused by future ones, indeed ultimately by the Big Crunch itself.

According to cosmologists, the universe is still expanding, and it will be a very long time before it starts to contract again towards a Big Crunch, if it ever does. So, in the isotropic Big Crunch model, its current state is like a point on the banner quite near to one of the poles, or the distribution of the children soon after they were released and before they were starting to think about going home. That is to say, the universe is still quite tightly constrained by its initial boundary condition, the isotropic Big Bang, but the constraints of the final boundary, the Big Crunch, so far have only a very weak effect. Because of this the universe now operates almost precisely as if there were no final constraints, and so according to causality and the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Nevertheless, if there is going to be an isotropic Big Crunch, one might expect to see very occasional or very tiny deviations from this law, which will gradually grow as the universe moves towards the mid-point of its life. Then it will have a severe mid-life crisis! I will not presume to speculate on how physics will operate around this time. But eventually the Second Law will gradually start to work in reverse as the universe collapses towards the Big Crunch.

Now it is interesting to speculate about this time-symmetric universe. But actually I don’t think this is what is going to happen. If the Bible teaches us anything about the final boundary conditions for the universe, those conditions are not an isotropic Big Crunch, but some kind of steady state for eternity. It is interesting that scientists are still unable to decide whether the universe will continue to expand indefinitely or collapse in a Big Crunch. A third and intermediate position may be possible, in which it grows to a fixed size and remains that size for ever; and the current expansion of the universe is at about the right rate to attain this. This steady state is probably a very special and improbable state, similar to the isotropic Big Crunch, but if it is a final boundary condition specified from the beginning, the universe is bound to end up in this state. But if there is such a final boundary condition, causality and the Second Law lose their absolute status, and at some stage will gradually cease to operate.

I have to accept that these ideas, especially the final one, are highly speculative. But I hope you find them interesting.

In the next part of this series I intend to relate these ideas to the coming of the Kingdom of God. I hope there will be less heavy physics and more about God and the Bible.

Note re links to Wikipedia: I provide these as service to readers wanting to read a little more about the subjects in question, not as authorities or references.