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1 Corinthians 7:25-40

Context
Remaining Unmarried

7:25 With regard to the question about people who have never married, 1  I have no command from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one shown mercy by the Lord to be trustworthy. 7:26 Because of the impending crisis I think it best for you to remain as you are. 7:27 The one bound to a wife should not seek divorce. The one released from a wife should not seek marriage. 2  7:28 But if you marry, you have not sinned. And if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face difficult circumstances, 3  and I am trying to spare you such problems. 4  7:29 And I say this, brothers and sisters: 5  The time is short. So then those who have wives should be as those who have none, 7:30 those with tears like those not weeping, those who rejoice like those not rejoicing, those who buy like those without possessions, 7:31 those who use the world as though they were not using it to the full. For the present shape of this world is passing away.

7:32 And I want you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 7:33 But a married man is concerned about the things of the world, how to please his wife, 7:34 and he is divided. An unmarried woman 6  or a virgin 7  is concerned about the things of the Lord, to be holy both in body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the things of the world, how to please her husband. 7:35 I am saying this for your benefit, not to place a limitation on you, but so that without distraction you may give notable and constant service to the Lord.

7:36 If anyone thinks he is acting inappropriately toward his virgin, 8  if she is past the bloom of youth 9  and it seems necessary, he should do what he wishes; he does not sin. Let them marry. 7:37 But the man who is firm in his commitment, and is under no necessity but has control over his will, and has decided in his own mind to keep his own virgin, does well. 7:38 So then, the one who marries 10  his own virgin does well, but the one who does not, does better. 11 

7:39 A wife is bound as long as her husband is living. But if her husband dies, 12  she is free to marry anyone she wishes (only someone in the Lord). 7:40 But in my opinion, she will be happier if she remains as she is – and I think that I too have the Spirit of God!

1 tn Grk “virgins.” There are three main views as to which group of people is referred to by the word παρθένος (parqenos) here, and the stance taken here directly impacts one’s understanding of vv. 36-38. (1) The term could refer to virgin women who were not married. The central issue would then be whether or not their fathers should give them in marriage to eligible men. (This is the view which has been widely held throughout the history of the Church.) (2) A minority understand the term to refer to men and women who are married but who have chosen to live together without sexual relations. This position might have been possible in the Corinthian church, but there is no solid evidence to support it. (3) The view adopted by many modern commentators (see, e.g., Fee, Conzelmann, Barrett) is that the term refers to young, engaged women who were under the influence of various groups within the Corinthian church not to go through with their marriages. The central issue would then be whether the young men and women should continue with their plans and finalize their marriages. For further discussion, see G. D. Fee, First Corinthians (NICNT), 325-28.

2 tn Grk “should not seek a wife.”

3 tn Grk “these will have tribulation in the flesh.”

4 tn Grk “I am trying to spare you.” Direct objects were frequently omitted in Greek when clear from the context. “Such problems” has been supplied here to make the sense of the statement clear.

5 tn Grk “brothers.” See note on the phrase “brothers and sisters” in 1:10.

6 sn In context the unmarried woman would probably refer specifically to a widow, who was no longer married, as opposed to the virgin, who had never been married.

7 tc There are three viable variant readings at this point in the text. (1) The reading ἡ γυνὴ ἡ ἄγαμος καὶ ἡ παρθένος (Jh gunh Jh agamo" kai Jh parqeno", “the unmarried woman and the virgin”) is represented by ancient and important mss, as well as some significant versions (Ì15 B 104 365 1505 pc vg co). (2) The reading ἡ γυνὴ ἡ ἄγαμος καὶ ἡ παρθένος ἡ ἄγαμος (“the unmarried woman and the unmarried virgin”) is also found in ancient and important mss (Ì46 א A 33 1739 1881 pc). (3) The reading ἡ γυνὴ καὶ ἡ παρθένος ἡ ἄγαμος (“the woman and the unmarried virgin”) is found in Western mss (D F G) and the majority of Byzantine cursives. Based upon external evidence, the first and second readings are the strongest; the readings both reach deep into the second century with strong testimony from mss of the Alexandrian texttype. Internal evidence seems equally balanced: Scribes may have wanted to add ἡ ἄγαμος to παρθένος for stylistic reasons, but they might also have wanted to remove it because it sounded redundant. Because Paul’s meaning is not quite clear, a decision on the proper textual reading is difficult. On the whole scribes tended to add to the text, not take from it. Thus the first reading should be favored as original, but this decision should be regarded as less than certain.

tn Grk “The unmarried woman and the virgin.” The identity of the “virgin” here is a matter of interpretation (see note on “people who have never married” in v. 25 for discussion), which has in fact contributed to textual variation at this point in the text (see the text critical note above). As far as the translation is concerned, one must determine if one group of women or two are in view. It is possible that Paul means to refer to only one class of women here, namely unmarried virgins, but the use of the adjective ἡ ἄγαμος (Jh agamo", “unmarried”) with “woman” and not “virgin” precludes that interpretation; in addition, the use of the article with both “woman” and “virgin” implies that two distinct groups are in view. If two groups are in view, English would more naturally use the conjunction “or” to indicate the distinction. Thus the translation “An unmarried woman or a virgin” has been used to make clear that two groups are in view.

8 tn Grk “virgin,” either a fiancée, a daughter, or the ward of a guardian. For discussion see the note at the end of v. 38.

9 tn Or referring to an engaged man: “if he is past the critical point,” “if his passions are too strong.” The word literally means “to be past the high point.”

10 tn Or “who gives his own virgin in marriage.”

11 sn 1 Cor 7:36-38. There are two common approaches to understanding the situation addressed in these verses. One view involves a father or male guardian deciding whether to give his daughter or female ward in marriage (cf. NASB, NIV margin). The evidence for this view is: (1) the phrase in v. 37 (Grk) “to keep his own virgin” fits this view well (“keep his own virgin [in his household]” rather than give her in marriage), but it does not fit the second view (there is little warrant for adding “her” in the way the second view translates it: “to keep her as a virgin”). (2) The verb used twice in v. 38 (γαμίζω, gamizw) normally means “to give in marriage” not “to get married.” The latter is usually expressed by γαμέω (gamew), as in v. 36b. (3) The father deciding what is best regarding his daughter’s marriage reflects the more likely cultural situation in ancient Corinth, though it does not fit modern Western customs. While Paul gives his advice in such a situation, he does not command that marriages be arranged in this way universally. If this view is taken, the translation will read as follows: “7:36 If anyone thinks he is acting inappropriately toward his unmarried daughter, if she is past the bloom of youth and it seems necessary, he should do what he wishes; he does not sin. Let them marry. 7:37 But the man who is firm in his commitment, and is under no necessity but has control over his will, and has decided in his own mind to keep his daughter unmarried, does well. 7:38 So then the one who gives his daughter in marriage does well, but the one who does not give her does better.” The other view is taken by NRSV, NIV text, NJB, REB: a single man deciding whether to marry the woman to whom he is engaged. The evidence for this view is: (1) it seems odd to use the word “virgin” (vv. 36, 37, 38) if “daughter” or “ward” is intended. (2) The other view requires some difficult shifting of subjects in v. 36, whereas this view manages a more consistent subject for the various verbs used. (3) The phrases in these verses are used consistently elsewhere in this chapter to describe considerations appropriate to the engaged couple themselves (cf. vv. 9, 28, 39). It seems odd not to change the phrasing in speaking about a father or guardian. If this second view is taken, the translation will read as follows: “7:36 If anyone thinks he is acting inappropriately toward his fiancée, if his passions are too strong and it seems necessary, he should do what he wishes; he does not sin. Let them marry. 7:37 But the man who is firm in his commitment, and is under no necessity but has control over his will, and has decided in his own mind to keep her as his fiancée, does well. 7:38 So then, the one who marries his fiancée does well, but the one who does not marry her does better.”

12 tn The verb κοιμάω (koimaw) literally means “sleep,” but it is often used in the Bible as a euphemism for the death of a believer.



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