One Woman or Two? 1 Corinthians 7:34 -- By: Allen R. Guenther

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 12:1 (NA 2002)
Article: One Woman or Two? 1 Corinthians 7:34
Author: Allen R. Guenther

One Woman or Two? 1 Corinthians 7:34

Allen R. Guenther

Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California

1 Cor 7:34 presents a challenge to text critic and interpreter. Its textual parentage is not self-evident. In this article I argue that the reading chosen is the preferred reading and that the perceived problem originates in the grammatical choices that interpreters have made. Most translators and exegetes interpret the phrase καὶ ἡ γυνὴ ἡ ἄγαμος καὶ ἡ παρθένος as two nouns ( γυνή and παρθένος, “the unmarried woman and the virgin”), thereby creating a conflict with 7:11, where ἄγαμος refers to a divorced woman. The preferred alternative is to read παρθένος adjectivally, as is common in Greek literature. This produces the translation, “and the unmarried chaste woman,” resolving the interpreter’s dilemma and validating the UBS’s textual choice.

Key Words: παρθένος (“virgin”), ἄγαμος (“unmarried”), remarriage

The primary locus of Paul’s explicit teaching and associated pastoral counsel regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage appears in 1 Corinthians 7. The chapter opening (“Now concerning the things you wrote about”) indicates that Paul has turned from his own agenda (chaps. 1-6) to address the questions posed by the Corinthians themselves. The issues raised in this chapter pertain to marriage relationships in the Christian community. The matter that will occupy us here is the felt tension or perceived contradiction between Paul’s instructions in this chapter concerning divorce and remarriage.

Paul begins the chapter by introducing and teaching about the matter of sexual relations between spouses, presumably after one or both have become Christians (vv. 1-7). He then turns to unmarried men and widows, urging them to remain unmarried if they have the capacity for celibacy (vv. 8-9) but freeing them to remarry if their sexual urges are so intense as to be distracting.

To address the third marital issue Paul cites a word of instruction from the historical Jesus (vv. 10-11). This teaching addresses

Christian couples with the Lord’s injunction that Christians should not divorce and attaches a caveat. Jesus’ word on the subject recognizes that not every couple will be able to sustain their marriage (“but if they do [divorce]”).

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