First Corinthians 7: Paul’s Neglected Treatise on Gender -- By: Ronald W. Pierce

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 23:3 (Summer 2009)
Article: First Corinthians 7: Paul’s Neglected Treatise on Gender
Author: Ronald W. Pierce

First Corinthians 7:
Paul’s Neglected Treatise on Gender

Ronald W. Pierce

RONALD W. PIERCE is Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. Involved with CBE since the early 1990s, Ron co-edited Discovering Biblical Equality with Rebecca Merrill Groothuis (InterVarsity, 2005) and authored Partners in Ministry and Marriage (forthcoming with CBE).


One searches in vain for a focused study of 1 Corinthians 7:1-40 by an evangelical addressing Paul’s extensive call for mutuality in marriage and singleness as it relates to the contemporary gender debate.1 Instead, individual sections of this passage are referenced on occasion by both sides, usually in isolation from their larger context, and generally as peripheral to the debate.2

Evangelicals have wrongly neglected this text on many counts. First, Paul’s words here are three times longer than any gender passage in his other letters—in fact, slightly longer than all of his other comments on the subject taken together.3 Second, he addresses no less than twelve related, yet distinct, issues regarding marriage and singleness—again, more than in any other text.4 Third, his rhetoric is explicitly, consistently, and intentionally gender inclusive—while at the same time reflecting a carefully balanced sense of mutuality.5 Fourth, written about the time of Galatians (a.d. 49-55), 1 Corinthians 7 applies to marriage Paul’s declaration that race, class, and gender are irrelevant for both status in Christ (Gal. 3:28) and relationships in the church community (Gal. 3:3; 5:1, 7, 16, 25).

Thus, 1 Corinthians 7 should be considered a point of reference for later gender texts (1 Cor. 11, 14, Eph. 5, Col. 3, 1 Pet. 3, 1 Tim. 3, Titus 2) as a more comprehensive statement against which these should be interpreted. It is a collection of “seed ideas”6 leading to Paul’s larger theol...

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