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. THE LETTER FROM THE CORINTHIANS AND PAUL’S RESPONSE
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 me ... all 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.
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.
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.