MDR: 1 Corinthians 7, Part 3

25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are.

Once again, Paul addresses the importance of remaining single. It’s not a command — just an entreaty.

27 Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

Verse 27 repeats Paul’s earlier admonition that Christians should not divorce. Literally, “seek a divorce” is “do not seek to be loosed.” “Loosed” means to unbind. If several sticks are tied together and the tie is cut, the twigs have been “loosed.” It is plainly a metaphor for ending the marriage bond. As mentioned earlier, it’s not about who goes to the courthouse — the sinner is the one who breaks the marriage covenant. A better translation would be “do not break the marriage covenant.”

Paul then says, “do not look for a wife.” This is also present imperative middle. But it’s an entreaty, not a command, as you will see.

Verse 28 then completes the thought. He says that if the virgin or “unmarried” person does marry, it is not sin (even though such a person would have violated Paul’s imperative entreaty to remain single!) Paul’s entreaty to virgins and the unmarried to remain single is clearly not a command in the sense that a violation would be sin. Paul says it’s not sin — surely he is right!

Now, notice that Paul is addressing virgins and the unmarried. Now if the “unmarried” aren’t virgins, who are they? Plainly, they are the divorced members of the church, and so Paul has plainly said that remarriage by a divorced person is no sin!

Well, you might object, he could be discussing widows, but this is clearly not true, for two reasons. First, in context, Paul has been discussing the divorced, and it’s much more likely that he refers to the divorced as “unmarried” than widows. After all in verse 8 he refers to the “unmarried and widows,” and so Paul does not include widows in the term “unmarried.”

But there is a much stronger argument here. When verse 27 refers to “unmarried” in the NIV, the NIV has badly mistranslated the word. Rather than the word “unmarried,” Paul really says “have you been loosed from a wife”! This is plainly a reference to the divorced. Not surprisingly, many translations have translated this correctly.

I must admit that many translations also translate this incorrectly, the NIV being a prime example. So how do I know which translations are right? By using Greek resources that give me the precise verb tense, and then noting that many very conservative religious groups have translated this correctly in their own translations — it is very unlikely that the Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or early Restoration Movement leaders would have translated consistently with my understanding unless compelled to do so by the Greek.

King James Version. Art thou bound to a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.

New King James Version. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.

American Standard. Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife. But shouldest thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.

New American Standard Bible Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned.

Living Oracles (4th edition). Are you bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. And yet, if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she has not sinned.[1]

Young’s Literal Translation. Hast thou been bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed; hast thou been loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou mayest marry, thou didst not sin; and if the virgin may marry, she did not sin.

Webster’s. Art thou bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But if thou marry, thou hast not sinned: and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.[2]

Barclay. Are you bound to a wife? Then do not seek any loosening of the marriage bond. Has your marriage been dissolved? Then do not seek a wife. But, if you do marry you have committed no sin; and, if a virgin marries, she has committed no sin.[3]

New English Bible. Are you bound in marriage? Do not seek a dissolution. Has your marriage been dissolved? Do not seek a wife. If, however, you do marry, there is nothing wrong in it; and if a virgin marries, she has done no wrong.[4]

Revised Challoner-Rheims Version (Catholic). Art thou bound to a wife? Do not seek to be freed. Art thou freed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if thou takest a wife, thou hast not sinned. And if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.[5]

Rheims (1582) Art thou bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But if thou take a wife, thou hast not sinned. And if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.[6]

The following translations are from interlinear Greek Bibles. These are Greek Bibles with the translation of each Greek word appearing next to the word. The word order is confusing, because these follow the Greek word order precisely:

Diaglott Greek interlinear (Jehovah’s Witnesses). Art thou having been bound to a wife, not seek thou a release; has thou been loosed from a wife, not seek thou a wife. If but even thou shouldst have married, not thou didst sin; and if should have married the virgin, not she sinned.

Alfred Marshall Greek interlinear. Hast thou been bound to a woman? Do not seek release; hast thou been released from a woman? Do not seek a woman. If But indeed thou marriest, thou sinnedst not, and if marries the virgin, she sinned not.

Greek scholar Zodhiates indicates that “loosed” is perfect indicative passive, usually translated with “have” or “has” — hence, “have you been loosed.”[7]

Perfect tense describes an action, or more correctly a process, that took place in the past, the results of which have continued to the present. It has no exact equivalent in English, but is usually translated by using the auxiliary verbs “has” or “have”: … “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole.”[8]

Finally, notice that the word “loose” appears twice in verse 27. When Paul says “do not seek to be loosed,” the translations are quite uniform in translating “loosed” as divorced. The same word is used in the very next clause with obvious parallel intent. It means “divorce” there, too.

The most plausible objection to Paul’s plain statement in 1 Cor 7:27-28 that the divorced may remarry is that Jesus said something different in the Gospels. Indeed, some actually argue that Jesus’ words somehow overrule Paul’s, on the premise, I suppose, that Jesus is a greater authority than Paul. But I don’t believe the Bible contradicts itself.

We will see later that there really is no contradiction, Jesus’ words having been mistranslated. But even if Jesus and Paul were to say different things, they wouldn’t contradict one another. Jesus was plainly interpreting the Law of Moses in such passages as Matthew 5 and 19 and was addressing a Jewish audience before the Law of Moses was abrogated by the cross.

I mean — Jesus told the lepers he healed to show themselves to the priests to be declared clean (Luke 17:14). Similarly, Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount regarding leaving gifts at the altar do not apply today as literally stated (Matt. 5:23-24). We no longer leave literal gifts at literal altars, which is literally what Jesus was speaking about — to a Jewish audience who were at the time commanded to do so. No one argues that modern lepers who are cured should do the same — Jesus was simply honoring the Law of Moses as it existed at that time.

And (now this is important!) the Bible doesn’t contradict itself. And conservative Christians shouldn’t defend their views by questioning the inspiration of Paul! Paul was obviously aware of Jesus’ teaching (1 Cor 7:10), and yet Paul quite plainly said that the divorced and virgins should not marry — but if they do, it is not sin. The Bible says it. I believe it.

The discussion could really end at this point, and the point would be fully proven. But because we have so often based our doctrine on Jesus’ commentaries on Deuteronomy 24, we will study his words in some detail later. But the case is already made.


[1] By Alexander Campbell, based on work of George Campbell, James Macknight, and Philip Doddridge (1835). Campbell was, of course, one of the founders of the 19th Century Restoration Movement, of which the Churches of Christ are a part.

[2] Translation by Noah Webster (1833).

[3] A translation by the author of the popular Daily Study Bible series.

[4] A translation by the Church of England.

[5] A mid-20th century translation by the Catholic Church-which is very conservative on the divorce and remarriage question.

[6] A Catholic translation older than the KJV.

[7] Spiros Zodhiates is a premier Greek scholar and has published a number of important Greek reference books. He is theologically conservative. As his name suggests, he has the advantage of having been born Greek.

[8] The Complete Word Study New Testament (AMG 1991). References herein to conclusions drawn by Zodhiates are from this reference work or, occasionally, from the software version of this work by the same name.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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6 Responses to MDR: 1 Corinthians 7, Part 3

  1. Rich S. says:

    Hello Jay,

    It seems that I've read/heard somewhere (unfortunately I can't remember where at this point) that, if indeed "unmarried" or "loosed" is referencing a divorced person, it is only referring to those who have had a "scriptural" divorce. If possible, could I get your thoughts on that argument?

    Thank you,
    Rich

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Rich S.,

    That theory presumes that the church in Corinth had a handy copy of Matthew, perhaps with cross-reference notes in the center column. But, of course, Matthew wasn't written until decades later. None of the gospels were in existence with 1 Cor was written.

    And surely Paul meant to be understood. How could he have intended by saying "But if you do marry, you have not sinned" (1 Cor 7:28) to mean "But if you do marry and your divorce was for fornication and then only if you are the innocent party, you have not sinned"? It's unimaginable that Paul's readers read that passage that way.

  3. Rich S. says:

    Jay,

    Thank you for the clarification. I apologize in advance, but I forgot to include in my previous post one other argument that I've heard made.

    If possible, can I get your thoughts on the argument that since virgins are specifically addressed by Paul, "unmarried" is referring to an unmarried person that has had pre-marital sexual relations.

    Thank you,
    Rich

  4. Jay Guin says:

    Rich S asked about —

    (1 Cor 7:27) Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.

    "Unmarried" is translated "loosed from" in the KJV. NASB has "released from."

    The Greek is perfect indicative passive: "have been loosed."

    It is, therefore, impossible that the verb refers to virgins, as there's no way to refer to virgins as women who "have been loosed" or "have been released."

    "Loosed" means no longer bound." It's in obvious contrast to "bound" earlier in the verse: "Art thou bound unto a wife?"

    It's speaking of being no longer married. The main post above give the argument in greater detail.

  5. Davidferguson61 says:

    Excellent article, brother!

  6. Jay Guin says:

    Thanks. It's always nice to hear that the old posts are still having an impact.

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