Re: 1Cor 7:38 - Give PARTHENOS in marriage

Jeffrey Gibson (
Thu, 5 Dec 1996 22:37:45 -600 (CST)

On Tue, 3 Dec 1996 wrote:
> Your implied question is a good one, and translations do differ on this.
> And I do agree with you that there is a difference in meaning. Consider
> various translations of PARQENON at 7:36 ...
> How do we understand PARQENON here? Is it virgin? Virgin he is engaged to?
> Virgin daughter? Fiancee? Spiritual Bride? Partner in celibacy? or Virginity?
> Each view has its own difficulties.
> I agree with you that v.38 GAMIZWN THN hEAUTOU PARQENON "give his virgin
> in marriage" is literal word-for-word and I do not disagree with this
> possibility grammatically. My preference for "give his virginity in
> marriage" comes from considering the context, from what Paul was talking
> about.
> "Virginity" is preferred by the "Emphatic Diaglott" footnote which says:
> "Parthenos, commonly translated virgin, has been rendered as meaning
> also a state of virginity or celibacy." Dr. G. R. Berry gives the
> interlinear reading as follows: "behaves unseemly to virginity his."
> This would mean that the "virgin" referred to is not that of some other
> person, but is one's own virginity.
> This was the short answer. If you are interested in the long answer
> involving context, it follows here. I am not looking to necessarily
> convince anyone, nor am I dogmatically against some renderings, but I
> hope it at least explains why "virginity" is preferable to some.
> Question: Why do Bible translations differ so much in 1 Cor. 7:38 PARQENON?
The reason that they differ is that there is no presuppositionless
translation let alone exegesis. As George Caird pointed out once in a
lecture (citing J.D. Derrett in an article on 1 Cor 7:38 that you should
consult; it's in, I believe, his Law in the New Testament), most
commentators, including those you cited who render PARQENOS as beloved,
fiancee, or virginity, do so not only because they are Victorian with
respect to sexuality and assume Paul to have been a prude, but because they
impose late western ideas about the instituion and ways and means of
marriage on this text. There is an all too unquestioned assumption that
our marriage ways, which involve primarily two young people in love
determining their own fortunes with respect to marriage, were the
marriage ways of Jewish/Gentile converts in 1st century Corinth. But
marriage then was a matter of a father of a daughter arranging things with
the father of a young man or with an young man who sought his
daugther's hand. Add to this the fact that if a young woman was not
married off or betrothed to be married by the time she was in her early
teens, then it began to seem that her father had not done his
proper duty toward her, for it be increasingly unlikely that she would be
ever married. Once this is taken into account, that is, once we do not
impose our cultural institutions and presuppositions about those
institutions upon the text, but read the text within its own cultural
context, then the isssue with which Paul is dealing
(presumably one that a put upon Corinthian father wrote to him about)
becomes clear. It is whether or not a father has behaved badly toward
his daugther by not marrying her off (GAMIZW) when she is fast reaching the
age when she should have been (She has reached her highest point, i.e.,
she is now of marriageable age, hence a PARTHENOS, not a TEKNON). Does he
have the right - is he doing right - in holding her back and resisting
the pressure the community is puting upon him to act contrary to his

Does this make sense to you? It certainly makes more sense of the text
than the supposition of "spiritual marriages".

Jeffrey Gibson