Re: 1Cor. 7:15 EN DE EIRHNH

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Wed Oct 08 1997 - 23:04:10 EDT

Fellow b-greekers:

At 16:53 97/10/04 -0400, David Moore wrote:


> Interest in that theme, however, has had me reading through chapter
>7 of 1 Corinthians several times in the last couple of days, and I have come
>across something that seems significant toward the correct understanding of
>the chapter. It has to do with how vv. 15 and 16 are to be understood and
>also strongly influences the interpretation of vv. 12-14a.
> It is a simple matter of punctuation. By changing the raised point
>after TOIOUTOIS to a comma and placing a major stop after EIRHNH, the
>problem of how to understand EN DE EIRHNH KEKLHKEN hUMAS hO QEOS is
>resolved. KEKLHKEN hUMAS hO QEOS is a prefatory statement explaining why
>the believer may hope that God may use him or her to save his or her spouse.
>The idea is something like, "God has called you; it may be in His purpose to
>save your spouse as well, through your testimony."

David, I agree that it is certainly true that Paul is saying, "it may be
God's purpose to save your spouse as well, through your testimony." And
undoubtedly this is a consequence of the fact that "God has called you".
But 1 Cor 7:16 does not just link with this clause - it is the climax and
conclusion of all that Paul has been saying in this part of his letter, and
is in particular the reason why the believing spouse is not to initiate a
separation from the unbelieving spouse.

> EN DE EIRHNH, then, functions as adjunct to the preceding clause and
>refers to a situation of peace in the sort of marriage under discussion.

What is at stake is whether KEKLHKEN hUMAS hO QEOS ("God has called you")
refers back to EN DE EIRHNH or forward to the possibility of the believing
spouse being instrumental in the salvation of the partner. This latter
possibility (which is what David is proposing) makes KEKLHKEN the beginning
of the new thought which Paul is expressing.

If this latter possibility were so, I would have expected KEKLHKEN to be
preceded or followed by an appropiate conjunction or other connective.
Simply to start with a bald verb form like this would be rather abrupt
Greek. But on the other hand, we do not have to read many of Paul's
writings to come across numerous places where he IS abrupt like this,
omitting the usual connective: so its absence here is not decisive.
However, it seems to me that David's suggestion is ruled out by the overall
sense of the wording of the verse.

>What Paul is saying is, "The brother or sister is not bound to remain in the
>marriage in such situations (i.e. abandonment by an unbelieving spouse) ...

I wish to query this as the meaning of 1 Cor 7:15. There is no "to remain"
in the Greek, and this paraphrase has changed the meaning conveyed by
"bound" so that the Greek verb is being treated virtually as if it were
OFEILW, "one is obliged, obligated, one ought" [to do such-and-such]. But
in fact the verb used by Paul is DEDOULWTAI, middle/passive perfect of
DOULOW, "enslave", in the passive, "to be bound" (BAGD).

The meaning therefore of 7:15 is, "But if the unbelieving [spouse]
separates, let that person separate: the brother or sister [i.e., believing
spouse] is no longer bound (negating a perfect form) in such
circumstances." That is, the marriage is over.

The word "separate", used twice here by Paul, is CWRIZW. This is what Jesus
forbids in Mt 19:6 and Mark 10:9: it is the sundering of the marriage
relationship. And Paul has just used CWRIZW a few verses earlier (7:11),
where he indicates that if a wife were to CWRIZW from her husband, she is
then AGAMOS, no longer married (unless there is a reconciliation, and
reversal of CWRIZW).

So Paul is saying: If the unbelieving spouse does CWRIZW, let him/her
CWRIZW (Paul uses the word a second time): do not try to hang on to the
unbelieving spouse in such circumstances but recognize the sad fact that
the marriage is finished.

In this passage Paul is not ADVOCATING the separation of believing and
unbelieving spouses - on the contrary, he says they should stay together if
at all possible, and the believer must not be the one to initiate a
break-up. But he adds: if this break-up occurs because the unbeliever
decides to CWRIZW, then the believer must accept the situation. Paul is a
realist. He accepts what the situation then is, and he does not seek to
preserve the empty shell of a marriage bond when the reality is that the
relationship has terminated. Paul explains, "For God has called you to
peace." If in the circumstances described, the two people could be coerced
in some way into continuing to live together, "peace" is hardly likely to
be a characteristic of their relationship.

But EN DE EIRHNH cannot stand on its own: "but in peace". And it does not
make sense to take these words with what Paul has just said, "A brother or
sister is no longer bound in marriage in such circumstances and/but in
peace." The EN DE EIRHNH requires the KEKLHKEN hUMAS hO QEOS to make sense.
And then the whole passage all then comes together clearly.

>in situations where the marriage, although to an unbeliever, is functioning
>and viable." I have taken EIRHNH here in the sense of the Hebrew _shalom_
>which goes beyond the simple idea of "peace" to express the idea of
>well-being in a fairly general sense.

In the light of my comments above, I would conclude that it is not possible
to go along with David's suggestion that 7:15 means "the believing spouse
is not bound to remain in the marriage when the unbeliever chooses to
CWRIZW, but is [bound] to remain when the marriage can continue EN EIRHNH,
"in peace". This interpretation would require changing the meaning of the
words Paul does use, would imply the addition of other words not in the
Greek, and would thus end up with a different meaning from the one Paul is
actually conveying.

> The pericope as a whole appears to be countering the idea current at
>the time in some Jewish circles that a member of the covenant community was
>obligated to be seperate from those outside the community - especially where
>marriage was concerned. Such an attitude would have broken up gentile
>marriages in which one of the spouses was converted and the other was not.
>To address this problem, Paul goes beyond what Jesus had taught on the
>subject of marriage (vid. v. 12). I would suggest that he saw it as his
>prerogative as apostle to the gentiles.

Possibly. But in any case this would not affect the points I have made above.

>Regards to all,
>David L. Moore
>Miami, Florida, USA
>Southeastern Spanish District of the A/G Dept. of Education
>Home Page:

For consideration.


Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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