Re: 1Cor. 7:15 EN DE EIRHNH

From: David L. Moore (
Date: Thu Oct 09 1997 - 22:27:15 EDT

Ward Powers <> quoted and wrote:

>> 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.

        One of the factors that call out for a reassessment of 1Cor. 7:15c
is the difficulty in explaining how EN DE EIRHNH KEKLHKEN hUMAS hO QEOS
relates to the context. Chrysostom took it as Paul's counsel to the
Christian to withdraw from an abusive or conflict-filled marriage to an
unbeliever. Barrett takes it as an explanation of why the believer should
not break the union on religious grounds, since this would "only engender
strife." Fee calls this "sentence" perplexing but finally decides on an
interpretation similar to Barrett's to the effect that it is supplied as a
reason not to divorce a Pagan spouse. But he doesn't do this without first
expressing that he finds DE in this context problematic. I suggested the
change in punctuation since it results in a meaning that is clear and in
harmony with its context.

>> 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.

        But what conjunction would one expect to find here. One would not
expect KAI because KEKLHKEN hUMAS hO QEOS is a prefatory statement,
construed with what follows rather than what precedes. DE would not do, for
the same reason that KAI is exculded and since there is no adversative sense
expressed. ARA and such would not be called for either since there is no
inference to the immediately preceding context. OUN might possibly fit, but
one would have to go back to 1Cor. 1:9 for a previous use of KALEW.

        If we take this sentence as I have suggested, it introduces the
factor of the call of God and the importance of one's state at the time of
that call in deciding how one should proceed in the Christian life. In v.
17 this theme is again picked up and developed fully in the pericope that
runs to v. 24. To sum up, I would say that a conjunction is not called for
since KEKLHKEN hUMAS hO QEOS introduces a new thought.

>>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).

        First let me say that I should not have used quotes for my
paraphrase above. Nevertheless, I do think it expresses what Paul is
saying. On the meaning of DOULOW here: it must be taken in a figurative
sense. Paul is not talking about having literally become a slave.

>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.

        It seems to me that DEDOULWTAI here implies remaining in and being
subject to an unfavorable situation. To say that desertion ended a marriage
in the society to which Paul ministered, we would need supporting data on
the marriage customs current at the time. Just a cursory reading of some of
the papyri from that general time shows that marriage contracts sometimes
specified that one or both of the spouses were limited from being absent
from the home or cohabiting with someone else (_Select Papyri I_, G. P.
Goold, ed. [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1932], pp. 7-9). If this needed to
be spelled out in a contract, it would seem that separation did not
constitute divorce. Also, some deeds of divorce show that, in some cases,
legal action could be taken against an estranged spouse for cohabiting with
someone outside the marriage (_Ibid._, p. 23). This, as well as the mere
existence of deeds of divorce from this period would indicate that a
marriage was not necessarily ended by abandonment.

>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.

        It is precisely because EN DE EIRHNE has been understood in its
Greek sense that its connection to what goes before was not seen. The
meaning for EIRHNH corresponding to the Heb. _shalom_ in its widest sense of
the normal state of things is both well documented and prominent in the NT
(Werner Foerster, _TDNT_, s.v. EIRHNH, II:402-415; BAGD, s.v. EIRHNH, 2).

>> 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.

        See Martin Hengel, _The Zealots_ (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1989), pp.
186-90; cf. Ezra 10:2, 3, 44.

David L. Moore
Miami, Florida, USA
Southeastern Spanish District of the A/G Dept. of Education
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