Re: AGAMOS in 1 Cor. 7

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Sat Oct 04 1997 - 06:57:34 EDT

Fellow b-greekers,

On October 2 David Moore wrote:

> I'm wondering about AGAMOS in 1 Cor. 7; in v. 11 it refers to a woman
>separated from her husband, in V. 34, it is paired with PARQENOS but
>apparently not as a full synonymn (cf. v. 28). In v. 8 f. similar counsel
>is given to the AGAMOIS and widows that if they find it difficult to remain
>sexually continent, they should marry.
> One might infer there is an implication in Paul's use of the word
>AGAMOS of having been married but presently being in an unmarried state.
>The citations above from 1 Cor. 7 suggest it.


In the NT, the word AGAMOS occurs only four times, all of these occurrences
found in 1 Corinthians 7 (verses 8, 11, 32, and 34).

To pick up on some of the on-list discussion so far: AGAMOS means
(literally) "not in a marriage". It is clear that Paul uses AGAMOS in
reference to a person who has previously been married and whose
relationship has terminated. 1 Cor 7:11: "But if she does [separate from
her husband], let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her
husband." That is, this marriage has broken up, and thus and therefore the
woman is now unmarried.

Another way in which a person would become unmarried is through the death
of one's partner.

Upon what I have said so far it would seem to me that there cannot really
be any serious dispute. (Please say if I am mistaken in thinking this.)

The issue raised is: What is the meaning of AGAMOS in 1 Cor 7:8? The
question of its use in 1 Cor 7:32 and 34 was also raised, by implication.
Does the word refer ONLY to those who are unmarried because they have never
married, or ONLY to those whose marriage has come to an end, or BOTH?

The first of these three possibilities is ruled out by the use of AGAMOS in
7:8, where (as we have seen) it refers to a previously-married woman. The
other two possibilities remain.

1 Cor 7:32 is open - the context does not guide us one way or the other.

1 Cor 7:34 refers to the GUNH who is AGAMOS (with adjective AGAMOS in the
attributive post position, delimiting GUNH), and then to the PARQENOS.
Bearing in mind the culture of the day, the early age for (female)
marriage, even earlier betrothal, and the protection of an unmarried woman
from any premarital sexual encounter, PARQENOS is referring to a woman who
is unmarried because of never having married. And hH GUNH hH AGAMOS is
referring to a woman who is not at present in a marriage relationship, and
by implication is unmarried because a previous marriage has come to an end.
Thus between them these two expressions cover the whole range of women who
could be unmarried.

We should note: if hH GUNH hH AGAMOS (in Paul's usage) covered in itself
the whole range of unmarried women, the hH PARQENOS would be pointless. And
further, hH PARQENOS cannot be referring to the same person (or type of
person) as hH GUNH hH AGAMOS, that is, referring to a woman who is both
unmarried and a virgin, as if he is excluding the case of a woman who has
never been married but is not a virgin. As explained above, this category
was excluded by the culture of the day. So hH GUNH hH AGAMOS as referring
to the same person as hH PARQENOS is ruled out. In this connection we
should also note that in the Greek, hH GUNH is the standard word for
"wife", so that it and PARQENOS refer to mutually exclusive categories.

In assessing the meaning of AGAMOS in 1 Cor 7:8 we note that Paul's use of
this word in the rest of the chapter creates the a priori expectation that
he is using it in this verse also in the same way, that is, as referring to
those who have been previously married. In further support of this:

1. Paul links TOIS AGAMOIS with the category "widows", who are people who
have been previously married, and addresses his comments to both. I take it
that "widows" is a sub-group of hOI AGAMOI, of whom he makes special
mention. (An exact parallel structure is Mark 16:7, "But go, tell his
disciples and Peter", when Peter is one of his disciples.)

2. Paul uses himself as a model for what he is saying: "It is good for them
to remain as I do." All the evidence is that Paul had been married but was
so no longer - there is no evidence of any kind in support of the idea that
he never married. His comment therefore presumes he is addressing those who
(like him) had previously been married. That is, he is addressing those who
had been widowed and divorced.

3. Paul recognizes that within this group there are those who are having
trouble practising self control (verse 9). This is likely to be a greater
problem for those who have previously had an ongoing sex life than for

4. His instruction here is that it is better for such people (that is,
those who find that they are without the gift of continence) to marry than
to be aflame with passion, and that therefore they MUST marry. This links
snugly with his similar comment in 1 Cor 7:27-28 that those who are
divorced should not remarry (during "the present crisis", verse 26), but
that if such a person does remarry, then (addressing them), "you have not

AGAMOS in verse 8 MAY be wide enough to include the "never married" within
its scope, but I cannot see any evidence in support of this.

So then: 1 Cor 7:8-9 is addressed to divorcees and the widowed, and tells
them initially that they should remain as he does (i.e., without
remarrying). If they do initially comply with this and then find that they
do not have the gift of continence, he tells them that in those
circumstances "they MUST marry" (the usual translation "should marry"
sounds like there is a subjunctive in the Greek, but it is in fact an
imperative). And again in 7:27-28 after initially counselling divorcees
against remarriage in the "present crisis", he says explicitly that if such
a person does marry, it is not a sin to do so.

If this is really what Paul is saying, does that mean that we who are
pastors and clergy need to do a rethink about our attitude to the
remarriage of divorcees?


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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