Re: AGAMOS in 1 Cor. 7

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Wed Oct 08 1997 - 21:37:43 EDT

Fellow b-greekers:

I have received some on-list and off-list replies to my previous post about
the meaning of AGAMOS in 1 Cor 7. Before this thread winds up, let me
provide some further information and clarification.

1. Re the point in my post about Paul having been previously married: It
was normal for a Jewish man to be married, and in fact the arrangements for
this were made by his family in conjunction with a professional matchmaker.
Not to be married was regarded as a cause of shame (for the whole family),
and as going against Judaistic belief and teaching. When Paul says (Gal
1:14), "I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was
extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors," he is telling us,
amongst other things, his situation as far as marriage was concerned: for
what he says of his zeal for the traditions of his ancestors would not be
true if he had failed to conform to the very Jewish tradition about marrying.
   Altogether I am aware of no evidence at all in support of the position
that as a Jewish young man Paul would not have married, and of seven lines
of evidence all pointing to Paul having been married. It would go beyond
the scope of b-greek to say more here, but any who are interested can find
these seven lines of evidence, and the sources supporting them, set out on
pages 27 to 31 of my book "The Ministry of Women in the Church" (SPCKA).

2. Paul does indeed say in 1 Cor 1:11, of the woman whose marriage had
ended, MENETW AGAMOS, "let her remain unmarried": but on what basis do we
take it that this instruction applies (or is intended to apply) to her for
the whole of the rest of her life? In context I would take it that, first,
she is to remain AGAMOS to leave open the possibility of reconciliation
with her husband (7:11b) - which clearly is the most desirable outcome. But
if (when) it is clear that this possibility no longer exists, then she is
to be guided by the more general comments of 7:8-9a: a person who is AGAMOS
is to remain unmarried to test whether he/she now has the gifts and calling
of God to continence and chastity. But if after testing this, that person
finds that they need a sexual/marriage partner, then Paul's requirement is,
"they must marry" (1 Cor 7:11b).

3. "Unmarried" in 1 Cor 7:27 is not AGAMOS, but LELUSAI (perfect tense),
"are you having been divorced/released/set free?" (that is, from the bonds
of marriage, referred to in DEDESAI, at the beginning of this verse). The
"you" of EAN DE KAI GAMHSHiS, "but if indeed you marry" (1:28) is the same
person as the "you" of "have you been divorced?", and it is to this person
who remarries that Paul's words "you have not sinned" apply.

4. It is important to note that Paul also says, DEDESAI GUNAIKI; MH ZHTEI
LUSIN, "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek a divorce", and he DOES NOT
say to THAT person, if a divorce occurs, "you have not sinned". Because
that person IS caught up in a sin. What troubles me is the attempts
sometimes made to justify a broken marriage to the point where it escapes
out of the "sin" category and is shrugged off lightly on the basis, "Well,
nobody's perfect", or, "It was just one of those things", or else it is put
into the category of a "mistake" about on a par with making an error in
adding a column of figures, and having to do it over again.
   The Scripture makes it clear that God takes a broken marriage seriously.
"'I hate divorce,' says the Lord God of Israel" (Mal 2:16). That has not
changed. There is no way we can (or should) lighten up on the law of God. I
am often asked, "In what circumstances is divorce permissible?" - as if you
just get the circumstances right, and then you go right ahead with your
divorce. C.S.Lewis points out that divorce is "more like having both your
legs cut off than dissolving a business partnership". If someone says to
me, "Is it permissible (or, In what circumstances is it permissible) for me
to get my left leg cut off?", how is it possible for me to answer him? It
is ALWAYS permissible, from one perspective, but it is never beneficial,
never desirable, never something to be recommended, never something which
leaves you better off as a consequence. It is a sad thing to happen, and it
will leave you crippled afterwards. You would only want to contemplate it
in desperate circumstances when for some dreadful reason the alternative is
even worse. You would not seriously propose amputation of your leg to cure
a sore bunion or even if you broke your ankle - you would try to mend the
hurt or the damage, and you would want to keep your leg at all costs. And
it wouldn't make sense for you to ask whether amputation was PERMISSIBLE.
Being permissible just wasn't the point.
   Genesis 2:24 taught, and Jesus reiterated, and Paul expounded (see
Ephesians 5:21-33E), that husband and wife are one flesh, one being. Let no
one sever that unity, that oneness. To ask whether it is permissible to do
so is to fail to grasp the teaching of Scripture about the nature of marriage.

5. At 23:36 97/10/04 -0400, David Moore wrote:
>Ward Powers <> wrote:

>>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?
> I generally agree with what Ward has presented relative to the
>meaning of AGAMOS except as noted above and in a few other minor matters.
>But I would urge caution. There are several factors that point in the
>direction he has taken the interpretation, but they seem to me to be
>somewhat less than conclusive. I believe we need more data and more light
>on the general context of this chapter before we recommend that people take
>momentous steps in their personal lives on the basis of this line of

Presumably, David, you mean by this last sentence that a divorced person
should not take the momentous step of remarrying? If so, here I must record
an opposite opinion. I know of numbers of Christians who believe that after
their divorce they are now required by God's law to remain single. (Thus
they withdraw from the possibility of establishing a new Christian home and
family.) Surely this is contrary to 1 Cor 7:9, addressed to AGAMOI: in the
circumstances described, "they must marry". Surely this is leaving out of
consideration Paul's word to the divorced in 1 Cor 7:28: "if you marry, you
have not sinned." For a divorced person as much as for any other. "It is
not a good thing for a man to be alone."

In conclusion: We need a theology that stands equally upon law and grace.
My contention is that an understanding of the meaning of AGAMOS in 1 Cor 7
can assist us with this. The law of Christ is that a marriage relationship
should not be terminated, and if it is, that is sin. The grace of Christ is
that even this sin can be forgiven, and such a person can be justified
through Christ (even in relation to a broken marriage), and get a new
start. If such a person remarries, "you have not sinned".

For your 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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