Re: The termination of Paul's marriage? (Was: 1 Corinthians 7:27-28)

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Fri Aug 28 1998 - 23:07:12 EDT

At 09:35 98/08/25 -0400, Bret Hicks wrote:
>In his earlier post Dr. Powers stated that
>Paul in addressing the AGAMOI (a term which
>includes the divorced) first tells these people that it is preferable
>them that they now remain unmarried, as he has done since the
>of his own marriage
>I am presently studying divorce and remarriage in the Scripture and was
>curious as to why you assert that Paul had been married previously. I
>have heard this idea before, but am wondering what is the warrant. Is
>there something in the Greek text which supports this thesis, or does it
>arise from other sources/extra-biblical material? Any help would be
>greatly appreciated.
>In Christ the Lord,

There is nowhere in the NT where Paul says something to the effect,
"previously I was married." However, there are seven lines of evidence
which (INHO) strongly indicate that he had been married and was no longer
married at the time he wrote 1 Corinthians. In a post of acceptable length
I can only indicate what these seven are, without putting the case in full

1. Writers in the early church held the view that Paul had been married,
and many of them took the view that Phil 4:3 refers to his wife. Although
such an interpretation of Phil 4:3 would not be accepted today, this
widespread view amongst the Fathers (a) shows that they did not think there
was some reason why he would not have married, and (b) may well reflect
some oral tradition to this effect. Calvin ("Commentary" on Phil 4:3)
disscusses and rejects the interpretation that Paul is here referring to
his wife, but entertains the possibility that Paul had been married.

2. It was the cultural norm for every Jewish man to be married by the time
he reached his mid-twenties at the latest. Marriages for Jewish young
people were arranged by their parents, and it was a matter of shame for the
family if a marriage could not be arranged. There are no grounds for
thinking that this would not have taken place in Paul's family, who were
strict Hebrew Jews (Phil 3:5); Paul says (Acts 23:6), "Brothers, I am a
Pharisee and the son of Pharisees."

3. Paul expressly states (Acts 22:3; Phil 3:4-6; and especially Gal
1:13-14) that he followed the traditions of his people. When he says, "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 is 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 significant Jewish tradition about

4. There is evidence that to be a married man was a requirement for
membership of the Sanhedrin. It would appear from the evidence that Paul
(Saul) was a member of the Sanhedrin.

5. Paul was a chosen and prepared vessel for the ministry he was given. His
perception of the nature of the marriage relationship (especially in 1 Cor
7:2-5 and Eph 5:21-33E) strongly suggests that the Lord is enabling him to
understand the nature of a relationship with which he himself is familiar
from experience. Now it would be POSSIBLE for the Lord to use, as the
vehicle for the Bible's teaching about the nature of the marriage
relationship, a person who had never been married. But the Lord's usual way
is to work through someone whom he has prepared for a particular role, and
the normal preparation for a person to write about the nature of marriage
would be to be married.

6. It cannot be argued that Paul rejected marriage on the basis of
Christian conviction or because of the dangerous or demanding nature of his
future ministry, since Paul's parents would have arranged his marriage when
he was younger, some time prior to his conversion to Christ. And far from
rejecting marriage for Christian leaders in general, Paul accepted that it
was the norm for Christian leaders to be married, and that in this regard
he and Barnabas were exceptions (1 Cor 9:5).

7. Paul does not refer to himself as a PARQENOS, a virgin, one who has
never married, nor class himself with such, nor does he suggest in any way
that he had never married. On the contrary: in 1 Cor 7:8 Paul writes, "Now
to the AGAMOI and widows I say: it is good for them to stay as I am." That
is, he classes himself with the AGAMOI, those who had previously been
married. And he recommends to his readers that in this regard they follow
his example and not remarry, unless and until it becomes clear that God is
continuing to give them the gift of a nature requiring marriage: in which
case they should in fact remarry (1 Cor 7:7,9).

There is no evidence on the other side, that is, is support of the view
that Paul had never married; and there are no reasonable grounds for
holding such a view.

It is possible that Paul had been divorced: F F Bruce (1 and 2 Corinthians,
p. 68) says, "His wife may have left him and returned to her family because
of his conversion to Christianity." Certainly, the kind of wife to whom
such a person as Paul would have been wedded, with his strict Pharisee
family background and his zeal for Judaism, would have found his conversion
difficult to take: in Phil 3:4-8 Paul refers to his old life in Judaism
before his conversion, and adds, "... Christ my Lord, for whose sake I have
lost all things" - which may have included his wife (cf. Luke 14:26; 18:29).

The evidence which we have, however, is best explained on the basis that
Paul was a widower. The least likely possibility is that Paul had never
married at all.

The above is a brief survey of the issue. The full explanations, supporting
arguments, and relevant evidence, are set out on pages 27-31 of "The
Ministry of Women in the Church" (B W Powers, Adelaide: SPCK Australia, 1996).



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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