Paul on Marriage and Celibacy: The Hellenistic Background of 1 Corinthians 7

Paul on Marriage and Celibacy: The Hellenistic Background of 1 Corinthians 7

Paul on Marriage and Celibacy: The Hellenistic Background of 1 Corinthians 7

Paul on Marriage and Celibacy: The Hellenistic Background of 1 Corinthians 7

Excerpt

The seventh chapter of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians is one of the most influential discussions of marriage and celibacy in the Christian tradition. Not only is it the most extensive treatment of these topics in the New Testament, but in the centuries following its appearance its importance grew to such an extent that one leading church historian has called it "the one chapter that was to determine all Christian thought on marriage and celibacy for well over a millennium." In recent times there has been a resurgence of interest in this text. During the last century 1 Corinthians 7 has been the subject of innumerable articles on marriage, sexuality, gender issues, and feminism, as well as the focus of several book-length inquiries.

One result of this recent scholarship is that most interpreters today support the view advanced by some of Paul's earliest interpreters, that Paul held a very low opinion of marriage and consequently encouraged his readers in the

1. Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early
Christianity
, Lectures in the History of Religions, n.s., 13 (New York: Columbia University Press,
1988), 54.

2. Namely, Darrell J. Doughty, "Heiligkeit und Freiheit: Eine exegetische Untersuchung der
Anwendung des paulinischen Freiheitsgedankens in 1 Kor 7" (Ph.D. diss., Göttingen University,
1965); Werner Wolbert, Ethische Argumentation und Paränese in 1 Kor 7, Moraltheologische
Studien, systematische Abteilung 8 (Düsseldorf: Patmos, 1981); Norbert Baumert, Ehelosigkeit
und Ehe im Herrn: Eine Neuinterpretation von 1 Kor 7
, FB 47 (Würzburg: Echter, 1984); O. Larry
Yarbrough, Not Like the Gentiles: Marriage Rules in the Letters of Paul, SBLDS 80 (Atlanta:
Scholars, 1985); Vincent L. Wimbush, Paul, the Worldly Ascetic: Response to the World and Self
Understanding according to 1 Corinthians 7
(Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1987); and
Brian S. Rosner, Paul, Scripture, and Ethics: A Study of 1 Corinthians 5–7, AGJU 22 (Leiden: Brill,
1994; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999).

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