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

By Will Deming | Go to book overview

2 The Stoic—Cynic Marriage Debate

IN THE HELLENISTIC WORLD there existed several conceptions of marriage and celibacy quite different from the ones advanced by the fathers of the church. In this chapter we will explore those commonly held by Stoics and Cynics, our goal being to establish an appropriate context for interpreting 1 Corinthians 7.

One reason scholars have not satisfactorily pursued a comparison between Stoic and Cynic discussions on marriage and Paul is the fragmentary state in which the former have come down to us. Indeed, these discussions seem to have been mostly an oral affair. It is telling, for example, that two of our most important witnesses, the lectures of Musonius Rufus and Epictetus, survive only as the class notes of devoted students.1 What Stoics, Cynics, and their followers did manage to write down, moreover, received rough treatment at the hands of the church fathers. Willing conduits for the works of Aristotle, Plato, Philo, and Josephus, the Fathers balked when it came to Stoic and Cynic writings on marriage. Preferring their own, Christian treatments of the subject, they tended to adopt Stoic and Cynic ideas as their own or ignore them completely. They saw no reason to pass the works of these pagan moralists on to future generations. In consequence, it fell to a relatively obscure anthologist, Johannes Stobaeus, to preserve some of our most valuable sources. Stobaeus, however, offers only excerpts or "fragments," not complete texts, and hence much has been lost.

1. See Cora E. Lutz, "Musonius Rufus 'The Roman Socrates,'" in Yale Classical Studies 10,
ed. Alfred R. Bellinger (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1947), 5–8; and Arrian's dedication to
Lucius Gellius, which prefaces his publication of Epictetus's Discourses.

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