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TO MARRY OR TO BURN: πυϱου̃σϑαι IN 1 COR 7:9 Author(s): Michael L. Barré Source:

TO MARRY OR TO BURN: πυϱου̃σϑαι IN 1 COR 7:9 Author(s): Michael L. Barré Source: The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 2 (APRIL 1974), pp. 193-202 Published by: Catholic Biblical Association Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/43713700 Accessed: 29-10-2018 18:51 UTC

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nvQoijoůai IN 1 COR 7:9

From a pastoral point of view 1 Cor 7 is an extremely important piece of NT

writing; it represents Paul's most extended treatment of the subject of

marriage. Precisely for this reason, then, it is a great misfortune that this

chapter has been interpreted even by high-ranking scholars in such a way as to attribute to Paul a rather unwholesome attitude toward marriage and the place of sex in Christian life, ł To the biblically untrained reader in particu- lar, the apparently negative tone of this section of 1 Cor must be disturbing.

The biblical scholar can perhaps offset such a misunderstanding by explain-

ing the significance of the strong eschatological overtone of ch. 7 (cf. espe-

cially vss. 29-31) and by pointing out that the introductory sentence of the

chapter, xaXòv avÚQcônq) yvvaixòç 1¿r¡ ameoůai , is most probably a quotation

from the Corinthians' letter to Paul.2 But problems still remain. Vs. 9 in

particular 3 certainly seems to lend itself to an interpretation which sees mar- riage as a remedium concupiscentiae. As a matter of fact, this is exactly how the verse has been traditionally interpreted in Catholic moral theology until

recent years.4 In Greek vss. 8-9 read:

8 Aeyco áè toÎç âyáyioiç xaì raíç xHQait>

xakòv auioîç eàv ¡àÌlvc ooiv œç xayco:

9 el áè oxjx eyxQarevovTai ya^rjoarcooav,

xQeîrrov yâg ¿otiv ya'if'oai r' nvQotioůai.

'Cf. H. Lietzmann, An Die Korinther /-// (HNT 9; Tubingen: Mohr, 1969) 29, who believes

that Paul viewed marriage "as an evil that frequently becomes necessary because of the

weakness of the flesh"! Cf. also R. Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament (tr. Kendrick

Grobel; New York: Scribner's, 1951) 202; H. Conzelmann, Der Erste Brief an die Korinther

( Meyer, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1969) 142.

2Cf. J. C. Hurd, The Origin of I Corinthians (London: S.P.C.K., 1965) 68, 163; C. H. Giblin,

In Hope of God's Glory; Pauline Theological Perspectives (New York: Herder, 1971) 147; P.

Ruef, Paul's First Letter to Corinth (Baltimore: Penguin, 1971) 53. Paul does not reject this

slogan, but qualifies it.

3Apart from 7:9 there are two verses in the section 7:1-7 which appear to endorse a negative view of marriage. In 7:2 Paul says: "But because of incidents of immorality [did ói jàç noçvtCaç,

the plural would seem to point to actual abuses (cf. Giblin, ibid.)], each man should have his

own wife and each woman her own husband." This exhortation, however, is not addressed to the

unmarried, as if to say that the chief purpose of marriage is to avoid fornication. As becomes

clear from the subsequent verses, the subject of "have" here (¿ x¿tcj ) is an already married man

or woman. Cf. Hurd, The

from the French; London: Faith Press, 1963) 56n. Secondly, when Paul speaks of a "conces-

sion" (ouyyvoöjirj) in vs. 6, the majority of modern commentators agree that he is not referring to

sexual intercourse within marriage. What he is allowing, rather, is the practice of abstinence

, 162; J. J. von Allmen, Pauline Teaching on Marriage (tr.

from intercourse for brief periods of time. Cf. von Allmen, Pauline

, 58n; J. Héring,

The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (tr. A. W. Heathcote and P. J. Allcock; London: Ep-

worth, 1962) 50; F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians (New Century Bible; London: Oliphants,


4Cf., for example, B. H. Merkelbach, Summa Theologiae Moralis ad Mentem D. Thomae et

ad Normám Iuris Novi (1 Ith ed.; 3 vols.; Brussels: Desclée, 1962) III, 759.


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194 The Catholic Biblical Quarterly [Vol. 36

Almost all modern translations of the NT5 take the last

denote a state of being inflamed with passion, desire, or s

But is another interpretation possible? It will be the purp demonstrate that another meaning for rwQovoůai is not o

verse, but is in fact demanded by the context. If this is co

no support whatsoever to a theology of marriage as reme

tiae or as an expedient to escape the fires of passion or


What were the principal connotations suggested by nuQovoůai and related

terms in Jewish literature before Paul? This question is of primary impor-

tance in the study of our text. The trend in Pauline studies of recent decades

has shifted away from an emphasis on the Hellenistic influences in Paul's

thought to an emphasis on his Jewish background.6 It is with this background that we must begin in interpreting our text.

In the LXX ttuqovv or nvQotioůai is used most often to translate the Hebrew

verb sārap . Out of 29 occurrences of the verb (9 in books or passages written originally in Greek), 16 are translations of sārap (in the qal , but once in the

niph'al). Sārap means literally "to refine (metals) by fire." For example, Ps

12:6 (RSV) reads: "The promises of the Lord are promises that are pure,

silver refined [MT: sārup ; LXX: nenvQcoiAtvov] in a furnace

is more frequently encountered in one of several figu predicated of the "word" of Yahweh or some equivalen trustworthiness, the "tried-and-true" character of th

scored by describing it as being "refined" like pr

18:30; 119:140; Prov 30:5). (2) Sārap is also used to d

"purifying" of the righteous by Yahweh (RSV: Pss

Dan 11:35; 12:10). (3) Closely related to the latter sen

nuance. This close association of the two senses derives from an ambivalence

in the literal meaning of the verb itself: for to "refine" means to purify a

metallic ore, but this very process entails the destruction of the impure sub- stances in the ore. Therefore we find passages in which sārap is used to illus-

trate Yahweh's execution of judgment (RSV: Isa 1:25; Jer 9:7; Zech 13:9).

5NEB ("to burn with vain desire"); RSV ("to be aflame with passion"); TEV ("to burn with

passion"); Phillips ("to be tortured with unsatisfied desire"); on the other hand, NAB ("to be on

fire") and JB ("to be tortured") are ambiguous.

6Cf. E. E. Ellis, Paul and His Recent Interpreters (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961) 29-32; W.

D. Davies, Paul and Rabbinic Judaism: Some Rabbinic Elements in Pauline Theology (rev. ed.;

New York: Harper, 1948); J. A. Fitzmyer in JBC II, 802.

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1974] To Marry or to Burn 195

In the Greek deuterocanonical and apo

in which TTUQovi/ bears a figurative me

8:27 we read: on ou xaùœç [xvgioç ó ú

cr aoiÂÒv rrjç xagóiaç aurcõv, xai rjjiãç ox

well with (3) above. In the Maccabean lite

meaning not found at all in the Hebre

secular Greek authors7 - that of "burn

find a precedent in sacred Jewish literat

legedly present in 1 Cor 7:9 and 2 Cor

these Maccabean texts the word is not us

roîç ùvfÂOîç); 10:35 (Ta/çontá/TEç toTç ùufÀ

3 Mac 4:2 (oTevay^oîç nenvQcofÀévrjç

The use of sārap in the Qumran texts

OT, except that the eschatological nuan

form does not occur and the nominal

"has shifted in meaning to become a se chatological ordeať after which the ele

sages are 1QS 1:17; 8:4; CD 20:27; 1Q

2:1; 4QpPs37b4. Besides this sectarian u

tion," "ordeal," or "trial," the word "fire

cepts of testing, affliction, or judgmen

sārap : 1QH 2:26; 4:33; 5:16; 8:30 (testi 2:8; 4:13; 1QH 6:18f; 17:13 (judgment).

Moving into the NT, we find only six oc

Cor 11:29; Eph 6:16; 2 Pet 3:12; Apoc 1

the noun mjgœoiç (1 Pet 4:12; Apoc 18:

verse in the indisputably authentic Pau

mjQOvoůai: tíç áoůevel, xaì oxjx áoůev co;

ļxai' Here too the standard translations

ing as "I burn with indignation" or

meaning of the verb in this passage can

consideration of the context in which thi structure of this verse, and (3) a study o

Çeoûai, and nuQovoůai and the relation

Obviously such a project would take us fa this paper. For the moment, then, we mu

7Cf. F. Lang, m^óco, TDNT VI, 949.

8Cf. the summary of the doctoral dissertation by

of Peter 4:12" in HTR 60 (1967) 501.

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1% The Catholic Biblical Quarterly [Vol. 36

tion.9 The Ephesians passage presents a literal use of our context of the eschatological struggle (cf. vs. 13: "in the

of navra ra ßiX rj toû tt ovtjqov Ta nenvQœ^éva.

The last three occurrences of nvgovoůai are found in bo

to the close of the NT period. 2 Pet 3:12 declares that

kvůrjoovrai. Here we meet the literal sense again, as i

likewise in the context of "the day of the Lord" (vs.

scribes John's vision of the "one like a son of man" in

language. In 1:15 the author cites Dan 10:6: xai oí nóócç

kißävo? and then adds œç iv xa'x ivą> nemjQú)1Áévr]çTht fo

problematic, and a number of MSS read nemiQœiÀêvœ or are surely ad sensum. It would perhaps be pressing matte this verse anything beyond a literal use of the verb, e.g., the agony of Christ's passion.90 But in the next passage,

use may with some degree of probability conceal a fu

church at Laodicea the Christ-figure says: ov^ovkeù

Sļiou xçuoiov naivQù)1À€vov ix miQÔ'ç iva rrÀouTjforjç,


to buy is "gold which is refined in the agonies of the shared passion community, which fancies itself "rich" (3:17), is in reality utterly i ed, naked, and in desperate need of "white garments." But white ga sign of the eschatological victory, are won only by those who have

'Briefly, I would call into question three assumptions with which most commen

Cor 11:29 begin:

(1) that the second clause in each of the two questions in vs. 29 expresses the re

first clause; e.g., "Who is weak, and I [as a result ] am not weak?";

(2) that áoůevelv and oxavóaÁí&oůai here refer to faith as in 1 Cor 8:7-13;

(3) that mjQovoûai here means "to burn with emotion" as (according to most co

in 1 Cor 7:9.

After having researched this text, however, I am convinced that the meaning of the last verb is

rather "to be afflicted" or "tested" as mentioned above (p.195). I hope to publish my research in

a future article. But to argue my thesis convincingly would require the space of an entire article,

and therefore it cannot be discussed here.

9aNonetheless it is interesting to note that in the Martyrdom ofPolycarp (15:2) it is said that during his death by fire the saint was cbç xçuoôç xai aęyuęoę ¿v xafjívq> tt uqoíjialvoç 10P. Minear, / Saw a New Earth: An Introduction to the Visions of the Apocalypse (Nashville:

Abingdon, 1968) 57; cf. 220. A similar expression appears in 1 Pet 1:7: tò ôoxíynov v^œv rrją

moreœç ttoàuti/ìÓt cqov xQvoíov toû ¿ttoààujicvou, óià ttuqòç ói

closely associated with or in parallelism with àoxifuá^e iv in a number of LXX passages (RSV):

Pss 17:3; 26:2; 66:10; Jer 9:7. A particularly revealing text where these two concepts are closely

related occurs in the Didache (16:5); speaking of the last days, it says: tote rj&i rj xtCoiç tcDv

àvÙQcônœv elç tt^v twqcûoiv t rjç óoxifiaoiaę, xai oxavóaAioŮTjoovrai rroÀÀoì xai

îIvqovv is

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1 974] T o Marry

or to Burn



the tribulation that proves a true follower

Hence the notion of "purifying by affliction Finally, there are three NT passages which

first of these is 1 Pet 4:12, which begins: ' ky

mjQœoei ti qòç neiQaopov vļjiīv y dissertation by E. T. Sander.11 According to correctly understood only in reference to th Qumran sectarians, although the Greek word

masrêp . Nevertheless, the eschatological o

parent, as is indicated by the context (cf.

."). The various afflictions which the

mark the ordeal of the eschaton.

Apoc 18 contains John's vision of the fall of "Babylon." Vss. 9-19 express

the lamentation over her destruction uttered by all those who held her in es- teem. The passage contains three dirges, the first and third of which are oc-

casioned by the sight of ròv xùttvòv t f'ç mjQœoeœç aúrfjç (i.e., of Babylon; vss.

9 and 18). Does mjQœoiç simply mean the "burning" of Babylon, i.e., does it

refer merely to the physical act of being on fire? The context argues against such a view. Twice in this passage it is noted that the "kings of the earth" and the "merchants of the earth" must stand at a distance from the city óià ròv

cpoßov tou ßaoavLOlÄOv avrfjç This latter expression, which is found in vss* 10

and 15, as well as the reference to the "judgment" of Babylon in vs. 10,

indicate the precise significance of the burning of the city: the eschatological punishment of the habitation of wickedness. In summary, then, we can discern at least five different uses of nvQoüoüai and its Hebrew equivalents in Jewish religious thought before Paul and in the


(1) literal: to be on fire or burning with fire;

(2) figurative: applied to the word of Yahweh in its tested, " tried-and -

true " trustworthiness;

(3) figurative: applied to the righteous as "testeď' or "purified" by

Yahweh (through various trials and afflictions);

(4) figurative: applied to the chosen people or the enemies of God inso-

far as they are deserving of the fiery judgment of Yahweh; therefore, to burn

in penal fire;

(5) figurative: used in connection with words such as úviâoí, oTevaypoi,

to express the idea of being aflame with strong emotion.

nCf. note 8 above.

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198 The Catholic Biblical Quarterly [Vol. 36

Of these five uses, (2) is confined to relatively few passages (5) is virtually unattested in sacred Jewish writings outside o books. Moreover, in the NT - prescinding from the two Corin

so as not to beg the question - the verb and its nominal form

chatological contexts, and never in the sense of (5).


In 1 Cor 7 Paul addresses himself to questions raised by the Corinthians in a

previous letter. In light of the imminent parousia what should they do?

Should the married refrain from any further sexual contact (vss. 2-7)? Should

the unmarried remain celibate at all costs (vss. 8-9, 25-38)? Or under what circumstances would it be advisable for them to marry? Paul attempts to

answer these questions in a pastorally prudent way, bearing in mind three

things: (1) his general principle, "Everyone should remain in the state in

which he was called" (7:20; cf. vs. 24); (2) the specific situation and needs of

Christians in various marital and non-marital states; and (3) the great value

of celibacy as a Christian state in life. But it is precisely with this last point that his troubles begin. A significant factor in the Corinthian's quandary was the presence of a group of people with sexual attitudes not unlike those of the

later encratites and who were naively incognizant of their spiritual limita-

tions. Mesmerized by the force of their "enthusiasm," they were all but in-

capable of assessing their spiritual strength objectively.12 Therefore Paul

finds it necessary to explain that he does not intend his general principle to have the force of law but only to serve as a practical norm. Marriage is by no

means forbidden to one called to the faith as an unmarried person. In vss. 8-9 of this chapter Paul turns his attention to the aya^oi and the

XfiQai of the Corinthian church. In interpreting these verses we must keep uppermost in our minds the particular mind-set of these Corinthians toward

marriage. Perhaps they had been "overconverted"13 to Paul's appreciation of

celibacy and could not see marriage as a valid option. It would be difficult to

see why Paul expends so much effort trying to convince different groups

within the community that they may marry (7:8-9, 36) or should continue

normal marital relations (7:2-7) if the Corinthians were already favorably dis-

posed toward marriage. Since they obviously were not, Paul must find persua- sive arguments to counteract their stubborn resistance to matrimony. In the case of the x?lQai at least there was perhaps a further reason for determina-

12Cf. Hurd, The

13H. J. Cadbury's term in "Overconversion in Paul's Churches," The Joy of Study: Papers on

, 165.

New Testament and Related Subjects Presented to Honor Frederick Clifton Grant , ed. S. E.

Johnson (New York: Macmillan, 1951) 44-45.

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1 974] T o Marry

or to Burn



tion to remain celibate. If the XHQai already the Corinthian church at the time of Paul's

that they were fearful lest renouncing this f

community (cf. 1 Tim 5:3-16) would const

loyalty to Christ. This worry would assume the expectation of an imminent parousia (cf. necessary to point out that there is no quest

remain celibate; that on the contrary cert marriage as the proper vocational choice. Such a circumstance is alluded to in the

The majority of modern translations have so


." But this " cannot

terpolation which weakens the sense of th ing. It is unwarranted first of all simply b

I oxueiv does not occur here. Secondly, the t this verse (el, not eáv as in vs. 8b) places "em

sumption."15 No, Paul is referring to a real ,

are not practicing continence

." Furth

already prejudices the interpreter with regar

He is led to expect an allusion to some sor

makes it impossible for the parties in questi

it is no wonder that TWQovoůai is invaria

desire ." In this way Paul's moral argument - in this verse, as we shall see shortly - is dest

that does not even appear in the entire pa

In the second half of the verse we find the

"better" to marry in such a situation? Is i

overpowering sexual urge in certain of th

have us believe? Or is there another explanat

of vs. 9a? To answer this question we mus

¿yKQareuovTai. In the context this can onl

tions. The verb ¿yxgarafeotfaidoes not mean as is implied by some commentators.16 It cle

14So Héring, The First

15 F. Blass and A. Debrunner, A Greek Grammar o

, 51; von Allmen,

Christian Literature (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1961

I6E.g., J. Weiss, Der Erste Korint her brief (Meyer;

, 14

First Epistle to the Corinthians: The English Text

(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) 161. Very possibly t

of the exegesis of this passage: man cannot remain con

therefore the verb must mean "to have the gift of con

the presuppositions of a later theology to Paul.

1910) 176-77; H. Conzelmann, Der Erste

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200 The Catholic Biblical Quarterly [Vol. 36

stinence from something in itself morally neutral. This i

only other occurrence of eyxQaTsveoitai in the NT,

ay œviÇônevoç náv ra

What is essentia

exercise self-restraint in all things; whether he has a n

"gift" for doing so is entirely beside the point. Thus

whether the individuals involved are practicing continenc

extra-marital sex. They are unmarried by definition, a

tinuing in that state come what may, even though they pursuing a life-style in contradiction to the basic notion

words, they are deceiving themselves into believing

despite all plain evidence to the contrary. But in 6:9f P

ßaoikeiav ůeoxj

Harsh though these terms may sound in view of their goo

married Corinthian Christians who are not refraining fro are in fact guilty of fornication or adultery. If that is th is in far greater jeopardy from this kind of behavior tha

M nÀavâoûe:


renounced their (professedly) celibate status and marri gument solidly on moral grounds and does not excuse

of these "celibates" with a "cannot" any more than he

ity of other members of the Corinthian church (cf. ch. 5).

warns that such conduct is fraught with disastrous consequ

the fires of eschatological judgment. This is the meaning of nvQovoůai in this text: to be bur

judgment or Gehenna.18 Such an interpretation makes per

of Paul's argument, in light of the strong eschatological t

light of the uses of nvQovoůat discussed above. In effect,

to the unmarried Christians of Corinth: "Don't you see th

are opposed to the idea of marriage, it is more sensible to

be damned? Face the facts: if you find yourselves continu

chaste conduct you are obviously not called to life-long ce riage, . So reconsider your options - before it's too late!"

see how this approach could have been persuasive to t


17 In a similar way the immoderate asceticism of married Christi

dangers to salvation. In 7:5 Paul makes explicit reference to these da

prolonged abstinence from sexual relations: iva fur¡ miçaty vpâç ò

ī/ļucov. The line of argumentation is the same as in 7:9, only not as d there is no question of immoral conduct.

Cf. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians , 68, where he concedes that mjQovoů

mean 'to burn in Gehenna.' "

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1974] To Marry or to Burn 201

On the other hand, the persuasive force ern translations is not at all evident. This

cogency but no sense of urgency at all.

ticalities: why should one allow oneself to it is difficult to see how this line of reas thians, whose whole problem in the first

ability to control their passions. To suc

have responded, "We can do it!" And

Furthermore, the usual interpretation of

bear an insupportable semantic load. T

"burn" in this passage by an expression

qualify this latter term by a word such a

Phillips' translation of the NT vs. 9b r

marry than to be tortured by unsatisfied semantic possibilities of the word to the


If our interpretation of 1 Cor 7:9 is correct, it is erroneous to attribute to

Paul an outlook which sees marriage as a remedium concupiscentiae. He

does not recommend marriage as a cure-all for passionate impulses, nor does

he see it as an "inferior" vocation, a last resort for "undisciplined" or "in- continent" Christians. What he says in 7:9b is not meant to be taken as a general statement on marriage per se. His purpose here is rather to drive

home to certain members of the Corinthian church the fact that even in the

shadow of the parousia a person must exercise prudence in choosing his

proper state in life, that this choice is not pre-determined. It is true that he

does hold celibacy in greater esteem, but this has nothing to do with an

alleged disparagement of sexuality or the married state. His advocacy of the

celibate state is founded on completely different grounds. (1) The married

will experience greater tribulation during the eschatological ordeal than the

unmarried (1 Cor 7:28b; cf. Mk 13:17 and par.); Christians have enough to

worry about in view of the "impending distress" (7:26) without incurring the

added "anxiety" (7:32) of family responsibility. (2) The celibate person - at

least in Paul's mind - has more freedom for dedication to Christian ministry,

including those special services of charity such as were (later?) performed by

the xñQai (7: 32-35). 19

,9To be "anxious about the affairs of the Lord" (peQifii/av jà t ov xvqíov) means to be engaged

in "building up the Church" through various types of "ministerial" activities (in the broad sense

of the term); cf. J. D. Quinn, "Celibacy and the Ministry in Scripture," TBT 46 (1970) 3169-70.

According to Quinn, the correctness of this interpretation of the phrase may be seen from Rom

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202 The Catholic Biblical Quarterly [Vol. 36

Modern theology's approach to the subject of marriage has

developed beyond that of Paul, so that the two cannot simply be there is perhaps less difference between them than much of the

Cor 7 - particularly of 1 Cor 7:9 - has led us to imagine.

Michael L. Barre, S.S.

St. Patrick's Seminary Menlo Park , California 94025

15:17, where he renders rà nçòç tòv ůlóv "my work for God"; and indirectly from 2 Cor 11:28,

where Paul uses the term idQipva to describe his apostolic solicitude for the churches (ibid.).

Moreover, we may compare Phil 2:20, where Paul assures the Philippians that Timothy rà ncQi

V1AÓÚV ptQinvrjoei, an expression which stands in close relation to (£rj rdv) rà 'I rjoov Xqiotov in the

following verse. (On expressions of the type to

the Question Concerning Tribute to Caesar [Lk 20:25; Mk 12:17; Mt 22:21]," CBQ 33 [1971]

520-21; Blass-Debrunner, A Greek

.,§263). Likewise, to be <4holy in body and

spirit" (1 Cor 7:34) means to be 44wholly occupied and undistracted ( aperispastos ) [vs. 35] in the

ministry of the Lord Jesus"; cf. Quinn,

, cf . C. H. Giblin, 4 4 'The Things of God' in

," 3171; Héring, The First

, 61.

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