Grace Theological Journal 11.1 (1991) 53-70

          Copyright © 1991 by Grace Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.



            1 CORINTHIANS 7:29-31 AND THE


                  ACTS OF PAUL AND THECLA



                                     W. EDWARD GLENNY



     This study purposes to present the meaning of 1 Cor 7:29-31 in its

original literary context and then to contrast that meaning with its

application in The Acts of Paul  and Thecla.

This contrast is the basis for a critique of Dennis Ronald

MacDonald's theory that The Acts of Paul  preserve aspects of Pauline

teaching which should be considered on a level with the Pastoral

Epistles; MacDonald implies that The Acts of Paul  are closer to the

primitive Pauline teaching on the role of women than the Pastorals are.

The supposed similarity of the teaching on marriage in 1 Cor

7:29-31 and the application of this passage in The Acts of Paul  and

Thecla is a crucial link in MacDonald's argument that The Acts of

Paul reflect primitive Pauline teaching. This study of 1 Cor 7:29-31

proposes, however, that the teaching of The Acts of Paul  and Thecla

concerning marriage is closer to the doctrine of the opponents of Paul

in 1 Corinthians, than it is to the teaching of Paul in 1 Cor 7:29-31.


* * *



EVEN the casual reader of The Acts of Paul  is struck by the

author's emphasis on sexual continence. This is an emphasis seen

most clearly in The Acts of Paul  and Thecla where in Iconium, Paul

preaches "the word of God concerning continence and the resurrec-

tion."1 Some of the statements concerning purity and continence in the

sermon are general and the exact application intended is unclear.

However, the sermon is summarized in a series of beatitudes, which tie


1 Acts of Paul and Thecla 5. All the quotations from The Acts of Paul  are taken from

Edgar Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha, 2 vols., edited by Wilhelm Schneemelcher

and translated by R. McL. Wilson (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1965).


54                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


the author's notion of purity to the matter of sexual continence.

According to the beatitudes those who are married should refrain from

normal conjugal relations and live as if they are unmarried, and those

who are unmarried should remain pure and renounce marriage.

The beatitude series shows a clear connection with Paul's teaching

in I Corinthians 72 and some similarity to the beatitudes of Matthew 5

and Luke 6. The clearest similarity to I Corinthians 7 occurs in the

beatitude "Blessed are those who have wives as if they had them not,

for they shall inherit God." The phrase e@xontej gunai?kaj w[j mh> 

e@xontej; is a verbatim reproduction of I Cor 7:29b. Other similarities

between Paul's sermon in The Acts of Paul  and Thecla and I Corin-

thians 7 reinforce this connection. In a later beatitude Paul declares

"Blessed are they who through love of God have departed from the

form of this world, for they shall judge angels.’”3 The Greek word

sxh?ma ("form") occurs only twice in the New Testament, in I Cor 7:31

and Phil 2:7, and the occurrence in I Cor 7:31 warrants serious com-

parison with The Acts of Paul  and Thecla since both texts employ

sxh?ma in the construction, "the form of this world.”4 Both the Corin-

thian and Theclan texts stress virginity and continence (or self-control)

as key themes.5 This evidence supports Schneemelcher's conclusion

concerning the language in The Acts of Paul . He states that


2 The Pauline authorship of I Corinthians is assumed throughout this paper. See

Helmut Koester, Introduction to the New Testament, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: Fortress

Press, 1982) 2:120-26; and Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (Downers

Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1970):421-49 for discussion of Pauline authorship of

I Corinthians. While the Pauline authorship of portions of I Corinthians has been

questioned by some, I Corinthians 7 is seldom questioned. Winsome Munro, Authority

in Paul and Peter, SNTMS, 45 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983):80-81

questions the Pauline origin of I Cor 7: 17, 20, 24. Munro argues that these verses conflict

with the command for a slave to take advantage of the opportunity to be free in verse 21.

This argument is not compelling because Paul continually qualifies his teaching in

I Corinthians 7 and because, as S. Scott Bartchy, First Century Slavery and I Cor 7:21,

SBL Dissertation Series II (Missoula, Montana: Society of Biblical Literature, 1973):

96ft". has shown, "there was no way that a slave could refuse freedom-status if his master

decided to manumit him" (98). Munro argues further that elements of verses 17, 20, 24

resemble a stratum of material later than Paul. In light of the consistency of these verses

with Paul's teaching throughout I Corinthians 7 and the lack of textual support for a

later addition of these verses, this author has not found these arguments compelling.

3 Acts of Paul and Thecla 6.

4 The words modifying sxh?ma are not identical in both places (I Cor 7:31-to<

sxh?ma tou?  ko<smou  tou<tou and APTh-tou?  sxh<matoj  tou?  kosmikou?). Also I Corin-

thians states that "the form of this world is passing away" while APTh emphasizes the

blessedness of those "who have departed from the form of this world."It is interesting to

note that cognates of sxh?ma are also used in I Cor 7:35, 36.

5 The noun e]gkra<teia occurs four times in the New Testament (Acts 24:25, Gal 5:23,

and two times in 2 Pet 1:6). The verb form is found only in I Cor 7:9 and 9:25.

GLENNY: I CORINTHIANS 7:29-31                                 55


The author's language is uniform, and to a large extent that of the NT.

In particular the Pastorals and Acts have been used, but so also have the

Gospels and Paul's letters. Here however it is scarcely a question of

exact quotations, but rather of linguistic and conceptual agreement on

the basis of a knowledge of the NT literature.6


The linguistic and conceptual agreement between I Corinthians 7

(especially vv. 29-31) and the beatitudes in The Acts of Paul  and

Thecla (5-7) indicates that the second century author of The Acts of

Paul and Thecla had knowledge of I Corinthians 7 and intentionally or

unintentionally used some of the concepts found in it. The similarity of

the general subject and especially of the words and phrases suggests at

least a strong possibility that the second century author was directly

dependent on I Corinthians.

Whether The Acts of Paul  and Thecla depend directly on I Corin-

thians or not, some scholars like Dennis Ronald MacDonald suggest

that The Acts of Paul  and Thecla preserve the teaching of I Cor 7:29-

31.7 MacDonald believes I Cor 7:29-31 and The Acts of Paul  and

Thecla reflect the "radical characteristics of apocalyptic movements”8

and teach "a renunciation of sex and marriage.”9

This connection between The Acts of Paul  and Thecla and

I Corinthians is important for MacDonald's thesis in his book, The

Legend and the Apostle. In this work10 he argues that several oral

legends lie behind The Acts of Paul . MacDonald maintains that these

legends had social value for women, promoting the notions of women

teaching in the church and celibacy. He argues that the Pastoral

Epistles were written later to object to the teaching of these legends and

to silence these women. The Pastorals were accepted as canonical by

the church and the legends were not;11 however, MacDonald argues

that the church's image of Paul should not be shaped by the Pastorals

alone but also by the legends. In fact, the implication of his book is

that the legends in The Acts of Paul  are closer to the primitive Pauline

teaching than the Pastorals are.12


6 Hennecke, 2:348.

7 Dennis Ronald MacDonald, The Legend and the Apostle (Philadelphia: The

Westminster Press, 1983):44-45.

8 Ibid., 44.

9 Ibid., 46.

10 MacDonald's theories are also found in his articles. Among them are "The Role of

in the Production of the Apocryphal Acts of Apostles," The Iliff Review 41

1984):21-38 and "Virgins, Widows and Paul in Second Century Asia Minor,"

Seminar Papers 16 (1979):169-83.

11 MacDonald summarizes The Legend and the Apostle on 14-15.

12 Ibid., 97-103. On p. 98 MacDonald states that "in many respects the legends stand

to the center of Paul's theology than do the Pastorals."


56                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


This paper purposes to present the meaning of I Cor 7:29-31 in its

original literary context and then contrast that meaning with its appli-

cation in The Acts of Paul  and Thecla. Then the implications of this

comparison for MacDonald's thesis will be noted.




The opposition that Paul attacks throughout I Corinthians (7:1-

40 and 11:2-16 being the exceptions to this combative spirit) is not

from outside the church but is rather promoted by key figures from

within (15: 12; cf. 4:18).13 Paul's opponents at Corinth have been sitting

in judgment on him (4:3) and had been favoring Apollos (4:6; cf. 3:5).

The key issue at Corinth is what it means to be pneumatikos (cf.

especially chapters 12-14)14 and this is closely tied with the subjects of

sophia (chapters 1-4) and gnosis (chapters 8-10). Two other more

basic theological problems, which surface in the epistle, are connected

with the confusion over spirituality inherent in a dualistic worldview

and an over-realized eschatology.

Walter Schmithals15 and others have equated this dualism with

Gnosticism, yet since the only element common between the situation

at Corinth and Gnosticism is the dualism, it is better to explain the

dualistic Corinthian worldview as a result of the assimilation of the

gospel to the Hellenistic environment of Corinth.16 The over-realized

Corinthian eschatology is a matter closely related to the dualism issue.

Anthony C. Thiselton has demonstrated the existence of this latter

emphasis throughout I Corinthians17 and Fee seems to be correct in

calling it "spiritualized eschatology," arguing that "from their point of


13 Gordon Fee suggests that though the problems were initiated by a few (1:12, 4:3, 6,

18-20; 9:3; 10:29-30; 14:37; 15:12) they had infected nearly the whole assembly by the

time I Corinthians was written (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, NICNT [Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987]:8). The fact that the heavy fire of the epistle is addressed to the

whole church supports this latter fact.

14 Fee (10-11) shows the emphasis on this theme throughout the epistle. Anthony C.

Thiselton's "Realized Eschatology at Corinth," New Testament Studies 24 (1978):510-:26

demonstrates that "in every single section from the beginning of the epistle to xiv. 40

there occurs evidence of both a realized eschatology and an enthusiastic theology of the

Spirit on the part of the Corinthians" (523). Bartchy, 128ff., has a helpful development of

the problem also.

15 Walther Schmithals, Gnosticism in Corinth (New York: Abingdon Press, 1971).

16 F. F. Bruce, 1 and 2 Corinthians, New Century Bible Commentary (Grand

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971):20-21. See the critique of the Gnostic explanation by R. McL.

Wilson, "How Gnostic Were the Corinthians'?" in New Testament Studies 19 (1972/73):


17  Anthony C. Thiselton, "Realized Eschatology at Corinth," New Testament Studies

24 (1978):510-26.

GLENNY: 1 CORINTHIANS 7:29-31                                57


view it would not so much be the 'time' of the future that has become a

present reality for them, as the 'existence' of the future."18 The Spirit,

which they are experiencing in full measure belongs to the Eschaton,

thus they think they are living on a spiritual plane above the merely

material existence of this present age.19 The spiritual ones may have

considered themselves to be as the angels (11:2-16; 13:1; cf. Luke

18:29-30; 20:34-36), having already realized the resurrection from the

dead (15:12), and thus they considered the body eschatologically insig-

nificant (6:13; 15:12) and also without any present significance. This

dualism resulted in license and libertinism in the lives of some (5:1-2;

6: 12-20) and severe treatment of the body and denial of sexual relations

within marriage on the part of others (7:1-6).

Although he contrasts their present existence with their past pre-

salvation experience (6:9-11; 8:7; 12:1-3), Paul drives home the idea

that they have not yet arrived, by contrasting their present existence

with the future (1:5-8; 3:13-15,17; 4:5; 5:5; 6:13-14; 7:26-31; 11:26,32;

15:24,51-56; 16:22; and especially 4:8-13). Paul corrected the "spiritu-

alized eschatology" at Corinth by emphasizing the "not yet" of salva-

tion which is still to come. He corrected the dualism by emphasis on

the importance of the body in this age (chapters 5-7) and in the future

(6:14 and all of chapter 15). Throughout the epistle he endeavored to

teach what is true sofi<a (chapters 1-4), true gnw?sij (chapters 8-10)

and thus what it means to be 1tVEU!latt1COc; (chapters 11-14).




The Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians from Ephesus (I Cor 16:5-

8) during his more than two years of ministry there (described in Acts

19:1-20:1).20 Paul had written a previous letter to the Corinthians

warning them not to associate with immoral persons (mentioned in

1 Cor 5:9), but this previous letter was either misunderstood or disre-

garded (I Cor 5:10-11). Later a delegation from the church at Corinth,

consisting of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus, brought a series of

questions to Paul on behalf of the church (I Cor 16:17)21 Paul also

received an oral report from the household of Chloe (I Cor 1:11),


18 Fee,12.

19 lbid.

20 Koester, 2:114-16.

21 Fee (7) suggests, on the basis of the combatative nature of I Corinthians, that the

responses of the Corinthians took exception with several of Paul's positions or prohibi-

tions in his previous letter. See also John Coolidge Hurd, The Origin of I Corinthians

f (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1983, reprint of the original 1965 edi-

tion): 50-58, on the relationship between Paul and the Corinthians.

58                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


communicating disorders in the church at Corinth. Perhaps confirming

suspicions raised by the prior visit of the Corinthian delegation, this

report served as the final cause for the writing of I Corinthians.22


The Structure of 1 Corinthians


There are four main divisions of I Corinthians. After the introduc-

tion (1: 1-9), Paul addresses the divisions and disorders in the church at

Corinth, which were reported to him by the household of Chloe (1: 10-

4:21). Chapters 5 and 6 are best understood as connected with 1:10-

4:21, not only because they are also based on the report of the house-

hold of Chloe, but also because they focus on the question of Paul's

authority which is a key issue in 1:10-4:21. Fee suggests that the three

issues brought up in chapters 5 and 6 were questions raised in the

church which tested Paul's authority, a matter which had been reas-

serted in chapters 1-4.23

The third main division of 1 Corinthians (7:1-16:12) systematically

answers the questions that the Corinthians raised for Paul in their

letter to him (16:17): The answers to each of these questions are

introduced by the phrase, peri> de< (7:1, 25; 8:1 [cf. 8:4]; 12:1; 16:1, 12)24

The epistle concludes with various instructions to the church in



The Structure and Argument of I Corinthians 7


In this chapter Paul addresses the first item in the letter the

Corinthians sent to him.25 Although the 1tEpi of. construction in 7:25

("now concerning virgins...") could be taken as a new section, the

whole chapter is united by the themes of marriage and sexual morality

and by the afterthought concerning "the unmarried and widows" in

7:39, 40 which adds to earlier instruction given this same group in 7:8,

9:6 Therefore, this study will approach the chapter as a single unit

consisting of two parts.27 Furthermore, the purpose of the chapter is


22 Fee (7, n. 18) remarks that "this order of events cannot be proved. ..but it seems

to make good sense of the data. It also helps to make sense of the apparent discrepancies

between what is really going on in the church and the 'official' stance presented in their

letter (as, e.g. in 11:2)."

23 Fee, 194-95. See also Hurd, 89, n. 1. Compare especially 4:18-21 and 5:4.

24 the exception being 11:17-34 and perhaps chapter 15.

25 Note the clause  peri>  de>  w#n e]gra<yate in 7:1.

26 Hurd, 169 states that "in subject matter the topic to which Paul responded in I Cor

7:25-38 is associated with that of the preceding section. Both concern sexual morality.

The 1tEpi of. in 7:25, however, implies that in some sense the problem thus introduced is

separate from the preceding."

27 Fee, 268. See also Hurd, 154ff., on this whole issue.

GLENNY: 1 CORINTHIANS 7:29-31                                59


not to be a summary of Paul's teaching on marriage;28 it is rather

intended to address the errors concerning marriage at Corinth.

I Corinthians 7:1-24. Paul's instruction to the married in verses

1-7 is based upon the statement in verse 1b: "It is good for a man not to

touch a woman.”29 It is generally understood that "to touch" is a

t euphemism for sexual intercourse and verses 2-7 indicate the passage

is addressed to married couples. This statement (7:la) is apparently a

quotation from the Corinthian letter, or at least it reflects the sentiment

of that letter.30 If it is from the Corinthians letter, "it is good" (kalo<n)

introduces the notion that it is advantageous or utilitarian for a man

not to have sexual intercourse with his wife.31 Fee argues that kalo<n

means "advantageous" or "utilitarian" on the basis of 7:8,26,35, and

because if Paul was agreeing with the Corinthian slogan in 7:1b it is

most likely that that is what it means there also.32 In the context of

6:12-20 and 5:1-5, it seems likely that some within the church thought

themselves so spiritual that they were above the temptations of the

flesh (6:12-20) no longer having to discipline their bodies and physical

appetites. Perhaps they even encouraged those who were married to

cease sexual relations in order to demonstrate their freedom from the

allure of physical longings.

In verse 2, Paul qualifies the slogan of verse lb. Both the husband

and the wife have sexual needs and rights and, continuing on, the

apostle points out not only an obligation to meet the sexual needs of

one's mate (v. 3), but also a reciprocal right of each married partner to

possess the body of his (her) mate (v. 4). Neither is to "deprive" the

other sexually except for a short time, by mutual consent, for the

purpose of fasting and prayer (v. 5). For verse 6 to be consistent with

verses 2-5, it must mean that Paul's teaching on sexual abstinence is a

concession not a command.33 Thus for Paul, marriage is, to a large

degree, sexual, as it is frequently portrayed in Old Testament passages

such as Gen 2:15, Prov 5:15-20, and Song of Solomon. Paul's wish is


28This is .obvious from 7:2.

29 1t is impossible to give support for every part of my understanding of I Corin-

thians 7. However, I will try to give support for main ideas which are especially

important for the interpretation of verses 29-31.

30 Fee, 276; Hurd, 65-88, 163; see also J. Murphy O'Connor, "Corinthian Slogans in

I Cor 6:12-20," CBQ 40 (1978):391-96.

31 See Hurd, 159, for the options concerning the meaning of kalo<n. See also Fee,


32 Even though Paul is in general agreement with the principal in 7:lb, he disagrees

with the Corinthian's reasons for believing it, and therefore, he qualifies the statement in

the following verses. Apparently, this is a Pauline teaching which the Corinthians have


33 Fee, 283-84.


60                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


that all could be single as he is (v. 7a), but he only recommends

celibacy for those with the "gift."

A series of datives in verses 8, 10 and 12 mark the next divisions

of this section. In verse 8 Paul teaches that widows and widowers34

would do well to remain unmarried, as he is. However, verse 9 argues

that if those named in verse 8 cannot control their sexual desire, they

should marry. Paul teaches the married (vv. 10-11) that believers

should not divorce, and if they are separated they are not to remarry

but remain single or be reconciled to their spouses. In marriages where

only one spouse is a believer (vv. 12-16), the believing partner is not to

leave his or her spouse, because the believer has a sanctifying effect on

the household (vv. 14, 16). If the unbeliever decides to depart (v. 15)

the believing spouse is not "bound" but is to seek peace.35 Verses 17-24,

central theological verses in the chapter, teach that the believer is to be

content to remain in the social setting he or she is in at the time each

one is called into the faith.36 What matters is not one's situation in life

but rather obedience to God (v. 19). Throughout the passage, this has

been the emphasis of Paul's instruction-to widows and widowers

(vv. 8-9), married believers (vv. 10-11) and believers who are married

to unbelievers (vv. 12-16).

Apparently the widows and widowers at Corinth were being in-

structed not to marry (vv. 8-9) and married believers were being

encouraged to separate (vv. 10-11). Furthermore, believers who were

married to unbelievers were apparently being taught that they were

defiled by their sexual relations with the unbelieving spouse. Or, per-

haps their unsaved spouses were not willing to forego sexual relations

as believers were demanding, and as a result the unsaved partners

desired to separate or divorce. The fact that Paul rejects divorce with

such emphasis in this section suggests that some of the Corinthians had

made statements in favor of it.37


34 Fee, 287-88.

35 Because of the teaching concerning remarriage in verses II and 34 it is best to

understand "not bound" here to mean not bound to remain in the relationship, and thus,

no implications concerning remarriage are given in this verse.

36 Fee rightly notes that even though one is not to be concerned about his or her

social setting, one's social setting is to be seen as assigned by Christ. Yet "that does not

mean that one is forever locked into that setting. Rather Paul means that by calling a

person within a given situation, that situation itself is taken up in the call and thus

sanctified to him or her" (310). One's concern should be to live out the Christian life in

whatever social setting he or she is in without concern for one's social setting.

37 Hurd, 167. Hurd (168) suggests that the substance of the Corinthians communica-

tion to Paul which occasioned I Cor 7: 1-24 was as follows: "Concerning problems of sex

and marriage: we believe that Christian couples should forego marital intercourse so that

they may devote themselves more fully to things spiritual. After all, is it not true that it is

well for a man not to touch a woman? For this reason we also think it best that the

            GLENNY: I CORINTHIANS 7:29-31                                 61


I Corinthians 7:25-40. The second part of chapter 7 addresses the

topic of "virgins" (Peri>  de>  tw?n  parqe<nwn, v. 25). It is reasonable to

think that because "virgins" are mentioned in each part of the argument

(vv. 28, 34, 36-38) that this is the topic of the entire section.38 The

I conclusion of the section is the "so then" in verse 38. The "virgins" are

best understood as betrothed couples questioning whether to go

through. with their intended marrages.39 The ascetic stance seen in the

slogan m verse I b is also evident here where the betrothed were

apparently being taught it would be sin to go through with their

marriages (vv. 28, 36). This situation is complicated by Paul's previous

instruction (vv. 17-24) to remain in the situation of life one is in; this is

obviously difficult for the betrothed. Thus Paul's opponents at Corinth

seemingly have him in a comer; while he favors celibacy (v. 7) he

opposes asceticism. How can he affirm celibacy without affirming their


Paul argues very gently (vv. 25,28,32,36,37) that celibacy is the

 better option, though marriage is no sin and is certainly a valid option

(vv. 28a, 36b, 38). The opening statement (vv. 25-28) teaches that

because of the present crises it is good for a person to remain un-

married40 since those who do marry will experience many difficulties.41

In verses 29-35 Paul digresses from the specific topic of virgins to

explain the Christian's relationship to the world (vv. 29-31) and the

need for all Christians, whatever their marital status, to remain free

from concern and live in total devotion to the Lord (v. 35b). It should

be emphasized here that Paul's instructions in verses 32-35 are not to

is restrict the single or engaged in any way concerning their plans to

marry (v. 35). If they do not have the gift of celibacy they are to marry

(v. 7).42 Verses 36-38 return to the topic of verses 25-2843 and give


unmarried and widows among us remain unmarried, an attitude of which you must

approve since you yourself remain unmarried.

It sometimes occurs that the harmony of a marriage is threatened by the demands of

the spiritual life. On the one hand, some of the brothers are unable to refrain completely

from their wives; on the other hand, some of the marriages include one partner who is

not a believer. In these cases we recommend separation so that the spiritual life of the

more devout partner is not hampered."

38 Fee, 322-24.

39 Ibid., 323-28. C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians

(New York: Harper and Row, 1968) and Hans Conzelmann, I Corinthians, Hermenia

Commentary Series (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975) both adopt the same view.

Conzelmann says "what is meant by the term 1tap9tvol is-superfluously enough-hotly

disputed; it means virgins. .."(131).

40 Fee, 324.

41 Ibid., 333.

42 Ibid., 334-55.

43 It the Hurd, 177-78.

62                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


further Instructions to an engaged couple. The chapter concludes

with a final comment concerning a Christian woman's right to remarry





The digression in thought and the vocative address in verse 29

suggest that verses 29-35 are an explanatory digression meant for all

the Christian community at Corinth.4s The issue which determines

Paul's development of verses 29-31 is the Christian's relationship to

the world.46 The believer is not to withdraw from the world or his

relationships in it (vv. 17-24), but instead is to live out the lordship of

Christ in this world. As Doughty says, "God's salvation deed in Christ

does not translate the believer out of the world, but establishes a new

relationship between man and his world. In verses 29-31, Paul elabo-

rates the nature of this new relationship.”47

            The overall structure of verses 29-31 is fairly straightforward.

Paul develops the Christian's relationship with the world in five con-

structions and these five constructions "are bracketed by two assertions

which are intended to ground the understanding of existence expressed

here48 Fee suggests that the basic premise in verse 29a is followed by

its purpose or result (the five w[j mn< constructions in vv. 29b-31a); then

the section concludes with the reason (ga<r) in verse 31b.49

Paul's opening words, "But this I say," certainly point forward to

the following phrase,50 "The time is short.51  The time (kairo<j), in

which Paul's recipients live, has been determined by God's eschato-


44 Fee, 327.

45 Fee, 52, n. 22 shows that the vocative a]delfoi<, often occurs at a shift in

an author's argument. He also argues, on the basis of the evidence in I Corinthians

(cf.especially I Cor 11:2-16) and in Phil 4:1-3, that women would have been "participants in

the worship of the community and would have been included in the 'brothers' being

addressed." See also Fee, 31, n. 16.

46 D. J. Doughty, "The Presence and Future of Salvation in Corinth," Zeitschrift fur

die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, 66 (1975):67.

47Ibid., 67.


49Fee, 338.

50 NIV seems to have the idea of this clause in its translation, "What I mean is


51This construction is best understood as a periphrastic perfect passive according

to Fee, 339, n. 14 and Barrett, 176. Fee adds that, "the verb suste<llw, depending on

context, means to constrict, reduce, restrain, or limit in some way. With time it means to

'compress' it. The picture is that of one for whom the future was either nonexistent, as

for most Greeks, or off in the vague distance; but the event of Christ has now compressed

the time in such a way that the future has been brought forward so as to be clearly

visible." Connections with Mark 13:20 are questionable here according to Fee and

Conzelmann, 113, n. 22.

GLENNY: 1 CORINTHIANS 7:29-31                                63


logical intervention in Christ (Rom 3:25, 26). The coming of Christ has

initiated the "last days" (8eb 1:2; I Pet 1:20; Rom 16:25, 26), and

therefore Christians have a different perspective than Old Testament

believers. Paul is not emphasizing that the end is imminent as much as

he is emphasizing that it is now clear or plain. This truth should

radically alter the values and decisions of Christians.52

The meaning of Paul's introduction to the five w[j mh< construc-

tions in verse 29b is debatable. It is generally understood that to>

loipo<n has a temporal significance and should be translated, "from

now on" or "henceforth.’”53 The context strongly supports such an

understanding. More difficult is the i!na which follows it. It could be

imperatival54 or it could indicate purpose.55 The two ideas are close,

but purpose is the more standard use of i!na with to>  loipo<n.56 The kai<

merely begins the series of  w[j mh< exhortations, each of which is intro-

duced by kai<; the first use of it (v. 29b) does not need to be translated.57

Thus, in verse 29a Paul is affirming that one reason God has com-

pressed (drawn together) the time of salvation is so that for the remain-

ing time believers would have a new perspective concerning their

relationship with this present world.58 This new perspective is described

in the five exhortations in verses 29b-31a.

These five exhortations are illustrations of the new perspective

that the Christian is to have concerning the world. That they are not


52 Fee (339, n. 15) makes the following helpful comment. "The analogy of the

terminally ill comes to mind. For those who have made peace with it, the amount of time

left is less in the forefront than is the change of perspective. They see, hear, and value in a

new way. My former student Dr. J. Camery-Hoggatt suggested the analogy of the one

who tells a joke. He alone knows the punch line, and because he knows it, it shapes the

telling of the joke in its entirety. Through the resurrection of Christ, Christians know the

divine 'punch line' (which in this case is no joke but a vivid reality!); they see clearly how

.the story comes out, and they shape their lives and values accordingly."

53 See Margaret E. Thrall, Greek Particles in the New Testament, New Testament

and Studies, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962):25-30, for a discussion of

loipo<n. Fee (338) and Barrett (176) support the translation given here. Conzelmann

n. 3) lists it as a possibility.

54 So Barrett, 176; Frederick Blass and A. DeBrunner, A Greek Grammar of the

Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, translated by Robert W. Funk

University of Chicago Press, 1961):195-96; C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom Book

of New Testament Greek (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979):145; and

James Hope Moulton, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, 4 vols., vol. 3:Syntax, by

Nigel Turner, 95.

55Fee (338, n. 10) argues that to< loipo<n may be preceding i!na for emphasis (cf. Gal 2:10)

56 Ibid

57 Archibald Robertson and Alfred Plummer, The First Epistle of St. Paul to the

Corinthians, ICC, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1914):155.

58 Fee, 340.

64                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


meant to be taken literally but as "dialectial rhetoric"59 is clear from

the context. First, if they were taken literally they would be absurd.

Second, a literal interpretation of the first illustration contradicts

verses 2-5, and third, they contrast what Paul says in Rom 12: 15 about

sorrowing and rejoicing.60

It has been argued that Paul's concern in the first statement is to

urge celibacy and abstention from sex within marriage.61 However, to

take the exhortation that literally causes contradiction (cf. vv. 1-5) and

would unnecessarily limit Paul's teaching in this clause. Paul is teaching

that for the present age, whether one is married or not, he is to live ''as

if not" because the various relationships of this life are passing away.

The obvious reason why he does not have a clause starting "and let

those who do not have wives be ..." is because there is no negative

counterpart to complete it, not because he is only addressing married


The tension in the w[j mh< expressions is not a temporal one

between the present and the future. It instead emphasizes the dialectal

relationship between a person and this world. The two present tense

verbs in each exhortation emphasize this dialectic.62 In light of the

eschatological nature of the times in which Christians live (v. 3lb), in

every situation of life they are to live without their relationship to the

world being the determining factor, but instead with their relationship

to Christ determining their attitudes and decisions. They are to be in

the world, but the world is not to dictate their present existence.

Therefore, if they are married they are to maintain their marriage

relationship, but at the same time to carefully control the passions or

desires that might shape their married relationship (I Thess 4:4ff).

Furthermore, the marriage relationship is not what determines or

controls their lives; instead their lives are dominated by Christ and a

desire to obey Him (7:19b).

For the Christian, rejoicing and mourning take on new meaning

(v. 30). The Christian rejoices and mourns in this world concerning

things of this world, but not as this world rejoices and mourns. Fur-

thermore, this world does not determine or dictate the Christian's

ultimate responses and relationships with other men. The laughter and

tears of this world are not the last word.63

Christians buy and sell (v. 30), but they do not buy to possess.

That is, the world does not determine their reasons for buying and sell-


59 Ibid.

60 Ibid.

61 Doughty, 68.

62 Ibid., 70.

63 Barrett, 178.


GLENNY: 1 CORINTHIANS 7:29-31                                65


ing. Fee notes that "those who buy are to do so 'as if not' in terms of

possessing anything. The eschatological person 'has nothing, yet pos-

sess all things' (2 Cor 6:10; cf. I Cor 3:22).,,64 This is why the Chris-

tian can "use the present world" (v. 31a). The world is not good or evil;

it simply is.65 But the present form of this world is passing away

(v. 31b); thus one is not to be "exploiting" it,66 engrossed in it, or

absorbed in it.67

The reason for the Christian's new relationship with the world is

given in verse 31b; in what is the most important sentence in the

section, Paul argues, "The essence68 of this world is in the process of

passing away.’”69 The fact that this world is passing away is the basis of

the five w[j  mh< statements which precede it; furthermore, the meaning

of all of these statements is determined by "Paul's understanding of the

salvation deed of God in Christ.”70 Fee suggests that the progressive

present tense verb form in verse 31b


reflects Paul's already/not yet eschatological perspective. The decisive

event is the one that has already happened. In Christ's death and

resurrection God has already determined the course of things; he has

already brought the present world in its present form under judgement.

And so decisive is that event that it has "foreshortened the time." The

result is that even now what others are absorbed in, the Christian is free



   The world is the sphere in which the believer is called to live out

the lordship of Christ in this age (7: 17-24)? The believer's life is

already in the present determined by the lordship of Christ (7:22) and

not by the essence (sxh?ma) of this present world (7:23, 31).73

Furthermore, as Schrage has observed, the significance of the

present tense verb (para<gei) in the concluding eschatological statement


64 Fee, 341.

65 lbid.

66 Doughty, 7 I. He has a lengthy discussion of this term in note 47.

67 Fee, 341.

68 This is the translation of Conzelmann, 134; Fee (342, n. 23) says it is more than

“simply the outward form that is on its way out, but the total scheme of things as they

 currently exist." TDNT, S.v. "sxh?ma" by J. Schneider (1971)7:956, suggests the transla-

tion is "distinctive manifestation."

69 This is generally understood to be a progressive present tense. See Fee, 342, and

the translations in Conzelmann, 130, and Barrett, 178.

70 Doughty, 73, n. 52.

71Fee, 341.

72  1Cor 7: 19 teaches that the lordship of Christ is lived out in a life by keeping God's

commands in whatever calling that one is in.

73 Doughty, 73.

66                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


in verse 31 b, is that "the future eschatology of apocalypticism has been

made present in a radical way.’”74 As Doughty says, "Christians are

exhorted to live as if the end of history had already arrived.”75 Thus

Paul is not concerned here with the future of salvation but rather with

"the existence of those who, as a consequence of God's salvation deed

in Christ, already stand at the end of history.”76 In this existence the

Christian "uses this world"(7:31), yet the world does not determine a

man's existence or enslave him.

It must be emphasized, for the sake of comparison with The Acts

of Paul and Thecla, that understanding the five w[j mh< exhortations in

terms of an eschatological "already" does not imply an apocalyptic

renunciation of the world. While for apocalypticism it could perhaps

be said that "the present is nothing but. .., the future is nevertheless

of great (worth)."77 Paul is suggesting no such rejection of relationships

in this world. Doughty summarizes the meaning very well in stating


The dialectic of 'having' and 'not having' is not dissolved by the para<gei,

but intensified! Both sides of the dialectic, both the 'having' and the 'not

having,' must be taken with equal seriousness. The meaning of this

dialectic for Paul becomes clear in his own summary statement: 'Let

those who make use of the world live as though not exploiting the

world.' The worldliness of the Christian is not denied. Christians live in

the world and continue to make use of the world78


The error of both the libertines and ascetics at Corinth was that

they were continuing to allow their lives to be shaped by the sxh?ma of

this world; the libertines were disdaining this world and the ascetics

were renouncing it. Yet both were responding or reacting to the form

or essence of this world and allowing it to shape their existence, rather

than using the relationships of this world, which have no ethical

significance, as a sphere in which they might love one another (12:31-

13:13), obey God (7:19), and glorify Him (6:20; 10:31)79




The Acts of Paul  is a second century rendition of the missionary

ministry and the death of the apostle Paul, which is included in the


74 Ibid., 68, 70.

75 Ibid., 68, n. 38.

76 Ibid., 68-69.

77 Wolfgang Schrage, "Die Slellung zur Welt bei Paulus, Epiktet und in der Apokalyp-

tic" Zeitschriftfur Theologie und Kirche 61 (1964):145. Schrage argues for an apocalyptic

understanding of I Cor 7:29-31. See the rebuttal of Schrage in Doughty, 70-71, and the

discussion in Conzelmann, 133, n. 26.

78 Doughty, 70-71.

79 Ibid., 74.

GLENNY: 1 CORINTHIANS 7:29-31                                67


New Testament Apocrypha.80 This work describes Paul as traveling

around the Roman East preaching the message of sexual abstinence

and resurrection from the dead.81 The clearest example of this message

is in the series of beatitudes in Paul's sermon at Iconium in The Acts of

Paul and Thecla 5-6. Among these beatitudes are found the following



Blessed are they who have kept the flesh pure, for they shall become a

temple of God.

Blessed are the continent, for to them will God speak.

Blessed are they who have renounced this world, for they shall be well

pleasing unto God.

Blessed are they who have wives as if they had them not, for they shall

inherit God.

Blessed are they who through love of God have departed from the form

of this world, for they shall judge angels and at the right hand of the

Father they shall be blessed.

Blessed are the bodies of the virgins, for they shall be well pleasing to

God, and shall not lose the reward of their purity.

For the word of the Father shall be for them a work of salvation in the

day of his Son, and they shall have rest for ever and ever.


The purpose of quoting from this sermon is to emphasize more

clearly the differences between I Cor 7:29-31 and The Acts of Paul  and


First, there are obvious differences between the teaching concern-

ing marriage and sex in I Corinthians 7 and in The Acts of Paul  and

Thecla. Whereas for Paul marriage includes a sexual relationship

(I Cor 7:2-5), for The Acts of Paul  and Thecla that is not the case.

While I Cor 7:2-5 teaches that partners have an obligation to meet

each other's sexual needs, The Acts of Paul  and Thecla (5-7, 15) teach

9ne cannot attain to the resurrection from the dead unless he refrains

from sexual relations.

Furthermore, in I Corinthians 7 celibacy is a gift (xa<risma 7:7)

and it is no sin to marry (7:28, 36), if one is not able to live the celibate

life (cf. also 7:9,11). In The Acts of Paul  and Thecla, by contrast, all   

are exhorted to renunciation of sexual relations and a life of virginity

or celibacy. In fact, in the latter work it is said that Paul "deprives

young men of wives and maidens of husbands, saying: 'Otherwise there


80Hennecke (2:351) dates the writing of The Acts of Paul  before A.D. 200. Because it

apparently dependent on The Acts of Peter; he suggests a date between 185 and 195.

MacDonald dates The Acts of Paul  between A.D. 150-190 (14) and Koester (2:325) dates

these works before the end of the second century A.D.

81 Other encratite practices are encouraged, but the consistent message is a call to

sexual abstinence. See Koester, 2:327.

68                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


is no resurrection for you, except ye remain chaste (ayvoi) and do not

defile the flesh, but keep it pure (a[gnh<n)’.”82 Paul tells the governor at

Iconium that God sent him "since he desires the salvation of all men

that I may draw them away from corruption and impurity, all pleasure

and death that they may sin no more.”83 In I Corinthians Paul never

threatens believers at Corinth with the loss of salvation, or of the

resurrection, because of sexual expression. In fact, even in cases of

sexual immorality, mentioned in I Cor 5:1-5 and 6:12-20, Paul does

not necessarily conclude that those sinning are not Christians. In

I Corinthians the exhortation to sexual purity is based on God's pre-

vious work of salvation in the life of the Christian (6:11,15,19) uniting

the Christian with Christ (6:15, 19) and securing his salvation; it is not

based on a threat of not participating in the resurrection as in The Acts

of Paul and Thecla.

It is also worth noting that the simplistic message of Paul in

The Acts of Paul  and Thecla urges nothing more than continence and

living chastely.84 As any student of the apocryphal Acts knows, the

contents are always simplistic and superficial when compared with

I Corinthians.85

Other contradictions between I Corinthians 7 and The Acts of

Paul and Thecla include the emphasis on maintaining peace in the

marriage relationship (I Cor 7:14-16), which is considered unimportant

in the Thecla story, and the emphasis on living out the Christian life in

one's situation in this life, rather than trying to change one's social

situation (see I Cor 7: 17-24,27 as contrasts the teaching in The Acts of

Paul and Thecla).86

Perhaps the major difference between the use of the "having

wives" statement in I Corinthians and The Acts of Paul  and Thecla is

the eschatological perspective of the two contexts. In the Thecla ac-

count the "form of this world" is evil and is to be renounced;87 those

who have wives and behave as if they had them not are given a future

promise of inheriting God. The apocalyptic perspective of The Acts of

Paul and Thecla understands the relationships of the present to be of


82 The Acts of Paul  and Thecla 12.

83Ibid., 17.

84 Ibid., 5, 9.

85 Hennecke, 350 states that the author of The Acts of Paul  makes the Apostle the

herald of a very simple faith, which can be reduced to a few formulae. ..."

86Ibid. Hennecke notes that the theology of The Acts of" Paul shows how far

Christianity had departed from the apostle by the close of the second century. Koester,

2:327 says that "the flowers of pious fantasy bloom more richly in these writings"

(meaning the Apocryphal Acts) than in Luke's writings in the New Testament. For the

historical differences between Paul's life as described in the New Testament and The

Apocryphal Acts of Paul, see Hennecke, 2:344, 347-48.

87 The Acts of Paul  and Thecla 5, 6.

GLENNY: I CORINTHIANS 7:29-31                     69


no value and the future to be a prize of great worth. This perspective

renounces this world and withdraws from it, so as not to be soiled by

any aspect of it. In I Corinthians 7 Paul teaches an already/not-yet

eschatology. The believer has been saved (6: 11) and joined with Christ

(6:14,15,19). Christ is reigning in this world today (15:20-28) and has

dominion over death. "In Christ" the future of the Christian has

already been determined (15:22), and now as a  dou?loj Xristou? (7:22)

the Christian is to live out the lordship of Christ in this world.88 The

society of this world is not evil, but as said before it merely is, and

the believer is to use it for God's glory. In The Acts of Paul  and Thecla

the condition given for married people to inherit God, or be resur-

rected, is to renounce this world by refraining from sexual relations

within marriage (a "spiritual marriage"). By contrast, I Cor 7:29a

emphasizes the tension of Paul's already / not yet eschatology. The way

for the married to live out Christ's lordship in these last days (since

Christ's resurrection and ascension to position of Lord) is to have a

complete marriage, including sexual relations (e@xontej gunai?kaj,

cf. 7:2). Still the believer should not allow his marriage to determine

his life; only Christ should do that. Furthermore, the series of five w[j

mh< exhortations in I Cor 7:29-31 shows that this principle is not only

for marriage, but applies to every relationship and activity of life.




If the argument presented in this paper is correct, it supports the

general consensus of opinion that the theology of The Acts of Paul  has

taken quite a departure from the historical Paul.89 This is certainly not

a new discovery; however, it is relevant to the thesis of Dennis

MacDonald. MacDonald's thesis, which was summarized earlier,90 is

based partly on the fact that The Acts of Paul  and Thecla preserve

aspects of Pauline teaching, which were handed down to the author of

this work through oral legends. On the basis of a general understanding

If The Acts of Paul  one could question MacDonald's theory. It is

more questionable when it is realized that the main evidence

he gives for the connection between the apostle and The Acts of Paul  is

the use of I Cor 7:29-31.91 He maintains that fanatic and apocalyptic

elements of Christianity, paralleling the radical characteristics of other

he movements, are seen in Paul and in The Acts of Paul  in

.their common use of I Cor 7:29-31. He suggests that the legends

behind The Acts of Paul  "faithfully preserve this aspect of Paul's


88 Doughty, 74-85 is helpful on this subject.

89 See note 86 above.

90 See Introduction above.

91MacDonald, 44-46.

70                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


teachings92 He argues that Paul's speech to Artemilla, bidding her to

abandon her wealth in view of the impending destruction of the world,

is consistent with I Cor 7:29-31.93 He also argues that the impending

destruction of the world spoken of in I Cor 7:29-31 "dictates a reap-

praisal of sexuality",94 which he takes to mean "a renunciation of sex

and marriage.”95 He argues that the general withdrawal from society

which is portrayed in the life of Thecla is a continuation of Paul's

teaching in I Cor 7:29-31.

This study of I Cor 7:29-31 suggests that the use of this passage to

sanction withdrawal from, or renunciation of, the societal relationships

of this life is ill-founded. Furthermore, if this is MacDonald's main

connection between Paul and the attitude toward society found in The

Acts of Paul and Thecla, it certainly raises questions concerning the

degree to which The Acts of Paul  should shape our images of Paul and

the religious movement he generated, especially with regard to attitudes

toward society.

Finally, in light of the lack of a clear connection between the

historical Paul and The Acts of Paul , it is fair to ask if the con-

temporary church should consider The Acts of Paul  to be a continua-

tion of the teaching of the historical Paul concerning the role of women

in society and the church, or concerning any other topic.96 The basis of

the connection MacDonald has tried to make between The Acts

Paul and the historical Paul has been shown to be, in reality, a

contradiction. In fact, the teaching of The Acts of Paul  concerning

marriage and sex appears to be the doctrine of the opponents of

in I Corinthians, rather than the teaching of the historical Paul.


92MacDonald, 45. See also 98.

93 The Acts of Paul  7. This is supposedly when Paul is at Ephesus.

94MacDonald, 45. "

95 Ibid..,45

96 I am not so naive as to think this paper is a fatal blow to MacDonald's thesis.

However, if this paper is correct, he has failed to connect with Paul the later ascetic,

fanatic, apocalyptic movements, which renounced and withdrew from society. Also, he

has misinterpreted the main passage he uses from Paul to support his own thesis! The

burden of proof is certainly in the lap of those who would argue that The Acts of Paul  

reflect the historical teachings of Paul. I would be pleased to see a more serious treatment

of the Pauline material in the New Testament by those who seek to make this connection.



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