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1 Cor 7:5 — Prayer and Fasting (Monday with Mounce 67)

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The other day I spoke briefly about textual criticism and
why the Greek texts behind the King James Version (and the NKJV) and all modern
translations are different. Here is an example of how that works out.

In 1 Cor 7:5 Paul is discussing the issue of sexual
intimacy in marriage. He says, “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by
agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but
then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack
of self-control” (ESV).

The KJV reads, “that ye may give yourselves to fasting
and prayer.” So is fasting a legitimate reason to withhold sexual intimacy, and
what did Paul actually say?

If you are comfortable with Greek, you probably already
know how to research this question. You go to the Greek footnotes and see that
νηστεια και τη are included by the second corrector of Aleph, the Majority Text
(which is the basis of the KJV), and the Syriac translation. It is omitted by the
original writer of Aleph and most everyone else. (I can’t find my UBS Greek
text — must be at the office. It probably has more manuscript information.)

Because it is not present in the original version of
Aleph (the Greek manuscript called Sinaiticus, 4th - 6th century), and not
added in until the 7th century (second corrector), on this basis alone most
textual critics today would omit “fasting and.” Aleph is seen as the best and
most authentic Greek manuscript we have, and its readings are almost always

What seals the deal is that Matt 17:21 and Mark 9:29 show
the same pattern of scribes adding in reference to fasting along with prayer.

It is interesting to me that the two main commentaries I
use on 1 Corinthians, Fee and Thiselton, do not even discuss the variant
reading. Apparently, it was so clearly added to the text that it does not bear

Proponents of the superiority of the Majority Text would
say that Sinaiticus dropped out the references, but I do not know the reason
they would give for this.

Apparently the early church was serious about concerted
times of prayer, times when normal and good activities would be set aside so
the people could focus on prayer. I wonder what would happen today in most
churches if the pastors called for sexual abstinence so that husbands and wives
could concentrate on prayer for, let’s say, God revealing sin in their hearts,
or training their hearts to hurt for the things that hurt God’s heart such as
the plight of widows and orphans, for reassessing our priorities, or perhaps
just times of extended prayer in worship and adoration of our beautiful God?


William D. [Bill] Mounce posts every Monday about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greekand is the general editor for Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV. Learn more and visit Bill's blog (co-authored with scholar and his father Bob Mounce) at

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