Was Paul Married [ἄγαμος]? (Monday with Mounce 111)
In 1 Cor 7:8, Paul writes, “Now to the unmarried (ἀγάμοιος) and to the widows (χήραις).” It is clear that Paul is unmarried (1 Cor 7:7), but it is not clear that he is or is not a widower.
“Widow” (χήρα) occurs 24 time in the New Testament. Outside of 1 Cor 7, it apparently always refers to a woman. BDAG lists “widow” and not “widower” as the only meaning of χήρας, which is expected since χήρας is a feminine noun and appears to be following natural gender. The masculine χήρος does not occur in biblical literature.
ἄγαμος can be either ὁ ἄγαμος (1 Cor 7:32) or ἡ ἄγαμος (1 Cor 7:34). The unmarried person in v 11 (anarthrous ) clearly is a woman from context (“let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband”).
I’m not moved by the argument that says Rabbis tended to be married. Regardless of his standing in the Jewish community, it does not necessarily follow that Paul had been married. A classic argument from silence. I wonder when that tradition began, and whether we know for sure it pre-dates 70 A.D.
Fee does have three argument that ἄγαμος is better translated “widower.”
1. It is not surprising that the New Testament does not have a word specifically for “widower“since in that culture the problems were not as great for a widower as for a widow. So the use of ἄγαμος for “widower” is not an issue.
2. Paul has been dealing with the issues of husbands and wives in this section, so it would be natural to balance “widows” with “widowers.”
3. In v 11 ἄγαμος refers to a woman who is separated from her husband, and in v 34 it is in contrast to a “virgin.” Hence, the suggestion is that it refers in Pau’s usage to someone who had been married but not longer is.
If this is the case, then it would slightly argue for seeing Paul’s state as an ἄγαμος in v 11 as being a widower. But it does not seem to me to be very strong argumentation for the conclusion that Paul as an ἄγαμος must be a widower as are the people he is addressing. After all, he doesn’t actually say he is an ἄγαμος, just that the ἄγαμος and the χηρας should remain as he is.
I doubt we will know the answer to this question until we ask him face to face.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous books, including the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek, and 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 www.billmounce.com.
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