Spiritual Marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38?

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Andrew Baguley | Forum Activity | Posted: Fri, May 18 2018 9:38 AM

Logos has just shipped Greg Peters’ “The Story of Monasticism”.  On p27, he lists four ways to interpret 1 Cor 7:36-38:

(1) Paul is writing about a young man and his fiancée; (2) Paul is writing about a father and his virgin daughter; (3) Paul is discussing a levirate marriage (in which a man marries his brother’s widow); or (4) Paul is describing spiritual marriage.[1]

The Lexham Bible Guide states that:

Paul seems to be addressing either fiancés of “virgins” (see esv, niv, leb) or the fathers of “virgins” (see asv, nasb).[2]

That is just two ways, excluding Peters’ preferred option of spiritual marriage, despite Peters’ claim that:

Twentieth- and twenty-first-century commentaries continue to conclude that the spiritual marriage view is the best interpretive option.[3]

Is “spiritual marriage” a mainstream view of many recent commentators?  The Exegetical Summaries series lists just one commentator (writing in French and translated into English in 1962) and one Bible translation from 1973 ([He; TNT].) that opt for this view.

Peters backs up his claim by citing a journal article he wrote, following a sentence beginning “The opinion of many modern interpreters is that…”[4] A single click means I could read this quickly (thanks, Logos).  However, this article suggests that the spiritual marriage view became popular in the 1950s and 1960s, but then notes that Conzelmann rejected the view in 1975 and then only adds a footnote to: a commentary by Murphy-O’Conner (1979), a study by J. Dorcas Gordon (1997) and a favourable reference to Thiselton (2000), quoting him saying that he “could neither establish nor conclude” the possibility of spiritual marriages, but failing to note that Thiselton chooses against this view (p571), describes reading spiritual marriages in 1 Cor 7 as “unclear and doubtful” (p502) and describes Achelis’ study as “detailed” but “seriously overtaken by more recent research” (p569n451).

Therefore, it seems that Peters’ line that:

Twentieth- and twenty-first-century commentaries continue to conclude that the spiritual marriage view is the best interpretive option.[5]

is misleading at best.

This does not resolve issues regarding spiritual marriages and the interpretation of 1 Cor 7, but I hope that it does illustrate how easily scholars can mislead and how hard it can be to check their claims.

If there was a resource that allowed interpretations of 1 Cor 7:36-38 and other controversial passages to be seen at a glance, along with the ways that different commentators, translations and other writers have chosen to interpret the passage, then this would make it harder for writers to mislead so easily.  There is a suggestion for this resource to be added to Logos here: https://logos.uservoice.com/forums/42823-logos-bible-software-7/suggestions/17871697-create-a-database-of-biblical-issues-and-stances-w

Please consider voting for it.  This post illustrates just one of the many reasons to do so.  There are more at https://community.logos.com/forums/p/133058/865216.aspx#865216.  Thanks.



[1] Peters, G., 2015. The Story of Monasticism: Retrieving an Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.

[2] Brown, D.R. & Twist, E.T., 2013. 1 Corinthians J. D. Barry & D. Mangum, eds., Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3] Peters, G., 2015. The Story of Monasticism: Retrieving an Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.

He Héring, Jean. The First Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. 2d ed. Translated by A. W. Heathcote and P. J. Allcock. London: Epworth Press, 1962.

TNT The Translator’s New Testament. London: British and Foreign Bible Society, 1973.

[4] Peters, G., 2015. The Story of Monasticism: Retrieving an Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.

[5] Peters, G., 2015. The Story of Monasticism: Retrieving an Ancient Tradition for Contemporary Spirituality, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic: A Division of Baker Publishing Group.

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Jack Caviness | Forum Activity | Replied: Fri, May 18 2018 12:24 PM

Andrew Baguley:
Twentieth- and twenty-first-century commentaries continue to conclude that the spiritual marriage view is the best interpretive option

I am always suspicious of writers who use such sweeping generalizations without providing extensive footnotes to support the claim. We have a pastor in this area who is fond of using "scholars say…" in his sermons. Having listened to a couple of recordings of his sermons, I believe the purpose of this declaration is to intimidate his audience so no one dares question his eisegesis. Perhaps the writer you cite uses the same tactic.

Posts 579
Andrew Baguley | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Aug 18 2018 11:36 AM

Sorry for not responding sooner to this, Jack.  I can't say whether that's what Greg Peters was doing, but I do think that his comments were at least misleading.  This is just one of many reasons why it would be good to have a resource in Logos that allows us to check claims like this quickly and easily.  My suggestion can be found here: https://logos.uservoice.com/forums/42823-logos-bible-software-7/suggestions/17871697-create-a-database-of-biblical-issues-and-stances-w.

Agree?  Please vote for it.  As I said above, there are many more reasons to vote for it here: https://community.logos.com/forums/p/133058/865216.aspx#865216

Posts 391
Liam Maguire | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Aug 19 2018 1:03 AM

Jack Caviness:

I am always suspicious of writers who use such sweeping generalizations without providing extensive footnotes to support the claim. We have a pastor in this area who is fond of using "scholars say…" in his sermons. Having listened to a couple of recordings of his sermons, I believe the purpose of this declaration is to intimidate his audience so no one dares question his eisegesis. Perhaps the writer you cite uses the same tactic.

Absolutely! In Logos, I have two highlighters I use for situations like this.

  1. References: Assertions that should be referenced or references to other sources which should be referenced. 
  2. Questionable: This one is a bit less scientific. It is for anything that does sound right, sounds a bit dodgy, or that makes me go "hmmmmm.... I'm not sure about that" and furrow my brows! 

On the point about the pastor, I know preachers who say "scholars say.." or, "one bible commenter says..." out of fear of sounding like they are name dropping or intimidating their audience. Personally, I try to live by a principle of "always cite your sources", especially in preaching. So I always prefer it when preachers say "C.S. Lewis said in A Grief Observed..." or "Alec Moyter, in his commentary on James, said..."

I do this myself so that:

  1. Those who were inclined to do so could look up what the author said or was quoted as saying in context. I'd even help them do it if they asked.
  2. In the hope that the congregation starts to build up a mental list of names which are reliable and credible to guide their book purchasing/online sermon listing habits. Eg. A person browsing for Christian books might see one by R.C. Sproul and think, "Oh, Liam quotes him from time to time in his sermons, maybe I'll get that book."

At the end of the day, I believe that the ninth commandment (Ex 20:16) requires more than not lying. It requires us to be people who love truth, always fairly representing the facts as best as we can, and always striving to represent the positions in hope that they might read it and say "Yes, that's what I think." I'm indebted to Micheal Horton for this understanding of the Ninth Commandment and how it applies to preaching, teaching and academic work. Ultimately, neither the academy nor the pulpit is helped by vague references and sweeping generalizations. 

Check out my blog 'For Fathers'

Posts 951
JohnB | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Aug 19 2018 4:23 PM

LMAM:

  • Those who were inclined to do so could look up what the author said or was quoted as saying in context. I'd even help them do it if they asked.
  • In the hope that the congregation starts to build up a mental list of names which are reliable and credible to guide their book purchasing/online sermon listing habits. Eg. A person browsing for Christian books might see one by R.C. Sproul and think, "Oh, Liam quotes him from time to time in his sermons, maybe I'll get that book."

Brilliant.

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