"The Wisdom of Men": Greek Philosophy, Corinthian Behavior, and the Teachings of Paul
Eric D. Huntsman
Eric D. Huntsman, “‘The Wisdom of Men’: Greek Philosophy, Corinthian Behavior, and the Teachings of Paul,” Shedding Light on the New Testament: Acts–Revelation, ed. Ray L. Huntington, Frank F. Judd Jr., and David M. Whitchurch (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2009), 67–97.
Eric D. Huntsman is an associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.
First Corinthians contains many passages well known to Latter-day Saints, including Paul’s teachings on the sacrament (see 1 Corinthians 11:23–30), his allegory on the body explaining the need for different kinds of spiritual gifts (see chapter 12), his famous hymn to charity (see chapter 13), and his teachings on the Resurrection and baptism for the dead (see chapter 15). Other parts of this letter, however, are obscure or even confusing for modern readers because of references to situations or customs particular to first-century Roman Corinth. In these instances, understanding the historical and cultural background can help explain directions and counsel that seem to be time and culture specific on issues regarding the divisions that existed in the congregation, the proper dress and grooming expected of men and women at the time, and whether Christians could eat meat offered in pagan temples.
Still other important teachings, such as directions regarding sexual morality and especially marriage, are complicated because of difficult passages that can, at times, seem to contradict known gospel principles or even Paul’s own teaching elsewhere. Simple historical explanations for these passages are not always completely satisfactory, and nowhere is this more apparent than in 1 Corinthians 7, where important teachings about proper intimacy within marriage, counsel regarding divorce and remarriage, and serving the Lord are sometimes overshadowed by Paul’s apparent suggestion that the unmarried might wish to remain single, either because of the “present distress” (1 Corinthians 7:26; see also vv. 25, 27–29) or because marriage can be distracting (see vv. 32–35). An important approach in Latter-day Saint treatments of this chapter that remains useful has been to review the doctrines concerning marriage and use restoration scripture to explain what Paul meant. While doctrinally sound, this approach does not always clearly explain why Paul seems to have written the way the surviving texts suggest that he did. A supplementary approach to this is to consider a particular facet of Corinthian culture—Greek philosophy drawing from the Platonic, Stoic, and Cynic schools—that seems to have influenced the way educated Corinthians, including some Christians, seem to have understood issues regarding the spiritual, physical, and social worlds in which they lived. This world view, in turn, influenced the way they valued the human body in general and treated sexuality in particular. Significantly, in several instances restoration scripture, especially the revisions of the Bible by Joseph Smith, confirm some of the insights this approach provides.
Christians and the Educated Elite at Corinth
Christianity first came to Corinth when Paul visited it during his second missionary journey (see Acts 18:1–11), which can be dated to the fall of AD 51 by his hearing before the governor L. Iunius Gallio Annaeus, whose term of office has been dated by an inscription. Corinth at the time was a thriving economic and political center, with major ports on both sides of the strategic isthmus of Corinth, and was serving as the capital of the Roman province of Achaea. The Romans had actually destroyed the city in 146 BC, leaving little standing besides the city’s temples, but in 44 BC Julius Caesar refounded the city as Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthiensis, settling it with Roman citizens drawn from the freedmen class as well as discharged veterans. Corinth’s prosperity drew additional settlers from surrounding regions of Greece, which gradually restored its status as a Greek city, although a substantial proportion of the population continued to hold Roman citizenship and to consider themselves Roman, a fact that cannot be forgotten when considering the social, cultural, and political factors that Paul addressed in his letters.
Economic opportunities attracted further settlers, including a substantial number of Syrians and Jews. Because of Corinth’s status as a Roman colony, it was a natural destination for many Roman Jews when they were expelled from the capital by an edict of Claudius in AD 49, explaining the arrival of Aquila and Prisca in Acts 18:2–3. Economic prosperity at Corinth led to deepening social and economic divisions as the wealthy grew ever more wealthy. The city’s elite, who had greater opportunities for education as well as civic and cultural involvement, would have been influenced not only by Greek culture and philosophy but also by the so-called “agonistic worldview” (from the Greek agōn for “contest, competition, or game”). For centuries this ingrained competitiveness had led Greeks to strive with each other for preeminence—whether in athletics, art, or politics—perhaps contributing to the pride and factionalism that Paul addresses in the letter (see 1 Corinthians 1:10–4:21).
Paul’s eighteen-month stay in the city enabled him to establish a strong church there, and this was the beginning of a long relationship between Paul and the Corinthian Christians. This congregation included some Jews, such as Crispus, who had previously been a synagogue leader (see Acts 18:8; 1 Corinthians 1:14), and perhaps Sosthenes, who had opposed Paul during his first visit, but who may also be the same Sosthenes who helped write the letter we now know as 1 Corinthians (see Acts 18:17; 1 Corinthians 1:1). The majority of the Christians, however, were certainly Romans or Greeks, and some of them seem to have been well off financially, including Justus, a prominent God-fearer whose house was next to the Jewish synagogue (see Acts 18:7), and Gaius and Stephanas, whom Paul identified as “the firstfruits of Achaea,” meaning his first converts (1 Corinthians 16:15). While Paul states early in his letter “that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble” were called as Christians (1 Corinthians 1:26), the implication is that some, in fact, were educated (sophoi, KJV “wise men”), of political influence (dynatoi, KJV “mighty”), and of high social status (eugeneis, KJV “noble”), leading one commentator to suggest that early Christians Gaius, Stephanas, and Crispus were “prominent persons of high rank, esteem, and probably wealth, respectively, within the Roman, Greek, and Jewish communities.” Other prominent and apparently wealthy Christians include Phoebe, a businesswoman from the Corinthian port of Cenchrae (see Romans 16:1–2), and Erastus, who may have been a city treasurer in Corinth (see Romans 16:23).
Paul seems to have had success with at least some of the local elite in the other Greek cities where he evangelized, so in that respect, his success converting members of the upper socioeconomic stratum at Corinth may not necessarily have been unique, even if it seems somewhat better documented. What is clear, however, is that the Corinthian congregation was quickly rent by internal disputes and factionalism. This factionalism appears to have been partly due to existing socioeconomic divisions, particularly because the wealthier among the Christians, who probably hosted most worship services in their homes, thought that leadership naturally should belong to them. Furthermore, there may have been some conscious discrimination against the less fortunate in the congregation (see 1 Corinthians 11:17–22). While the Christians who are known by name might not be the ones whom Paul was forced to correct in his letter, they nonetheless may represent a class that was likely to have been well-educated and seems to have been particularly susceptible to doctrinal or behavioral aberrations arising from claims of special wisdom (sophia) or knowledge (gnōsis).
Philosophical Views and Implications for Christian Behavior
One of these incorrect beliefs was that while continuing to exist in the physical body they had, in fact, begun a new spiritual existence, which led them to deny the significance of the body. Because proponents of these beliefs seem to have included some of the most prominent members of the congregation, these false beliefs were leading the rest of the Church in Corinth astray, making 1 Corinthians not only about various “divisions and contentions” in general (1 Corinthians 1:10–18) but also about the willful rebellion of a group who claimed to have “wisdom” (1:18–2:16). Their rebellion had then given birth to the factionalism, pride over special knowledge and gifts, and moral misbehavior that Paul so forcibly countered in the letter.
Greek philosophy, such as Platonism on one hand and Cynicism and Stoicism on the other, would have influenced the ethics and worldview of many of the educated at Corinth. All of these philosophical schools had borrowed and developed to some degree ideas from the earlier Pythagorean and Orphic movements that led them to stress the spiritual world over physical realities. While this emphasis on the spirit may have helped some be responsive to Christianity initially, the fact that these schools tended to denigrate physicality later made some educated Christians susceptible to mixing gospel principles improperly with their earlier philosophical views. While Platonism and Stoicism differed on the importance of the material world, both encouraged controlled moral behavior with stress on virtue and ideals over the needs and desires of the body, and both shared a belief in the immortality of the soul. Stoicism was increasingly popular with the upper classes in the Roman period, while other philosophies, such as Epicureanism and Cynicism, appealed to the educated middle classes. Cynicism, which takes its name from the Greek word for “dog” (kyōn, kynos), ostensibly encouraged its adherents to reject all social and religious conventions by living like dogs. Interestingly, the most famous Cynic philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope (412–323 BC), had spent the last part of his life in Corinth, where he died. Throughout the course of his career, Diogenes had demonstrated his rejection of the world and contemporary society by living in a tub, rejecting social institutions and values, and performing extreme sexual and scatological acts in public.
The differing philosophical views in Corinth shared a common view of the physical world and particularly the body—namely that it was ultimately not as important as higher principles, whether these be truth, virtue, avoiding pain, spiritual realities, or rejecting contemporary worldly culture, religion, and social expectations. Indeed, the philosophical worldview of certain Corinthian Christians seems to have either encouraged them to think that they were above the law—leading them to ignore deeds in the flesh and purposefully flout social and cultural customs—or predisposed them to excessive asceticism. This philosophical factor led Paul to remind them at the beginning of his letter that their “faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5; emphasis added). Their worldview can be seen in their claim that all things were lawful to them (see 6:12–20), that they could participate in pagan cults and eat meat offered to idols with impunity (see 8:1–13; 10:13–11:1), and that they could ignore social conventions regarding dress and grooming held by most in society, including their fellow Christians (see 11:2–16). Briefly reviewing their attitudes in regard to these issues places their incorrect views regarding marriage and celibacy in a new context.
“All Things Are Lawful”
Paul argues that Christians can maintain chastity in the body of Christ—that is, sexual purity among members of the church—by glorifying God in the body as well as the spirit (see 6:12–20). While this passage deals with principles that are clearly applicable to believers in every age, this dichotomy between body and spirit is also important for understanding some specific philosophical issues facing the Church at Corinth in the time of Paul. Paul highlights the view maintained by some philosophically minded Christians by quoting statements or slogans that they had sent to Paul in an earlier, now-lost letter or that had been reported to him by others. Although scholars differ as to which phrases were questions posed or statements made to Paul and which ones might represent his own responses, understanding that all the material in the verses did not necessarily originate with Paul helps clarify some possible confusion as to what he was actually trying to teach. In this regard, supplying quotation marks to the King James text to delineate the quoted material is helpful:
“All things are lawful unto me,” but all things are not expedient: “all things are lawful for me,” but I will not be brought under the power of any.
“Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them.” Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. (New Revised Standard Version, 1 Corinthians 6:12–13)
Laying out the verses this way reveals that Paul was not just reacting to the fact that some Corinthian believers were guilty of fornication; rather he was also responding to the fact that some of them were apparently trying to justify their actions by appealing to their belief that all things were lawful to them and that it did not matter what one did with the body since one day God would destroy it. In his New Translation of the Bible, Joseph Smith seems to have tried to make it even more clear that these statements did not represent correct principles taught by Paul: “All these things are not lawful unto me, and all these things are not expedient. All things are not lawful for me, therefore I will not be brought under the power of any.” Although it is unclear whether Joseph Smith considered this an actual restoration of the original text or an inspired revision in this instance, the Prophet plainly taught that Paul did not teach that all things were lawful.
The idea that all things are permissible to the wise man (Greek sophos) was a key idea of the Cynic school of philosophy, and to some extent of the Stoic school, and would later be an idea common among many Gnostic Christians. Apparently, either because of their previous Greek philosophical background or because they thought that they had already been saved by Christ (perhaps a misunderstanding of Paul’s preaching as seen in 1:18), some in the Corinthian Church thought that the kingdom of God had already come in a spiritual sense and that they were reigning as kings with Christ even while in this world (see 4:8). This led them to think that they were above law and free to act as they wished. Rather than argue this point, Paul responded to the Corinthian slogan that many things are permissible to the wise or saved man by focusing on whether all things first are helpful or beneficial (the sense of sympherei, KJV “expedient”) in one’s gospel walk. Further, he points out that certain actions, if chosen, in fact enslave (exousiasthēsomai, KJV “be brought under the power of”) rather than free.
In verse 13 Paul more directly challenges the position of his opponents that their knowledge of the importance of spiritual things meant that somehow behavior in the physical body did not matter. The idea that the spiritual realm was far more important than the physical realm was a tenet of Platonism in this period and seems to have been an operative idea of many of Paul’s opponents. Hence they thought that “God shall destroy both it [the body] and them [the meats]” because ultimately all physical things would come to an end. Paul, however, responded strongly that the body was not only good but was expressly “for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” He continues by reminding the Corinthians that God really raised up the body of Jesus in the Resurrection—a point to which he returns in chapter 15—and would raise the Corinthians’ bodies as well, making sins involving the body, particularly sexual sins, serious since the Saints as a body (not just individuals) are the temple of God (see 6:14–18).
Meat Offered to Idols
Chapters 8–10 deal with the overarching issue of how some Corinthian Christians were engaging in certain idolatrous practices associated with pagan sacrifice. Meat was rarely part of the diet of the poor, and they were often left out of the social occasions when it was served (including, apparently, some Christian meals; see 11:17–22), so the issue of eating meat, either in the temples themselves or when purchased after its resale in the markets, had socioeconomic implications for the Christian community in Corinth. Paul’s primary focus in addressing it, however, revolved around the claimed knowledge of the elite. Once again, these seem to have been the socially and economically advantaged members of the community who also, because of their education, were more philosophically disposed. Strict monotheists, they did not believe in the existence of the pagan gods, and some even felt that eating meat from pagan sacrifices and participating in pagan communal meals was a way of demonstrating their spiritual strength. Paul had apparently warned them about this in his first, now-lost letter, which led to a defiant response from these Corinthian opponents.
Analysis of these chapters reveals four issues: since pagan gods do not really exist, some of the Corinthians thought that participating in their worship by eating sacrificial meat was not wrong (see 8:1–8); because food—and perhaps all physical matter—was of no consequence to this group of Corinthians, they thought that what and where they ate made no difference (see 8:8–13); the opponents questioned whether Paul even had the authority to direct them in this matter, leading Paul to make a spirited defense of his position (see 9:1–27); and some, perhaps the same group, seem to have thought that Christian ordinances such as baptism and the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper protected them from pagan influences in an almost magical fashion (see 10:1–22).
As before, in 8:1–4 Paul seems to be quoting Corinthian slogans, which they may have used to justify their continued participation in sacrificial meals when Paul’s earlier letter had forbidden them from doing so:
Now as touching things offered unto idols, “we know that we all have knowledge.”
Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth. And if any man think that he knoweth any thing, he knoweth nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any man love God, the same is known of him.
As concerning therefore the eating of those things that are offered in sacrifice unto idols, “we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.” (quotation marks and emphasis added)
Against Paul’s injunction that they not touch things offered to idols, the Corinthian opponents responded with the claim, “We know that we all have knowledge,” which in the second slogan is clarified to mean that they know that “idols are nothing” and “there is none other God but one.” Paul responds to the first slogan, “We know that we all have knowledge,” by appealing to charity. Instead, they should be concerned about how eating such food would affect the testimonies of weaker brothers, lest “this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak” (8:9–13).
Paul’s concern for those Christians who were spiritually as well as intellectually more humble is a major factor in Paul’s final counsel regarding the issue of sacrificial meat. While some of the Corinthian elite may have been actually eating it in public cultic celebrations or the private feasts of their upper class pagan friends, it was an issue for all Christians: pagan temples essentially served as the slaughterhouses of the ancient world, much of the surplus meat from the sacrifices being subsequently resold in the public meat market (en makellō, KJV “shambles”). Here Paul ruled that Christians should not ask whether the meat had first been part of a pagan sacrifice, since it ultimately had indeed come from God (see 10:25–26). Even if one ate a meal at the home of a pagan friend, one did not need to inquire where he got the meat. However, if the host pointed out that it had been part of a pagan sacrifice, for the sake of the conscience of both the host and presumably other Christians who might observe, one should not eat the meat (see 10:27–32). Paul’s concern that one not give offense “to the church of God” in verse 32 indicates that the weak might indeed be hurt by the example of the strong, meaning those with knowledge, but also, in the social context of first-century Corinth, the influential and powerful. Newly converted, the weak may still be influenced by their past pagan beliefs and practices and should neither be encouraged to return to them in any fashion nor allowed to think that their stronger fellow Christians were weak in the faith.
The Veiling of Women and Grooming of Men
In 11:2–16, Paul addresses the issue of head coverings in Christian worship, writing, “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven” (vv. 4–5). Jews, Greeks, and Romans all had standards that were sometimes different regarding the covering of one’s head, particularly in the context of religious worship, so cultural expectations and genders rules were clearly a factor in Paul’s advice. What is often not recognized, however, is that he may have been responding to a relatively unique problem in his letter, namely the behavior of the Christian elite whose knowledge led them to flout all social customs, both pagan and Christian.
Most Christians in Corinth, regardless of their background, would have had similar feelings about the hair and veiling of women. Long hair was an expected sign of femininity, and covering it could be a sign of modesty and reverence, while cutting it was a sign of disgrace. Among Jewish women, as well as women throughout the Roman world generally, the veil was the part of the himation, or outer cloak, that could be pulled up over the head, particularly during prayer or worship, although it was not unacceptable for women to go unveiled in public in other circumstances. Romans in this period—and the significance of Corinth’s being a Roman colony should not be underestimated—felt particularly strongly about respectable women covering their heads with veils or hoods whenever outside of the home.
For men, however, the picture is unclear, because scholars differ regarding exactly what cultural expectations governed men in Corinth in Paul’s day. Jewish Christians, like Paul himself, came from a background that in later periods required men to cover their heads while praying. While it is not clear that this was the rule in the first century AD, Paul’s admonition that a man uncover his head when worshipping seems surprising. On the other hand, many Corinthian Christians were of a Greek background, and in Greek liturgical practice men sacrificed and prayed with uncovered heads. Nevertheless, those Christians who were Roman citizens, or perhaps who aspired to be citizens, would have followed Roman practice, which did include covering the head while praying. However, Paul was not necessarily referring to a man covering his head with a hat, prayer shawl, or toga drawn up over his head as a veil. Instead, verse 4 reads in Greek kata kephalēs echōn, which literally means with something “hanging down from the head.” This can be taken as referring to long hair on a man, which in Roman eyes was a sign of effeminacy and blatant sexuality, often homosexuality. In other words, Paul’s direction to men may actually have been an issue of grooming rather than dress.
Paul’s counsel on dress and grooming, then, seems to have been in harmony with Corinthian cultural expectations, and he encouraged Christians to conform with contemporary standards of modesty and decorum. The question that arises, then, is why some Corinthian Christians seem to have been going against conventional standards, women participating in worship services with heads uncovered and men provocatively wearing either hairstyles or perhaps unusual headgear that marked them as nonconformists. The answer seems to lie in the attitude of the Corinthian intellectual and, in their minds, spiritual elite that felt that they were living beyond the world’s standards. Women, whom the Christian message had liberated and empowered in so many ways, sought to demonstrate this independence by boldly uncovering their heads during worship. Men, who felt that they demonstrated their rejection of false religions by blithely participating in pagan feasts and perhaps demonstrated their freedom from moral restrictions by libertine behavior, may also have flaunted counterculture dress and grooming.
Countering Philosophical Views of Marriage and Celibacy
While some of Paul’s advice regarding marriage in chapter 7 applied broadly to Christians in Corinth and has similar application today, several difficult passages in this chapter make particular sense when seen in the context of an elitist worldview that downplayed the importance of the body. Whereas the philosophy of some in the congregation had led them to disregard actions in the body, in chapter 7 some of Paul’s counsel seems to have been motivated by the claims of an ascetic group whose beliefs led them to extreme practices and self-denial in everything from sexual behavior to dietary practices, thinking that they could please God by denying the body. Their negative view of marriage, together with certain circumstantial factors, led Paul to address whether marital relations were appropriate (see vv. 7:1–7) and to give advice to specific groups including the unmarried and widows (see vv. 8–9, 39–40) and those married but contemplating divorce, especially those married to unbelievers (see vv. 10–16). He also suggested that at that time Corinthians ought to consider maintaining the status quo in view of “the present distress” (see vv. 25–35) but not let anxiety or “carefulness” determine their personal state (see vv. 32–35).
Whether Marital Relations Are Appropriate (1 Corinthians 7:1–6). In 7:1–2, Paul again begins by quoting a statement that might have been made by some of the Corinthian ascetics whom he was correcting: “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: ‘It is good for a man not to touch a woman.’ Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (quotation marks added).
Here Joseph Smith in his New Translation makes it even clearer that this statement was the position of some of the Corinthians, not of Paul, when he rendered the first verse, “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me, saying: ‘It is good for a man not to touch a woman’” (JST, 1 Corinthians 7:1, quotation marks and emphasis added). Both “woman” in verse 1 and “wife” in verse 2 are translations of forms of the same Greek word, gynē, which can mean any woman but a wife in particular. The fact that some Corinthians might have gone to the ascetic extreme of not even touching their own wives is suggested by verses 3–5, which refer directly to appropriate physical intimacy within marriage. Some Stoics, for instance, thought that physical intimacy within marriage was justifiable only for procreation.
In Paul’s discussion in verse 3, the KJV “benevolence” (Greek opheilēn) literally means “that which is owed” or “one’s due or obligation,” which was also a euphemism for pleasing a wife conjugally, leading the New Revised Standard Version to render it “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” While this expression no doubt referred to the full spectrum of mutual interaction appropriate in a marriage and was probably not limited to giving a spouse his or her due in terms of physical intimacy, Paul clearly saw marital relations as appropriate. In fact, he continues in verses 4–5 by stressing that one’s spouse, not oneself, has “power” (exousia, “authority or right”) over one’s body and that spouses should not “defraud” one another (apostereite, “deprive”). If for some reason a couple chooses to abstain for a time, they should quickly return to intimacy.
Advice to the Unmarried and Widows (1 Corinthians 7:7–9, 39–40). In verses 7–9 of this chapter, Paul continues by wishing that all men were even as himself and then counseling “the unmarried [agamois] and widows” to “abide even as I.” While this presumably meant being properly intimate within marriage and chaste without, this counsel may actually have applied to an even narrower group. While “unmarried” is the literal translation of the Greek term agamois, in this context its masculine plural form might actual be parallel with “widows” (chērais) since Greek did not have a word that it regularly used to mean “widowers.” In this case, Paul was not addressing all unmarried people, but just those who had lost spouses through death. Even if Paul had meant a wider category including all who were widowed, divorced, or never married, his advice to the unmarried is the same: “But if they cannot contain [engkrateuontai, “exercise self-control”], let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn [pyrousthai, which here can mean “burn with passion”],” which the New Translation rendered “But if they cannot abide, let them marry: for it is better to marry than that any should commit sin” (JST, 1 Corinthians 7:9).
If Paul himself fell into this category, having previously lost his wife and then choosing not to remarry, his suggestion that this group “remain as I” in verse 8 is the same as his counsel in verse 40 that widows would do better if they did not remarry, carefully noted that this was his own opinion (gnōmēn, KJV “judgment”). Nevertheless, the ascetics at Corinth may, in fact, have drawn the wrong lesson from Paul’s example, thinking that he felt that celibacy was the preferred state for all, so he hastened in verse 39 to stress that a widow was free to marry again as long as it was “in the Lord.”
Advice to Those Contemplating Separation or Divorce (1 Corinthians 7:10–16). Divorce was certainly not a problem limited to the educated elite in Corinth, but the philosophical view that encouraged a negative view of marital intimacy in verses 1–6 might have encouraged some, paradoxically, to consider ending their marriages for allegedly spiritual reasons. This may have been one of the factors that led Paul to strongly restate the commandment of Jesus that a wife should not leave her husband and a man should not “put away” or divorce his wife (see vv. 10–11; compare Matthew 19:9 and Luke 16:18). Paul then proceeded to give some counsel regarding a scenario not treated by the surviving teachings of Jesus, at least during his mortal ministry:
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.
A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases (1 Corinthians 7:12–15)
While this passage is less clearly connected to the philosophical issues that are an undercurrent in some of the other material under discussion, its context suggests the possibility that the ascetics or spirituals in Corinth, already disposed against marriage, were encouraging those of their number in mixed marriages to use the unbelief of their spouses as a reason to leave their partners. Jesus had not directly treated this issue, but Paul’s opinion is just the opposite of his opponents: people in these situations should make every effort to make the relationship work.
As is the case in every age, the well-being of children is an important consideration in such marital decisions, and latter-day revelation suggests that this was a particular problem for Jewish Christians whose non-Christian spouses were anxious to have their children raised as observant Jews. Verse 14 refers to the status of children in mixed marriages, who might have been unclean but are now holy. In January 1832, this statement seems to have prompted Joseph Smith, who was engaged in the New Translation at the time, to enquire of the Lord, no doubt because he understood that young children were incapable of sinning. In response, he received a revelation explaining that some Jewish men, married to Christian women, wanted their children circumcised so that they would be ritually pure, or clean, according to the law of Moses. Apparently many of these children, who were holy because they were sanctified by the atonement of Jesus Christ, were later prone to leaving the faith when they came of age because of the influence of their fathers (see D&C 74:1–7).
While these verses thus had particular application for some Jewish Christians or those gentile Christians married to Jews in Corinth, one can easily imagine the conflict that could arise in Christian-pagan unions as well. Aside from concerns about children, the thrust of this advice is clear: the sanctity of marriage is such that even in cases of spiritual asymmetry, separation and divorce should be avoided if the partners can continue to live together amicably. However, if the unbeliever wished to depart, the believer was to allow him or her to leave, although whether Paul felt that the abandoned believer was then free to remarry is unclear.
Maintaining the Status Quo in View of “the Present Distress” (1 Corinthians 7:25–35). One of Paul’s most discussed pieces of counsel regarding marriage revolves around his suggestion that given “the present distress” (verse 26), the unmarried should not seek to marry, and the married should not try to change their state (7:25–35). This passage has been a difficult one for Latter-day Saints and for many Protestants, and discussion has focused both on which group Paul is addressing in verse 25 when he writes “concerning virgins” (peri tōn parthenōn) and on what he means by “because of the present distress” (dia tēn enestōsan anangkēn) in verse 26. Here Paul clearly states that he “has no commandment of the Lord” and is only giving his “judgment” (gnōmēn, which we have seen earlier can mean “opinion”). Nevertheless, Paul strengthens his position by stressing that he is giving this advice “as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful,” where “faithful” (pistos) can also be translated as “trustworthy” or “reliable,” no doubt because he is teaching as an Apostle.
Proposals regarding who the virgins are in the context have included young, unmarried women (the most natural meaning of parthenōn), whom their fathers are considering giving in marriage; unmarried women or men; engaged women whom, with their fiancés, are being pressured by the ascetics or “spirituals” not to marry; or even married partners who, because of incorrect asceticism, are choosing not to consummate their unions (putting them in the category of those who thought that it was good “not to touch a woman” and whom Paul needed to correct in 7:1–5). While the latter two possibilities fit the situation in Corinth, parthenos can be either masculine or feminine, and in verse 26 Paul advises that remaining unmarried in this situation is good for any person (anthrōpō, KJV “man” but here in the sense of “human being”), suggesting that here he is referring to any unmarried man or woman.
Attention naturally turns to what “the present distress” was that led Paul to suggest that those who had not married should not consider marrying at that time. The word for “distress” (anagkēn), literally “something that pinches,” can also be translated as “calamity, pressure, crisis, or necessity.” The question then is whether the crisis or distress was current or one that was about to occur, both of which can be legitimate interpretations of enestōsan. Because Paul mentions “trouble” (thlipsin) in verse 28, using a word meaning “affliction” or “tribulation” that is often used in an apocalyptic context, a common approach has been to see the early apocalypticism frequently found in Paul’s early letters here: since the end was coming soon, it would be better not to initiate new marriages given the sufferings that were to precede the Lord’s return. Nevertheless, enestōsan is in the perfect tense, making it more likely that this was a situation that had been impending and hence was then present when Paul wrote. This encourages us to see immediate problems—ranging from external persecution to purely local problems such as famine and other, unknown forms of distress—that led Paul to worry about the troubles that his converts, and the families that they started should they marry in this situation, might experience.
Aside from this exegesis, or close reading and interpretation, of the text as it has survived, Latter-day Saints have recourse to the New Translation of Joseph Smith, which expands the received text as follows: “I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, for a man so to remain, that he may do greater good. . . . But I speak unto you, who are called unto the ministry, For this I say, brethren, the time that remaineth is but short: that ye shall be sent forth unto the ministry. Even they who have wives shall be as though they had none; for ye are called and chosen to do the Lord’s work” (JST, 1 Corinthians 7:26, 29). “Ministry” here has generally been assumed to refer to full-time missionary work such as that in which Paul himself was engaged, suggesting that those who were married would need to be apart from their spouses for extended periods of time and those who had not yet married might best wait until their calls were completed.
While this application of verses 25–31 certainly resolves a particular concern with Paul’s position, the final part of this section, verses 32–35, remains difficult. Paul begins this section by writing the following in verses 32–33: “But I would have you without carefulness [amerimnous]. He that is unmarried careth for [merimnai] the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth for [merimnai] the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.”
Paul makes it clear that marrying is certainly not a sin in the next section (see verse 36), so without espousing celibacy as a preferable option, the best approach seems to be to apply the counsel in purely practical terms, acknowledging the fact that those who do not have an opportunity to marry or otherwise cannot marry certainly can please the Lord because of their often greater freedom to serve him. Those who have family responsibilities must divide their time and, as it were, their loyalties. Joseph Smith seemed to acknowledge this practical approach when he added a clause to the end of each verse: “For he who is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: therefore he prevaileth. But he who is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. Therefore there is a difference, for he is hindered” (JST, 1 Corinthians 7:32–33, emphasis added). Taken with the earlier counsel given to those “called to ministry,” Paul may have simply been acknowledging that for certain calls, being unmarried or away from one’s spouse allowed for devoted, concentrated service to the Lord.
Still, given Paul’s earlier encouragement that others—presumably widows, widowers, and the otherwise unmarried (and perhaps separated)—remain effectively single (see verse 8), many commentators have continued to assume that Paul’s opinion was that celibacy (whether temporary or lasting) was preferable. However, given the philosophical bent of some whom Paul seems to be correcting, Paul’s counsel might possibly have had a more nuanced application to his original audience. The Greek adjective amerimnous, translated “without carefulness” in the KJV, means “free from care or anxiety” and was a term commonly used by Cynics and Stoics to describe the philosophical state of being freed from worldly anxiety so that one could devote himself more fully to philosophy. Some Stoics, in fact, advised that the wise man espouse celibacy so that he could devote himself completely to contemplation, seemingly parallel to what Paul seems to say about the unmarried being able to devote themselves more fully to the Lord.
While Paul’s use the amerimnous of in verse 32 suggests that he wants Christians to be free from “care” or “anxiety,” the parallel verb merimnai in verses 32 and 33 may be an observation that people, both married and single, tend to “have anxiety about, be anxious for, or be unduly concerned for” things which distract them. For instance, in his closing counsel to the Philippians, Paul encouraged them “to be careful [merimnate] for nothing,” meaning “do not be anxious about anything” (NIV, Philippians 4:6). If the sense of “anxious to the point of distraction” or “undue worry” is maintained throughout this passage, a very different picture of his counsel to the Corinthians emerges: “I desire that you be free from anxieties or worries. The unmarried man is worried in regard to matters concerning the Lord, namely, how he can please the Lord. And the married man is worried about the things of the world, that is, how he can please his wife” (translation and emphasis mine).
While it is true that a married person can be preoccupied with worldly things in order to please his or her spouse, Paul might actually have been censuring some of the more philosophically inclined Corinthian Christians who, like some Stoics or Cynics, had avoided marriage out of excessive desire to try to please God. As Fee puts it, “The anxiety to please the Lord is seen as stemming from the Corinthian asceticism. The asceticism itself is an attempt to win favor with God on the basis of a false standard.” They were, simply put, so anxious about pleasing the Lord that they may have failed to do so because of a warped perspective that deprived them of the full life that God had intended.
Paul did not desire that people be anxious or worried to the point of distraction in either way; rather he wanted both married and unmarried to “attend upon the Lord without distraction” (verse 35). This ascetic tendency may be discernable when Paul applies the same scenario to wives and virgins (here clearly unmarried women) in verse 34: the unmarried woman is “anxious” for the things of the Lord, trying to be holy “both in body and in spirit,” which in the context of the Corinthian ascetics might imply that they, not necessarily Paul, were equating ongoing celibacy with “holiness in body.”
“Faith Should Not Stand in the Wisdom of Men, but in the Power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:5)
The Cynic philosopher Diogenes, whose behavior scandalized his contemporaries, died in Corinth in 323 BC, but his influence lived on. While the Stoics and Platonists were less extreme, idealistic rejection of this world, which could be exhibited in everything from asceticism to a libertine rejection of law, was the philosophical heritage of the cultural and intellectual elite of Corinth. When a few of these became Christians, they naturally sought leadership of the new community, offering their homes, resources, and experience to the new movement but not always freeing themselves of their previous biases, behaviors, and worldview. This necessitated the strong, combative nature of Paul’s correction in 1 Corinthians.
This letter contains enduring lessons regarding sexual morality and marital intimacy based firmly on the teachings of Jesus and the truths of the gospel, and in it Paul gives good counsel regarding general principles of pragmatically living in the world and being modest in dress and grooming. A philosophical undercurrent, however, flows throughout some of these very passages, arising from the ideas and behavior of Paul’s opponents. Paul often needed to rely upon his own judgment and inspiration as he countered these ideas, reminding their proponents that faith came from God and did not arise from the wisdom of men.
 Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1982), 107–46, 612–61, 800–848; Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 357–92, 475–530; Manfred T. Brauch, Hard Sayings of Paul (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 95–89, 141–53; Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Eric D. Huntsman, and Thomas A. Wayment, Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 215 and 226; Thomas A. Wayment, From Persecutor to Apostle (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 163–65.
 In terms of biblical scholarship, this is an acceptable exposition of the text using an authoritative hermeneutic (meaning that a text is interpreted through the use of a community’s other sources of authority) but is not strict exegesis that tries to explain what the text as it comes down to us says on its own. Examples of this include Sidney B. Sperry, Paul’s Life and Letters (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1955), 121–24, 130–32; David R. Seely, “‘Is Christ Divided?’ Unity of the Saints through Charity,” Acts to Revelation, Vol. 6, Studies in Scripture (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 66–67; D. Kelly Ogden and Andrew C. Skinner, New Testament Apostles Testify of Christ: A Guide for Acts through Revelation (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1998), 134–37; Richard Lloyd Anderson, Understanding Paul (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2007), 101–4.
 J. H. Oliver, “The Epistle of Claudius Which Mentions the Proconsul Junius Gallio,” Hesperia 40 (1971): 239–40; Thiselton, First Epistle, 29–31. See also Murphy-O’Connor, St. Paul’s Corinth, 141–52, 173–76; Wayment, From Persecutor to Apostle, 141–42.
 James Wiseman, “Corinth and Rome I: 228 BC–AD 267,” Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt 7.1:491–96; Donald Engels, Roman Corinth: An Alternative Model for the Classical City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990), 498–502; Thiselton, First Epistle, 2–3; Engels, Roman Corinth, 16–19.
 Wiseman, “Corinth and Rome I,” 14–16. Both note that archaeological evidence suggests that the destruction was probably less complete than ancient literary sources suggest.
 Appian, Punica 136; Plutarch, Caesar, 57.5; Dio 43.50.3–5. See Wiseman, “Corinthian and Rome I,” 497–98.
 Thiselton, First Epistle, 3–6. Engels, Roman Corinth, 17–19, notes that only the Roman settlers, their descendants, and any specifically enfranchised new citizens were considered cives, while all others were officially incolae or “resident aliens” in the view of Roman law. Only the cives could hold local office and perhaps vote.
 See Suetonius, Claudius, 25.3, which attributes the expulsion order to riots over one Chrestus, the Latin form of a common Greek slave name meaning “useful” or “serviceable” (chrēstos), which apparently he had confused with the name Christos. See also Cassius Dio, Roman History, 60.96.6 and Orosius, History, 7.6.15–16; and the discussion of Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, St. Paul’s Corinth, Good New Studies 6 (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1983), 130–39. Priscilla and Aquila, whom Paul met in Corinth, were Jewish Christian refugees from Rome (Acts 18:1–3; Romans 16:3–4), and Paul himself had relatives who later returned to the city (Andronicus and Junia, Romans 16:7).
 H. G. Liddell and R. Scott, Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996), s.v. “αγων”; hereafter Liddell and Scott, Lexicon; see also Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (New York: J. & J. Harper Editions, 1970), 92–96, 108–9, 137–40, 170–77.
 Engels, Roman Corinth, 109; Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: His Story (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 85; and Eric D. Huntsman, “The Occasional Nature, Composition, and Structure of the Pauline Epistles,” in How the New Testament Came to Be: The 35th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, ed. Kent P. Jackson and Frank F. Judd Jr. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2006), 198 and 206n24.
 Thiselton, First Epistle, 178–83. See the in-depth studies of Gerd Theissen, The Social Setting of Pauline Christianity: Essays on Corinth, ed. and trans. John H. Schütz (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1982), 69–143; and Wayne A. Meeks, The First Urban Christians: The Social World of the Apostle Paul (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1983), 57–61.
 Thiselton, First Epistle, 27–28; Murphy-O’Connor, Paul: His Story, 85–88.
 Whether Erastus should, in fact, be identified with a Roman official identified in an inscription at Corinth remains debated (see Meeks, First Urban Christians, 58–59, and Holzapfel, Huntsman, and Wayment, World of the New Testament, 227).
 Consider the case of Lydia, a successful businesswoman at Philippi (see Acts 16:14–15); some of the “chief women” at Thessalonica (17:4); respectable citizens, both men and women, at Berea (see 17:12); and Dionysius, a member of the respected Athenian council, the Areopagus (see 17:34).
 Fee, Corinthians, 8–13.
 Fee, First Epistle, 6–8; see Wayment, From Persecutor to Apostle, 163, for the manuscript evidence for “division” rather than “divisions” in 1 Corinthians 1:10.
 E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951; repr., 1997), 152–55.
 Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1972), 119–132, 252–270; Anchor Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday, 1992), s.vv. “Platonism,” “Stoicism”; Holzapfel, Huntsman, and Wayment, World of the New Testament, 163.
 Russell, Western Philosophy, 230–33; Anchor Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Cynics.”
 The Oxford Classical Dictionary (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), s.v. “Diogenes (2).”
 See the review of Thiselton, First Epistle, 460–63, especially 461n192.
 Quotations from the New Translation are from Thomas A. Wayment, ed., The Complete Joseph Smith Translation of the New Testament: A Side-by-Side Comparison with the King James Version (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005).
 On this issue, consider the six types of changes identified by Philip L. Barlow, Mormons and the Bible (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 51–56, and Joseph Smith’s New Translation of the Bible, ed. Scott H. Faulring, Kent P. Jackson, and Robert J. Matthews (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, 2004), 3, 8–11.
 Fee, First Epistle, 252n15.
 See Thiselton, First Epistle, 357–59.
 Fee, First Epistle, 251–53; Thiselton, First Epistle, 461–62.
 While the general exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:19, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” is often used to teach the true principle that our individual bodies are temples of the spirit and hence ought to be kept undefiled, strict exegesis of the verse actually suggests something else. “Your [hymōn, a plural possessive] body [to soma, singular] is the temple [naos, again singular] of the Holy Ghost” recalls Paul’s earlier declaration in 3:16 “Know ye not [ouk oidate, plural] that ye are [este, plural] the temple [naos, singular] of God?” In both instances Paul actually seems to be indicating that those belonging to Jesus together constitute the body of Christ, tying this verse to 6:15, where “your bodies” [ta somata hymōn, all plural] are “members” or parts of Christ.
 Murphy-O’Connor, St. Paul’s Corinth, 161–67; Thiselton, First Epistle, 617–20.
 Thiselton, First Epistle, 622.
 Fee, First Epistle, 358.
 See the summation of Fee, First Epistle, 362, and his longer analysis, 363–92.
 Murphy-O’Conner, St. Paul’s Corinth, 161; Thiselton, First Epistle, 616–20.
 Fee, First Epistle, 487–89.
 Anchor Bible Dictionary, s.v. “Dress and Ornamentation.”
 Aline Rouselle, “Body Politics in Ancient Rome,” in From Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints, ed. Pauline Schmitt Pantel, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, A History of Women in the West 1 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992), 313–16.
 Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, “kephalē.”
 Thiselton, First Epistle, 845.
 Brauch, Hard Sayings of Paul, 142–43.
 Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, s.v. “γυνη.”
 Musonius, Is Marriage a Handicap? 85.5–6; see David L. Balch, “1 Cor. 7:32–35 and Stoic Debates about Marriage, Anxiety, and Distraction,” Journal of Biblical Literature 102 (1983): 429–39; Thiselton, First Epistle, 493–95.
 Walter Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt, and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), s.v. “οφειλην”; hereafter Bauer and others, Lexicon.
 William E. Phipps, Was Jesus Married? The Distortion of Sexuality in the Early Christian Tradition (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 115–16.
 Bauer and others, Lexicon, s.v. “αποστερεω.”
 Sperry, Paul’s Life and Letters, 122; Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1971), 2:344; Anderson, Understanding Paul, 103.
 Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, s.v. “αγαμος”; and Bauer and others, Lexicon, s.v. “αγαμος.”
 While this is clearly based upon the same teaching as the one recorded in Matthew 19:9 and Luke 16:18, Paul seems to have applied it in a way that fit Corinth, a Roman city, differently than its original, Jewish context. Matthew had written, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:9), putting the impetus for the separation or divorce upon the man. Here, however, Paul says that the Lord does not want a woman to leave her husband, which only makes sense in a place where Roman civil law, which allowed a wife to divorce a husband, applied to many in the audience (see Thiselton, First Epistle, 522).
 Joseph Fielding McConkie and Craig J. Ostler, Revelations of the Restoration (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 506–7.
 Sperry, Paul’s Life and Letters, 132; Brauch, Hard Sayings of Paul, 117. Some have suggested, interestingly, that this situation might have, in fact, applied to Paul. Rather than being a widower or one who was voluntarily separated from his wife due to his missionary labors, Paul might have been permanently separated from his wife because of religious differences. Paul’s wife, presumably a stringent Pharisee as he himself had been before his call, might have, along with her family, been opposed to Paul’s conversion to Christianity, leading them to insist upon an end to the marriage on account of his “apostasy.” Still considering himself properly married, Paul may have chosen to remain celibate from that point on. Although this scenario is unprovable, it makes Paul’s counsel to those married to unbelievers personally poignant and even contributes to the heartache he felt regarding his kinsmen among the Jews who failed to accept Christ (see Romans 9:1–5). See Edward Schillebeeckx, Marriage: Human Reality and Saving Mystery, trans. N. D. Smith (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965), 128; Phipps, Was Jesus Married? 107–8.
 On this “Pauline privilege,” see Thiselton, First Epistle, 534–37.
 See, for instance, Sperry, Paul’s Life and Letters, 131, who writes “it may be very difficult for many Latter-day Saints to reconcile his counsel that widows, widowers, and virgins, male and female, not marry with the Lord’s express command that man should multiply and replenish the earth (Genesis 1:28) and with His saying that it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). We should keep in mind that the great Apostle was very aware, from both Scripture and common sense, that man should marry.”
 Fee, First Epistle, 325–29; Thiselton, First Epistle, 568–71.
 Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, s.v. “αναγκη”; Bauer and others, Lexicon, “αναγκη”; Thiselton, First Epistle, 573–75.
 This approach has been tempered in some more recent scholarship, which has seen Paul’s eschatology more in terms of a worldview that placed Christians, although living in this world, in the spiritual kingdom that was inaugurated with Christ even though it would not become a worldwide reality until his return. Hence Christians were to live by a different standard, being motivated not by earthly expectations or desires, including whether to marry or not marry, but only by the Lord’s will for each individual. See Brauch, Hard Sayings of Paul, 124–28; Fee, First Epistle, 329, 348; Thiselton, First Epistle, 580–83.
 Sperry, Paul’s Life and Letters, 123, 131–32; McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 346–47; Anderson, Understanding Paul, 106. This interpretation has led Ogden and Skinner to suggest that tēn enestōsan anangkēn in 1 Corinthians 7:26 be translated as “‘the present necessity,’ which is the need for missionaries” (New Testament Apostles), 136.
 See the overall argument of Fee, First Epistle, 325–34, who summarizes and reviews a considerable number of scholarly opinions.
 Balch, “1 Cor. 7:32–35,” 429–39.
 Liddell and Scott, Lexicon, “merimnaō”; Bauer and others, Lexicon, s.v. “μεριμναω”; and the discussions of Fee, First Epistle, 336–37; and Thiselton, First Epistle, 586–88.
 Fee, First Epistle, 344–45.
 Oxford Classical Dictionary, s.v. “Diogenes (2).”