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I heard somewhere that in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38

But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of [her] age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth [her] in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth [her] not in marriage doeth better.

there are 2 possibilities of translating this passage:

1) Paul refers to an individual's personal virginity

2) Paul refers to an individual's daughter's personal virginity

Is it true? If yes, what is causing such a great difference in possible translations? Is it because of some ambiguity of the Greek?

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1 Answer 1

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The problem with these verses is that they are somewhat exposed to two interpretations in the Greek. In the Greek is more like this:

If anyone thinks he is behaving unseemly to ‘the virgin’ (either daughter or spouse) and if to be ‘beyond prime’ and so it ought to be what he wants. (my paraphrase from the Greek English interlinear Bible)

The key points of split between the two interpretations are whether the virgin is a daughter or a virgin that a man wants to marry. In the case of it being a daughter, ‘beyond prime’ means she is at the ‘matured point’ of being a spinster. If she does not marry soon she will be disadvantaged, this is why the Father wants to give here away and is wondering what God’s will is. There is no reason why He would not also be consulting her daughter on what she wanted as well. If on the other hand we are referring to a man who is wondering if he should marry a virgin then ‘beyond prime’ means beyond his self control in terms of lust. He really wants to marry not because he is worried about the woman becoming a spinster, but because he wants to have sex with someone really badly.

I think in the context it seems more honest to the text to take the first option. We are talking about a Father’s questions about what he should do. There seems to be a sense that the virgin somebodies possession, either a betrothed or a father. However from what I understand of engagement in Hebrew society it was as good as marriage itself, so I do not think it would be moral to back out of it after you have already been engaged unless there is good cause. This is more about if a Father should give his daughter to a man, to be engaged to her.

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So, if the virgin is a daughter, then it looks like Paul supports the idea of a daughter not being free to choose between a marriage or non-marriage life, but rather being supposed to follow the will of her father in this regard. Am I correct? –  brilliant Jul 13 '12 at 10:14
    
@brilliant - I do not know about the details of how the culture was back then with respect to Virgins. It would make a good new question. Whater it was Paul does not argue against it here. There are some Jewish members on this site, one of them would probably know about how that worked back in those days. Cheers. –  Mike Jul 13 '12 at 10:28
    
I just asked a question here: How did a virgin decide upon her marriage in Israel 2000 years ago? –  brilliant Jul 13 '12 at 10:36

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