Ἄγαμος (unmarried) appears only in 1 Corinthians 7. The unmarried are grouped with widows:

1 Cor. 7:8
But I say to the unmarried (αγάμοις, non nuptis) and to the widows (χήραις, viduis): It is good for them if they so continue, even as I.

and with virgins:

1 Cor. 7:34
the unmarried woman (άγαμος, mulier innupta) and the virgin (παρθένος, virgo) thinketh on the things of the Lord…

But in 1 Timothy 5, does St. Paul mean to include the never-married when he uses the term χήρα?

It seems St. Paul doesn't intend to include the never-married in his term χήρα (widow).

Although 1 Tim. 5:9 says

Let a widow be chosen of no less than threescore years of age, who hath been the wife of one husband.

which (analogously to how 1 Tim. 3:2, that bishops must be "the husband of one wife", means "the husband of [no more than] one wife", since bishops needn't have been married) should be interpreted as "the wife of [no more than one] husband", St. Paul later, speaking of young widows, specifically mentions "their first faith" (1 Tim. 5:12), their first marriage?

By χήρα in 1 Tim. 5, St. Paul seems to mean the once-married.

Why didn't he intend to include the never-married (ἄγαμος, non nuptis)?

  • @NigelJ Perhaps I could focus it better, make it more concise. Maybe my answer will help you understand my question better.
    – Geremia
    Dec 30, 2021 at 19:57

3 Answers 3


To answer your question: widow cannot mean never-married. By definition, a widow is a woman who has been married and her husband is dead.

Not sure that is your question though. Your presentation is difficult to follow. I am just answering your question in your heading.

Every since antiquity, centuries before the present passage, χήρα has meant "widow", a woman bereft of her husband. This goes back to Homer and the Iliad (LSJ Greek Dictionary).

The case where it is used metaphorically is when it designates a dish of food that is "widowed", that is "without sauce."

There is nothing in 1 Ti 5:3ff that would suggest anything other than "widow.". In verse 3 the "real" widows should be respected (χήρας τίμα τὰς ὄντως χήρας) in contrast to other widows who have children or offspring who should do their duties and take care of them (verse 4).

In verse 9 it is a question of older widows (not under 60) contra younger ones (11-14) who, the latter, are recommended to remarry, have children, take care of a home.

Unfortunately I can find no hint of χήρα being ambiguous. The English translation "widow" fits in all cases.

Somewhat related. There are cases where a "widow" (χήρα) could be called a παρθένος, a "virgin":

Clement of Alexandria Stromateis VII 72,2 ὁ γὰρ ἐπιθυμήσας καὶ κατασχὼν ἑαυτοῦ, καθάπερ καὶ ἡ χήρα διὰ σωφροσύνης αὖθις παρθένος. (Something like: he who felt desire and controls himself, just like even the widow, through self-control, becomes a virgin again.)

But that is the other way around from what you are asking. It is a case of a formerly married, now widow, attaining virginity again.

There is a very good discussion on this in J. B. Lightfoot's comment to Ignatius' letter to the Smyrnaens 13:

ἀσπάζομαι τοὺς οἴκους τῶν ἀδελφῶν μου σὺν γυναιξὶν καὶ τέκνοις, καὶ παρθένους τὰς λεγομένας χήρας.

(Something like: I greet the homes of my brothers together with their women and children, and the virgins called widows.)

J.B. Lightfoot's explanatory translation/paraphrase is:

I salute those women whom, though by name and outward condition they are widows, I prefer to call virgins.

I was asked to adress "first faith".

@Geremia I do not read this as "first faith", but "important oath."

What we have to do with here are the various organisations within the congregation. Deacons and deaconesses in chapter 3 (among other positions).

One of the organizations was the order of the widows. The widows were enrolled (1 Ti 5,9: καταλεγέσθω) and it would be natural that acceptance into an "order" was accompanied by an oath (τὴν πρώτην πίστιν).

Now these young ones risk getting that loving feeling, alienating them from Christ (5,11) breaking their pledge, that they made when joining the order. It is therefore better that they get married again instead of burdening the congregation's resources. (5:14, 16)

Besides, they are young, busybodies who loaf around and gossip, instead of earning their support from the congregation by offering services in return (taking care of orphans, visiting prisons etc).

This was a costly order for the congregation and should ideally be limited to "real widows" (widows with no means of private support). So if one of the members had a widow in their family, they should take care of them so that the congregation's resources would be enough for the "real widows." (5:16)

  • Can you address the "first faith" of 1 Tim. 5:12?
    – Geremia
    Dec 31, 2021 at 20:07
  • 1
    @Geremia, I tried, in an edit to my comment. Jan 1, 2022 at 9:50

The OP's suggestion is not supported by either the meaning and use of the word nor it origin. Every lexicon I consulted (there are lots) only has a meaning similar to that in BDAG for χήρα:

a woman whose husband has died, widow

Further, this derived from the basic meaning of χῆρος, 'bereft'; akin to χέρσος, sterile, barren. Thus, it is used of a city deprived of its inhabitants such in Homer's Illiad [2, 289 - see Thayer] and Rev 18:7.

  • Strongs: « 5503 χήρα [XH/RA] {chḗra} \khay'-rah\ feminine of a presumed derivative apparently from the base of 5490 [χάσμα: "a 'chasm' or vacancy"] through the idea of deficiency; a widow (as lacking a husband), literally or figuratively:--widow. »
    – Geremia
    Dec 31, 2021 at 20:02

1 Tim. 5:12 "their first faith" does not mean their first marriage but their vow to continence.

In context:

  1. But the younger widows avoid. For when they have [vowed to remain unmarried and] grown wanton in Christ, they will marry:

  2. Having damnation, because they have made void their first faith.

Marrying does not bring damnation (1 Cor. 7:36) but violating a promise made to God does (Eccl. 5:3, Luke 9:62), as St. Thomas Aquinas notes in his commentary.

MacEvilly summarizes (An Exposition of the Epistles of St. Paul and Catholic Epistles vol. 2):

  1. He tells him not to admit permanently, by religious vows, widows under sixty, because there is great danger that they will become wanton. The Greek word for “grown wanton in Christ,” κατεστρηνιάσωσι τοῦ Χριστοῦ, conveys an allusion to cattle, that, through wantonness, throw off the yoke, and kick against their masters; so, these widows are apt to grow wanton against Christ, by whose Church they were to supported, and wish to marry an earthly lover to the injury of their heavenly Spouse, whom they were pledged by vow. “Wanton in Christ.” In Greek, wanton against Christ.

  2. “Having damnation,” i.e., rendering themselves, by this wish to marry, liable to damnation, “because they have made void their first faith,” i.e., they rejected (as in the Greek, ηθέτησαν) and consequently violated the promise or vow of chastity, which they formerly made to Christ. This is the interpretation given of this verse by all the Holy Fathers, and, in fact, none other can be admitted; for, all the interpretations given of it by heretics, who are opposed to vows, are manifestly opposed to the scope and words of the Apostle;—he evidently says, that they have damnation, because they wish to marry. Now, if there were merely question of deserting the faith, and violating their promise at baptism—or of committing carnal sins, as some of them explain it—what would the wish to marry have to do with these?—and, manifestly, in the Apostle’s mind, this wish to marry is the cause of their damnation. Surely, marriage is not opposed to baptismal faith, and it is one of the remedies against concupiscence. The “faith” here opposed to marriage is a vow of continency, and “faith” has often the meaning of promise (Rom. 3; Gal. 5; 2 Tim. 4); he calls it “first,” i.e., former, as in Apocal. 2:4, 5—“prima opera fac.” “Charitatem tuam primam reliquisti,” i.e., priorem, also (Acts, 1:1), “primum quidem sermonem,” i.e., priorem sermonem.

Thus, it seems St. Paul includes the never-married in his term χήρα (widow).

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