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Why does the KJV translate the ὀφείλω of 1 Cor. 7:3 as "due benevolence" and not "debt"?

KJV:

Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence (οφειλομένην?): and likewise also the wife unto the husband.

cf. Rheims version (transl. of Latin Vulgate):

Let the husband render the debt (οφειλομένην) to his wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband.
Uxori vir debitum (οφειλομένην) reddat : similiter autem et uxor viro.

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    My extended Liddel & Scott (1864) 1,700 pages gives 'the wider meaning' of ὀφειλὴν as 'to be under an obligation' or to 'have a duty'. It is not exactly a matter of indebtedness, as such. Quite why the KJV translators chose 'due benevolence' I cannot say, therefore this is only a comment not an answer. But that is my own outlook within marriage : it is a matter of benevolent duty, not a legal debt of covenant.
    – Nigel J
    Commented May 31, 2022 at 22:56
  • Because that's what it meant: due benel., conjugal rights, affection owed, marital duty, affection owed, NLT more unnecessarily explicit "sexual needs".
    – Michael16
    Commented Jun 1, 2022 at 9:26

2 Answers 2

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The operative word (noun) in 1 Cor 7:3 is ὀφειλή (ὀφειλή) for which BDAG provides two meanings for the just three occurrences in the NT. [There is also a textual problem in 1 Cor 7:3 of ὀφειλὴν = "obligation", vs, ὀφειλομένην εὔνοιαν = "affection being owed" in this verse; for details, see NA28.]. Here I will assume the NA28/UBS5 text of ὀφειλὴν.

  1. that which one owes in a financial sense, obligation; as debt (...) eg, Matt 18:32, Pl of taxes and imposts, Rom 13:7, This pass. demonstrates the easy transference to
  2. that which one ought to do, duty, of that which is appropriate in a social relationship; obligation of pleasing one's spouse conjugally, 1 Cor 7:3. Pl, of respect and honor, Rom 13:7 ...

The cognate verb, ὀφείλω (used very widely in the NT) has a similar breadth of meaning that encompasses (1) to be indebted, Matt 18:28, (2) to be under obligation to meet certain social or moral expectations, Rom 13:8, Luke 17:10, John 19:7, etc, (3) to be constrained by circumstances, 1 Cor 5:10, 2 Cor 12:11.

Note the comments of Barnes:

Let the husband ... - "Let them not imagine that there is any virtue in bring separate from each other, as if they were in a state of celibacy" - "Doddridge." They are bound to each other; in every way they are to evince kindness, and to seek to promote the happiness and purity of each other. There is a great deal of delicacy used here by Paul, and his expression is removed as far as possible from the grossness of pagan writers. His meaning is plain; but instead of using a word to express it which would be indelicate and offensive, he uses one which is not indelicate in the slightest degree. The word which he uses εὔνοιαν eunoian," benevolence") denotes kindness, good-will, affection of mind. And by the use of the word "due" ὀφειλομένην opheilomenēn, he reminds them of the sacredness of their vow, and of the fact that in person, property, and in every respect, they belong to each other. It was necessary to give this direction, for the contrary might have been regarded as proper by many who would have supposed there was special virtue and merit in living separate from each other; as facts have shown that many have imbibed such an idea - and it was not possible to give the rule with more delicacy than Paul has done.

The Pulpit commentary is more succinct:

Paul is evidently entering on these subjects, not out of any love for them; but because all kinds of extreme views - immoral indifference and over scrupulous asceticism - had claimed dominance among the Corinthians.

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My extended Liddel & Scott (1864) 1,700 pages gives 'the wider meaning' of οφειλην as :

'to be under an obligation' or to 'have a duty'.

It is not exactly a matter of indebtedness, as such. Quite why the KJV translators chose 'due benevolence' I cannot say.

But that is my own outlook within marriage : it is a matter of benevolent duty, not a legal debt of covenant.

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