I'm an Englishman and so am used to seeing the verse from 1 Cor 7 translated something like this:

20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) (ESV)

The Swedish Bibles I've seen have translations like:

21 Blev du kallad som slav, så sörj inte över det. Även om du kan bli fri, så förbli hellre slav. (Folkbibeln)

Which is literally something like "If you were called as a slave, then don't grieve over it. Even if you can become free, instead remain a slave".

I've never seen this translation used in any English translation of the Bible. What can be the justification for it?

Little more info:

John Gill's commentary makes this note:

"but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. The Syriac renders the last clause, ([Can't make this font work - Dave]) , "choose for thyself to serve";"

  • Short answer: NO. Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 14:58
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1 Answer 1


There seems to be a certain amount of ambiguity in the Greek. My knowledge of Greek grammar has room for improvement, but here's a shot at it.

δοῦλος ἐκλήθης, μή σοι μελέτω·
ἀλλ’ εἰ καὶ δύνασαι ἐλεύθερος γενέσθαι,
μᾶλλον χρῆσαι.

I have added paragraph breaks to highlight the three clauses of the sentence. χρῆσαι is χράομαι, the root meaning of which is to make use of. So the question boils down to, what is the current slave supposed to make the most of—his new opportunity or his current situation? It appears that the "current situation" interpretation arises from the fact that the third phrase begins with μᾶλλον, which is often rendered rather. Thus, someone might argue, it is set in opposition to the second phrase. However, I would argue both on the basis of the most intuitive sense of this verse as well as the strong contrast between the first and second part of the sentence (ἀλλ’ εἰ καὶ), μᾶλλον is rather serving as a further contrast to the first part of the sentence. Thus, the correct translation is something like:

You who were called as servants, don't worry about it.
But if you are able to be free,
make the most of that opportunity instead.
  • My Greek grammar has even more room for improvement, so thanks for your answer. Checking around more I've read that ἀλλ’ εἰ καὶ can be rendered literally as "but if even" or "but if also" or "although also". It seems then that both translations are possibly valid but one would have to look at other factors.
    – Dave Alger
    Commented Dec 24, 2011 at 0:35

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