Comments on Different Translations of 1 Corinthians 7:36-38
"Virgin" or "Betrothed"? "Daughter" or "Betrothed"? "Marry" or "Give in marriage"?

Paul K. Williams, Eshowe, South Africa

The NET (Net Bible—copyright 2006):

1 Cor. 7:36 If anyone thinks he is acting inappropriately toward his virgin,26 if she is past the bloom of youth27 and it seems necessary, he should do what he wishes; he does not sin. Let them marry.
1 Cor. 7:37 But the man who is firm in his commitment, and is under no necessity but has control over his will, and has decided in his own mind to keep his own virgin, does well.
1 Cor. 7:38 So then, the one who marries28 his own virgin does well, but the one who does not, does better.29
Translators' notes:
6 tn Grk "virgin," either a fiancée, a daughter, or the ward of a guardian. For discussion see the note at the end of 1 Cor. 7:38.
27 tn Or referring to an engaged man: "if he is past the critical point," "if his passions are too strong." The word literally means "to be past the high point."
28 tn Or "who gives his own virgin in marriage."
29 sn 1 Cor. 7:36-38. There are two common approaches to understanding the situation addressed in these verses. One view involves a father or male guardian deciding whether to give his daughter or female ward in marriage (cf. NASB, NIV margin). The evidence for this view is: (1) the phrase in 1 Cor. 7:37 (Grk) "to keep his own virgin" fits this view well ("keep his own virgin [in his household]" rather than give her in marriage), but it does not fit the second view (there is little warrant for adding "her" in the way the second view translates it: "to keep her as a virgin"). (2) The verb used twice in 1 Cor. 7:38 (γαμίζω, gamizō) normally means "to give in marriage" not "to get married." The latter is usually expressed by γαμεί (gameō), as in 1 Cor. 7:36 (i.e., 1 Corinthians 7:36b). (3) The father deciding what is best regarding his daughter's marriage reflects the more likely cultural situation in ancient Corinth, though it does not fit modern Western customs. While Paul gives his advice in such a situation, he does not command that marriages be arranged in this way universally. If this view is taken, the translation will read as follows: "1 Cor. 7:36 If anyone thinks he is acting inappropriately toward his unmarried daughter, if she is past the bloom of youth and it seems necessary, he should do what he wishes; he does not sin. Let them marry. 1 Cor. 7:37 But the man who is firm in his commitment, and is under no necessity but has control over his will, and has decided in his own mind to keep his daughter unmarried, does well. 1 Cor. 7:38 So then the one who gives his daughter in marriage does well, but the one who does not give her does better." The other view is taken by NRSV, NIV text, NJB, REB: a single man deciding whether to marry the woman to whom he is engaged. The evidence for this view is: (1) it seems odd to use the word "virgin" (1 Cor. 7:36; 1 Cor. 7:37; 1 Cor. 7:38) if "daughter" or "ward" is intended. (2) The other view requires some difficult shifting of subjects in 1 Cor. 7:36, whereas this view manages a more consistent subject for the various verbs used. (3) The phrases in these verses are used consistently elsewhere in this chapter to describe considerations appropriate to the engaged couple themselves (cf. 1 Cor. 7:9; 1 Cor. 7:28; 1 Cor. 7:39). It seems odd not to change the phrasing in speaking about a father or guardian. If this second view is taken, the translation will read as follows: "1 Cor. 7:36 If anyone thinks he is acting inappropriately toward his fiancée, if his passions are too strong and it seems necessary, he should do what he wishes; he does not sin. Let them marry. 1 Cor. 7:37 But the man who is firm in his commitment, and is under no necessity but has control over his will, and has decided in his own mind to keep her as his fiancée, does well. 1 Cor. 7:38 So then, the one who marries his fiancée does well, but the one who does not marry her does better."

My comments: These notes are very helpful. First, they establish that the word for "virgin" (Gr. parthenos) can refer to a daughter or engaged girl, but does not MEAN daughter or engaged girl. It means "virgin". Whether it is applied to a daughter or engaged girl must be determined by the context. The NET rightly translates the word "virgin." Second, the words translated "past the bloom of youth" literally mean "to be past the high point." This is translated by the KJV as "past the flower of her age", leaving the interpretation to the reader. The NET notes show that the words could apply to a man, since the pronoun is not stated in the Greek, but they have translated them to apply to the virgin, I suppose because that is more natural. Third, in verse 38 the NET is going against the usual meaning of the verb "gamizo". The usual meaning is "give in marriage." Paul uses the verb for "marry" in verse 36. I think it a good question to ask: "Why would Paul use the word 'gamizo', which has the meaning of 'give in marriage', when he uses the word 'gameo' in the same context to mean 'marry', unless he wanted to mean different things?" Vine, Thayer, Strong and Abbott-Smith give only one meaning for "gamizo"—"to give in marriage." Abbott-Smith mentions the view that in this passage "gamizo" may equal "gameo", but he does not give this as his definition. Therefore the NET translates "gamizo" as "marry" in verse 38 against the literal meaning of the word because of their idea of the context.


The English Standard Version (copyright 2001)

1 Cor. 7:36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed,2 if his3 passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry--it is no sin.
1 Cor. 7:37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.
1 Cor. 7:38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.
Translators' notes:
2—Greek, virgin, also verses 37, 38.
3—Or, her.

My comments: First: In my opinion this is a commentary, not a translation. The word for "virgin" is translated "betrothed." The word alone does not mean "betrothed", as the translation note shows. The Greek word means virgin. If it refers to a betrothed woman, the context must show that. If the context shows she is engaged, then the word can still stand as "virgin" and the reader will understand that she is engaged. (See Luke 1:27 where the "virgin" is "espoused" or "engaged". Both words are used.) The translators of the ESV decided on an interpretation and then "translated" the words to fit their ideas. Second: The translators have decided that the person who has the necessity of marriage is the young man who is engaged to marry. This has caused them to translate "his" instead of "her" in verse 36. Since there is no pronoun in the Greek, this is a possible translation. The context will have to determine. Third: Without any explanatory note, the ESV says in verse 36, "if his passions are strong." This phrase is literally translated in the KJV as "if need so require," and in the NET as "if it seems necessary." The ESV has decided what the need is and therefore it has given a meaning which the words themselves do not require. Fourth: In verse 37 the ESV says, "to keep her as his betrothed." The literal translation is in the KJV: keep his virgin. It is quite a leap from that to the ESV "translation." Fifth: In verse 38 the ESV translates "gamizo" as marry instead of give in marriage, and has no note to show us why they have chosen to translate this word in this way, which is contrary to its usual usage.


The New American Standard Bible (copyright 1995)

1 Cor. 7:36 But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let 1her marry.
1 Cor. 7:37 But he who stands firm in his heart, 1being under no constraint, but has authority 2over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well.
1 Cor. 7:38 So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.
Translators' notes:
v. 36—1. Lit. them
v. 37—1. Lit. having no necessity, 2. Lit. pertaining to.

My comments: First: The NASB is straightforward in putting the word "daughter" in italics. The reader can then look at the context and decide for himself whether that is the virgin under consideration. Second: The rest of the translation is very literal. The translation of "gamizo" in verse 38 is exactly what the usual meaning of the word is. This gives the reason why the word "daughter" is inserted. The virgin is the one whom the man gives in marriage or does not give in marriage.


What Is The Meaning Of This Passage?

Mike Willis comments: "This passage can be understood only by taking into account the customs of the day that gave the parent complete control over the child." (Truth Commentary, 1 Corinthians, p. 211)

African custom has been, and to a large extent still is, that the father has control over the marriage of his daughter. During our recent trip to Nigeria, a preacher told Joel and me that a Nigerian church withdrew from a man who married a woman without the permission of her parents, and the preacher who told us the story fully agreed with the action of the church.

This was clearly the accepted custom from the time of the patriarchs, and has continued until very recent times throughout most of the world.

Since this was clearly the custom when Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthian Christians, the passage has to be understood in that context. When that is done, the passage becomes crystal clear.

Because of what Paul called "the present distress" (1 Cor. 7:26), if a father was able to keep his daughter without giving her in marriage he would be doing better than if he gave her in marriage. But if he was not able to keep her, he would not be sinning by giving her permission to marry.

His problem might be either one of two. First, he may be a poor man who in the distressful situation would have a difficult time providing for his family, including a girl of marriageable age. Second, Paul said in v. 9 that it is better to marry than to burn (in passion). If the father understands that the temptation to immorality between the girl and the man is strong, it is better to let them marry.

Conclusion: 1. Since the decision to marry or not to marry was the decision of the girl's father, it is highly unlikely that Paul was writing to the fiancée of the virgin. (Note in verse 9, Paul says "let them marry." The one who would "let" them marry was the father.) 2. The normal meaning of the Greek word "gamizo" is "give in marriage." This meaning makes the most sense. The ESV and the NET have translated against the usual meaning of this word and against the custom of the times.