1 Corinthians 7:8-9 - A divorcee
or a widower?
In 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, Paul refers to two kinds of people: "the
unmarried" and "the widows". But what kind of people are "the unmarried"?
Some suggest the term describes those who were divorced, but this is simply
not possible. Firstly, the underlying Greek word has a MASCULINE ending.
Unlike English, Greek words referring to people have different endings
depending on whether males or females are in view (many other languages
this feature). Because the Greek word translated "the unmarried"
has a masculine ending, it can only refer to MALES. Secondly, if Paul is
talking about divorcees here, then he flatly contradicts himself in the
next two verses! Verses 10-11 explicitly state, with no exceptions, that
couples should not divorce, and if they do, then they should remain unmarried.
It is far more likely that "the unmarried" were WIDOWERS (i.e. men whose
wives had died). This makes good sense of the masculine ending and goes
well with the accompanying "widows" (which has a feminine ending, since
it refers to women whose husband's have died). It makes sense that Paul
would deal with widowers and widows together. Also, Hellenistic Greek (the
language in which the New Testament was written) had no special word for
a "widower". The Greek word "agamos" which is found in verse 8 and translated
"the unmarried", was used instead. So verse 8 would be better translated
"Now to the widowers and the widows I say..."
But isn't this same Greek word used later on in verse 8 and in verses
11, 27, 32 and 34? Yes, it is the same word, but that does not necessarily
mean it has the same meaning in these verses. In virtually all languages,
a particular word may have 3, 4, 5 or 10 meanings and the only way to decide
which meaning is the correct one is to look at the way the word is used
in the context. At the beginning of verse 8, the Greek word is used as
a noun i.e. it refers to a
specific group of men. In all the other occurrences, the Greek word
is used as an adjective i.e. it describes the general STATE of being unmarried.
Therefore, from the analysis of the underlying Greek and an examination
of the immediate context, it is clear that "the unmarried" in verse 8 are