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Sanctification and Oneness in 1 Corinthians with Implications for the Case of ‘Mixed Marriages’ (1 Corinthians 7.12–16)*

  • Stephen C. Barton (a1)

Abstract

This essay is a social-scientific study of Paul's deployment of holiness language in 1 Corinthians. Specifically, an interpretation of holiness is offered to explain Paul's argument in 1 Cor 7.12–16 in favour of non-separation in the case of a believer married to a non-believer. For Paul, holiness involves participation in the oneness of God interpreted christologically. This participation is embodied in the holiness-as-oneness of the church. In relations between believers and unbelievers, purity rules to do with sex and marriage carry a significant symbolic burden. In some cases, clear lines of demarcation are drawn. Other cases constitute grey areas; and the suggestion here is that ‘mixed marriages’ are one such. For Paul, holiness is a matter of neither genealogical nor cultic purity. Rather, it has a boundary-transcending quality. In the case of a mixed marriage, the unbelieving partner, together with the children, is sanctified by remaining in oneness with the believing partner. Paul's concern for the oneness of the church spills over into a concern for the oneness of the household.

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Copyright

Footnotes

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This is a revised version of a paper first presented at the Themes in Biblical Narrative Conference on ‘Sanctification’ held at Durham University, 12–16 September 2012. For their advice, I thank especially John Barclay, Tavis Bohlinger, Lutz Doering, James Harrison, Robert Hayward, Jane Heath, David Horrell, Michael Lakey and Volker Rabens.

Footnotes

References

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1 Of course, the corollary of Paul's use of holiness language of the Corinthian believers is his use of the language of impurity or defilement of that to which he is opposed (e.g. 1 Cor 3.17, ‘If anyone destroys (φθείρει) God's temple, God will destroy (φθερεῖ) him’; also 8.7, ‘… and their conscience, being weak, is defiled (μολύνεται).’)

2 Cf. the magisterial analysis by Mitchell, M. M., Paul and the Rhetoric of Reconciliation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1992).

3 Cf. Jenson, P., Graded Holiness: A Key to the Priestly Conception of the World (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1992).

4 Cf. Barton, S. C., ‘The Unity of Humankind as a Theme in Biblical Theology’, Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation (ed. Barthlomew, Craig et al. ; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004) 233–58.

5 Cf. Claussen, C. and Davis, M. T., ‘The Concept of Unity at Qumran’, Qumran Studies: New Approaches, New Questions (ed. Davis, M. T. and Strawn, B.; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) 232–53, at 233.

6 Cf. Hayward, C. T. R., ‘The Lord is One: Reflections on the Theme of Unity in St. John's Gospel from a Jewish Perspective’, Exploring Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism (ed. Stuckenbruck, L. T. and North, W.; London: T&T Clark, 2004) 138–54.

7 Cf. Turner, M., ‘Mission and Meaning in Terms of “Unity” in Ephesians’, Mission and Meaning: Essays Presented to Peter Cotterell (ed. Billington, A. et al. ; Carlisle: Paternoster, 1995) 138–66.

8 Cf. Wright, N. T., The Climax of the Covenant (London: T&T Clark, 1991) 120–36.

9 Cf. Barton, S. C., ‘Food Rules, Sex Rules, and the Prohibition of Idolatry: What's the Connection? An Essay in New Testament Theology’, Idolatry: False Worship in the Bible, Early Judaism and Christianity (ed. Barton, S. C.; London: T&T Clark, 2007) 141–62.

10 Borgen, P., ‘“Yes,” “No,” “How Far?”: The Participation of Jews and Christians in Pagan Cults’ in his Early Christianity and Hellenistic Judaism (London: T&T Clark, 1996) 1543 .

11 Douglas, M., Purity and Danger (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966); eadem, Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (London: Barrie and Rockliff, 1973).

12 Cf. Klawans, J., Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

13 Cf. Yarbrough, O. L., Not Like the Gentiles: Marriage Rules in the Letters of Paul (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985) 729 .

14 See Diodorus Siculus, Library of History, 40.3.8, cited in Balch, D. L., Let Wives Be Submissive: The Domestic Code in 1 Peter (Atlanta: Scholas Press, 1981) 73 .

15 Tacitus, Histories 5.5, cited in Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive, 73.

16 Hayes, C. E., Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002) 24–5.

17 On marriage matters in Ezra 9-10 and their afterlife, see most recently Harrington, H. K., ‘Intermarriage in the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Legacy of Ezra-Nehemiah’, Mixed Marriages: Intermarriage and Group Identity in the Second Temple Period (ed. Frevel, C.; New York: T&T Clark, 2011) 251–79; also, Moffat, D. P., Ezra's Social Drama: Identity Formation, Marriage and Social Conflict in Ezra 9 and 10 (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).

18 Hayes, Gentile Impurities, 8–9 (emphasis original).

19 On Aristotle on oikonomia (household management) within the context of his work on the constitution of the city-state, see Balch, Let Wives Be Submissive, 33–8.

20 Cited in Barclay, J. M. G., ‘Matching Theory and Practice: Josephus's Constitutional Ideal and Paul's Strategy in Corinth’, Paul Beyond the Judaism/Hellenism Divide (ed. Pedersen, T. E.: Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001) 139–63, at 147.

21 Cf. Van Unnik, W. C., ‘Josephus' Account of the Story of Israel's Sin with Alien Women in the Country of Midian (Num. 25:1ff.)’, Travels in the World of the Old Testament (ed. Van Voss, M. S. H. G. Heerma et al. ; Assen: Van Gorcum, 1974) 241–61.

22 Relevant also is the practice of circumcision (another natural symbol) as a barrier to exogamy. Cf. Barclay, J. M. G., Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996) 411–12.

23 Suetonius, Augustus 28 (Penguin Classics edition).

24 On the role of marriage laws in the Augustan constitution, see especially Treggiari, S., Roman Marriage: Iusti Coniuges from the Time of Cicero to the Time of Ulpian (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991) 780 ; also, the material surveyed in D'Angelo, M. R., ‘Roman Imperial Family Values and the Gospel of Mark’, Women and Gender in Ancient Religions (ed. Ahearne-Kroll, S. P. et al. ; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2010) 5983 .

25 Cf. Douglas, Purity and Danger, 53, commenting on Lev 19.19: ‘Holiness requires that individuals conform to the class to which they belong. And holiness requires that different classes of things shall not be confused.’

26 Cf. Sandnes, K. O., A New Family: Conversion and Ecclesiology in the Early Church with Cross-Cultural Comparisons (Bern: Peter Lang, 1994).

27 Cf. Barton, S. C., Discipleship and Family Ties in Mark and Matthew (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994) 2356 ; also, Deming, W., Paul on Marriage and Celibacy: The Hellenistic Background of 1 Corinthians 7 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004 2).

28 Cf. Yarbrough, Not Like the Gentiles, 89–122; also, Thiselton, A.C., The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000) 484606 .

29 Cf. Chadwick, H., ‘“All Things to All Men” (1 Cor IX.22)’, NTS 1 (1954–5) 261–75.

30 Cf. Martyn, J. L., Theological Issues in the Letters of Paul (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997) 89110 .

31 I say ‘remarkable’ partly in light of Paul's notable disinterest in real (as opposed to metaphorical) children elsewhere.

32 On similar divergences distinguishing one philosophical school from another, see Deming, Paul on Marriage and Celibacy, 141–4.

33 Interestingly, a representation of the kind of conception of holiness Paul is combatting comes in a fragment contained in 2 Cor 6.14–7.1.  Expressing a sectarian, almost Qumran-style ethic, we find here a classic example of holiness as avoidance and separation, with idolatry and ‘every defilement of body and spirit’ key symbolic foci. For a recent discussion, see Rabens, V., ‘Paul's Rhetoric of Demarcation: Separation from “Unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14–7:1) in the Corinthian Conflict’, Theologizing in the Corinthian Conflict: Studies in the Exegesis and Theology of 2 Corinthians (ed. Bieringer, R., Ibita, M. M. S., Kurek-Chomycz, D. A. and Vollmer, T. A.; Leuven: Peeters, 2012).

34 Gillihan, Y. M., ‘Jewish Laws on Illicit Marriage, the Defilement of Offspring, and the Holiness of the Temple: A New Halakic Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:14’, JBL 121 (2002) 711–44. Also of interest, for his account of the (re)interpretation of 1 Cor 7.14 in the Church Fathers, is Cohen, S. J. D., ‘From Permission to Prohibition: Paul and the Early Church on Mixed Marriage’, Paul's Jewish Matrix (ed. Casey, T. G. and Taylor, J.; Rome: Gregorian and Biblical Press, 2011) 259–92.

35 Gillihan, ‘Jewish Laws’, 717–18 draws particular attention to the linguistic parallel offered by m.Qidd. 2.1.

36 Gillihan, ‘Jewish Laws’, 718–19.

37 I say ‘in some way’ because the unbeliever remains an unbeliever. In other words, the terminology of sanctification has a particular – halakhic, rather than soteriological – sense here, which is consonant with the fact that the agent of sanctification is human (the believing spouse), not divine.

38 Gillihan, ‘Jewish Laws’, 730.

* This is a revised version of a paper first presented at the Themes in Biblical Narrative Conference on ‘Sanctification’ held at Durham University, 12–16 September 2012. For their advice, I thank especially John Barclay, Tavis Bohlinger, Lutz Doering, James Harrison, Robert Hayward, Jane Heath, David Horrell, Michael Lakey and Volker Rabens.

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Sanctification and Oneness in 1 Corinthians with Implications for the Case of ‘Mixed Marriages’ (1 Corinthians 7.12–16)*

  • Stephen C. Barton (a1)

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