Note on a Triad

of Paul

in 1st Corinthians

When we study Proverbs and encounter paired statements, we can sometimes more easily determine the import of one saying by considering its mate. So it seems to with a certain triad in 1st Corinthians, we can look at its following statements to help see how much would apply to a state before actual marriage (1 Cor. 7:17) "But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches." That one came after Paul's development of mixed marriage.

I think the big problem here is that Christians are under a higher standard than the law of Moses concerning divorce. In Matt. 19, the disciples felt in that case it might be better not to marry in the first place. Paul in 1st Cor. seems to echo that sentiment, and for the married Christian couples he refers to Christ's command forbidding divorce. In a mixed marriage, the Christian partner is not to initiate divorce, but to allow the unbeliever who so chooses to depart as God has called us to peace.

When we get to circumcision, we find parallel sentiment to abiding in one's calling. (I Cor. 7:18-20) "Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called." I think circumcision must relate to marriage somehow.

Circumcision - International Standard Bible Encyclopedia363

Generally speaking, the rite of circumcision was a precondition of the enjoyment of certain political and religious privileges (Exodus 12:48; Ezekiel 44:9); and in view of the fact that in the ancient world religion played such an important role in life, it may be assumed that circumcision, like many other strange customs whose original significance is no longer known, originated in connection with religion. Before enumerating the different theories which have been advanced with regard to the origin and original significance of circumcision, it may be of advantage to consider some of the principal references to the rite in the Old Testament. 1. Circumcision in the Old Testament: In the account of the institution of the covenant between Yahweh and Abraham which Priestly Code (P) gives (Genesis 17), circumcision is looked upon as the ratification of the agreement. Yahweh undertook to be the God of Abraham and of his descendants. Abraham was to be the father of a multitude of nations and the founder of a line of kings. He and his descendants were to inherit Canaan. The agreement thus formed was permanent; Abraham's posterity should come within the scope of it. But it was necessary to inclusion in the covenant that every male child should be circumcised on the 8th day. A foreigner who had attached himself as a slave to a Hebrew household had to undergo the rite—the punishment for its non-fulfillment being death or perhaps excommunication. According to Exodus 12:48 (also P) no stranger could take part in the celebration of the Passover unless he had been circumcised. In the Book of Joshua (Joshua 5:2-9) we read that the Israelites were circumcised at Gilgal ("Rolling"), and thus the "reproach of Egypt" was "rolled away." Apparently circumcision in the case of the Hebrews was prohibited during the Egyptian period—circumcision being a distinctive mark of the ruling race. It is noticeable that flint knives were used for the purpose. This use of an obsolete instrument is one of many proofs of conservatism in religion. According to the strange and obscure account of the circumcision by Zipporah of her eldest son (Exodus 4:25) the performance of the rite in the case of the son apparently possesses a vicarious value, for thereby Moses becomes a "bridegroom of blood." The marriage bond is ratified by the rite of blood (see 4 below). But it is possible that the author's meaning is that owing to the fact that Moses had not been circumcised (the "reproach of Egypt") he was not fit to enter the matrimonial estate (see 3 below).
2. Theories of Origin:

(3) It was a rite which celebrated the coming of age of the person. It signified the attainment of puberty and of the right to marry and to enjoy full civic privileges.

When we examine explanations (2), (3), (4), (5), we find that they are really different forms of the same theory. There can be no doubt that circumcision was originally a religious act. Membership in the tribe, entrance upon the rights of citizenship, participation in the religious practices of the tribe—these privileges are interdependent. Anyone who had experienced the rite of blood stood within the scope of the covenant which existed between the tribe and the tribal god, and enjoyed all the privileges of tribal society. It is easily understood why the historian carefully relates the circumcision of the Israelites by Joshua on their arrival in Canaan. It was necessary, in view of the possible intermingling of the conquerors and the conquered, that the distinctive marks of the Abrahamic covenant should be preserved (Joshua 5:3).

Furthermore, I believe there must have been debate in Corinth going both ways, that is, should the circumcised reverse the process or should the uncircumcised get circumcised? I believe somehow these questions may have affected the men's marriages, their wives wanting them a certain way (different in different cases) and them wondering whether to change it for whatever reason if it meant their wives would leave them. It was more important to obey the commands of God (not to divorce) than to put on an outward sign.

A modern equivalent of the dispute might be when I wanted to shave my beard because I wanted to date girls who were not used to men with facial hair. Some of "the brethren" exhorted me that biblically men were to sport beards. But then I remembered my Dad who had to shave off his mustache, which he had grown in Alaska, to please my Mom.

Dr. Laura tells women to accept their husbands as they are if they want to have facial hair, and I suppose there is something to be said for that, if their husbands want to grow facial hair (or cut their penises) they might just have to put up with it, but in a situation before marriage, it gets to be very sensitive, as why should they go out with grubby looking men, or in another age marry one who changed his penis? This part 2 of the triad shows the premarital state very sensitive to the teaching.

It might be along the lines of:

Religious Traditions and Circumcision364
Gerald A. Larue
Presented at The Second International Symposium on Circumcision,
San Francisco, California, April 30-May 3, 1991.

During the last quarter of the fourth century B.C.E., Alexander the Great conquered the ancient Near East and he and his successors introduced Greek customs and culture into the expanded empire. One of the innovations was the gymnasium. The Greeks did not circumcise and when young Jews enamoured by Greek customs and culture, entered the Gymnasium where exercises were performed in the nude, they were embarrassed when their physical deformity became apparent. To conform they underwent a decircumcision process. The Maccabean report, which was written about 100 B.C.E. reads:
          They constructed a Gentile-style gymnasium in
          Jerusalem. They also pulled forward their prepuces
          thereby repudiating the holy covenant (1 Macc. 1:15)
          The Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote during the
          late first century of the Common Era (C.E.), commented:
             ...they also hid the circumcision of their genitals,
             that even when they were naked they might appear to
             be Greeks. (Antiquities, XII, v.1)
Dependent upon how completely the foreskin had been removed, it was possible to cut and pull forward the loose skin of the penis (epispasm) to form a partial foreskin. However such an act, as the author of Maccabees noted, constituted a denial and rejection of both their circumcision heritage and their Jewish heritage thereby placing such a person outside the covenanted community. As we shall see, much later, when Christianity developed, the reversal of circumcision, while no longer common, was apparently still practiced.

Circumcision in the Christian Scriptures

The first Christians were Jews and were therefore circumcised. The Gospel of Luke reported that Jesus was circumcised on the eight day (2:21). The apostle Paul was also circumcised on the eighth day (Phil. 3:5). As the Christian church began to move out into the Mediterranean world and attract non-Jews, circumcision became a problem for converts. The issue came to a head (no pun intended!) in the Galatian controversy.

Paul established new Christian groups in the Greek world. His pattern seems to have been as follows: he would speak in a Jewish synagogue concerning the end of the age and Jesus as the Christ and means of salvation. Some Jews would listen; others rejected him. Among those attending the synagogue were non-Jewish Greeks, attracted perhaps by the monotheistic faith and ethical ideals. Some were drawn to Christianity but, when they wished to join the new group, they were informed by the conservative elements in the church that before they became Christians they had to become Jews and be circumcised. Paul saw this demand as a stumbling block inasmuch as adult male Greeks had no intention of being circumcised. Therefore he wrote to the Christian church he founded in Galatia.

In this letter he challenged the validity of circumcision as a criteria for membership in a Christian church. He castigated the leaders in Jerusalem. He pointed out that Cephas (Peter) had been two-faced in the matter by swaying to the conservative side when confronted by the circumcision party after agreeing that Paul's mission was to the circumcised [sic] (Gal. 2). Paul argued that "in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision count for anything" 5:6, and he expresses the wish that for members of the circumcision party the circumcision blade might slip and more than the foreskin be removed so that they might "mutilate themselves" (5:12).

The same issue seems to have surfaced in the city of Corinth. Paul wrote a letter to this group in which he stated:

          Was anyone already circumcised when he was called (to
          be a Christian)?   Let him not seek to remove the marks
          of circumcision.  Was anyone uncircumcised when he was
          called? Let him not seek circumcision. I Cor. 7:18)
Obviously, there were some who sought to disavow their Jewish heritage by removing the mark of circumcision, just as their ancestors had done during the time of the Maccabees. For Paul neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counted for anything. Ultimately the matter was referred to the Jerusalem council where after serious debate, it was decided that circumcision was not a requirement for membership in the Christian community (Acts 15).
Paul telling the men to abide in their original calling is a hands-off to church control one way or the other, and so would strengthen the position that the church is not to control whom a Christian marries to—believer or nonbeliever—just so it's done "only in the Lord"—not wantonly against Christ.

We are called to peace, and now to obedience—circumcised heart. Then comes the third part of the triad where the Christian is called to freedom. (I Cor. 7:21-24) "Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God." It seems to me that here the church is keeping out of a controlling position, not overriding the servant contract that allows the servant to depart after six years, leaving behind the wife provided my his master, even though the church has some interest in preserving marriages. The point here is that the released servant has the potential to marry as a freeman, which he could not do before, so this third part of the triad has a profound affect on his marriageability.

Since the other two parts support an application to mate selection, the first part on mixed marriage is to be taken that way too, besides which in Mary's holy child sanctifying her espousal to Joseph, the offspring of a mixed marriage to be holy makes an espousal—and presumably the preceding stages—holy too.

And as there really isn't anything else to refute it, I go right along with that teaching.

Dating Questions, God's Answers
Questions of Greek scholarship, context, sanctification, dating, God's authority, & authority of the church
Yoked Together in Christian Ministry,
an attempt to sort out the confusion.
KJV | Context | Mixed Marriage
Comparing the KJV with modern English versions; looking at mixed marriage and being unequally yoked in their own contexts; proper handling of the word of God; vulnerability of widows addressed.
Parable of the Laborers
Episcopalians & diversity. Parable of the laborers.
Unequally Yoked Metaphor
"Unequally yoked" metaphor. New translations muddy the waters regarding a widow marrying "only in the Lord."
Holy Seed
Evil report & good report; King James Bible; "unequally yoked" examined; holy seed means sanctified marriage; marrying "only in the Lord"; Christian liberty; Corinthian epistles
Only in the Lord
"Only in the Lord" for a widow's remarriage; application to the times; sanctification of marriage; accuracy of Bible translations.
Breaking Up Blues
Breaking up is the pits.
Missionary Dating
Missionary dating; circular arguments; "expert" disagreeing opinions; Priscilla & Aquila; parallels in Paul's writing; spread of primitive Christianity; parable of the laborers.
Pauline Triads
Questions from Corinthian cultural framework; the expert's opinions; triads in Paul; courtship.
Expert Opinion
Eureka! An actual "expert;" the Corinthian's perspective; modern framework; Paul's thought.
Note on Paul's Triad
Note on the triad.


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Earl Gosnell
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Copyright © 2003, Earl S. Gosnell III Creative Commons Licence
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Note on Paul's Triad