In what appears to be an intent to provide clarity on a difficult biblical text, 1st Corinthians 7:36-38, most modern English versions of the Bible encourage men to profoundly abuse those in their immediate family who depend on them for care and protection. This is not at all difficult to see in a careful consideration of the text. Obeying this corruption would produce vehement, indignant outrage, both within and outside our churches, bringing a vast dishonor to God and discrediting all believers. Further, if believing men were to thoughtfully meditate on such poor translations and extrapolate from them general life patterns and principles — which we are encouraged to do — it would be absolutely devastating to our homes, to all of society and culture. These facts give us invaluable insight into the nature of modern versions of our English Bible which we do well to carefully consider.
In the Bible it is written, “But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.“
This passage in 1st Corinthians 7:36-38 reveals much concerning the motivations of those translating the newer versions of our English Bible. Granted, this text is not an easy one to discern, but it is not so difficult in the King James, or Authorized Version (AV) of the Bible that one cannot memorize the text and its context, compare it with other relevant passages, and discover the truth that it contains.
In translating this text most modern Greek scholars introduce significant enhancements to the wording of the AV. Some insert the word daughter after the word virgin, while others add words such as he is engaged to in order to clearly present a particular opinion about its meaning. For example, the New American Standard Bible (NASB) reads: “But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she should be of full age, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry. But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. 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.”
The New International Version (NIV) contains the following rendering: “If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin — this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.”
Doubtless, the motivation for the newer translations relate to a desire to clarify the meaning, which many find difficult to understand in the AV.
Regardless of the motivation, or whether the syntax of the Greek is more clearly represented in one version or another, when I step back and consider these newer texts very carefully, I find that they cannot be correct, and that they also give great occasion to the enemies of our Lord to blaspheme His name. It is my conclusion then that versions of the Bible containing this kind of rendering, such as the NIV, NASB, the American Standard Bible (ASB), and many others, should be received with some considerable reservation and suspicion.
The difficulty with the newer translations hinges upon the meaning of the words her and virgin in the AV, for they are one and the same in the context. It seems that the recent translators took for granted that her is a reference to a woman, a daughter or an espoused bride. It is the meaning and intent of this word that must be properly rendered in order for the passage to make sense.
One might then ask, “To what else might the word refer, if not a woman?” This phrase, his virgin, might be understood as a reference to a man’s virginity. This would be the meaning naturally derived from considering the full context as presented in the AV. Her need not refer to a daughter or to a bride, as suggested by modern translators. Any claim as to the correct meaning of this word must carefully consider the entire context.
First, let us consider the NASB-type rendering, that his virgin refers to a daughter.
If the text were referring to a father dealing with a virgin daughter, and giving instruction as to whether the father should give this virgin daughter in marriage to another man, the feelings, passions, needs and desires of the daughter would be the subject of the passage and not the feelings, will and passions of the father. These two concepts are totally foreign to one another: the sexual disposition of a father and whether or not his virgin daughter should get married. The needs, feelings and dispositions of the father should have no bearing at all, in and of themselves, upon the appropriateness of marriage for his daughter.
This fact, if not obvious, is also evident in such passages as “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” (Ep 6:4) and “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” (1Ti 5:14) For a Christian to encourage a father to deny his own daughter the comforts and privileges of motherhood and marriage simply due to the fact that he has no desire for marriage … and to think that such behavior is godly … is beyond godly comprehension.
The decision as to whether the daughter should marry or not would have everything to do with the necessity and desires of the daughter, which are not mentioned anywhere in the text. The desires of the daughter are the primary desires that would be appropriate to mention in the text if her entering into marriage was the subject of this passage. Decisions concerning the marriage of a daughter, when made by sane and loving fathers, also consider the type of man that wishes to marry the daughter, the potential husband’s general decency and ability to provide for the daughter in the context of a lasting marriage, the young man’s spiritual disposition, his family background, etc. These aspects are also very important to consider, as well as the daughter’s interest in this suitor, yet they are absent from the context.
The context of this passage implies that the phrase his virgin cannot be a reference to a man’s daughter since the giving of a daughter in marriage would have nothing at all to do with a man having, “power over his own will.” However, a man is told that if he does have “power over his own will” that he does well to “keep his virgin.” If the phrase his virgin is referring to a man’s own virgin daughter considering marriage, as the newer translations suggest, this text from the Word of God would encourage men who do not have a strong sex drive to prevent their daughters from ever marrying. This is evidently absurd.
Giving a daughter in marriage has nothing at all to do with the father of such a daughter standing “steadfast in his heart, having no necessity.” A father cannot, in good conscience, “so decree in his heart that he will keep his virgin” daughter from marrying another man, independent of her desires and dispositions, based on his own cold frame and constitution. This is absolute nonsense — unheard of in any sane family. The text is speaking of a man’s inner resolve, his own desire for marriage or his determination and ability to remain single. The necessity of a father in this very real and practical setting has nothing to do with his daughter: it cannot.
The context of this passage in the Word of God does not fit at all with a father pondering whether to let his virgin daughter marry. The parental context implied here by the NASB is described and handled entirely differently based upon altogether different principles found throughout the rest of God’s Word. The NASB thus encourages a profound insensitivity and a deep wickedness in the paternal role, clearly a foundational role in the home, church, and culture. The NASB simply cannot be trusted here. If it cannot be trusted in a matter so plainly obvious and simple as this, if it promotes such blatant wickedness in such a critical component of the fabric of daily domestic life, why should it be trusted anywhere else?
The rendering of the NIV fares no better. Here we have a man who has secured the love and dedication of a young woman and has promised himself in love to her for life: they are betrothed, engaged to be married. If the betrothal has happened according to righteousness, the young man has both won the affection of his bride by demonstrating his love for her consistently over time and has developed her respect and admiration for him in his dealings with her and others, and he has also obtained the permission of her father in this matter, who has permitted and blessed their mutual commitment to one another after coming to genuinely trust this young man with his precious daughter. The young couple has already entered into a lifelong commitment to one another and is jointly preparing to consummate their marriage relationship in both public ceremony and physical union. Thus, the betrothed couple is already in a state that is equivalent to marriage in regards to the duty of marital fidelity.
However, if it so happens that the bridegroom, upon re-examining himself and his inner passions, is able to linger and procrastinate in consummating his marriage to his bride, defrauding her the comforts and protection of the completed marriage bond, we find the NIV encouraging him to do so for as long as he can conveniently persist in this. Would God, or any reasonable human being, commend such a thing as wholesome and godly? Is it not rather extreme wickedness?
The fact that engagement and betrothal are equivalent is perhaps a matter of semantics, but it can be reasonably inferred that the biblical concept of betrothal is the intent of the word engaged in the NIV. Clearly, the relationship as it is defined biblically implies the establishment of a lifetime commitment between the bride and groom that is equivalent to that of the marriage relationship. A woman pledged to be married to another is expected to continue in sexual fidelity to her fiancé. To violate a betrothal by being intimate with a betrothed woman is considered adultery and merits the death penalty (De 22:23-24) for both participants, implying that betrothal is a formal marital state. Breaking the engagement based on a lack of sexual passion is not a reasonable option for either spouse: this is equivalent to divorce (Mt 1:18-19) and would be treacherous. (Mal 2:15)
Once the nature of engagement is seen to be equivalent to marriage in terms of lifetime commitment, the NIV-type of translation encourages a protracted defrauding of the waiting bride. She is not free to break the engagement and marry another, neither is she permitted to enjoy her husband so long as he sees fit to defraud her. What should such a woman do? The translation encourages every young man who is engaged to be married to seek this defrauding if he is able to do so comfortably, regardless of the concerns and desires of his bride.
Should a groom succeed in damping his marital passions for some protracted season, his bride is inconveniently forced to wait in cold, lonely hopelessness because her husband simply will not take her. This rendering of the text by the NIV and comparable translations then explicitly violates the command given earlier in this same context for spouses not to defraud one another. (vs 5)
Decisions concerning the consummation of a marriage are equivalent to those that end a marriage. Refusing to consummate a marriage is equivalent to abandonment and is very wicked unless the marriage covenant has already been broken by the young bride. An engaged or betrothed man has already assumed the responsibility of caring for his bride and wife — he certainly should not seek to defraud her during their engagement. Once he has permitted the engagement to take place and has entered the betrothal state, duty requires that he take his wife at the first appropriate opportunity, not prolong her waiting. The translation of the NIV thus applies concepts that are completely foreign to the marriage relationship to encourage ungodly marital behavior.
The considerations mentioned in the text, that being what a man should do when he is not in need of sexual fulfillment, are only relevant completely outside the context of marriage — including betrothal, or engagement; there is no legitimate place for defrauding a spouse due to a man’s lack of sexual interest in the context of marriage. Postponing the marriage ceremony and prolonging the betrothal period indefinitely violates this same principle in spirit.
The concepts in the text of 1st Corinthians 7:36-38 are also completely foreign to the parental role, as that of a father considering a daughter’s desire to marry, as well as to a bridegroom anticipating the consummation of his marriage. Both of these general contexts are completely foreign to the real context of this passage when considered in light of common sense, the rest of the Word of God, and basic Christian charity. This text is not meant for a groom, nor for a concerned father, but for a man that is pondering his own unique constitution and disposition when he is completely free of any marital duty and independently of any fatherly role he might be in.
Every aspect of the immediate context of this passage points to a man dealing with an inner struggle that involves no one else, not an external struggle. The man is dealing with inward desires of his own heart and will, not that of another. The struggle the man in this context faces fits perfectly with whether he should give up his virginity, his virgin, as it is expressed here, to another woman by seeking a bride, entering himself into a betrothal period, and then finally into a marriage relationship with her. His struggle and its resolution are to take place completely outside the context of any marital engagement, commitment or betrothal and are relevant only to his own personal marital state: it should hinder or influence no other person should he deem himself fitly single. His virginity can be and should be given or kept without defrauding anyone else, and she, his virginity, can be given or withheld naturally and sanely in this context, based on the man’s own sexual needs, regardless of the desires of any other person in the matter. The entire context of the passage is consistent with this approach.
To insist that the use of the female pronoun, the her in this text, is necessarily a reference to a human being, a virgin woman, as it is earlier in this seventh chapter of 1st Corinthians, is unreasonable due to the evident absurdity implied in the context by this assumption. Referring to sexual passion as a concept or quality within the frame of a man by using a female pronoun is not inappropriate, any more than referring to a boat as a “her” (Ac 27:32) or a candlestick as a “he.” (Ex 25:31) Such use of non-neuter pronouns in reference to inanimate objects or concepts is common in most any language, and was certainly extant in the English language during the era in which the AV was published. Such constructions are certainly not altogether lost from my own mother tongue today, though “she” has certainly changed a bit.
The text is correctly translated by the AV, which uses a female pronoun to identify a man’s sexual disposition, and personifies this sexual disposition in a poetic sense, being faithful to the Greek construction underlying the text. The text simply means that any man who does not have strong sexual passions does well to remain single rather than to enter into a marriage relationship, which he certainly might consider appropriate for some other reason than sexual desire. Though it is clearly not wrong for such a man to marry despite his lack of sexual interest, it is generally considered a better choice for him to remain free of the duties and obligations and cares of marriage so that he may devote himself entirely to the service of the Lord in non-domestic ministry. Such a man does not give his sexual purity, the her in the text, up for marriage, but keeps her by remaining single. He makes this choice outside the context of any marital obligation: if he is engaged to be married or is already married he should fulfill his duty toward his wife as clearly expressed in 1st Corinthians 7:5.
The KJV rendering of the text is proven correct due to the unmistakable nature of the entire context which surrounds it, and due to the consistency of this meaning with the rest of God’s Word.
To obey any of the newer translations, to isolate a daughter or significantly defraud a bride, would not only violate the concepts of marriage and fatherhood found throughout the rest of God’s Word, they would each be considered extremely unhealthy and inappropriate in any moral culture. What would the world think if the church openly taught and practiced such absurdity?
However, the real potential damage done by this level of corruption in our Bibles is not at all limited to stale grooms and cold fathers — all Scripture is given by God to enable us to establish life principles in related areas. (2Ti 3:16) To encourage men, as a general practice, to impose their internal desires (or lack thereof) on the interests and freedoms of those in their immediate care is profoundly destructive. It promotes thoughtless self-centeredness both within and outside the home rather than sacrificial love, contradicting both the spirit and letter of the whole of God’s Word to men.
Finally, and most insidiously, these types of errors tempt believers to disobey the Lord – and any reasonable brother WILL disobey this wrongly translated passage if he ever becomes engaged in marriage or becomes father to a daughter … and also happens to have little/no sexual passion during that particular season of life. Disobeying false patterns which feign themselves to be directed and blessed of God corrupts believers to confusion and disobedience, and gives much occasion to the enemies of our Lord to blaspheme.
What then are true believers to think, who read such things as this in their Bible? Must we state the obvious?
It is not a light thing that these corruptions of the truth have been offered as Scripture. These profound errors touch the most intimate and sensitive of human relationships. I am amazed that any sane, thoughtful human being could ever write such foolish things as have been written in these modern biblical texts. I would not want to be in the shoes of anyone who has tampered with actual the text of Holy Scripture and then presented this awful senselessness to humanity as the very Word of God, as such folk have plainly done. It is written, “Add thou not unto His words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” (Pr 30:6) And again, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.” (Re 21:18) Anyone who takes upon themselves to corrupt the written Word of God, and then to encourage others to trust this addition as a faithful witness of the very revelation of God Himself, will one day find themselves in a very, very bad way with its true Author.
Finally, it seems inescapable to conclude that those who translated the Word of God in such dreadfully corrupt fashions evidenced no intent whatsoever to walk in obedience to what they wrote … to what they claimed to be the Word of God … or to encourage anyone else to obey it. To add to the Word of God is certainly a terrible thing … but to do so with no intent at all of soberly applying it in the practice of life indicates innate enmity and deadness toward its supposed Author. The error exposes the inward nature of such translators in a profoundly significant way, casting a long dark shadow over each of their translations in its entirety.
We must observe that significant precedent was already present in the AV to direct such translators in their work. Their clarifying additions to the scope of the text were deliberate, significant, and appalling. To take such an error lightly is to take the Word of God lightly. Anyone attempting to translate the Bible and present their work to the entire world as trustworthy and faithful takes upon themselves an awesome responsibility indeed. If one is encouraged to fear and trembling merely to stand in a pulpit as a teacher (1Co 2:2-3), what sober caution must be present with those who work with the very text of the inspired Word of God! To do so without a divine call and divine aid is simply presumption at best. The greater the responsibility the greater the accountability and the more severe the judgment. (Ja 3:1)
You do know such men by their fruit: a good tree cannot produce corrupt fruit, nor a corrupt tree good. While I might grant that these translators may not have been maliciously deliberate in their errors, it is certainly obvious that they were ignorant of both God and of His Word. The translations before us are evidently either written by men who did not fear the living God, men who would intentionally disobey Him unless they happened to find His Word convenient for them, or by men who did not believe that God inspired the Bible in the first place. In either case, these are not the kind of men we should trust to translate our Bible. If we looked carefully at the biographical evidence of the translators themselves, we would likely find no evidence to the contrary. The evidence before us in the nature of their work should be evidence enough.
What we have in the NIV, the NASB, and other equivalent works, is essentially craft of the children of disobedience … children of darkness. “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (2Co 11:14-15)
It is absolutely vital that children of the living God have an implicit trust in the written Word of God with the constant intent to be doers of the Word and not hearers only. (Ja 1:22) This keeps us from self-deception and sin so that we might walk in daily communion with our God and be fully equipped to serve Him in this life.
We are encouraged to find such a Book, a living Book … in-breathed by the Holy Spirit of the living God … a Book that we can hold in our hand, written in our own mother tongue … and to memorize it as the inspired Word of God to us. I suggest we begin narrowing our selection by discarding any translation that corrupts this text before us in Corinthians. A more complete appeal is presented in the article, Given by Inspiration.