University of Stellenbosch

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1 Cor 7:17-24

Identity and human dignity amidst power and liminality1
Jeremy Punt (

University of Stellenbosch


Paul’s concern with identity, and in particular the identity of the believer in relation to Jesus Christ, is an important concern in his writings. In the midst of an important section dedicated to advice and instruction on marriage in the letter, Paul encouraged his audience in 1 Cor 7:17-24 to remain in the calling by or position in which they were called, referring to circumcision (7:18-19) and slavery (7:21-23) by name. These Pauline instructions are investigated against the backdrop of both the first-century CE context and post-Apartheid South Africa, were issues of identity and marginality rub shoulders with claims to ownership and entitlement on the one hand, and issues of human dignity on the other hand.

  1. Introduction: Life-context in which interpretation takes place

April 27, 1994 was the historical moment when South Africa formally changed from a minority-ruled, Apartheid-state into a modern, democratic New South Africa, installing the iconic Nelson Mandela as the first democratically elected, black president of South Africa. Set against a long, troublesome and mostly turbulent few decades, which should also be understood within the framework of centuries of colonial rule in one form or another, the country at the southern tip of the African continent comprising a “rainbow people” – to use Desmond Tutu’s famous phrase – of indigenous people such as the Khoisan, southern moving tribes from further north on the continent, and initially Dutch and later British, French, German and other settlers, evolved into another phase of socio-political development.
The former Dutch settlement (since 1652) that was reshaped into a British colony (1895) and later became an Apartheid-state (1948) had its democratic awakening in 1994. It saw the country move into a post-liberation, democratic dispensation that has brought about many changes of which the transfer of power from a white minority to a black majority was the most telling – but not necessarily decisive – moment. Facing many problems of various kinds the new dispensation in South Africa has thus far not brought about the expected significant improvement in the lives of the majority of its citizens of country, while at the same time, it has developed more of a global profile; attempts to enhance the country’s profile, especially at an economical level, often further complicates an already complex situation; communities differentiated by social, cultural, political and economical differences attempt in varying ways and degrees to deal with an increasingly technology-based economy in the information era – amounting to what can be described as a postcolonial setting, in many ways. Interestingly, and worthy of more investigation, the role of organised religion and Christian groups in particular, often with strong appeals made on the Bible, were important and influential factors both in providing justification for as well as in combating the Apartheid regime. While the participation of religious groups and figures in post-Apartheid South Africa thus far has been of a different nature and complexion,2 the link between religion and politics has evidently not been severed3 (cf Punt 2007; 2009).
In keeping with the parameters of the Contextual Biblical Interpretation group, the South African context of today serves as the interpretative canvas for 1 Cor 7:17-24. Rather than a literary or historically-focussed exegesis,4 overtly or otherwise oblivious of any real-life, flesh-and-blood context, my reading here takes life in contemporary South Africa context, marked as it is by power and liminality as primary interlocutor. It is an explicit contextual interpretation of the text,5 and in the next section a rudimentary thumbnail sketch of the South African context follows.

  1. The new South Africa, and its challenges

Apartheid’s social engineering with its political disenfranchisement, creation of structural disadvantages and imposition of socio-economic control and distortions probably hit the South African the hardest at its most vulnerable level, in destroying human dignity through the colonisation of the mind (Ngugi 1986) and establishing a coloniality of being (Mignolo 2007).6 Communities and individuals are often still suffering from a serious lack of self-esteem and self-confidence, and not having acquired even very basic life skills, all of which are not unrelated to the surrounding moral landscape. Much of this has naturally filtered through into communities where a breakdown of relationships is characterised by broken families and family structures, rampant teenage pregnancies, high levels of HIV and AIDS infections, pervasive substance abuse, unacceptable levels of corruption in the business and civil sectors, widespread criminal and violent crimes such as murder, rape and assault, and so on. The strategy of making the land ungovernable as part of the liberation movements’ struggle against Apartheid grew into a popular groundswell which has to date proved difficult to turn around in full, even though the erstwhile liberation movements are now for the largest part represented in political parties and in government. The strong claims about and appeals upon human dignity, enshrined in the new South Africa’s Constitution and Bill of Human Rights, are yet to become part of its social fabric.7
Second, the quest for identity in an increasingly multicultural country, continent and world may appear a fool’s errand but is a pronounced pursuit in the South African society. Tensions were evident for example in recent public debates about the ox-slaughtering ceremonies for the recent Soccer World Cup tournament, with the ceremonial killing of an ox by Xhosa warrior Zakhele Sigcawu on Tuesday 24 May 2010 in preparation for and in securing ancestral blessings for the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, and the tournament that was to follow (Ox killed, 2010). Ongoing discussions of the polygamy of state president Jacob Zuma are at least as vibrant as those about manifestations of white Afrikaner nationalism, whether these are about culture and its assertion or subterfuges for (respectively) legitimating a certain lifestyle or clinging to privileges reminiscent of Apartheid times.
Third, South Africa today is challenged to deal with inequalities of its recent and more distant past, including desperate poverty (to the extent of children dying from hunger; terrible infant mortality rates; etc) and disease (vast numbers of people infected by HIV and AIDS; high incidences of tuberculosis; malaria deaths) amidst regular reports of national and local government representatives and employees’ involvement in distortion and/or corruption.8 South African citizens are deprived not only of their legitimate claim upon resources but have to observe public officials squandering such resources on exorbitant yet fleeting materialist tokens of wealth and prosperity.9 Authorities have started to admit that the country suffers a serious problem with violent crime, often dubbed the murder and rape capital of the world, with little respect for human life amidst what has become almost nostalgic invocations of an Ubuntu-based concern for others. It may have become a cliché to refer to crime-ridden South African, but its effects on society are, if anything, increasing: violent crime is surging and white-collar crime is fast becoming another scourge.
Fourth, in South Africa race and gender remain major dividing lines. Major problems in the country are related to what is often called a race “fault line” that both defines and divides the people of South Africa at many different levels. Deep-seated ethnic differences and conflicts brewing under the surface, adds to a climate susceptible to polarisation.10 Serious gender and sexuality concerns exist amidst claims to traditional culture proclaimed as sacrosanct in a very dominant patriarchal context which is strongly heteronormative and largely homophobic. Such factors work hand in hand with over-simplified but popular notions of majority and minority politics; of (black) political versus (white) economic power; of the (re)distribution of arable agricultural lands and mineral prospecting rights; of affirmative action as initiative of the (black) majority aimed at the (white) minority, with relentless energy.
Attempts to read 1 Cor 7:17-24 as suggesting that people primarily should make the best of their particular life situations (cf Thiselton 2006:110-111), notwithstanding hardships and injustice and without apparent concern for addressing structural inequities and systemic injustices, in a context perceived to be skewed and favouring the powerful and privileged, conjure up notions of securing privilege while placating the marginalised. With the tension between the South African context characterised by different power constellations and varying manifestations and degrees of liminality, the interpretation of 1 Cor 7:17-24 which follows will be not only contextual but also will relate to issues of identity and human dignity in particular. A few words on the context and setting of the first Corinthian letter are appropriate at this stage.

  1. Analysis of the text: Overall presentation of 1 Corinthians

Shortly after Paul left Corinth around 51 CE, he apparently established himself in Ephesus in Asia Minor, a city which probably was his pastoral and missional basis from 52-54 CE and from where he visited churches in Galatia, Antioch and elsewhere. Receiving disturbing news about the Corinthian followers of Jesus in 53 or early 54 CE, he wrote the first letter to the Corinthian church (cf 1 Cor 5:9). When Chloe’s people (1 Cor 7:11) shortly thereafter reported to Paul about tension and ructions in the congregation, and Paul received a letter from the Corinthian community (1 Cor 7:1) with questions about marriage and celibacy, meat offered to idols, gifts of the Spirit, and other matters, he wrote what is today known to us as the first letter to the Corinthians. In 1 Cor 7:1-40 Paul responded to questions about marriage, and 1 Cor 7:17-24 expands on the notion of receiving and living the calling of God amidst certain circumstances.11
Corinth was an important city in New Testament times because its location on the Corinthian isthmus made it a strategic city for military, as well as trade and economic reasons.12 After Corinth became involved in the political issues of Sparta and Rome, the city was destroyed in 146 BCE by the Romans, but re-established in 44 BCE as Roman colony Colonia Laus Julia Corinthiensis, in honour of Julius Caesar, who was murdered in the same year. Although the rebuilt city was inhabited initially by retired Roman soldiers, Roman freedmen and -women, and Roman slaves, traders and business people from elsewhere soon made Corinth their home. With its cosmopolitan, international makeup and firm Roman control, with access to crucial trade routes, and with sufficient natural resources for manufacturing and a blooming business culture, Corinth was a world-class city like few others in the first century CE. Competition, patronage and what today would be called a consumerist culture and a focus on success in various ways, were important elements of life in the city.
The primary socio-historical setting that Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians addressed has remained a matter of dispute, with the traditional position holding that he challenged the realised eschatological framework that prevailed in the Corinthian church and which gave rise to a worldly contentment. An important consensus is forming that the base of the tensions in the community in Corinth was less theological (narrowly conceived) and more sociological, in fact, was about problems arising from socio-economic divisions (cf Martin 1995). Paul’s challenge to an ideology of privilege in 1 Corinthians countered also the tensions between the more numerous but lower-status “charter members” and the more recent converts, fewer in numbers but whose wealth, power and status has unsettled the standards and expectations within the community (Elliott 1994:204-214; also e g Meeks 1983:117-118; Theissen 1983:106-110). Paul’s first Corinthian letter most likely addressed problems that were brought about by social stratification in the communities.

  1. Analysis of the text: Commentary on selected themes

The first letter engaged the social reality of the early Jesus follower-community in Corinth on a wide front, addressing in chapter 7 some specific and primary socio-cultural and economic structures and configurations. He focussed on marriage but also addressed two other important aspects related to the social make-up of the community: one was the ubiquitous system of slavery and the other, connecting with Paul’s broader socio-cultural point of reference, Jew-Gentile relationships. The social situation, links and connections made for a rather complex argument,13 as exemplified in the range of interpretations of 1 Cor 7:17-24 found over time.
The 1 Cor 7:17-24-text has in the past often received negative press, understood through the lens of a specific translation and interpretation of 1 Cor 7:20 to encourage and emphasise the socio-cultural status quo, insisting on its maintenance. At times this line of interpretation was described even as Paul’s theory of the status quo (Schweitzer 1968:187-194).14 However, rather than a Pauline insistence to stay in a certain state or social position the focus of this passage is probably more on the implications of the calling of God and serving Christ within particular contexts or situations. “The key point is … that Christians can fully serve Christ as Lord in whatever situation they find themselves” (Thiselton 2006:111, emphasis in the original). However, in such readings the criteria to determine the “key point” may be too strongly biased towards a theological perspective, oblivious to social location-determinants and driving a disjuncture between theological obedience and social responsibility.
Another range of interpretive positions on 1 Cor 7:17-24 claims more social engagement for Paul’s words. In the more recent past, the text has received at least in some quarters positive acclamation, viewing it as Paul’s encouragement for slaves to avail themselves of freedom should it come their way15 – a possibility that was realistically possible in first century slavery in contrast to its later colonialist variant! Earlier readings of 1 Cor 7:17-24 which ascribed a social conservatist position to Paul, have been challenged by scholars who argue that Paul tried to overcome the basic socio-economic power relations which governed people’s lives under the Roman Empire (e g Horsley 1998:100). The charge of socio-political quietism levelled against Paul based on this passage, is challenged by arguments that the rule in 7:17-24 is not a rule of the status quo, but that the focus of remaining in the calling is a call to peace along the same lines as the appeal that discourages the believer to dispute divorce from an unbelieving spouse (1 Cor 7:15), and that it is not binding individual followers of Jesus to a particular social status (Elliott 1994:211-214).
In a contextual reading of a text such as 1 Cor 7:17-24 that claims theological legitimation for differentiating social structures and exposed the marginalised status of people, in context like South Africa where power and liminality concerns are crucial, at least the following three concerns require some discussion.

    1. Klh/sij as divine assignment or social position?

Emancipatory or socially challenging readings of 1 Cor 7 hinge of course on the interpretation of klh/sij (calling) and related terminology, and in particular on the insistence that someone’s calling was not the same as the person’s standing in society. For Paul social location was not a matter of indifference but given that God’s calling – to put it theologically – is a calling to holiness, it brings the person into the sphere of God’s lordship, and thus liberation. From 1 Cor 7 (also) it is clear that Paul perceived the call of God as a divine action, bestowing apostolic authority on him and bringing about a different perspective and ethos for Jesus-followers, which created a community with a different ethos and centred on Christ.
The call/calling topos is important in 1 Corinthians, particularly in the first and seventh chapters, with Paul identified in 1 Cor 1:1 already as the klhto,j (called) apostle, and the Corinthian community as klhtoi/j (called) saints in 1 Cor 1:2.16 The result is that the elite would have been prevented from identifying superiority to the powerless as a sign of God’s preference, so that while the “educated, powerful and well-born” (1:26) were found in the congregation, their presence would not define it. To the contrary, the presence of the powerless, the nobodies (1 Cor 1:27-28), was a sign of God’s calling, since the bodies of the powerless were holy, even if their labour belonged to others within structures of society. According to Elliott (1994:214) this did not mean that Paul acquiesced to the imbalances of power and privilege within that society, but rather that the bodies of the poor were holy but not yet free, although their holiness was a guarantee of coming freedom (Rom 8:9-17). The notion of the calling of God would have impacted strongly on a context characterised by ethnic tension and the disparate social status of members of the community (Braxton 2000:71-105). Calling cannot be read as equivalent to social position, also because Paul’s point is in every specific case someone receiving the calling in a particular setting: called as circumcised or uncircumcised (7:18), and called as slave (7:21).
In Paul’s letters circumcision and uncircumcision refer to ethnic distinctions, even if ethnic credentials were not required for inclusion in early Jesus-follower communities.17 Non-Jews were received into the movement without requiring ethnic credentials and apart from belief in one creator God other fundamental axioms of Judaism such as covenantal nomism were abandoned to accommodate non-Jewish believers (Runesson 2008). However, early Jesus follower texts regularly invoked racial and ethnic categories,18 contrary to scholarly opinion.19 The early followers of Jesus used racial stereotyping “to denounce Christian rivals as barbarians and Jews” (Buell 2001:473) in the first-century Greco-Roman world where kinship and ethnicity were expressed with a variety of different terms.20 Regardless of their link to birth and descent, terms were used interchangeably to signify a different understanding of race and ethnicity, often closely associated with religious practice, but as mutable terms that did not presuppose “essences”21 – they could therefore accommodate both changes between and ranking of ethnicities, tolerate both an insistence on ethnic particularity and a universal ideal,22 and allowed Christian conversion to be expressed in ethnic terms (Buell 2011:469, 473). “Race” and “ethnicity” were terms that were therefore inevitably involved in identity negotiation in communities of Jesus followers.23
Slavery was a social position that knew multiple forms in the first century CE, as it was neither restricted to nor constituted a social class or status, although slaves’ lives were determined by their owners and the owners’ whims.24 Generally speaking however, slavery was not reckoned a desired state of being, and where it became a necessity, it was tolerable given the prospect of its eventual cessation – which in any case left the former slave in the position of freed person, and mostly resulted in his or her dependence upon the former owner turned patron, with limited claim to social position and the privileges available to (especially male) free persons.25 Slavery as institution was maintained by the threat and use of violence, including punishment, torture and even execution (Osiek 2005:206). Patronage stands juxtaposed to slavery within the first century world as an entire network of patron obligations, which regulated perceptions of the world while also regulating the activities of communities and individuals. Patronage was particularly important in securing the dominance of imperial culture and its societal workings,26 with household ethics and patronage understood as sanctioned by the gods.27 Paul’s constructions in 1 Cor 3:23 (cf 3:5-6) where the relationship between the Corinthians and God was seen as mediated by Christ, and in 4:14-15 where Paul as spiritual “father” mediated between the Corinthians “children” and being in Christ, exemplify patronage relations.
For Paul, the pervasive and far-reaching effect of God’s calling was to unsettle privilege and bestow (new) value on those in marginalised positions, those whose lives were regulated and controlled by racial connotations or social position such as the distinction between Jews and others, or slavery. The focus on the calling is clear in 1 Cor 7:20, where the emphasis is to remain in the calling (evn th/| klh,sei) in which someone was called (evklh,qh). However, while it can be agreed that klh/sij should be understood here as calling and not be equated to social position, the double statement in 1 Cor 7:17a is not necessarily resolved as it can be understood as either two equivalent or two parallel statements: Paul requires that each person live (peripatei,tw) the life that God has assigned (evme,risen) him (e`ka,stw|), adding, as God called (ke,klhqen) him. That the riddle of 1 Cor 7:17 can be resolved by appeal to 1 Cor 7:20 and a claim that the two statements thus are not identical, and that the second part relates to God’s call which is received in specific social locations (the first part), is a reasonable explanation but it does not remove all the ambiguity and tension from the text.28 And, such ambiguity is exacerbated by Paul’s less than clear account of the implications of God’s calling for the Corinthians in their existing social locations (cf Braxton 2000:48).

    1. Peripatei/n / menei/n in the allotted life

In 1 Cor 7:17, 20 and 24 Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to live or remain as they were therefore appears to have concerned their membership in the ekklesia rather than to serve as a reference to social status in a general sense. A change of status was neither a precondition for the call nor a consequence of the call from God, as much as Paul’s appeal to the call of God was not an attempt to argue for the maintenance of the status quo (Braxton 2000:50-53). The emphasis on living out the calling of God is supported by the literary make-up of 1 Cor 7:17-24 that suggests careful attention to detail: the general call to serve the Lord (7:17), or to remain in God (7:24) wherever people find themselves in life, form an inclusio.29 Dealing with the distinction between people based on circumcision (7:18-19)30 or slavery (7:21-22), these two sections are both concluded with the call to remain (mene,tw, 7:20; 7:24) in the calling in which they were called.31 Ethnic distinctions are not affirmed here or slavery commended, but neither are the calling of God seen as disruptive to these social situations – unlike what Paul appears to suggest elsewhere.
It is difficult to deny the intertextual links between 1 Cor 7 and Gal 3:28,32 and does not require strong claims about some form of dependency of one text on another. It is noteworthy though that 1 Cor 7:1-16 is all about sex and gender matters, in different configurations (marriage, celibacy, widowhood, single state), with the focus in 1 Cor 7:17-24 shifting to matters concerning the Jew and Gentile-distinction (7:18-19) and to slavery (7:21-23), before returning to the issue of celibacy and marital relationships in 1 Cor 7:25-40.33 Notwithstanding the danger of romanticised readings (cf Punt 2010a:140-166), Gal 3:28 appears to contemplate, even if momentarily and in a cultic setting, the absolving of identities based on gender or sex, ethnic and social status in Christ.34 However, 1 Cor 7:17-24 not only assume but even call for the maintenance of such social standings, even if insisting upon their irrelevance for the call of God. In fact, the concessions characterising 1 Cor 7:1-16 and 25-40 serves the immediate purpose of maintaining sex and gender divisions and structures built upon them.
Some scholars insist that Paul addressed all three issues of gender and sex, race and class together in order to avoid any simplistic handling of these matters, since “crosscurrents and complexities prohibit overeasy or overhasty ‘solutions’ to a pastoral and a moral theology that applies the gospel and liberation to a series of differing and changing contexts in the real world” (Thiselton 2000:545 agreeing with Bartchy, Cartlidge and Deming). But this comment does not explain the differences in approach to gender and sex concerns on the one hand, and ethnic and social status concerns on the other hand. “[T]he force of the argument [of 1 Cor 7:17-24] may be to enjoin the Corinthians to remain as they are. Since, in the divine scheme, people have different gifts, acceptable concessions are suggested by Paul” (Braxton 2000:15). In short, 1 Cor 7, also verses 17-24 are cast in ambiguity.
One of the short but crucial instructions of Paul is ma/llon crh/sai in 7:21, and its interpretation has in the past led to a wide variety of suggested options, the repeating of which space here does not allow.35 Suffice it to note that ma/llon crh/sai cannot be read or understood in isolation, and certainly is not to be disconnected from the first part of the verse (dou/loj evklh,qhj( mh, soi mele,tw\ “if you were called as a slave, do not worry about it”). A reasonable conclusion is that Paul’s use of ma/llon crh/sai was deliberately ambiguous, meant to suggest that concern about social status and position did not match up with giving expression to living according to God’s calling. What would the implications have been in the first century, and what are contemporary readers to make of it in the twenty-first century? Such questions are important when on the one hand Paul is perceived not to have been a quietist intent on preserving the status quo but rather consciously and constantly challenging it, but on the other hand Paul appears to have strived to establish his authority in the Corinthian community with its different groups and aspiring leaders?
Ambiguity is maintained throughout 1 Cor 7 and 7:17-24 in particular (Braxton 2000; following Wire 1990:espec 72). The notions in 1 Cor 7:22 are paradoxical, as it holds that being called in Christ while a slave changes such a person into a freed person belonging to the Lord; while, called in Christ as free person changes free status into being a slave of Christ. The status of a freed person in any case hovered between truly and really free, or enslavement, given the indissoluble bond between former owner and freed slave perpetuated through the uneven relationship build upon patronage system of the day. Given the careful literary construction of the text, it can be concluded that the ambiguity in 1 Cor 7, including 7:17-24, is deliberate as it invited engagement and interpretation (Braxton 2000:271-273; cf Kim 2008:58). The positive message of remaining with God (1 Cor 7:24) not only retains ambiguity as “intrinsic feature of the text”. In connection with 1 Cor 7:22 on being called “in the Lord” as emphasis on a ministry of justice, it at the same time creates the possibility for challenging slavery (Braxton 2000:220-234). Indeed “remaining with God” (7:24) is not a passive mode of doing nothing, but it can be understood positively; the Corinthians should stay with God’s initiative – God’s power that passes beyond human ideology and power. In this way, Paul can be read as challenging social conservatism and nullifying human constructions of power. “Remain with God” can be read as an injunction to focus on God’s initiative (Kim 2008:58).
The ambiguity of 1 Cor 7 is operative on a larger scale as well, as becomes evident when this chapter is read as part of the letter as a whole. In fact, the ambiguity can be traced to the author and his claims to power.

    1. Ambiguity amidst claims to power

A clear and often cited formulation of the insistence on self-renunciation, the claim to disinvest from what accrues to the self and what reasonably can be claimed, is found in the previous chapter: 1 Cor 6:7b dia. ti, ouvci. ma/llon avdikei/sqeÈ dia. ti, ouvci. ma/llon avposterei/sqeÈ (“Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” RSV). While in this context Paul discouraged law-suits among fellow believers, with both his telltale enthusiasm and sarcasm, castigating the Corinthians for “wronging and defrauding… brothers” (avdikei/te kai. avposterei/te ))) avdelfou,j, 1 Cor 6:8), he also reproached them for their unwillingness to suffer wrong.36 In chapter 7, however, apart from promoting a celibate lifestyle where possible, self-renunciation does not seem to be the nature of Paul’s appeals in 1 Cor 7 – regardless of whether eschatology or social inequity formed the theological backdrop for Paul’s letter.
As mentioned earlier, in the past the eschatological edge in Corinthians were made into an interpretative grid for reading the letter, suggesting that tensions and questions in the community can be explained through an investigation of the distance between Paul’s expectation of an imminent end as opposed to the Corinthian community’s realised eschatology. But the theological fault line in the Paul-Corinthians relationship was probably situated in the disparate, unequal social standing of the community members, and Paul’s deliberate attempts not only to address the clashing values and social positions of the community members but also to position him in a particular way (cf Martin 1990:142; 1995). Paul’s tentative approach to both the wealthy and the poor in the community probably affected his handling of slavery. Slavery in the first century could not be disconnected from the structural, social system and complex set of convictions regarding hierarchical notions of human beings accompanied by ideas about exercising power and related expectations of submission, corporeal availability for sexual purposes, and punishment. This raises at least the question why Paul was not as with his instructions to various versions of married, unmarried and previously married people at equally great pains to qualify and nuance his argument when it came to slavery?37 Although there is much ambiguity in 1 Cor 7 on many levels and even freely indicated by Paul in terms of agency, why such ambiguity in 1 Cor 7:21-23 in particular – again, particularly given the multitude of different marital contexts he entertained?
First-century slavery of course did not entail a life-sentence of enslavement, since both informal and formal manumission was at the order of the day. However, his letters provide no indication that Paul experienced slavery as a socio-political concern in the way he did the inclusion of Gentiles in a faith or convictional system deriving from and adhering to its Jewish origins to the extent of formulating different paradigms of understanding (e g a different theological notion, with the almighty God now embodied in crucified, corporeal form) and systems of praxis (e g beyond the sacrificial notion, even beyond legal requirements with their potential legalistic and static tendencies).
On the one hand, 1 Cor 7:17-24, like other Pauline texts, could be understood in terms of his belief about the relativisation of all things in Christ (Campbell 2008:89-93). On the other hand, in this text Paul is caught up in identity and power issues, and the flickering of an emancipatory light happens amidst an all too human response. Paul’s claims to authority abound in 1 Cor 7.38 He explicitly refers to his perception of speaking on behalf of Christ regarding the position of unmarried people because he is trustworthy through God’s grace (gnw,mhn de. di,dwmi w`j hvlehme,noj u`po. kuri,ou pisto.j ei=nai, 7:25). And in 7:40 he explicitly claims to have the spirit of God (dokw/ de. kavgw. pneu/ma qeou/ e;cein) and therefore presented his own insight (kata. th.n evmh.n gnw,mhn, 7:40). It is of course obvious from the beginning of the chapter that Paul assumes a knowledgeable position, responding to questions directed to him by the community (Peri. de. w-n evgra,yate, 7:1), and in 1 Cor 7:17 Paul assumes a position of issuing instructions (diata,ssomai), adding, to all the churches (evn tai/j evkklhsi,aij pa,saij).39
Agreeing with the notion that 1 Cor 7 is deliberately steeped in ambiguity, but unlike scholars who seeks the resolution of ambiguity in Paul’s well-meaning intentions (e g Thiselton 2000) or in Paul sincere inability to conclude on matters because of genuine incapacity to do so (e g Braxton 2000:234), 1 Cor 7 with its ambiguity is also an attempt of Paul to establish his control and authority in a fluid, liminal context.

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