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22 July 2010 (Chamashee/Teruah)
Day #129, 5934 AM
Single is Better?
Understanding Paul to the Corinthians

I was sent a sermon by another minister the other day in which he quotes Paul to justify people acting as though they weren't married even if they are. The passage cited was:

    "But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none" (1 Cor.7:29, NKJV).

Over the centuries preachers have used this passage to justify mandatory celibacy for the clergy, promote sex as something dirty and nasty that should only be used for making babies, and various other aethetic practices. Today some ministers are saying that marriage is OK but husbands and wives should be so proccupied with Christ that to all intents and purpose they should be a missionary team and not an actual married couple building a home.

These words of Paul have indeed been misunderstood because they have been taken out of context. Let's read the passage a little more:

    "Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Master; yet I give judgment as one whom the Master in His mercy has made trustworthy. I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress -- that it is good for a man to remain as he is: Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away. But I want you to be without care" (1 Cor 7:25-32, NKJV).

What, then, is the plain sense of this passage?

  • 1. Paul is not claiming revelation - he is giving his opinion;
  • 2. He is making a private judgment based on local circumstances, viz. violent persecution;
  • 3. He gives the impression, like many of his day, that he (mistakenly) believed Yah'shua might be returning any minute ("the time is short") and so maximum priority should be given to evangelism above all else.

His advice makes sense in the context of relentless persecution where it is not possible to live a settled married life. With believers being arrested, tortured and murdered, normal family life was virtually impossible. This is not an anti-marriage doctrinal statement - it is situational counsel for the oppressed congregation at Corinth two millennia ago. The apostle Paul was not sure if this was Yahweh's will anyway - he concludes his advice saying, "and I think I also have the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God)" (1 Cor.7:40, NKJV). That makes sense also when you think he may have been mistaken about the imminence of the Second Coming.

A more modern twist on this scripture has been to use it to justify Christ-centeredness at the expense of marriage. And whilst Christ-centeredness absolutely is how all believers have been called to live, this passage of Scripture cannot - and should not - be used to devalue marriage.

When reading Scripture we must always be carefuil to check the context. We need to especially know whether what we are reading is actually Yahweh's words, the opinion of believers, the sayings of unbelievers, or even the devil himself. Not all Scripture is equally inspired. For example, Job's friends were lying - do we then quote their words as inspired? Of course not. Rather, we put them in the context of Job's words being true. Thus they provide contrast, illuminating the truth by virtue of the fact that they are untruth. They are still a part of 'inspired Scripture' inasmuch as they serve as a backdrop for the truth.

Many have this mistaken idea that every word of the Bible is God-breathed. It isn't. Rather, "Every word of Elohim (God) is pure" (Prov.30:5, NKJV). In contrast, "The simple believes every word [of man], but the prudent considers well his steps" (Prov.14:15, NKJV). How then, are we to understand Paul's adminition to Timothy?

    "All Scripture (Kitvei haQodesh) is given by inspiration of Elohim (God), and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of Elohim may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim.3:15-17, NKJV).

Wouldn't this, then, include the words of Job's friends? The words of pagans like Pilate and Herod? Goliath? King Saul? Are these inspired? Clearly these are, for the most part, words of the devil so obviously their inspiration is not from Yahweh. I am sure you would agree that I would be a terrible minister if I went around asking people in a negative frame of mind, as Pilate did, saying: "What is truth" (Jn.18:38)? Or if I quoted the words of the serpent in Eden to Eve as inspired by Yahweh?

What you have to realise is that the Bible with the New Testament we have today did not exist when Paul penned these words. When he said that the Kitvei haQodesh or Holy Scriptures were inspired he was not speaking of our modern Protestant canon of the Bible because it didn't exist. When Baptists, Pentecostals and others tell you Paul is speaking of the 'Bible' here they are not being honest. That is not to say we cannot now aply this Scripture prophetically to the Bible which we now have (or even modern revelation), for indeed we acknowledge that the New Testament is inspired and profitable for the spiritual man. Absolutely. However, there are two things we must recongise:

  • 1. The verb "is" in "All Scripture is given by inspiration of Elohim" isn't actually there in the Greek and has been added by the translators for clarification. It is equally valid to render this passage (by removing Evangelical lenses as we do so): "All God-breathed Scripture is profitable..." and the only reason it is not favoured by Protestants and others is that it doesn't support the dogma that Yahweh has inspired, or could inspire, any more written Scripture. Indeed, the way Paul actually words this leave us with the responsibility of searching for truth ourselves;

  • 2. Paul was only talking here of the Tanakh or Old Testament. The claims for inspiration for the New Testament's inspiration had not yet been made because the New Testament hadn't even been compiled! Canonisation takes (or should take) a long time after much testing! In other words, Paul is talking about the Torah! And he is affirming its indispensibility to New Covenant believers - to Christians!

What this means is that the 'Old' Testament is the first or principle compilation of Yahweh's Inspired Word and everything that follows it must harmonise with it, including the New Testament. This means that the New Testament can only be properly understood and rightly interpreted out of an 'Old' Testament context. So Paul's situational or circumstantial remarks on marriage to the Corinthians during a time of great persecution, making ordinary family live virtually impossible, must be understood (when it comes to revelation) out of the Tanak's teaching about marriage. And there, very clearly, and indeed as elsewhere taught by Paul in the New Testament, marriage is upheld not only as desirable but as indispensible to understanding our true relationship to Messiah.

There are always exceptions. Jeremiah was one - he was called to be an unmarried prophet. The oppressed and harried Corinthian saints at that point in time were another. Paul gave advice to the believers at Corinth, didn't claim it to be a revelation or inspired, and was not sure himself if the Ruach had given him the words. Thus the believers to whom that epistle was addressed would have had the freedom to make their own choice to remain as they were or (if they were single) or to get married.

We may find ourselves in similar times in the future and Paul's counsel may then become relevant again. I am sure is is already relevant in some parts of the world today where believers are being oppressed and killed. Darfur (Sudan) springs to mind...Somalia..and doubtless other places too. So Paul's words here are not on the same level of inspiration as the Tanakh but only become inspired situationally, and as the Ruach confirms to each soul who feels these words of Paul are addressing their situation.

So watch out for preachers who twist or misapply Scripture. Study them carefully!

Questions to Consider

1. Could the passage of Scripture under study apply to other situations?
2. Could it apply to, say, someone with a lethal genetic deficiency such as monogolism?
3. Could it apply to someone who is mentally retarded and incapable of the responsibilities required of marriage?
4. Could it apply to someone who has not had a clear revelation as to whom Yahweh wants them to marry?
5. Could it apply to people like Jeremiah called to devote themselves 100% to the ministry?

Comments from Readers

"I wanted to comment on this comment in one of your recent devotions:

    "The verb "is" in "All Scripture is given by inspiration of Elohim" isn't actually there in the Greek and has been added by the translators for clarification. It is equally valid to render this passage (by removing Evangelical lenses as we do so): "All God-breathed Scripture is profitable..." and the only reason it is not favoured by Protestants and others is that it doesn't support the dogma that Yahweh has inspired, or could inspire, any more written Scripture. Indeed, the way Paul actually words this leave us with the responsibility of searching for truth ourselves;

"...My literal translation: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness..."

"The reason that the "is" isn't in the Greek is because the construction of the phrase...is written in such a way that it could be translated "all God-breathed Scripture" or "all Scripture is God-breathed". The problem with the first rendering is that the inclusion of "and" makes it impossible to be the first since then the clause would be incomplete "All God-breathed Scripture and profitable for teaching...?". Thus, the best translation would translate the adjective "God-breathed" as a predicate (i.e. which would be translated as "is God-breathed", as English is different from Greek and the Greek is indicating it is describing the nature of "Scripture") and thus, the popular translation. All of this is found in William D. Mounce's book, Basics of Biblical Greek, in the chapter on Adjectives if you can ever manage to pick up a copy.

"I think you need to be careful with this as it comes off as no different than Joseph Smith's "translation" and those who know better know you don't know what you're talking about (although I know you're being well-intentioned, it can also lead to major doctrinal errors). "The only reason it is not favoured by Protestants" is because it is incorrect, not because there's a bias against further Scripture. Even as it stands, though, you are correct in stating that Paul wrote that before the formation of the NT, although some internal evidence would seem to suggest that the NT was considered authoritative in the first century. Notable Scriptures that immediately spring to mind are Colossians 4:16, 1 Thessalonians 5:27 (where Paul commands the public reading of his letters) and 1 Timothy 5:18 (which quotes Luke 10:7 and cites it as Scripture). I'm also not sure inspiration equates to verbal inerrancy, but it does, at the very least, suggest that God had His hand in the formation of Scripture..." (DR, USA, 26 July 2010)

Comments by Lev (26 July 2010):

There is no doubt that Paul's letters were considered authoritative by the congregations of his day (neither that nor its later canonisation is in dispute by this ministry). And I do not dispute that there are two possible renditions. I am not a Greek scholar but I have consulted Greek scholars and the two views I mentioned are held by them. (We are assuming here that the original was penned in Greek - if it was not, then it was a translation of a Hebraic text. And as all scholars know, the translation process is in itself an exegesis, itself a further problem).

But let us give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that the traditional rendition is correct (which I personally have no problem with if it is). If the rendering is "all Scripture is God-breathed" then it can only have reference to the Tanakh (Old Testament) because no other "Scripture" was either known or accepted at that time. For however authoritative Paul's letters were regarded by the first century believers, they were not canonised as "Scripture" en par with the Tanakh until much later, and certainly not when Paul penned his epistle. Therefore we must read it with the eyes of those who would have read at the time - and they were not Protestant eyes because thre Protestant canon did not exist.

Trying to link me to Joseph Smith's phoney 'translation' simple because he uses the second rendition for his own private motives (to lend justification to accepting his 'Book of Mormon', 'Doctrine & Covenants' and 'Pearl of Great Price' is as dishonest as my accusing an ex-Jehovah's Witness of supporting your preference because their New World 'Translation' (which was not done by Hebrew or Greek scholars) renders the passage: "All Scripture is inspired by God". I am sure the NWT 'translators' chose that because they, like Protestants, believe the New Testament canon to be closed and not necessarily because it was one or two possibly correct translations. So it was not necessary for you to make this a patronising personal attack - you came across rude and arrogant. The first two paragraphs of your comments were appreciated - the latter simply demonstrates a lack of personal maturity on your part and will not win you friends nor serve to maintain the bond of peace between believers of different persuasions if you continue that way. For another thing, you do not know my heart and make many presumptions as to my motives. Only Yahweh knows that, and those who are close to me.

All translations are biased - inevitably - which is why I use many. I recommend you get a hold of Michael J. Gorman's, Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide for Students and Ministers (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusets: 2001) to learn more about the processes involved. It's obvious what paradigm you are currently working out of. I respect your right (and quite possibly your need) to do that because we all need a frame of reference. But I caution you to temper your judgment of others who aren't necesserily working within the same framework, however much that may discomfort you. I have actually worked within that setting, found it useful while I did, but was forced to exchange it for a larger one. And the fact that I believe that inspired Scripture - or 'Scripture' - is not necessarily limited to the Protestant Canon (whilst freely limiting myself to act within it for the sake of unity in the Body) does not mean - and certainly does not warrant you saying that it means or might mean - that I am in 'danger' of going the way of the Mormon heresy any more than your working within the Proestant Canon means that you are necessarily in danger of going the 'Jehovah's Witness way' or any other cult that likewise limits itself to the Protestant Canon. As an ex-Mormon I know you have fears, as did I after my flirtation with that religion for 3 years many, many years ago, and these I understand. As you advance in years and gain more experience I think you will discover this to be so. And whilst age is no guarantee of theological correctness it does have some advantages in perspective that you will later come to appreciate.

So, yes, I do maintain that Prorestant Bible translators view Scripture through a distorted lens, just as Messianic and Catholic ones do too. I understand fully well the fear on the part of Protestants of other Scripture being admitted as inspired. There is plenty of false and heretical material out there. But as one distinguished Baptist minister admitted to me in some correspondences I had with him many years ago when I was roughtly where you are now, there is potentially the possibility of an infinite amount of inspired Scripture existing 'out there' outside the Protestant Canon. He didn't doubt it existed. The problem, he admitted, was simply getting Christians to agree on it, and in consequence felt that it would be better to resolve that when Christ returns. Believe or not I agreed with him.

I do believe in inspired Scripture outside the Bible but not like Smith & Co. who set up these other purported Scriptures (they were false) as superior to the Bible. I am willing to limit myself to the Protestant Canon and subject any purported new (or even old) scripture to testing by the Protestant Canon. That is why I am not falling over myself to accept the Apocrypha, Book of Jasher and Book of Enoch as 'equally inspired and canonical' as a number of Messianic organisations are now unwisely doing. In fact, we will never do that.

Finally, lest I be misunderstood yet further, I do want to affirm that I believe Yahweh had His hand firmly in the formation of the Protestant Canon. I was never implying that because that canon cities words that were not inspired by Him that this in someway diminishes that canon's canonicity. I believe I explained that well enough in my devotional. In a similar but inverse way, the fact that the false scripture called the Book of Mormon contains bona fide KJV quotations from the Protestant canon (along with some really good evanglical sermons...I know, I preached them in a Pentecostal Church in Norway once and got a barrage of 'Amens') doesn't suddenly validite it as a whole.

So, I will happily go along with your rendering of the passage under discussion both because it is a possible rendition (and, depending on what the Hebraic original was, might even be the more correct of the two possibilities) since actually it is also an affirmation of the Tanakh and the Torah! But I will not give your Protestant paradigm carte blanche. If you can accept that, then we have peace on either side of the paradigm boundary.

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This page was created on 22 July 2010
Last updated on 26 July 2010

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