Sundays With St. Paul: “As You Were”…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

Our class discussion this week brought us to 1 Cor. 7:17-24 with an emphasis on v. 19. Yet when I read the passage, I was struck by v. 20; “Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.”[1] I sensed echoes to what was mentioned in last week’s post, that Judaism and Christianity were not yet seen as separate belief systems. Yet if we’re to read this verse under what Paul says in v. 17; “… This is my rule in all the churches,” then might this be Paul’s purpose all along? For Jews to remain Jews, Gentiles to remain Gentiles, married to remain married, etc.?

In v. 18 Paul says, “Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.” This point of remaining in one’s own context is again emphasized in v. 21, “Were you a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it.” And later on in chapter 7, he says, “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.” With this theme of “as you were” in mind, might it possible that Paul never intended to start something new?

In the particular topic of v. 19, which says, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything,” we discussed Paul’s implicit thoughts on the law or “the commandments.” Is he discussing ritual commandments or the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue)? Is he making a distinction between ritual purity and moral purity and implying the latter is more important than the former?

What do you think? Is Paul’s ultimate argument here to remain “as you were” and that one’s own context is not more “right” than another’s? What do you make of his comment about obeying the commandments? Is he going against the understanding of “law” of his time or stepping right in line with what Jesus says about fulfilling the law in Matt. 5:17?


[1] New Revised Standard Version

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Jeremy

Cherokee / Whovian / Sherlockian / Aspiring Auror / Lover of Jesus, Scripture, and creativity / MATS Student at George Fox Seminary.

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