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Denny Burk makes the case. His main points are outlined below. Read the whole thing for explanation and defense.

  1. Paul puts himself in the category of being "unmarried" in 1 Corinthians 7:8.
  2. The word "unmarried" translates the Greek word agamos.
  3. Paul uses the term agamos to refer to those who have been married but now are no longer married.
  4. The context of agamos in 1 Corinthians 7:8 is dominated by Paul's instructions to those who are married or who have been married.
  5. The Greek word for "widower" was not in use during the Koine period.
  6. The word for "unmarried" appears to be the masculine word for someone who has lost a spouse.
  7. As a good Pharisee, it is highly unlikely that Paul would have been single his entire life.

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11 thoughts on “Was the Apostle Paul a Widower?”

  1. Andrew says:

    I have often wondered about this in light of number 7. The other six points go a long way to convincing me that Paul was indeed a widower.

  2. Matt says:

    I’m not sure about him being a widower, but I have always assumed that Paul was married at some point; as 1 Corinthians bolsters Paul’s reasoning for not being bound by marriage (i.e. unbeliever leaves/deserts, etc.). As well, Paul states in 9:5, “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” We also know (as you stated in #7) that Paul affirmed, he “cast his vote;” meaning, he was a member of the Sanhedrin (Acts 26:10b). The members of the Sanhedrin were most definitely married.
    With only conjecture, my personal belief is that Paul’s wife either left him at some point, or it may be possible, as you state, the rationale of him being a widower. In each case, Paul was most likely married as Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin.

  3. This is very interesting. What implications would this have? Any thoughts?

  4. Walker says:

    Pure speculation. Perhaps by someone (as with many Christians) who are uncomfortable with the Christian doctrine that singleness and being married are equally valid states?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Perhaps by someone (as with many Christians) who are uncomfortable with the Christian doctrine that singleness and being married are equally valid states? No.

  5. Philip says:

    For me an important side-issue is in “Only in the second section does Paul address the ‘virgins’—those who have never been married.” and “In 1 Corinthians 7:8, therefore, Paul is saying to widows and widowers that it is good for them to stay unmarried just as he does. If they do not have self-control, however, he tells them it would be better for them to marry.” (emphasis in original) This at least weakens the gift of celibacy interpretation where verses 7 and 8 are applied to those who have never married to say if they do not have some rare gift of celibacy they ought to marry.

  6. Jermayn says:

    I heard one person joke that Pauls “Thorn in his Side” was his mother in-law…

  7. David Slocum says:

    Could be that Paul was married and then after his life took a 180 degree turn and he became a radical for God (Acts 9) that his wife divorced him. Given his position and the kind of woman he would have been married to, this is a highly likely situation.

  8. Michael says:

    I think he certainly could have been a widower. I think all of the points listed are valid and do create some circumstantial evidence that this could have been the case. However, we don’t really have any more than that, and I don’t see that this information would be profitable in any way in terms of our faith or our message. It doesn’t strike me as a topic that requires the attention of a theologian, but that’s just me. This would have been a good one for “Hard Copy”. I wonder what they would have come up with.

    Apostle Paul Attacked Part I – Was He a True Apostle?

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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