Condition or Calling in 1 Corinthians 7?

There is a word that beyond 1 Corinthians 7 is used 11 times in the New Testament, and each of those times it is used to reference God’s calling of us in Jesus Christ. But in 1 Corinthians 7 it is translated as “condition.” For example, here is 1 Corinthians 7:20

Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

This can cause the reader of this chapter, and specifically the section from verses 17-24, to think that God’s calling in our life means that we remain where we are, or that we remain in some social status. But Paul is telling the church that they should remain in their calling to which they are called. Ken Bailey in Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes paraphrases the section, focusing on one of the examples of slavery:

If you are caught in slavery, try to get free. If you are free–do not become a slave. Yet, if you are caught in this (horrible) institution you can yet find and carry out an assignment. You can exercise your gifts and respond to your call. If you are a slave do not look wistfully at me with my freedom and the privileges of Roman citizenship and say, “Of course the Lord can use him. But I am a slave–I can do nothing!” Don’t forget your calling, and never imagine that there is no calling for you because you are a slave. (Bailey, 219)

To the slave, Paul doesn’t want them to think that their slavery is the condition to which they were called. Don’t equate status to calling. They have a calling to which they were called, and even in slavery it is a calling that can be expressed.

God’s Calling in 1 Corinthians 1

Calling on Jesus

Exciting discussion occurred around my breakfast table this morning–which is a relative term since I’m not that excitable early in the day. But my wife and I were talking about the different ways to translate the opening lines, and in particular, the way in which the word “call” or “called” is used.

In this week’s reading I counted four instances of the word and three of them fall in the first two verses. From the ESV here are verses with the words bolded:

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes.
To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…

Ken Bailey translates this differently, keeping the calling as something God does throughout, which changes the last phrase to:

…Together with all those who are called by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This use of “called” is not quite the way someone is “called” Harry in the UK (ie. the way we use “named” in the US). But according to Bailey, it’s not so far off. Being called by the name of Jesus is an action that claims us as belonging not to ourselves, but to our Lord Jesus Christ, for “God’s name is called upon the things that belong to God, be they objects like temples, or people.”1

Either way, the calling is a meaningful action. It is God’s calling to himself a people, calling them to be his own in Jesus Christ. This is God’s action, graciously taking a divided, sinful people and making them into his church. This is God finding a villain to the early disciples, Saul, and calling him to now be an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul. It is God calling us to take part in the story of Jesus Christ.

Whether one translation is better than the other does not keep us from seeing that in these verses we find that our identity is founded in Jesus Christ and thanks be to God for such a call. Paul wants our attention turned to Jesus and his opening is all about Jesus–just take note of how often his name is repeated in this chapter. And now we are to be about him and our calling on him is all it takes to bind the church in Corinth with saints in every place. This introduction reminds us that it is less about us and more about the one who has called us, sanctifies us, and blesses us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.


  1. Kenneth E. Bailey, Paul Through Middle Eastern Eyes, 60. ↩