Last night as my wife was driving us home, we had to drive briefly down the “old highway” or, as seems to be the official custom now, “BUS ##” (where ## is the highway number). When we first moved here a bit over 18 years ago, all the businesses on the road seemed to be thriving. But now, if the buildings are not at very least abandoned, they have been completely demolished, leaving nothing but bare ground. I don’t know why, but immediately the scripture at 1 Corinthians 7:31 came to mind, ‘the scene of this world is changing.’ I knew I was most probably stretching the intended meaning of the word “scene,” but it did make me wonder, and that wonder gave me fodder for this article.
Questions: What is the meaning of the word “scene,” and how is the word “world” being used?
The New World Translation (NWT) renders the passage: “and those making use of the world as those not using it to the full; for the scene of this world is changing.” Where the NWT uses the word “scene,” other translations render it “fashion.”
Barnes' Notes on the Bible: For the fashion of this world - (τὸ σχῆμα to schēma.) The form, the appearance. In 1 John 2:17, it is said that "the world passeth away and the lust thereof." The worst "fashion" here is probably taken from the shifting scenes of the drama where, when the scene changes, the imposing and splendid pageantry passes off. The form, the fashion of the world is like a splendid, gilded pageant. It is unreal and illusive. It continues but a little time; and soon the scene changes, and the fashion that allured and enticed us now passes away, and we pass to other scenes.
Agreeing with Barnes’ Notes is Matthew Poole's Commentary: “This world is like a stage or theatre where are diversities of scenes, and the present scene abideth but for a little time, then passeth, and another scene or figure of things appeareth: those who appear this day in the form of princes and nobles, tomorrow appear as beggars, and persons of a low estate and degree.”
Vine’s Expository Dictionary identifies the word “scene” or “fashion” as having origin in the Greek work Schema (4976), “a figure, fashion” (akin to , “to have”), is translated “fashion” in 1 Cor. 7:31, of the world, signifying that which comprises the manner of life, actions, etc. of humanity in general; in Phil. 2:8 it is used of the Lord in His being found “in fashion” as a man, and signifies what He was in the eyes of men, “the entire outwardly perceptible mode and shape of His existence, just as the preceding words , “form,” and , “likeness,” describe what He was in Himself as Man” (Gifford on the Incarnation, p. 44). “Men saw in Christ a human form, bearing, language, action, mode of life … in general the state and relations of a human being, so that in the entire mode of His appearance He made Himself known and was recognized as a man”
The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says of the word fashion, “fashion—the present fleeting form. Compare Ps 39:6, "vain show"; Ps 73:20, "a dream"; Jas 4:14, "a vapor." (Scripture links) Indeed, mankind and his ways apart from God have no permanence.
So in practical terms, what is it that Paul is advising his readers? A 2015 Watchtower article explains:
“As the Bible warns, there is a danger in making too much use of what the world has to offer. (Read 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.) A Christian can easily waste an excessive amount of time on things that are not wrong in themselves, such as hobbies, recreational reading, TV watching, sightseeing, window shopping, and seeking out the latest electronic gadgets or luxuries. Social networking, texting, circulating emails, and frequently checking the latest news and sports events can also waste our time and can even become an obsession.* (Eccl. 3:1, 6) If we do not limit the amount of time we spend on nonessential things, we may find ourselves neglecting the most important activity of all—our worship of Jehovah.—Read Ephesians 5:15-17.
“Satan has designed his world to attract and distract us. That was true in the first century, and it is even more so today. (2 Tim. 4:10) Thus, we need to heed the counsel: “Do not love . . . the things in the world.” By constantly adjusting ourselves to live in accord with such counsel, we will avoid being distracted and we will be able to grow in our “love of the Father.” This, in turn, will make it easier for us to do the will of God and remain in his favor forever.—1 John 2:15-17.”
Therefore, the “scene of the world” or “fashion” is more accurately “the present condition of human affairs,” whereas our not making use of “the world” refers to all the luster, material glitter, indeed, the sum of temporal possessions, that is put before us as valuable.
Putting all the above together, let us reformulate the scripture to be quite precise in what Paul was writing:
“and those making use of the sum of temporal possessions as those not giving it first priority in their lives; for the present condition of human affairs is changing.” (See this abbreviated Vine’s Dictionary note for kosmos, items (e) and (f).)