Vol. 1 - No. 9
A Study Of I Corinthians 7: 10-15
by Hoyt Houchen
We are living in a permissive society. Attitudes and practices which were looked down upon because they were sinful, are now being galvanized into our society and with general acceptance. Cultural life in America has undergone vast changes, and marriages and the family are no exceptions. The high rate of divorce is appalling and it reflects the moral looseness of an ungodly society. Divorces are granted for trivial and even frivolous reasons. Several years ago this writer read in the newspaper that a woman obtained a divorce from her husband because he made too much noise at the breakfast table with his false teeth! While such a ridiculous action provokes a smile, actually it is a serious matter. We are saddened that God's institution of marriage is being disrespectfully trampled under the feet of men. So rapid has been the decline of marriage and the home in the past few years, that some sociologists are predicting they will be generally obsolete by the year 2000. Evidence of this decline is apparent. Living together arrangements without marriage have increased 800% in the last 10 years. Through the news media "free love" is either extolled or regarded as a natural and normal relationship, and homosexuality is condoned as "a life style." Such instances of the moral breakdown in our society is most repulsive to those of us who continue to stand for the decency that is taught in the Bible.
Liberal views on marriage, divorce and remarriage are not confined to those in the outside world. Some of our brethren are advocating permission to remarry where God has not authorized it. There are those who contend that the guilty party who has been put away by his marriage partner, has the right to remarry. Some believe and teach that an alien is not amenable to the laws of God on marriage, and therefore may remain in his marital relationship (whatever it may be) when he is baptized. Others maintain that when a Christian is married to an unbeliever and the unbeliever departs (puts away, divorces) the Christian, the Christian is free to remarry. We believe all of these views are contrary to the Scriptures, but it is this latter view that we wish to consider.
A False Position
The Bible clearly teaches that, in addition to the physical death of a partner in marriage, one may remarry who has put away his partner for the CAUSE of fornication (Matthew 19:9). This is the only exception that is granted for remarriage. But there is a prevailing view that marriage involving unbelievers and unbelievers, or believers and aliens (mixed marriages) are not included in Matthew 19:9, and that marriages between Christians and aliens are only binding if the alien regards them as binding. According to this position, if the alien refuses to live with the Christian and divorces him or her, the Christian is not only free from the obligation of the marriage but is also free to remarry. Obviously, instead of God deciding what is a binding marriage, an alien decides it. A man puts asunder what God has joined, as we shall see.
1 Corinthians 7:10-15 Examined
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul gives an elaborate treatise on marriage. To properly interpret Paul's instructions, we must keep the text in context. At the outset, we must bear in mind that Paul is responding to a series of questions about marriage.
Four sections are devoted to marriage in 1 Corinthians 7:10-15. Instructions are given (1) to the married in general as to conjugal rights and duties (vss. 1-7), (2) to the unmarried and widows (vss. 8,9), (3) to the wife that she is not to depart from her husband, but should she depart she is to remain unmarried (vss. 10,11), and (4) to "the rest"--believers married to unbelievers (vss. 12-15).
Contrary to what some think, remarriage is not discussed in the above verses. One question in the mind of some was in regard to a Christian who is married to an unbeliever. Should the believer cease to live with the unbeliever, or should he continue to live with him? Undoubtedly the situation was that there had been unbelievers married to unbelievers, but there were cases where one of these parties became a Christian. This posed a question in the mind of the one who was now a Christian. Should he continue his marriage with an unbeliever? Paul deals with this in vss. 12-15.
First, Paul makes it clear that a mixed marriage (a Christian married to an unbeliever) is not an unholy relationship. If the unbeliever was content to dwell with the Christian, the Christian was not to separate from him. Then he states in verse 14, "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother: else were your children unclean; but now they are holy" (vs. 14). The idea is, that if such a marriage is unholy or sinful, then the children born in this wedlock would also be unholy. But because it is a holy relationship, the believer should remain with the unbeliever.
In verse 10, Paul emphatically wrote: "I give charge, yea not I, but the Lord, that the wife depart not from her husband." And then "to the rest say I, not the Lord: If any brother hath an unbelieving wife, and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave her" (vs. 12). This order cannot be disregarded upon the basis that Paul had no authority from the Lord in this matter. The apostles were to be guided into ALL TRUTH (John 16:13) and there is no reason to suppose that Paul was not speaking with the sanction of the Lord. When Paul gave directions as to the proper use of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14, he wrote by divine authority. Concerning what he wrote, affirmed that "they are the commandments of the Lord" (vs. 37). We have every reason to believe the same is true with regard to what he wrote on marriage. He was not merely expressing his own opinion. He said, "I give charge" in verse 10. The word "charge" (Gr. parangello) means "to command, order" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, P. 479). In this verse Paul forbids a separation upon the part of the believer, but should he depart he is to remain unmarried. Then in verse 15 (in the section to believers married to unbelievers, beginning with verse 12), Paul stated, "Yet if the unbelieving departeth, let him depart: the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us in peace." The word "depart" is translated from the Greek word chorizo, the same word used in verse 10, "that the wife depart not from her husband..." Admittedly, this word means "divorce." Thayer states that the word means "to leave a husband or wife: of divorce (ibid., p. 674). Arndt and Gingrich also say that this word means "separate (oneself), be separated or divorce" (Greek-English Lexicon, p. 898). So, the problem is not what is meant by the word "depart." The issue revolves around the expression, "not under bondage."
A position is being espoused that a believer is free to remarry if his unbelieving partner deserts or divorces him. This view is known as the "Pauline privilege." It is proposed that the teaching of Jesus on marriage in such passages as Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:10,11 and Luke 16:18 is only applicable to Christians, and does not apply to unbelievers married to unbelievers or to Christians married to unbelievers. This is the position taken by James D. Bales in his book entitled, "Not Under Bondage." But it is a mere assumption; it cannot be proved. We repeat for emphasis, that remarriage is not the question being considered in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15. The question is whether a believer who is married to an unbeliever should DEPART from him or her. To suppose that remarriage is involved in the passage is to read something into it that does not exist. The silence of the Scriptures must be respected.
The word "bondage" (Gr. dedoulotai) is the 3rd person singular, perfect indicative and passive of the verb douloo. Thayer defines it: "to make a slave of, reduce to bondage" (Op. cit., p. 158). It is the same word which is used for "bondservant" (Galatians 4:1) and conveys the idea of a "servile condition." This word appears over 100 times in the New Testament, and not one time has it ever referred to the marriage bond. 1 Corinthians 7:15 would have to be the one exception, but we do not believe it is. When Paul does refer to the marriage bond later in the chapter, he uses a different Greek word. It is the word deo which is found 44 times in the New Testament. Thayer defines this word "to bind, i.e., put under obligation" and he cites Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:27,39 where the word is so used (Op. cit., p. 131). This should make it obvious that Paul is not referring to the marriage bond in 1 Corinthians 7:15. A Christian is bound to Christ, a stronger bond than a marriage partner. F. W. Grosheide puts it well when he comments, "the brother or the sister, i.e., the members of the church of Christ are not subject to an unbeliever" (Commentary on 1st Corinthians, p. 166). The believer is to hold to Christ, even if it means the loss of his unbelieving companion. The deserted believer is not authorized by 1 Corinthians 7:15, or any other Scripture, to remarry.
We observe: (1) Jesus gave only ONE exception for remarriage in addition to the physical death of one's mate in marriage, and that is the putting away of another for the CAUSE of fornication (Matthew 19:9). (2) If 1 Corinthians 7:15 allows the believer who has been deserted by an unbeliever to remarry, then it follows that a believer married to an unbeliever has TWO scriptural reasons for remarriage; fornication and desertion; whereas a Christian married to a Christian has only ONE. So, a premium is actually placed on mixed marriages. A person can marry an unbeliever and be assured that if the unbeliever leaves, he can remarry. We would not accuse brethren who subscribe to the "Pauline privilege" of encouraging this, but such is nevertheless the consequence. It is a peculiar doctrine indeed!
The doctrine under review contradicts general and plain statements on marriage, such as Romans 7:2,3. Furthermore, the "Pauline privilege" doctrine imposes a hardship upon a person who is divorced for some trivial reason (e.g., burning the toast) that is not imposed upon the deserted believer by an unbeliever. The woman, for example, who is put away by a believer is exposed to financial difficulties, the rearing of her children and the desire for sexual companionship. Jesus teaches that she cannot remarry. But the deserted believer is not subject to such hardships because she was put away by an unbeliever and the teaching of Jesus does not apply to her. We cannot believe that God deals unequally with people in identical situations because He is not a respecter of persons. All mentally capable and morally responsible persons are amenable to the law of Christ on marriage. It is WHOSOEVER in Matthew 19:9. All men will be judged by the law of Christ (Acts 17:30,31).The people of God are to radiate their good influence upon an immoral world. But God's purpose is defeated when members of the church lower the standard on morals and become permissive where God is silent. Never is there a place for compromise upon any Bible truth, but elders, preachers and all saints must with courage, forthrightly declare what God teaches on any subject (including marriage, divorce and remarriage). Parents must teach their children the obligations and sanctity of marriage. The marriage question must be settled by the word of God, not by loyalty to friends and sentiment. May we ever be loyal to the truth regardless of what others may think or teach.