Thursday, 14 May 2015

The Biblical Doctrine of Divorce and Remarriage: Part 3 of 3

Relevant Scriptures continued:

9. 1 Corinthians 7:10-16. Paul responds to a letter the Corinthians had written, asking for his advice on various matters including marriage (v. 1). He states in v. 2 that marriage is to be monogamous, between a man and a woman; sexual relations are confined to the marriage relationship, and sexual activity in any other context constitutes immorality. He further affirms that the marriage bond is for life (v. 39). “Now to the married…” (vv. 10-11) is in contrast to the unmarried (v. 8), applicable to the general state of marriage.1 Paul can give an apostolic directive (paraggéllō) because the Lord himself gave general marriage instruction during his earthly ministry (see Part 2). A wife is not to chōrízō = “depart from” (NKJ), “separate from” (RSV) or “leave” (NAS) her husband (v. 10b). This could be synonymous with divorce,2 as the separated state is described as “unmarried” (v. 11). The parallel admonition to the husband is to not “send away” or “divorce” (aphíēmi) his wife (v. 11), while “abandon” is also a possible nuance (cf. Mark 14:50). “But even if she does depart” (i.e. ignore the injunction) or ‘if she is separated’ (i.e. already in this state), there are only two scriptural options: (a) remain unmarried, or (b) be reconciled to her husband (v. 11, cf. v. 39). The husband likewise is not to “send away” or “divorce” or “abandon” his wife (v. 11c).
     “But to the rest [loipós, cf. 11:34],” i.e. the rest of the situations the Corinthians were asking about, viz. specific cases of believers married to unbelievers (vv. 12-16). “I, not the Lord, say…” Jesus did not specifically address religiously-mixed marriages, about which the Corinthians had particular concern, so Paul does. They had misunderstood Paul’s teaching about not associating with immoral people (5:9-10), so some were probably wondering if a Christian married to a non-Christian should get out of this marriage; after all, the Law of Moses forbad religiously-mixed marriages (Ex. 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1-4). Paul says that a Christian is not to “divorce” or “abandon” (aphíēmi) an unbelieving spouse, assuming the unbeliever is willing to remain in the marriage (vv. 12-14). The unbeliever is ‘sanctified’ by his/her spouse (in the context of the marriage), i.e. the unbeliever is set apart from other worldly persons (e.g. fornicators) by the simple fact that he/she is married and is thus not committing immorality in this relationship (v. 14a). Paul gives reassurance that this union is sanctioned by God by the simple fact that your children are ‘clean,’ ‘holy,’ i.e. not illegitimate or born out of wedlock (v. 14b).
     “But if the unbeliever departs” (NKJ) or “leaves” (NAS, NIV) or “separates” (ESV) [chōrízō, cf. vv. 10, 11] (vv. 15-16), let him go, assuming that he is taking the initiative and is determined to leave (cf. vv. 10-13); “the brother or the sister is not [ou] under bondage3 [dedoúlōtai, from doulóō = to ‘enslave’] in such [cases/matters]”; “In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved …” (ESV). The word doulóō occurs 133 times in the NT and is never used with reference to the marriage bond; it refers to the bondage of slavery (cf. v. 23). The word for marriage bond, used twice in this chapter (vv. 27, 39), is déō (cf. Rom. 7:2). The perfect tense of ou dedoúlōtai conveys the sense of a past action with continuing results = the brother or sister ‘stands in a position of not having been enslaved,’ i.e., he/she is not now nor has he/she ever been in the bondage of slavery (to this spouse).
     This verse does not say that a deserted Christian spouse is automatically loosed from the marriage bond and is therefore free to marry someone else. This common misinterpretation is known as “the Pauline privilege,” i.e., Paul supposedly gives an additional reason, to what Jesus had specified (Matt. 5:32; 19:9), for the acceptable dissolution of marriage. But this is incompatible with the following: (a) remarriage is never considered in this chapter except in the case of a widow (vv. 8-9, 39); (b) if Paul is giving another exception, he is at variance with Jesus; (c) Paul never says the marriage bond is dissolved (N.B. v. 39, “a wife is bound [déō] by law as long as her husband lives”); (d) the divine rule for marriage is no severance at all, but if it happens anyway the only scriptural options are to remain unmarried or be reconciled (vv. 10-11); (e) the perfect tense of ou dedoúlōtai shows that enslavement to the spouse is a state the abandoned Christian has never been in; but this person has been married, therefore ou dedoúlōtai cannot be a reference to the termination of the marriage bond.
     This verse does say that a Christian who is abandoned by an unbelieving spouse is not enslaved as in a master-slave relationship; i.e. you are not obligated to keep your spouse from leaving no matter what the cost. “But God has called us/you to peace” = the Christian is to gracefully accept his/her situation even if he/she has been abandoned by an unbelieving spouse (cf. Rom. 12:18). ‘How do you know whether you will save your spouse?’ (v. 16). In view of v. 15, Paul may be suggesting here that instead of trying to force an unbelieving spouse to stay with you, it is better to keep the peace by letting him/her leave, since it is unlikely that you will save him/her. In view of vv. 12-14, Paul may be suggesting here that if possible one should stay with an unbelieving spouse in the hopes of saving him/her (cf. Heb. 12:14; 1 Pet. 3:1), but v. 15 shows that it is not always possible. This could be a double nuance, to be applied to whatever situation is relevant.

Concluding Statement:

     If for sexual infidelity, divorce is a divinely-granted dissolution of marital obligations for the one who has been cheated on, thus freeing him/her to marry another eligible person. On the other hand, divorce is a human innovation if for any reason other than sexual unfaithfulness; it is void of divine sanction and therefore terminates none of the marital responsibilities of either husband or wife.The sexual sin of adultery is therefore committed when one so divorced enters into a marital union with someone else.

--Kevin L. Moore

     1 Because of what follows, many commentators try to limit this instruction to a marriage in which both partners are Christians. However, to reach that conclusion one must read further down in the text, draw this conclusion, then go back to vv. 10-11 and make that application (no doubt very confusing to those who first heard this passage publicly read!). Since it would be more natural for a writer to specify a particular type of marriage if that were his point (as in vv. 12 ff.), the general phrase “to the married” is most obviously inclusive of all marriages.
     2 In Mark’s account of the Lord’s teaching, the woman as well as the man may initiate the divorce (10:11-12), which is consistent with Roman law. At Corinth some may have been considering divorcing their spouses in order to live a celibate life.
     3 Or “bound” (NIV, N/RSV, REB), “under no compulsion” (NEB) or “obligation” (McCord).
     4 Edwin S. Jones, “The Biblical Definition of Divorce,” in Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, ed. Jim Laws (Memphis, TN: Getwell Church of Christ, 1992): 254-67.

Image credit:

No comments:

Post a Comment