OceanSide church of Christ

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Divorce and Remarriage, I Cor. 7:15

Victor M. Eskew


            In Matthew 19:9, Jesus teaches that there is one cause for divorce and remarriage, fornication.  “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery:  and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”  Some, however, teach that Paul allowed another cause in I Corinthians 7:15.  This cause involves the desertion by an unbelieving mate.  Many refer to this as “The Pauline Privilege.”  Here is what the text says:  “But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart.  A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases:  but God hath called us to peace.”

            A diligent study of this verse will show that it does not provide another “cause” for divorce and remarriage.  First, the word translated “bondage” is interesting in the Greek language.  It comes from the word “douloo.”  It means “to enslave, to make one a slave.”  If this has reference to the marriage bond, Paul would be referring to it as a slave-relationship.  God-ordained marriage is not intended to be such.  If Paul had been addressing the marriage bond, he would have used another Greek word, the word “deo.”  In fact, he uses this word in two other verses in I Corinthians 7 in reference to the marriage bond (I Cor. 7:27, 39).

            Second, when one considers the verb tense of the words “under bondage,” he realizes that the apostle is not speaking of the marriage bond.  “Under bondage” translates the perfect passive indicative form of “douloo.”  The perfect tense points to an action that was completed in the past, but has present, continuous results.  In our verse, the words “not” has been placed before the word “under bondage.”  Thus, Paul negates the action.  In essence, Paul states:  “You are not under bondage now, nor have you ever been under bondage.”  This meaning cannot refer to the marriage bond.  If the believer and unbeliever were husband and wife, there was a time when they were bond to each other.

            The difficulty now comes in trying to properly interpret the text.  Let’s remember that this relationship involves a Christian being married to an unbeliever.  Sometimes these marriages were very strained.  The unbeliever would oftentimes put pressure upon the Christian to deny his/her profession of faith.  If this was not done, the unbeliever would threaten to depart.  Paul says that if the unbeliever departs, let him depart.  The believer is not, nor has he/she ever been obligated to deny the faith to maintain the marriage.  The believer is not the unbeliever’s slave, but rather Christ’s servant.

            Letting the unbeliever depart does not give the Christian the right to remarry.  Jesus gave the only cause for divorce and remarriage in Matthew 19:9.  Some believe that these are extremely tough pieces of divine legislation.  Perhaps they are, but God knows what is best for man.  Marriage is not a game; it is serious business.  Much prayer and contemplation should to into the selection of a mate.  The words, “I do,” are serious.  They are intended to obligate one for life.  When one says them, he should mean them!