1 Corinthians 7: Does “Not Under Bondage” Allow Remarriage? Part 1

1corinthiansI get emails. I respond to an edited version of reader Mojohn’s extensive comment in this and in the next few posts. The full text of the comment is linked here. This and the next post will deal with the meaning of “not under bondage” in 1 Corinthians 7:15 — in particular, Mojohn’s assertion that remarriage is not allowed after a Christian is divorced by a non-Christian spouse. Mojohn is referencing arguments I made in But If You Do Marry, available as a free ebook download in .pdf format. The question is important to me because it’s part of a larger argument as to whether divorced Christians may remarry at all, a topic that we’ll take up in future posts dealing with Mojohn’s thoughtful comment on the topic. ___________________________________ [Mojohn: I will state my current understanding, which differs from yours, via interaction with portions of your posts on August 6, 2014. My comments below are in italics within [square brackets]. [I disagree with your assertion that the Christian spouse is free to marry another person (of the other sex) following divorce [initiated by a pagan spouse]. My rationale follows. [I’m not a Greek scholar, but the tools available to me state that the Greek word translated as “bound” in 1 Corinthians 7:15 is different from the word typically used to describe the marriage bond. According to The Complete Wordstudy Dictionary New Testament (CWDNT), the Greek word translated “under bondage” in the NASB (my preferred translation) in verse 15 is duoloo (Strong’s # 1402). Duoloo means not “subjugated, subdued.” It is used elsewhere to describe a master-slave relationship. The Greek word translated “bound” in verse 39 is deo (Strong’s # 1210), and this is the word usually used to describe the marriage bond. It means “bound together.”]________________________ JFG: I apologize in advance for my lengthy answer, but this is a question on which many other questions turn. Those who reject the so-called Pauline Exception tend to take very narrow views on related questions. And because of so much bad teaching on the subject, I really need to cover more ground than your question strictly requires. The meaning of “separates” and “leaves” Thayer’s defines “separates” in 1 Cor 7:10 (chorizo, with long o’s),

Middle and 1 aorist passive with a reflexive significance: to separate oneself from, to depart; a. to leave a husband or wife: of divorce, 1 Cor. 7:11,15; ἀπό ἀνδρός, 1 Cor. 7:10

Thayer’s references passages from Polybius, a pre-Christian Grecian historian in support of its definition. More importantly, context governs. 1 Cor 7:11 says,

(1Co 7:11 NET) (but if she does, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband), and a husband should not divorce his wife.

“Unmarried” translates agamos, meaning “unmarried.” Gamos means married. Hence, what she did in verse 10 (chorizo) must mean “no longer be married.” And then “divorce” later in v. 11 is aphiemi. Thayer’s translates as —

1. to send away; a. to bid go away or depart: τούς ὄχλους, Matt. 13:36 (others refer this to 3 below); τήν γυναῖκα, of a husband putting away his wife, 1 Cor. 7:11-13 (Herodotus 5, 39; and a substantive, ἄφεσις, Plutarch, Pomp. c. 42, 6).

Friberg’s lexison defines it as —

(2) as a legal technical term divorce (1C 7.11)

Liddell-Scott gives as the definition —

3. to put away, divorce, Hdt.

“Hdt” means the definition is rooted in Herodotus. Agamos is beyond clear. And there was no such thing as a “legal separation” in Jewish or Roman law or practice — or in Paul’s theology. In short, the topic under discussion is an actual divorce that results in no longer being married. In fact, Paul himself describes the person divorced as becoming agamos or unmarried.

(1Co 7:12 ESV) To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.

“Divorce” in v. 12 is aphiemi, again. The question is one of divorce, not “leaving” in the American sense of leaving a wife with no divorce. In that culture, leaving a wife was a divorce.

(1Co 7:13 ESV) If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.

In v. 13, “divorce” is again aphiemi. Divorce is still the topic.

(1Co 7:14-15 ESV) 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.

“Separates” obviously must mean “divorces” because this is the topic at hand. The Greek word is chorizo. In chiastic fashion, Paul reverts to the first key verb in verse 10. And it still means “divorce.” And the key phrase is “let it be so,” that is, don’t resist the divorce. The meaning of “not enslaved” or “not under bondage” The context should be enough at this point to get us to the fact that “enslaved” means “not bound to resist a divorce” and “not bound to a marriage that no longer exists” before we pick apart the definition. The Greek word is douloo. The primary meaning is “enslaved,” as some translations have it. However, there are other usages in the lexicons. Thayer’s gives,

δεδουλωμαι ἐν τίνι, to be under bondage, held by constraint of law or necessity, in some matter, 1 Cor. 7:15.

Friberg’s lexicon gives,

be under obligation, be bound to (1C 7.15)

Louw-Nida gives,

‘under such circumstances the believer, whether man or woman, is not bound’ or ‘… is not under obligation’ or ‘… is free to act’ 1 Cor 7.15. So he teaches that in such an event (v. 15) the believer must let the unbelieving partner go—”If [in fact—an actual condition] the unbeliever leaves, let him do so.” At this point, Paul adds two reasons: First, in this case the believer is not “bound,” for the unbeliever by willful desertion (the other legitimate reason for divorce besides sexual immorality [Matt 19:9]) has broken the marriage contract. The Greek perfect form of the verb is graphic—i.e., “the Christian brother or sister is not in a bound condition as a slave.” A second reason for allowing an unwilling partner to leave is that God has called his people to live in peace, which would not be possible if the unbelieving partner were forced to live with the believer. Try to live with the unbelieving partner in the peace that God gives (Philippians 4:6, 7), but do not attempt to force the unbeliever to stay.

The Expositor’s Commentary. There was absolutely no legal defense to a divorce under Grecian law or, for followers of the School of Shammai, Jewish law. (The Torah made a few marriages indissoluble, however.) ________________________ [1] A legal separation is an invention of the common law courts of England to enable a couple to legally live separately, with the husband obligated to support his wife on much the same terms as if he’d divorced her, without actually divorcing her — all to avoid the church’s restrictions on divorces. We lawyers call such things “legal fictions” because there is no marriage other than in the eyes of the law. All the emblems of a marriage — living together, sexual relations, not having to pay court-ordered alimony and child support — are gone. The arrangement is for all practical purposes a divorce, except that the parties aren’t free to remarry. The goal is to satisfy the supposed scriptural obligation not to remarry and the real obligation not to divorce by calling a divorce something else. In fact, it’s so fictitious that the ancient term is a “divorce a mensa et thoro” or “divorce from bed and board.” Yes, it’s just another form of divorce to the lawyers. Any student of the Bible should immediately see the fraud in the device. Paul commands husbands and wives to submit their bodies to one another — to sleep together — to live as husband and wife. The “legal separation” frees them from that obligation, as though the courts might override God.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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8 Responses to 1 Corinthians 7: Does “Not Under Bondage” Allow Remarriage? Part 1

  1. I might ask that if “is not bound” after a pagan departs does not mean “is not bound by the marriage,” what is it that the Christian spouse who is left behind “is not bound to?

    To say that he/she is not bound to continue in the marriage bed with the departed spouse, is to say that he/she is not bound to continue to do something that is impossible to do because of the absence of the departed spouse.

    If it is to say that they are not bound by guilt of causing the separation, after they have attempted to live in peace with the pagan, that is a non-issue. How could blame & guilt be put on a Christian for obeying God, other than in the mind of the pagan?

    Consistently throughout this chapter, though Paul encourages all, except those who are married, to remain single, he always recognizes that not everyone is able to live with this advice. He follows Jesus in this when the disciples said that “it is better for a man not to marry.” Jesus countered that not all could live by that rule.

    To say that “is not bound” means “can never marry” is to say that the Christian deserted by a pagan is bound to something that Jesus said not all can possibly do.

  2. Dwight says:

    One of the problems is not looking at this from the Jewish mindset which was plcaced there by God. According to the Law in Deut. both parties could remarry after a divorce as long as the divorce was for fornication or sexual immorality. This goes against the notion that only the innocent can remarry, but divorce, for fornication, will break the bond of man and wife. This is also reflected in Matt.5. Contracts did not dissolve due to one leaving, but upon dissolution by the owner of the contract. In the case of Onesimus, he was a slave of Philemon who had run away. Philemon had not loosed Onesimus so even though Onesimus was departed he was still a slave…bound to Philemon. When we become slaves of Christ, we are bound to Christ.
    There is only one exception that I know of where God tells the people of Israel to put away thier foreign wives as it was unlawful marriage in the first place. This is not what I Cor. is referring to.

  3. R.J. says:

    To me, it seems absurd to refer to marriage as slavery(except in the sense of the bond of friendship or love). So I think by using the Greek term “douloo”, Paul was merely expressing moral(ethical) obligation of fidelity(he/she was free to remarry).

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight,

    Contracts aren’t owned. They are agreements between two parties, and the two may agree to terminate the contract. Some contracts may be terminated by either party.

    In the case of slavery, there is no contract. The slave is reduced to property and the owner has essentially unlimited control over the slave as something owned.

    The in-between case is indentured servitude (found in early America and the Torah). Someone agrees to provide services for X (typically 7) years in exchange for food and clothing. It was a common means by which the poor financed their passage to America from Europe. Boat passage in exchange for 7 years of low-cost services.

    Even indentured servitude could be unilaterally ended by the “owner” of the contract. The indentured servant could not terminate the contract so long as the master/owner honored his terms. But if he breached, even indentured servitude would end.

    It was only in the especially brutal slavery of the American South that slaves had no rights at all.

    Marriage is not slavery, and we don’t own each other in that way — not even close. Paul’s very point is that we shouldn’t turn marriage into slavery but into shalom. (Future posts will soon address what that means in more depth.)

  5. Deon Knott says:

    Hello,

    I am writing you concerning content on your website In regards to the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:15. First allow me to express that I am not intending to sin or looking for a loop hole in scripture to justify the pursuit of my own will. I state this because in my research and study of this scripture and the topic it addresses, the general stance taken is that anyone questioning this passage or attempting to use it to authorize remarriage is more concerned with their own will than that of God. This is not the case here. Throughout the body of Christ the belief is that this passage as addressed by Paul does not provide authorization for remarriage for a deserted Christian by a non believer. My study has only involved very limited discussion with local ministers who were not very willing to discuss the topic in depth. The two ministers that were willing to discuss believed that authorization was provided in this text. So, thus far I have not been able to engage in any realdiscussion with anyone who disagrees so that they can answer my questions.

    First, I thoroughly believe that scripture is to be studied holistically in order to gain proper understanding. Taking a singular passage without referencing related scriptures is the cause of false doctrine and until at leg division. However, no where in scripture have I found a case such as this, where in order to align the scripture with other passages one must reference Greek translation in order to gain proper understanding. Without doing so it is impossible to interpret the passage as anything buy the ending of a bond. Please consider the following points:

    1. When reading this chapter it is difficult or near impossible for even a seasoned Christian to understand the use of the term bond and bondage as referencing anything other than the marriage bond as that is the only bond discussed throughout the entire chapter. The only way you can do so is to say it goes against what Jesus said so it must be wrong or to reference Greek, and in doing the former you have to do the latter in order to solidify your point. How can this be?

    2. If we are to reference Greek for the term bond or bondage why not reference Greek for “in such cases” ? Paul is referencing a specific scenario and ends it by saying “in such cases”. According to Greek translation, the actual language here addresses past, present, and future condition. Therefore it cannot reference the marriage bond because that is forever. Well, Christ allowed for remarriage after sexual infidelity by one party. Also, in which case does this language apply? When is being enslaved applicable to marriage? If by “in such cases” he isn’t alluding to marriage then why say “in such cases” if there is no other case referencing this particular point? He could have just ended at “Is not enslaved”. We have to remember that Paul was addressing particular questions, concerns, and issues of the Corinthian people and as blunt and plain as he was he would not have left an answer so open to interpretation by using confusing language or wording.

    3. If Paul was referencing slavery to the marriage bond but, did not provide authorization explicitly for remarriage in what scenario is a slave freed conditionally? Once freed from one master or bond you are free. Free to make another bond and have a new master. We cannot serve two masters. What relevance does the term slave have in this context if not referencing the one bond mentioned in the text? How confusing would it be if you and I had a conversation about property ownership and the rules of property ownership and in that conversation I used the term deed or landlord in a way that had no attachment to property ownership itself?

    I believe that this passage clearly reads one way. However, I am not certain that it is to be interpreted as read. This is where I need your help. Obviously, I am a man and to my understanding I do not have Paul’s gift of celibacy. I want to marry and believe that doing so, while not required will definitely help me spiritually in the way God intends marriage to. However, if He forbids it I will have to accept that and continue to worship and serve Him anyway. I just want clarification. My phone number is 313 445-2045 if you would like to call. Thank you.d

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Deon Knott,

    You raise several very valid concerns. You should read the entire MDR series or my ebook http://dsntl8idqsx2o.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/2007/03/but-if-you-do-marry.pdf

    I agree that traditional interpretations of 1 Cor 7 are often very superficial, more designed to defend a tradition than actually delving into the text.

  7. Dwight says:

    “But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”
    There is a progression of thought here. Earlier if the unbeliever stayed they were not to be divorced, so why should we think that if they left this would change thier state any? It shouldn’t.
    Above if the unbeliever leaves, you cannot force them to stay, and the saint who stays is not under bondage (or is not bound). They are not slaves, where slaves were under law to stay and were to be beaten if they didnt’. But we are called to peace. However even slaves who left were still under contract as a slave to thier master. see Philemon.
    Even though if they leave they are still considered husband and wife “save your husband” or “save your wife”. Then we go back to the only thing that can break this state of husband and wife 1.) death of a spouse or 2.) divorce for the cause of fornication.

  8. Dwight says:

    It just occured to me, but what happens when your husband, who is not a Christian, leaves on a business trip or a wife, who is not a Christian, leaves to see family are they not under bondage? Now the context is probably more slanted towards one who leaves for good, but it doesn’t specifically state this and sometimes “for good” isn’t “for good”.
    This goes back to vs.10 ” A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.”
    A divorce is not supposed to be grounds for a departure. They must remain unmarried (notice not in union with another), but they are still man and wife (bound by covenant) and thus can be reconciled, but to marry another will be adultyer since they are man and wife, even though not married. A leaving cannot be considered a breaking of the bonds of man and wife, if you cannot even divorce for that cause.

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