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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4 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. Avatar 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.)

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