Divorce & Remarriage: 1 Cor 7:10-11

divorce5Christopher writes,

One thing you have failed to do in your responses, Jay, is explain how 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 squares with your theology.

Here are two earlier posts on that subject: here and here.

(1 Cor. 7:10-11 ESV)  10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband  11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 

These offer a much more thorough explanation than I’ll offer here, but because I’m sure other readers have had the same question — here’s the short version:

First, I agree with the translators of the ESV, NRS, NASB, and NET that the parenthetical in v. 11 does not reflect the words of Jesus. Paul’s statement “the wife should not separate from her husband … and the husband should not divorce his wife” could be from any of the three Synoptic Gospels. It’s very much what Jesus said. The parenthetical cannot be found in the Gospels. Jesus never addresses reconciliation directly.

Second, in 1 Cor 7, throughout the chapter, Paul urges single Christians to remain unmarried. The entreaties (recommendations, urgings) to remain unmarried or else reconcile) are the same voice etc. as the entreaty to remain unmarried in the 1 Cor 7:11 parenthetical. We should not take 1 Cor 7:10-11 as a law while the similarly phrased entreaties to remain single in the rest of the chapter are recommendations based on the “present distress” and Paul’s desire that Christians be unmarried so they can undertake the dangers of mission work without concern for a spouse and children.

Third, there is this regarding 1 Cor 7:26-27 —

The man who ‘has been loosed’ (which may mean divorced, that the spouse has died, or that he has never married) should not seek a wife. Both verbs are in the perfect tense and indicate settled states.

Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Tyndale NTC 7; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 115.

That is, where Paul says to remain unmarried or reconcile, I believe, consistent with Jesus’ teachings, he is speaking of a recent divorce. Do not divorce in order to remarry — therefore, if you divorce, you should remain unmarried or reconciled.

But once the divorce becomes a settled state and reconciliation is not possible, 1 Cor 7:26-27 specifically permits remarriage, as we covered earlier in this series.

(1 Cor. 7:27-28 Young’s Literal Translation) 27 Hast thou been bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed; hast thou been loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. 28 But and if thou mayest marry, thou didst not sin; and if the virgin may marry, she did not sin; and such shall have tribulation in the flesh: and I spare you.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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2 Responses to Divorce & Remarriage: 1 Cor 7:10-11

  1. Christopher says:

    Jay, thanks for additional thoughts on the DRM question. I was actually taking time off from the issue so I might reevaluate all of the arguments with a clear and dispassionate head. So, I will offer just a few of thoughts here.

    First, while the NIV now reads like the translation you provide above, it used to read like this:

    “Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife.”

    I am not sure why they altered the language, but in any case it represents a movement towards less clarity (even if more literally accurate).

    Secondly, it is worth noting that Paul begins this passage by referencing virgins in verse 25. He may be answering a question put to him by the Corinthian church. And, in contrast to verse 10, he indicates that what follows is his judgement rather than a command from the Lord. THAT is the immediate context for what follows. So we might conclude that what follows was mainly directed to the unmarried and represents the (possibly less binding) counsel of Paul.

    Lastly, a possibility not mentioned by you, and something I believe, is that the usage of “loosed” in verse 27 is in reference to a marriage prior to conversion. Here are two articles that argue something like that:



  2. Dwight says:

    The Encratites taught as a command that one could take a wife, but taught against marriage, which sounds strange, unless we realized that one could take a wife and not be married to her. Joseph and Mary were betrothed and considered man and wife, but not yet married. They advocated man and wife, but not the sexual union because it was “fleshly”.
    In this case of Paul, it seems Paul is recommending this, but not commanding it and it probably has to do with the fact that children would only complicate their attachment to the world when persecutions arose.
    Paul seems to echo the sentiment of “be content in whatever state you are in” and don’t seek a state that will lead to more problems as a way to deal with the persecutions at hand. But if one cannot withhold themselves in their sexual urges, then the “marriage bed is undefiled” even though it will lead to “tribulation in the flesh”.

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