We Are Radical

Bringing radical thoughts worth pondering (A blog of poriruachurch.com)

Marriage & 1 Corinthians 7

In last month’s article we focused attention upon Matthew 19:9, emphasizing the universality of the Lord’s instruction in this verse and also stressing the logical implications of the exceptive clause. With the Master’s teaching as our firm foundation, we now turn our attention to the first Corinthian letter and to the questions of human sexuality dealt with by Paul in this epistle.

The city of Corinth known to Paul was characterized by dissipation and public immorality. Her gods were the gods of sensual pleasure, and so notorious was the city’s reputation for sensual vice that the profligate of that time was said to “live like a Corinthian.” Many of the brethren at Corinth had been actively involved in the pagan practices of their neighbors prior to their conversion, and it is to this young community of Christians that Paul addresses his letter. One large section of this letter (chapter 5:1 to 7:40) is predominately devoted to dealing with the problem of sexual morality and immorality. It seems evident that some of these converts from paganism had failed to place the proper restraints upon their sexual activities, and the apostle deals with this problem in chapters 5 and 6. Others however, reacting to their past excesses, were apparently in danger of going to the other extreme of asceticism, inclining to the view that conversion to Christianity demanded the complete suppression of their sexual drives. In 1 Corinthians 7:1, Paul begins to address himself to a number of questions which this second group had asked of him by letter concerning sexual and marital union. Thus he begins: “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote…” In response to the questions asked of him, Paul offers both advice which is not binding and which is given in view of the “present distress” (verse 26), as well as a number of inspired commands which are absolutely binding.


A. Verse 1-7 – The Apostle here responds to certain questions concerning sexual desire and the place of the sexual relationship in the lives of married Christians. Evidently the questions asked of Paul grew out of the erroneous belief that celibacy was more appropriate for the Christian, and that godliness demanded the suppression of one’s sexuality even within marriage. Paul’s answer that “…it is good for a man not to touch a woman” (v.1) must be considered in the light of the impending persecution (v.26). He certainly does not forbid marriage here or elsewhere (1 Tim. 4:3). The apostle does, however, warn partners in a marriage against defrauding one another sexually, emphasizing that each is obliged to help his or her mate avoid temptations. Any abstinence must be by mutual consent and then only for a limited period of time (v.5). It is important to notice that in this chapter some of Paul’s answers take the form of recommendations rather than commands (v.6 – “but I say this by way of concession…” – “for I would that all men were even as I myself…” (v.7). We must be careful to distinguish between non-binding judgments and the Lord’s binding commands.

B. Verse 8 & 9 – The questions of whether the unmarried and widows should marry is next considered. Paul states that it is “good” (not “better”) for them to remain unmarried as he himself was, but that if they do not have self-control “…let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn” (i.e. with sexual desire). We notice that verse 8 is introduced with the expression: “I say therefore…” As in verses 6 and 7 the apostle offers advice rather than an inspired command.

C. Verse 10 & 11 – In these verses Paul addresses himself “…unto the married.” Evidently the Corinthians had asked whether married Christians should remain together in the married state or separate and live celibate lives. It is immediately apparent that Paul intends his reply to be regarded as not simply advice but as the binding command of the Lord: “And to the married I command yet not I but the Lord…” (v.10). We have left the realm of advice and entered the realm of doctrine. God’s law concerning the married is unambiguous. The wife must not “depart from” her husband, but if she does depart, she is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband (to andri – to the man) . Similarly, the husband should not put away his wife. (In last month’s article we pointed out that some brethren subscribe to the erroneous view that Matthew 19:9 is a covenant passage. This conclusion is based on a misunderstanding of verse 10 to 13. Let us continue now with a brief analysis of verses 12 and 13 before returning to consider the argument that 1 Cor. 7:10-13 proves Matt. 19:9 to be a covenant passage).

D. Verse 12-17 – Under consideration here is the question whether the Christian married to a non-Christian should “put away” the unbeliever or not. Evidently some brethren at Corinth questioned the legitimacy of marriage between Christians and non-Christians and had asked if such a union was acceptable to God. Paul replies that if the unbeliever is content to dwell with the believer, the latter is not to leave him/her. The relationship is “sanctified” by the Christian partner (v.14). However, should the unbeliever depart, he may depart; the believer “…is not under bondage in such cases” (v.15).


With this brief analysis in mind we now focus upon the apostle’s words in verse 12: “But to the rest I speak not the Lord.” Clearly there is a contrast between Paul’s words in this verse and his words in verse 10 where he instructs “the married” with the words “I command, yet not I but the Lord…” The argument that Matthew 19:9 is “covenant legislation” relies heavily upon the alleged significance of this difference between verses 10 and 12.

THE ARGUMENT STATED: “The apostle Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:10 that the instruction which his is about to give to married Christians on marriage, divorce and remarriage originated with the Lord while He was on earth. The Lord’s teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage is recorded for us in Matt. 19:9. Thus we conclude that Matt. 19:9 applies to 1 Cor. 7:10 and 11 (i.e. to the situation where a Christian is married to a Christian). The Lord’s teaching in Matt. 19:9 did not cover all marriages, but only the marriage of two believers, the same group under consideration by Paul in 1 Cor. 7:10, 11. In verse 12, however, the apostle begins to address a different group on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. As evidenced by Paul’s words in this verse, those under consideration now (believers married to unbelievers) are not covered by the covenant legislation of Matt. 19:9. This explains ‘….into the Lord’. The Christian partner in a mixed marriage is now to be given an additional cause for scriptural divorce – i.e. desertion by the unbeliever (v.16).”

Clearly the above position conflicts with the view of Matthew 19:9, presented earlier, (ENDURING WORDS – JUNE) where we argued that all men are amenable to the Law of Christ, believer or unbeliever. We firmly believe that this view permitting divorce for one cause only is the scriptural view. How then, are we to understand the contrast between Paul’s words of verse 10 and 12? Furthermore, what is the meaning of “not under bondage” in verse 15, if not that the marriage bond has been broken as a result of the unbeliever’s desertion? Many sound Bible scholars holding to a correct view of Matthew 19:9 and convinced that the Bible permits divorce only for fornication, have nevertheless understood these verses in 1 Corinthians 7 differently. We respect their uncompromising stand for the truth and we share their conclusion. This writer also believes that the following represents a correct view of the verse under consideration.

  1. 1 Cor.7:10, 11, 15; deal with divorce rather than separation. Many able commentators have suggested that the Greek term “chorizo” (translated “depart” in 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11 and 15) is to be understood here to mean separation rather than “divorce”. This may be correct. However, this writer is impressed with the evidence mustered by Maurice W. Lusk III, in support of the view that Paul is speaking here of divorce (albeit unscriptural divorce). Prof. Lusk cites Abbott-Smith, Arndt and Gingrich, Moulton and Milligan, and Adolf Dreissmann on the meaning of chorizo, as well as a number of Marriage and Divorce contracts of the Hellenistic period. He argues that the immediate context of verses 10 & 11 demands the idea of divorce, concluding: “This writer contends that the woman of 1 Corinthians 7:10 & 11, is married in verse 10 and unmarried in verse 11 as the test clearly states that chorizo here can only be understood as divorce.” (Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Teachings of Jesus and Paul, page 110).

We must notice however, that this divorce certainly does not carry with it the right of remarriage. Those involved are to remain unmarried or to be reconciled one to another! Remember that the guilty party of Matthew 19:9 is genuinely divorced just as the innocent party is divorced, but only the innocent party may remarry. Similarly, the individual who marries the divorced woman of Matthew 5:32 commits adultery. We repeat – Divorce does not carry with it the automatic right of remarriage! There are scriptural and unscriptural divorces just as there are scriptural and unscriptural marriages.

2. Paul’s phraseology in verses 10 & 12 is different because in these verses he begins to respond to two different questions.

A. In 1 Cor. 7:10-12 Paul instructs married saints that they are not to seek a divorce out of some misguided belief that celibacy is the preferable state for a child of God. Jesus had already addressed Himself to the question of Divorce for any cause in Matthew 19:3-12. His teaching applied to all married people, Christian or non-Christian. Hence, the apostle’s words: “…and unto the married I command yet not I but the Lord…” (v.10). The fact that married Christians are under consideration here in no way implies that the Lord’s teaching does not apply equally to non-Christians. Paul had already reminded them that some had been adulterers before becoming Christians (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

B. “But to the rest…” (v.12). With these words Paul begins to give his attention to the rest of the questions which the brethren at Corinth had asked (v.1). These questions relate to the legitimacy of a marriage between a Christian and unbliever. Is such a union acceptable to God or should the believer terminate the relationship? Is it a true marriage in God’s sight? Are the children of such a union legitimate or illegitimate? Paul replies that the Christian is not to put away/leave the unbeliever (v.12 & 13) because the latter is “sanctified” by the former (v.14) and the children of the union are not “unclean” (illegitimate) but “holy” (legitimate). The marriage between believer and unbeliever is legitimate in God’s sight.

Note carefully: verses 12-15 are not about divorce. These verses were written to explain to the brethren at Corinth who were married to non-Christians that their marriages were true marriages and that their children were indeed legitimate. Jesus had never addressed Himself to the question of the legitimacy of the marriage between believer and unbeliever. Thus Paul begins “but to the rest, speak I not the Lord” (v.12). The apostle is not disclaiming inspiration. He wrote “…the commandment of the Lord”. (1 Cor. 14:37) Paul simply means that he is not quoting on this occasion a command given by Jesus during His ministry. Earlier, in verse 10, he had quoted such a command, and hence, the difference in phraseology. It is certainly not the case that in verses 12-15, Paul is addressing his remarks to a group which is not subject to the teaching of Jesus on Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, in Matthew 19:9. This teaching is universal. It is equally certain that Paul is not preparing to introduce another scriptural reason for divorce, in addition to fornication, thereby violating the exceptive clause of Matthew 19:9.

Rex Banks, Enduring Words, Vol. 2, Issue 8, August 1983



This entry was posted on 01/08/1983 by in Bible Study, Christian Living, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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