About Jesus   Steve Sweetman

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1 Corinthian 7  


The following is taken from my online book entitled, From My Side Of The Fence - 'divorce, remarriage, and God's original intention.  If you're interested in the topic, you should read my gook.       



I would suggest you read all of 1 Corinthians 7 for yourself because I will not comment on every verse, only those verses that pertain to the issue at hand. 


Paul didn't address marriage after divorce in this chapter.  What he did address were specific concerns about marriage and morality the Corinthian Christians wrote him about.  These believers were experiencing a moral crisis in the church. That's why Paul said, "Now for the matters you wrote about". (verse 1)  So again, as has been the case throughout this study, we don't have a complete and concise teaching on this subject in one chapter.       


Paul's underlying presupposition to what he wrote in this chapter was that he preferred the single life over married life.  The NIV says, "It is good for a man not to marry".  The KJV says, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman". (verse 1)  The word "marry" in the NIV, or "touch" in the KJV, is translated from the Greek word "haptomai", meaning, "to attach to or fasten to".  "Haptomai" was often used in reference to fire fastening itself to something.  Thus, our English words "marry" and "touch" have an explicit sexual connotation to them, which is reiterated in verse 9 when Paul speaks of "burning with passion". 


Continuing the theme of singleness, Paul went on to say, "It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am". (verse 8)  "Those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this … The time is short.  From now on those who have wives should live as those who have none". (verses 28 - 29) 


I think Paul isn't just speaking of relational "troubles" in verse 28.  These troubles might well have included problems relating to the anti-Christ Roman culture in which these Christians lived.  A man might have seen his wife raped and whipped for her faith in Jesus.  A wife might have seen her husband executed for his allegiance to the Lord.  Paul would have hated to see anyone suffer through such troubles.  


Even though Paul preferred being single, he couldn't deny God's original intention at creation for men and women to be married.  So, concerning married couples he said, "To the married I give this command …  A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband.  And a husband must not divorce his wife". (verses 10 - 11)


Paul understood the fallen nature of humanity.  That's why he inserted the word "but" into his sentence.  "But if she does (divorce) she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled".  Paul understood what God understood.  Men and women would divorce.  That's why God incorporated divorce into the Law of Moses as seen in Deuteronomy 24:1 – 4.  If couples were going to divorce, then Paul said, "Stay single or else reconcile".  Remaining single kept the door open for reconciliation.  Marrying another would close that door for good.  Paul was emphasizing permanency in marriage here.   


"If any brother who has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.  And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.  For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband". (verses 12 - 14)  I know I'm repeating myself, but Paul was stressing permanency in marriage here.  The fact that your spouse is an unbeliever isn't Biblical grounds for divorce.  


Paul wasn't saying that an unbelieving spouse is saved by the faith of the believing spouse.  The word "sanctified" means to "set apart".  The unbelieving spouse would be set apart as a blessed person before the Lord because of the godly life and prayers of the believing spouse.  This might help the unbeliever come to Jesus.  "How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband?  Or, how do you know husband, whether you will save your wife"?  (verse 16)


"But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so.  A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances:  God has called us to live in peace". (verse 15)  If your unbelieving spouse divorces you, just let him or her do so.  Don't put up a fight.  Don't try to win him or her back.  Besides, experience tells me that pleading and begging doesn't work.  It's better to live in peace on your own than to live in turmoil with an unbeliever.  "Let him do so" means letting go in all aspects of the relationship. Letting go is vital in finding and maintaining one's personal pace and sanity through divorce.


"A woman is bound to her husband as long as she lives.  But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord.  In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is ..."   (verses 39 – 40, also in Romans 7:1 – 2)  Paul preferred widows or widowers to remain single, but he knew that not all had that ability or gift as he put it in verse 7.  He thus balanced his preference of singleness with God's original intention for men and women to be married.  A widow or a widower doesn't sin by remarrying, but they must marry someone who belongs to the Lord.           


Previously I said that I would return to Ezra 10 where we saw Israeli men sending their pagan wives and the children born to these pagan wives away.  This disturbing decision was meant to demonstrate true repentance on the part of these Israeli men.  Paul stated in this chapter that a believer must not divorce his or her unbelieving spouse like the Israeli men did in Ezra 10.  I suggest that Paul was putting a New Covenant spin on an Old Covenant mindset. 


Paul wasn't condoning marrying unbelievers here.  He was simply saying that if for one reason or another you find yourself in this situation, you should do your best to stay in the marriage.  That being said, experience also tells me that our best attempts to hang in doesn't necessarily keep the marriage together.  If that's the case, so be it.  We let go of our spouse and we let go of our marriage.


I know the argument against what I've just said.    Nowhere does Paul condone marriage after divorce in 1 Corinthians 7, and that's correct.  As a matter of fact he specifically encouraged singleness.  So maybe all that I've written is for naught.  Maybe I've just wasted my time and effort on this project.  I know that those who disagree with me will at least agree with the suggestion that this has been one colossal waste of time. 


Since Paul didn't specifically address marriage after divorce, we must note all he said concerning marriage. Once we thoroughly understand what he did say, we can with all honestly attempt to draw our conclusions to what he might have thought about marriage after divorce, albeit our conclusions might be a bit speculative.       


Paul didn’t provide a systematic teaching concerning marriage let alone marriage after divorce here or anywhere in his writings.  So, we have to admit that we don't know all of what Paul thought on this subject.  In 1 Corinthians 7 he was simply addressing certain concerns the Corinthians had revolving around immorality in the church.  In the process of addressing these concerns he attempted to balance the permanency of marriage with his preference of singleness.  I suggest this would have been quite a balancing act for Paul.  He was convinced that singleness was best but he certainly couldn't deny God's original intention for men and women to be married.  He didn't oppose marriage.  "If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to … he should do as he wants …  They should get married". (verse 36)   


Paul's goal in life was to serve Jesus with as little hindrances as possible.  He hoped others would follow his example. "I would like you to be free from concern.  An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs – how he can please the Lord.  But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife …" (verses 31 - 33)  Reducing one's level of concern for the sake of the Lord was why Paul promoted singleness over marriage.   


Paul understood that not everyone had the gift of singleness. (verse 7)  For that reason he said "that it is better to marry than to burn with passion". (verse 9)  I suggest that divorced people burn with passion just as much as widows, widowers, and young single people.  I would also suggest that with great reluctance and hesitancy Paul would concede that a person who had experienced an unbiblical and unwelcomed divorce should remarry instead of burning with passion.  His only instruction would be to marry someone who belonged to the Lord.    


My attempt to figure out what Paul would have said about marriage after divorce won't convince my opponents.  That's okay, because good hermeneutics tells us that we must draw our conclusions from every Bible passage on this issue, not just from 1 Corinthians 7.  As I've stated earlier, what Jesus said about this issue, as recorded in the Greek text, permits those who experience an unbiblical and unwanted divorce to remarry.  Such a divorce does not nullify God's original intention for men and women to be married, or so I believe.  It's better for them to marry than to burn with passion.  Burning with passion doesn't help anyone to whole heartedly serve the Lord, as was Paul's ultimate desire for his readers.     

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