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Friday, October 1, 2010

Not Under Bondage: The Pauline Privilege?

"And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace." 1 Corinthians 7:10-15 KJV

There are two marital demographics that Paul addresses in this text, “the married” and “the rest.” I am going to demonstrate that “the married” refers to marriages where both spouses are believers, and “the rest” refers to marriages where one is a believer and the other is a unbeliever. Paul never explicitly addresses marriages where both are unbelievers, although I believe that he implicitly refers to them in 1Corinthians 7:14.

Unto The Married

An important point to be made at the outset is the audience that Paul is addressing is the Church. The instructions in this text are given to Christians, unless otherwise stated; therefore, are to be understood as regulating marriage within the Church. Let us demonstrate that when Paul says, “unto the married (verse 10),” he is speaking to Christian marriages, and not to marriages of unbelievers or to mixed[1] marriages.

He is writing to those who had written to him (1 Corinthians 7:1). He is writing to people who pray and fast (1 Corinthians 7:5). He is writing what he ordained in all the churches (1 Corinthians 7:17). He is writing to the called in the Lord (1Corinthians 7:22-24). He is writing to the brethren (1Corinthians 7:29). He is writing to those who care for the things of the Lord how they may please and serve him without distraction (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

These are the people that Paul is writing to in verse 10, namely believers. “The married” cannot be speaking of marriages where one is believer and the other is not. Paul addresses the religiously mixed marriages in verse 12 and calls them “the rest,” and “such case.” I think it is obvious from the context that “the married” are both believers. I am not alone in this understanding as the majority of scholarship also agrees.

“the married,” 1Co_7:10, where both husband and wife are believers[2]

in which he has respect to such as were upon equal foot in matters of religion, who were both of them believers in Christ[3]


to married parties, both of whom were Christians (1Co_7:10).”[4]

The text as well as these scholars agrees that “the married” refers to marriages where both spouses are believers. The rules that Paul gives concerning equally yoked marriages is: The first rule says, “Let not the wife depart from her husband (1 Corinthians 7:10b)…and let not the husband put away his wife(1 Corinthians 7:11b).” The second rule says, “let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband.” This going to be set in contrast to the rules that Paul gives about marriages where one is a believer and the other is an unbeliever.

But to the Rest

What does Paul mean by the phrase, “but to the rest,” and what are the implications? “But to the rest” must refer to the marriages of a believer to an unbeliever. Paul says, “If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him (1 Corinthians 7:12-13).

Notice Paul modifies his language for the unequally yoked marriages. To “the married” he says, “let not the wife depart from her husband (1 Corinthians 7:10);”however, “to the rest (unequally yoked marriages of a believer to an unbeliever),” he modifies his command to, “if he be pleased dwell let her not leave him (1 Corinthians 7:13).” Paul does not place this qualifier on “the married;” their command is unequivocal, do not depart.

Paul gives a different rule to the equally yoked marriages than he does to the unequally yoked marriages. Evidently Paul and God viewed the two classes of marriages differently and placed different rules on them. It could not be clearer to the open mind that two different rules about departing exist in contrasting these two groups.

Not only did the departing rule differ, but the response rule for if they do depart differed also. For “the married (equally yoked) the rule is “let them remain unmarried or be reconciled;” however, the rule for “the rest (unequally yoked)” is quite different. Instead of remaining unmarried or be reconciled like “the married,” Paul says the believer is, “not under bondage in such cases.”

The question is, what bondage are the believers, in such case that the unbeliever leaves, not under that the other cases are? The bondage that these deserted believers are not under are exclusive to their case alone. No one else has this particular liberty.

Those that hold to a no exception, or to a fornication only exception view of divorce and remarriage, argue that “not under bondage” does not refer to the marriage bond. They argue that what Paul is saying is that they are not obligated to follow them or make them stay, and that they can let the unbeliever go, but they can’t remarry.

Remember now, whatever “not under bondage” refers to is exclusive to “such cases;” no one else would have this liberty. If I can show that no one is under the bondage of merely cohabitating if they are deserted, then I can prove that “not under bondage” do not mean mere cohabitation.

“The married” of verse 10-11 are also “not under bondage” to cohabitate in any way, because they can also depart or be departed from and “remain unmarried.” So what is the bondage that “the rest…in such cases” are not under that “the married” are under? The only possible answer is “the married” are under bondage to “remain unmarried,” if they divorce; however, “the rest…in such cases” are not under that bondage. That can be the only liberty that this particular circumstance has that is unique to “such cases.”



[1] Religiously mixed, not racially mixed.

[2] Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, E-Sword Version 9.5.1, Retrieved 10.01.10, commentary on verse 12.

[3] John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible, E-Sword Version 9.5.1, Retrieved 10.01.10, commentary on verse 12.

[4] Vincent’s Word Studies, E-Sword Version 9.5.1, Retrieved 10.01.10, commentary on verse 12.

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