WE CAN CORRECTLY UNDERSTAND 1 CORINTHIANS 7
(Questions Concerning Marriage)
Joe R. Price
It is important how we study the Bible. A proper understanding and application of 1 Corinthians 7 will result as we rely, not on the wisdom of men, but on the wisdom of God revealed to us in His word. The interpretative methods we have consistently applied in ascertaining truth and rejecting error will help us accomplish this task (2 Tim. 2:15). Allowing the Bible to interpret itself is a time-honored and entirely scriptural approach to understanding truth. We are determined to not deviate from this course. "What saith the Scripture" must continue to be our appeal (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 4:30).
The Propriety Of Marriage: 1 Corinthians 7:1-7
Beginning in verse 1 the apostle addresses several subjects submitted to him in writing by the Corinthian Christians. Chapter 7 deals with a variety of their concerns about marriage. In verses 1-7 the suitability of marriage is set forth by the apostle Paul. Some have used the statement of verse 2 ("let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband") to establish the right of all second marriages to exist (and third, fourth, etc.). As with any other Bible topic, we must always be careful not to accept a position which makes one scripture contradict another. Should we embrace those who, in their misunderstanding of the Bible misapply this passage, thereby encouraging unlawful marriages to occur? If not, what criteria prevents such acceptance?
For instance, could 1 Corinthians 7:2 be used by those who practice polygamy in cultures which allow such relationships? Some do. Should faithful brethren, in those cultures, accept into their fellowship those who preach and practice such a concept? No. Brethren are scripturally obligated, as a result of using standard interpretive methods of study, to both reject polygamy and decline from their fellowship those who defend and practice it (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Thess. 5:21-22). This answer becomes apparent from understanding 1 Corinthians 7. Our application of the text must be consistent, whether we are discussing polygamy or other forms of adultery, such as unlawful remarriages (Matt. 19:9).
To The Unmarried: 1 Corinthians 7:8-9
The expediency of remaining single is now set forth by Paul. Some assert that celibacy is the only state in which one can properly serve God. Why do we reject this teaching (1 Tim. 4:3)? Is it not because God's word teaches that marriage is proper (Heb. 13:4)? Certainly it is. For instance, Paul had the right to have a wife, but did not use his right (1 Cor. 9:5; 7:6-7). Now, if we cannot accept into fellowship those who demand celibacy, why not? Is it not because such a teaching opposes revealed truth? Yes, it is. All who are free to marry in the sight of God may exercise their freedom to do so.
To The Married: 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
Paul now speaks to the married Christians, and applies
the words of Jesus (where He had already made a general application, Matthew 19:5-6). The
fact that an application is here made to one specific group of married people (namely,
Christians) does not limit Matthew 19 to only Christians (as some brethren say) anymore
than Paul application of Matthew 26:26-28 in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 limits who can partake
of the Lord's Supper to only Corinthian Christians (1 Cor. 11:20). Yet, some brethren are
teaching that either (1) Matthew 19 applies only to Christians, or (2) Matthew 19 applies
only to Jews (an explanation of OT law). Why do we reject both of these conclusions as
false? Because God has revealed His truth about the universal nature of marriage (Gen.
2:23-24; Heb. 13:4). We can understand, and God expects us to understand, that marriage is
for all mankind and is regulated by His revelation concerning it.
Anyone who enters the relationship of marriage comes under the divine regulation of it (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6, 9; Heb. 13:4). Should we accept as faithful those brethren who are teaching a perverted gospel regarding to whom the Bible law of marriage applies? What scripture allows us to have fellowship with men who teach this destructive doctrine?
The Legitimacy Of Marriage Between A Christian And An Unbeliever: 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
To the rest Paul (as an inspired apostle
whom the Lord counted trustworthy and who had the Spirit of God, v. 25, 40) applies
Matthew 19:6, 9 and explains that marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever is indeed
a legitimate marriage. At no time in this passage does the inspired apostle urge the
Christian who is married to an unbeliever to depart (divorce) because his or her mate is
an unbeliever. Indeed, the Lord's will is that they remain together as Matthew 19:5-6
So, if the unbeliever is content or willing to live with
a Christian, the Christian is commanded not to depart, for the Christian brings a
sanctifying influence and life into the home (v. 14; cf. 1 Pet. 3:1-2).
However, if the unbeliever departs (we necessarily infer
that under such a condition the unbeliever is not content to dwell with the Christian),
the Christian is not under bondage to the unbeliever (the Christian is to let
the unbeliever depart). Can we know with confidence what not under bondage
means? Yes we can, by applying the same type of hermeneutics we apply to other Bible
passages (including those already mentioned in this study).
These principles include, for instance:
1) The meaning given the passage will not contradict other passages of scripture (Jno. 17:17).
2) All God says on the subject must be consulted (Psa. 119:160).
3) The context (both immediate and general) must be observed and harmonized.
4) The proper definition of terms is vital in coming to a correct understanding of the text. (We cannot assume definitions - we must verify their legitimate meaning and usage in scripture).
5) The grammar used by the Holy Spirit must be considered and respected (cf. Matt. 22:31-32).
Now, when we correctly apply these principles of interpretation to 1 Corinthians 7:15, it will not be men's scholarship on the passage or men's division over the passage which determines our understanding and our application of it. It will be because we have rightly divided the word of truth and come to understand what the will of the Lord is (2 Tim. 2:15; Eph. 3:3-4; 5:17).
Not under bondage will not contradict
Matthew 19:6, 9. Since marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever is legitimate
(7:12-14), any severing of it falls under the Lord's regulation of marriage. Therefore,
when a believer and an unbeliever divorce, Matthew 19:9 fully applies. Any understanding
and application of not under bondage which causes a contradiction with Matthew
19:6, 9 is inaccurate and not the truth of Christ. There is no Pauline
exception in 1 Corinthians 7:15 which allows for scriptural remarriage to a new
mate. If so, Paul contradicts what Jesus taught in Matthew 19:9.
If Paul is giving another cause for divorce and
remarriage, then one can be put away for a reason other than fornication and remarry with
God's approval. This construction necessarily contradicts Matthew 19:9 and 5:32.
Therefore, the remarriage to a new mate explanation of not under bondage must
All God Says On The Subject
When all of what God says on the subject of marriage is
consulted, we understand that every marriage (regardless of the faith or faithlessness of
the participants) is before God and judged by God (Gen. 2:23-24; Heb. 13:4). God joins
together the man and woman regardless of their faith or lack of faith in Christ (Matt.
19:6). That joining together (a bond of obligation) lasts for a lifetime (1 Cor. 7:39;
Rom. 7:2). Only one exception gives one party the right to divorce and marry a new mate
with God's approval (Matt. 19:9). We can agree on this because we can understand this
teaching of Christ. All other teaching is false and moves us away from the grace of Christ
We know that when a Christian marries someone (whether a
Christian or an unbeliever), the Christian's first allegiance remains with Christ (1 Cor.
7:23; Lk. 14:26). By keeping the commandments of God the Christian remains
with God regardless of his external conditions (1 Cor. 7:19, 24). Thus, we can
remain in every non-sinful condition in which we are called since upon our conversion we
become slaves of Christ and not men (1 Cor. 7:17, 20, 23-24). The marriage of a Christian
to an unbeliever is one such non-sinful condition or calling (1 Cor. 7:12-14).
Definition Of Words
The definition of the words used in 1 Corinthians 7:15
preclude a remarriage to a new mate explanation of not under bondage. The word
translated bondage is dedoulootai, perfect passive indicative of
|douloo|, to enslave, has been enslaved, does not remain a slave. (Robertson's NT
Word Pictures) Thayer is representative of lexical definitions when he observes that
douloo means 1) to make a slave of, reduce to bondage 2) metaph. give myself wholly
to one's needs and service, make myself a bondman to him. Bondage thus
denotes one who sustains a permanent servile relation to another. In this context (1 Cor.
7:15) the reference is to an unbelieving mate. Paul teaches that the Christian does NOT
sustain a permanent servile relation to a mate in marriage (or for that matter, in any
other relation). Remember, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).
Every other use of douloo in the NT carries with it the
meaning of enslavement (Titus 2:3, enslaved - ASV), servitude or bondage (Acts
7:6). Never is it used to denote the bound by law concept of marriage to which
deo is applied by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 7:27, 39; Rom. 7:2; cf. Matt. 19:5-6). Here is
the entire list of NT passages which use douloo so that the accuracy of the above
statement may be reviewed: Acts 7:6; Rom. 6:18, 22; 1 Cor. 7:15, 9:19; Gal. 4:3; Titus
2:3; 2 Pet. 2:19.
The simple statement of fact in 1 Corinthians 7:15 is
that the Christian has never been reduced to a servile position to the unbeliever. The
grammar so indicates (dedoulootai - perfect passive indicative of douloo):
Perfect tense: The perfect tense in Greek
corresponds to the perfect tense in English, and describes an action which is viewed as
having been completed in the past, once and for all, not needing to be repeated.
Passive voice: The passive voice represents
the subject as being the recipient of the action.
Indicative mood: The indicative mood is a
simple statement of fact. If an action really occurs or has occurred or will occur, it
will be rendered in the indicative mood. (Online Bible)
Since the negative (ou) is employed, the phrase not under bondage effectively means that bondage was NOT completed in the past and is NOT occurring at the present time. Thus, the you are not now, nor have you ever been under bondage interpretation is entirely consistent with the grammar of the phrase and not a forced interpretation of it. In 1 Corinthians 7:15, that which was completed in the past and continues to be the case in the present is that Christians are called (perfect tense) to peace. The one has never been true while the other has always been true.