August 16, 2018

Not Under Bondage

By Jerry F. Bassett

This article is intended to deal with only one question of the many which have troubled brethren in their study of marriage and divorce. That question is: In describing the status of a believer from whom his/her unbelieving spouse has departed, what did Paul mean by the words "not under bondage"?

Some have said that the word douloo from which bondage is derived means slavery, and that it is too harsh to describe marriage. It is claimed that Paul is therefore saying that the deserted believer, while still bound in marriage, is not in bondage so as to be required to submit to the unbeliever's demands which would compromise his/her faith. We notice, however, that this word was not too harsh for Paul to use to describe the Christian's relationship to Christ (Rom. 6:18), nor his own attitude toward those to whom he preached the gospel (1 Cor. 9:19).

These same brethren go on to say that this word is never used in the New Testament to refer to marriage. But again, we notice that Paul said the deserted believer "is not under bondage in such cases" (emphasis mine, J.F.B.). What happens if the case is reversed and the unbeliever is willing to remain with the believer? Then, logically, he/she is under bondage. In what relationship? The subject is marriage.

How Do We Find the Answer?

The foregoing is a sampling of the fact that the answer to our question is not as cut and dried as some arbiters would have us think. Regardless, unless I am badly mistaken, we would all agree that resolving this matter to the satisfaction of everyone must turn on a clear, and incontrovertible, definition of the terms Paul used. Can this be accomplished by checking the lexicon definitions of the original Greek words and then debating their proper applications in the "bondage" issue? This is what has been done, and for the most part, it has only furnished fuel for intensifying the heat of the dispute. Is there a better, hopefully simpler, way? I think so. That way is indicated in the following words from the pen of J.H. Thayer. "The nature and use of the New Testament writings require that the lexicographer should not be hampered by a too rigid adherence to the rules of scientific lexicography. A student often wants to know not so much the inherent meaning of a word as the particular sense it bears in a given context and discussion " (Preface, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. vii, emphasis mine, J.F.B.).

So, let us give Thayer's suggestion a try. Let us consult the context of 1 Corinthians 7:15 by tracing one of the terms Paul used in discussing marriage back to its use by Jesus in discussing the same subject. Then, we will bring that use back to 1 Corinthians 7:15 to see if that will help us understand what Paul meant by the words "not under bondage."

From Paul Back to Jesus

At this point, we will assume that we know absolutely nothing about the meaning of the word "bondage" found at 1 Corinthians 7:15. But we notice, and trust all will agree, that the status of the believer's being "not under bondage" is the result of the departure of an unbelieving spouse. Now, let us work our way back from Paul at 1 Corinthians to Jesus at Matthew 19.

1. The word "depart" used by Paul is from the Greek word chorizo (George V. Wigram and Ralph D. Winter, The Word Study Concordance, p. 805). The English spelling of this word varies depending on the authority cited.

2. At verse 11, Paul used the same word referring to a woman who had departed from her husband.

3. At verse 10, in which Paul declared that he was saying the same thing as that already spoken by the Lord, he used the same word to forbid a woman to depart from her husband.

4. And, at Matthew 19:6, Jesus used this same word, chorizo, which is translated there "put asunder" (KJV). But verse 3 shows that Jesus was responding to the Pharisees' question regarding the propriety of a man's putting away (divorcing, NKJB) his wife for every cause. Thus, Jesus used this word to mean the sundering, or separating, of a marriage through divorce.

From Jesus Forward to Paul

Now, let us see if understanding how Jesus used the word chorizo can be of any help to us in determining what Paul meant by "not under bondage."

1. Again, Jesus used chorizo to mean divorce. It is doubtful that anyone would dispute this fact; certainly not in view of the context of Matthew 19:3-9.

2. At 1 Corinthians 7:10, and saying the same thing Jesus had said while in the flesh, Paul used the word chorizo to forbid a woman to depart from her husband. Since it is used to say the same thing Jesus had said, it must, therefore, mean the same thing Jesus had meant, i.e., divorce. In fact, it is so translated in the New King James Bible.

3. At verse 11, Paul again used chorizo to instruct a woman who had departed from her husband to remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to him. Her departing clearly constituted a divorce since it resulted in her being "unmarried." Again, the New King James Bible so translates it. Chorizo thus equals divorce in this passage.

4. Then, at verse 12, Paul begins to address Christians who were involved in a marriage with an unbeliever. This implies that his instruction at verses 10-11 was aimed at marriages in which both partners were believers. Further, what he had to say to those in a mixed marriage would differ from what he had repeated from the Lord regarding two believers. If not, he would have had no reason to address them separately.

For example, imagine a college football coach speaking to his team on the first day of practice. To his veteran players returning from the previous year he says, "You men go to the other end of the field and start warming up." Then he turns to his new players and says, "The rest of you men, stay here with me." Does anyone with the perception to visualize a goal post have any difficulty seeing that this coach would be addressing two different categories of players because he had a different message for each?

So also Paul. What he wrote at 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 refers to what the Lord had spoken to a marriage consisting of two people in a covenant relationship with God. All agree that Paul applied what the Lord said to, at the least, marriages consisting of spouses both of whom were in the New Covenant. These people were commanded explicitly not to depart from (not to put away) their partners. But if they did violate this command they must: (1) remain unmarried or (2) be reconciled (remarry with one another).

However, speaking to "the rest" at 1 Corinthians 7:12-15, Paul clearly addressed Christians married to unbelievers. This involved marriages in which one spouse was in covenant relationship with God, and one was not. In such marriages the believer was required to abide in the marriage if the unbeliever was willing to remain with him/her. But if the unbeliever chose to depart, the believer was required to let him/her do so. The believer, Paul said, was "not under bondage in such cases."

Remembering the football coach illustration above, the difference between the two categories of marriages addressed in 1 Corinthians 7, and the different requirements imposed upon their parties, is set forth in the following chart.

FOOTBALL COACH

To Veteran Players To New Players

Go to the other end of the field, warm up. Stay with me.

PAUL

1 Cor. 7:10-11 1 Cor. 7:12-15

To Believers (members of the church To the Rest; Believers Married

in Corinth) Married to Each Other to Unbelievers

If you Depart, You Must: If the Unbeliever Departs, The Believer Must:

1. Remain unmarried, or, 1. Let him do so

2. Be reconciled ("Not under bondage"; expressly stated) (under bondage; implied)

In both Cases

Two Different Categories, Two Different Messages!

5. Notice again that the word translated "depart" at verse 15 is still chorizo, and its use is still in reference to marriage.

6. Further, when Paul used this word to describe the disruption of marriage, he was using the same word he had used twice before in the same context to mean divorce. And of great significance is the fact that he used this word in precisely the same way that Jesus had used it at Matthew 19:6.

7. Here, then, is a believer who, because of his/her faith, has been divorced by an unbelieving spouse. This believer now occupies exactly the same status as that effected by the woman of verse 11 who departed from her husband, i.e., unmarried. Or, in the words of Jesus, this believer's marriage has been "put asunder" by the departing of the unbeliever. And, in the words of Paul at 1 Corinthians 7:15, this believer is "not under bondage in such cases."

Conclusion

If this article's defining of the word chorizo by tracing it from Paul's use back to Jesus' is correct, then "depart" at I Corinthians 7:15 means divorce. Thus, Paul's expression, "not under bondage," has to mean that the unbeliever's disertion of the believer leaves the latter unmarried according to the will of the Lord and totally free from the marriage bond. As Alexander Campbell put it, ". . . the believing party is to the deserter as though they had never been married" (Millennial Harbinger, Vol. V, p. 72).

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 15, pp. 464-465
August 3, 1989

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