By C.G. “Colly” Caldwell
Several times in what we identify as Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians (there probably was a previous letter, 1 Cor. 5:9), the apostle spoke of having firsthand information concerning their problems and questions. For example, those of Chloe’s household had reported contentions in the church (1 Cor. 1:11), the brethren had written to Paul (1 Cor. 7:1), and Paul had visited with Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (1 Cor. 16:17-18). In chapter seven, Paul specifically responded to their written inquiries about domestic relationships. Among Christians today, assertions have been made by different ones who think they find justification in this chapter for second marriages in cases other than those described in Matthew 19 and Romans 7.
The “Present Distress”?
First, their letter and Paul’s answer were written in the midst of a “present distress” (v. 26) when Christians who married could expect “trouble in the flesh-” (v. 28). Paul was concerned that the cares of married life might keep some from serving the Lord “without distraction” (vv. 32-35). He, therefore, cautioned against marrying. Some have discounted much of the apostolic instruction in this chapter because of those circumstances. It should be observed that when Paul appealed to the “present distress,” the issue was only whether to marry or not and, even then, the disciples were given freedom to make the choice (vv. 8-9). If they married, all those responsibilities God placed on mates were to be observed (vv. 1-5) and they were not allowed to depart (vv. 10-16). Neither were any divine regulations governing married life changed during or because of the “distress.”
Paul Versus The Lord?
Second, in conjunction with questions raised about the impact of the “present distress” there is another issue concerning the relation between what Paul was presently saying and what the Lord had said while with the apostles. Some have argued that Paul’s instructions are optional because they represent his opinions and were not guided by the Spirit. Careful reading of the text should dispel this notion:
(a) In verse six, Paul says that the authorization for temporary relief from the responsibilities of mates (v. 5) was granted as a “concession,” not a “commandment.” The “concession” was from the Lord and it was intended to provide time for prayer leading to reconciliation. The apostle was not, however, “commanding” a separation. Nothing in the text indicates that Paul’s words here were not inspired.
(b) In verses ten and twelve, the apostle first stressed what Jesus had himself initially taught, namely that a wife must not depart from her husband (v. 10); and then he presented the later specific instruction now given to him by the Lord that the Christian living with a non-Christian should not leave the mate (v. 12). Again, there is no contradiction between Paul and Jesus, and there is no indication that Paul was speaking on his own apart from inspiration. The statements simply call attention to the fact that Paul’s directive was an application growing out of Jesus’ own words. That fact is further emphasized in v. 17 when Paul gave “order” (authoritative command) concerning the things taught in the passage.
(c) Toward the end of the chapter, Paul affirmed that he had been allowed to write his “judgment” on the advisability of marrying under the present circumstances (vv. 25,26,40). If we were to grant that Paul was expressing purely human judgment, we would be forced to recognize that he clearly declared it to be judgment and that he spoke only about a matter in which God allows Christians to make a decision. It is optional whether one marries and Paul also clearly stated that his judgment was not compulsory. The truth is, however, that Paul was not simply expressing his own humanly fallible opinion. He was, instead, expressing apostolic judgment guided by the Spirit of God. He said, “I give judgment as one whom the Lord in his mercy has made trustworthy” (v. 25). Paul spoke often of having been given grace or mercy to teach faithfully God’s will (Eph. 3:7-8; 1 Cor. 3: 10; 2 Cor. 4: 1 f; et. ao. The fact that this “judgment” is concerned with a permissive matter does not in any way argue that it was uninspired. You might ask yourself, “If Jesus himself had been advising people who were contemplating marriage under those conditions, what other possible advice could he have given?” Surely he would have told them it was better not to marry unless being unmarried posed such a stumblingblock to their moral purity that they stood in danger of becoming unchaste. It should also be observed that Paul concluded the chapter by saying, “I think I also have the Spirit of God” (v. 40), and thus, at the least, he indicated divine compliance in the judgment.
Divorce, But Not Remarriage?
Third, Paul repeated the “command” of “the Lord” that ‘,’a wife is not to depart from her husband” (v. 10). Some have found comfort in Paul’s next phrase, “even if she does depart.” The Christian, they say, may divorce without sin for cause other than fornication if there is no subsequent sexual activity. Among these some go on to say that if the former mate commits fornication, the “innocent” party is free to put him/her away in the heart and marry again, whatever the cause of the original divorce.
The statement “but even if she does depart” (v. 11) does not free one to disobey the command of verse ten. Actually, Paul was only stating what the Christian must do who has left a mate in ignorance of or in spite of the command 9 $not to depart.” This passage is like many others in which an inspired writer “plains provisions made or what to do or to avoid after sin has occurred. In another place Paul said, “Do not boast against the branches. But if you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you” (Rom. 11:18). Remembering does not justify boasting. John said, “My little children, these things I write to you, that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 Jn. 2:1). Certainly the provision of an Advocate does not make it all right to sin. James said, “But if you have bitter envy and self seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth” (Jas. 3:14). The prohibition against going further to boast and lie against the truth does not soften the bitter envy and self-seeking.
The truth that God does not condone divorce was clearly reinforced when Paul returned to the original command. He said, “And a husband is not to divorce his wife” (v. 11).
Remain in Your Calling?
Fourth, when Paul addressed these Christians who were married to non-Christians, he told them not to leave their mates but instead to stay in their marriages. “God has called us to peace,” he said (v. 15). We are not to seek freedom from circumstances in which we find ourselves when we are called into Christ. Such circumstances as circumcision and slavery were used by Paul as illustrations (vv. 17-24).
This passage has been used to teach that Christians who are “married” a second, third, or fourth time may stay with the mate they have at the time of conversion despite the causes of former divorce action. Reasoning thus affirms the thing to be proved and argues in a circle. No preacher I know would declare that the professional thief or contract murderer may remain in his “calling.” I have not talked with one who will proclaim that the homosexual or polygamist may remain in the sinful relationship. All must affirm that repentance requires leaving sinful practice (1 Cor. 6:9-11). What these persons are claiming is that the relationship is not sinful and/or that activity shared in the relationship is not sinful. That is the thing to be proved! If one argues that because the sins of the past are forgiven the relationship may continue, by what line of reasoning would he not be forced to argue that two unmarried people living together are forgiven and thus may continue in a relationship God did not previously approve? If they argue that these persons are not under the law of Christ prior to baptism, by what reasoning could he ever point to the homosexuality, polygamy, and multiple marriages of the worldly rich and famous as sinful? Some, in my humble and perhaps simple view, have become educated beyond their intelligence!
Remarriage in Verse 15?
Finally, some have found another cause for divorce and remarriage in the phrase “not under bondage” (v. 15). That is the subject of another article and, therefore, I will simply call attention to the fact that only by implication based on one’s own opinion concerning the interpretation of the verse can he assume that it authorizes remarriage. Paul says nothing of remarriage in this section of the chapter. In fact, he only approaches the subject of remarriage twice in the entire chapter, once directly and once indirectly. In verse 39, he says that he woman whose husband is dead may remarry. In verse 11, the commanded the woman who had left her husband to remain unmarried.
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 1, pp. 11-12
January 4, 1990