1 Corinthians 7:27-28: Are You Loosed From a Wife?

By Donald R. Wilson

Does the “loosed from a wife” man in 1 Corinthians 7:27 refer only to a never married man, or does it include the once married man who is now “loosed from a wife” by reason of death, scriptural divorce, etc.? It may seem foolish to ask such a question, because the language seems so clear and decisive. But there are those who come to this Scripture with preconceived ideas that will not let the obvious prevail.

James McKnight (A New Literal Translation of the Apostolic Epistles 113): “Yet, art thou bound to a wife? Seek not to be loosed from her by an unjust divorce, nor by deserting her. Art thou loosed from thy wife? Seek not a second wife. And yet if thou marry a second wife, thou hast not sinned.”

Other translations say very much the same thing: “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released (loosed). Are you released (loosed) from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you should marry, you have not sinned” (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NAS). “Are you bound in marriage? Do not seek a dissolution. Has your marriage been dissolved? Do not seek a wife” (NEB). “Hast thou become bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Hast thou become loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife” (Rotherham).

Thayer (Grimm’s Lexicon 3 84), under luo, states ” 1. To loose any person tied or fastened . . . trop. of husband and wife joined together by the bond of matrimony, . . . spoken of a single man, whether he has already had a wife or has not yet married, 1 Corinthians 7:27.” Arndt and Gingrich (Bauer’s Lexicon 484), under luo, states “2. Set free, loose, untie – a. Lit. a person, animal or thing that is bound or tied: . . . b. Fig. free, set free, release . . . are you free from a wife, i.e., not bound to a wife? 1 Cor. 7:27.” W.E. Vine (Expository Dict. 697), states “I. Luo denotes (a) to loose, unbind, release . . . of the marriage tie, 1 Cor. 7:27.”

Godet thinks Paul is talking about betrothal rather than marriage. He remarks: “If one were to take the term lelusai, art thou loosed, in the strictness of the letter, it would apply only to widowers and those divorced” (My emph. DW) This is because the verb tense is perfect passive indicative, which normally means a present result of a past action (Dana and Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament 179; and Machen, IV. T. Greek For Beginners 187). Heth and Wenham (.1esus and Divorce, The Problem With The Evangelical Consensus), taking the position there is no scriptural grounds for remarriage following divorce, affirm this Scripture is talking about betrothal, not marriage. Feeling the pinch of the perfect tense, they add a footnote (#102, p. 240), “The meaning of vv. 27-8 is not solved on a grammatical level, but on the contextual level.” Mike Wilson (Is It Lawful?, Chap. 37, Article on 1 Cor. 7:27-28, p. 315) said, “The key verb, ‘are you loosed,’ is a perfect passive of luo, and the force of the perfect tense has caused some commentators and translators to argue that divorce is under consideration (My emph. DW). A more likely possibility, with equal grammatical weight and better contextual testimony, is the dissolution of an engagement. . . The Greek perfect tense does not indicate the past action as such but the present ‘state of affairs’ resulting from the past action.” Kittel and Friedrich, Eds. (TDTNT 1:776), “In 1 Cor. 7:27 the reference is to a wife rather than one who is spiritually affianced. “

R.C.H. Lenski (Commentary 313-4), “The two perfect tenses employed in the two questions, literally: “hast thou been bound” and “hast thou been released,” refer to present conditions as the result of a past act. Didst thou marry at one time, and art thou married now? Wast thou in some way released from the marriage tie at some past time, and art thou still thus released? . . . Being bound to a wife and its opposite being released from a wife refer to actual marriage, to its presence or to its absence as the case may be. The effort in these expressions to find the particular ‘betrothals’ which the church of a later age had to oppose is a misunderstanding of Paul’s simple words.”

Kittel and Friedrich, eds. (TDTNT 4:335-6), “In the NT the word [Luo] means a. ‘to loose,’ ‘release,’ with the obj. of that which binds: . . . lelusai apo gunaikos, 1 Cor. 7:27.”

Colin Brown (NIDNTT 537), referring to 1 Corinthians 7:27-28, states, “What Paul proceeds to say applies equally to the single, widowers and widows, and the divorced.

But the particular argument is drawn from the case Of the divorced, and applies a fortiori to the others . . . remarriage is not a sin” (My emph. DW). A.T. Robertson (Word Pictures 4:132), says that “bachelors as well as widowers are included in lelusai (loosed, perfect passive indicative of luo). ” W. Robertson Nicoll (Expositor’s Greek Testament 2:832), “Applies to bachelor or widower.”

Guy Duty (Divorce and Remarriage 107-109) takes the position that 1 Corinthians 7:28-29 is speaking of being “loosed from the bondage of marriage by divorce in both the first and second usage.” John Murray (Divorce 75), commenting on “loosed’ in 1 Corinthians 7:27-28, “The use of the perfect tense should not be overlooked; it contemplates a condition resultant upon a past action.” William F. Luck (Divorce and Remarriage, Recovering the Biblical View 81), “Paul entertains the possibility that the person has been released at some time in the past with the result that at the point of admonition the person is still in an unmarried state, this is to say the person has been divorced. . “

William F. Orr and James A. Walther (Anchor Bible Commentary on 1 Corinthians 219), “lelusai is not to be understood as, ‘are you free now from marriage by not ever having been married’; but the force of the perfect aspect means, ‘Have you been released from a wife’ – presumably by her death” (Emph. mine, DW).

C.F. Kling (Lange’s Commentary on 1 Cor. 160), “Lelusai ‘ ‘hast thou been loosedT implies primarily the dissolution of a connection before existing, whether by death, or otherwise. [If this be insisted on, the subsequent injunction of the Apostle must then be interpreted of a second marriage]. But in this connection the simple fact of being free or unmarried, in general is meant” (Emph. mine, DW).

The evidence is clear. My purpose is accomplished by simply affirming that those married before, but now released from their former mate, are included within the group defined and can marry without sin. It is not necessary, nor do I contend that only the divorced are under consideration in 1 Corinthians 7:27.

I know that a person still joined to his mate, who puts her away and marries someone else (except for fornication) is committing adultery against her (Matt. 19:9; Mk. 10:11-12). Adultery is unlawful sexual conduct in violation of the marriage covenant. Whoever marries someone who is still joined in a marriage covenant with another spouse is committing adultery (Matt. 5:32b; 19:9b; Rom. 7:2). That is why the couple in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 were commanded to remain “unmarried or be reconciled”; they were still in a covenant relationship with each other; they were not “loosed” from each other.

Are you bound in a marriage covenant with a spouse? Do not seek to be loosed. If you are in a condition of having been loosed from a spouse, no longer bound in a marriage covenant, it might be better for you to remain single. But if you should marry, it is not sin (1 Cor. 7:27-28).

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 15, pp. 466-467
August 1, 1991