A Study of Remarriage: If The Unbelieving Depart

By Weldon E. Warnock

It is contended by some brethren that Jesus, while on earth, never dealt with, generally or specifically, marriage between a believer and an unbeliever or marriage between two unbelievers. What Jesus taught in Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10: 11-12 and Luke 16:18 applies only to the marriage of a believer to a believer of covenant people, they say.

It is also maintained that the New Covenant, which includes God’s marriage law, is not applicable to aliens or non-covenant people. Hence, everything said about marriage, divorce and remarriage is relevant for believers only. They tell us that Paul allows desertion of a believer by an unbeliever to be justification for divorce and remarriage. The passage they use is 1 Corinthians 7:12-15. Here Paul writes about mixed marriages, and when he says, “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord” (v. 12), these brethren declare that what the apostle states in vv. 12-15, the Lord said not one word about during his personal ministry.

The phrase, “yet not, I, but the Lord” in v. 10 is interpreted to mean the Lord did deal in the Gospels with marriage of a believer to a believer, but in v. 12, when Paul said, “But to the rest speak 1, not the Lord,” the apostle was giving additional and supplementary revelation not given by Jesus. Therefore, they conclude that 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 does not come within the scope of the passages in the Gospels, and “not under bondage” (v. 15) means the believer is free from the marriage bond when the unbeliever departs.

There are two points that are crucial to the aformentioned position: (1) 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 must teach that a believer is free to remarry if an unbeliever deserts or divorces him/her. (2) That alien sinners are not subjects of the New Covenant and, therefore, the passages in the Gospels on marriage do not apply to them. If we take these two points away from the brethren who espouse them, their position on this question falls “flat on its face.” We will deal with these two points in the order just stated.

Quoting the passage of controversy, Paul writes, “But to the rest speak 1, 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. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. . . . 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 Cor. 7:12, 13, 15). Let us analyze some of the statements found in this passage.

But to the Rest Speak I, Not the Lord (v. 12)

“The rest” would be those married persons not spoken of in the preceding verses. Here, the class would be mixed marriages. The supplementary revelation spoken by Paul, and not the Lord, is suggesting that Jesus never did deal with the specific issues of a Christian married to an unbeliever. Jesus dealt with marriage, divorce and remarriage, but he never had this particular question proposed to him. Charles Hodge wrote: “With regard to these mixed marriages our Lord had given no specific command; therefore Paul says, I speak, not the Lord” (Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 114).

In 1 Corinthians 7:10 Paul said, “And unto the married I command, yet not I.” He meant that Jesus, while on earth, addressed himself to the marriage of believers. When he did this we are not told. It is like the statement of Jesus in Acts 20:35, “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” which is not recorded in the Gospels, but Jesus said it, nevertheless. Some contend that Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:10-11 and Luke 16:18 are alluded to, but this is mere supposition. Brethren are assuming when they contend the recorded passages in the Gospels are just applicable to Christians. Matthew 19:1-9 is a record of Jesus answering some Jews about divorce and remarriage. How does one get “believers only” in this discourse of Jesus to unbelieving Jews?

Sometime during the ministry of Jesus he dealt specifically, though not recorded, with the marriage of two believers (1 Cor. 7:10), but at no time did Jesus specifically discuss the marriage of a believer to an unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:12). Paul does this in the text we are studying. The situation in 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 had not been presented to Jesus.

But if the Unbelieving Depart (v. 15)

The Greek word for “depart” is chorizo. It is the same word used in vv. 10-11 where Paul said, “Let not the wife depart (chorizo) from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried.” The word chorizo means “divorce” according to the lexicons. Thayer defines the word, “To leave a husband or wife: of divorce” (Greek-English Lexicon, p. 674). Arndt and Gingrich say to “separate (oneself), be separated of divorce” (A Greek-English Lexicon, p. 898). But the divorce of 1 Corinthians 7: 15 no more loosens the bond of matrimony than the divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11.

Paul said, “For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband” (Rom. 7:2; cf. 1 Cor. 7:27,39). Because one departs or is divorced is no proof that the person is loosed from the law of her or his mate.

Is Not Under Bondage (v. 15)

Those brethren who see another cause for divorce and remarriage in 1 Corinthians claim that “bondage” in v. 15 is the marriage bond and they assert that when Paul said, “is not under bondage,” the apostle meant, 4 ‘not under the bondage of marriage,” and the believer is free to marry again. James Bales wrote, “The only bondage this believer had ever been in to this unbeliever was the bondage of marriage. . . Ahe context proves that ‘bondage’ refers to marriage. . . the only bondage discussed in 1 Cor. 7:12-15 was the marriage bondage” (Not Under Bondage, pp. 62,68,91).

The Greek word for “bondage” in the text is dedoulotai, 3rd per. sing. perfect, ind. pass. of douloo. Thayer says it means “to make a slave of, reduce to bondage” (p. 158). After Thayer gives the definition of douloo he interprets its usage in 1 Corinthians 7:15 as “to be under bondage, held by constraint of law or necessity, in some matter.” He does not say this is the marriage bond. Vine states “to make a slave of, to bring into bondage.” ArndtGingrich define it to “make someone a slave (doulos), enslave, subject” (p. 205). They say it means figuratively, “be bound (as a slave).” Kittel says, “The basic meaning is ‘to make a slave,’ ‘to enslave… (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 2, p. 279).

It becomes apparent, after reading the preceding definitions, that Paul did not have the loosening of nuptial vows in mind when he said “not under bondage.” When Paul spoke of being bound in marriage (1 Cor. 7:25,39), he used deo, not douloo. It is odd that Paul switched words in the same chapter if “bondage” (douloo) in v. 15 is speaking of marriage also. The word dedoulotai (bondage) suggests that the believer was not a bond.servant. to the unbeliever or a slave to man, even though the person was a marriage partner. Paul said the same thing in a general way in 1 Corinthians 7:23, “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” This principle is specifically applied to the marriage relationship in v. 15.

Neander wrote, as quoted in Lange’s commentary: “The Apostle only means, that in matters of religious conviction, one person cannot be the slave of another, (that a married Christian person cannot be forced to remain with a heathen consort, if the latter will not allow the exercise of his own religious views. Under such circumstances separation should be allowed; but concerning liberty to marry again, nothing is said”).

Grosheide wrote that “the members of the church of Christ are not subject to an unbeliever” (The First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 166). Barnes said, “Many have supposed that this means they would be at liberty to marry again when the unbelieving wife or husband had gone away. . . . But this is contrary to the strain of the argument of the apostle” (1 Corinthians, p. 119). Robertson and Plummer state that all is meant is “that he or she need not feel so bound by Christ’s prohibition of divorce as to be afraid to depart when the heathen partner insists on separation” (Commentary on First Corinthians).

Caverno, in the LS.B.E. (Vol. 2, p. 866) said, “But Paul has not said in that verse or anywhere else that a Christian partner deserted by a heathen may be married to someone else. All he said is: ‘If the unbelieving depart: the brother or sister is not under bondage (dedoulotai) in such cases: but God hath called us in peace.’ To say that a deserted partner ‘hath not been enslaved’is not to say that he or she may be remarried.” Caverno also says that “Paul has not modified Christ in any respect.”

None of the preceding commentators thought that “not under bondage” meant “loosed from the marriage bond with a right to remarry.” There are a few commentators who differ, but the evidence to me is too strong that “bondage” is not referring to the marriage bond, but rather it means that a Christian is not a slave to men, even a marriage partner.

The tense of the word dedoulotai would not permit it to mean the marriage bond. The word is in the perfect tense. The perfect tense would mean the brother or sister had not been in bondage and is still not under bondage to the unbeliever. However, the believer would certainly have, been in bondage if the marriage bond is indicated.

Monroe Tharp, professor of Greek at the Bear Valley School of Preaching, Denver, Colorado, as quoted by Roy Lanier, Sr. said: “The Greek perfect tense is used here to show the meaning: ‘The brother or sister has not been enslaved and is still not enslaved.’ One could not be released from slavery who had never been enslaved” (Your Marriage Can Be Great, p. 471).

Marshall’s Interlinear translates “not under bondage” to mean “has not been enslaved.” The Pulpit Commentary says, “has not been enslaved.” R.L. Roberts, who was a professor at Abilene Christian University, is quoted to try to prove that dedoulotai (bondage) means that the believer was once in bondage, but has not remained enslaved. This is an effort to make it refer to the marriage bond rather than slavery to man. Roberts says: “Dedoulotai is the perfect passive indicative form of douloo, to enslave, and with the negative means literally ‘does not remain a slave.’ This is perfect of existing condition indicating that the party ‘has been enslaved'” (Not UnderBondage, p. 84). But to whom and when the party was enslaved, Roberts’ definition does not say.

Since the word dedoulotai means “to make someone a slave, enslave, subject” (Ardnt and Gingrich), the only kind of slavery that a believer had ever been under was before conversion. From the time of conversion, the Christian has not been enslaved. Keep in mind that Tharp, Marshall’s Interlinear and the Pulpit Commentary said the believer “has not been enslaved.”

The perfect tense is a combination of punctiliar action and durative action (Davis’ Greek Grammar, p. 152). Dedoulotai is perfect tense. Therefore, it has punctiliar (completed) action and durative (linear) action. The idea would be that at conversion the Christian becomes free from bondage (completed action) and continues free (durative action) from bondage. As a Christian, one has never been subject to man, but to God, and one is not now subject to man, but to God. The marriage bond is not even implied in “not under bondage.” The statement simply means that the believer is not to give up Christianity or compromise truth in order to save the marriage with an unbeliever.

But whether the unbeliever stays or departs, the Christian must maintain peace. There should be no hassle and argument if he departs. Paul said, “Let him depart.” But if the heathen partner remains, the believer is to be peaceful and not furnish the unbeliever any cause for departing. God has called us to peace.

Nobody has proved that the marriage bond is broken or loosed on the basis of an unbeliever divorcing a believer. Brethren arbitrarily make the word “bondage” mean the marriage bond. There is no evidence that “bondage” means the marriage bond. Their position sanctions the remarriage of believers who have been deserted by unbelievers without proving that “bondage” means the marriage bond. This is dangerous business. Their position permits the deserted believer to marry an unbeliever who has divorced a dozen wives. Remember, unbelievers are not under the marriage law of God, according to their view. Furthermore, the result of this kind of thinking has God showing more favor to Christians deserted by unbelievers than he does to Christians deserted by Christians. The former can remarry as many times as he/she is deserted, but the latter cannot remarry unless the deserter is put away for fornication.

If you want to increase your chances of having a mate for life, and not having to live in celibacy, always marry an unbeliever (little irony here). Anytime your mate leaves you, you may marry another unbeliever and perpetuate this practice until you find one who will live with you. This is a strange doctrine! Of course, these brethren would not encourage this for Christians, but their position logically permits it.

Under Law To Christ

We now take up the question as to whether alien sinners are subject to the law of Christ. It is argued that since aliens are not under the law of Christ they may keep their marriage partners when they are baptized, even though their mates may be third or fourth ones. Bales contends: “The Jews and Gentiles were not under law to Christ. They were not in the ‘church of God’. . . . Jew and Gentile are both out of convenant relationship with Christ today, unless they have obeyed the gospel” (Not Under Bondage, pp. 146,149).

The predominant text to try to justify that an alien sinner is not under the law of Christ is 1 Corinthians 9:20-21. These verses state: “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law that I mgiht gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under law to ChristJ that I might gain them that are without law.”

Commenting on 1 Corinthians 9:20-2 1, brother Bales said: “. . when Paul wrote Corinthians he said that in some sense each, Jew and Gentile, was under his particular law while he, Paul, was under law to. Christ. Jews – ‘them that are under the law’ (1 Cor. 9:20). Gentiles – ‘them that are without law (1 Cor. 9:21; compare Rom. 2:12-14). Paul ‘under law to Christ’ (1 Cor. 9:21). At the very time these brethren affirm that Jew and Gentile were under law to Christ, Paul placed only himself under law to Christ, and they were under different laws” . . . while Paul was under the law of Christ the unbelieving Jews were under the law of Moses and the Gentiles were without law” (Ibid., pp. 149,152,153).

We ask: In what way were the Jews and Gentiles under their particular law when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians? Were they under their particular law because they were divinely responsibile and accountable to their respective law? How could the Jews be divinely accountable to the law of Moses when that law had been annulled by God at the cross (Col. 2:14)? In his commentary on Hebrews, Robert Milligan said about the Mosaical Law: “As a religious Institution, it was, as we have seen, abolished when Christ was crucified. . . . And as a civil Institution it continued for only about seven years after the writing of this Epistle” (p. 237).

Actually, in an accommodative way of speaking, “those under law” referred to Jews and those “without law” referred to Gentiles. God gave the Jews a revealed law. They were “under law.” The Gentiles did not receive a revealed law, hence, they were “without law” or without the Mosaical law. Their law was the “law on the heart” that was traditional and environmental. The “law on the heart” for the Gentile continued until the law of Christ, the New Testament, came into effect. Paul’s statement about the Gentiles’ law on the heart in Romans 2:14-15 has reference to the time before the gospel of Christ. There is nothing in the Bible about a “law on the heart” for the alien sinners today and the “law of Christ” for Christians.

Commentators On 1 Corinthians 9:20-21

Lutheran Commentary. Commenting on “under the law,” it states: “Those who regard themselves still under the obligations to comply with the demands of the Ceremonial Law.”

Adam Clarke. He says that “under the law” means: “To those who considered themselves still under obligation to observe its rights and ceremonies. . . . “

Expositor’s Greek Testament. Anomos (without law, WEW) was the Jewish designation for all beyond the pale of Mosaism (see Rom. 2:9-16, etc.): Paul became this to Gentiles (Gal. 4:12), abandoning his natural position, in that he did not practice the law of Moses amongst them nor make it the basis or aim of his preaching to them; see Acts 14:15ff-, 17:22fff. He was anomos there, in the narrow Jewish sense; not so in the true religious sense” (Vol. 2, p. 854).

Lange’s Commentary. In regard to “under law” the author writes, “This is only another designation for Jews “. . . . In respect to “those without law,” he states, “heathen, properly speaking. . . ” (Vol. 10, pp. 188,189).

Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon. Thayer states that anomos (without law) means, “destitute of (the Mosaic law. used of Gentiles, 1 Cor. 9:21. . . ” (p. 48).

Zeff. E.M. Zerr said it right when he wrote: “When Paul was mingling with those who were not Jews, he did not try to press the Jewish customs upon them, but he did advocate the law of Christ which was and is binding upon all mankind” (Bible Commentary, 1 Corinthians p. 20).

Hence, Paul is not teaching that the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles are not subject to the law of Christ, but rather he is saying that he became all things to the Jews who considered themselves under the law of Moses and all things to the Gentiles who are spoken of as beyond the pale of Judaism. While becoming all things to all men, Paul let us know that he was not lawless, but rather under law (ennomos) to Christ.

All Under The New Testament

The following will show that Christ’s law is universal and that all men are answerable, accountable and responsible to it.

(1) Gospel is applicable to all. It is to be preached to every creature. Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19). “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk. 16:15). Paul said that those who obey not the gospel will condemned (2 Thess. 1:7-9).

(2) Aliens are condemned for violating the moral laws of God. The Corinthians had been guilty of fornication, idolatry, homosexuality, theft, covetousness, drunkenness, revilement and extortion, but they had been washed, sanctified and justified (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Brother Bales would say they violated the “law on the heart,” or the law of Moses. How could, for example, fornication be a violation of the “law on the heart” when the heart in a typical Corinthian approved and sanctioned forni ‘ cation? Corinth was devoted to Venus, the goddess of love or licentious passion. Fornication was part of their religious practices. They were sinners at Corinth because they had violated God’s moral laws in the gospel of Christ. The Jews who resided there were guilty for the same reason.

(3) Aliens are to repent of their sins. Paul said to the Athenians, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at: but now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). When Paul told the Athenians to repent, was not that a law of God? How could they have obeyed it if they were not amenable to it? Also, observe he said, “all men every where.” On Pentecost Peter told the Jews they were guilty of murdering the Christ (Acts 2:23,36). They were to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38).

(4) All mankind will be judged by the law of Christ. Listen to Jesus: “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (Jn. 12:48). The secrets of men shall be judged by the gospel Paul preached (Rom. 2:16). Hence, all in this dispensation will be judged by the gospel – not the “law on the heart.”

(5) Jesus has universal authority. Peter, quoting from Deuteronomy 18:18-19, said, “A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that every soul, which will not hear that prophet shall be destroyed from among the people” (Acts 3:22-23; cf. Matt. 28:18; Phil. 2:9-11; 1 Pet. 3:22).

All of the preceding points show clearly that every man, whether saint or sinner, is accountable to the law of God as revealed in the New Testament.


If aliens are not under the law of Christ, as some brethren claim, then several disturbing implications follow:

(1) There would be no such thing as adulterous marriages among unbelievers. In fact, according to this theory, unbelievers married to each other would, in reality, not be married as marriage is a covenant institution. Bales wrote: “I do not believe the marriages which takes place in the world on some ground other than fornication are any more adulterous marriages than they were under the law. Therefore my answer is that baptism does not change an adulterous marriage into a scriptural one for the simple reason it was not an adulterous marriage” (Ibid., p. 156).

(2) Polygamy would be permitted, morally, by those who are not Christians.

(3) Homosexual “marriages” would be legitimate unions. The “law on the heart” would not condemn such a relationship with many.

(4) Freedom to divorce and remarry for any reason would be all right.

(5) False teachers and churches of men who teach and practice error could not be condemned. Wonder if the “law on the heart” condemns those who sprinkle for baptism?

(6) An alien could never obey the gospel because he is not subject to the gospel.

(7) One could not work lawlessness (Matt. 7:21-23) if he were not subject to the law of Christ that he ignored.

(8) It would be no sin not to believe in Jesus because faith in Jesus is a part of the law of Christ (Jn. 8:24). Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convict the world of sin because it believeth not on Jesus (Jn. 16:8-9).

Certainly, it is disturbing when we see what the consequences are if aliens are not under the law of Christ. The implications are indeed serious. But alien sinners are responsible to the gospel of Christ and they are thereby under the law of Christ pertaining to marriage.

Universality of the Marriage Law

Bales wrote that “people in the world who divorce and remarry for some reason other than adultery do not commit adultery in so doing for the simple reason that the law of divorce aftd remarriage of Matthew 19:9 does not apply to them” (Ibid., p. 109).

But notice in Matthew 19:9 and Mark 10:2-12 that Jesus is addressing unbelieving Pharisees. In Matthew 19:9 Jesus said, “And I say unto you.” The antecedent of “you” is “Pharisees” in v. 3. What Jesus says, therefore, in v. 9 is just as applicable to unbelievers as believers.

Jesus further states in Matthew 19:9, “Whosoever shall put away his wife . . .” The word “whosoever” (hos) is an indefinite, relative pronoun which pictures anyone in general. In Matthew 5:32 Jesus said, “Whosoever (anyone, pas) shall put away his wife. . . . ” Hence, the marriage law is general and indefinite and not limited and specific.

The “whosoever” in Matthew 19:9 is just as broad and all inclusive as the “whosoever” in John 3:16 and Acts 2:21 which show universal salvation. The Primitive Baptists read these universal passages on salvation and limit them to the elect. Some among us read the universal passages on marriage and limit them to the elect (believers). Both make the same mistake.

Marriage is not a church ordinance. It began in Eden thousands of years before the church was established. Moslems, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, etc., marry. Their marriages are as much a marriage in God’s sight as when a Christian marries an unbeliever or another Christian. If unbelievers are not married should we marry them when they come for baptism?


The Bible teaches that there is just one reason for divorce and remarriage for all people, fornication, and even then only the innocent party may remarry. We must preach the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth on this issue. Churches must exercise discipline to keep the church pure and those living in adultery must dissolve it.

Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 5, pp. 134-135, 146-149
March 2, 1989