I Cor. 7:15 – Issue and Perspective

By H. L. Bruce

Bondage is mentioned in many ways in the Bible. The Christian is Christ’s servant. The union of marriage constitutes a bond. A servant of sin is described as a slave to sin, etc.

The word as used in 1 Cor. 7:15, merits considerable study and inquiry. What is the bondage under consideration? Bro. R.L. Whiteside thought that the marriage bond was the indication. Consequently, he reasoned, the person under consideration who was not under bondage when the unbelieving companion left him because of his faith, was as free as if he had never been married. As a result, the party thus abandoned was at liberty to remarry (see The Gospel Advocate, Nov. 11, 1937).

In 1947, in the Houston Lectures, bro. Roy Lanier, Sr. concluded that the bondage was a personal one in which the unbelieving would subject the believer. He said, “If the unbeliever makes such unreasonable demands, let him depart rather than be in such bondage to him; such bondage we owe only to the Lord” (Houston Lectures, page 37).

Yet another view was expressed by brother Harvey Floyd. Bro. Floyd’s view is that the Christian, when placed in the dilemma of either renouncing Christ to satisfy his companion or loosing her, that he has two alternatives. If he renounces Christ, he is in bondage to sin. If he remains faithful to Christ, at the expense of losing his companion, he is free from said sin. Consequently, he is not under bondage to sin on the one hand, on the other, he would be! Therefore, the Christian’s obvious alternatives would be either to be in bondage in sin or, to be in no bondage to sin in the service to Christ (see Spiritual Sword, Vol. 6, no. 2).

Still another view was expressed by bro. Maurice Barnett in the following, “The point Paul makes is verse 15 then is that if the unbeliever is not content to dwell with the believer, because of their faith, then the believer is not obligated from God to fulfil their responsibilities toward their spouse. The subject is one of whether they are to serve the other, not of whether they are `bound’ or not. They are released from marital RESPONSIBILITIES” in such cases.” (The Pear Ridge Bulletin, Vol. 1, no. 22, May 29, 1963).

I believe that all admit that the word “bondage” is the key word to an accurate understanding of the text. If the bondage is marital bondage then the marriage bond is loosed. If, however, it is some other bond, it is quite dangerous to apply it to the marriage bond, and even more so to say that one is authorized to contract another marriage. As a matter of fact even if the marriage bond is thus spoken of as broken, where is the passage which authorizes the person thus released to precipitate another union during the lifetime of the previous mate.

The word “bondage” as here used is a very interesting word. It .comes from the word “douloo” which Thayer defines to “make a slave of-reduce to bondage-to subject to.” (page 158). Please note how it is used in some other texts: “. . . they should bring them into bondage. . .” (Acts 7:6); “. . . ye became the servants of righteousness . .” (Rom. 6:18); “. . . and became servants of God, ye have . . .” (Rom. 6:22); “. . . I brought myself under bondage to all . . .” (1 Cor. 9:19); . . . were held in bondage under the rudiments . . . (Gal. 4:3); “. . . not enslaved to much wine . . . .” (Tit. 2:3); “. . . of the same is he brought into bondage . . . ” (2 Pet. 2:19).

The word “bondage” in verse 15, is not of the same design and strength as the word “bound” in verse 39. Here the apostle says, “A wife is bound for so long time as her husband liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is free to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” In this text the word “deo” is the word for “bound”. It means to “bind or tie together . . .” “to bind-to fasten with chains” (See Thayer, p. 131). It is used in this connection in: “. . . except he first bind the strong man. . .” (Matt. 12:29); “. . . bind them in bundles to burn . . ” (Matt. 13:30); “. . . Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matt. 16:19); “. . . the Jews took Jesus and bound him. . .” (Jno. 18:12); . . . which hath an husband is bound by. . .” (Rom. 7:2). “. . . . Art thou bound unto a wife? . . .” (1 Cor. 7:27). (see The Pear Ridge Bulletin, vol. 1, no. 22).

Many other passages of scripture could be brought forth to help in further indication of the obvious contrast. But these are sufficient. The word “bound” in verse 39 is speaking of a “tie”. The word “bondage” in verse 15 indicates’ servitude. The person escapes the servitude unto which he would be subjected if he would cling to an unbelieving companion to the forfeiture of his faith. Yet to say that one is free to contract another marriage is to extend privileges not contained in the text. The person is free in Christ. He is free from the servitude of sin in his decision to serve Christ. He is free from servitude that would otherwise be involved in relinquishing his faith in pursuit of an unbelieving companion. However to state that he is completely released from his marriage and at liberty to take another mate is to take a position not merited in 1 Cor. 7:15. (Next week: Aliens, Adultery, and Alternatives.)

Truth Magazine, XX:4, p. 6
January 22, 1976