“Let Us Sin That Marriage Might Abound”?

By Harry R. Osborne

My thanks go to brother Wilson for his willingness to engage in this discussion and to brother Willis for asking me to have this part. May God help brethren who differ over the teaching of Scripture to open their hearts to him and each another with the Bible as the sole guide to unity. My effort in this discussion will be to investigate the things said in the light of divine truth and urge unity thereon.

Since brother Wilson did not apply the principles declared, we are left to wonder how far reaching his application may be and hope he will tell us in his response. He argues that “released” (NASV) of 1 Corinthians 7:27b means “divorced.” With this assumption, he then uses v. 28 to uphold the right of a divorced person to marry another. His conclusion seems to be that anyone divorced for any cause may marry another. Is our brother ready for this application? Jesus certainly is not! He forbids the remarriage of the divorced woman of Matthew 5:32b saying, “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Jesus said she was “divorced,” but had no right to marry another. Thus, the wide door opened in the previous article is too wide for Jesus. Such teaching will lead to a tragedy of multiplied divorce and the heartache which accompanies it.

Our brother’s conclusions are based on the false assumption that the word translated “released” (1 Cor. 7:27b) in the NASV means “divorced.” In fact, the NASV is joined by only two versions (NEB and Confraternity) out of sixteen major translations in a rendering which might imply divorce. The other thirteen do not. The word used in the Greek is lelusai, a perfect tense verb. It denotes a state of being free or loose which has continued from the past to the present time. It could have reference to a state of freedom one has always enjoyed or one gained at some point in the past. The Greek writer Hermas (140 A.D.) used a form of this word to describe a woman “with unbound hair” (Similitude, 9:9:5). The fact that a woman’s hair is loose or unbound does not imply that it was previously bound. In order to determine if her hair was formerly bound, other information would be necessary. After pointing to this and other pertinent evidence, Arndt and Gingrich say the phrase in 1 Corinthians 7:27b should be rendered, “Are you free from a wife, i.e. not bound to a wife?” They then add the comment, “a previous state of being ‘bound’ need not be assumed” (Arndt & Gingrich 483).

The vast majority of scholars state the same conclusion even though their practice conflicts with their conclusion. In commenting on 1 Corinthians 7:27b, Alford’s Greek New Testament says the word “does not imply previous marriage” (11:529). Albert Barnes defended the same conclusion (First Corinthians 126). Fisher said the perfect tense form of the word used here implied a “permanent state of freedom from marriage ties,” not one previously married and now divorced (F. Fisher, 1-2 Corinthians 117). Of the 22 commentaries consulted, only two say that divorced people may be included. Absolutely none say that it speaks only of divorced people as brother Wilson’s view demands. Many of the commentators state that Paul was referring to a “bachelor.”

The context supports the conclusion that 1 Corinthians 7:27b refers to one free from marriage ties as a “bachelor.” In context, Paul is affirming the right of those never married to become married. The paragraph starts with the words, “Now concerning virgins. . . ” (v.25). Paul’s comment, “I have no commandment of the Lord: but I give my judgment,” also helps us clarify the subject being considered. Jesus had given commandment regarding who may marry another following a divorce (Matt. 19:9; 5:32). However, the question of whether or not a virgin should marry in a time of distress was a matter of “judgment” rather than “commandment.” Throughout the paragraph, Paul tells those never married to remain free or loose from marriage ties. Lest anyone misunderstand this advice to mean that a married person should end his marriage, Paul begins v. 27 with this statement: “Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed” (1 Cor. 7:27a). The apostle then returns to the case of those never married saying, “Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife” (1 Cor. 7:27b). In v. 28, he parallels this man with the “virgin.” What is the parallel? They were both persons never previously married – one male and the other female.

This context does not establish the right of anyone divorced to marry another spouse. The only party described as “unmarried” following a divorce in 1 Corinthians 7 is told what to do in v. 11: “. . . let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband.” Why is brother Wilson’s solution in direct opposition to that of the inspired apostle? Will he deny a divorce had occurred in this case?

Even if 1 Corinthians 7:27-28 implied the right of some divorced person to remarry, we must include all other related passages to ascertain God’s truth on the matter. The Bible pattern on any subject must consider all related passages and interpret them in a way which does not conflict with any other passage. Remember, “the sum of thy word is truth” (Psa. 119:160). The Baptist finds a passage which says faith is essential, but does not mention baptism. He reasons that baptism is not essential because the verse does not mention it. Is that sound reasoning? No, it fails to consider all related passages. This is the fallacy of brother Wilson’s argument as well. He disregards part of the pattern (i.e. Matt. 5:31-32; 19:3-10) saying it is not found in 1 Corinthians 7:27-28 and, thus, does not apply there. 1 Corinthians 7 may add more restrictive conditions to Jesus’ teaching about the right of a divorced person to lawfully marry another, but it cannot loosen those conditions. Paul did not give every divorced person the right to marry another, thus contradicting Jesus.

Jesus clearly stated a condition which must be met if one is to marry another spouse following a divorce: “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery” (Matt. 19:9). Teaching to the contrary notwithstanding, “except” means just exactly what it says! The word “except” is found three times in John 3:2-5. In v. 2, Nicodemus rightly says, “for no one can do these signs that thou doest, except God be with him.” Jesus could work miracles if and only if God was with him. In v. 3, Jesus says, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” One can see the kingdom of God if and only if he is born again. In v. 5, our Lord declares, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” Is it hard to see that one can enter the kingdom of God if and only if he is born of water and the Spirit? All of us understand that more conditions need to be met for salvation than stated here, but these conditions are absolutely essential in every case! The exception clause makes that abundantly plain. By the same token, Matthew 19:9 shows that one may put away a spouse and lawfully marry another if and only if that spouse was put away for fornication. Thus, the condition is essential!

Lastly, when brother Wilson said that it was “only by implication” that we understand the right of the innocent party to remarry, what was the point? Is he saying such is not implied by Christ in Matthew 19:9? If so, let him tell us why it is not. Is he denying a principle of truth can be established by divine implication? If so, we need to discuss how to establish Bible authority. Is he saying that we accept one idea without authority, therefore we can accept another. If so, we have returned to the liberal plea of “no patternism”! Which is it?

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 15, pp. 465-466
August 1, 1991