“Put Away,” “Put Asunder,” “Divorce”

By Hayse Reneau

1 Corinthians 7

Concessions For A “Present Distress”

Brethren at Corinth, where Paul had formerly preached the gospel and established the church (Acts 18), found themselves under some distressful circumstances which prompted them to compile a letter asking several questions about family arrangements. The questions can be surmised by the answers which are given. (Like John 3, Can there be any doubt that Nicodemus asked Jesus something about the kingdom?) His answers are based upon the situation that existed at Corinth at that time. The inspired Paul’s answers to their questions show God’s sympathy and allowance for temporary departures from His commanded order, for the duration of the “present distress” (26). By observance of these concessions, temporarily allowed, they would be “happier” (40); it would be “better” (38); it would be to their spiritual “profit” (35); it would “spare them trouble in the flesh” (28); it would be “good” for the present situation (vv. 1,8,26).

Paul writes things previously addressed by the Lord (10); he refers to things written “by permission” (6); to things “speak I, not the Lord” (12). But all things revealed by Paul were authorized by the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37; Gal. 1:11- 12); therefore, with God’s approval, former commands are temporarily set aside because of the “present distress.” No one today can know for certain what stressful conditions existed in Corinth at that time which prompted this letter and these exceptions. Some suppose it was severe persecution by Nero and Romans; others, that it was excessive economic stress; still others, say it was a situation prompted by the ungodly persecution of the Judaizers. Whatever, it was made worse for those married with a family. So, some family arrangements are allowed to be altered, “for the present distress.”

Failing to concede the fact that authorized concessions to God’s will are herein set forth; and that they were only temporary, is to put this holy text in direct conflict with other plain statements of God’s word.

1. God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone… Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:18, 24). The Hebrew writer wrote: “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled. . . ” (Heb. 13:4). Paul wrote, “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully” (1 Tim. 5:14). All of this, and more which could be cited, show God’s will of marriage regarding man and woman. Contrary to Roman Catholic doctrine, God does not recommend celibacy as a superior way of life, except in Corinth at that time.

But, there the inspired Paul writes: “It’s good for a man not to touch a woman,” meaning to take a wife and start a family. Is this a contradiction of God? It could be considered in no other way, except that under those trying circumstances God says, temporarily, it’s best not to marry. During, and as long as the present distress lasts God was granting this exception. The same is the case regarding all marriageable persons: virgins (28), widows (8), and any who had lawfully put away their spouses (Matt. 19:9). Isn’t it apparent that the context of this chapter hinges on verse 26?

2. In addition to procreating the race (Gen. 1:28), another purpose of marriage is stated in verses 24, “to avoid fornication.”

Under that “present distress” it is evident that there was a greater burden placed upon those who were married. Special strength of faith should be sought-Through separation, and cessation of sexual contact, by mutual agreement, there could be greater spiritual commitment in prayer and fasting (5) (distance isn’t implied: whether in the same house or out). Also, some of them had either already departed from their spouse or were contemplating it (10, 11). Wives, fearful for themselves, or their husbands, were asking if it, would be better to separate from their mate. Husbands were concerned and, for the same reasons, thought it might be easier apart from their wives (10, 11). (This presumption is but to give them the benefit of doubt as to their reasons [these are Christians!], though some, perhaps, were taking advantage of the situation to rid themselves of unwanted spouses.) Paul concurs; however, God who knows all about us, causes Paul to add certain warnings: sexual passions in some are stronger than in others, so continence would be more difficult for some if they were separated for a long period (v. 5). Satan will be watching to tempt you, he warns. They are not reprimanded; but warned that in their incontinency they were not free to join themselves to anyone except their husband/wife during or after the distress was ended.

They are reminded of Christ’s law (10): “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6). Notice: their action is in direct contradiction to the Lord’s law; but for the “Present distress, ” it is allowed, with the warnings against immorality. This is not a contradiction of God’s law at that time for the same reason it was not against God’s law to advise that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.”

The rest of the chapter is to be understood in the same manner: Because of the “present distress” the Holy Spirit revealed these things unto the Corinthians.

If I know my own mind, these things are presented in an unbiased manner, for the simple purpose of Bible study. I have no one in mind to condemn or justify. I trust in your examination you will likewise strive to stand apart from tradition and present opinions of the world.

Guardian of Truth XXX: 7, pp. 203, 215
April 3, 1986