Category Archives: MDR


The early “Church Fathers” were a group of Christians who lived after the time of the apostles. Before considering the early “Church Fathers” conclusion on any subject, one must understand that their writings are not scripturally authoritative. It needs to be observed that the early “Church Fathers” had no more advantage to interpretation than we do today. None of their teachings were in direct association with Jesus or the disciples.

It is also important to note that none of these “fathers” were Jewish. Their ignorance of the Jewish context could certainly explain their misunderstanding on different subjects. A common teaching in the early church had to do with the way these “Church Fathers” understood Hebrews 6:4-8 and 10:26-21. Many took these passages to mean that “one could only repent once and any sin committed after baptism would be unforgivable” (Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, p. 241). It would also be fair to say that some of their views were tainted through their Roman and Gentile upbringing and philosophies. Justin Martyr was a philosopher before he converted to Christianity and it can be easily understood how the positions of these “fathers” were tainted by Greek philosophical beliefs (such as Plato’s Symposium, etc.).

It regards to marriage during the first century, one needs to keep in mind that there was already a strong movement against any marriage (1 Tim. 4:3; Keener, C. S. 1997. Dictionary of the Later New Testament & Its Developments. R. Martin, P. Davids, eds. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity). These non-Jewish writers were heavily influenced by their Roman and Greek philosophies. They held to very strong views of asceticism. Some of the “fathers” even opposed the remarriage of widows and widowers (1 Tim. 5:14; Tertullian, Monogamy, Chap. 9.). Abstinence, even within marriage, was encouraged (Neander, Augustus. 1880. History of Planting and Training of the Christian Church. London, England: Bell & Sons).

We also have to be careful when saying what the early church did or didn’t believe, especially when we have limited texts on many subjects. One of the reasons so many texts of the early “Church Fathers” are debated is because it can be difficult and a bit subjective when trying to ascertain the exact meaning. Many of these writings could be argued either way because of the lack of context and clarity. When writing about the “Church Fathers” conclusions, Ferguson points out the following.

“The gathering of many texts with limited comments may leave a false impression of homogeneity. Sometimes even when texts seem to agree, the different contexts from which they come may show a diversity in doctrinal viewpoint” (Early Christians Speak, Ferguson. p. 10).

There are several texts from early church history that would favor that some in the early church believed that remarriage was possible and permissible after a divorce. The Epitome of the Divine Institutes taught that marriage is dissolved by unfaithfulness.

“But as a woman is bound by the bonds of chastity not to desire any other man, so let the husband be bound by the same law, since God has joined together the husband and wife in the union of one body. On this account, He has commanded that the wife shall not be put away unless convicted of adultery, and that the bond of conjugal compact shall never be dissolved, unless unfaithfulness have broken it” (Epitome of the Divine Institutes, 250-325 AD.).

Clement of Alexandra implied that not all have the gift to remain unmarried after divorce.

“After his words about divorce some asked him whether, if that is the position in relation to women, it is better not to marry; and it was then that the Lord said; ‘Not all can receive this saying, but those to whom it is granted.’ What the questioners wanted to know was whether, when a man’s wife has been condemned for fornication, it is allowable for him to marry another” (Stromata, iii. 6.60; Clement of Alexandria 150-215 AD.).

Origen taught that marriages could be dissolved through fornication. The implication would be that if a marriage is dissolved, then a remarriage could take place.

“The Savior does not at all permit the dissolution of marriages for any other sin than fornication alone” (Roberts and Donaldson 1995, 9:511; Origen, 245 AD.).

From the writings of Origen, we learn that he believed that marriage can be dissolved in the case of fornication. We also learn that there were those during this time who permitted divorce and remarriage for reasons other than fornication. There were enough churches and church leaders teaching multiple reasons for divorce to warrant Origen’s addressing of the situation. In his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Origen states the following.

“But now contrary to what was written, some even of the rulers of the church have permitted a woman to marry, even where her husband was living, doing contrary to what was written, where it is said, ‘A wife is bound for so long time as her husband lives’ and ‘So then if while her husband lives, she shall be joined to another man she shall be called and adulteress.’ Not indeed altogether without reason, for it is probable this concession was permitted in comparison with worse things, contrary to what was from the beginning ordained by law, and written” (Commentary on Matthew, Origen, 14, 23).

Origen is basing his conclusion based upon a misunderstanding of Paul’s writings, but the information here is important because it shows that church leaders were allowing divorce and remarriage for causes other than fornication. He speculates that perhaps it was permitted in comparison with “worse things.”

 “The references in patristic writings to divorce can be classified according to the attitude presented in them toward the doctrine of divorce and remarriage as reflected in the New Testament. Some passages would seem to indicate that divorce is impossible; others mention the exception clause found in Matthew’s Gospel; other statements make no mention of the exception clause and are not clear about the possibility of divorce and remarriage; and finally, one category seems to indicate that divorce and remarriage are possible on grounds other than the “adultery” of the exception clause (Divorce and Remarriage in the Early Church, Pat E. Harrell, p. 174).

Even though the early church held to some very radical and unbiblical views of marriage and divorce, there is zero evidence that they ever demanded divorce as a means of repentance if one was remarried after a divorce. Consider the following from the Synod of Elvira (around the beginning of the 4th century):

“Women who without any precedent cause have left their husbands and joined themselves to others, may not have communion even at the last” (Canon 8 of Synod of Elvira).

“A Christian woman who has left an adulterous Christian husband and married another, must be forbidden to do so; but if she has married, she may not receive communion till he whom she has left be dead; unless some mortal sickness compels one to give it to her” (Canon 8 of Synod of Elvira).

“If a woman who has been divorced by a catechumen has been married to another husband, she may nevertheless be admitted to baptism. The same rule is to be followed as regards female catechumens” (ibid, Canon 10).

At best (or worst), the punishment was not being able to take communion. Nothing is said about divorcing. It is interesting to note that only the woman was not allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper (nothing is said about the man). Also, they were not forbidden baptism. This is why Professor William Luck says the following.

The early traditions of the Church are not ‘nearly unanimous’ against all remarriage after divorce as some claim. It is more correct to present the evidence as a nearly unanimous prohibition of the remarriage of wives and guilty male spouses” (, William Luck).

When looking to early church history, it can hardly be argued that there was universal agreement on doctrine pertaining to marriage and divorce. In fact, one could almost argue that no two early “Church Fathers” completely agreed on every aspect of marriage and divorce based upon the writings we have from them. Based solely on the texts we have from the early “Church Fathers,” we could summarize the marital and divorce beliefs of the early church as follows: (1) Some were opposed to all marriage. (2) Some were opposed to the remarriage of wives and guilty male spouses. (3) Some believed fornication was a reason to dissolve marriage. (4) Some believed reasons in addition to fornication could dissolve marriage. (4) No writings indicate that anyone believed that one had to divorce their subsequent spouse in order to repent.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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There are some who believe that if someone is in a subsequent marriage after a divorce, they must divorce again in order to repent. As we will see in this article, this belief is contrary to the Bible. If someone wants to affirm that repentance for subsequent marriages after unlawful divorces would necessitate another divorce, then they would be obligated to prove such.

There is no biblical evidence that a divorce was ever required in order to repent of a marriage entered into after an unlawful divorce. The fact that there is no instruction under the New Law for anyone to ever divorce in order to repent on the basis of being in a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce becomes even stronger when considering the context.

Divorce (for any reason) and remarriage were extremely common during the first century and the surrounding centuries. In fact, it can be proven that many, if not the majority, of the Jews and Romans were divorcing and remarrying. Many Jewish and Roman males and females would have been unlawfully divorced by Jesus’ standards and remarried at least once (if not multiple times). This is not a debatable point, but a biblical and historical fact.

If indeed a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce required further divorce, why is there no evidence of such? David Instone-Brewer, a Rabbinics scholar at Tyndale House in Cambridge, put it this way:

There is nothing to suggest that Jesus asked anyone to separate from the second husband or wife if one remarried after an invalid divorce” (Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Marriage in the Bible, pg. 152, 183). “…remarriage after divorce was a fundamental right in the first-century world, and it was often regarded as an obligation. Thus, the New Testament writers knew that they would have to enunciate their teaching extremely clearly and unambiguously if they wanted to teach the opposite of this universally held view” (ibid., p, 299).

There is not a single time that we read of anyone under the New Law being told to get out of their current marriage in order to repent on the basis of being in a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce. This is absent from the Scriptures, absent from any Jewish writings, absent from any Roman writings, absent from any antagonistic writings and absent from any early church writings. Due to the cultural and societal circumstances, certainly there would be something written about this if the Christian movement was causing a score of divorces (or if they were teaching others that they had to divorce in order to repent). Yet, there is no evidence.

Aside from there being no evidence, several fundamental questions could be raised. For example, if it was the case that one had to divorce in order to repent of a subsequent marriage, would that mean that those who had remarried after an unlawful divorce under the Old Law have to divorce their spouse as soon as Jesus began correctly teaching on marriage and divorce? Could one, who had remarried before Jesus began teaching on marriage remain remarried when the New Covenant was established? Would every Jew on Pentecost in Acts 2 who had remarried after an unlawful divorce under the Old Law, have to divorce their spouse they had remarried in order to repent? The fact of the matter is that there is no historical or biblical evidence of anyone being told to leave their subsequent marriage in order to repent.

The reason Jesus gave the command on marriage and divorce was to put a stop to divorce, not propagate it. If repentance demanded further divorce in the case of a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce, then this understanding has Jesus’ teaching resulting in the very opposite of what it was meant to do in the first place.

We should always look at Scripture as a whole. What did Paul tell those who were married? He told them not to divorce (1 Cor. 7:10). He didn’t say, “to those who are in their first marriage…” Keep in mind, Paul was writing to the epicenter of immorality. Both Paul and Jesus admonished and commanded that the married stay married and not divorce. The number of marriages one had at that time didn’t negate or null the fact that their current marriage was still a real marriage (e.g., Jn. 4:18).

God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). Telling individuals that God wants them to divorce in order to repent of their divorce is like telling a murderer to murder more in order to repent of their murder or telling a man to steal in order to repent of stealing.

You don’t repent of doing something by doing more of it. You repent by ceasing the action. Jesus was trying to put a stop to divorce, not propagate further divorce in subsequent marriages.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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A relationship can be obtained in sin and continued in righteousness. Even though multiple examples can be given, I want to give a few examples to demonstrate this point. My first example will be a Christian marrying a non-Christian.  As a general rule, the Bible has always taught against marrying a non-Christian/non-believer (Deut. 7:1-5; Josh. 23:12; Mal. 2:11; Ex. 34:12-16; Neh. 13:25-27; 1 Cor. 9:5; 1 Cor. 7:39; etc.). There are quite a few people in Christendom who believe that it is a sin for a Christian to marry a non-Christian or for a widow to marry a non-Christian.

For example, brother Wayne Jackson believes that it is a sin for a Christian to marry a non-Christian. Yet, he understands that one can repent of their decision without ceasing the relationship. Brother Jackson states:

“…what should one do when he realizes that, in marrying out of Christ, the primary interests of the Lord’s kingdom were not pursued? The answer is simple: repent of the disposition that led to that decision, and then set your mind toward the goal of making seek-the-kingdom-first choices henceforth in your life. There are many circumstances in our lives which are irreversible. Is it not possible that one could realize that he did not approach some of his earlier decisions with the highest of ideals?” (

Just because someone may have sinned in marrying a non-Christian doesn’t mean they can’t be forgiven and remain married. Many religious intermarriages may be obtained in sin, but they can be continued in righteousness.

I now want to go to an Old Testament passage for my second example to illustrate how a relationship can be obtained in sin, yet continued in righteousness. David had unlawful sexual relations with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:1-4). Because of this, Bathsheba became pregnant (2 Sam. 11:5). David ended up having Bathsheba’s husband killed and took Bathsheba to be his wife (2 Sam. 11:10-27). This displeased God when David took Bathsheba in marriage (2 Sam. 11:27). The Bible says that David sinned because he:

“…killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife…” (2 Sam. 12:9). “…because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Sam. 12:10).

There is no doubt that this marriage was obtained in sin. It was a sin for David to take Bathsheba in marriage. While it was clearly sinful in the way that the marriage of David and Bathsheba was obtained and while there were consequences and the rest of David’s life was very rough, it wasn’t sinful for David to continue his marriage to Bathsheba. Instead, repentance demanded that he confess his sin and move forward in His walk with God (2 Sam. 12:13-14; Psa. 51).

“So David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” (2 Sam. 12:13)

David’s marriage was obtained in sin, yet he was forgiven. God did not “overlook” his sin. He forgave him of his sin. David’s sin also was not one done in ignorance. It was extremely willful. Was the way in which the marriage of David and Bathsheba obtained sinful? Yes. Was continuing in the relationship with Bathsheba sinful? No.

My third illustration will be a practical one. My third illustration is unwed pregnancy. Unwed pregnancy is not a sin. Yes, you read that correctly. There is nothing sinful with unwed pregnancy. The sin was the process that led to the pregnancy and not the pregnancy itself. Consider an unmarried 16-year-old male and female who fornicate and have a child. This parent-child relationship was obtained in sin. Through their fornication, a child was born (Jn. 8:41).

Can the parents keep the child or must they end the relationship with the child in order to repent? Even though this relationship was obtained in sin (fornication), it can be continued in righteousness. The parents wouldn’t have to give up their relationship with their daughter just because the relationship with their daughter was obtained sinfully. Was making the baby a sin? Yes. Was it an intentional sin? Yes. Was keeping the baby a sin? No. Even though the way they obtained the baby was sinful, having the baby itself wasn’t sinful. This is a very simple and practical illustration of how a relationship can be obtained in sin, yet continued in righteousness.

Fourth, I want to address divorce. When one enters into a marital relationship, they enter into a union that God joins together (Mt. 19:6). God hates divorce and commands that unlawful divorce not take place (Mal. 2:16; Mt. 19:6, 9). But what happens if a man decides one day that he no longer wants to be married to his wife? She has not gone out and slept with another man. She hasn’t forsaken her duties. She hasn’t quit loving him. He just wants to divorce her because he has decided that he wants to live the single life. He now feels that being married is too much work for him. So, he decides to obtain a divorce unlawfully and remain single.

This man did what God hates (Mal. 2:16). He specifically violated the command of Jesus by separating what God joined together (Mt. 19:6). He sinned in obtaining this divorce and I do not know of any Christian who would argue that this man didn’t sin in the way in which his divorce was obtained. However, what must this man do in order to repent? Can this man be forgiven of his divorce while remaining divorced? Or, is he living in a perpetual state of sin as long as he remains divorced? This man did what God hates, but he can still repent and get forgiveness for his divorce while remaining divorced (1 Cor. 7:10-11). He is not required to get out of his divorce in order to repent.

The result of the divorce itself was not sinful, but the process that got him to that position was. In other words, getting divorced unlawfully is sinful, but being divorced is not. A man who unlawfully divorced his spouse can ask God to forgive Him while he remains divorced. He would need to confess his sin and seek to no longer unlawfully divorce anyone else in the future (1 Jn. 1:7-9).

What about a marriage after an unlawful divorce? I believe that if one can obtain a divorce unjustly, yet justly remain divorced without continuing in sin, then one can obtain a marriage after an unlawful divorce, yet justly remain married without continuing in sin because the sin is not in the new marriage itself, but how the new marriage was obtained (i.e., through an unlawful divorce). These above examples (and the many that can mirror it) prove that a relationship can be attained in sin, yet continued in righteousness.

Some attempt to parallel homosexuality with subsequent marriages obtained after an unlawful divorce. However, there is a stark difference between the two. Homosexuality is, in and of itself, a sin. The homosexual relationship itself is wrong and always has been (Romans 1:26-29). A subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce, in and of itself, is not wrong and never has been. The sin takes place in the process, the unlawful breaking up of a marriage. However, the new marriage itself is not sinful.

A sinful relationship and a relationship obtained through sin are two completely different things. A marriage obtained after an unlawful divorce is a relationship obtained through unlawfully breaking up a marriage, but the relationship itself is not sinful. A homosexual relationship is intrinsically a sinful relationship.

So how does one repent? Simple: One quits unlawfully divorcing. The new marriage itself is not a sin, but the process that led to it. Therefore, one must repent by asking God to forgive them and seek to no longer unlawfully divorce in the future. Repentance wouldn’t demand a further divorce for such would be further sin.

  • It is a sin for a man to divorce his wife unlawfully, but not sinful for him to remain divorced after his unlawful divorce.


  • It was a sin for David to take Bathsheba, but not a sin for him to keep her in marriage.


  • It is a sin to make a child through fornication, but not a sin for the couple of keep the child.


  • It is a sin to divorce unlawfully in order to marry another, but not a sin to remain remarried.

In all of these instances the sin is not in the new relationship, but in the sinful process that led to the new relationship. The aforementioned information is sufficient to prove that a relationship can be obtained in sin, but continued in righteousness.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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In 1 Corinthians 7:15, Paul addresses a situation involving abandonment. He says:

“But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.”

Some claim that Paul cannot be giving another exception here because this would contradict Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19:9. However, as we examine this passage closer, we will realize that Paul was not contradicting Jesus’ teaching. Consider the following logic and reasoning.

The context in which Paul is writing is dealing with a different situation. Jesus was speaking to married persons who were actually doing the divorcing. Paul is addressing someone who was being divorced and abandoned by their spouse. These are two different situations.

It is also interesting to note that the word translated “except” in Matthew 19:9 doesn’t intrinsically exclude other conditions. Consider the word Jesus used in Matthew 19:9 for except.

“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except (μὴ) for sexual immorality…” (Mt. 19:9a).

This is the same word Jesus used in Matthew 12:4. In that verse, Jesus is speaking about the Old Testament rule that states only priests can eat the holy bread. Jesus used the same word when He said:

“how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, except (μὴ) for the priests?”

Even though the exception Jesus alluded to is said to be just for the priests, there was another exception in Leviticus 22:11:

“But if the priest buys a person with his money, he may eat it; and one who is born in his house may eat his food.”

Here is the point. Both Jesus and the priests in the days of David realized that there were other unstated exceptions to the rule even though Jesus used the same word translated “except.” If they had no other means of getting bread, they are allowed to eat it. So too, David, without a means of getting bread for himself and his men, deserved the compassion of eating it. That is Jesus’ whole point in the Matthew 12 passage. Sabbath rules, though seeming to be absolute, had unstated exceptions. This is why the statement of “unless” or “except” could also suffer another exception. Such would be the case with Matthew 19:9.

Back to 1 Corinthians 7:15. When considering the context, 1 Corinthians 7:15 mirrors the protective law of Exodus 21:10-11. If a man did not provide for his wife’s food, clothing or her marriage rights, then he was to let her go with a divorce certificate that would allow her to marry another. In other words, if the marriage obligation right was not being fulfilled, the partner could go free to marry another. Paul’s negative formulation of the phrase “In such cases the brother or the sister is not enslaved” makes precisely the same point as the positive formulation in the Jewish bill of divorce of, “You are free to marry any man.”

“Paul’s words recall the exact language for freedom to remarry in ancient divorce contracts, and his ancient readers, unable to be confused by modern writers’ debates on the subject, would have understood his words thus…” (Heth, Jesus on Divorce: How My Mind Has Changed).

The alleged argument(s) against this understanding of 1 Corinthians 7:15 is based upon the Greek word Paul uses for “bondage” and the Greek language. It is argued that the word ‘douloo’ (the word used in 1 Cor. 7:15 translated “under bondage”) is never used in the literature of the day or in the Bible in reference to the marriage bond or to indicate freedom from the marriage bond. Furthermore, it is argued that Paul is saying that, “you were never under this kind of bondage to begin with.” These arguments are faulty for several reasons:

  • First, douloo” is derived from “deo.” They are two forms of the same term.


  • Second, Paul uses this word (δοῦλος) when speaking of our relationship with Christ (Romans 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Col. 1:7, etc.) and the church is said to be the bride of Christ (Eph. 5:22-33).


  • Third, in the Old Testament, the counterpart in Hebrew is “amah” which means woman-slave and it is used of a concubine in Exodus 21:7 where a girl is placed in bondage to be the concubine (slave-wife) of the master (v. 8) or his son (v. 9). In Genesis 15, Hagar, a shiphchah, becomes Abram’s wife. That term designates a slave-wife. In 1 Corinthians 7:2, Paul has made it a point to say that each party “owns” the other. That is why they should not deny each other sex in the face of sexual temptation to have it with someone else. The terms used, autos and idios, signify ownership. A slave is owned. Husbands own their wives and wives own their husbands. Furthermore, this harmonizes with the tenor of this chapter as Paul uses the word eleutheros which means ‘freedom from slavery’ in a marriage context in 1 Corinthians 7.39 and Romans 7.3.


  • Fourth, the perfect tense of douloo, “not under bondage,” implies that they were under bondage, but that an action has taken place which has been completed and is an ongoing freedom and frees them from that bond. Deo in 1 Corinthians 7:28-29 is a reference to the bond of marriage. “Are you released…” i.e., no longer bound. Were you bound, = were you under bondage? Again, deo refers to the obligation itself. Douloo refers to the condition experienced in that obligation. The partners “own” each other. They are bound to each other. Their condition was one of bondage (1 Cor. 7:4). If the unbelieving partner abandoned them, then they were no longer under bondage.

Paul’s teaching is from God (1 Cor. 14:37). It harmonizes with everything that Jesus taught. When we put the teachings together, we find that if one’s spouse has been sexually unfaithful, then they can lawfully divorce and marry another (Mt. 19:9). If one’s spouse has abandoned them (Ex. 21:10-11; 1 Cor. 7:15), then they are no longer under bondage. The first century readers would have immediately understood what this would have meant.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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In 1 Corinthians 7:10-16, Paul addresses the married. In 1 Corinthians 7:10, Paul reiterates Jesus’ teaching on divorce:

“Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband” (1 Cor. 7:10).

The Bible consistently teaches against divorce. One is not to divorce (The implication here would be an unlawful divorce). Paul is not talking about mere separation as some have suggested.  We know this because the word translated as “depart” in 1 Corinthians 7:10 is the same word used for “separate/divorce” in Matthew 19:6 (“chorizo”). Therefore, Paul is speaking of divorce. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 7:11:

“But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife” (1 Cor. 7:11).

Even though unlawful divorces shouldn’t take place, the Bible teaches us that divorce is a sad reality of a fallen world. While divorce shouldn’t take place, it all too often does and Paul knew this.

When a divorce takes place, one finds themselves in an unmarried state according to Paul. Paul admonishes that if one does divorce, they should either remain unmarried or be reconciled to their former spouse (1 Cor. 7:11). Some have taken this admonishment to be restrictive, forbidding remarriage to another spouse since in the Greek this is a present imperative. However, Paul is not laying forth a restrictive command forbidding remarriage.  We can know this for several reasons.

  • First, not all imperatives are restrictive. In the same chapter, Paul uses an imperative in the present tense in 1 Corinthians 7:27 when he says“…Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife.” This is a directive to not seek a wife. Yet, it is not a restrictive imperative because Paul goes on to say “…But even if you do marry, you have not sinned” (1 Cor. 7:27).  Paul also says that if someone became a Christian when uncircumcised, then they are not to become circumcised. This is also a present imperative when he says, “let them not be circumcised” (1 Cor. 7:18). Was Paul actually restricting circumcision here? No. The point Paul is making about marriage in is that it would be better in this case for one to remain unmarried if they cannot reconcile. However, if they do marry, they haven’t sinned (1 Cor. 7:27-28).


  • Second, Paul explicitly and unequivocally gives permission in the very same chapter to the unmarried to marry if they must. Paul says this in 1 Cor. 7:8 and 1 Cor.7:27. If you were divorced, then you were considered unmarried (1 Cor. 7:11). 1 Corinthians 7:27 is almost identical to 1 Cor. 7:11. The divorced are unmarried according to Paul (1 Cor. 7:11) and the unmarried have the scriptural right to marry without sinning (1 Cor. 7:8-9).


  • Third, Paul could not contradict his own teaching. Paul says that to forbid marriage is to teach a doctrine of demons (1 Tim. 4:1-4). Paul explicitly says that if the unmarried do marry, then they have not sinned (1 Cor. 7:27-28). The divorced were considered unmarried according to Paul (1 Cor. 7:11).


Some people point to 1 Cor. 7:10 when Paul said “…I command, yet not I but the Lord.” But the question is, “What was Paul referencing?” He was referencing Matthew 19:6. What God has joined together let not man separate. The command Paul makes mention of is in 1 Cor. 7:10, not 1 Cor. 7:11. Therefore, Paul’s conclusion on the matter is that if you are married, don’t divorce unlawfully. If you do divorce, then attempt reconciliation. However, if reconciliation doesn’t work, then remain unmarried. Yet still, if you don’t remain unmarried and you choose to remarry, you have not sinned (1 Cor. 7:27-28; 1 Cor. 7:8-9).

– Kevin Pendergrass

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Paul opens up 1 Corinthians 7:1 by teaching that if one was unmarried, it is good for them to remain unmarried. He says this to all the unmarried including the virgin, the divorced and the widowed. In fact, this idea is a common thread throughout this chapter (v.7-8, 10-11, 26-29, 32-35, 40). Paul gives two reasons why it is better to remain unmarried if one was currently unmarried.

  • The first reason is because they would soon be experiencing present day distress (presumably heavy persecution). Paul says:

“I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress—that it is good for a man to remain as he is” (1 Cor. 7:26).

  • The second reason has to do with priority. If one is married, their mind will be focused on the cares of their family. This doesn’t mean that one is wrong if they are married, but the unmarried has more time to focus on the Lord. Paul says:

“But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband” (1 Cor. 7:32-34).

Therefore, one of Paul’s underlining themes throughout his marital teachings is that it is better to be single. If you are unmarried, then it is better to remain unmarried. If you have never been married, then don’t get married. If you are divorced, then don’t get married. It your spouse has died, then don’t get married. However, Paul makes it clear that it is not wrong to marry.

While Paul encourages celibacy, he doesn’t command it nor did he forbid marriage to the unmarried. Paul makes it very clear that he is encouraging celibacy only as an aid to help and not a command to hinder. In fact, Paul condemned those who were forbidding marriage (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Paul says:

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry…” (1 Tim. 4:1-3a).

Paul realized that remaining unmarried was a decision that one could make, but didn’t have to make. Paul freely acknowledged that it is a gift that not all possess:

“Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:1-2).

“For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (1 Cor. 7:7).

“And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction” (1 Cor. 7:35).

This is very similar to the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:10-11:

“His disciples said to Him, ‘If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry. But He said to them, all cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given.”

Therefore, while some may be able to serve the Lord better being single, this isn’t a command nor are the unmarried expected to remain unmarried. Those who would forbid marriage to the unmarried are guilty of teaching a “doctrine of demons” according to Paul (1 Tim. 4:1-3). All of the unmarried have the permission to marry.

Before we go any further, we must first understand who the “unmarried” are. To put it simply, the unmarried would be anyone who is currently not married. The Greek word for unmarried is “agamos” and means:

“unmarried, of a person not in a state of wedlock, whether he or she has formerly been married or not.” 

Paul specifically refers to all three categories of “unmarried” people in this chapter. He speaks about the one who has never been married (the virgin), the one who was married, but has been divorced (the divorced) and the one who was married, but their spouse died (the widowed). Let’s break down each one of these groups.

The Virgin

Paul used the term “unmarried” to classify the ones who have never been married. This group is also called “the virgins.” This doesn’t mean that if someone wasn’t a virgin that they were exempt from this category. It just simply meant that those who had never been married were referred to as “virgins.” Paul says that those who have never been married have the permission to marry (1 Cor. 7:8-9; 36-38).

The Divorced

Paul used the term “unmarried” to classify the ones who were divorced (1 Cor. 7:11). When someone was divorced, they were considered unmarried. In John 4, the woman at the well had been divorced and married 5 times, yet Jesus recognized that “she had no husband” (Jn. 4:17). One is only bound to the law of her husband if she has a husband (Rom. 7:1-2; 1 Cor. 7:39). When someone is divorced, they no longer have a spouse and are considered “unmarried.” This is the only way culturally and historically the phrase “unmarried” could and would have been understood at this time. No one saw the divorced as a “different kind” of “unmarried.” The unmarried was anyone not married, including those who were divorced.

The Widow

Paul used the term “unmarried” to classify the ones who had lost a spouse (1 Cor. 7:8, 39-40). While specifically only mentioning the woman, this would imply the male who has lost his spouse as well. It should also be noted that Paul is probably referring to the older widows based upon his admonishment to Timothy for the younger widows to marry so they don’t become busybodies (1 Tim. 5:14).

Paul gives permission to all three of these groups to marry. The “never-married,” “the divorced” and “the widow.” Notice the words of Paul:

“Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2)

“But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:8-9).

“Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you” (1 Cor. 7:27-28).

Some have attempted to argue that Paul is speaking of the betrothed in 1 Corinthians 7:27-28. However, such a conclusion is erroneous for several seasons. (1) First, the word for bound (deo) in 1 Corinthians 7:27 is a word Paul used to speak of the marriage bond (See: 1 Cor. 7:39; Rom. 7:2). (2) Second, one is not “joined” during their betrothal, but “joined together” only at marriage (Mt. 19:6). (3) Third, Paul makes it clear in verse 28 that he was not speaking of the betrothed virgin in verse 27, but of someone who was married. Since the one bound to a wife is one who is married, then the one who is loosed from a wife in 1 Corinthians 7:27 has to be someone who is divorced.

This can also be seen from the immediate context because Paul makes a distinction here between the divorced (v.27), the virgin (v.28) and the widow (v.39). He addresses all of these “unmarried” groups individually and specifically. In 1 Corinthians 7:27 he addresses the divorced “unmarried” group who was joined to a spouse, but is now loosed/divorced from them. Paul said that if someone is divorced from their spouse and they marry, they have not sinned (1 Cor. 7:28).

Paul’s teaching harmonizes with Jesus’ teaching. This shows that the sin is not in a subsequent marriage after a divorce, but in an unlawful divorce. Furthermore, in these verses, Paul was addressing those who were already divorced. In Jesus’ marital teachings, He was addressing the married. If someone did divorce unlawfully to marry someone else, then they sinned. If someone was a complicit third party in the breaking up of a marriage, then they sinned, too. For an in-depth study on the marital teachings of Jesus, please click here.

Paul was clearly not dealing with the same situation that Jesus was in these verses. Jesus was addressing the married and Paul here was addressing the already divorced. If one finds themselves in a divorced state, then either they sinned or their spouse did. However, at that point, if they remarry they have not sinned according to Paul because the sin is in the unlawful divorce and not in a subsequent marriage after an unlawful divorce.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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When it comes to the teachings of Paul on the indissolvability of marriage, some point to Romans 7:1-4 and 1 Corinthians 7:39. However, these passages do not teach that marriage is indissolvable.

In Romans 7:1-4, Paul is not giving a discourse on marriage and divorce. In fact, divorce is not even mentioned in the letter to the Romans. He is telling the Jews that they are no longer bound to the Old Law and have been freed.  He does this by using an illustration from the Old Law of Moses:

Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives?  For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband.  So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.

Notice the context of this passage. Paul is speaking to those who knew the Law of Moses (Rom. 7:1, 6). The passage only speaks about the wife. Why? Because a man could have multiple wives under the Old Law, but a woman couldn’t have multiple husbands (2 Chron. 30:21; Gen. 16:3; 1 Kgs. 20:3; 1 Chron. 2:18-19; 2 Sam. 12:7-8; 1 Sam. 25:43; Judg. 8:30; Gen. 20; 29:23, 28; 40:4, 9; 1 Sam. 1:2; etc.). However, if a husband divorced his wife, she could marry another without being an adulteress (Deut. 24:1-4).

Romans 7:1-4 isn’t dealing with divorce since Paul’s illustration comes from the Old Law where divorce did dissolve the marriage under the Old Law. The woman at the well had been married 5 times and was currently single when Jesus spoke with her. She had no husband to whom she was bound because she had been divorced (Jn. 4:15-19). Divorce is not included in Paul’s illustration. To take this passage and somehow try to teach that marriage can’t be dissolved is to completely ignore the illustration and the immediate and remote context.

The other passage often cited in attempts to teach that marriage can’t be dissolved is 1 Corinthians 7:39:

A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

If a woman is married to a man, she is bound by law to him. This is a true statement. But nothing is said in this verse about divorce. Under the Old Law, if a woman had a husband then she was also bound to him. However, as noted above, when a divorce took place, they were no longer married and no longer bound. When one divorces, even unlawfully, they are considered unmarried and no longer bound (1 Cor. 7:11; Mt. 19:6).

When a divorce takes place, a woman has no man to whom she is bound for she is unmarried and has no husband (1 Cor. 7:10-11; Jn. 4:17-18). What God joined together has been separated when a divorce takes place (Mt. 19:6). If a woman has no husband to whom she is bound, she has no law of a husband to whom she is bound. Therefore, Romans 7:1-4 and 1 Corinthians 7:39 cannot be passages used to teach that marriage can’t be dissolved since they are only speaking to situations involving women who are still married and not divorced in any sense (lawful or unlawful).

– Kevin Pendergrass

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There are some who teach that marriage can’t be dissolved except through death or a lawful divorce. The reality is that the Bible teaches, in both the Old and New Testament, that marriage is dissolved through divorce even if it is unlawful divorce.

In Deuteronomy 24:1-4, under the Law of Moses, the Bible teaches that if a man divorced his wife and she went and became another man’s wife, she couldn’t return back to her original husband even if her current husband was to die. This was to protect the woman.

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house,  when she has departed from his house, and goes and becomes another man’s wife,  if the latter husband detests her and writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her as his wife,  then her former husband who divorced her must not take her back to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance (Deut. 24:1-4). 

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 teaches that divorce dissolved the marriage so much so that the original husband couldn’t take back his former wife. Another example under the Old Law that shows where divorce ended the marriage can be found in Exodus 21:1-11:

“Now these are the judgments which you shall set before them:  If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years; and in the seventh he shall go out free and pay nothing.  If he comes in by himself, he shall go out by himself; if he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.  If his master has given him a wife, and she has borne him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself.  But if the servant plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free, then his master shall bring him to the judges. He shall also bring him to the door, or to the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him forever. And if a man sells his daughter to be a female slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.  If she does not please her master, who has betrothed her to himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt deceitfully with her.  And if he has betrothed her to his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters.  If he takes another wife, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, and her marriage rights.  And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out free, without paying money.”

Deuteronomy 21:10-14 is another passage that teaches divorce dissolves the marriage:

 “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hand, and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her and would take her for your wife,  then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails.  She shall put off the clothes of her captivity, remain in your house, and mourn her father and her mother a full month; after that you may go in to her and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.  And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall set her free, but you certainly shall not sell her for money; you shall not treat her brutally, because you have humbled her.”

Jesus also taught that marriage can be dissolved. In John 4:17-18, Jesus recognized that the woman at the well had been married to five husbands and was currently living with someone to whom she wasn’t even married.

“The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”

Due to the fact that she was currently living with a man to whom she was not married would certainly give way to the fact that her past five husbands didn’t just all die naturally. As she admitted, her moral living was not above par. He didn’t tell her that she was “still married in the eyes of God to her first husband.” In fact, He acknowledged that these men had been (past tense) her husbands and that she currently (present tense) had no husband.

If marriage was not dissolved through divorce, then Jesus would have told the woman to return to her original spouse, or He would have told her to return to the last man to whom she was scripturally married. However, that wasn’t what Jesus said. Instead, Jesus acknowledged that the woman had been married five times. Jesus taught that the woman had no husband (Jn. 4:17). Divorce, even unlawfully, dissolves marriage according to Jesus.

Not only did Moses and Jesus teach that marriage can be dissolved, but Paul also taught that marriage can be dissolved. According to 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, man can separate what God has joined together. Even though someone may divorce unlawfully, Paul taught that divorce severs the marriage. The apostle Paul says that when a wife departs from her husband, they are unmarried. The word for depart/divorces is the same word used in Matthew 19:6 translated separate or put asunder. Thus, one can separate what God has joined together according to Paul.

Some believe that Paul is referring to mere separation. However, that position cannot be sustained because Paul uses the exact same word Jesus used to refer to divorce (Mt. 19:6). Furthermore, Paul is clearly referring to divorce in this context (1 Cor. 7:11b).

Some claim that Paul still recognized this couple as married since he said to “be reconciled to your husband.” However, Paul just stated that the woman is “unmarried” (1 Cor. 7:11). Paul is dealing with hypothetical time. He is referring to what would be the woman’s former husband if the situation did happen. But since the situation hasn’t happened, he is still her current husband since he is giving a hypothetical scenario which hasn’t happened yet.

This can be further sustained by the words husband and wife which can be used to refer to different tenses. Context must determine the tense of the words and how the words are being used. It is important to note that there is never a time in Scripture where someone is described as being unmarried when they are actually still married (and vice versa). This can be seen in the way Paul uses the word husband in the rest of the chapter to refer to former husbands (1 Corinthians 7:13-14, 16, 34, 39; See also 2 Samuel 12:9; Mark 12:19; Acts 5:10-11). The unmarried woman’s husband in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 would be her former husband after the divorce.

It is also interesting to note that in both Greek and Hebrew, the words for “husband” and “man” are the same. Most of the time when “andri” is used, it means man. In 1 Corinthians 7:11, the word is in the dative case rather than in the genitive (which shows possession). While avoiding overstating the point, I do want to point out that it is interesting that in 1 Cor. 7:10, the genitive (possession) establishes that they were married. He was her husband/man (past tense). In other words, they were husband and wife until the divorce took place. Once the divorce took place, they were considered unmarried (1 Cor. 7:10-11). In verse 11, after the divorce takes place, the dative (rather than the genitive) is appropriately used. When someone gets a divorce lawfully or unlawfully, they are considered unmarried and they no longer possess a husband or wife.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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After Jesus finished His marital teachings, the disciples responded by saying that it would, “be better not to marry” (Mt. 19:10). The two schools of thought on divorce, before Jesus, came from the Shammaites and Hillelites. The Shammaites believed that one could lawfully divorce only for fornication (or a serious matter).

The Hillelites believed that one could lawfully divorce for just any reason whatsoever.

The Hillelite divorce was by far the most common in the first century B.C.E. and it is unlikely that many of the ordinary people chose to follow the Shammaite teaching on divorce (Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, pp. 110-112). In fact, it can be easily sustained historically that the majority of first-century Jewish divorces were “any matter” divorces (ibid., p. 117).

Since the disciples had lived in a time where one could divorce for just any reason, they believed that it would be better to just never marry at all if they now had to take marriage seriously. There are differing views as to why the disciples responded in such a way. For example, some believe that the disciples response was a typical overreaction and misunderstanding of Jesus’ teaching.

It wasn’t uncommon for the disciples to overreact with an exaggerated or misunderstood response (e.g., Mt. 16:22; 19:13-15, 25; 26:6-9; Mk. 9:38-40; Acts 10:9-16; etc.). While the Jews considered the ending of a marriage for any reason a man’s privilege, Jesus taught that unless men had a moral ground, it was adultery.

This would have been quite a shock even to the disciples. Thus, this response of the disciples possibly exposed their bitter attitude. In other words, “If I have to take the marriage seriously, then I might as well not marry at all!” From this perspective, it could be that the disciples were bitter and gave an overreacted response.

On the other hand, the disciples’ response may have been one of humility and maturity. Perhaps they realized that if one had to dedicate time and genuine effort to marriage (unlike what had been the norm), then it would be better not to marry at all in order to dedicate their time to the Lord without distraction. In fact, Jesus went on to say:

“For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.” (Mt. 19:12).

Some claim that the phrase “let him who is able to accept it, accept it” is a statement familiar to “he who has ears let him hear.” In other words, some do not believe that Jesus is giving an option here. However, Jesus certainly is giving an option. Otherwise, it would be a sin to ever marry at all.

Remember, the response here is that it would just be better to not marry at all and Jesus taught that not all could accept that. Jesus taught that some will choose to remain single and never marry in order to follow the Lord in order to serve the Kingdom more fully than they could if they were married (Mt. 19:11-12). This is what Paul would later write to the Church at Corinth.

“But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction” (1 Cor. 7:32-35).

Therefore, from this perspective, it is possible that the disciples were responding in maturity realizing that in marrying they wouldn’t be able to dedicate themselves to the kingdom like they could if they choose to never marry.

That being said, what we can know is that the response of the disciples didn’t have to do with repentance or being forced to remain single after an unlawful divorce since the disciple’s response was in regards to never getting married at all.

Their response was not in reference to marriage after divorce. Furthermore, Jesus responded by saying that, “not all can accept this” (Mt. 19:11). Jesus never taught that some must remain single for their own soul’s sake. On the contrary, He taught that some will choose to remain unmarried and never get married for the kingdom’s sake so they can purely focus on the kingdom without distraction.

Even though both Jesus and Paul taught that it might be ideal for certain people to never marry due to certain situations and circumstances, neither of them taught forced celibacy and they both saw celibacy as a choice and not an obligation or law (Mt. 19:10-12; 1 Cor. 7:35; 1 Tim. 4:3; etc.).

– Kevin Pendergrass

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The Greek word which translates as fornication in Mathew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 is a general word covering all types of sexual intercourse (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, pp. 699-700).

When looking to the Greek Old Testament (known as the LXX), the word “porneia” (translated as fornication or harlotry) is used on multiple occasions to describe both literal and figurative persons who are married who commit unlawful, sexual activity with someone other than their spouse (e.g., Amos 7:17; Hosea 1:2-3; 2:2-5; Ezek. 16:8, 20, 22, 25, 28, 29; 23:4-5).

In Ezekiel 16 and 23, God used the word fornication/harlotry (porneia) some 40 times concerning Israel’s unfaithfulness to Him. The word for adultery is used some six times here to describe the same action(s) (for more study see:

The LXX translates moicheia for naaph (adultery) and porneia for zanah (fornication/harlotry). In these chapters, and in Jeremiah 3, both words are used to describe the same action, as is seen in Ezekiel 23:43 where both words occur. Using the word fornication to describe unlawful sex when at least one of the parties was married was not at all uncommon.

Furthermore, the Greek word porneia occurs approximately 25 times in the New Testament. The times we see this word defined and used literally in context, it is seen as any type of consensual, physical sexual intercourse (Jn. 8:41; 1 Cor. 5:1; 6:13; 15-18; 1 Cor. 7:1-2; etc.). As shown above, this word is a general word covering all unlawful sexual intercourse. The only way that the word could be limited to a specific type of intercourse is if the context(s) demands it.

Porneia is also employed to describe the actions of a married person by Tatian and Origen (Divorce & Remarriage in the Early Church, p. 193, Harrell). Furthermore, there are historical writings that are non-inspired known as the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha that use both the words fornication and adultery together to reference the same action (Sirach 23:17, 23; Joseph 3:8-9; Ecclus. 23:23 etc.).

It was not at all uncommon to use the word fornication/harlotry to describe someone who was married who was having unlawful sexual relations with someone else. If an argument is going to be made to try and limit the meaning of the word “fornication,” it must be done based upon context because it cannot be done by appealing to the word itself.

– Kevin Pendergrass

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