Category Archives: Paul


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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