DID PAUL TEACH THAT MARRIAGE CAN’T BE DISSOLVED?

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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