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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