Is 1 Corinthians 7:15 Another Scriptural Reason For Divorce?

“If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 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. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”

Some people assume that the word “bondage” means the “marriage bond” (Romans 7:1-4; 1 Corinthians 7:39) in this passage and therefore if your spouse deserts you, you are free to marry again. Some people believe that there are two reasons for divorce – (1) fornication (Matthew 19:9) and (2) desertion (1 Corinthians 7:15).

Is 1 Corinthians 7:15 another scriptural reason for divorce? The Bible teaches that this is not true for several reasons:

1. The first reason is that it contradicts Matthew 19:9. Jesus gave only one exception – fornication. On another occasion, Jesus used the word “except” in regards to how a sinner enters into the kingdom of God (John 3:3-5, referring to water immersion). The only way to get into the kingdom is to submit yourself in humble obedience by being immersed for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38). Would anyone doubt this exception?

2. The second reason is that Paul used the Greek word douloo instead.of the Greek word deoin 1 Corinthian 7:15 (deo refers to the marriage bond, Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:39, 40).

3. The third reason is in regards to the verb tense of douloo in 1 Corinthians 7:15. If it is an intensive perfect tense, it would be translated “a brother or sister is definitely not under bondage in such cases.” If it is in the perfect tense, it would be translated “a brother or sister is not now and never has been under bondage in such cases” It is absurd to think it refers to marriage bond because that would be stating the following: “a brother or sister is not now and never has been (married) in such cases.”

What does the verse mean? The brother or sister never has been and is not now enslaved to his or her spouse to the point that he/she would have to choose between marriage to the spouse or marriage to Christ as a saved member of His church (Matthew 6:33; 10:34-39). Notice, the Christian does not initiate the divorce from the unbeliever. It is the unbeliever who is putting forth the ultimatum. And since the Christian understands the divine aspect of the marriage (Matthew 19:6), the Christian needed to know if he/she would be in sin or had sinned if the unbeliever divorced he/she because he/she refused to give up Christ. If the unbeliever did divorce the Christian, the law of 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 would still apply.

Is the Christian spouse free to remarry? No. They are still bound to the laws of marriage (1 Corinthians 7:10,11). There ought to be earnest prayer and effort made that the original non-Christian spouse will return to the Christian spouse and not contract a new marriage, thus taking the option of reconciliation off the table.

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