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This is the teaching site of the West Side church of Christ in Fort Worth, TX. Unless otherwise indicated, all materials were written and prepared by Stan Cox

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An Exegesis of 1 Corinthians 7:10-11

In the first verse of 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul began a discussion of questions asked him by the Corinthian Christians. “Now concerning the things of which you wrote me…” While the Corinthians no doubt had an exact knowledge of those questions, we do not. It is important that we deal carefully with the text of this chapter. The exegesis is a difficult one, and brethren have struggled with the passage for many years.

After discussing some general principles concerning the sexual aspect and obligations of marriage in the first seven verses, the apostle answered certain questions concerning special groups in verses 8-16. First, the unmarried, in verses 8 and 9 were given the advice to remain unmarried during the “present distress” (cf. vs. 26), unless their passion precluded such a celibate state.

Next, in verses 10-11, the apostle addressed those who were married. The first thing to note in this passage is the authority from which the apostle wrote. “Now to the married, I command…” As Mike Willis, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians wrote, “Whereas in vv. 8-9 Paul has simply given his advice since whether one marries or not is an optional matter, in this verse Paul commands. Paraggello is a verb meaning ‘to order, command, direct or charge.’ There are no options left for this person; he simply obeys the Lord or stands in rebellion to him.” (pg. 182, Truth Commentary).

Second, verse 10 continues by referencing the commandment of the Lord. “…yet not I but the Lord.” In other words, the apostle repeated the commands or teaching of Jesus, already revealed and most probably known to the Corinthians. The reader is encouraged to take the time to read the passages where the Lord taught of the subject of marriage and divorce (cf. Matthew 5:31-32; Matthew 19:1-9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).

A careful reading of the passages reveal that Christ established his rule for the husband wife relationship with great clarity. It can be stated simply as, “One man, one woman, for a lifetime, with one exception.” That one exception where divorce is allowed, fornication, allows for the innocent party to remarry as well.

Looking at the entire text of 1 Corinthians 7, we find that Paul stated the same thing. “A wife is not to depart from her husband…” (vs. 10). “…And a husband is not to divorce his wife” (vs. 11). Concerning a brother whose wife is willing to stay with him, “let him not divorce her” (vs. 12). Concerning a woman who has an unbelieving husband, who is willing to live with her, “let her not divorce him.”

Verse 15 indicates clearly that a believer is not required to stay married to an unbeliever who is unwilling to stay with them. “A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases.” However, throughout the context the command is for the believer not to divorce a mate who is willing to live with him or her. The believer is not to initiate such an action.

In the face of such commandments, there is a parenthetical statement inserted by Paul in the 11th verse, “But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.” In this statement, the apostle deals with the circumstances which would arise if the commandments given were disregarded by his readers. Note the following quotes, dealing with such a circumstance…

“Paul recognized that, in spite of the commandments, some would nevertheless choose not to live together. In such cases, there were only two alternatives available.” (Mike Willis, page 184, Truth Commentary).

“Paul is not allowing exceptions from the rule of Christ, but advising in cases where the mischief was done” (The Expositor’s Greek Testament, Nicoll, page 825).

“If she have withdrawn by a rash and foolish act; if she has attempted to dissolve the marriage vow, she is to remain unmarried, or be reconciled” (Barne’s Notes, page 115).

“Divorce is intended to make the separation permanent and to make unlawful marriage possible. No Christian can do this. Nothing severs the marriage relationship between Christians save the sin of adultery” (Gospel Advocate Commentaries, David Lipscomb, page 99).

It has been contended that the parenthetical statement of Paul in verse 11 establishes a second exception to God’s law on marriage, “One man, one woman, for a lifetime.” The argument is made that since Paul did not explicitly call the “depart” -ing in verse 11 sinful, that it is done with divine approval. Those who contend such are put in the unhappy position of doing the following: 1) Arguing from silence; (namely the lack of an explicit condemnation of the departure as sin); 2) Positing an exception that is unnamed here or elsewhere in scripture; 3) Asserting that Paul was adding an exception to the teaching of Jesus, despite the fact that Paul indicated he was only restating what the Lord had commanded; 4) Weakening the thrust of the teaching of the text, which is that a woman is not to divorce her husband, and a husband is not to divorce his wife. This principle is established throughout the context.

It is understandable that men would want to add to the single explicit exception to the marriage law, revealed by Christ (fornication). As the disciples noted, it is a difficult teaching. “If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry” (cf. Matthew 19:10). However, the only way to conclude that a second exception is allowed is to read into the text something that is not there. We must content ourselves with the teaching of Christ on this matter.

A man is not to divorce his wife. A woman is not to divorce her husband. If he or she disregards that command of God, they have unlawfully destroyed a marriage. If they do this, they must remain unmarried or be reconciled to the spouse they have divorced. We can rest assured that the passage teaches this. Any assertions beyond this are scripturally indefensible, and an eisegesis (the interpretation of a text by reading into it one’s own ideas, Webster) rather than an exegesis of the text.