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1 Corinthians 7:10–11

“To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

We have noted in previous studies that first-century Corinth had much in common with the modern West. One area where we see this is in the Corinthian approach to marriage and divorce. In Corinthian society—in fact, throughout the Roman Empire—divorce was widely accepted and easy to obtain. One did not have to have a serious cause to get divorced, and both men and women could and did initiate divorce proceedings.

Christians must fight hard to keep themselves free from the ways of the world, and this was so even in the Apostolic era. As Paul takes up the subject of marriage and divorce in today’s passage, we see that many of the Corinthians had adopted the prevailing view of divorce in the wider culture, apparently divorcing and remarrying at will. Thus, Paul tells them that husbands and wives should not get divorced and that if they do, they should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to their former spouses (1 Cor. 7:10–11).

We must keep several things in mind regarding the Apostle’s teaching. First, Paul says this instruction comes not from him but from the Lord Jesus. The Apostle does not mean that his teaching lacks authority; rather, he is making reference to specific instruction that Jesus gave during His earthly ministry. Remember that Paul became a Christian only after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, and in his ministry to the gentiles he must often address issues that Jesus did not deal with in His work in Galilee and Judea. Thus, it is noteworthy when Paul has access to Jesus’ earthly teaching, since he did not follow Jesus when He first preached to the Jews, and when he addresses circumstances that Jesus did. In such cases, Paul often refers to Christ’s teaching on the same matter. Here, the Apostle seems to reference Jesus’ words in Mark 10:11–12: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Second, this teaching does not cover all instances of divorce. Paul is here speaking of marriages where both spouses are professing Christians and where divorces are being initiated for inadequate cause. As we will see in our next few studies, there are cases when Christians may divorce without sinning. Paul here is addressing situations where there is no biblical cause for ending a marriage. Most specifically, the problem here seems to be that some Christians thought it was more holy not to be married any longer.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Issues of marriage and divorce require much wisdom to navigate, so they must be handled by good and godly elders and pastors. However, we must recognize that divorce for frivolous reasons is not acceptable. As John Calvin comments, marriage “is an agreement that is consecrated by the name of God, which does not stand or fall according to the inclination of men, so as to be made void whenever we may choose.”

For Further Study
  • Proverbs 31:10–31
  • Malachi 2:10–16
  • Matthew 5:31–32
  • 1 Corinthians 7:12–16

When to Marry

The Unbelieving Spouse

Keep Reading The Christian Ethic

From the March 2021 Issue
Mar 2021 Issue