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    1 Corinthians 7
    by Bennie Holbrook
    with Commentary by SBSK

    The following article is a comment on Mike Sulivan's essay, Divorce and Remarriage.

      7:1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: [It is] good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, [to avoid] fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.

      5 Defraud ye not one the other, except [it be] with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. 6 But I speak this by permission, [and] not of commandment. 7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. 8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. 10 And unto the married I command, [yet] not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from [her] husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to [her] husband: and let not the husband put away [his] wife. 12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such [cases]: but God hath called us to peace. {to peace: Gr. in peace} 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save [thy] husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save [thy] wife? {how: Gr. what} 17 But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. 18 Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. 20 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. 21 Art thou called [being] a servant ? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use [it] rather. 22 For he that is called in the Lord, [being] a servant , is the Lord's freeman: likewise also he that is called, [being] free, is Christ's servant . {freeman: Gr. made free} 23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. 24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God. 25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. 26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, [I say], that [it is] good for a man so to be. {distress: or, necessity} 27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. 28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. 29 But this I say, brethren, the time [is] short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30 And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31 And they that use this world, as not abusing [it]: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: {that belong...: Gr. of the Lord 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please [his] wife. 34 There is difference [also] between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please [her] husband. 35 And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. 36 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of [her] age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. 37 Nevertheless he that standeth steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. 38 So then he that giveth [her] in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth [her] not in marriage doeth better. 39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. 40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

    First letís set some premises. In I Cor.7 Paul is addressing marriage for both Jews and Gentiles. These are separate cultures, one from the Greek philosophers and the other with eastern roots. These two cultures are still with us today in that the one states that marriage is a life long commitment and the other feels marriage only last as long as it is meets the convenience of the individuals. Paul addresses in this chapter all the stages of a relationship from the single, to the betrothed, and to the married including marriage to unbelievers. Paul is addressing his remarks to Christians, not unbelievers. The world during that time was especially full of uncertainties for the Christian.

    First Paul addresses sex and how it should be handled. If we are single, donít have sex. If we are married, keep sex within the confines marriage. Once married, your body no longer belongs to yourself but to your spouse.

    Second Paul states that marriage is a gift from God though he himself prefers that people remain single. He felt this way because it was not a time of peace for the Christian and it would be every hard on a family. But he also felt it was better to marry then to burn with passion. But if you were to be content in your own gift that of celibacy or marriage.

    Thirdly, Paul tells the married that it is a command of God that they not put away (divorce) their husband or wife. If a wife does separate from her husband for a time, for whatever reason, she is to remain unmarried or be reconciled with her husband. Note that in this passage no reason for divorce on the part of the believer is given.

    Fourth, Paul also addresses the unbeliever married to the believer. One thing is very clear: believers do not know that an unbelieving spouse will become a Christian but they can know that they are "sanctified" (set apart as holy) by God because of the believer. This addresses the person who is already married before becoming a believer but can also apply to an immature Christian who has found themselves married to a non-believer (2 Cor.6:14-16). If the non-believing spouse wishes to remain then God expects them to stay with the marriage and there is no reason for divorce. However, if an unbelieving spouse has determined to leave then a Christian is not bound to the marriage.

    Paul states later in the chapter that marriage is a bond until death. This is true for believers and non-believers.

    Paul was an advocate of singleness, he believed that it freed the individual to have total devotion to God alone [1]. But he supported the fact that if God called you to him in a certain walk of life He didnít necessarily expect you to change. If you were uncircumcised don't get circumcised. If you were married donít get a divorce and if you were single donít seek a wife. If you were a slave donít seek freedom but if it happens grasp it thankfully because we shouldnít be slaves to anyone but Christ. In other words it is more important to obey Godís commandments than how we live outwardly. Keeping covenant is Godís best even in not so pleasant circumstances. So as with the slave donít seek to change your circumstances of life but if the unbeliever leaves take your freedom joyfully. And donít forget that last admonition do not seek to put yourself in bondage.

    Fifth, Paul writes concerning virgins. Paul again states that he wishes that one would stay in the state they are in when saved; married stay married and single stay single. However if one marries then they do not sin. If one marries they are concern about pleasing their husband/wives their devotions would be divided between spouse and Christ. Paulís desire here is that one be totally concern about the affairs of the Lord and pleasing Him rather than being divided with a spouse. Also, one who is married will face many troubles because the cares of this world and he was concerned about the persecution of the Christians at that time as well. Saying it would be better if even the married lived as if they werenít married. Stressing his concerns for needs of the Body of Christ at that time.

    Sixthly, Paul writes about the betrothed. During the time of Paulís writing, a man would negociate a covenant with a womanís father and her. Once all parties accepted this contract then it was a formal commitment of marriage and the only way out was that if the women were found unclean. In that case, if the husband could not have grace on her, a divorce was to be given. The covenant usually included an appointed time for a public ceremony, wedding supper and the final consummation of the marriage. In todayís culture it is easier to step away from before consummation. We make a promise to marry and nothing is final until the covenant is verbally affirmed in a public ceremony and later consummated. This way either party can change their mind up until the 'I doís' without the complication of a divorcement. But this is Paulís time line and here he is talking to a man who is burning in desire for his betrothed before the set time. Paul's instruction is the man to go ahead with the public ceremony rather than to burn with desire that could lead to sin. But he would rather that they had self-control to wait, which is better.

    Eighth, Paul says that the woman is bound for as long as her husband lives. When her husband dies she is free to remarry anyone she wishes but only to someone in Christ. But again it is better, in Paul judgement and he speaks as one in intimate knowledge with God, that she remains unmarried. In other scriptures he encourages the younger widows to marry. Those without children because they tend to fall into sin if they are too young and unfulfilled with children. But older widows he still encourages to remain single and in devotion to God.

    Bennie Holbrook

    Chief Apostle and Founder of Trinity Voice Ministries USA

    Footnotes by SBSK

    [1] "When Paul says that 'I wish everyone were like me'" (v.7), he is not wishing that everyone were celibate. Were that his meaning, then - reductio ad absurbum - he would be wishing (depending on the assumed context) that the Mesainic Community [Church] or the human race would die out from not reporducing itself. What he actually wishes is that everyone were as little distracted by wayward sexual impulses as he is. Then they would have self-control (vv.5,9). However, he realises that such a disposition cannot be willed into being but is a gift from God (v.7). which has not been given to everyone ... Apparently there was in Corinth a movement toward celibacy within marriage (see also vv.36-37) - extremes spawn extremes, so where libertinism flourishes one often finds asceticism as a reaction. Therefore, in v.5 Sha'ul [Paul] finds it necessary to advise married couples against such sexual abstinence, "except by mutual agreement, for a limited time, and then only so as to have extra time for prayer", which is to say that the practice has no merit in itself but only as it facilitates greater devotion to Yahweh; "but afterwards, come together again", lest you "succumb to the Adversary's (satan's) temptation" to engage in illicit sex. And even after all this, Sha'ul [Paul] adds that he is "giving this as a suggestion, not as a command" (v.6), so that no one should think sexual abstinence within marriage is ever required. It may be, however, that the early believers observed the Israelite practice of niddah, abstinence from sexual relations during the period of thw wife's menstrual flow (Leviticus 15; see Hebrews 13:4)" (David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary, JNT Publications Inc., Clarksville, Maryland, USA, 1992, pp.452-3). In our community we observe nidda and have reaped numerous blessings from it, both physical and spiritual.

    by Stanisław Królewiec

    A correct doctrine of marriage and divorce is essential for the happy running of any Christian/Messianic community which is why I have encouraged a discussion on this subject here. Feel free to mail in your views.

    I believe that Mark Sullivan has correctly identified what Christ meant by "adulterer" as being a ground for divorce though doubtless others will challenge this position. It seems pretty clear to me that there are no grounds for divorce between fully married believers - ever, not even adultery. The adultery that Christ speaks of is between betrothed believers. There are other questions in this area that I have not yet resolved (13.03.2001) such as: what happens if the believing wife deserts the betrothed marriage, marries another, and the husband refuses to grant her a divorce? Is he still technically married to her? My conclusion must be that, yes, he is still married to her, but that she is living in adultery. What if he releases her? Then according to the words of Christ, he is no longer bound to her as her husband. She, however, is living in a state of adultery, and must either remain single or plead to return to her husband. What if she loses faith after she breaks the betrothed marriage? The question is, in this case, moot, since she becomes a lost sinner. Thereafter it doesn't really 'matter' what she does until she repents, returns to her Lord and, if she is sensible, to her husband as well, pleading with him to repudiate the divorce contract.

    Now Paul makes it very clear that there is a second ground for divorce. Moreover, the spiritual implications of this ruling have far reaching spiritual consequences which we must not miss. The second ground for divorce applies only in the case of a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). Believers are expected not to marry unbelievers (v.39; 2 Corinthians 6:14) so the only valid (in Yahweh's eyes) situation where such a condition could arise (believer married to unbeliever) is if one of two married unbelievers becomes a believer. The ground for a divorce is clearly stated in v.15: "In case the unbeliever wants to separate, let there be separation; the brother or sister under such circumstances is not tied down. But Elohim (God) has called you to enjoy peace" (RBV). In other words, if the unbeliever 'moved out', abandons, or separates from the believer, then the believer has a ground for divorce in the New Covenant. But what is the spiritual reason or justification in Elohim's (God's) eyes for such a drastic action? Yahweh does not create rules arbitrarily.

    Paul says the justification for divorce in this case is so that the believer is not tied down (RSB) or as the JNT puts it, "is not enslaved" (KJV) - "is not under bondage").

    This is the issue then: Yahweh considers slavery legitimate grounds for divorce if the enslaving unbeliever deserts the marriage. We must not miss this vital key to underastanding the heart of Elohim (God). To be yoked to an unbeliever is a kind of death. But if the unbeliever is willing to remain, then the believing party should work on the marrtiage in the hope that he or she may be saved (v.16). It is the believer's act of sacrifice. It is the path of true love.

    We find a parallel situation in the story of Esther who married a pagan King (in this case deliberately in Elohim's (God's) will - an exception to be noted, and not a general rule) in order to save Yahweh's people from extinction. It was her act of sacrifice.

    A believing spouse cannot leave his or her unbelieving partner, for such would be a violation of the condition for separation and divorce in vv.12-13.

    However, in view of the principle lying behind this divorce ruling - namely, freedom from slavery, might there be any exceptions? What if the unbelieving husband is violent and abusive, and the children are suffering? What if she is being psychologically tortured? Though this might not constitute grounds for divorce there is no doubt that it would, in my view, constitute more than legitimate grounds for separation. What, if she separates from him, should next happen? Should she remain separated and single for the rest of her life? The unbelieving husband, of course, would be entitled to take another wife if he wished. If he committed adultery with another man's wife, would she then have grounds for divorcing him? My answer to that would be, Yes. If she attempted to return to him and he refused her, then she would have grounds for permanent separation, i.e. divorce, but only, in my judgment, if she separated from him in the first place because of violence, abuse, etc.

    We must always keep in sharp focus two key Gospel principles for married as well as unmarried men and women. Firstly, Elohim (God) wants us to be free to serve Him (Galatians 5:1,3; 1 Peter 2:16; James 1:25; 2 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 8:9; Romans 8:2). Secondly, he expects us to sacrifice in order to be the means of saving others (1 Corinthians 7:16; Ephesians 5:2; Philippians 2:17; 4:18; Obadiah 1:21). These two have to be carefully balanced in the light of what the Law of the Bible actually permits and does not permit. Since sexual immorality (such as getting divorced and remarried for the wrong reasons) is a ground for excluding a soul from the Eternal Kingdom, we dare not treat this subject lightly (1 Corinthians 6:9). Great care must be taken in being faithful to the Word.

    Now obviously in the dificult situation of the second ground for divorce the rules for every situation vary somewhat. A tremendous responsibility devolves upon the believer wishing to divorce. If an unbelieving husband deserts a believing wife, how long should she wait before filing for a divorce? Has she the right to do so instantly, or should she wait a period of time to let him reconsider? What if Yahweh knows that he will be saved and become a wonderful believing husband for her? Clearly such a woman must be living close to the Spirit, and if she is in doubt, she must be careful and not act presumptuously. She must at all times find out Yahweh's will, and that might not be easy if she is in emotional turmoil. Such a person needs one or more good God-fearing, Bible-believing and spiritually obedient Christian/Messianic counsellors. But ultimately she must make the decision and act according to her own conscience.

    Inevitably, mistakes are going to be made, and once you make such mistakes in a marriage situation, it can sometimes be impossible to set things right again. And there is a difference between men and women in this respect. Let us say that a believing woman leaves her unbelieving husband, divorces him, and remarries another unbeliever! (You will be able to write down many different case senarios, and if you are a Pastor, you may find yourself having to deal with them - so be prepared!). She is, of course, in defiance of Elohim's (God's) Word herself. She should have remained single or married another believer. (What is a true 'believer'? - another important question - what is the difference between a nominal Christian/Messianic and one who is truly born again?). If her husband became a true believer and remarried, she would have the option of returning to him as a polygamous wife. Indeed, if she was still single, might she be obliged to return to him? What if they lost contact, she didn't know of the wonderful change that had happened, and she remarried another believer? Her sin would, in this case, be one of not staying close to the Spirit. Many people marry impetuously - off the rebound from a failed marriage, because of loneliness, lust, etc., etc.. This would seem to be to be the perfect opportunity for a woman thus separated to give herself in prayer to Yahweh and wait on Him. If she is doing this, then unfortunatele mistakes can be avoided.

    But what if she impetuously marries a God-fearing believer who marries her in good faith, neither knowing that her original husband has become a believer and wants his first wife back either monogamously or polygamously? We are in the realm where there are no perfect solutions, for if she returns to her first husband, she will be defrauding her second one who has acted in good faith. In such cases, great care and spiritual senstitivity must be used. It is in such scenarios that only grace can solve such messes. A lot of careful balancing of options has to be done to find out which gives the greatest glory to Elohim (God).

    What, if for instance, a believing husband is violent and abusive? The question here is what constitutes a 'believer'? If you are of the 'once saved, always saved' school, then you have a nightmare on your hands. There may very well be a case for the man not being seen as a believer anymore, for I certainly do believe that a Christian/Messianic can lose his salvation and, to all intents and purposes, cease being a 'Christian/Messianic', even if the person still maintains he is one. But this is an ever thornier issue than the one above.

    I conclude from all of this that there is a second grounds for divorce but that the conditions allowing it are rather restricted and in any case one must be very, very careful. It is not a licence for a new convert to abandon his or her spouse just because the latter hasn't converted. And even if the unbeliever does abandon the marriage, the believer should not rush into a divorce. I always counsel a minimum of one year, maybe two, before any movement towards formal divorce take place.

    Authors: BK, SBSK

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    First created on 13 March 2001
    Updated on 23 June 2016

    Copyright © 2001 Bennie Holbrook - Reproduced with thanks
    Email: [email protected]
    Not all the views expressed in this article are necessarily those of HEM.