Continuing from previous post…
I mention last time that the Jews put in the text ‘Jewish’ in their divorce documents – “You are free to marry whom Jewish man you want”. This to ensure that she was married into, and continued, in the Jewish faith. It is quite interesting to see that Paul also makes a similar addition by telling the Christian widows that they were ‘is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.’, ie a Christian man.
“A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” (1 Cor 7:39).
Although Paul did not speak to those who already was married or those who wanted to divorce, it is suggestive that Paul uses the same wording as the divorce documents had. It would seem rather strange to use these words if the Christians were opposed to all forms of remarried after divorce.
Paul speaks to Christian widows to assure them that they didn’t need to follow the Levitical law that said they had to marry her brother in law if they were childless (Deu. 25: 5-10).
Why do we not follow this Levitical law today? Because we are not Jews? That can’t be since we have many other laws from the Jews which we follow. We don’t have any scriptures that clearly states that we not need to follow this law anymore.
There are few Christians who think about this today, because we haven’t had this tradition of marrying brother in law or sister in law. But for those born-agian Jews (Christians) at that time, this was a law. In opposite to us, they understood clearly what Paul meant. We should be happy that we know more about these people today and can put ourselves into their thinking, and interpret Paul more correctly. Otherwise, Christians might have to take up this law again and continue to follow it, what do you say about that? Paul’s argument is that the widows should have the same rights as the divorced; if any divorced person could remarry, widows should have the same right.
Another interesting thing here is that Pauls’ reasoning only works if you think divorced have a right to remarry. Otherwise, it will be that Paul speaks much empty words if you follow the the teaching who says remarriage is not allowed. There will impossibly be any good insurance for the widows that they had the same rights as the divorced – ‘free to be married to whom she wishes’ – if the divorced in fact had no right to remarry. In this passage, Paul assumed therefore that his listeners believed the divorced had the right to remarry.
Are there places where Paul specifically talks about remarriage? Yes. Just as Jesus was against ‘any cause’-divorce, Paul was totally against the Roman groundless divorce – ‘divorced by separation’ – as I mentioned in previous post (ESG 10). He told the Christians at Corinth, who had separated (abandoned) from their partner, that they should try to undo this ‘divorce’ by reconciled to their partner, or remain unmarried (1 Cor. 7:11).
“but if she does leave [chōrizō (separate)], she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband, and that the husband should not divorce [[ἀφίημι] aphiēmi (sending away)] his wife” (1 Cor 7:11). (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary (MED)).
You can read more about the parenthesis and the word ‘chorizo’ and ‘aphiēmi’ I made here, in MDR 9.
But what can we say about those who were victims of Roman ‘divorced by separation’-practice? Where they left there without a chance to remarry?
“Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.” (1 Cor. 7:15).
We also see here of the word [chorizo], it is about dismissal, or separating their spouse. And according to the Roman law, they were then considered divorced. Paul said they are “not under bondage in such cases”.
But also here we are confronted of a few traditional translations, or opinions, that would have been illogical for the first-century readers. Some will have it that ‘not under boundage’ means that you ‘no longer are bound to your partner’ (ie you can live separated, but you can not be divorced). While others believe it means you are ‘no longer tied to your marriage’ (ie you can be divorced but can not remarry).
Why would this be illogical for the first-century readers? Because Paul speaks of those who were already divorced, or had been send away by their spouse, and they had no other choices. It did not help them much if Paul told they could live separated, because it was the already imposed on them. And it did not help them much to tell they could get divorced, because so far as the Roman law told them, they were already separated.
It was no problem for people who read, or heard Paul’s letter and tuition, to understanding what ‘not under boundage’ meant, because this reminded them of the words in their divorce document: “You are free to marry whom Jewish man you want” If of some reasons they did not have divorce document with this text (when many Roman divorces happened without documents), they would still understand the meaning of it when they already had these rights in the Roman law. Therefore, Paul said clearly, ‘You are no longer under boundage – you are free from marriage and, as every matrimonial document says, free to remarry.’
Paul gave this freedom to believers who had been subjected to separation, because their partner had left them. But he did not give this freedom to the faithful one, who had separated from their partner. He did not approve this groundless divorce, and if a believer had caused this separation, he recommended them earnestly to reconcile with their partner (1 Cor. 7:11).
To abandon your partner, as we have seen earlier, was a violation of the matrimonial contract, because they did not meet the criteria to provide food, clothing and marital love (Exo. 21: 10-11). Paul was not unknown in the Scripture, and he was carrying exactly the same thought. Though it may seem strange for us to talk about ‘boundage’ (δουλόω douloō = enslave, slave) in this setting, it is still quite natural to talk about it in context to Exo. 21: 10-11, as originally talked about slave(s).
This shows us once again that the innocent party – the victim of groundless divorce – actually got approval to remarry. But what about those who caused their divorce? Can the guilty party remarry and if so, when?
No, the guilty party of an groundless divorce can not remarry, and I think I’m on the same line as Paul. In 1 Cor. 7:11 Paul gives a clear instruction that whoever had divorced or separated their partner would not marry again, or remain unmarried. This is because they should try to conciliate the person they had divorced.
“but if she does leave [chōrizō (separate)], she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband, and that the husband should not divorce [[ἀφίημι] aphiēmi (sending away)] his wife” (1 Cor 7:11).
Will this mean they can never get married again? I think we need to be able to use common sense in such matters. If for example, a man divorced the wife. After some years repented and saw what he had done, but his or her old partner is now married again, and therefore it is impossible to reconcile with the old partner and reverse his mistakes (for you can not breaking up another marriage in order to conciliate the old partner), we must give him or her permission to marry again with another person. No, I’m not saying it must take 10 years before he/she can marry again, or 5 years, but I think we have to look at each case and try to judge thereafter. This applies even if the divorced party has not remarried, but do not wish to be reconciled again with him or her. We can in both cases assume the person can stop trying to reconcile with his old partner.
Paul’s instructions are not a punishment, but we need to look at it as an attempt to help the victim of a divorce. It will seem quite strange if this was a punishment for an groundless divorce. It would bring this action into an unforgivable sin, and we know it is only one of it (Mat. 24:31).
Some argue, to not be able to remarry, is not a punishment but a consequence, because the first marriage spiritually continues in the eyes of God. Well, this argument only works when you believes no one can remarry after a divorce, but as we have seen, the innocent party can remarry (1 Cor. 7:15) and thus the (former) marriage is over.
Instruction Paul gives is neither a punishment or a consequence, but it is rather a guide in a practical way they can try to reverse their errors. And the instruction/command lasted as long as there was a possibility for a reconciliation. In practice, I can’t believe anyone, who divorced their partner against their partners will, would bother to listen to this command, unless they were convicted that they had done something wrong right after the divorce, such as these Corinthians.
One thing is for sure, if Paul had told the Christians that they could never remarry, they would certainly obey him, even though it would be contrary to the Roman law. They went after all through terrible persecution, was burned at the stakes or thrown to the lions, because they would not say “Caesar is Lord”. Oh yes, certainly they would also have been willing to violate the Roman law who said they had to remarry.
Although Paul … and Jesus was “quiet”, or not specifically said divorced could remarry, it is actually not so strange. The opposite would be more strange, because the issue of remarriage was never raised in the first century. Remarriage was accepted and practiced. Would not it been strange if Paul said – “married women may have children”? He did not have to tell this, as this was natural and meaning of a marriage. Even today we doesn’t need to say this. Even lesser reason there was to say that divorced could remarry, because, not only was the right to remarry considered natural in a divorce (Exo. 21: 10-11), but they also had a legal document who precisely told them this.
So Paul allowed believers to remarry after a valid divorce, and if they was divorced by Roman’s ‘divorced by separation’-practice, which he saw as invalid, they were told not to remarry, but be reconciled with partner (1 Cor. 7:11). If they were victim of such ‘divorced by separation’-practice, and could not do anything about it, they could consider it as a valid reason for divorce based on negligence (1 Cor. 7:15, 2.Mos. 21: 10-11).
– MDR stands for Marriage – Divorce – Remarriage. A shortcut I choose to use on this series where I deal with some christian problems in the questions of marriage, divorce and remarriage.
– Bible Verses are from NASB, unless otherwise noted.
What do you think?