I have often noticed that when many provide a Bible study on marriage and divorce that they actually spend most of their time quoting someone else’s commentary. They do not carefully seek the meaning of the scriptural words in their original context, and they never fully deal with 1 Corinthians 7th Chapter.
We may highly regard the testimony of past ministers, but the Bible plainly teaches us that everyone’s understanding will fail at times.
“Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:8-10
So it is everyone’s responsibility to study and seek the Holy Spirit for understanding and not just rely on the understanding of another. And most of all: we must keep the divine sacrificial love of Christ between us, and not let our imperfect understanding to ever divide us!
There are actually only a few scriptures, with simple guidelines, that the Bible gives regarding the issue of marriage and divorce. If we stick to the simplicity, we always find the scriptures are fair, equitable, and reasonable, because that is how God is.
Jesus’ commandment on marriage is found in an answer he gave concerning the Law. He was speaking to Jews, all of which we’re supposed to be believers of the scriptures and in the one true God. He was not trying to deal with any unbelievers being involved in the divorce.
“He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” ~ Matthew 19:8-9 KJV
So Jesus clearly allowed divorce because of the fornication of the other. The word fornication clearly covers adultery, for in the example Jesus gives he speaks of a man who has a wife who commits fornication, meaning a sexual relationship not with her husband. Also the original meaning for this word “fornication” covers Illicit sexual intercourse: adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, intercourse with animals, sexual intercourse with close relatives, etc.
Prior to Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees, there is no place in scripture that teaches us that when one had legally divorced, that they could not remarry. The teaching always was, if there was a legal divorce, that one could remarry. But Jesus’ answer limited the legal divorce condition to only for fornication. Jesus did not add an additional condition of “if legal divorce, you can’t remarry” in his words. The “can’t remarry” applies to the one who divorces for a cause other than fornication. Let us be careful to not add anything to Jesus words because we are strictly warned in scripture to not do so! (See Revelation 22:18-19)
This statement about divorce by Jesus, was in reply to questions being asked by the Pharisees concerning: when is it allowable to divorce a wife? And would the law allow them to do it for any cause? The answer Jesus gave was plain: You can only legally divorce if there has been fornication. And Jesus’s answer came “from the beginning…” The authority for his answer came from the design of God “from the beginning.”
From the beginning God created man in his own spiritual image. An image that reflects the faithfulness of God himself. Therefore the marriage relationship was designed to also reflect the faithfulness of God. A man and women in love with a heart that does not wander and flirt with others. God hates unfaithfulness in both spiritual and literal marriage relationships! And he himself retains the right to divorce when people are unfaithful in their spiritual relationship with him. He expects and deserves faithfulness. And so he transfers this same expectation and right to men and women concerning their marriage relationships.
“And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.” (Jeremiah 3:8)
The design and expectation of God from the beginning is to be reflected in marriage relationships on earth. In fact, one of the important lessons of Revelation reflects this spiritual principal. Jesus exposes the unfaithful spiritual marriage relationship of fake Christianity, and Judges it calling it “Babylon the mother of harlots.” Jesus does not continue in spiritual marriage when a church becomes unfaithful through hypocrisy. And after he exposes and judges that unfaithfulness, he then shows that he deserves a faithful bride. And he only embraces a faithful bride.
“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife has made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.” (Revelation 19:7-8)
Now there is a direct tie from what Jesus taught concerning marriage and conditions of divorce, and what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 7 on marriage and conditions of divorce. And Paul’s teaching was also in answer to a question asked of him by those in Corinth.
“ Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.  Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.  Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.  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.  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.”
Paul first talks of the liberty to marry, and some of the responsibilities that come with that relationship. One of the principal themes of the chapter is that one who is not married, can have more time to focus on serving the Lord. But at the same time, not everyone is called to that, nor has the grace to be unmarried.
“ But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.  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.  I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.  But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.”
Next the Apostle Paul speaks very explicitly, confirming what Jesus taught concerning marriage amongst those who believe the scriptures.
“ And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:  But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.”
He states “yet not I, but the Lord” because Jesus clearly addressed this issue when he answered the Pharisees their question. And Paul wants to be perfectly clear, so he uses the language of “But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband” because he is still her husband. For this reason he does not use the language “not under bondage” nor “loosed” concerning her relationship to him. This is because she is still bound to her husband according to the law of Jesus Christ, even though she is living separately.
He speaks this way because both she and her husband are still supposed to be believers, saved children of God. They are not eligible to marry another person, even though they are having marriage troubles. They are not allowed to get divorced. They are supposed to be a reflection of the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church. And that relationship cannot be broken, except by the unfaithfulness (spiritual fornication) of the individual, by their committing sin.
But next in verse 12 of this chapter, Paul addresses something that Jesus did not address. And that is why he uses the following language in the next verse: “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord”.
When Jesus spoke concerning marriage and divorce, he addressed the Jews who knew the law and who all professed to be the children of God. Both parties to the marriage relationship were claiming to be children of God, so Jesus answered accordingly.
Remember that the law forbid the children of God to marry someone who was not a Jew (meaning they could not marry a Gentile.) In fact, in the Old Testament, when the Jews had married a Gentile, they were required to divorce them. (See Ezra chapters 9 & 10)
Paul was addressing the question of a different audience than whom Jesus answered. Paul was speaking of people who had been saved out of paganism, yet many of them were already married to a Gentile before they were saved. What does God require of them now? Also, we know that sometimes a companion could backslide. Should one leave their unsaved, spiritually “Gentile” companion like the Jews did in the Old Testament? Jesus did not address this, so they are asking Paul to.
And so Paul starts off confirming that Jesus did not address this. And he goes on to state that what he is addressing is new, and that he is also now ordaining it as doctrine in the church. It is required for all the church to follow: “And so ordain I in all churches.” (1 Corinthians 7:17)
So let us pay close attention to what Paul is ordaining, that was not addressed before by Jesus.
“ 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.  And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.” ~ 1 Corinthians 7:12-13
It is important to note, that he specifically says “if he be pleased to dwell with her…” I mentioned this because some have tried to teach that if a woman has a husband that is physically abusive, that she needs to continue to stay with him even if he is threatening to kill her. That is ridiculous. Let us be as clear as the gospel states it: He is not “pleased to dwell with her” if he is physically abusing her and threatening to kill her. A woman should not be counseled that she must stay with a husband like this. It is clear that the apostle Paul did not teach that she was bound by the gospel to stay married to a husband who would kill her.
Some ministers have unwisely become accomplices to murder by requiring a woman to stay married to a man threatening her life. Once she was murdered, an honest minister would realize he had to repent of enabling that murder.
Another reason the apostle Paul instructed them that they needed to stay married (if he was pleased to dwell with her) is so that she could have the opportunity to influence him (and their children) to be saved. (Note: it is much more effective to have a positive influence on the children, if the parents can peaceably stay together in harmony.)
 “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.  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.  For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?  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.”
In the Old Testament the concern was that the unsaved would have greater influence, and cause the child of God to backslide. In the New Testament of grace and Holy Spirit power, the belief is that the saved has the greater ability to influence the unsaved. Therefore the instruction is stay together if the unsaved is pleased, because your companion might get saved because of your influence!
The purpose is all about allowing the opportunity for people to get saved! But if the unsaved is not pleased, allow them to leave. A brother or sister is not bound to them in this case.
Critically Important: There is no previous teaching anywhere in the Bible that teaches that “not under bondage” means that you can’t remarry. And the Apostle Paul does not introduce any other words either, nor does he give any other explanation that further redefines “not under bondage.” Whereas in the previous verses where he restates what Jesus said, Paul is very careful to clearly state that “they are still bound” when he says “let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband.” Let us be very careful to take the words just as they were stated.
The principal purpose of what Paul ordains is further explained in the next scriptures. When we get saved we may be found in many different status’ in life that may seem to be unfavorable or favorable. But God still has a purpose in both of them, therefore let God work as he would choose. If something changes, consider it the will of God. If not, also consider it the will of God.
“ Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.  Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.  Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.  Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.  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.  Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.  Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.”
So now Paul has already dealt with the three states related to marriage:
- being married,
- being separated but not available for remarriage (because you are still married to your companion),
- being “not under bondage” when an unsaved companion departs.
Note: Some claim that 2 and 3 above essentially produce the same result: You live separate, but you cannot remarry someone else, even if your companion is unfaithful. Then why did Paul not use the same language concerning the relationship between the man and the woman in both of them? Why in 3 did he use the language “not under bondage” instead of the language of number 2 above “But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried”? He used different language because he wanted to clearly communicate that he meant something different. And this which is different: he was now ordaining for the whole church. And why would he have to ordain anything, if all he was doing was restating what Jesus already said?
So next, in a natural logical order of his marriage discussion, Paul speaks to those who are not married. And so now he gives his advice to them.
“ 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.  I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.  Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.  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.”
So in this preceding verse Paul actually gives a very clear meaning of his intention to the word “bound” because he brings the exact opposite word of “loosed” in the same explanation. It is actually very simple:
- “bound” means you are married to someone
- “loosed” means that you are no longer married to someone.
So in keeping with the context of the subject “marriage” which this whole chapter is largely about: a brother or sister not being under bondage to another, is no longer married to them. (Especially if the other person has a sexual relationship with another; for Jesus clearly stated himself that fornication was a condition that allows divorce.)
To try to imply anything else means you have to ignore every context of previous scriptures on the subject, and then further interject additional meaning into the words: bound, bondage, and loosed. Additionally, words do not hold all their meaning alone. They have their meaning within the context of how they are used. So let us not ignore the full context, else we error in our judgement.
And so based on Paul’s previous discussion he gave on marriage, he now gives this advice in verses 27 and 28:
“Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.”
So both those divorced, and those who never have married, are allowed to get married. And the appropriately divorced person does not sin when they remarry.
The rest of the chapter discusses more regarding marriage. Again, the Apostle Paul emphasis the devotion required for a marriage, and how that can cause a conflict when it comes to the work of God. A reality he wants everyone to understand before they make the decision to get married.
 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;  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;  And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.  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:  But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.  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.  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.  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.  Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast 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.  So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.”
Finally he deals with the subject of death and how that also releases the individual from a marriage. Note that he does not reference what Jesus nor Paul said in that case, but rather he specifically references the Law. But then he also adds his opinion concerning if it is a good idea to get remarried after your companion dies.
“ 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.  But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.”
It is all a very logically flowing discussion of the topic of marriage, divorce, remarriage; both from a requirement perspective and from an advice perspective. The Apostle Paul’s overriding burden in the discussion is: for souls to be saved, the work of God to prosper, and the needs of people to be met. If we will do the same and not try to inject any of our own thoughts into the original context of the discussion, we will be fair, equitable, peaceable, and non divisive with our brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Finally, there is another witness that needs to be considered to help anyone obtain clearer understanding regarding the Scriptures. That is: what has the Holy Ghost said through the holy lives he is working through? In Acts 15 the issue of the Gentiles following the Law was resolved by what the Holy Ghost did in people’s lives. The scriptures were clarified by how the Holy Ghost worked through saved holy people, who did not follow all of the Law.
Now, throughout history and even today, there are also many saved people that the Holy Ghost has worked through. Some of these same people (after they had already had been saved) remarried when their first companion left them (and their ex companion was still alive.) And the Holy Ghost still honored their lives and used them in the Gospel work. Will we follow the Holy Ghost’s example? Does it matter to us what he does in holy, sin-free living people anymore? If it doesn’t, we will certainly be divisive over this issue.
May the Lord bless everyone to simply read and believe the Word as is, and ask the Holy Spirit to guide. Do not allow what some minister wrote years ago to become the replacement for you studying the Word and seeking the direction of the Holy Spirit. A good minister of the Lord never intended for you to take their writings and make them “gospel.” They would be horrified to have anyone do so. Give them the respect they would have wanted you to give them, without losing your respect for God’s Word. They knew that they could fail in understanding. We need to understand that also.