Today we live in an age where divorce runs rampant in the Church even though we preach it from the Pulpit, in our marriage-ministry, and in the pre-marriage courses. Divorce and remarriage is still a highly emotional and debated subject even after 2,000 years of Christianity. We claim to have an understanding on this subject, but our divorce rate is just as high as the World. It goes without saying, the family unit is under attack like never before and a house divided cannot stand.
Let’s look at the foundation of marriage contrasted with present day living. First, it was originally designed to be until the death of the spouse (Matt. 19:8-9 “from the beginning it was not so” and “what God joined together, let no man separate”). The Bible also says a marriage is not a contract but a covenant with intended lifelong obligations. But many of the principles of marriage in the Bible seem to be cultural, impractical and outdated. For, we come from a culture and age that is extremely sexual immoral and promiscuous. Furthermore, our civil laws governing divorce and remarriage seem to be based on an ever-changing world view of morality (legalizing homosexual marriages).
Concerning divorce, there are those who believe “what is good for the goose is good for the gander.” Meaning, what is allowed for the man should also be allowed for the woman. But, the Bible teaches a woman is to be submissive to her husband “in all things.” Sometimes these two ideas collide. It can get confusing to know at what point does a woman “submit” to her abusive husband and at what point does she rebel against his reign. When is that fine line crossed over, from grace and forgiveness to self-preservation and protection?
The Bible comes from a unilateral position; where bride prices are prescribed (Ex. 22:16-17) and betrothal means more than engagement (Deut. 22). The bride price transfers the authority (Numbers 30:2-16) and subsequently ownership of the woman to the man (“purchase price”). Where her vows are not what holds her to the marriage, but the “law” of her husband does (Romans 7:2, 1 Cor. 7:29, Gen. 3:16). Consequently, being that the marriage was unilateral meant the divorce was also unilateral (Deut. 24:1). Only the man could initiate a divorce being she was “acquired” for him by price?
Despite the fact that the Corinthian culture followed a bilateral form of marriage (both parties promise to be faithful to the other) Paul still held to the commands of Moses combined with the purposes of God (1 Cor. 7:10-11 “woman not to separate from her husband… and man not to divorce his wife”). The Gentile culture did not affect the morality of divorce/remarriage to Paul, or the authority of a man, regardless of the type of marriage covenant they made (bilateral or unilateral). The Corinthians had questioned how to apply Jewish law to their freedoms in Christ (Acts 15:28-29).
Paul, taking the Gentile culture into consideration, still commanded the woman to “remain unmarried or reconcile with her husband” after her unlawfully recognized Greco-Roman divorce (1 Cor. 7:11). Paul was not influenced by their relaxed culture, or tickling their ears, but teaching a theory based on woman’s origination and design for man (Adam was created first than Eve, and Adam was not deceived but the woman). Still, Paul’s main concern was love, mercy and grace in a life led by the Spirit (1 Cor. 13 “love” Chapter). This is why 1 Cor. 7:12-16 Paul expressed more of an egalitarian response (man and woman) than strictly a patriarchal one (man only).
It’s God’s (speaking through the Apostle Paul) position, His Perfect Plan, that marriage is a relationship based on love, forgiveness and mutual respect for one-another. Never do you see a godly man or godly woman initiating a divorce that would cause the other trouble or pain. 1 Cor. 7 was simple answers to complex questions, concerning divorce and remarriage, to Gentiles living in times very similar to our own. Therefore; I believe the message for us today would be the very same answer he gave over 2,000 years ago. That is, “Do not separate what God has joined together, unless the unbeliever wishes to depart.”