1 Corinthians 7:10-16
And to the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:…
Having spoken of celibacy and marriage, and having presented considerations for their guidance in the choice of the one or the other, the apostle proceeds to speak of persons already married. And here two different cases are dealt with:
(1) Where both the parties are Christian;
(2) where one of the parties is Christian and the other heathen.
I. WHERE BOTH PARTIES ARE CHRISTIAN. In this case the Lord Jesus, in his recorded teaching, had already given a decision, and Paul refers them to his words (vide Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9).
1. The marriage bond is indissoluble. It is a union for life, which cannot be broken up without sin. It is not to be dissolved at the mere will of the parties, nor for any frivolous reason. This perpetuity arises from the relationship itself, as well as from the Divine appointment. Husband and wife are ideally one, and their separation is the disrupting of a bond which has no parallel in this world. An additional sacredness attaches to the marriage covenant in the case of Christians, who invoke the blessing of God upon their union.
2. Separation is not to be final. The case supposed is that of a wife leaving her husband on the ground of harsh and cruel treatment or for some similar reason. The cause of separation may or may not be sufficient to justify it, but in either case it must not be regarded as severing the marriage tie. Only two alternatives are open. The wife thus separated must remain unmarried, since a new union would imply that the previous one was null and void; or she must be reconciled to her husband and return to live with him. This last is in every way the desirable course, and every means should be used to bring it about. Husband and wife cannot go apart without sin and scandal to the Christian name, and their religious profession requires them to reconsider their position and remove every barrier to reunion. The apostle is not here speaking of adultery, which is of itself a dissolution of the marriage bond and a sufficient ground for divorce (Matthew 19:9), but simply of the general rule that married persons are bound to each other for life. With what prayerful deliberation should such a union be contracted! A step that cannot be retraced should not be taken without thought.
II. WHERE ONE OF THE PARTIES IS CHRISTIANS AND THE OTHERS HEATHEN. The case supposed is not that of a Christian entering into wedlock with a heathen spouse, which Paul in another place forbids (2 Corinthians 6:14); but the case where one of the parties, already married, is converted to Christianity. This must have frequently happened in the early history of the Church, just as it is of constant occurrence in modern missions among the heathen. How does this complication affect the sanctity of the marriage bond? Is it not a union of the dead and the living, between whom there is a great gulf? The Lord Jesus had given no utterance on the subject of mixed marriages, and therefore the apostle gives his inspired judgment regarding it. If the unbelieving partner is content to remain, the Christian partner is not to seek a separation. If the unbelieving partner refuses to remain, the Christian partner is not to hinder separation.
1. Consider the case where the unbelieving partner is content to remain. The Christian spouse is not to seek a separation as if the marriage were unholy; "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the husband" (ver. 14). The apostle does not mean that an unbeliever, in virtue of conjugal union with a believer, becomes personally holy; but that he or she is thereby consecrated or hallowed. As the altar sanctifies the gift that is laid upon it (Matthew 23:19), so the Christian reflects something of his own character upon everything connected with him. His property, his business, his family, are all in a sense holy, as belonging to one who is in covenant with God, and are under his special protection. Hence the pagan husband or wife is a privileged person on the ground of union with a Christian spouse. The tares in the wheat field are sacred for the sake of the wheat (Matthew 13:29); the ungodly men in Israel were privileged because they belonged to a holy nation. The reason adduced by Paul in support of this position is very significant. "Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy" (ver. 14). It was an accepted maxim that the children of such mixed marriages were born within the Church. This principle was recognized among the Jews, as the case of Timothy shows (Acts 16:1-3). But if the children of such a marriage are reckoned holy, the marriage whence they spring cannot be unholy or inconsistent with the Law of God. "If the root is holy, so are the branches" (Romans 11:16); and, conversely, "If the branches are holy, so is the root." The children take their standing from the Christian parent, who is regarded as the nobler of the two.
2. Consider the case where the unbelieving partner refuses to remain. In this case the Christian partner is not to insist on maintaining the union, but to let the other depart. For:
(1) "The brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases." The marriage is not to be dissolved at the instance of the believing partner; but if the other refuses to remain, the contract is no longer binding. It would be a case of bondage if the one were held to a union which the other has wilfully broken up.
(2) "God hath called us in peace." The gospel was not intended to produce variance and strife in families; and if this is to be the result of the heathen partner continuing to dwell with the Christian, it were better to let him have his wish and live apart. From the very centre of life out to its circumference, God desires us to live in peace.
(3) The Christian partner is not to prevent the departure of the other, in the hope of being instrumental in his or her conversion. This is at best uncertain, and peace is not to be hazarded therefore. And if such a union is not to be maintained for the sake of a possible conversion, much less is it to be contracted with that view.
1. This passage is generally adduced as the Bible warrant for the view that wilful desertion is a sufficient reason for divorce. Such desertion is a de facto rupture of the marriage bond, and stands on the same footing as adultery.
2. The evil of mixed marriages:
(1) Render impossible the complete fellowship of husband and wife.
(2) Break up domestic peace.
(3) Prevent family religion.
(4) Interfere with the religious training of children. "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers." - B.
Parallel VersesKJV: And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: