Not Under Bondage

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

In the seventh chapter of the Book of First Corinthians, the Apostle Paul discusses questions that the Christians in Corinth had posed, especially relating to questions of marriage.

After pointing out that Christians who are married to non-Christians need to do everything they can to maintain their marriage (in the hopes that they might be able to one day save their unbelieving spouses-1 Corinthians 7:12-16), Paul discusses the situation of a Christian whose unbelieving spouse deserts them.

He writes these intriguing words:

1 Corinthians 7:15-But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace.

Here, the Apostle points out that the Christian is not under obligation to continue and pursue the relationship with the unbeliever in such circumstances. More to the point, he says that brothers or sisters are “not under bondage” in these cases.

What does this phrase mean?

One researcher, carefully examining this phrase as used in extra-biblical documents from the first century, has demonstrated that these particular words were commonly used in Jewish certificates of divorce. More to the point, the phrase “not under bondage” was used in such certificates of divorce to authorize the divorced person to remarry:

“I have also argued that Paul’s words “you are no longer enslaved” in i Corinthians 7:15 is a reference to the Jewish divorce certificate, which was often likened to a certificate of emancipation from slavery because of the similar wording and procedures for them both. Paul was certainly familiar with the wording of the Jewish divorce certificate because he cites the right to remarry that is found on the certificate with regard to widows, who shared this same right (1 Cor. 7:39). This citation suggests that Paul expects his readers to be familiar with this wording too, as they no doubt were. When Paul said “you are no longer enslaved” in verse 15, this was in the context of release from a marriage to an unbeliever who had deserted. Paul used wording that was reminiscent of the wording on both Greek and Jewish divorce certificates. There would have been no doubt in the minds of his readers that Paul was referring to the right of a divorcee to remarry.” (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce And Remarriage In The Bible: The Social And Literary Context, 3418-3423 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)

Contextually, this interpretation makes sense for at least two reasons.

First, In describing the relationship of husband and wife, the Apostle describes such as a form of slavery:

1 Corinthians 7:3-4-3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does

Second, when describing how Christian widows have the right to remarry, Paul uses virtually the same wording:

1 Corinthians 7:39-A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

Please notice that in verse 39, the fact that the widow is no longer “bound” authorizes the right to remarry.

Even though the verbs in verse 39 different than those found in verse 15, the idea seems to be the same:

“A major question surrounds verse 15a. If a believer is not bound to try to preserve a marriage in cases of permissible divorce, is he or she then free to remarry? Verse 39 uses similar language in addressing the widow. Once her husband dies, she is no longer “bound” to that marriage and is free to find another partner. The verb for binding is different in that context, but seemingly synonymous. If remarriage was universally granted to the legally divorced in both Jewish and Greco-Roman circles, it would seem that Paul would have been much more explicit in forbidding it if that was his intention.” (Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary-From Biblical Text…To Contemporary Life, 108 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

A Christian who is married to a non-Christian should do everything possible (within reason, that is) to maintain the marriage; yet if the unbeliever departs, the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases.

What this definitely means is that the Christian is not obligated to pursue the relationship with the unbelieving spouse; and it also likely teaches that a Christian in such circumstances is free to remarry.

Of course, the greatest marriage is that between Christ and His church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Are you a member of Christ’s church?

Jesus Christ came and died on the cross of Calvary to save you from your sins (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 2:6). He was buried, and arose from the dead on the third day after His death (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Will you not day accept His gracious invitation to be saved?

Acts 8:35-39-35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.

36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?”

37 Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

38 So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him.

39 Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.

If you are a Christian who has turned from the Lord, won’t you come back to Him today? Listen to what God’s Word tells Christians who wander from Him:

1 John 1:8-9-8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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