First Corinthians: Introduction to chapter 7

January 18, 2008

Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage

In chapter seven, Paul delves into one of the most difficult topics in all of scripture. The most learned biblical scholars of our time and over the centuries have struggled to come to grips with the biblical teaching on this subject. There is no shortage of scholars who have arrived at a strong conviction from their study of the subject. But unfortunately, there is nothing close to a consensus. Those scholars have arrived at a dizzying array of contradictory convictions. If that is not enough to make us cautious on the subject, then consider the virtually unlimited number of unique circumstances in marriages today, to which those principles must be applied! This seems to be one subject for which this scripture is true:

1Co 8:2 The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know.

We will not attempt to examine every nook and cranny along the way as we examine this chapter. Instead we will attempt to present a framework from which sound conclusions may be drawn.

It would be a good idea at this point to review some of the applicable passages on the topic of marriage, divorce, and remarriage:

Gen 1:27
Gen 2:18-24
Deut 24:1-4
Mal 2:13-16
Matt 5:31-32
Matt 19:3-12
Mark 10:1-12
Luke 16:18
1 Cor 7

The above links are for the New American Standard Version. Even though I often use the New International Version for this blog, I do not recommend relying on that version for 1 Corinthians chapter 7. The NIV translators seem to have applied their doctrinal interpretations to the translation of this passage, in an apparent attempt to clarify the passage based on their preferred doctrine. However, by doing so they have masked some of the important questions that we need to examine. Comparing a variety of translations is a wise practice in cases like this.

Most people, when trying to discern Christian teaching on the subject of marriage and divorce, begin with the statements of Jesus in the gospels. But notice that Jesus was teaching Jews, still living under the Mosaic Law. He even referred directly to the Law in several of these passages, applying his comments to what the Jews had heard taught from the Law. Jesus was correcting the improper applications of Deut 24:1-4, which were widespread in that day. To understand what he was saying, it is necessary to understand the prevalent practices he was addressing.

Since Paul addressed the Corinthian letter to the Christians in Corinth, “together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 1:2), this is a reasonable place for us to start to understand how Christians should understand marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Here Paul gives teachings to a diverse Christian congregation made up of Jews, Greeks, and Romans. (That is in contrast to the audience Jesus addressed, which consisted only of Jews still living under Mosaic Law.) The Corinthian church had asked the apostle for clarification on this topic (1 Cor 7:1). If the Christian church today wants clarification on the same topic, this seems to be an ideal place to begin.

We will leave many questions unanswered. But hopefully we will understand the clearest teachings from this passage, to serve as a framework for understanding the more difficult situations.

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