Re: 1 Corinthians 7:27,28

From: Ward Powers (
Date: Sun Aug 09 1998 - 22:58:04 EDT

At 08:48 98/08/06, Steve Amato wrote:
>At 08:00 AM 8/6/98 +0800, Lemuel wrote:

>>But APOLUO and its cognates seem to mean that the case of separation is
>really called divorce (Matthew 19:1-15; Mark 10:1-12).
>>The Graeco-Roman custom allowed the woman to divorce her husband.

But Jewish practice did not. A man could divorce his wife but there was no
provision for the wife to divorce her husband.

>>It seems that the second part of 1 Corinthians 7:27 does not rule out that
>the man did live with his wife for sometime as husband and wife, that a
>divorce took place, and he is a divorcee. My understanding of MH ZHTEI
>GUNAIKA is that the divorcee should not be in a hurry to marry again.
>But the lack of the exception clause in the Mark and Luke passages on this
>subject would seem to invalidate that idea. As well as would would
>1Cor 7:39 A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her
>husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to
>the Lord.
>It seems that "death" and not "divorce" nullifies a marriage.
>However, I agree with you that Matthew is referring to the betrothal period
>- which is why perhaps the exception clause is found only in his gospel,
>which reputably was written to more Jewish Christians, and being more
>applicable to them as they have such a betrothal period.

The question of betrothal does not actually enter into the discussion of
divorce, except insofar as the requirement of a divorce to terminate the
betrothal (Mt 1:19, as has been noted and quoted) - after which both
parties would have been free to (re)marry.

Please look at the contexts of the "exception clause" in Matthew. It occurs
in Mt 5:31-32 and Mt 19:7-9. What is common to these two contexts is that
each of these sayings of Jesus is set against the background of the Mosaic
legislation of Deuteronomy 24:1-4. In the first instance, Jesus is quoting
(5:31) a popular oral version of the Mosaic law which omits the necessity
given there (Deut 24:1) for there to be some sexual misbehaviour on the
part of the wife. All that is required (according to the teaching Jesus
quotes and answers) is to formally put the divorce in writing. Jesus
responds to this teaching by pointing out that when a husband divorces his
wife when she has not been guilty of "sexual misbehaviour" (PORNEIA, the
Greek equivalent of the general term 'ervath davar of Deut 24:1) then he
causes her to be put into the category of "adulteress" (MOICEUQHNAI - note
the significance of the passive) i.e. unjustly stigmatized as an
adulteress. The whole thrust of Jesus's comment is strongly to criticize
the husband who does this. The exception, of course, refers to the
situation where she HAS been guilty of sexual misconduct. Then her husband
was allowed under the Mosaic law to divorce her, and she has brought upon
herself (validly) the stigma of "adulteress".

The second occurrence of the "exceptive clause" is Mt 19:9, where again the
context is the Mosaic teaching of Deut 24:1-4. However, in the Greek this
is not an exception. The word which most English versions render
(presumably for theological reasons) as "except" is in the Greek MH, which
nowhere (except in this verse) is ever translated "except". It is the Greek
word for "not". Jesus is criticising the teaching and practice of the
Pharisees, who are allowing divorce, NOT on the basis of Deut 24:1-4 (some
PORNEIA on the part of the wife) - when even that had been tolerated
because of their hardheartedness - but to marry another woman. That is,
what Jesus is criticising, and condemning as adultery, is abandoning one
woman to marry another. It is this turning from Woman A to Woman B which is
adultery - and Jesus says that it has not been preserved from being
adultery because covered up with a veneer of legality, first a divorce and
then a secong marriage.

The so-called exception clause does not provide an exception to such
changing of women being adultery. Jesus is saying that the Pharisees are
claiming the justification of the Mosaic provision (Mt 19:7) but were not
fulfulling its requirements, when even they were a concession to human
hardheartedness, whereas God's true intention (Mt 19:6) is no separation
(let alone divorce) of marriage partners.

There is no blanket condemnation here of all remarriage after divorce is
being adultery. Jesus is dealing with one specific situation: that of a man
deliberately changing sexual partners.

The reason that there are no "exception clauses" in Mark and Luke is that
in their respective accounts the question of Deut 24:1-4 (the "sexual
misbehaviour" mentioned there) is not part of the immediate context of what
Jesus is quoted as saying.

Concerning 1 Cor 7:39: Paul is referring to the situation as it stood under
Jewish law, under which a woman WAS bound to her husband as long as he
lived, for there was no provision for her to be able to divorce him. Paul
makes this point explicitly in Romans 7:2. Note that it is not said - and
would not be true - the other way around, that a man was bound to his wife
as long as she lived, for the husband did have the option of divorcing his

It is not in accordance with Scripture to say that only death and not
divorce nullifies a marriage. That a person after divorce was free to
remarry and was NOT committing adultery by doing so is the point of Deut
24:1-4. Jesus (in John 4:16-18) acknowledges that the woman who has had
five husbands is not now married to any of them but is unmarried (it is
special pleading and contrary to the thrust of this passage to assert that
she must have been widowed five times!). Paul expressly says that the wife
whose marriage has broken up is now, and as a consequence, unmarried (1 Cor
7:11). The Old Testament, Jesus and Paul are at one upon this point. ISTM
that the Scripture is totally clear about it: divorce terminates a marriage.

>Notice also that
>he uses the word translated "fornication" rather than "adultery" - perhaps
>again pointing to the lack of consummation of the marriage bond.
>In other words, the marriage can be nullified during the betrothal period
>if the marriage had not yet been consummated.

The force of the argument here escapes me, I confess. Are you saying that
"fornication", (PORNEIA, a general word for sexual misbehaviour) means
"lack of consummation", i.e., is used to exclude the idea that sexual
intercourse has occurred?

>This would different categories of "divorced" people. Some can remarry,
>but for others, it would be adultery while their "spouse" (in the eyes of
>God) was still alive.

>At least that's my conclusion. Food for thought.
>Steve Amato

This conclusion involves an interesting concept of marriage. I would have
thought that a person was either married, or he was not. If he was already
married, he could not marry someone else. If he was not already married
(including, because he had been divorced), then he was free to marry
someone else. But the above-stated conclusion produces the situation where
a person is not married (because he is divorced) but cannot marry again
because his former wife is still alive and she is still his spouse "in the
eyes of God". I have sought to show, above, that this idea (that after a
divorce a person is still married in the eyes of God) is contrary to the
teaching of the OT, of Jesus, and of Paul. The concept of "marriage" which
is involved in the view that two people who have divorced, have parted
company, and have not seen each other in years, are still married "in the
eyes of God" requires a view of marriage which I find totally at odds with
the nature of marriage as set out in Scripture. Rather, marriage is a
dynamic relationship in which a man and a woman give each other
companionship, mutual help, and a sexual relationship. Let's stick with the
biblical concept of marriage.

As always, all the above paragraphs are to be read as being prefaced by



Rev Dr B. Ward Powers Phone (International): 61-2-9799-7501
10 Grosvenor Crescent Phone (Australia): (02) 9799-7501
SUMMER HILL NSW 2130 email:

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