I Don’t Think So, Doug

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Doug Wilson, in a recent blog titled “Paul on Divorce and Remarriage,” says 1 Corinthians 7:28 permits a divorced man to remarry. I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying.

1 Corinthians 7:27–28 says, “Are you bound to a wife (or literally, “woman,” as in a betrothal)? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife (or “woman)? Do not seek a wife (or “woman”). But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned.”

The question is whether “free from a woman” in verse 27 means divorced, or whether it means not yet married. If it means “divorced from a woman,” then he is saying, “If such a divorced person remarries, he does not sin.”

The best argument in favor of reading verse 27 that way is that behind the English “free from a woman” is the Greek lelusai which is the passive voice of luō (“I loose”) so that lelusai sounds like “loosed from a woman” that is, “divorced.”

I think it is unlikely that Paul is telling divorcees they are permitted to remarry. Rather, he is probably saying that betrothed virgins — men and women — should seriously consider the life of singleness, but do not sin if they marry.

Here are the arguments for this view:

  1. Verse 25 signals that Paul is beginning a new section and dealing with a new issue. He says, “Now concerning the virgins (tōn parthenōn) I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.” He has already dealt with the problem of divorced people in verses 10–16. Now he takes up a new issue about those who are not yet married, and he signals this by saying, “Now concerning the virgins.” Therefore, it is very unlikely that the people referred to in verses 27 and 28 are divorced.
  2. A flat statement that it is not sin for divorced people to be remarried (verse 28) would contradict verse 11, where he said that a woman who has separated from her husband should remain single. “The wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”
  3. Verse 36 is very likely describing the same situation in view in verses 27 and 28, but clearly refers to a couple that is not yet married. “If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed (parthenon) if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin” (1 Corinthians 7:36). This is the same as verse 28 where Paul says, “But if you marry, you do not sin.”
  4. The English reference in verse 27 to being bound to a “wife” may be misleading because it may suggest that the man is already married. But in Greek the word for wife is simply “woman” and may refer to a man’s betrothed as well as his spouse. The context dictates that the reference is to a man’s betrothed virgin, not to his spouse. So “being bound” and “being loosed” have reference to whether a person is betrothed or not.
  5. It is significant that the verb Paul uses for “loosed” (lelusai from luō) or “free” is not a word that he uses for divorce. Paul’s words for divorce are chorizō (verses 10, 11, 15; cf. Matthew 19:6) and aphienai (verses 11, 12, 13). In fact, luō is not used for “divorce” anywhere in the New Testament.