Exposition of I Corinthians 7 (5) (I Corinthians 7:12-16 – continued)

In our essay published in the former issue of The Standard Bearer we did not complete our discussion on the meaning of these verses, namely, the verses 12-16. This is particularly true of the verses 15, 16. 

Since our discussion will be on the latter two verses, we will quote these once more in full. They read as follows: “But if the unbelieving depart. let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us in peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” 

In the interpretation of these two verses we ought to keep some very definite considerations in mind in the light of the preceding context.

It ought to be remembered that Paul is here speaking to “the rest,” that is to those married people in the church, where the one is a believer and. the other an unbeliever, or possibly a non-believer, one not yetbelieving in Christ Jesus, the Lord. Further, it should be noticed that to these he gives no direct and explicit word from Christ, but he here instructs the church to walk according to the new status, which has come into their families, since they and their children are taken up into God’s covenant. The children are holyfor the believing parent’s sake. 

And this new status he works out in “such cases” where the one parent (either husband or wife) is a believer while the other is not. Such a parent may be either an unbeliever (reprobate) or may be a non-believer, (elect) who does not yet believe, but will be brought to faith in God’s sovereign purpose by His Word and Spirit when and where He wills. 

As we stated in our former essay it is entirely possible that by amicable agreement the unbelieving party is willing to live with the believer, and will not disturb the peace of Christ in the family. Yet, should he (she) leave the believing parent the responsibility is wholly with such an unbeliever or non-believer who leaves the family. 

Of “such cases” Paul is speaking here in the verses 15, 16. 

It ought to be underscored from the outset that in “such cases” the believer is wholly innocent. It is his (her) heart’s desire to live with this non-believing partner, only such a believer is worthy of Christ, for he will not allow the unbelief of the unbeliever to overrule the new Status Quo of the family in the Lord. He does not love father, mother, brother, sister or husband and/or wife more than Christ. In this he is, therefore, innocent of the conduct of the unbeliever. No one has a right to unbelief! 

The unbeliever willed not to live with the believer who was willing to live with unbelieving partner in holy wedlock! 

Once, more, Paul is speaking of such cases. 

And now Paul will outline the moral position and course of action of the believing partner in “such cases.” 

As the moral position in “such cases” of the believing partner in marriage, it must be noted that, according to verse 15, such a believer is not “placed under bondage,” that is, continually up to the present moment to be placed in the bondage of a slave, while in reality he or she is a free man in the Lord. 

There are fundamentally really two interpretations which have come down to us since the time of the Reformation. 

There is, first of ah, the interpretation of H.A.W. Meyer, who holds that the verb “to be under bondage” implies “no longer bound in marriage to such a departing one.” On the other hand there is the interpretation held by Dr. Weiss in the Deutsche Zeitschrift, 1866, page 267 (compare also bisbiblische theologie) who understands the verb “to be under bondage” to refer to the burden of the conscience

In passing we may here remark that from the former paragraph it may be ascertained that expositors of name in Germany differ on the proper interpretation of this Scripture passage. It means that the interpretation of the school of thought to which Meyer belongs and which hold that Paul teaches in I Cor. 7:15that “in such cases” the marriage-tie is annulled before God, did not go unchallenged, rightly or wrongly! 

Let it be stated here that we agree with the “general thrust” of the interpretation of Weiss, and that for the following reasons:

Firstly, because the reason, which Meyer assigns from the context for his interpretation over against that of Weiss, is not valid exegetically. Meyer insists that the other alternative is given in the verses 12 and 13. He refers to the fact that Paul says “let him not put her away” if she desires to live with him. From this he draws the erroneous conclusion that “if such a party” does depart then a man can put her away or vice versa. The latter is then implied in that in such case “a brother or a sister is not under bondage.” He says “the interpretation” of Weiss runs counter to the implication of “not under bondage.” 

Secondly, because the interpretation of Meyer puts more into the term “to depart” than is permitted by the simple meaning of the term (choorizoo). The latter means to depart locally. Therefore we agree with the thrust of the interpretation of Weiss which points toward the bondage of the conscience! 

In the light of the foregoing observations, I would still like to point out, that the interpretation that would make “dedoulootai,” that is, to be under bondagetantamount to not be bound is against the plain sense, the root meaning of the verb in Greek for “to be under bondage.” And it is also against the current usage of this term when compared with the verb in Greek for to be bound. The latter term is “deomai” in Greek. The verb “deoo” means that which is bound, tied together. And it is the term which always is used in those passages of Paul where there is no doubt but that Paul is speaking of the marriage-tie. Thus inRomans 7:2. But it is also thus employed by Paul in this indisputable sense in this very chapter now under consideration. Compare the verses 27 and 39 of I Corinthians 7

Besides, the current usage of the term “dedoulootai” to be under bondage, is never employed in Scripture for the relationship between man and wife. Marriage is not bondage but the highest freedom, a picture of the relationship of Christ to His church. The term always refers to political bondage or spiritual bondage, being overcome of someone else, or of the power of sin and evil lusts. See II Peter 2:19Acts 7:6 andRomans 6:22

According to the meaning of the verb “to be under bondage,” that is to be “placed” under bondage, which must not be confused with another verb in Greek “douleuoo,” meaning “to serve,” and according to the context it means that in the Christian family the believer is not in the bondage of sin when the unbeliever party leaves him or her, while they would live with them, provided Christ could come to His own in the family. For the Christian “family” is holy to the Lord. Such are the children born also from the unbeliever because of the believer. 

Closely allied with the foregoing is also the implication of the sentence “For God hath called you in peace.” That is the “reason” why the believing party is “not under bondage” when he allows the unbeliever to depart. And thus also the reason becomes clear that in such a manner it is possible that the believer will be instrumental in the hand of God to save his unbelieving wife, or the believing woman her husband.

Meyer, due to his conception of the verb “not under bondage” must here wrest the plain meaning of this “for what knowest thou, etc.” Writes he “For neither does the (Christian) wife whether, she, by continuing to live with her non-believing husband, know.” And since she does not know whether the situation will ever change, she had better get rid of the husband, sever all relationships with him, and consider the marriage annulled. Writes he “this uncertainty cannot be a reason for any constraint to the hurt of the peace.” Thus also De Wette, Osiander, Neander, Ewald, Maier and Hofman. This is the school of the Lutheran exegetes, following in the footsteps of Luther who fought that this passage gave the right for remarriage to the innocent party. 

There is another school of thought on this verse following Calvin, the peer of exegetes. They, with Calvin, “hold that verse 16 enunciates a new reason for not breaking up the marriage, namely, the possibility of the conversion of the non-believer. In this school one finds such exegetes as Flatt, Reichert, Olshausen.” Thus according to Meyer in his Commentary on this passage. 

Meyer does not agree with this interpretation of the Calvinistic exegetes. He alleges that it “runs counter” to his interpretation of “to not be under bondage.” 

As has already been intimated by us, we agree with the interpretation of Calvin arid others, and not with. Meyer and the Lutheran divines. 

We should notice, first of all, that Paul is evidently speaking of the efficacious calling in verse 15b. It means that the believer has been put by Christ through the Holy Spirit, and that through the preaching of the gospel of Christ, “in peace.” They have been removed from the strife of sin and evil and are there where they may bear the fruits of the Spirit which are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, forbearance, and temperance.” Gal. 5:22. This “peace” in Christ is the new status of the family, the believers and their seed. Here there is a bond of peace, the fruit of the Spirit which must be maintained. And this “bond” is higher than the love for a husband or wife who is a non-believer, and who would subject the family to her unbelieving will. That would place the free family in Christ once more in “bondage.” 

Wherefore, if such a non-believing “husband” or “wife” desires to leave, let them leave. The responsibility is wholly that of the unbeliever. The family’s status quo is not that of the unbeliever but of the believer! 

Besides, it is good discipline. It might bring the nonbeliever to his or her senses. And that way they would still be exposed to the Word, and the Holy Spirit is mighty in His own way and time and place to bring such a one to the faith. 

The avenues of a proper return of the unbeliever are thus kept open! 

That is also, according to the sequence of this passage, the manner of God’s dealing. The natural is first, then the spiritual. The ordinance in Adam stands, “What God hath joined together let not man put asunder!” Christianity does not change the order of things, but puts new life into the old farms. 

The Christian is not “under bondage in such cases” but is free to serve the Lord. This may entail suffering. He thus sows in tears in the hope of reaping in joy, and that, too, in his own family! 

Well may Paul say: “And I think I too have the Holy Spirit.”

G.L.