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Thank you for your fine contribution to the Reformed witness with The Standard Bearer. I appreciate the diversity that there is even within the Reformed faith. Because of the diversity we often take exception to that which we read. I believe that the answer to “May the Deserted Believer Remarry?” (April 15, 1989) missed the mark. The thrust of the article was that although the deserted believer may not be in bondage to the one who deserted him/her, he is still bound to such a person. In other words he/she is not free to divorce or to remarry.

It is true that the word used in I Corinthians 7:15 (douloo) is the stronger word indicating bondage or slavery. It comes from the same root word for slave (doulos). But that does not exclude the idea that a deserted believer is set free from the bonds or bondage of marriage. In fact the immediate context dictates such a view. In the verses just prior, Paul counsels his readers that, in a marriage situation, if an unbelieving partner is willing to live with the believing partner then the believer must not divorce his/her spouse. Then verse 15 begins with the word “but.” In other words, “In contrast” to this situation where the partner should not divorce his mate, now when the believer has been deserted, divorce is a possibility, in order that he/she may not be under bondage.

This also happens to be the viewpoint of John Calvin in his commentary of I Corinthians. Speaking of this verse he says, “This is the second department of his statement, in which he sets at liberty a believing husband, who is prepared to dwell with an unbelieving wife, but is rejected by her . . .” No doubt the authors of the Westminster Confession of Faith were influenced by John Calvin’s statement.

So although there may be some room for diversity of interpretations on this passage, considering the context and the solid exegesis of the past it seems likely that Paul is setting at liberty (as Calvin says) the believing partner. This would mean that the believer is free to remarry or else he would not have been truly set at liberty.

(Rev.) Roger Gelwicks

Ft. Wayne, IN

Response:

I Corinthians 7:15 reads: “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 to peace.”

The words, “is not under bondage,” do not describe, and cannot describe, the marriage-bond, as though the apostle wrote that the deserted believer is no longer married. Marriage is not “bondage” (slavery). Marriage is a “bond” (connection). What the words, “is not under bondage,” do refer to, I explained in the April 15, 1989 issue of The SB, and will not repeat here.

That Paul is not giving the deserted believer a right to divorce his or her mate is also evident from the fact that no action on the part of the believer is either stated or alluded to. The believer takes no action whatever. He merely “lets the unbeliever depart.”

The interpretation that finds a ground for remarriage in I Corinthians 7:15 is contradicted by verse 39 of the same chapter, “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will . . . .” The deserting mate is not dead. Therefore, the believer is still bound to her husband. She is not at liberty to remarry.

The interpretation that finds a ground for divorce in the text is contradicted by Matthew 5:32: “whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery . . . .” There is one ground, and one only, for Biblical divorce: fornication.

Scripture’s clear teaching that marriage is a life-long, unbreakable bond compels us, regretfully, to differ with Calvin on the matter of the right of remarriage while the original mate yet lives.

The scandalous prevalence of divorce and remarriage in Protestant churches in our day—destructive of covenant homes and children, shameful before a watching world, and dishonoring to God—is additional motivation to maintain the Biblical norm, without compromise.

—DJE