4) 1 Cor 7:10–11: This chapter contains many enigmas for the modern reader despite Paul’s excellent communication skills. Therefore, we must conclude that his original audience interpreted his words in light of cultural understandings which we no longer share.

Thankfully, Jewish and Greco-Roman marriage and divorce papyri from the fourth century BC through the fourth century AD clear up much of the confusion.[1]

By speaking “to the ones who have married” in v. 10, Paul first addressed situations in which both partners were believers.

Here he gave the only command in all of 1 Cor 7:10–16, writing, “A wife from her husband must not be separated.”[2]

The apostle emphasized the moral nature of choosing to end one’s marriage.

Since Paul typically addressed men first when he gave instructions to both genders in this chapter (1 Cor 7:1–4; 1 Cor 7:25–28; 1 Cor 7:32–34), it appears that in Corinth, women initiated most divorces.[3]

The instructions from the Lord almost certainly refer back to Mark 10:2–12,[4] where the context involved a Jewish audience (note the teaching on Deut 24:1–4).[5]

Jewish marriages were based on the concept of obligation, with both partners required to obey the stipulations of Exod 21:10–11. Should the husband violate them, the Mosaic law required a certificate of freedom for his wife. Yet, by the time of Christ, a man could obtain a divorce for any reason he chose.[6]

Since a Jewish woman could legally end a marriage for very few reasons, Jesus’s opposition to divorce defended the rights of married women.[7]

The desperate financial plight of a divorced woman would force her to remarry, which explains the phrase “makes her commit adultery” (Rom 7:1–3).[8]

Divorce among both Jews and gentiles existed to enable marriage to someone else.[9]

According to Christ, if one divorces one’s spouse without valid grounds, such as sexual immorality, the marriage does not truly dissolve. A subsequent marriage would consist of adultery.[10]

However, Jesus released the innocent party in marriages where sexual immorality had occurred, and he seems to have permitted remarriage (Matt 5:31–32).

Paul may have omitted this exception since both Jews and Greeks recognized it.[11]

A Jewish woman could leave her marriage but not initiate a legal divorce. Meanwhile, in Greco-Roman societies such as in Corinth, either party could dissolve the marriage bond.[12]

Paul argued that Christians should not instigate divorce. Instead, both men and women should fulfill the Mosaic obligations to provide emotional support, to care for physical needs, and to fully give themselves to each other sexually to prevent any rationale for a marital split (1 Cor 7:3–6).[13]

Jewish marriage certificates included a list of these requirements based upon the rights of a woman sold into marriage, with the implication that such marital neglect permitted divorce. Rabbis taught that if even a slave woman received such legal protection (Deut 21:10–14), so should all women and men.[14]

However, in cases where a spouse failed to meet those those stipulations, the court sought to persuade the guilty party to change by increasing or decreasing the wife’s dowry until the person relented or the money was spent (m. Ketubot 5.7).[15]

Some couples in Greco-Roman society formalized their divorce with legal documents. However, usually a man sent his wife away with the declaration “take your things [and go].” This effected a divorce.[16]

If the woman wanted to end the marriage, she could gain a separation by simply leaving,[17] for typically the man owned their house.[18]

The terms “divorce” and “separation” were equivalent: a disavowal of the marriage.[19] No warning was necessary, nor could either party legally prevent it.[20] Paul seemed to address this type of illegitimate divorce.[21]

Marriage and divorce contracts employed more than fifty words for “divorce,” pointing to the frequency of marital splits. Often, several of the terms appeared in a single document.[22]

During this time, most Greco-Roman marriages ended before the death of one’s spouse.[23] In fact, marriage certificates were written with this expectation.[24]

Seneca (4 BC–65 AD) complained, “Is any woman ashamed of being divorced, now that some noble ladies reckon the years of their lives, not by the number of the consuls, but by that of their husbands, now that they leave their homes in order to marry others, and marry only in order to be divorced?”[25]

One funeral inscription from this era noted, “Uncommon are marriages which last so long, brought to an end by death, not broken apart by divorce; for it was our happy lot that it should be prolonged to the forty-first year without estrangement.”[26]

Consequently, Paul’s decree to stay married was truly counter-cultural.[27]

Furthermore, where divorce by separation had occurred, Paul called upon those who were believers to do all they could to reverse it and to remain single as long as the other partner had not remarried.[28]

Thus, he did not enshrine “no divorce” as law, and the church did not remove the person who initiated the dissolution of a marriage. However, he permitted remarriage only to the original spouse,[29] unless one partner clearly refused to respect the commitments necessary to maintain the fundamental integrity of the marriage.[30]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

a) Read 1 Cor 7:10–11. What exception did Jesus allow concerning divorce? Why did he oppose it? What was Paul’s command to those who had divorced without just cause and whose former spouse remained unmarried?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go to Concerning Mixed Marriages

 

[Related posts include Concerning Mixed Marriages (1 Cor 7:12–13); Contagious Holiness (1 Cor 7:14); Dissolution of Marriage (1 Cor 7:15–16); A Transfer of Loyalty (Gen 2:24); Slaves and War Brides (Exod 21:10–11 and Deut 21:10–14); God Hates Violence (Mal 2:13–16); It is Good Not to Touch (1 Cor 7:1‒5); and Ancient Literature]

[Click here to go to Women and Marriage Throughout Redemptive History; or to Chapter 5: A View from the Ground (Genesis 2:4–25)]

 

[1]David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 190, http://www.divorce-remarriage.com/.

[2]Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Rev. Ed., 323.

[3] Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 291.

[4] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Rev. Ed., 323.

[5]Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 138.

[6] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 191, http://www.divorce-remarriage.com/.

[7] Keener, IVPBBCNT, Matt 19:9.

[8]W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison, Matthew 1–7 (ICC; Edinburgh; London; New York: T & T Clark, 1988), 528.

[9]Grant R. Osborne, Matthew (ZECNT; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 200.

[10] Keener, IVPBBCNT, Matt 19:9.

[11] Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, 138.

[12] Keener, IVPBBCNT, 1 Cor 7:10–11.

[13] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 196, http://www.divorce-remarriage.com/.

[14] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 191, http://www.divorce-remarriage.com/.

[15]Sola and Raphall, trans., Eighteen Treatises from the Mishna, Ketubot 5.7, 254–5, http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/etm/etm124.htm.

[16]Ben Witherington III, Conflict and Community in Corinth: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 171.

[17] Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Rev. Ed.,  325.

[18] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 199, http://www.divorce-remarriage.com/.

[19] Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 292.

[20] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 190, http://www.divorce-remarriage.com/.

[21] Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, 140.

[22] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 199, http://www.divorce-remarriage.com/.

[23] Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 292.

[24] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 191, http://www.divorce-remarriage.com/.

[25]Lucius Annasus Seneca, On Benefits (trans. John W. Basore; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935), 3.16.2, 65, https://archive.org/stream/lannaeussenecao00stewgoog#page/n83/mode/2up.

[26]G. H. R. Horsley, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity: A Review of the Greek Inscriptions and Papyri Published in 1978 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1983), 34.

[27] Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 292.

[28] Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context, 199–200, http://www.divorce-remarriage.com/.

[29] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, Rev. Ed., 327.

[30] Ciampa and Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, 293.