Divorce and Remarriage

Not Under Bondage (1 Corinthians 7:15): Does the Believer, Whose Unbelieving Spouse Has Departed, Have the Authority to Remarry?


  1. Concerning the issue of divorce and remarriage, 1 Corinthians 7:15 has been the center of disagreement. While there are a couple of things that can be dealt with in this section, the focus of our study is going to deal with this question: does the believer, whose unbelieving spouse has departed, have authority to remarry?
  2. As we begin a study, I believe it is always useful to compare the translation to get a feel the possible meanings of a particular passage, especially one of controversy. Consider the translations of this verse
    by these major versions:
  3. “But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace” (NKJV). “But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace”
    (NIV). “And, if the unbelieving doth separate himself–let him separate himself: the brother or the sister
    is not under servitude in such cases, and in peace hath God called us;”

    (YLT). “But if the unbelieving partner
    separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace”
    (ESV). “But if the husband or wife who isn’t a Christian insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is not required to stay with them, for God wants his children to live in peace”
    (NLT). “But if those who are not believers
    decide to leave, let them leave. When this happens, the Christian man
    or woman is free. But God called us to live in peace”
  4. As you can see from the translation comparisons, there are some notable differences concerning the translation of “not under bondage.” Many versions say, “not under bondage.” Some versions say “is not bound.” Notice that Young’s Literal Translation says, “not under servitude.” The ESV is even stronger saying, “not enslaved.” The NLT interprets this as “not required to stay with them.” But the NCV moves to the other side of the issue and says, “is free.” Do all of these versions mean the same thing? By a simple reading, these versions do not sound the same but instead reflect the various views concerning what the believer is allowed to do if the unbeliever departs. Some versions sound as if one is free to remarry,
    other versions sound like that remarriage is not even addressed.

I. Necessary Premises

A. Generally speaking, all have authority for marriage (Genesis 2:24;
Matthew 19:4-6; 1 Corinthians 7:2)

  1. From the beginning God gave authority for all people to marry. Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” In this passage and in Jesus’ words we see that marriage is a right given to all men and women from the very beginning of creation.
  2. Paul also stated such words in 1 Corinthians 7:2, “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” Here again we see general authority for every person to be married. However, I would like us to consider by the wording of these passages that the authority is only granted
    once. This is not authority for marriage as many times as one likes.
  3. In Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:4-6 the teaching is that the two become one flesh and that is for a lifetime. Jesus would say in Matthew 19:6
    that “what God has joined together, let
    not man separate.”
    Some are trying to teach that according to Genesis 2:24 there was no prohibition for divorce, but according to Jesus’ teaching it is very clear that divorce was forbidden “from the
    Thus, I believe we must establish another premise.

B. Generally speaking, no one has authority for remarriage (Mark 10:11-12;
Matthew 19:9)

  1. Jesus said in Mark 10:11-12 that whoever divorces and marries another commits adultery. The general rule is that there is no authority for remarriage according to the law of God.
  2. Jesus also made the same point in the Matthew account, in
    Matthew 19:9. Here Jesus says, “Whoever,”
    therefore telling everyone and including everyone, “divorces
    his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another commits
  3. It should become very clear to us that God has not given us authority to remarry. Unless we are told otherwise by God, we must understand that there is no authority given for remarriage. Divorce and remarriage is declared to be adultery by God. God’s law is to have one spouse for life. These are important principles that we must agree upon before
    considering the rights to remarriage in any study of divorce and remarriage.

II. Authority For Divorce?

A. Contingency law

  1. With these principles in mind, let us first consider if God has issued authority for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16. Paul gives the command in these verses that a believer is not to depart from an unbeliever. The Christian is to remain with the non-Christian. No authority is given to say that if a believer is married to an unbeliever, that the believer has a right to go and get a divorce. Paul commands them not to divorce.
  2. But in verse 15 Paul is now giving contingency law. We dealt with contingency law in the lesson entitled “Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce.” By way of reminder, contingency law is given by God to tell us what to do to be pleasing to God if a certain situation arises. God is not approving of the situation or justifying the action, but is simply telling man what must be done if the circumstance arises. Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is a good example of God’s contingency law. In Deuteronomy 22:28-29
    we find out what a man is to do if he rapes a woman. God says he must pay 50 shekels of silver, marry the woman, and never separate. Was God saying that is was okay for people to rape as long as they pay the money and get married? Of course not! God was giving legislation for what
    one is to do if the sinful situation arises.
  3. We must recognize that 1 Corinthians 7:15
    is contingency law, otherwise Paul is contradicting himself. Paul says that a believer and unbeliever are not to divorce. But now Paul is telling the believer what to do if the unbeliever departs anyway. This is not the situation that God wants, but here is how to act if an unbeliever

B. “Let him depart”

  1. Let us take a moment and realize that Paul is speaking about divorce and not simply a desertion or separation period. Some have understood this section to mean that the unbeliever simply deserts the house and never returns. But an analysis of the Greek will be sure to shed light on the matter.
  2. The word Paul uses for “depart” is the Greek word chorizo. Of course that means nothing to us unless we are fluent in the first century Greek language. What helps us is that this is the same word that Jesus used in Mark 10:9 and Matthew 19:6 where Jesus says, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” The word “separate” is the same word that Paul used here in 1 Corinthians 7:15. Jesus of course was addressing the problem of divorce, as we noted in the lesson “Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce.” Paul is also dealing with divorce in this section and describes a situation
    where the unbeliever is unwilling to live with the believer.
  3. Therefore, Paul lays out the condition that may occur: “if the unbeliever departs” The unbeliever is leaving the marriage and it is implied by using this Greek word, that the unbeliever is intending to get a divorce because he or she is no longer content to be married to the believer. Paul tells the believer what to do: “let him depart.” The divorce is allowed by God. Is God pleased with the divorce? No. Is the divorce what God wanted to happen? No. God desires that marriages stay together, for “what
    God has joined together, let no man separate.”
  4. The question then arises in the Christian mind, why is the divorce allowed? Why is the unbeliever allowed to depart? The rest of verse 15 is the answer to the question. The NKJV says, “a brother or sister is not under bondage is such cases. But God has called us to peace.” This is the reason why the divorce is allowed between the believer and the unbeliever. Some say that this passage teaches that the believer has the right to be remarried. This is the
    phrase that we will deal with for the rest of the lesson.

III. Authority For Remarriage?

A. Analyzing the text

  1. First, let us just simply read it as we see it in the English language before we consider the Greek implications. As you read this, does it seem that Paul is referring to the bond of marriage between a believer and an unbeliever? Is Paul saying that God allows the divorce to take place between a believer and an unbeliever because the believer and unbeliever were never in the bondage of marriage in these cases? Does this make any sense for Paul to be saying that God allows this divorce to happen because they were never in bondage to each other? Even in our English language this does not make sense. But the Greek is even stronger in what it is saying, which is lost in the English translation.
  2. The phrase “not under bondage” is in the perfect passive indicative tense of the Greek language. This, of course, does not mean a lot to us. But the perfect passive indicative is a tense which states that something “is not, was not, and never has been.” This is important knowledge to understanding this text. Paul is saying, let him depart; a brother or sister is not under bondage, was not under bondage, and never has been under bondage in
    such cases.
  3. Can Paul be referring to the bond of marriage? Can Paul be saying that a believer and an unbeliever is not in the bond of marriage, was not in the bond of marriage, and never has been in the bond of marriage in these cases? Such an understanding would violate 1 Corinthians 7:12-13 that the believer is not to depart from the unbeliever because they are married. A believer and unbeliever are clearly united in the bond of marriage. It is impossible for Paul to be saying
    these two have never been together in the bond of marriage.
  4. To further prove that “not under bondage” is not referring to the marriage bond, it is also important for us to know that Paul does not use the word for marriage bond here as he did in Romans 7. In Romans 7:2 we read, “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives.” The word Paul used for “bound” is the Greek word deo, which means “to bind, tie, fasten.” In Romans 7 it is very clear that Paul is referring to the marriage bond, which Paul argues is in effect until a spouse dies. Please notice in Romans 7:3 that the marriage bond exists even though someone may divorce and marry another. The person who does such is an adulteress for he or she is still bound
    to the husband.
  5. Paul did not use the Greek word deo referring to the marriage bond in 1 Corinthians 7:15. Instead, Paul used the Greek word douloo which means “to make a slave of.” Therefore, the ESV is the most literal and most correct when it reads, “In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved.” When we read this text we need to see that Paul is saying to let the unbeliever depart because the believer is not, was not, and never has been enslaved. This should open our eyes again, for where in the scriptures does God describe marriage as slavery? Enslaved is the word that is used in 1 Corinthians
    7:15 and is clearly not speaking about the bond of marriage.
  6. So we must ask, what is Paul referring to in regards to the believer not being, was not, and never has been enslaved, so that the divorce is accepted by God? I believe that there is only one logical conclusion. In verses 13-14 Paul has told the believer that God’s laws demand that he or she stay married to the unbeliever. The marriage is not to be put asunder. Everything is to be done to keep the marriage intact and for the unbeliever to not depart (for who knows whether in time you will be able to save your spouse – verse 16). However, the believing spouse is not obligated to renounce their faith, sacrifice their convictions in Christ, and continue to keep the obligations of marriage who demands such. Therefore a believer is not, was not, and never has been enslaved to any laws that would demand a believer
    to give up or sacrifice their faith in God.
  7. As we can see, Paul is not speaking about remarriage at all. Paul is not referring to the marriage bond at all. Further, if Paul were giving a right to the believer to remarry, what does it mean that “God has called us to peace?” Being called to peace has nothing to do with remarriage. Instead, Christians are called to peace in that a Christian is to remain with a non-Christian. However, if the non-Christian will not stay, you cannot try to make them stay by sacrificing God. To be at peace with God and men, the believer is to keep their faith
    in Christ and let the discontent unbeliever leave.
  8. This is the basis for why we must understand that Paul is not teaching that “not under bondage” means that there is a right to remarry. Paul is not discussing remarriage. Paul is explaining why the unbeliever is allowed to have the divorce from the believer. There are more reasons, though I believe this explanation is the most important, why “not under bondage” is not referring to
    the right to remarriage.

B. Authority for remarriage is not implicitly nor explicitly stated

  1. Nowhere in this text does Paul speak about anyone going and getting remarried. Paul does not say that there is a right for anyone in this situation to be remarried. To say that remarriage is authorized is to read something into the text that is not stated nor implied. Someone must come to this passage desiring to prove something to suggest that this teaches remarriage.
  2. Understanding this, we must go back to our original premises established by God. Our second point was that no one has authority for remarriage. This is the general rule given by God, unless an exception is stated otherwise. We must accept this as the rule, and Paul gives no exceptions here. If Paul had given an exception, he would have been in conflict with the teaching of Christ. Paul would have authorized remarriage where Jesus had not. From the beginning, God teaching on marriage and divorce has been the same (see the lesson Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce). Moses, Jesus, and Paul all taught the same thing and there is no conflict
    between them in regards to divorce and remarriage.

C. Accepting that Paul gave right to remarriage means that there are
different marriage laws

  1. This is, of course, what many teach and want us to believe. There are those who teach that unbelievers are not under the same marriage laws as believers. To argue against this position is not the scope of our lesson, but we will deal with this argument in a future lesson. What we must recognize as fact is if remarriage is authorized here, then there are different marriage laws for believers and unbelievers. I do not believe this to be the truth and will prove so in future lessons.
  2. Second, to accept that Paul gave the right of remarriage to the believer is to say that there are different marriage laws to different believers. If two believers are married, no one can divorce with the right to remarry unless sexual immorality is committed. However, if a believer marries an unbeliever, not only can the believer divorce and remarry for sexual immorality, but the believer can remarry if the unbeliever gets a divorce. Will we accept that there are different marriage laws for some believers than others? This cannot be so, for God does not show partiality (Acts 10:34). The rights
    to marriage, divorce, and remarriage must be the same for all believers.

D. Accepting that Paul gave right to remarriage means he contradicted

  1. In 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 Paul taught that a wife is not depart from her husband and a husband is not to depart from his wife. If divorce does happen, Paul says that they must remain unmarried or be reconciled. Did Paul contradict himself four verses later? But now Paul is saying that it is possible to remarry as long as you married an unbeliever?
  2. Again these things do not make sense and would demand for us to recognize that there are different marriage laws, which the scriptures do not uphold. I will have to ask for you patience that I prove these things in the future, but let me set the proposition out there for
  3. Will we accept that Paul gives no rights to remarriage to those who marry other Christians, but for some reason if a Christian marries a non-Christian, the Christian suddenly has a right of remarriage? Where is the logic in such a position? Why would God penalize two believers who are married? Why would God be lax if marrying unbelievers? The wise thing for Christians would be to marry unbelievers so if it did not work out, no Christian would be stuck. Christians could remarry all they wanted if they were put away. Why would this be an acceptable conclusion?
    Why would God encourage the marriage between believers and unbelievers?


  1. These are the reasons why Paul did not give a right to remarriage when an unbeliever leaves a believer. First, the subject matter does not concern remarriage. Second, the bondage that is being spoken of is something where the believer is not, was not, and never has been enslaved, which cannot refer to the bond of marriage. Third, Paul used a different word for bondage than the marriage bond in Romans 7:2 suggesting that Paul was speaking about something else. Fourth, remarriage is never explicitly stated nor implied. Fifth, to accept such a position means that there are not only different marriage laws for Christians and non-Christians, but that there are also different marriage laws for Christians. Sixth, to accept such a position means that God acts more favorably toward those who marry unbelievers by giving them rights to remarriage that other believers do not have.
  2. These are the strong reasons why Paul could not have been giving authorization for remarriage to believers who unbelieving spouse has left. I encourage you to open your heart and study these things to see
    whether they are so.
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