Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash

With the recent attention to the last post on divorce, The truth about divorce, several people brought up 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 saying that it gives another reason for divorce. Here are the verses from the King James Version:

1 Corinthians 7:10-16:

10 ¶ And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
15 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.
16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

It has often been said that we fail to understand key text in the Bible because we think it was written and said for our culture. It wasn’t. This verse was written to a Jewish culture. So, in order to understand what was said here, we need to see what was actually written; time to explore the Greek.

Throughout the New Testament, any time divorce is mentioned, they use the word “apoluo” which literally means “to free fully or (specifically) divorce”. It is a word that is used to describe liberty and the sending away of someone. In the above verses, however, the word “apoluo” is never used. The word used for these verses is “aphiemi” for “leave” and “put away” and “chorizo” for “depart”.

In verse 15, it says that if the unbeliever departs (chorizo), then “a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases”. Now, people say that this means that you can get a divorce. But, this was not the message.

In Jewish culture, if you wanted a divorce, you would have to give a bill of divorce to your wife, otherwise known as a get. If a get was not given, then the wife could not remarry. Now, this meant that if the husband went missing or was killed but they could not find the body, then the wife could not remarry because if her husband ever showed back up, then it would be an adulterous relationship. To combat this, Jewish men sometimes gave their wife a conditional get before going to war. That way, if they were never found, their wife could finish the divorce and get remarried.

Now, if a man left his wife and never gave her a get, she was considered “agunah” which literally means “anchored”. She could not get married without committing adultery and deeming her children as illegitimate. Agunah is a strong, strong word that is meant to very clearly illustrate the point of bondage to the wife and her kids if the husband should disappear or leave without giving a get. In verse 15, when Paul mentions “bondage”, we have a similarly strong word.

“Douloo” is a Greek word with the meaning of “enslave, be under bondage”. It comes from the Greek word for slave, “doulos”. If “agunah” had a Greek version, it would basically be this.

So, after all that above information, what are these verses saying?

Well, these verses are talking about if an unbeliever leaves their spouse without giving a divorce. No get. Just leaves or disappears. Paul’s response to this is to tell the spouse that they are not under bondage, or “agunah”. They can remarry.

So, when it all comes down to it, if you are married to an unbeliever (the word for unbeliever in this verse means someone who actively does not believe and does not claim to be saved), and they leave or disappear without giving any way for you to divorce, then the spouse is free from the marriage and can remarry. This is not divorce. This is releasing the spouse from a life of not being married if their spouse leaves forever or disappears.This might not seem like something all that important that Paul would have devote part of Scripture to it, but, in the people and times it was written, this was a very relevant issue.

In today’s American culture, if your spouse up and abandoned you without divorcing you, you would have to make reasonable measures to try and reach your spouse and if you couldn’t, then you would be able to divorce them without their say in the matter. So, in this case, with American culture, this verse does say that if your unbelieving (“unbelieving” being a keyword) spouse abandons you then you can get a divorce from them so that you can remarry. You are not under bondage in this case.

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