Questions: (several questions are followed by the answer to all of them below)
1. Does 1 Cor. 7:10-11 really say that divorced couples ought to remarry if they can? I thought Jesus taught that a divorce was final. I don’t think Paul is talking about a couple who merely separates because he says the woman ought to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband (the woman cannot remain unmarried if she is merely separating from him and not divorcing him). (By the way, I believe he is also talking about a man reconciling to his wife.)
2. In 1 Cor. 7:12-16, Paul mentions that an unbelieving spouse married to a believing spouse is sanctified through the believing spouse. What does he mean? Surely he does not mean the unbelieving spouse is saved because of the believing one because we are saved by our own faith, not the faith of others. Besides, Paul suggests he does not mean this because of what he says at the end of this passage: How do you know, wife, if you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, if you will save your wife? I cannot tell what Paul really means here because how can unsaved people be sanctified?
3. In that same passage, what does Paul mean when he says that the believing spouse sanctifying the unbelieving one causes the child to become clean and holy? Doesn’t Jesus teach that all children are clean? Isn’t that why baptizing babies is wrong, for example, because no baby is born unclean, contrary to those who teach baby baptism believe?
4. This one is not about marriage, but it does pertain to 1 Cor. 7: What does Paul mean when he says we should remain in the state we were in when the Lord called us? I know this isn’t 100% literal because if it were, it would be wrong to marry after we become a Christian if we were single before becoming one or it would be wrong for me to become a math teacher after becoming a Christian if I weren’t one before becoming one. Paul himself gives an exception for slaves: If they can buy their freedom after becoming Christians, then they may even if they weren’t free before becoming one.
5. What does Paul mean when he says that those who have wives should live as if they had none, those who mourn as if they did not, those who are happy as if they were not? (He includes more, but I know he means that we don’t really own anything in this world, that everything is God’s, and that physical things don’t really help in spiritual matters anyway. I know for those he is speaking against materialism.)
Thank you for your answers.
1. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 is not talking about a divorce person. Paul is not instructing divorced people to remarry. He is speaking about two Christians who are married. The instruction is that they not be separated or, if they are separated, they definitely should not be divorced. In this case "remain unmarried" probably means continue in the state of not living together and having marital relationship with each other. As far as I know, Paul never addressed the issue of divorced people remarrying. He assumes that in the church there will not be divorced couples, as such divorce is prohibited in the first place. Jesus die not teach that divorce is final. I cannot imagine a scripture which could be used to teach this. Jesus spoke against divorce in Matthew 19. He said that those who divorce their spouse cause them to commit adultery. I assume he is talking about people who are divorced and then later remarry to someone other than the original spouse. I see no indication that Jesus is addressing the idea of a divorced couple remarrying. Now, what about this topic? The Bible does not address it. Given all the teaching about divorce in the Bible I assume it is quite obvious that if two people were divorced, whether it was before they became Christiains or, heaven forbid, after they became Christians, it is obvious that God would want those who were divorced to come back together again. This is a clear application of biblical principle, but it is not directly taught in the Bible.
2. In 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 Paul is stating a principle, not a doctrine. We need to learn to distinguish doctrines from principles and truisms. Paul said that "as a man sows, so shall he also reap." This is a rule of thumb or a principle and should not be taken as a straightforward literal promise. The same is true with Paul’s statement about an unbelieving spouse. He is putting out there the hope that the unbelieving spouse may come to faith and salvation. I will admit he is putting it in a way which seems a bit unusual–we probably would not have said it quite that way, but, as you seem to notice, he is not giving some sort of iron clad promise that guarantees staying with an unbelieving spouse will result in that spouse being saved. The passage cannot mean that the spouse will be saved in a sort of innocense by association. Such an interpretation would be in obvious contradiction with many other clear statements in the Bible. One important "rule" of biblical interpretation is that when interpreting a more difficult passage (such as 1 Cor 7:12-16), we cannot make it to contradict a clear passage.
3. He is saying the same thing about the child he is saying about the husband. He is saying, in essence, if you will do what I say, which is try to keep the marriage together and trust in me in that, then I promise you it will not hurt the chances of your children becoming Christians. In fact, if you trust me in this matter of divorce, it will increase the chances that your children will be saved. Obviously this is an extremely loose interpretation, but I believe that is Paul’s point. We know that a tiny baby cannot be "saved," as they are innocent, so clearly this cannot be what Paul means.
4. As with the point above, Paul is not stating a command or a doctrine. He is giving us a principle. As a general rule, we should accept the position in which we were found when we were baptized. If we were slaves, we should accept that situation. However, in other places we find (and common sense tells us) that if the opportunity to be free presents itself we should avail ourselves of it. If we find ourselves single in the Lord, we should be content with that. It is about trusting in the providence of God. However, if at some point the opportunity presents itself, of course we can remarry. Even in this passage, Paul presents alternative possibilities. We know, therefore, that he is not giving rules, but rather he is giving guiding principles for such things. The principle is being content with the place God has put us. It is about not grabbing for the things of this world, but trusting God. It is about not using human wisdom about such things. So, as disciples of Jesus let us not turn a principle into a rule, but at least as importantly, let us not ignore the principle. Before we make a big change, let us take the time to be sure this is not about our own selfish desire. Let us be sure it is a "kingdom" decision.
5. I believe you have already provided your own correct interpretation of what Paul is saying. Bottom line, Paul is telling us to reject worldly thinking in all its various aspects. In every case, no matter whether we are currently being "blessed" by God or are suffering hardship, we ought to rely on God. If things are going great from a worldly perspective right now, it is OK to be happy, but we should temper that with the knowledge that such things are only temporary and not the source of ultimate happiness anyway. If we are suffering deprivation, we should not be like the world–all depressed and desparate. It is OK to feel somewhat bad about suffering, but we should trust in God and a kind of happiness and joy should leak through about which the world will be mystified. Paul is teaching us to not be like the world.
John Oakes, PhD