“Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Paul had received questions from the brethren at Corinth (1 Corinthians 7:1 cf. 7:10; 7:12; 7:25; 8:1; 12:1; 16:1-2; 16:12). We have his answers. We do not have the wording of the original questions.
“Paul, should those who have married separate or divorce?” I seems that they asked something like this. Why would they ask this? Was it due to the influence of early gnostic type beliefs? Was it due to some misunderstanding of something said by Paul (e.g. 1 Corinthians 7:29-35).
Paul answered: (1) “A wife is not to depart from her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:10). It is not God’s ideal for marriage for such to occur. What does the word “depart” (chorizo, or choridzo) mean? Here is what lexicons say: “‘to put apart, separate,’ means in the middle voice, ‘to separate oneself, to depart from'” (Vine’s); “to separate… to leave a husband or wife: of divorce, 1 Corinthians 7:11, 15” (Thayer); “Separate (oneself), be separated of divorce” (BAG). It may be that this word can be used for both separation (without divorce) and divorce (Editor, Jim Laws, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, page 385, Spiritual Sword Lectureship). However, Jesus used this term when responding to a question about divorce [He said, “What God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6, “separate” – a form of chorizo)]. Moreover, it seems that Paul is referencing what the Lord personally taught (consider the words: “I command, yet not I but the Lord”). Therefore, we conclude that this refers to divorce. (2) “But… if she does depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:11). God’s ideal is for there to be no divorce. However, if divorce does occur, two options exist: (a) “remain unmarried.” Kerry Duke comments, “The fact that the wife after her departure was ‘unmarried’ (agamos, v. 11) is evidence that a divorce has occurred. But this divorce could not have been for fornication (Matthew 19:9), since the woman in verse 11 is not given the right to marry another man” (Duke, The Remarriage of A Divorced Couple, p. 52). (b) “be reconciled to her husband.” Again, Kerry Duke comments, “Since the two are ‘unmarried’ from a civil viewpoint, their scriptural reconciliation would involve meeting legal requirements (Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-14); they would have to be ‘remarried’ according to civil law” (Duke, 56). (3) “And a husband is not to divorce (put away, KJV) his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:11). It works both ways (cf. Mark 10:11-12). The word “divorce” (aphiemi) means, “to send away” (Thayer); “let go, send away… in a legal sense divorce” (BAG). It may be that this word can be used for both separation (without divorce) and divorce (Editor Jim Laws, p. 385). However, we believe that the context concerns divorce. Why the charge of words [from “depart” (chorizo) to “divorce” or “put away” (aphiemi)]? Gary Workman writes, “As to why Paul used two different words here, Robertson and Plummer makes this comment “…The home is his: she can leave it, but he sends her away from it” (Editor Jim Laws, p. 384). However, let it be pointed out that a husband may “depart” (chorizo), see 1 Corinthians 7:15. Perhaps, the two different words are used to cover both scenarios, leaving and sending away.
We can think of situations where separation or even a legal divorce may be necessary to protect self and/or one’s children. One could be in a situation where alcohol and/or drugs has turned the home into an unsafe place. One could be in a situation which alcohol, and/or drugs, and/or pornography, and/or criminal activity threatens to have a morally corrupting influence on self and/or one’s children. One could be in a situation where there is sexual abuse of one’s children, which stops short of sexual intercourse. [One has a duty to “provide for his own” (1 Timothy 5:8); and to seek to remove corrupting influence (Matthew 5:29-30; Romans 13:14). Abigail refused to sit by and allow her husband to lead all into destruction (1 Samuel 25:14-35)]. If one separates or divorces (for reasons other than fornication) there are two options. Remarriage to different mate is not one of the two options.
Who is addressed in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11? Paul addressed three groups in 1 Corinthians 7:8-16. First, he addressed the unmarried and widows (7:8-9). Second, he addressed the married (7:10-11). These are likely married Christians (cf. 7:12). Gary Workman has commented, “the married of 7:10 are married Christians. This is also the conclusion of virtually every commentator consulted, as well as most brethren. This does not mean that what Paul has to say to Christians on this subject would not be equally applicable to non-Christians. It is, as we have already noticed. It is just that Paul does not address himself to unbelievers (cf. 5:12)” (Editor Jim Laws, p. 381). Remember, God’s ideal for marriage is grounded in creation (Matthew 19:3-9). Third, he addressed those married to non-Christians (7:12-16).
What does Paul mean when he says, “I command, yet not I but the Lord…”? This is an ellipsis, “yet not I (alone) but the Lord (also)…” J.W. McGarvey comments, the Lord “by his own lips – Matthew 5:31-32; 19:3-12; Mark 10:12” (McGarvey, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Galatians and Romans , p. 80). Kerry Duke comments, “Verse 10 is evidently a reference to Jesus’ general teachings on marriage and divorce… the similarities between Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 and Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees about divorce (Matthew 19:3-12; Mark 10:2-12) indicates that 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 is a reference to the discussion… The imperative expression ‘let not…’ is used in each account (1 Corinthians 7:10-11 KJV; Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9). The terminology is also similar: ‘put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9) and ‘depart’ (1 Corinthians 7:10-11) are both from choridzo” (Duke, p. 50).