“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” (1 Corinthians 7:15).
Paul has instructed a Christian to remain with a non-Christian mate, if the non-Christian mate is willing to live with the Christian (who is practicing the faith), 1 Corinthians 7:12-14; But, what if the non-Christian is not willing? What if he/she wishes to depart?
Paul answered: “Let him depart.” Gary Workman writes, “Since this is his desire, the Christian is under no obligation to try to prevent the break-up of the marriage” (Editor Jim Laws, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage, p. 389, Spiritual Sword Lectureship). The word, “depart” (Chorizo or Choridzo), also, appears in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, and a form of this word appears in Matthew 19:6 (“separate” NKJV; “put asunder” KJV). Here is what lexicons say: “‘to put apart, separate,’ means in the middle voice, ‘to separate oneself, 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). The context is divorce (1 Corinthians 7:10-11 cf. Matthew 19:3-6).
A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. What is meant by “bondage”? (1) Some believe that it refers to the marriage bond. However, let us consider the wording. Roy Deaver writes, “The word ‘bondage’ here is the Greek dedoulotai, perfect, indicative, third person singular of douloo. In three passages where the bond is unquestionably the marriage bond (1 Corinthians 7:27; 1 Corinthians 7:39; and Romans 7:2) the word used is deo, not douloo. In this very chapter, in referring to the marriage bond, Paul twice used deo. But, in verse 15 he used a different word. This must be significant. The word douloo (in some form) occurs 133 times in the New Testament, and not a single time – unless 7:15 is the exception – does it refer to the marriage bond” (Deaver, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage, p. 27, Harding Lectures, 1977). Furthermore, let us consider the force of the negative in the perfect tense. Gary Workman writes, “A negative statement in the perfect declares that no such action has taken place in the past” (Editor, Jim Laws, p. 392). Professor Ed. L. Miller (Philosophy/Religious Studies; Director, Theology Forum), of the University of Colorado at Boulder writes, “The verb in question, dedoulotai, ‘has been in bondage,’ is in the perfect tense and indicates a past action, or situation, with continuing, present consequences. I would say that the rendering of the whole phrase, ‘is not now and never has been in bondage,’ is an over-translation but does justice to the verb. More accurate would be, simply, ‘has not been in bondage,’ with the implication that the person still isn’t, or ‘is not in bondage,’ with the implication that the person hasn’t been” (personal letter to me, 1995). This is not speaking of marriage. The person clearly has been married. This is not speaking of marital obligations. The person clearly has had such obligations (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:3-4). (2) One is not so bound to the unbeliever that one should give up Christianity, or weaken one’s commitment and service to Christ, for the sake of one’s mate. Harvey Floyd comments, “Paul uses dedoulotai in 1 Corinthians 7:15 because he wishes to say that for a Christian to yield to pressure to give up his Christianity to preserve his marriage would mean slavery of the most abject kind. The Christian must never consider himself or herself in such bondage” (Deaver, pp. 27-28). The words, “in such cases” are more literally rendered “in the suches” or “by the suches.” The word “cases” is supplied. Gary Workman suggests that this would better be understood to mean “by such persons” cf. 1 Corinthians 7:28; 16:16 (Jim Laws, pp. 393-396). Again, he writes, “The Christian must not think that his spouse (or anyone else) has dictatorial power over him when it comes to his religion” (Editor Jim Laws, p. 396). God has called us to peace. Bill Jackson comments, “The faithful Christian… faced with the determination on the part of the unbeliever to depart, the Christian follows the course of peace – absence of strife – and lets the unbeliever depart, rather than to engage in strife, force, and disruption of order in trying to compel the unbeliever to remain” (Jackson, A Commentary on First Corinthians, p. 64).
“For how do you know O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16).
Many understand this as a reason that the Christian should stay with the non-Christian mate. Not only is the marriage legitimate (1 Corinthians 7:14), but there the possibility of saving the non-Christian mate (1 Corinthians 7:16 cf. 1 Peter 3:16). Those who hold this view tie verse 16 to verse 12-14.
However, some (including me) understood this very differently. This seems to provide a reason why one should let the unbeliever go (if he/she is not willing to live with a Christian, and their full commitment to Christ). You do not know that you will ever lead this person to Christ, and God has called us to peace. Verse 16 seems to tie back to verse 15. I have seen Christians compromise and weaken their commitment and service to Christ in order to please their non-Christian mates. Attendance gets compromised (e.g. the non-Christian may want the Christian to miss services now and then, or the non-Christian may want the Christian to miss the assembling of the saints to occasionally, attend some other religious assembly with them). Doctrine gets compromised (e.g. the non-Christian may want the Christian to participate in worshipping with them, in some unauthorized manner). Service gets compromised (e.g. the non-Christian may not want the Christian teaching a Bible class, or visiting shut-ins, or because it takes too much time). Giving gets compromised (i.e. the non-Christian may not want the Christian to give so much in support of the work of the church). Morals may even get compromised (e.g. to keep the peace). Many times Christians do these things thinking that through this “give and take” the non-Christian will be won to Christ. Rarely is a spouse led to Christ this way. It is not worth it. Never compromise.
Some refer to 1 Corinthians 7:15 as “the Pauline Privilege.” They believe that this is a second reason which allows for divorce and remarriage. However, Paul says nothing of remarriage in context. In truth, departure does not necessarily mean that one is free to remarry another (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:10-11). The I.S.B.E. comments, “Paul has not said in that verse or anywhere that a Christian partner deserted by a heathen may marry someone else… To say that a deserted partner ‘hath not been enslaved’ is not to say that he or she may be remarried” (in older edition, Vol. 2, p. 866). Furthermore, Jesus used the word “except” (me epi) in Matthew 19:9. In doing so, He excluded all but one reason for divorce and remarriage to another.