Thursday, August 16, 2012

Marital References by Paul Outside of Corinth


This is part 7 of 8 in a series on what the bible says concerning divorce and remarriage. For the other posts see here:

There are a couple of other relevant passages by Paul concerning divorce and/or remarriage, or, are at least commonly used in discussion of the issue.

Romans 7:1-3 - Do you not know, brothers and sisters in Christ - for I’m speaking to those who know the law (of Moses), that the law rules over a person only as long as he lives? For the woman under the authority of her husband is bound by the law (of Moses) to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies, she is released from the law regarding her husband. So then she will be considered an adulteress if she becomes another man’s while her husband is living. But if the husband dies, she is free from the law (of Moses) and will not be an adulteress if she becomes another man’s.

There are a few things that need to be mentioned first about this passage.

1)    “Law” refers to the Law of Moses throughout. This is certainly the reference in verse 1 (those who know the Law) and there is little valid justification for switching the reference within these verses[i].

2)    As in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 (see previous post), Paul is using a rhetorical device to make a point, here a point about the relationship between the believer and the Law of Moses. This is no place for Paul to establish case law. The general principle, to which there may be exceptions, is given as analogy to draw the connection of the main point. Even if one doesn’t realize it is a specific rhetorical device, some literary sensitivity needs to be had in seeing that the subject isn’t really about marriage at all.

3)     In the analogy, the woman is not just “married”, as in many translations, but “under a man”. This language comes straight from the Old Testament,[ii] reflecting the era when the husband really did have “dominion” over his wife. This is not simply an issue of gender roles, no matter what side you fall on. Paul chooses the Old Testament language carefully to reflect his main point: that of slavery or bondage to sin by being under the Law.

Given this, it’s important to note that the analogy that Paul uses is loose. On the marriage side of the analogy, the wife is bound to the husband because the Law says so. The death of the husband voids what the Law says regarding the obligations of the wife to the husband. On the flip side, Paul pictures the Christian as married to the Law-husband and it’s by virtue of the death of the Christian (not the Law) via the death of Christ that the obligations are voided. So the point of the analogy is that death has occurred. And because it has occurred, we are free from the Law and married to Christ. And it’s because of this that we are no longer servants of sin itself, which the Law only elucidated and condemned, and free to serve God by his grace. This is simply the continuation of the argument from 6:14 where, “Sin will not rule over you, for you are not under Law but under grace.” This passage isn’t about the limitations of divorce, but our relationship to God’s boundless grace in Jesus Christ.

1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:6 – … a faithful husband …

How one translates this clause in many ways already depends on how one reads it. Most translations translate fairly rigidly or “literally” as “husband of one wife”. The NIV gives some interpretive preference with “husband of but one wife”. The NLT actually follows the translation adopted here with “He must be faithful to his wife”. A very rigid translation would be “a one-woman man”[iii].

There are a few ways this passage has been read. Many take “a one-woman man” to mean the guy can’t be a polygamist. The problem with this is that polygamy was a very rare problem in those days. A few take it to mean that the man who qualifies as an elder can’t be single; but how Paul and Timothy got away with it we are left wondering. More commonly, at least in conservative circles, this passage is taken to mean that the man can’t have been divorced. That Paul doesn’t outright use the word “divorce” should give caution to this interpretation, but there are a couple of other considerations.

1)    The phrase is used in 1 Tim. 5:9 except completely reversed and referring to widows[iv]. Given this context, it is hardly about divorce but whether the woman exhibited faithfulness to her husband when he was alive.

2)    In addition, “wife of one husband” was a common epitaph on gravestones of women, both Greco-Roman and Jewish, who were considered by their husbands to be faithful – that among a culture where divorce rate was significant.

We are left with the rather strong conclusion that Paul was concerned here with the character quality of faithfulness of the elder-to-be rather than a lifetime of strict adherence to a code that demands that it’s never acceptable to remarry after a divorce.


[i] That nomoV (nomos) is anarthrous in v. 2a does not mean that it all of a sudden refers to a general principle.
[ii] Grk. uJpandroV, see LXX Num. 5:20, 29; Prov. 6:24, 29; Sir. 9:9, 41:23.
[iii] Grk. mia:V gunaiko;V a[ndra
[iv] Grk. eJno;V ajndro;V gunhv

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