Vol. 7, No. 9
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In the Seventh Chapter of 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul deals more extensively with the matter of marriage, separation, divorce and remarriage than in any other section of the New Testament. Yet, this divine instruction is being more and more disregarded in our social setting and even among the saints of God to whom it was written. We should be greatly concerned about the general dismissal of the instructions written by this apostle who was chosen to speak for God and "whom the Lord in His Mercy has made trustworthy" (vs. 28). Concerning these spokesmen, Jesus said, "He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me" (Luke 10:16). The things Paul wrote "are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37). To tamper with the words of Paul is to tamper with the words of God.
Seven times in this chapter dealing with the matter of marriage, Paul uses the expression "I say" (or the equivalent, e.g., "I command," vs. 10 and "I give judgment," vs. 25). There are those who conclude that Paul was speaking out of his own opinion or personal bias, being accused of having a low view of the marriage relationship. But no writer of the inspired Word of God had a higher view of the marriage relationship than did Paul, using it to describe the holy union of Christ and the church (cf. Ephesians 5:22ff). Furthermore, in this Corinthians Chapter he admonished, "...let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband"(vs. 2). The context of the expressions "I say" will not allow us to conclude this to be Paul's personal opinion or bias.
Each of the times Paul uses the expression "I say" must be understood from the context in which it appears. Otherwise, one is very likely to misunderstand what Paul is saying and why, whether it is a "concession" (vs. 6), a "command" (vs. 10) or "for your own profit" (vs. 30).
The first "I say" is in the context of a "concession" opposite of the admonition to let each man/woman have their own husband/wife. However, the Lord is allowing Paul to say, "It is good for them if they remain even as I am [i.e., unmarried]" but only if they are able to exercise "self-control" (vss. 6-9). The reason for this qualified "concession" is described in vs. 29ff, where he says, "But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none..." Paul has reference to the severe persecution against Christians already begun in part and shortly to be intensified, especially in the closing years of the A.D. 60 decade. This persecution would make it very difficult for the married person to "care for the things of the Lord" while having the additional care for a wife/husband (cf. vss. 32-34). For this reason Paul said, "I have no commandment from the Lord, yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy" (vs. 25). This judgment resulted in a "concession" based upon general doctrinal revelations and a revelation that shortly "the form of this world is passing away" (vs.31). So, in all of this Paul could and did make the appeal "I think I also have the Spirit of God" (vs. 40). Paul was not speaking out of his personal opinion or bias.
Again, when in verse 12 Paul said, "But to the rest I, not the Lord, say..." (dealing with matters pertaining to those who are already married), he is not making a distinction between what is and is not the will of God. In verse 10, the statement "Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord..." is in reference to what the Lord said in person and recorded in Matthew's record, Chapter 19. On that occasion Jesus said, "...whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (vs. 9). Jesus was speaking to the situation in which both husband and wife (being Jews) were in covenant relationship with God. Being in such a relationship, Paul said, "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"(vss. 10-11).
But in verse 12, Paul is speaking to a different relationship, where a believing husband (one in a covenant relationship with God) has an unbelieving wife (not in covenant relationship with God), or a believing wife has an unbelieving husband. If in that case, the unbelieving wife is willing to live with the believing husband, he is not to divorce her; and if the unbelieving husband is willing to live with the believing wife, she is not to divorce him (vss. 12-13). But, Paul said, "...if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases..." (vs. 15). Jesus did not speak to this situation as recorded in Matthew 19, so Paul said "I, not the Lord, say." This is not a matter of "concession" or "judgment." This is a matter of "commandment," a directive from the Lord, not spoken in person by the Lord but through the Holy Spirit. The context demands the conclusion that this is not a "this I say" spoken by Paul without authority from the Lord.
We are forced to this conclusion also in order to avoid a conflict of Scripture. Writing to the churches in Galatia, where Paul's apostolic authority was being challenged, he said, "But I make known to ["certify," KJV] you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). What Paul preached (and wrote) came to him by revelation from Jesus Christ. Furthermore, all of Paul's activity/preaching was not of his own whimsical notion (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:19). He understood that he was an ambassador for Christ, "as though God were pleading through us..." (2 Corinthians 5:20). Every person who thinks himself to be spiritual must, Paul said, "acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37).
Whether, therefore, "this I say" would be a "concession" or a "commandment" or a "judgment" of the apostle Paul, we must mark it down as being the inspired Word of God. We must not consider it only an "opinion," a "preference" or a "bias" of this man Paul. It is disturbing, to say the least, to hear such Scripture as noted above interpreted to be the "think so" of a biased man, a chauvinist and, at the best, being sound advice only for the society of his day!
What follows "This I say" stands fixed for all people, for every generation, for all time-- "Forever...settled in heaven"(Psalm 119:89).