Volume XI, Issue 3
I Corinthians 7:15 speaks of the wilful, physical
desertion of a believer by his or her unbelieving spouse: "But if the
unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under
bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace."
Many argue that "not under bondage" means that the
deserted believer is no longer married and so is free to remarry.
However, there are insuperable problems with this view.
First, the text says nothing about remarriage, as
such. Remarriage, while one’s spouse is living, has already been ruled
out in the preceding context. Two, and only two, options are given to
the divorced person: either "remain unmarried" or "be reconciled" to
your husband or wife (11). Also at the end of this great chapter on
Christian singleness and marriage, the apostle forbids remarriage while
one’s spouse is living (39).
Second, Christ teaches that fornication is the only
ground for divorce: "whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for
the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and
whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery" (Matt.
5:32; cf. 19:9). Desertion is not a ground for divorce, for Christ
permitted only one ground and not two.
Third, this view presents marriage as bondage and the
husband and the wife as two slaves in servitude. For, if the deserted
Christian is able to remarry, "not under bondage" must mean that he or
she is no longer married. Yet the Bible teaches that marriage is a "one
flesh" union between a man and a woman (Gen. 2:24), a covenant of
companionship (Mal. 2:14), which pictures Christ’s bond with His bride,
the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Through human sin, marriage may be
experienced as a sort of bondage. However, if this experience (and
not the marriage itself) is said to be the "bondage" of I Corinthians
7:15, then the text is merely saying that the hardships of living with
an unbeliever are over once he or she deserts you. Then the text would
say nothing about the bond of marriage itself being broken nor would it
Fourth, Scripture teaches that God breaks the bond of
marriage only at death. "The wife is bound by the law as long as her
husband liveth [even if she has been deserted!]; but if her husband be
dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the
Lord" (I Cor. 7:39). "For the woman which hath an husband is bound by
the law to her husband so long as he liveth [even if she has been
deserted!]; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of
her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to
another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be
dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though
she be married to another man" (Rom. 7:2-3).
The correct interpretation lies in the right
understanding of the key phrase "not under bondage" (15). Those "under
bondage" are slaves, those reduced to servitude. Deserted believers are
not enslaved to their spouses and so do not have to pursue them and
pressurize them to return. Thus "not under bondage" does not mean "not
bound to your wife." "Bound" and "bondage" are two similar looking and
similar sounding words, but they are markedly different. The Greek words
which we translate "bound" (I Cor. 7:27, 39) and "bondage" (15) are
likewise different. Never does God’s Word describe the holy state of
matrimony as "bondage!" "Bondage" is slavery, whereas "bound" speaks of
a connection, here, that of marriage, a one flesh union (27, 39). The
RSV and the NIV, probably in order to promote the misinterpretation of I
Corinthians 7:15, twist God’s Word. The deserted believer, they
mistranslate, "is not bound [in marriage]."
Being "not under bondage," the deserted believer is
called to "peace" (15). He or she is not to feel guilty or ashamed or
anxious. The deserted believer has been forsaken for his or her faith by
his or her unbelieving spouse and so he or she has done nothing wrong
and is not to blame. The child of God, in such circumstances, is to
accept and acquiesce in God’s providence and not go chasing his or her
spouse all over the country. After all, the believer has peace with God
through the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1), and the fruit of
His Spirit is peace (Gal. 5:22). God calls deserted Christian spouses to
peace because He, in Jesus Christ, is our faithful husband who loves and
provides for us. He will always be with us and He will never forsake us.
Next time (DV), we will consider the tradition of the
church’s interpretation of I Corinthians 7:15 and desertion. Rev.
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in
drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the
sabbath days (Col. 2:16).
A reader asks, "How does Colossians 2:16 fit with
Christian teaching on the Lord’s Day?" Some in the church world today
have become very legalistic regarding the Sabbath and, by precept upon
precept, have driven many aspects of Sabbath observance out of the whole
area of Christian liberty—contrary to what Paul writes in Colossians
2:16. Others, misunderstanding Christian freedom, have all but destroyed
the Sabbath. They hold that the Sabbath is no different from any day of
the week, and, while it is preferable to attend church on the Lord’s
Day, one could just as well change worship services from the Lord’s Day
to other weekdays, and involve one’s self in any weekday activities on
the Lord’s Day. Every day of the week, so it is said, is Sabbath.
Let me mention first that Paul is warning against a
misuse of the Sabbath in Colossians 2:16. The whole passage proves this.
Paul explains to us that the powerful work of Christ on the cross
blotted "out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us" (14).
Christ, in other words, fulfilled the law for us.
Paul goes on to apply this to the life of the church.
Some claim, and perhaps correctly, that Paul was waging war against an
early form of Gnosticism present in Colossae (and perhaps in other
nearby churches). Gnosticism took on various forms: it was more a
movement than a doctrinally united church or organization. One form was
a Jewish Gnosticism which was closely related to the errors present in
Jerusalem and the Galatian churches. Many in the church, converted from
the Jewish religion, wanted to cling to the old laws which marked Israel
as a separate nation. They taught that salvation was based on faith in
Christ and the works of the law—a heresy almost identical with
the error of those today who teach justification by faith and works.
(Paul refutes this dreadful heresy especially in his epistles to the
Galatians and the Romans.)
That Paul is opposing such thinking is clear from
verses 17 and 18, while the positive statement of the truth is found in
verse 19. In verse 17 Paul makes clear that those laws about meat,
drink, holydays, feasts of the new moon, and Sabbath days "are a shadow
of things to come," and so they were fulfilled by Christ. One need only
read Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy to see how many laws there were
concerning these things.
It is well to note that the plural is used here,
indicating that the reference is to the entire Sabbath cycles: the
seventh day of the week, the seventh year, the fiftieth year which was
the year of jubilee. Christ has fulfilled them and they are no longer
binding on Christians who must stand in the liberty of their redemption.
Nevertheless, the Sabbath day is binding on the
Christian, for it is a part of the decalogue, and, in fact, belongs to
the first table of the law in which we are instructed how, specifically,
we are to love the Lord our God. Those who want to pull the fourth
commandment out of the law of God cannot and may not do this; if they
insist, they will do the same to the other commandments.
Yet, so it is argued, the fourth commandment requires
refraining from work on the seventh day of the week. That is no
longer in force. The fulfilment of the fourth commandment means that
every day of the week is Sabbath. Yet, those who teach that every day is
Sabbath, actually practice that no day is Sabbath.
It is well to point out that the law itself gives us
hints of its deeper character and its fulfilment in Christ. The very
introduction to the law reminds us that we are delivered from the
slavery of sin: "I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of
the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Ex. 20:2). The tenth
commandment, which forbids covetousness, is correctly interpreted by our
Heidelberg Catechism as referring to the inward perfection of the
whole law: "That even the smallest inclination or thought contrary to
any of God’s commandment never rise in our hearts; but that at all times
we hate all sin with our whole heart, and delight in all righteousness"
The fulfilment of the law does not mean that the
Sabbath is no more to be kept, but it does mean that the day is
fulfilled by Christ’s perfect work. It is fulfilled in this way. The
fourth commandment laid down a fundamental principle of the law: Israel
had to work six days to enjoy the rest of the Sabbath. The work of the
six days had to be perfect work which was free from sin and was to God’s
glory—as it was in paradise. If Israel obeyed, they would enjoy the rest
of the Sabbath. If Israel failed, they would never have that rest.
It was the same principle of the whole law: Blessing
in the keeping of the law, but cursing in the transgression of the law.
And, because the human race fell in Adam, Israel was unable to keep the
law and so the law could only curse them.
That Christ fulfilled the law means that He bore the
curse which was due to us; and He also earned for us the gracious power
to keep the law perfectly—a perfection which will not be ours until
heaven and is true of us now only in principle. That fulfilment was
through Christ’s cross and resurrection on the first day of the week.
And so the church of the new dispensation keeps the Sabbath on the first
day of the week in joyful commemoration of Christ’s perfect work.
Now we do not have to work six days without sin to
earn rest; we are graciously given that rest on the first day of the
week so that we may (and can and will) work for six days in Christ’s
kingdom and to God’s glory, for we work by the power of the new
dispensation Sabbath. Because we now have the freedom of Christ and are
able to keep the law, the "Sabbath" becomes for us a day in which we lay
aside our earthly labours and devote the day to our spiritual lives,
especially as God has given us the corporate worship of the church in
which the gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered. We
ought to be everlastingly thankful for this great blessing! Prof.
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