Understanding Paul

(Number Five)

1 Corinthians 7 is important to understand because of the false interpretation of verse 15.  This text reads: “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.”   It is assumed that the word “bondage” means divorce, thereby permitting parties who divorce to remarry.  This interpretation contradicts the clear words of Jesus who said:  “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That 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. 5:31-32).

The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?  And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,  And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?  Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.  They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?  He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.  And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. (Matt. 19:3-9)

What is the meaning of the word “bondage” found in 1 Corinthians 7:15?  Did the Apostle Paul abolish the seventh commandment, totally disregarding the instruction of Christ?   Consider this:  The word “bondage” is from the Greek word douloo meaning “to enslave” or “make servant.”  It never refers to divorce.  The following New Testament Scriptures are where the word is found:  Acts 7:6, Romans 6:18, 22, 1 Corinthians 7:15; 9:19, Galatians 4:3, Titus 2:3, and 2 Peter 2:19.  In every case it refers to enslavement or bondage of some type.  It never refers to dissolving a marriage.

Consider, for example, some of the other translations:

And, if the unbelieving doth separate himself — let him separate himself: the brother or the sister is not under servitude in such [cases], and in peace hath God called us. (Young’s Literal Translation)

But if the one who is not a Christian has a desire to go away, let it be so: the brother or the sister in such a position is not forced to do one thing or the other: but it is God’s pleasure that we may be at peace with one another. (Bible in Basic English)

But if the unbelieving spouse separates himself, let him be separated. In circumstances like these, the brother or sister is not enslaved — God has called you to a life of peace. (Complete Jewish Bible)

But if the unbeliever depart, let him depart. For a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases. But God hath called us in peace. (Douay-Rheims)

These texts clearly show that if the unbeliever departs, the Christian husband or wife no longer has any obligation toward the departed unbeliever.  Furthermore Paul explicitly states:  “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39).  So, 1 Corinthians 7:15, does not grant permission to divorce or imply that one may remarry.  The only factor that terminates a bound marriage is the death of one of the parties.

Notice now the word “bound” in 1 Corinthians 7:39.  It is from the Greek word deo, literally meaning to bind.  Its New Testament usage makes this absolutely clear, and it is found in 47 texts.   A few examples illustrate the above statement.  See Mark 11:2; 6:17, Acts 24:27, Revelation 20:2.

Paul reinforces this fact in Romans 7:1-3.

Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth?  For the woman which hath an husband is bound [deo] by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; 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.

1 Corinthians 7 considers another issue that begins in verse 25.  Here Paul addresses the matter of virginity, which is actually addressing marriage.  The word “virgin” is from the Greek word parthenos, which means a maiden by implication, an unmarried daughter [but also includes men as verse 26 shows].   Parthenos is the same word used for the mother of Jesus, prior to her marriage to Joseph.  Paul advises the Corinthians that because of a present crisis, the time being short (vv. 26, 29), that it may be best not to marry, but if a couple decides to do so, it is no sin.  Considering the desires of the flesh, Paul emphasizes in verse 36:  “But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.”   The New King James Version states:  “But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry.”

Paul describes the problems that arise for married couples in times of local or national crises.  As Nero was the Roman Emperor at this time, reigning from 54-64 AD, this may have been the source of the problem, though it is not known the specific crisis to which Paul referred.  Paul’s advice regarding marriage was:  “Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity [to marry], but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.  So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better” (vv. 37-38). Verse 38 obviously refers to any father who would be giving his daughter in marriage.  Keep in mind this advice applied to a temporary situation only, and in no way implied that celibacy was more desirable than marriage.

1 Corinthians 9:19-21, is another text that has been misconstrued to mean that Paul did not keep the Law of God when working with those who had no knowledge of it. But is this what Paul said?

Notice the text:

For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.  And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.

An examination of this text indicates how careless some are in reaching the conclusions they do.  Note in particular the parenthetic expression (“being not with law to God, but under the law to Christ”).  The problem here is that the word “under,” in the parenthetical expression is a mistranslation.  The word “under” should be rendered “within.”   What Paul clearly states here is that while it may not appear that he observed the laws of the Jews, more importantly, he was within the Law of Christ.  In brief, he obeyed the teachings of Christ.  As a Christian, Paul understood the spiritual application of the law that was far beyond the limited understanding of the Jews.  This is the law Paul kept and illustrated in other Epistles the uselessness of trying to attain righteousness by works of the law.  The Law of Christ had replaced the physical works of the law.

1 Corinthians 11:5, has been misunderstood to mean that women are required to wear either a veil or hat while praying, and many include it to mean while attending church services.  To get some background, let us notice what Paul wrote in verses 1-3.   “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.  Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.  But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.”  Here is a God-given order of hierarchy, the order being first God, second man, and thirdly the woman.  It reveals the order of subjection given at the time of Creation.  The implication is that the Corinthian women, on the grounds of the abolition of distinction of gender in Christ, claimed equality with men, and, as a result, overstepped propriety.  Now take a look at verses four and five.  “Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.  But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.” The common interpretation of these verses is that a man dishonors God if he prays or prophesies with a hat on, and a woman dishonors her husband is she prays or prophesies without a hat or veil.  Shaven or shorn hair expresses the rejection of ornamental beauty and the subjection that long hair represents.  Also, the ordinary rule was for women to be silent in public (1 Cor. 14:34-35, 1 Tim. 2:11-12), and prophesying women were to exercise their gift at times and places other than in the public congregation.  “For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man” (v. 8).

For the correct understanding of the meaning of hair covering consider verses 13-15.  “Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?  Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him?  But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” So, it is clear that a long-haired man or a short-haired woman violate the God-given order of hierarchy established at Creation.   There is no justification for the notion that a woman who prays or prophesies should wear a hat or veil.

There is another reason that proper hair length is important.  Notice verse 10.  “For this cause ought the woman to have power [a covering that she is under the power of her husband, margin] on her head because of the angels.”  What does this mean?  Why would a woman be ordered to have a specific hair length because of the angels?

In Hebrews 1:13-14:  “But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?”   Angels are sent to minister [be beneficient] to people, specifically to the called brethren.   We have all heard the expression “guardian angels,” and this is certainly true.  They are around but invisible to the human eye.  This is why the Apostle Paul wrote: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13:2). Angels do not have wings or long hair.  When they appear, they appear as men.  While presently superior to men, they recognize what God has ordained for mankind.

For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him?  Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands:  Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. (Heb. 2:5-8)

The time is coming when in the Kingdom of God, the resurrected saints will judge angels (1 Cor. 6:3).  What Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:10, is that when a woman has long hair, with a corresponding attitude of humility and a right spirit, she has the protection of guardian angels — providing, of course, that she does not deliberately place herself in any dangerous situation.

How does Paul summarize this question?   “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have [recognize] no such custom, neither the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16).  One who obeys God does so voluntary.  We are free moral agents given the right to obey or disobey.  One who chooses to disobey may likely create contention and divisiveness.  Paul states that in this matter, the Church does not recognize a contentious spirit, and Christians are to note those who cause division.  This principle applies not only to the matter of hair but to any instruction that may lead to dissention by a brother or sister.  Paul states:  “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).

Many women today who have not been called to the truth may find this instruction in 1 Corinthians to be offensive.   For many, the care of long hair is too inconvenient.  But to the truly converted woman, it is accepted gracefully as an acknowledgement of God’s great sovereignty, wisdom, and concern for the woman He made for man (Gen. 2:18).