Paul’s teachings on divorce are most significant since they represent the earliest Christian interpretation and application of Christ’s teaching to specific situations. The two main passages where Paul speaks on marriage and divorce are Romans 7:2-3 and 1 Corinthians 7:10-16.
The Teaching in Romans
In Romans, in order to explain that believers are no more under the law, Paul uses the example of marriage union. He says, “For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage.So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress (NIV).” Thus, Paul’s illustration from the marriage relationship sheds light on his view of marriage as a permanent union severed only by death.
The Teaching in First Corinthians
Paul’s major contribution on divorce comes from 1 Corinthians 7:10-16. Here, Paul might have been answering some of the problems raised by the believers in Corinth. Here, Paul addresses three crucial dimensions. Paul’s direction to Christians married to one another was like that of Jesus Himself (Mark 10:2-12), as a rule, no divorce (Matt. 5:32). Therefore, when problems occurred in a Christian marriage, the resolution was to be sought in reconciliation (Eph. 4:32), not in divorce. This applies to both man and woman. The next issue referred to Christians who were married to non-Christians. Jesus never had addressed this issue (I Cor.7:10,25). Here, Paul does it as situation requires, with no less authority (I Cor.7: 25). Some divorces may have been initiated because of the command of Ezra to the Israelites in Jerusalem after the exile (Ezra 10:11) to divorce themselves from pagan spouses. Similarly, the new believers might have tried to develop a new identity by changing the conditions under which they lived. Paul affirmed that even in a believer-unbeliever marriage, as a rule, there should not be divorce (I Cor.7:12-14). Paul’s principle was, “Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him” (17).
The Pauline Privilege
Paul under the guidance of the Spirit, gives teaching beyond what the Lord had given, since a new situation had arisen. When one party in a pagan marriage is converted to Christ he or she must not desert the other. But if the other insists on leaving the Christian “a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases” (I Cor.7:15). This is termed as “Pauline privilege” by many Scholars. Many Evangelical scholars believe that this is the second ground of divorce permitted by the Bible apart from adultery.
Nevertheless, one should keep in mind that the divorce initiative here comes from the unbelieving partner and not from the believer. The reason for which Paul allowed this is to happen is summarized in verse fifteen – God wants peace and not dissension. Hence, Paul’s teaching is consistent with the rest of the Bible that God hates divorce.
By Sam K John