Christ and Divorce – 1 Corinthians chp 7 vs 10 to 11 and Matthew chapter 19

Just added to our series of messages from 1 Corinthians; a new message preached by J Stewart Gillespie:

1 Corinthians chp 7 vs 10 to 11 and Matthew chp 19 – Christ on Divorce – JS Gillespie


Notes from this message:


We notice that as we approach Matthew chapter 19, Matthew introduces the ministry of the Lord on marriage and divorce by connecting it back to:

and it came to pass that when Jesus had finished these sayings” (19:1)

The teachings of Christ on divorce and remarriage are linked back to the preceding ministry in chapter 18 on:

  • forgiveness (18:21ff)
  • reconciliation (18:15ff)
  • restoration (18:10ff)


The Pharisees come to Christ with a question (19:3): ‘regarding marriage, how do you break it?’

A word of caution here; if you take a conservative view of marriage, you may be accused of being:

  • Hard hearted
  • Unspiritual
  • Resisting the Grace of God
  • Standing in the way of the gospel


Notice however from Matthew chapter 19 that it is not those who appreciate the unique and unbreakable nature of marriage who are hard hearted and unspiritual, but rather the Pharisees who approach the issue of marriage with the attitude of what are the rules for getting out of marriage?

Here is marriage, how do we break it?

The Pharisees completely miss the point!

At the root of many complex problems often lies a fundamental error and here in Matthew chp 19, is no exception.

The Pharisees are experts in law.

The Pharisees know little in theory of Gods Grace and even less in practice.

What is the fundamental error of the Pharisees?

The fundamental error of the Pharisees is to attempt to subject Gods Gracious provision for Adam and mankind to law; “is it lawful for a man..?” (19:3)

That constitutes 3 errors:

  1. God is not subject to law
  2. Grace is not subject to law
  3. Law does not have as its purpose the modification or limitation or adjustment of the work of God but rather the detection of sin and restriction of the effects of sin in men.


If after your studies in marriage you end up with a set of; conditions, clauses, rules and regulations, by which marriage might be broken, who have made the same error.

  1. God is not subject to law

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God...” (Rom 3:19)

  1. Grace is not subject to law

Gods Grace cannot be subject to law:

For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Rom 6:14)

Gods Grace surpasses law:

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound:” (Rom 5:20)

This distinction, lies at the heart of the progress form the Old to New Testaments, not surprisingly the Pharisees missed it.

Marriage was Gods gracious provision for Adam:

And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.” (Gen 2:22)


  1. Law does not have as its purpose the modification or limitation or adjustment of the work of God but rather the detection of sin and restriction of the effects of sin in men.

Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Rom 3:19-20)


Christs response 19:4ff.

The Lord will not only answer their question but will give them the reason for His answer (19:4-6):


  1. Origin – of God: “He which made them…” (v4)
  2. Ordinance – in Creation: “made them at the beginning...” (v4)
  3. Oneness – of the bond: “shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh…no more twain but one flesh…” (v5,v6)

So then:

  1. Origin – of God: “He which made them…” (v4)

Marriage is no:

  • social convention
  • legal contract
  • human convenience

Marriage is a Divine ordinance

We can no more pass laws or issue a decree nisi dissolving marriage than we can pass laws banning the rain from falling in New Cumnock in December.


  1. Ordinance – in Creation: “made them at the beginning…” (v4)

Lets not miss the basic truth here; if God ordered His creation as male and female and ordered human relationships in this fashion, and if God delights in what He does then He cannot possibly desire nor delight in the destruction of what He has ordered.

God is in fact the destroyer of that which destroys His creatorial order:

Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;” (Heb 2:14)

And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” (Rev 21:4)

And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Rev 21:27)

In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” (Rev 22:2)


  1. Oneness – of the bond: “shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh…no more twain but one flesh…” (v5,v6)

Cleaving‘ and the ‘one flesh.’

It is difficult to imagine stronger language to describe a human bond, than that of ‘Cleaving‘ or ‘one flesh‘. In other words, divorce finds it parallel not in the separation or parting of once good friends but in amputation or excision of a part of our own being.

Eve how can you divorce Adam?

Simply hand him back his rib, intercostal muscle, subcostal nerve, artery and vein and costochondral cartilage.


cleave” in Genesis 2:24 is the Hebrew word ‘dawbak’ – it is a word used later in the scriptures of:

  • The human soul hanging onto God permanently, perpetually, and persistently throughout the whole of life (Deut 10:20; 11:12; 13:4; 30:20; Joshua 22:5; 23:8)
  • That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deu 30:20)
  • But take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law, which Moses the servant of the LORD charged you, to love the LORD your God, and to walk in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, and to cleave unto him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Jos 22:5)
  • Of the example of Ruth: “And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.(Ruth 1:14)
  • Of the grip that leprosy will have on Gehazi; “The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.” (2Ki 5:27) – that is one sticky bond, the bond of Mycobacterium Leprae spreading through the flesh! Fancy trying to divorce it with a court order?
  • My bone cleaveth to my skin and to my flesh, and I am escaped with the skin of my teeth.” (Job 19:20)
  • Job speaking of the scales of Leviathian – a not so prehistoric monster, “They are joined one to another, they stick together, that they cannot be sundered.” (Job 41:17)


Don’t worry Gehazi – all you need to do to get rid of that leprosy is issue a court order!



The Pharisees have a good answer however (19:7)

Surely if Moses “commanded” divorce they have a strong case for continuing what God comanded in His Word.

Well they would have, had God or Moses “commanded” it!

Actually Deuteronomy 24 does not “command” divorce at all.

Deuteronomy 24 places certain obligations and restrictions upon those who do divorce.

To legislate on something is not the same as commanding that act.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is in fact a complex ‘if’ ‘then’ clause, with some very interesting implications in fact.

The clause is well brought out in the ESV:

When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.” (Deu 24:1-4)


Keil and Delitzsch (p950):

In these verses, however, divorce is not established as a right; all that is done is, that in case of a divorce, a reunion with the divorced wife is forbidden, if in the meantime she had married another man, even though the second husband had also put her away, or had died. The four verses form a period, in which v1-3 are the clauses of the protasis, which describe the matter treated about; and v4 contains the apodosis, with the law concerning the point in question. If a man married a wife, and he put her away with a letter of divorce, because she did not please him any longer, and the divorced woman married another man, and he either put her away in the same manner or died, the first husband could not taker her as his wife again.”


I would have to confess that the most natural way to read the English text of Matthew chapter 19:9, in isolation from the rest of the NT, would be to read it as providing for the one, or one of the few provisions for divorce and remarriage in the New Testament.


There are however 8 major problems with accepting an exception clause in Matthew chapter 19:


Problem 1:

  1. As hinted at by RT France it introduces a tremendous ‘tension’ in the text of Matthew chapter 19; which is surely a euphemism for ‘obvious contradiction’ in the teachings of Christ in Matthew 19, between the absolute ideal of God, established in creation, to which Christ refers back to in 19:4-6; and an acceptance of divorce and Remarriage by verse 9! A tension between the:
  • Divine Presidence over marriage (19:4); “He which made them” – marriage is not a social construct; ie it is not simply how we order our society out of convenience or to provide stability for families and for societies, nor is it primarily a legal contract it is a Divine ordinance. There are many implications which flow from this but the most pertinent and pressing one to note here in Matthew 19 and later in 1 Corinthians chp 7 is that I cannot come with man made laws and loop holes and trump what is a Divine ordinance. To paraphrase the message of 19:7-9; you can wave about any bit of paper that you like but that bit of paper does not dissolve a marriage. God is not subject to our bits of paper. Bits of paper have no more power to divorce husband from wife, than they have power to divorce rain from New Cumnock in September. Divine ordinances are NOT subject to human decrees. Divine creation is not subject to human courts.

This elevates marriage above the status of a merely human convenience or legal convention or social construction. This is Divine constitution in origin and creatorial in its establishment. Men passing laws over what the God of heaven has done is like spitting in the wind, or passing laws over the weather or standing like King Canute commanding the tides to go back; ‘Henry of Huntingdon tells the story as one of three examples of Canute’s “graceful and magnificent” behaviour In Huntingdon’s account, Canute set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the incoming tide to halt and not wet his feet and robes.

Yet “continuing to rise as usual [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.’ He then hung his gold crown on a crucifix, and never wore it again “to the honour of God the almighty King”. It would seem however, that despite Christ carefully establishing marriage as this Divine bastion, impenetrable to all human authority, and, governed by eternal laws, that on further prompting by the Pharisees He then back tracks with an exception clause or two. Put very simply God made them “male and female” to bring them together and not to pull them apart

Put simply we don’t read through all of that and then expect to find an exception clause at the end! Having read through all of that, the last thing I expect to find, is the Lord saying; ‘and here is how you can get divorced.’

It dilutes Christs point concerning the CONCESSION of Moses in verses 7,8. Having explained that Moses teaching on divorce was a concession to hard hearted sinners rather than a Divine commandment to divorce, Christ seems then to make the same concession, according to some. In which case perhaps we really haven’t moved on much beyond the law. Having removed Moses exception clause Christ simply introduces His own exception clauses.


Problem 2:


More importantly this provision for ‘hard hearts’ (19:8); also seems, at least in part to transfer to Christs disciples, as a provision for our hard hearts too! What is the problem with that?


  • And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:” (Eze 11:19)
  • Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Eze 18:31)
  • A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.” (Eze 36:26)
  • Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Joh 3:3)
  • Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2Co 5:17)


If Christ has to make provision for hard hearts, redeemed and regenerate by Grace, I’m not sure that this Gospel is much worth preaching at all! This regeneration being offered by Christ, is a regeneration with a view to failure. If Christ has no confidence in His Gospel, how can I?


Problem 3:

  1. If the text under discussion is that of Deuteronomy chapter 24 (19:7) and Christ makes the interpretation ‘stricter’ as some would have it, to allow divorce and remarriage only for adultery, then either
  • Christ misinterprets the law; for Deuteronomy 24 does not prescribe nor permit divorce for adultery, the law commanded death for adultery! This is a point often made, of which admittedly more could be said.


  • we have here in Matthew chp 19 a unique scenario in the whole of the New Testament in which Christ changes the law and then places the believer under that altered law. We have the law modified that the believer may be subjected to it! This is a point often forgotten / ignored or missed by proponents of an exception clause or clauses. This may seem a strange, almost obscure point to make, but it is in fact critically important. The attitude of Christ to the law in Matthews Gospel, is to intensify the appreciation of the righteous demands of the law (Matthew chp 5); the righteousness of the law stands, undiluted from Moses; “For truly I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass one jot or one title shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matt 5:18); with the true righteousness behind it amplified (Matt 5:21ff; 27ff; 31ff; 33ff). The position of the apostle Paul is to free us from the delusion that by achieving that standard we will earn salvation. Nowhere, but nowhere does Christ or the apostles dilute the righteousness of the law, nor alter it that they might then place the believer under it! Because of this, a belief in an exception clause or clauses leads inevitably to something: arguments abouts laws, rules and loopholes – legalism.


Problem 4:

  1. It fails to explain the significance of the interchange of terminology in 19:9, between the 2 words “fornication” and “adultery. ” Under Jewish law a married woman who had a relationship out with her marriage was guilty of adultery. Why use the more general word “fornication” then if adultery is in fact meant?


Problem 5:

If this is an exception clause, and as such the only clear exception clause in the gospels why is it omitted by Mark (Mk 10:1-12) and Luke (16:18). It is not that a truth needs to be repeated 3 or 4 times in the Word of God to make it true. Mark is clearly dealing with the same incident (Mk 10:1ff) and yet he omits the ‘exception clause’! Why omit something so important? Bear in mind too that it would be another 20 to 30 years at least before the NT would be complete, this would mean, that whilst early Jewish converts to Christ, with their Hebrew Gospel of Matthew had an exception clause, that gentile converts converted under the preaching of Paul, Barbara and Mark didn’t!



Problem 6:

The introduction of an exception clause to an ideal and original view of marriage is as fatal a flaw as the Pharisitical interpretation of Deuteronomy 24. If this is an exception to the high standards and authoritative teaching of Christ on divorce, then watch what happens when it comes in to effect. A couple separate, perhaps over something which cold have been resolved, personality issues, family stresses, arguments and finance etc. No one is guilty of any adultery and thus according to the teaching of Christ neither can get remarried. Let us suppose that one of those partners wishes to get remarried. He is aware that the word of God prohibits it. So what does he do? Wait! All he needs to do is wait. In having encountered many of these difficult and trying circumstances over the years, I can think only of 1 marital break down where one or other of the partners have not ultimately found someone else. In other words all of the high standards, all of the radical interpretation of the OT text, all of the moral high ground which seems to be taken by Christ, degenerates into this: ‘divorce and Remarriage is ok so long as you don’ t do it first! ‘ Or to put it another way you are permitted to break the 7th commandment so long as someone has done it before you! That is an utterly astounding teaching! That is practically no different whatsoever from Moses teaching in Deuteronomy chapter 24.


Problem 7:


If Matthew chapter 19:9 is an exception clause permitting remarriage after divorce for adultery; it explicitly only gives permission for a man so to do. Invariably this is ignored and glossed over in any commentary which interprets this text as an exception clause to divorce and remarriage after adultery; that the supposed permission to remarry in the event of adultery is explicitly given only to the husband! Invariably those who infer an exception clause here are then forced to add to the verse an exception clause likewise for a woman whose husband commits adultery. Such an exception is not given.


Problem 8:


What happens to the woman put away for adultery? Since it would appear by this interpretation of Matthew 19 the only occasion in which a man might put away his wife is for adultery then the woman who is put away at the end of the verse must be the woman put away for adultery. She is not permitted to remarry; but why? In so doing she is party to adultery! In other words she is still married to her first husband! The Lord has given the husband permission to remarry! Has the Lord then given the husband permission for polygamy?


Problem 9:


  • If this is an exception clause permitting divorce and remarriage after or because of adultery; then this exception clause effectively permits divorce and remarriage for everyone at any time. It completely and immediately deregulates all marriage. Do you believe in the inspiration of Matthews Gospel? Do you believe that Christs commentary on the law of Moses, in the sermon on the mount was inspired? Do you believe that His insight into Gods view of sin, which goes beyond the merely external and legal is true, real and accurate? cf. Matt 5:20; 21-22; now consider Matt 5:27-28. If divorce and remarriage are permissible for adultery. We need to remember how Christ actually defined adultery and leave behind narrow legal definitions of adultery! Did you know that under Jewish law at the time, that a married man only was guilty of adultery if the woman he was having an affair with was also married? If divorce and remarriage is permissible for adultery there is not a marriage which cannot be dissolved on those grounds!




This is an EXCEPTIONAL mess!


There are at least 4 ways of reconciling this text with a consistent view of marriage and its indissolubility:


  1. Marriage within prohibited degrees: eg 1 Corinthians chp 5:1-2; the case of Herod and Herodias – FF Bruce
  2. The setting is that of betrothal – John Heading
  3. That the exception applies only to the first condition and not the second

Not surprisingly then the earliest expositions of Matthew 19:9 understood this verse in quite a different way; this seems in part to be due to the very unusual if not unique grammatical structure of the verse. The almost universal opinion of early Christian writers; including around 25 so called church fathers; was that verse 9 was to be understood in the light of Matthew chp5; Mark chp 10 and Luke chp 16. Those early writers understood the unusual construction of the Greek verse better than you or I could understand it.

DuPont (in Wenham and Heth p51) notes that verse 9 is a;

double conditional clause in which an elliptical phrase is placed immediately after the first condition, ‘to put away’. The elliptical phrase – ‘except for immorality’ – does not contain a verb, and one must be supplied from the context. The only verb which has already been stated for the reader to understand is the one immediately preceding the exception clause – ‘put away’ – the verb Matthew’s readers just passed over. Matthew 19:9 would then read:

‘If a man puts away his wife, if it is not for immorality that he puts her away, and marries another, he commits adultery.’

‘The exception clause is thus stating an exception to the first condition, ‘If a man puts away his wife.’

Also Grundy in Wenham and Heth p51:

‘the exceptive phrase applies only to divorce. In the word order of 19:9 the exceptive phrase immediately follows the mention of divorce but preceeds the mention of remarriage by the husband. Had Matthew been concerned to establish the right of the husband to remarry under the exception, he would hardly have omitted remarriage here in 5:32 and then put the exception only after the matter of divorce in 19:9. To be sure the Jews took the right of remarriage after divorce as a matter of course. But it is not for nothing that Matthew’s Jesus demands a surpassing sort of Righteousness’

‘Dupont admits that it might be possible for the exception to qualify the second clause, ‘and marries another.’ But he also says that it is not likely here because the precise question posed by the Pharisees is, ‘what reason justifies divorce?’ The Phrase ‘for any cause at all’ in Matthew 19:3 anticipates the answer ‘except for immorality’ in verse 9, and both are peculiar to Matthew’s Gospel. We should therefore have expected Jesus to reply to this issue eventually and in a manner consistent with His earlier remarks in 5:32. Thus 19:9 could be paraphrased on this interpretation, ‘No cause, save unchastity, justifies divorce, and even then remarriage is adultery.’ This makes Jesus give an explicit reply to the Pharisees that is consistent with His earlier remarks allowing no real divorce but only separation.

Is there anything in the text that would help us decide wither or not the exception applies to one or both conditions?

I would suggest that if Matt 19:9 is taken as an exception clause, the clause can apply ONLY to the first condition; ‘shall put away his wife’ and cannot logically apply to the second; ‘and shall marry another.’ Here is why:

  • If we take Matt 19:9 as permission to put away a wife for adultery and permission for the innocent party (husband) to remarry what do we take from this verse is to happen to the wife?
  • Does the wife put away for adultery have permission in this verse to remarry?
  • As the only person who is put away in this verse with Divine endorsement, surely the last sentence of verse 9 must apply to the guilty party put away?
  • So by the double exception the innocent party can remarry and the guilty can’t.
  • That seems straight forward and fair!
  • Just a minute why can’t the guilty party remarry? Because that would be “adultery” (19:9) – in other words the guilty party put away is still married to her original husband, who according to those who advocate the double exception and permission to divorce and remarry, has just married another wife and thus the Lord has just given permission for the innocent party to become a bigamist!


Whilst the above view is certainly feasible it is perhaps simpler and it perhaps succeeds in answering more questions if we see that:


  1. The exception here is for premarital fornication in the context of Deuteronomy chp 22.
  • The ‘exception’ mentioned here is not ‘adultery’ but rather ‘fornication’. This is interesting, for adultery is used here in Matt19:9; Matt 5:32; Mark 10:11-12 and Luke 16:18 for illicit relationships out with the marriage bond, whereas fornication has a broader meaning including sexual relationships when unmarried.
  • The Matthew 19 exception appears only in Matthew, which has a Jewish audience and in a discussion with the Pharisees
  • As well as the provision for divorce in Deuteronomy 24 there was a further provision for the dissolution of marriage in Deuteronomy chp 22.
  • This interpretation also explains why in Matt 19:9 the right to put away and possibly remarry is given only to the man, for the detection of fornication at the beginning of the marriage, is in the terms of Deuteronomy chp 22 only detectable in the woman.


Your Final Destination – Paul Jenkinson

Just added to our Gospel section; a new message preached by Mr Paul Jenkinson (Galston) from Matthew chapter 7:


Your Final Destination – Matthew chp 7 vs 13 to 14 – Paul Jenkinson – 07122014



1 Corinthians chapter 7 verses 8 and 9 – To the Unmarried and Widows

Just added; a new message preached from 1 Corinthians chapter 7, by J Stewart Gillespie:


1 Corinthians chp 7 vs 8 and 9 – To the Unmarried and Widows – JS Gillespie – 02122014




Notes from this message:


I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.” (1Co 7:8)

Verse 8 seems straightforward enough, I would believe that it seems straightforward enough because it is straightforward.

This is teaching given against the backdrop of the ministry already given by the Lord (1Co7:10)

So we come to 1 Corinthians chp 7 with the knowledge which we have gleaned from Matthew 19, Mark chp 10, Luke 16 and Romans chp 7.


Who are the ‘unmarried’ here?


The natural reading, which would need no special redefinition of words from later on in the chapter yet to come is to see this statement as consistent and compatible with the NT teachings on marriage which had already been given to us; namely that in the New Testament there have up until now only been 2 groups of people who can be married:


  1. Those who have never been married (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18)
  2. Those who have been widowed (Rom 7:2-3)


This simple and straightforward understanding of the verse seems confirmed as we read on through the chapter; in particular this word ‘unmarried’ is simply the word “agamos” : “ἄγαμος” – not married or without marriage. It has no technical meaning. It is a general word, the precise meaning of which, or the group to which it refers must be judged by the context:

  • unmarried” (v8) – unmarried people in general
  • unmarried” (v11) – the state following divorce or separation
  • unmarried” (v32) – unmarried people in general as contrasted to those who are married
  • unmarried” (v34) – the never married virgin


Some here have tried to read into the word, “ἄγαμος” a very specific meaning; that of ‘previously married’ or divorced people.

John MacArthur, who in a quite uncharacteristic lapse, in his exposition ,  claims that verses 8 and 9, is the answer to the question; ‘what about the situation of those who have been divorced or widowed and then become Christians?’

‘The McArthur New Testament Commentary : 1 Corinthians : John McArthur p162’

‘These verses answer the question, ‘should those who were married and divorced before becoming Christians remarry?’ No doubt that was a key question in the Corinthian church. Formerly married people came to salvation in Christ and asked if they now had the right to marry someone else. Pauls response here is uniquely fitted to those who want to know their options’

To give credit to MacArthur he does spend some time subsequently attempting to justify his translation of ‘agamos’ as divorced :

He does this by reading forward in the passage; inferring a specific meaning to “ἄγαμος” which you would not initially suspect as a reader fresh to the chapter and then reading that specific meaning back into the verse here in verse 8. That is a doubtful expositional technique. It makes little sense that the beginning of the message cannot be understood until the end of the message; or that the meaning of the beginning doesn’t come till the end; which means that the message starts at the beginning and the meaning comes at the end!



MacArthur correctly notes that “ἄγαμος” is used 4 times in 1 Corinthians chp 7, the only 4 times it is used in the NT, it’s usage here should define it’s meaning argues MacArthur :

  • ἄγαμος” appears in verse 11 and there it does indeed refer to either a divorced or separated person, although the use of “ἄγαμος” in verse 11 probably causes him more problems than it solves because in verse 11 it is joined with an injunction preventing remarriage!
  • ἄγαμος” appears again in verse 32 and here it inconveniently for MacArthur refers to unmarried people in general, not fitting his translation, he passes swiftly over its usage here; ‘verse 32 uses it in a way that gives little hint as to its specific meaning; it simply refers to a person who is not married.’ (p162), a tacit acknowledgement that “ἄγαμος” really won’t hold the kind of meaning that McArthur would like it to have.
  • MacArthur is left to bolster his theory with the useage of “ἄγαμος” in verse 34, one of the most difficult to translate verses in 1 Corinthians. There is for this verse 3 alternative Greek texts, and at least 5 ways of translating the verse, with one of the main areas of debate lieing over the precise meaning of “ἄγαμος”, so in looking to verse 34 to support his interpretation, MacArthur is relying on a question to support an answer!
  • There are 3 main textual traditions for this verse:
  1. The Received Text and Majority Text, reflected in the translation of the AV, RV, Darby, Youngs Literal Translation, Bible in Basic English, EMTV , in which it is clear that the unmarried refers to virgins.
  1. More modern critical texts of Nestlé-Aland and UBS reflected in the NIV, Holmans CSB, ASV; ‘but he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife and is divided. So also the woman that is unmarried and the virgin is careful for the things of the Lord.’ Also the NRSV; ‘but the married man is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please his wife and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit.’ 


    Interestingly one of the newer critical translations the ESV, draws the newer critical texts into harmony with the older English translations with : ‘but the married man is anxious about worldly things how to please his wife and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit.’ A translation which seems to do justice to both the newer critical texts as well as the context of this section beginning in verse 25, ‘now concerning virgins’


The interpretation of “ἄγαμος” as being a divorcee is thus based upon one possible translation of verse 34.

Irrespective of how we translate v34 “ἄγαμος” here in verse 8 cannot mean divorced people; for it causes 3 contradictions within the chapter and at least 5 out with the chapter in the rest of the NT:


  1. In verse 11 the use of “ἄγαμος” referring to a divorced or separated person seems to bolster the interpretation of verse 8 as also referring to divorced people, but if we take the meaning of “ἄγαμος” from verse 11 we shoot ourselves in the foot because those who are unmarried because of divorce in verse 11 are not allowed to remarry! We cannot have the same group being referred to in verse 8 and verse 11 because the opposite instructions are given to them!
  2. There is a conflict with the general instruction of 7:18-24
  1. Permission in verse 8 for divorcees to remarry contradicts verse 39; “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.” (1Co 7:39)
  1. Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.(Luk 16:18)
  1. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.” (Mar 10:11-12)
  1. 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.” (Mat 5:32)
  1. 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.(Mat 19:9) of all of these Matthew 19 is the most complex and the most interesting generally going hand in hand with the interpretation of 1 Co 7:8 that marriage is permissible after divorce is the interpretation of Matthew 19:9 that there was in the teachings of Christ already acknowledged an exception to the indissolubly of marriage. For those who see an exception clause in Matthew 19:9 and permission for all divorcees to remarry in 1 Co 7:8 we face a problem; why was it necessary to spell out an exception to no remarriage after divorce in Matthew 19 if all divorcees can remarry anyway by 1 Co 7:8?
  1. For the woman which hath an husband is bound 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.” (Rom 7:2-3)


Perhaps the greatest weakness in MacArthurs argument lies in what he fails to say rather in what he does say. Whilst he spends some considerable time in trying to justify his contention that ἄγαμος” means divorced, MacArthur gives absolutely no space whatsoever to justifying his contention that verse 8 and 9 is the answer to the question :

”should those who were married and divorced before becoming Christians remarry?’ No doubt that was a key question in the Corinthian church…’

MacArthur is of course unable to prove this contention for it is purely conjectural. This verse could equally be the answer to a number of questions :

  • What about divorced or married slaves who become Christians?
  • What about those who once were living together but were never officially married?


Whilst it might be hypothetically advisable or desirable to have an answer to the question, ‘what about those who were divorced before they became Christians?’ It is difficult not only to imagine how conversion makes a difference here and even more so it would seem very difficult to imagine how clarification on pre conversion widowhood is required? What possible unique scenario do we ascribe to widowhood within and without of conversion? It is difficult to see why a specific injunction is required for pre conversion widowhood as opposed to post conversion widowhood.


In an attempt to make sense of this confusion some would say in verse 8 you are allowed to get remarried if you were divorced before you were saved but in verse 11 if you are divorced after you get saved you are not allowed to get remarried. Apart from this being incredibly unfair and requiring 2 separate standards of ethics and morality; which is a non starter; this all suffers from an utterly fatal flaw; we have just turned the clock back 1500 years for the Corinthians, 3500 years for the Christian today, and we have done with marriage what Lord condemned in Matthew 19. We have legalised it. We have subjected it to rules and laws of divorce. We have taken the:

  • Divine Priority in marriage “He which made them at the beginning” (Matt 19:4)
  • Divine Purpose in marriage “male and female”
  • Divine Prohibition in marriage; “let not man put asunder” (Matt 19:6)

We have gone back to the dealings of the Pharisees, trumping Gods work with rules and law and lop holes and regulations.

This is not the way it was meant to be.


Christ Jesus Came into the World to Save Sinners

Just added; a new Gospel message preached by Mr William Houston from 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 15:


1 Timothy chp 1 vs 15 – Christ Jesus Came into the World to Save Sinners – William Houston – 30112014

Remembrance and Reflection – 2 Peter Chapter 1

Just added; a new message preached by Mr Hamilton Welsh from 2 Peter chapter 1:


2 Peter chp 1 vs 1 to 21 – Remembrance and Reflection – Hamilton Welsh – 04112014

Luke chapter 1 verses 1 to 25 – When Doubts Set in

Just added a new message preached by  Dr J Stewart Gillespie from the Gospel according to Luke:


Luke chp 1 vs 1 to 25 – When Doubts Set in – JS Gillespie – 02112014