|Putting Away, Departing
One of the most difficult situations, if not the most difficult situation, that one can experience in
a marriage is when the mates do not share the same outlook on life, especially when they
are not a Christian. This difficulty is compounded when the Christian in the marriage has
been converted after having been an unbeliever himself. The change that comes with being
"born again" makes it seem to the unbeliever that they are married to an entirely different
person, which in a way they are. The non-Christian may have problems, sometimes severe
problems, in understanding and/or accepting the change in their mate.
It is this strained relationship that Paul addresses in I Corinthians 7:12-16: "But to the rest
speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell
with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not,
and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is
sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your
children unclean, but now are they holy. 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. For what
knowest thou, 0 wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, 0 man,
whether thou shalt save thy wife?"
The Christian, in a marriage with an unbeliever, is not free to either put away or to leave the
unbeliever as long as the unbeliever wishes to stay. There is no uncleanness in the marriage
as there was under the Old Covenant for the Israelite to marry an idolater (see Ezra 10:2,3).
The marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian is acceptable in the sight of God.
There is no way of telling whether the Christian mate will convert their unbelieving mate. The
best chance is by continued faithfulness to both God and the marriage (see I Peter 3:1). But, if
the non-Christian wishes to leave, there is nothing that the Christian can do about it. Let them
go. Marriage is not bondage, or slavery. It is not held together with chain and fetters, but with
love and commitment. The Christian cannot "hog tie" the non-Christian to keep them in the
marriage. The Christian is not responsible for the desertion of the non-Christian.
Many different explanations of the desertion by the unbeliever are made. Some make the
desertion upon the basis of faith: the unbeliever being unable to remain with the believer
because of their faith. But, what difference does that make? Whether the desertion is
because of the faith, or because of the burnt toast, desertion is desertion; and, there is no
indication what the reason for the desertion is in the context. The reason for the desertion
makes no difference in what the Christian's responsibility is.
Some assume that adultery (or fornication) must take place as a result of desertion. They
make desertion imply adultery (or fornication). Therefore, they allow, upon the basis of
desertion, remarriage upon the grounds of Matthew 19:9 coupled with I Corinthians 7:15.
However, must one who deserts their mate commit adultery (or fornication)? Granted, in most
instances when a mate is abandoned it is for some one else; but, does it have to be? Again,
there is nothing in the context which truly implies adultery (or fornication) upon desertion by
the unbeliever. It merely states "if the unbelieving depart, let him depart."
Care needs to be taken not to read into any passage more than is actually there.
The greatest controversy surrounding this passage is to be found in the definition of the word
"bondage." Since "A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases," "bondage"
becomes a pivotal word in understanding what Paul speaks of by inspiration.
"Bondage" is defined by the English dictionaries:
Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary —
"1: villein tenure or service 2: SERFDOM, SLAVERY 3: subjection to compulsion."
Funk & Wagnall's Standard Desk Dictionary —
"1. Involuntary servitude; slavery; serfdom. 2. Subjection to any influence or domination.
Bondage carries the idea of servitude or slavery. Thus, it connotes a much different image
than does the marriage bond.
"Bondage" in the Greek is dedoulwtai (dedoulootai). It is the third person singular, perfect
indicative passive of (doulooo). It is defined:
An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words by W. E. Vine —
"2. DOULOO (doulo), different from No. I, in being transitive instead of intransitive, signifies to
make a slave of, to bring into bondage, Acts 7:6; I Cor. 9:19, R.V.; in the Passive Voice, to be
brought under bondage, 2 Pet. 2:19; to be held in bondage, Gal. 4:3 Git, Svere reduced to
bondage'); Tit. 2:3, of being enslaved to wine; Rom. 6:18, of service to righteousness Git, Vere
made bondservants'). As with the purchased slave there were no limitations either in the king
or the time of service so the life of the believer is to be lived in continuous obedience to God."
The Analytical Greek Lexicon —
"to be a slave or servant, to be in slavery or subjection, Jno. 8.33; Ac. 7.7; Ro. 9.12; to
discharge the duties of a slave or servant Ep. 6.7; 1 Ti. 6.2; to serve, be occupied in the
service of, be devoted, subservient, Mat. 6.24; Lu. 15.29; Ac. 20.19; Ro. 14.18; 16.18, et al;
met. to be enthralled, involved in a slavish service, spiritually or morally, Gal. 4.9,25; Tit. 3.3."
Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament —
"to make a slave of, reduce to bondage; a. prop.: ...Acts vii.6; ... to him as has also been made
a bondman, 2 Pet. ii.19. 6. metaph.: ... give myself wholly to one's needs and service, make
myself a bondman to him, 1 Co. ix.19; ..., to be made subject to the rule of some one, e.g. ...
Ro. vi.18,22; likewise ..., Gal. iv.3; ..., wholly given up to, enslaved to, Tit. ii.3 ...; ..., to be under
bondage, held by constraint of law or necessity, in some matter, 1 Co. vii.15."
The definition of the Greek word for bondage does not differ from the English definition.
Some may look at the last statement from Thayer's and mistakenly apply it to the marriage
bond. Thayer's states: "to be under bondage, held by constraint of law or necessity, in some
matter, 1 Co. vii.15." At the most, this indicates that there is no constraint of law or necessity to
remain with a mate who does not wish to remain with you. It does not indicate a freedom from
the marriage bond, allowing the one who is deserted to marry another.
As has already been indicated, the Greek word for "bondage," 6e6o6xwTai. (dedoulootai), is
the third person singular, perfect indicative passive of doulwo (doulooo). For those whose
acquaintance with Greek is minimal, or nonexistent, the following explanations of the
Passive Voice, Indicative Mood, and Perfect Tense are given to more fully explain why 1
Corinthians 7:15 cannot be used to show the deserted may remarry upon the basis of
desertion. These quotations are taken from A Manual Grammar of the Greek NT by H. E.
Dana and Julius R. Mantey.
The Passive Voice:
"157. The passive voice is that use of the verb which indicates the subject as receiving the
action. Its variations in use are determined by the medium through which the subject receives
The Indicative Mood:
"162. The indicative is the declarative mood, denoting a simple assertion of interrogation. It is
the mood of certainty. It is significant of a simple fact, stated or inquired about. The thing
which distinguishes the indicative is its independence of qualification or condition. It
represents the verbal idea from the viewpoint of reality. This is the attitude of mind expressed,
whether the assumed reality is an objective fact or not. 'The indicative does state a thing as
true, but does not guarantee the reality of the thing. In the nature of the case only the
statement is under discussion.' (R. 915). It is 'primarily the mood of unqualified assertion or
simple question of fact' (Br. 73), and hence is by far the most frequently used."
The Perfect Tense:
"182, The perfect is the tense of complete action. Its basal significance is the progress of an
act or state to a point of culmination and the existence of its finished results. That is, it views
action as a finished product. Gildersleeve significantly remarks that it 'looks at both ends of
the action' (op. cit, p. 99). It implies a process, but views that process as having reached its
consummation and existing in a finished state. The point of completion is always
antecedent to the time implied or stated in connection with the use of the perfect. It might be
graphically represented thus:
"183. In the indicative the perfect signifies as complete from the point of view of present time.
"184. The significance of the perfect tense in presenting action as having reached its
termination and existing in its finished results lies at the basis of its uses. Emphasis, as
indicated by the context or the meaning of the verb root, may be on either the completion of the
action or on its finished results. This possible difference in emphasis lies at the basis of the
variation in the uses of the perfect tense."
The significance of the Greek grammar used then is this: 1) The Passive Voice shows that
the deserted spouse is the one who is not in the bondage; 2) The Indicative Mood shows
there is a certainly that the deserted spouse is not in this bondage; and, 3) The Perfect Tense
shows they are certainly not in this bondage now, because they were not in this bondage
before. The Perfect Tense is the important point under consideration here. It describes a
state as being true now, because it was true before, and will continue to be true afterwards.
The implications of the Greek grammar are that the brother or sister has not been, is not now,
and shall never be in such a state of bondage in marriage as to require them to chase down
an unbelieving mate (or any other mate for that matter) and remain with them, even against
the wishes of the mate.
The connotations and denotations of the definitions show that bondage refers to slavery or
servitude. It does not, and cannot in this context, refer to "the marriage bond."
Desertion is not scriptural grounds for remarriage.