I’ve just agreed, with some trepidation, to write an article for a Christian newspaper on 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, which deals with divorce and remarriage of believers:
To the married I give this command – not I but the Lord – that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
I’ve been told they would like particular attention given to how this might apply in situations of domestic violence. Yikes, this will require great sensitivity! They want a pastoral tone, but the fact that they have asked a NT lecturer hints that they want some sort of scholarly weight in the article too.
My immediate thoughts are the following:
- Why did I say yes?
- The word for ‘separate’ (chorizo) is used frequently enough in literature of the time to mean ‘divorce.’ I wonder if it therefore sounded different to Greek hearers than the English word ‘separate’ sounds to English hearers. The English word ‘separate’ can be used technically to mean a step back from divorce. So for an English hearer to hear ‘do not separate,’ is it possible that they would assume a more substantial prohibition than Paul intends?
- The passage already assumes a concession – that sometimes a woman will ‘separate’ from her husband. Why did Paul add this concession? Was it the realisation that it might sometimes be necessary, even if undesirable?
- In what circumstances in first century Corinth would a woman separate/divorce her husband? How are these circumstances similar/different to the scenarios of domestic violence that I’ve been asked to consider?
- Immediately following these verses, Paul outlines scenarios in which it is acceptable for believers to end up being divorced (i.e., if it is initiated by an unbelieving spouse). Why does Paul allow this sort of concession? Could we validly extrapolate to other concessions or not?
- The whole chapter finds something of a hermeneutical key in 7:17-24, in which Paul urges believers to ‘remain in their calling.’ How should this impact the way we understand the commands and concessions throughout the chapter? How does it illuminate the sorts of problems that Paul is here countering? It causes me to suspect that the problems are all linked to the desire for social upward mobility. Is this right? If so, how does that impact the way we interpret the commands and concessions?
- How has this passage been understood and applied in relation to domestic violence in past eras of church history? In particular, how have those Christians who have had a special burden to care for the vulnerable interpreted this passage? Are their interpretations persuasive?
- My inclination, I have to admit, is that wives (or husbands) in situations of domestic violence ought to separate from their spouse until that spouse is repentant and rehabilitated. How will this inclination impact my reading of the text?