Matthew 19:9 Versus I Corinthians 7


When we talk about divorce in a spiritual context the first place we usually turn is Matthew 19:9. That is fine as long as we keep looking at other scriptures on the subject; but, unfortunately we tend to stop there and do not go any further. Anything else the Bible has to say is pushed aside as we turn Matthew 19:9 inside, outside, and upside down.

I believe that anytime we cling to one verse and keep rallying around it, failing to deal with many other verses and principles found in the Bible, we are treading on dangerous ground. People do that with Ephesians 2:8. They say we are saved by grace through faith and that is the end of the story. And no matter how many verses or principles we show them they keep going back to Ephesians 2:8 and saying they know we are saved by grace through faith and not of works, so therefore baptism is not necessary for salvation.

I fear that this is what we do that with Matthew 19:9. Our minds are so clouded by that one verse that we cannot allow ourselves to entertain the idea that we might learn something from other verses that might help us better understand Matthew 19:9. Instead of learning from other verses, we try to warp the other verses and twist them around Matthew 19:9, even though, as I pointed out in my article “Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah,” we cannot agree on at least 21 issues regarding the verse. That verse might be, and is, interpreted many different ways by us. But I see no way to misinterpret Paul's language in I Cor. 7.

I Cor. 7:2 ...to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

Here we see that everybody has a right to a spouse. Everybody, no exceptions. This is a good place to start, as the principle is clear.

I Cor. 7: 7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. 8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

In these verses we read that not all people have the gift of celibacy. We understand what a gift is when we are referring to an ability to sing, play the piano, create beautiful quilts, or make compelling speeches. We recognize that these are gifts from God and we cannot pick and choose our talents. Sometimes we can foster a talent or attempt to perform, but without natural talent we will never be a Beethoven or a William Jennings Bryan. We need to learn to view the gift of celibacy in the same way. Some of us were not born with it and we will never develop it. If we do not have the gift, Paul says we may marry.

Later in I Cor. 7 we read: 15 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.

In this verse God is letting us know that sometimes, maybe even through no fault of our own, we may be left without a spouse. When that happens we are not under bondage. Some say this does not give us a right to be married again, but I tend to think that not having that right would be bondage and certainly we could find no peace in the situation.

I Cor. 7:17 ¶But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.

It is interesting to me that Paul uses circumcision to explain this verse. Circumcision is something that has been done and cannot be undone. We have a hard time comprehending the grace of God. We cannot cope with the idea that God can forgive us and set us free. We think we have to undo our sins. The blood of Christ simply does not seem enough. Maybe, we think, if we can go back and fix everything we have done, maybe, just maybe, we will slip into heaven by the skin of our teeth when God's back is turned. It is somewhat arrogant to think that our restitution will make us better when God has already cleansed us with Christ's blood, but still we keep trying to gain heaven through our own works. We are indeed created for good works, but all the good works in the world will not cleanse us of our past sins.

I Cor. 7: 20 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.

There it is again. Paul figures he should say it twice to get it through our thick skulls, I guess.

And yet again: 24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

Ah, a man after my mother's own heart. She always said that if she wanted me to understand anything she had to stand me up against the wall and tell me three times. Maybe I am not the only one who needs this.

In case we still cannot see what Paul is saying, he continues: I Cor. 7:27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. 28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned....

Yes, I know, we think Paul is wrapping this around Matthew 19:9—which, of course, we cannot agree on—and therefore "loosed" means "if you got a divorce for fornication." However, Paul made no stipulations or exceptions here. Had he wanted to, this would have been his perfect opportunity, but he did not.

Aside from I Corinthians 7 we know that it is not good for man to be alone. It is not good, meaning it is bad. I know some say people squander their one right to a husband or wife, but sometimes it is not even the person's fault. It is difficult for me to believe that my God could say, "Not everyone has the gift of celibacy, but if you marry and your wife runs off when you are twenty-one, you had better figure out fast how to get the gift somehow."

Imagine a young man, twenty-one years old, whose wife leaves him with two little girls. One is six months old and the other is eighteen months old. His parents are dead and the parents of the girl are on drugs. We tell him that not only is he supposed to raise these little girls by himself but he is also supposed to do it without the comfort of a wife. No, I am not trying to play on your emotions. I am trying to get to your sense of reality. This boy is not going to do what we tell him to do. He is not because he cannot. And furthermore, God knows he cannot. Some of us may not know it, but God, in His Word, has let us know that He knows it.

Celibacy is a gift, and not everyone has it. If we could get that one concept through our heads maybe we could understand some other very important words of God.

Below is a list of a few divine principles that the traditional view on divorce and remarriage denies.

1. It denies the right of some to marry, which is a doctrine of devils. (More and more I am understanding why this is so. The devils must rejoice when we take away the rights of a person to marry, as they know they can go ahead and throw that person in their sack—no more hope for him.)

2. It denies the right to marry in order to avoid fornication, leaving most people with no means of avoiding fornication. (I have asked for another means but, unfortunately, nobody has offered me one.)

3. It denies Paul's teaching that those who are loosed from a spouse may marry.

4. It denies the efficacy of the blood of Jesus because His blood will not cover the sin without penance on the part of the sinner. Even the person sinned against incurs punishment from God in that he too must do penance. So the blood of Christ is not enough for this sin.

5. It denies the words of both Jesus and Paul, who said some cannot remain celibate. (And, yes, this is what they both said. We can say, "No, Jesus was just saying they will not, not that they cannot." But if that were so, He would not have mentioned eunuchs. He said some cannot--eunuchs can, of course. If He was saying we all could but some will not, why bring up eunuchs? What He is saying is that eunuchs can be celibate, not that they will. (Of course they will!) He is recognizing what Paul also recognizes--some cannot contain. They are not eunuchs--either by birth, wound, or choice they have the ability to make.)

6. It denies God's statement that it is not good for man to be alone.

7. It denies that marriage is to be had in honor among all.

8. It elevates the law of sin and death (Law of Moses) over the gospel of grace (law of Christ) in that Moses freed the woman to marry again while Christ leaves her like a dog chained in the back yard with
no master to feed her and no hope of finding one. The Law also freed her from further abuse by the husband who divorced her in that he could not take her back, while the gospel supposedly gives her only one option--to return to the husband who caused her to be defiled, which is an abomination to God.

9. It denies that every man may have his own wife.

10. It denies that God forgives and forgets our sins and that a sin forgiven is remembered no more. (If God does not remember our sin, then how does He know to make us do penance by not marrying again?)

This is only a partial list. I have seen a list of maybe fifty Biblical principles that the traditional view on divorce and remarriage--which requires celibacy on the part of some--denies. We cannot accept a view taken from a misunderstanding of one verse and fail to listen to other scriptures that show that our interpretation of that one verse must be wrong. When we deny Biblical principles and plain scriptures so that we can teach a doctrine we have concocted from one verse, we need to reevaluate our understanding of that verse and take all the Bible says on the subject. Otherwise, we are like those who say we are saved by grace and ignore commands in the Bible as to how we are to live our lives. And we all know that is a dangerous way to interpret the Word of God.

Tina Rae Collins