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Divorce in the New Testament

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Many Christian apologists like to often discuss Islam and women’s rights, they try to argue that Islam doesn’t grant women rights, especially when it comes to things like marriage and so on.

With that said, we will turn the tables in this article, specifically looking at the issue of divorce according to the New Testament.

According to the writings of the apostle Paul, women aren’t allowed to get a divorced:

Romans 7:2-3

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 that binds her to him. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress.

1 Corinthians 7:39

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord

So note that Paul says that a lady is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, and that if she marries anyone else while he is alive, that would make her an adulteress. So what this basically means is that a lady can never get a divorce until her husband is dead, to do would be to engage in adultery. How’s that for women’s rights?

The problem with such a teaching is obvious, what if the husband is abusive towards the wife? Will she still have to be bound to him? What if the husband doesn’t properly take care of his wife, then what?

According to passages we just quoted, the wife would be required to remain married to her husband even if all those things were to occur, as Paul says, the wife is bound to the husband as long as he lives.

Now lest some say we aren’t properly interpreting these verses, we shall quote Christian scholarly commentaries on the verses we just quoted, to see what they have to say:

The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible:

Romans 7:2

For the woman which hath an husband.

The former general rule is here illustrated by a particular instance and example in the law of marriage; a woman that is married to a man,

is bound by the law to her husband;

to live with him, in subjection and obedience to him,

so long as he liveth;

except in the cases of adultery, (Matthew 19:9) , and desertion, (1 Corinthians 7:15) , by which the bond of marriage is loosed, and for which a divorce or separation may be made, which are equal to death:

but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her

husband;

the bond of marriage is dissolved, the law of it is abolished, and she is at entire liberty to marry whom she will, (1 Corinthians 7:39) .

Romans 7:3

So then if while her husband liveth.

True indeed it is, that whilst her husband is alive, if

she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress;

she will be noted and accounted of as such everybody, except in the above mentioned cases:

but if her husband be dead;

then there can be no exception to her marriage:

she is free from the law;

of marriage, by which she was before bound:

so that she is no adulteress;

nor will any reckon her such; she is clear from any such imputation:

though she be married to another man;

hence it appears that second marriages are lawful.

So this Christian commentator is in agreement with what we said. Having said that, there is something we do disagree with, when the commentator writes:

so long as he liveth; except in the cases of adultery, (Matthew 19:9) , and desertion, (1 Corinthians 7:15) , by which the bond of marriage is loosed, and for which a divorce or separation may be made, which are equal to death:

So the author says that a lady can get a divorce if the husband commits adultery, the problem is that Paul said no such thing, Paul never made such a stipulation:

Romans 7:2-3

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 that binds her to him. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress.

Where does Paul say except if he commits adultery?

For the sake of argument, let's assume the commentator is correct, that still leaves us with problems, what if the husband is abusive, and doesn't treat her properly? 

Let us quote another commentary on this passage:

The Adam Clarke Commentary:

Verse 1. For I speak to them that know the law

This is a proof that the apostle directs this part of his discourse to the Jews.

As long as he liveth?

Or, as long as IT liveth; law does not extend its influence to the dead, nor do abrogated laws bind. It is all the same whether we understand these words as speaking of a law abrogated, so that it cannot command; or of its objects being dead, so that it has none to bind. In either case the law has no force.

Verse 2. For the woman which hath a husband

he apostle illustrates his meaning by a familiar instance. A married woman is bound to her husband while he lives; but when her husband is dead she is discharged from the law by which she was bound to him alone.

Verse 3. So then, if, while her husband liveth

The object of the apostle's similitude is to show that each party is equally bound to the other; but that the death of either dissolves the engagement.

So-she is no adulteress, though she be married to another

And do not imagine that this change would argue any disloyalty in you to your Maker; for, as he has determined that this law of ordinances shall cease, you are no more bound to it than a woman is to a deceased husband, and are as free to receive the Gospel of Christ as a woman in such circumstances would be to remarry.

Unlike the previous commentator, Clarke does not say a lady can get a divorce if the husband commits adultery.

Another Christian commentary:

Barnes' Notes on the New Testement:

Verse 2. For the woman. This verse is a specific illustration of the general principle in Romans 7:1, that death dissolves those connexions and relations which make law binding in life. It is a simple illustration; and if this had been kept in mind, it would have saved much of the perplexity which has been felt by many commentators, and much of their wild vagaries in endeavouring to show that "men are the wife, the law the former husband, and Christ the new one;" or that "the old man is the wife, sinful desires the husband, sins the children." Beza. (See Stuart.) Such expositions are sufficient to humble us, and to make us mourn over the puerile and fanciful interpretations which even wise and good men often give to the Bible.

Is bound by the law, etc. See the same sentiment in 1 Corinthians 7:39.

To her husband. She is united to him; and is under his authority as the head of the household. To him is particularly committed the headship of the family, and the wife is subject to his law, in the Lord, Ephesians 5:22,23.

She is loosed, etc. The husband has no more authority. The connexion from which obligation resulted is dissolved.

{h} "For the woman" 1 Corinthians 7:39

Verse 3. So then if, etc. Comp. Matthew 5:32.

She shall be called. She will be. The word used here (\~crhmatisei\~) is often used to denote being called by an oracle, or by Divine revelation. But it is here employed in the simple sense of being commonly called, or of being so regarded.

Finally, let's quote another Christian commentator on the second passage we brought up:

1 Corinthians 7:39

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord

Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testement:

Corinthians 7:39

For so long time as her husband liveth (ep' oson xronon zhi o anhr authv).

While he lives (twi zwnti andri) Paul says in Romans 7:2. This is the ideal and is pertinent today when husbands meet their ex-wives and wives meet their ex-husbands. There is a screw loose somewhere. Paul here treats as a sort of addendum the remarriage of widows. He will discuss it again in 1 Timothy 5:9-13 and then he will advise younger widows to marry. Paul leaves her free here also to be married again, "only in the Lord" (monon en Kuriwi). Every marriage ought to be "in the Lord."

To be married (gamhthnai)

is first aorist passive infinitive followed by the dative relative wi with unexpressed antecedent toutwi.

So the commentaries are all in agreement, a lady cannot get a divorce from her husband, she is bound to him as long as he lives. 

Now how's that for women's rights? 

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