Thursday, December 14, 2006

More on 1 Corinthians 7:15 - The expectation to remarry in the 1st century AD

In a previous post I argued that the unmarried Christian man or woman from the outcome of 1 Corinthians 7:15-16 is allowed to re-marry.

We must realize that the Christian couple in 1 Co 7:10-11 verses and the mixed couple in verses 15-16 are both divorced. Paul was writing to a mostly Greco-Roman audience whose law allowed for a unilateral divorce-by-separation. This is a very modern sounding divorce as it seems at least to me that most contemporary ones are unilateral.

The Right to Remarry in the 1st Century. Paul specifically denied remarriage for the agamos Christian woman in verse 11. This is because the right to remarry is implied by the secular forces of the time as it is now. He is silent for the agamos (unmarried) Christian spouse in verses 15-16, since verses 8-9 now apply.

David Instone-Brewer has examined Greco-Roman and Jewish Law (link 1, link 2) of the 1st century AD. The right to remarry is explicitly stated in the divorce documents in both societies. A 71 AD Jewish document stated "you are free to become the wife of any Jewish man you wish." Greco-Roman legal documents had a similar statement.

Roman Law expected remarriage:

"The Lex Julia allowed widows a term of one year (vacatio) from the death of a husband, and divorced women a term (vacatio) of six months from the time of the divorce, within which periods they were not subject to the penalties of the lex: the Lex Papia extended these periods respectively to two years, and a year and six months."

From a university course:

"Requires remarriage: women must remarry after death of husband (one year grace period), divorce (6 mo. grace period) (later extended to 2 years and 1 1/2 years by The Papio-Poppaean Law)"

While this law applied usually to the upper classes only it laid the down the prevalent culture of remarriage after divorce. For Paul to prevent remarriage he therefore must forbid it as he does in verse 11. It even appears that Paul gives the husband discretion to judge the situation in that verse:

11: (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

The modal verb 'must' applies to the divorced woman, whereas 'should' applies to the man. This seems to check out in all translations of that Bible verse.

In an upcoming post I examine the reasons that Paul allowed for remarriage for the Christian in verses 15-16. From a previous post:

Now why do some people suppose that this be contradictory to Christian thought and principles as it would make the marriage in a mixed couple seem less sanctified than the Christian couple? I would argue that this is not the point that Paul was making. Paul was looking at each divorced couple, the Christian and the mixed ones and the forces that will bring them back together. These forces are different for each set of couples. I'll post my thoughts in the future."

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