Examining Paul's Divorcement Law on Christian Women

 

By Sami Zaatari

 

 

 As we all know, it is a basic right for women to seek a divorce with their husband, and that women should not be forced to remain in a marriage, this is common sense and a women's basic right. This is something taught specifically in Islam:

 

Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: "A virgin came to the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) and mentioned that her father had married her against her will, so the Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) allowed her to exercise her choice. (Translation of Sunan Abu-Dawud, Marriage (Kitab Al-Nikah), Book 11, Number 2091)"

 

Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 63, Number 197:

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas:

The wife of Thabit bin Qais came to the Prophet and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I do not blame Thabit for defects in his character or his religion, but I, being a Muslim, dislike to behave in un-Islamic manner (if I remain with him)." On that Allah's Apostle said (to her), "Will you give back the garden which your husband has given you (as Mahr)?" She said, "Yes." Then the Prophet said to Thabit, "O Thabit! Accept your garden, and divorce her once."

 

Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 63, Number 198:

Narrated 'Ikrima:

The sister of 'Abdullah bin Ubai narrated (the above narration, 197) with the addition that the Prophet said to Thabit's wife, "Will you return his garden?" She said, "Yes," and returned it, and (then) the Prophet ordered Thabit to divorce her. Narrated Ibn 'Abbas: The wife of Thabit bin Qais came to Allah's Apostle and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I do not blame Thabit for any defects in his character or his religion, but I cannot endure to live with him." On that Allah's Apostle said, "Will you return his garden to him?" She said, "Yes."

 

However let us now turn our attention to the Bible, specifically Paul's 'books' and see what Paul has to say on this issue, whether women can get a divorce or not. Paul says:

 

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, and that if she does get one she will be condemned as an adulteress!

More problems that arise from these passages is that what if the husband is abusive? What if the husband beats her, and commits adultery on her, and does many other terrible things to her, will she still have to be bound to him? According to these passages yes she will, since they do not bring any of these points up, so basically a Christian married lady is a prisoner to her own husband! Let us see what Christians have to say about these 2 passages:

 

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 as you can see, this Christian commentary basically says what I did, that the women is bound to her husband until he is dead, and when he is dead then she is at liberty to marry whom she wants, so basically while her husband is alive she is a prisoner to him. One thing I do want to mention is the commentators distortion of the text as well, notice that in one part of the commentary the author wrote:

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:

 

Basically the author here is saying that yes a lady is bound to her husband as long as he lives, however so except if he commits adultery. This is a distortion of the text and adding something that is not there, Paul did not say that a lady is bound to her husband except if he commits adultery, Paul said a lady is bound to her husband as long as he lives, and that's all, nothing else. Let us quote it again:

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? He does not say that all, that is a deceptive addition put in by the Christian commentator since he was too embarrassed with the real meaning of the verse, which basically makes a lady a prisoner to her husband. For the sake of argument, let us assume the commentator is correct, that still leaves us with problems, because notice the commentator states that the women is bound to her husband except if he commits adultery, here it is again:

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:

The problem with this is that it means that the only way a Christian lady can get out of marriage is if the husband commits adultery, so basically if the husband beats his wife, abuses her, and treats her very badly then this is not good enough for a divorce, she can get a divorce if only he commits adultery! So even with the commentators attempt at damage limitation, the commentator makes more damage as well and shows just how bad Paul really is!

Let us quote some more 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.

At least this commentator did not have to add a deceptive commentary but told it like it is, that the women is bound to her husband as love as he is alive, and that the lady is not an adulteress if she marries another man when her husband is dead, basically making her a prisoner to her husband.

 

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.

So basically the wife has to remain married until the husband dies.

 

Let us get some commentary on the other passages:

 

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.

All other commentaries basically say the same thing, the wife is bound to the husband as long as he lives, basically no divorce, basically the women has no freedom to divorce, which basically means she's a slave to marriage.

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