Comments/Questions from Readers

Question #16: I commend you on your excellent site, and the fine quality and Scriptural basis of the articles you have available. By way of background, I am a patriarchal, Messianic believer, who came to the understanding of the Biblical basis of polygyny and all of the complementary teachings of Elohim concerning marriage well over a decade ago. This I noted, however:

"Scripture does not give a woman permission to divorce her husband under any circumstances."

Passages cited in this very section, including Ex. 21:11 ("...if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money") indicate that the woman is not without recourse. 1 Cor. 7:15 would seem to indicate, in support, that a wife who is abandoned by an obviously non-believing 'husband' is "not under bondage" in such cases.

While Scripture is clear that a woman is not allowed to divorce (or "put away") her husband, that is not the same as saying that a woman may never leave her husband (essentially putting herself away). Let's take a look at the verses in question:

Exodus 21:7-11: "And when a man sells his daughter to be a female servant, she does not go out as the male servants do. If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who has engaged her to himself, then he shall let her be ransomed. He shall have no authority to sell her to a foreign people, because of him deceiving her. And if he has engaged her to his son, he is to do to her as is the right of daughters. If he takes another wife, her food, her covering, and her marriage rights are not to be diminished. And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out for naught, without silver."

While it is true that these verses relate to the proper treatment of concubies, I would think that the rights of the free woman would be AT LEAST equal to the rights of the bondwoman. I am in agreement with you that if any of these three issues (food, clothing or sexual relations) were diminished in the taking of a second wife, the first wife, whether free or slave, would have the right to "go out for naught, without silver". The husband who does not continue to provide for his wife upon taking another wife would be in violation of his wife's rights in the marriage and she would be free to leave empty-handed. If we look a few verses earlier, starting with verse 2, we find:

Exodus 21:2: "When you buy a Hebrew servant, he serves six years, and in the seventh he goes out free, for naught."

Compare this with verse 7:

Exodus 21:7: "And when a man sells his daughter to be a female servant, she does not go out as the male servants do."

And now verse 11:

Exodus 21:11: "And if he does not do these three for her, then she shall go out for naught, without silver."

These verses are clearly speaking to the slavery status of the servant in relation to the master. The male servant goes free in the seventh year regardless and becomes a free man. The female servant does not go out in the seventh year as the male servant does, precisely because she was intended for marriage (to the master or the master's son). But if the husband later takes on another wife and diminishes his first wife's rights, THEN she is freed to "go out for naught" just as the male servant would be freed in the seventh year. The obvious conclusion here is that she would be freed from his authority as master over her, just as the male servant was freed after his seven years of servitude was over. Nevertheless, the slave wife was still unable to unilaterally separate herself. Now let's see what 1 Cor. 7 says on this matter:

1 Corinthians 7:10-11: "And to the married I command, not I, but the Master: A wife should not separate from a husband. But if she is indeed separated, let her remain unmarried or be restored to favour with her husband, and let a husband not send away a wife."

We can see here that a wife is not to separate herself from her husband, and if for some reason she is separated, she is to remain unmarried or be restored to her husband. This clearly indicates that her marital status has not changed when she separated herself from her husband. Whether the secular or religious authorities tell her she is "divorced" or give her governmental permission to remarry, she is in fact still married to her husband and would become an adulteress if she married another man while her husband remained alive. Now let's look at verses 15 and 16:

1 Corinthians 7:15-16: "And, if the unbelieving one separates, let him separate himself. A brother or sister has not been enslaved in such matters. But Elohim has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you shall save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you shall save your wife?"

I understand this verse, along with the previous verses, to allow for marital separation in the event the unbeliever leaves, but it doesn't giving the believing wife permission to remarry if her unbelieving husband leaves. Verses 10 and 11 clearly preclude the possibility of remarriage for the woman if she separates from him on her own initiative. Verse 15 states that a believer is not obligated to remain "enslaved" with the unbeliever if the unbeliever chooses to leave, but nowhere does the text state that the believer could then remarry, especially in light of all the other Scripture verses that state precisely the opposite (Matt. 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18, Rom. 7:2-3, 1 Cor. 7:39, etc.)

The English word "enslaved" in 1 Cor. 7:15 is the Greek word "douloo" (Strong's #1402), which is a perfect tense verb, meaning the brother or sister "has not been enslaved and is not now enslaved". Clearly, this cannot be referring to the marriage covenantal bond, or else what Paul would be saying is that "a brother or sister has not been married in such matters". The original Greek word means "to enslave, to be a slave, to make a slave of, be subject to, serve and obey" and is never used in relation to the bond of marriage. I believe the key to this passage is stated in the very next sentences: "But Elohim has called us to peace". The believer should not contest the divorce. Rather, he or she should let the unbeliever separate in as peaceful a way as possible, not creating unnecessary disturbances.

Also, notice how the unbeliever is still referred to as "your husband" and "your wife" in the following sentence. The marriage is still considered binding in the eyes of God, even if they are separated. The believer continues to have a husband or a wife that they might still end up saving, whether the unbeliever recognizes the marriage or not. If the wife was a believer and the husband was an unbeliever who separated himself, the woman would still be required to remain unmarried or be restored to her husband, as Paul explicitly stated just five verses earlier.




"...In essentials we maintain unity, in opinions liberty, and in all things love..."

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