(7:10) “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband.” Paul may have had a copy of one of the gospels (1 Cor. 11:23-25), because he quotes from “the Lord” Jesus, who was against divorce (Mt. 19; Mk. 10).
(7:11) “But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband…” Some understand this to refer to separation—not divorce. During a time of separation, a spouse can choose to move out. But Paul only gives two options: celibacy (“remain unmarried”) or reconciliation (“be reconciled”).
However, we disagree with this understanding. The term “leave” (chōrizō) refers to divorce for a number of reasons. First, Jesus uses the same term to describe divorce: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate (chōrizō)” (Mt. 19:6; cf. Mk. 10:9). Second, the terms “leave” and “divorce” are used interchangeably in verse 11. Third, in verse 15, Paul uses the same term to refer to the unbelieving spouse leaving their partner (“Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases”). Blomberg writes, “If there is any difference between the wife ‘separating’ in verse 10 and the husband ‘divorcing’ in verse 11, it may be that the man was legally entitled to divorce his wife, whereas the woman often had no recourse but to move out.” Fourth, these words were used interchangeably in divorce contracts—much like the modern words “divorce” and “dissolution” are used today. In fact, there were more than fifty words used for divorce in the Greek language, and “it was common to use several in a single document.”
“…and that the husband should not divorce his wife.” This could mean that the husband should not divorce his wife during a time of separation. The statement “divorce his wife” could also be synonymous with “leave her husband” in verse 10 with a parenthesis in between.
(7:15) “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave…” Divorce is permissible in the case of abandonment. If our spouse leaves us, we aren’t commanded to hunt them down and try to stay married. Morris writes, “If the unbeliever takes the initiative, then the believer is not bound. This appears to mean that the deserted partner is free to remarry.” Fee agrees, “If the pagan spouse seeks the dissolution of the marriage, then allow the divorce. Except for some differences regarding the nuance of the verb, all are agreed on that much.”
“…the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases…” The term “bondage” (douloō) is different from the word “bound” (deo) used elsewhere for marriage by Paul (1 Cor. 7:39; Rom. 7:2). “Bondage” (douloō) is the word used for slavery. However, this refers to “willful desertion” which has “broken the marital contract.” The term “bondage” must refer to the bondage of the marital contract.
Some think that this refers to the (1) freedom to separate, (2) freedom to divorce, or (3) freedom to be remarried. The third option (i.e. freedom to be remarried) makes the most sense in our view. First, it doesn’t make sense for a person to be free to be separated, when they already are separated. This seems redundant. Second, in Greco-Roman law, it was considered a legal divorce to kick your spouse out of your house or to move out. So, when the spouse would “leave,” this was equivalent to a divorce.
Does this apply to a believing spouse divorcing another believing spouse? This verse refers to being deserted by a non-believer. We agree with Instone-Brewer that a principle applies here to a believer who deserts his or her spouse, but then, the believer who divorces his or her spouse should be removed from fellowship.
“…but God has called us to peace.” This clause seems to fit more naturally with verse 16. Paul is saying that the believer should live in peace with their spouse (rather than divorce), because they might lead their spouse to Christ. This would fit with the theme of the chapter: stay in the condition in which you were called. It’s also possible to understand this as saying that it’s better to let the unbelieving spouse leave because staying together would only “exacerbate the unbeliever’s alienation from both spouse and God.” Consequently, this is why Paul states that we are called to “peace.”
(7:27-28) “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.” This is a case of principalized ethics—not universal moral mandates. If you are married, that’s fine. If you’re single, that’s also fine. Stay in the condition in which you were called.
The advice (v.28) is identical to what Paul offers virgins (vv.25-26).
(7:39) “A wife is
bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to
be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” “Until death do we part”
is a biblical concept. This line is strikingly similar to a first-century
Jewish divorce certificate, which states, “You are free to marry any Jewish man
you wish” (m. Gittin 9.3).
Paul replaces “any Jewish man” with “only
in the Lord.”
 Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 102.
 Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 102-103.
 David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 199.
 Morris, L. (1985). 1 Corinthians: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 7, p. 110). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Fee, G. D. (1987). The First Epistle to the Corinthians (p. 302). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Mare, W. H. (1976). 1 Corinthians. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans through Galatians (Vol. 10, p. 230). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
 Johnson, A. F. (2004). 1 Corinthians (Vol. 7, p. 118). Westmont, IL: IVP Academic.
 David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 202.
 Instone-Brewer writes, “If believers did refuse to obey this command, and thereby refuse to obey the direct command of Jesus, the Church would presumably be forced to excommunicate them.” David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 170.
 Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 103.
 David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible: The Social and Literary Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002), 208.