We come to chapter 6 of Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage where he discusses Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 7. Before he takes on the text, he surmises that Paul must have been married given that it was mandatory both for Jews (to be fruitful and multiply) and for Romans (made law by Augustus in 18 BC). He notes that Paul contradicts compulsory marriage by making it optional in this passage.
But does he speak against marriage? Well I-B suggests that at that time there was a severe famine going on and so it would be hard for people to care for family. This, he thinks, may have been the “present distress” mentioned in 7:26. Second, he believes that verse 1 of this chapter, “Now for the matters you wrote about: it is good for a man not to marry,” that the phrase “it is good…” is NOT Paul’s belief but only a repetition of what the Corinthians believed and were writing for him to clarify. The NIV study bible also raises this as a possibility since Paul speaks well of marriage elsewhere.
What about depriving each other of sex? What is this about? I-B says this,
Notice that Paul does not say that either partner can demand sexual love, because both should regard the other person as ruling over their body. Love is a matter not of taking but giving….Also, Paul does not define what this love consists of, because in some situations, a cuddle is a warmer expression of conjugal love than intercourse. (p. 73)
I-B mentions that Roman divorces were very easy. They also had no fault divorce. A person had only to leave and separate. One did not have to prove abuse or neglect. So, in verse 10, Paul (per I-B) is telling the Corinthians that they should not seek no-fault separations. If one does seek a separation, then that person should either remain unmarried or seek to reconcile. At this point he goes into some technical translation work about the word separate. Should it be translated as reflexive–separate oneself, or passive (be separated from by someone else’s act). Bottom line:
Paul’s point is that Christians should not use Roman form of divorce-by-separation because it is groundless, therefore it is too easy to divorce people against their will when they have done nothing wrong. Anybody could take it on themselves to separate, and their partner would suddenly find that they had been legally divorced whether they wanted it or not. (p. 77)
IB then asks, “But what if you have used divorce-by separation?” I-B says Paul is teaching that those who enacted separations without cause should seek to reconcile or remain unmarried. And if you are the victim of such a separation, you treat them as an unbeliever and let them go in peace.
He finishes with these concluding points:
1. Believers should never cause divorce (be the one to break the vows. He is not saying they shouldn’t seek a divorce because the other broke the vows).
2. Believers should not use groundless divorces.
3. But questions remain for later chapters: can a believer divorce a partner who breaks their vows unrepentantly; and can a believer remarry after a divorce.
I think I-B brings clarity to Paul’s seeming contradiction in this chapter. However, he may or may not be correct about the famine bit. One would think that if Paul were referring to something like a famine he might have mentioned it. Seems that he is saying something much more eternal. That is good to marry but it is also good to be single and be devoted to the Lord. I also liked what he had to say about our bodies not being our own. Sometimes that is used to demand sex from another. But if we heed this passage, we cannot demand anything at all but only seek to give kindness and love.