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1 Corinthians 7:15 New American Standard Bible (NASB)

15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called [a]us [b]to peace.

Footnotes:
a. One early ms reads you
b. Lit in

The issue on this verse is wherever bondage refers to the marriage bondage or not.

Why in 1 Corinthians 7:15 Paul responds to the believing spouse by a perfect tense statement (is not under bondage) to a previous present tense action (if the unbeliever departs, let him depart)?

If Paul is referring to the marriage bondage, why then is he using the perfect tense?

Wouldn't that mean that the marriage IS NOT and HAS NOT BEEN in force?

If the unbeliever is leaving now, why the marriage wouldn't be in force before he leaves?

Then, at which point of time the marriage has not been in force in the past (completed action) until the present (ongoing result of the completed action)?

I am confused. Your insight would be much appreciated.

Thank you very much.

3 Answers 3

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The use of two different tenses (present and perfect) is because Paul is actually including two different (though related) topics, a specific situation with marriages and a general principle he is applying to the situation.

The verse is structured: Specific situation (perfect), Paul’s universal application (perfect), universal axiom (perfect).

Present Tense

The first part of the verse deals with the issue of unbelieving spouses wanting to end the marriage with the believing partner. Presumably, this situation was contemporary to Paul and his readers, which explains the use of the present tense for ‘χωρίζεται’ (leaves) and ‘χωριζέσθω’ (let him leave).

Perfect

The second part of the verse switches from describing a present (to the original audience) situation, to a universal, guiding principle which Paul believes should be applied to the present situation. Paul describes his application first (“the brother or the sister is not under bondage…”), then the actual principle (“God has called us to peace”). ‘δεδούλωται’ (under bondage) and ‘κέκληκεν’ (has called) are both in the perfect.

Wallace says that generically the perfect “describes an event that, completed in the past…, has results existing in the present.” He goes on to explain that the focus of the perfect is not the past action, but the present consequences.1 Wallace lists several specific usages, including the “gnomic perfect” which seems appropriate here: “The perfect tense may be used with a gnomic force, to speak of a generic or proverbial occurrence.”2 Once example he cites is Rom 7:2, which covers a similar topic (i.e. being bound in marriage).

Conclusion

I believe the use of the perfect with ‘δεδούλωται’ (under bondage) is not to imply the marriage itself was never in force, but to emphasize that a believer is never bound in such a situation. Somewhat repetitive, but to directly address your questions:

The issue on this verse is wherever bondage refers to the marriage bondage or not.

Why in 1 Corinthians 7:15 Paul responds to the believing spouse by a perfect tense statement (is not under bondage) to a previous present tense action (if the unbeliever departs, let him depart)?

The use of the perfect emphasizes the universal applicability of his conclusion. Had Paul used the present tense, it could imply his reasoning only applies the specific situation at Corinth.

If Paul is referring to the marriage bondage, why then is he using the perfect tense?

Wouldn't that mean that the marriage IS NOT and HAS NOT BEEN in force?

“Not under bondage” is not referencing to the marriage bond directly in the sense your questions implies. Instead it applies to the believer’s ongoing commitment to the marriage bond, given the situation. The believer is no longer bound to what was previously a valid and binding marriage.

If the unbeliever is leaving now, why the marriage wouldn't be in force before he leaves?

Then, at which point of time the marriage has not been in force in the past (completed action) until the present (ongoing result of the completed action)?

The marriage was in force until the nonbeliever decided to leave. The force of the perfect here is not the past action, but the preset applicability. Further, it is not about entering the marriage bond, but about the requirement of a believer to be presently committed to the marriage. The completed action with ongoing result is the general principle that believers are not bound is such situations – so the perfect indicates they have never and continue not to be held is these types of cases.


1. Wallace, Daniel. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1996. Page 573.

2. Ibid., page 580.

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What you say about the gnomic perfect and the parallel in Romans 7:2 makes much sense but isn’t the sense of past time still present (obviously not speaking of present tense ;) ) because as soon as we look at sequence of events then one event must precede another?

Therefore, the past event is not to be looked for in the more remote past but the immediately preceding past. As soon as a husband is dead then the woman is released. The husband is already dead then the woman is released but by the time one is to make that proverbial statement about the widow the husband has already dead, even in a hypothetical situation. If the unbeliever wants to leave then as soon as that is the case the believer is not under bondage. But it depends on the unbeliever stating that they want out. So the one precedes the other yet when the unbeliever wants out then that dissolves the marriage so that by the time one can rule that the believer is not bound the believer has already been released.

But I get you that the emphasis here is not past event but present condition. The freedom is not for that moment but continues to be ongoing. I also understand that Paul is focussing on the marriage to the unbeliever and not remarriage but isn’t the possibility of remarriage in that case clearly implied? When it is compared to Romans 6:15-7:6 the implication is that the believer is free to be remarried in the future.

The notion of slavery is related to possession or ownership. When one is in slavery to the law then one is owned by sin. To be joined to another master one must be freed from the first owner to be joined to another. The marriage analogy in Romans 7 illustrates that point entirely in regards to our relationship to the law. Death is the relevant issue in both because physical death dissolved the marriage and the believer dies to the Law so that he could be joined to another (Romans 7:4). A believer also dies to sin and is joined to another (Romans 6:7, 18). Marriage and slavery are used as parallel illustrations in Romans 6 & 7. Being free from the first master in a slavery (Romans 6:18) is equivalent from being free from the law by which a woman is bound to her husband (Romans 7:3).

Thus, slavery to the Law ends because there is a death. When a person is freed from slavery they are then free to be joined to another. Then surely if one is not under bondage when an unbeliever wants to leave then surely they are free. Spiritually a death has occurred by which the believer is a new creation (probably the argument that Tertullian was basing his stance that a divorce that occurred prior to salvation means that the marriage of the believer to a second, this time believing, spouse will not be regarded the second spouse but the first because it is from salvation that our life is regarded as beginning).

I think there is agreement that the issue of the believer married to an unbeliever does not relate to a believer marrying an unbeliever or the believer who has been married a long time to an unbeliever while being saved but refers to a situation where in a marriage between two unbelievers the one believer gets saved and makes it clear now that they are saved there are certain things they will no longer participate in, such as drinking parties, orgies, idolatry etc. Thus, the salvation of the believer is very recent when the separation occurs.

With that all understood, and not being enslaved must implicitly denote freedom then surely if Paul did not believe that the believer was free to remarry then why doesn’t he make that clear as he did regarding the marriage between two believers where he acknowledges that separation may have to occur, and accepts the inevitability of that situation but states clearly that they must remain unmarried or be reconciled. Are they under slavery of committed to their marriage or are they free from slavery to commitment to the marriage bond? Surely the fact they remain unmarried is related to the idea that they are still committed to the marriage bond and hence leave the door open for reconciliation, which remarriage would render impossible (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). They are enslaved in that sense because they still belong to another and are not free from the law to the spouse.

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Watch out! Stay alert![a] For you do not know when the time will come Mark 13:33 NET@

Βλέπετε, ἀγρυπνεῖτε· οὐκ οἴδατε γὰρ πότε ὁ καιρός ἐστιν. Mark 13:33 NAS27

Videte vigilate nescitis enim quando tempus sit. Mark 13:33 VUL

Analyzing a similar grammatical construction, it is possible to understand that they are two concepts or actions that complement each other, one supporting the other or even justifying the first. I agree with colleague Josh.

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    Jan 20, 2023 at 5:25

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