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10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. - 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NASB)

15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17 "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. - Matthew 18:15-17 (NASB)

Given the following premises:

  1. Divorce is not a sin by itself
  2. Divorce is always the result (consequence) of sin
  3. One (at least) of the two believing spouses sinned to the point of divorce occurred
  4. Sin (the reason that led to divorce: adultery, lie, pride, selfishness...) must be addressed by the church
  5. If not repented at the end of the conflict resolution procedure, the believer should be disfellowshipped

Paul seems to allow an unlimited status quo in this situation: Do not (re)marry OR Reconcile. If no reconciliation occurs, they can remain as they are, divorced.

How can we reconcile 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 with Matthew 18:15-17?

Thank you very much.

  • What does Matthew 18.15-17 have to do with divorce? – user2910 May 18 '17 at 20:57
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    @MarkEdward If someone is seeking divorce, the obvious assumption would be that an offense has triggered it. – enegue May 18 '17 at 22:27
  • Spouses may divorce because of strife over some issue, e.g. a physician husband spends much time with patients, while wife needs more of him; they cannot agree. So they live separately. Over the time the strife recedes: wife understands that she was a bit of egotist and not quite right. Also husband understands that he spent too much time with patients and was not right. Yet, they both start clearly seeing: their marriage was not based on sincere love, but was arranged, was rather based on social necessity. So, they square as Christians, but not remarry, get rid of the lie. What's the problem? – Levan Gigineishvili Jun 23 '18 at 4:59
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Old Testament Period

Ecclesiasticus 23:32-33

So every woman also that leaveth her husband, and bringeth in an heir by another: For first she hath been unfaithful to the law of the most High: and secondly, she hath offended against her husband: thirdly, she hath fornicated in adultery, and hath gotten her children of another man.


Intertestamental-New Testament Period

Matthew 19:1-9 (cf. 5:31-32; Mark 10:1-12)

And it came to pass when Jesus had ended these words, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judea, beyond Jordan. And great multitudes followed him: and he healed them there. And there came to him the Pharisees tempting him, and saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for any reason? Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, Made them male and female? And he said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder. They say to him: Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorce, and to put away? He saith to them: Because Moses by reason of the hardness of your heart permitted you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication,* and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.


* Not to be taken as an 'exceptive clause': it isn't in any of the parallel narratives, anywhere, or in St. Paul—probably included to justify/clarify Joseph's course of action earlier in the same Gospel, regarding possible unfaithfulness before the marraige consummation (Matthew 1:18-19). Hence Matthew alone mentions it. Fornication is too wide and ambiguous for Jesus to be taken to be making an exception for it, anyway. He is restricting divorce to one of His 'but I say to you's, that is, no divorce, period. Otherwise, He wouldn't be updating Moses' mandate at all.


New Testament Period

1 Corinthians 7:10-11,17

But to them that are married, not I but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband. And if she depart, that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife. ... so in all churches I teach.

Divorce is disallowed, period.

Matthew 18:15-17

But if thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more: that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican.

This is an unrelated context, and it doesn't pertain to making new moral laws, only upholding them by the authority given the church (v. 18), which authority is not to be sought unless the person cannot be reconciled without it (v. 15, 17).


1 Corinthians 7:11

And if she depart, that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife.

I'm not sure St. Paul is even talking about divorce here; it sounds more like living apart long-term. Hence, "remain unmarried" (i.e. to another) and the only other option "be reconciled to her husband" (return); together with the blanket statement: "let not the husbad put away his wife" (here he talks about divorce and forbids it as Jesus did). This is proven in verses 12:15 where he says that 'putting away' (divorce) and "departing" are different situations: "let him not put her [the unbelieving wife] away...let her not put away her [unbelieving] husband...But if the unbeliever depart, let him depart.

He nor Jesus anywhere allows divorce (e.g. in Romans 7:2-3 it is 'till death do we part').

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The secret to divorce is the secret to marriage.

Marriage is a symbol of Christ and the church. Paul says that when he speaks of marriage, he is not speaking of marriage, but of the mystery.

Eph 5:32 This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

The woman becomes the metaphor of the one who was deceived:

1Ti 2:14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.

So Christ is the one who was not deceived but willingly bore our sin.

Consider same-sex marriage. A male-male marriage is a symbol that man is equal to God. A female-female marriage is a symbol that Christ is nothing more than a man. Both of these are heretical teachings which do not belong in the church.

The reason that God hates divorce is not because divorce is a sin. It is because his own divorce was so painful:

Jer 3:8 And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.

We are invited to preach the gospel of Christ (the cross) through the symbol of marriage. As with any preaching of the cross, it is foolishness to those who are perishing.

Baptism is the preaching of the cross through a symbol, but it is foolishness to those who are prishing.

Communion is the preaching of the cross through a symbol, but it is foolishness to those who are persishing.

When the church does not practice discipline for the purpose of reconciliation, it puts the symbols at risk. Divorce, though painful, is appropriate when one or more in the marriage refuse reconciliation. The symbol of divorce appropriately reflects the condition of Christ and his bride when they have been separated by idolatry.

One who is guilty of idolatry is not a part of the church. The church is for the worship and love of God.

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I will address your question: How can we reconcile 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 with Matthew 18:15-17?

Very good question. The answer lies with understanding the complete context of each section of scripture.

1 Corinthians 7: 10-11 can stand on its own. Paul is reinforcing the fact that the Law of Moses allowed divorce and Jesus did nothing to change that. Remember, Jesus came to fulfill the law and not destroy it plus He also said that not one jot or tittle of the law shall pass until all is fulfilled. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 is just encouraging the divorced person to be reconciled to the partner.

You very correctly reference Matthew 18 as applying to cases of divorce but you need to remember that Matthew 18 is not a “church discipline” chapter as many believe, it is the reconciliation and forgiveness chapter.

Most people see Matthew 18: 15-17 as “get your brother to see the error of his ways and get him to repent”. If you look at the actual words (KJV) you will see the word used is “hear” and not “repent”.

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

The context here has nothing to do with repenting and everything to do with communication and reconciliation. Remember, for all we know the “offended” party may be the one in the wrong. The emphasis here is communication and agreement. The process proceeds from step to step if there is no “hearing” ie, no agreement, no reconciliation.

Understanding verse 17 is critical to understanding the entire section. This verse does NOT say, “if your brother doesn’t repent after the church comes to him, then excommunicate him”. Again, this is not about repenting but about hearing and reconciliation.

Verse 17 is stating that if there is no agreement after the church has been involved then the bond between the two disputing parties is dissolved. That is the intention by the reference to “let him be unto thee as a heathen and publican”. There is no “obligation” between the Christian and the heathen. This is the same principal as 1 Corinthians 7:15:

15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.

Here the “unbelieving” is the same as the “heathen or publican”; ie there is no bond between the two of them. Again, nothing to do with excommunicating the supposed offender.

Verses 18 – 20 reinforce 15 -17.

18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

In verse 18, the “binding and loosing” is a reference to the opinion of the 2-3 counselors (see verse 16) in helping the 2 disputing parties to reconcile. If the counselors find that these two should remain bound then they should remain bound and if the counselors find that they should be loosed (irreconcilable differences), then they should be loosed from their relationship/contract/bond. In short, versed 18-20 state that whatever the counselors rule as an outcome of the counseling, heaven will abide by their ruling for where 2 or 3 are there attempting to bring reconciliation in the name of the Lord, then God is there in the middle of the process.

I will stop right there for I believe this answers your primary intention to reconcile the apparent disparity between 1 Corinthians 7 and the idea of “let them remain separated” and your belief that Matthew 18 was encouraging excommunication of the offending party.

  • Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. Luke 17:3 NASB - A cross-reference to Matthew which is about expecting repentance from the guilty part. – TruthSeeker Feb 23 '18 at 1:05
  • Absolutely disagree. You have to understand the full context of Luke 17 and how it relates to Matthew 18. In Luke 17, Jesus was teaching on forgiveness if someone asks you to forgive them. This is the basic requirement. Jesus then taught them about great faith, ie forgiveness when someone does not ask (see also Matthew 18:21-35). In Luke 17:3-4, Jesus was beginning to teach the disciples to forgive over repeated offenses; ie if the offending party asks for your forgiveness (ie repents) 7 times a day, then forgive him every time. Hearing that, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. – alb Feb 23 '18 at 1:31
  • I apologize for being so blunt about my disagreement. I meant that I disagree with your inference that Luke 17:3 was a contradiction to my answer about Matthew 18:15-22 being about reconciliation and not about getting a brother to repent. Let me try to explain further in two additional comment boxes. – alb Feb 23 '18 at 15:18
  • Luke 17 and Matthew 18 are connected. In Luke 17:3-4, Jesus is teaching that you should forgive your brother “if he asks (repents)” even if it’s 7 times a day. Upon hearing that, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith since they know how hard it would be to forgive 7 times a day. Jesus then, steps up the teaching; He tells the parable of the servant in the field/dinner server. Jesus says that we are unprofitable servants if we do that which is expected of us; ie, we are “expected” to forgive when someone asks. Great faith forgives even when they don’t ask; now go to Matthew 18. – alb Feb 23 '18 at 15:18
  • In Matt 18:11-14 He tells the parable of the lost sheep. The shepherd goes to the sheep, he doesn’t wait for the sheep to ask to be found. Verses 15-22, provides a solution if there is an impasse in the reconciliation process. Peter then picks up on the theme of unconditional forgiveness and asks if we should forgive our brother 7 times a day (from Luke 17). Jesus then puts forgiveness into a whole other league (70X7) tells the parable of the unmerciful servant. The master forgives even though the servant is unrepentant and never asks to be forgiven of the debt. That is great faith. – alb Feb 23 '18 at 15:19

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