Moving Out of Range

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I have written before of the problems faced by a trapped wife, and I wanted to lay out some exegetical guidance for a woman in that position. I want to assume that we are talking about a genuinely destructive relationship, and that it is a marriage between two professing Christians. The reason for limiting the discussion this way should become more obvious as we go along. The bottom line is that under these circumstances, a mistreated wife has biblical warrant for moving out of range.

Yeah, we can't believe it either.
Yeah, we can’t believe it either.

But we have to back up a bit. The Lord Jesus taught us that divorce and remarriage, unless it was for unfaithfulness, was itself a form of unfaithfulness (Matt. 19:9). My point in starting here is simply to note that He was teaching within a covenant context. His context was a covenantal one, meaning that both husband and wife were under the law of God. This was His teaching on marriage when both parties were believers. This is the rule within the covenant.

The apostle Paul turned to the same subject decades later, but he was teaching in a new situation. In Corinth, as in the rest of the Gentile world where the gospel had come, the church was facing a widespread problem that was unlike what you found earlier in Judea. This was the problem of mixed marriages. What do you do when one spouse is a believer and the other is a pagan. Is it okay to have sex with a pagan? What about the children that result? And so on. Paul addresses this new situation with a new set of instructions, which we will get to in a moment.

This is the source of those phrases that some have sometimes tripped over — I, not the Lord and the Lord, not I. He is not telling us that this bit of 1 Corinthians is inspired and this other part over here isn’t. No, he is quoting and applying the dominical teaching in Corinth, in the places where it applies, and he is giving new apostolic legislation where the Lord’s teaching was not applicable — that is, to this new situation of mixed marriages.

Still with me?

In this new setting, Paul says that a marriage should not be dissolved simply because of the unbelief of one of the spouses. If the unbeliever was willing to stay together, the believer should stay together with him (1 Cor. 7:12ff). The word that expresses this willingness is suneudokeo, pleased to be together with. One spouse is an unbeliever, but is pleased to be in what Scripture would recognize as a marriage. But if the unbeliever departs — and there are ways of doing this while under the same roof — then Paul says that the believer should let him go. Under such circumstances, the believer is “not bound” (1 Cor. 7:15). Not bound means not bound, which means that the believer in this circumstance is free to remarry.

And so we have the two clear scriptural exceptions on the rather severe strictures against remarriage after divorce — one is porneias and the other is hostile rejection by an unbeliever. In both these scenarios, the righteous party is free to remarry.
But there is yet another situation, one that I have seen multiple times in my decades of pastoral counseling, and it is the situation described in my first paragraph. Here is the relevant passage.

“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife” (1 Cor. 7:10–11).

Note that Paul is simply applying the Lord’s teaching here. He is assuming two professing Christians. He is assuming that porneias has not occurred, otherwise the Lord’s exemption could be applied. He commands, and the Lord with him, that a wife should not leave her husband. He is seeking to save the marriage, and he leans in to do it. The wife shouldn’t leave and the husband should not send his wife away. The Lord’s teaching applies. Christians should be able to work it out.

But in the next breath, Paul bows to the fact that the circumstances might be gnarlier than they first appeared. He gives a command, and the Lord also, but then the wife goes and departs anyhow. Let’s just say that it was easier for her to get her own apartment than to have to call the cops every third night. Now in this circumstance Paul does not say that the woman should be pressured to return. He says that she has two options. She can remain alone, or she can be reconciled to her husband. The only pressure she feels is from the fact that she is not free to marry another. This is another reason for believing that Paul is operating under the Lord’s restrictions, delivered during his earthly ministry. The wife who has left (out of self-defense) is still in some sense bound to her husband. She has grounds for separation and she has grounds for divorce. But she does not have grounds for divorce and remarriage. That would constitute the legally sanctioned adultery that the Lord prohibited.

Now if Paul would let such a woman move out of range, despite his general exhortation not to separate, then the church should also let her do that very same thing. Too often wives are kicked around by a terrible husband for many years, and when they finally move out of range, the church kicks them around for the next ten.

This exegetical understanding solves two problems. Often intractable marriage problems are also opaque. She reports his abusive behavior to the elders or pastor and the husband denies it. It is now a did too/did not situation. When that happens, it is not possible to excommunicate the husband on the testimony of his wife, any more than it would be lawful to go the other way and excommunicate the wife on the strength of his word. You cannot do this because sometimes men lie and other times women do. Scripture teaches that two or three witnesses are necessary in order to excommunicate anyone.

And then, on those occasions where you do have two or three witnesses, what if the despotic spouse just professes repentance? Seventy time seven, right? Well, only after a fashion. You cannot excommunicate someone who professes repentance multiple times — but you can let his wife move out, and provide her with the help and support she needs.

If the husband demands that the church make her return to him, the church can lay these principles out very carefully. The pastor can explain that there are times when the church cannot discipline a husband for abuse they suspect, but that they will not discipline the wife who protects herself against it.

One last thing. The church is required to lean in her direction when what she is doing is simply protecting herself. She is a refugee. She must be allowed to take hold of the horns on the altar. But if she turns around and makes accusations that go way beyond merely protecting herself (as sometimes happens in nasty divorce proceedings), as the accuser she is now the one who needs two or three witnesses.

In short, the definition of righteousness is found in Scripture, not in whited sepulcher marriages that look picture perfect in the church directory.

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bethyada
6 years ago

I think the principles behind this post are generally sound, but I am not certain Paul means live in a different locale by “separate”. It seems likely Paul means “divorce”. In 1 Corinthians he writes To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate (χωρισθῆναι) from her husband; but if she does separate (χωρισθῇ) she should remain unmarried (ἄγαμος) or else be reconciled to her husband; and the husband should not send away (ἀφιέναι) his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife… Read more »

bethyada
6 years ago

This aside, I take it that women (and men) can be in genuinely destructive relationships as you put it. But how can we know this? What do people in the church look for? What do spouses look for? What do husbands (or wives) look for if they know they can be a bit brash but don’t know how harsh they really are? And my bigger question is, how do we have safeguards against people claiming that they are in a destructive relationship when they perhaps are not, especially in our victimhood culture? I grant that there may be genuine destructive… Read more »

timothy
timothy
6 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

But how can we know this? What do people in the church look for?

Smiles. Specifically the lack thereof. People in sound marriages flourish.

Timothy Wood
Timothy Wood
6 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

“And my bigger question is, how do we have safeguards against people claiming that they are in a destructive relationship when they perhaps are not, especially in our victimhood culture?” Seems to me that separating without remarriage is a pretty hefty burden to bear. If the separation is maintained in a biblical way, the only reason to pay such a high price is if the abuse is “real”. As in every case of discipline, the goal is repentance and sanctification. If the church is truly able to support the couple through the separation, hold both parties accountable to the limitations,… Read more »

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
6 years ago

I find it amazing, that nearly 2,000 years after 1 Corinthians was written, that there is so little agreement as to what these words mean. Apparently each pastor gets to have his own interpretation. If I were a pastor, though, and my objective was to clear my desk, so that I could get on with the things I’d rather be doing (pastoring is such a drag), I’d pick this one.

Bro. Steve
Bro. Steve
6 years ago

Bro. Doug, if you’re still reading comments, how does the requirement for multiple witnesses apply in the case of porneias? People engaged in sexual sins seldom let others watch, so what, exactly, must be witnessed?

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  Bro. Steve

Violence etc. can be witnessed by the kids at least. Burises and injuries bear witness as well. Bad behavior always spills out into a public setting. On the other hand, as Barnabas mentions below, an industry has grown up around the idea that almost any behavior can be re-calssified as “abuse”. Barnabas mentions this problem at “Bethlehem Baptist”. I know it to be the same problem at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, and other ministires taken in by the same, literally cult influenced, teaching / “abuse expertise”. The cult founding “abuse expert”: http://transitiontoanewworld.blogspot.com/2011/03/new-spiritual-community.html A “ministry”, taken in by the above cult… Read more »

Joshua
Joshua
6 years ago

Not looking for a fight here, but can’t come all the way. 1. 100% agree RE moving out of range. 2. Doesn’t this overthrow 1 Cor 7:39? The woman under this teaching is not bound to her husband as long as he lives. She’s actually only bound until he commits any sexual sin (pornea) or hucks it. 3. When Jesus taught on divorce, the disciples trembled and figured it was better not to risk it. I can’t see what’s worth trembling about if you’ve got 2 epic outclauses there (that I don’t think exist) + the option to just live… Read more »

ME
ME
6 years ago

That was really well said. Thank you. There are still some within the church who do not believe wives have the right to protect themselves, who still endlessly lecture about submit and obey, while completely ignoring the other half of that equation, the part that applies to husbands, the part about loving your wife as your own flesh.

Lance Roberts
6 years ago

Really great article that lays out a biblical basis for separation nicely. The points of disagreement I have with it are that the adultery exception is for the state of betrothal, not marriage; and that remarriage is never allowed while the spouse is living. Those points don’t diminish his main point.

jillybean
jillybean
6 years ago

What should the church’s position be when the battered wife (meaning physical abuse, not hurt feelings) refuses to leave the abusive husband, putting herself and her children at risk? I am assuming that both are church members.

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

​If the children are actually at risk, bruises etc., the pastor / church calls the cops, as mandated reporters are required to do. Wilson of course has made legally required reports of child abuse to State authorities himself, but still gets criticized for lack of response by internet accusers. As of yet, unlike internet accusers, State authorities have not said Wilson failed to make any required reports of child abuse. Criminal matters are the jurisdiction of the State.

jillybean
jillybean
6 years ago
Reply to  "A" dad

I wasn’t intending any reference to those events (heaven knows, we have said all that can possibly be said!). My question is more about how the church should handle a case where the wife simply refuses to leave an abusive husband (let’s assume no kids). Even the police can’t make a wife leave an abuser. Would the church regard her determination to stay as sinful or as virtuous?

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

Jilly, like “qwerty” above says: “Sometimes the line between long-suffering and common sense is hard to see beneath war debris.”
If your theoretical wife (or husband) is strong enough not to be a casualty, we don’t have to “judge someone else’s servant”. (though we often have to help them)
We are not as good, or the same as Jesus, but boy did he stick with His bride to the end! He still does in fact! ; – )

RFB
RFB
6 years ago
Reply to  jillybean

Mrs. Bean, In many states, with any probable cause for “domestic violence”, one or both parties (depending upon the circumstances) are arrested and charged, with automatic no-contact orders instituted at the time of detention. Generally, law enforcement officers have limitations regarding misdemeanor arrests that require the violation to occur in their presence. Again generally, domestic violence is an exception to that, and in some states, any probable cause of DV mandates arrest. Even if a subject is released on bail/bond, the no-contact order is effective until reviewed by a magistrate, and maybe be extended or even made semi-permanent, again based… Read more »

QWERTY
QWERTY
6 years ago

If an unbeliever departs “while under the same roof”…what does that look like?

If a spouse claims to be a believer but isn’t in an active pursuit of Christlike behavior…who’s to judge such claims in the midst of conflict ?

How abusive must verbal abuse be?

Do children in the backseat (or in the hallway) count as witnesses in this biblical sense?

Sometimes the line between long-suffering and common sense is hard to see beneath war debris.

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
6 years ago

In your opening paragraph you indicate that your purpose is to lay out exegetical guidance for a trapped wife. I have been reading various interpretations of the marriage/divorce verses for a very long time; I think at least since the glaciers were still covering Minnesota; but this is the first time that I’ve encountered your particular exegesis. Can you point to a reputable commentary (or any commentary for that matter) that agrees with you? In your comments about Matthew 19:9, you essentially state that the grounds for divorce and remarriage are different, depending on whether both parties are believers; or… Read more »

bethyada
6 years ago

ESV Study Bible on 1 Corinthians. It details the idea that Paul gives commands to believers then mixed marriages, and thus Jesus was referencing marriages of people within God’s covenant (Israel then the church) is attested. 1 Cor. 7:10–11 Paul now turns to divorce and urges believers to obey the command of the Lord (Matt. 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11–12; Luke 16:18) that the wife should not separate from (Gk. chōrizō; the same word is used in Matt. 19:6) a believing husband and that the husband should not divorce (Gk. aphiēmi, lit., “send away,” a term commonly used for divorce) a… Read more »

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
6 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

If I were to pinpoint a specific point that I’ve never encountered before, it would be in the second paragraph, where Doug claims that the grounds for divorce are different, dependent on status as a believer/non-believer. But it goes beyond that. He uses this point in his project to establish grounds for pastors supporting wives that separate from, or divorce their husbands, even when they are unable to discern whether the wife is an Abigail, or a Jezebel; or whether the husband is abusive or not. In so doing, it seems to me, that he is shifting the weight of… Read more »

bethyada
6 years ago

I do think that Jesus was talking about those within the covenant. Ezra told men to divorce their idolatrous wives. My position is here. I suspect that Doug would say that a believing spouse should not divorce a believing spouse for the reasons that Jesus gave. With an unbelieving spouse the believing spouse does not have easier grounds to initiate the divorce themselves (if they are willing to live with you then let them), rather Paul’s caveat is when the unbeliever wishes to leave. Paul says let them. I guess my take would be that the believer doesn’t really have… Read more »

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
6 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

If you read the post carefully, it becomes clear that granting Doug his opening assumption doesn’t make sense. The whole purpose of the post was to establish biblical grounds for supporting a wife in “moving out of range” when pastors are unable to determine what’s really going on. I suspect that the reason they are unable to figure it out is because they are either unwilling or unable to do their jobs. Either feminism has them so cowed that they will not make a decision contrary to a woman’s will, or they are unable to do their jobs due to… Read more »

PerfectHold
PerfectHold
6 years ago

Aren’t there a ton of formerly Christian wives out there these days that have just had it with the church and their fuddy religious husbands?

If so, is Mr Fud free to remarry?

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

A lot of people get divorced, for a number of reasons. We might have our opinions about who is “formerly” or “fuddy”, but God actually makes those calls, not us. Since we are screw-ups, one way or another, we should be careful about what “stones” we throw. Matthew 19 (CEV) 7 The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why did Moses say that a man could write out divorce papers and send his wife away?” 8 Jesus replied, “You are so heartless! That’s why Moses allowed you to divorce your wife. But from the beginning God did not intend it to be that… Read more »

PerfectHold
PerfectHold
6 years ago
Reply to  "A" dad

God makes those calls? — okay but did He already put it in writing?

If wife says she’s out — out of the church and out the lousy marriage with deacon Fud — is Deacon Fud free to remarry?

Is disowning the covenant a way out of the covenant?
Or does deacon Fud need to bide his time until she gets a boyfriend?

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

Jeremiah 17 7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” 9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? 10 “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to… Read more »

PerfectHold
PerfectHold
6 years ago
Reply to  "A" dad

If you’re saying He makes all the calls, then we agree. Seems like He has already put some in writing.

If Fud’s wife leaves him, and says she’s no longer buying Christianity, has He already called foul any remarriage by Fud to anyone else?

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

Hold on there Perf’.

A. Ask Him first, not me.
B. Read His Word and learn.
C. Re-read Wilson above, on his understanding of the Word.

As for faithfulness to a lost spouse, read Hosea and also read about the crucifixtion.

PerfectHold
PerfectHold
6 years ago
Reply to  "A" dad

Agreed.

Isn’t it Wilson though that above says some of God’s laws on this apply to a Christian covenant couple?

I’m simply asking if a formerly Christian wife is now considered a Christian or not?

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

Again whether or not anyone is a Christian or not is Gods call. We can know people by their “fruit”, what they do.

PerfectHold
PerfectHold
6 years ago
Reply to  "A" dad

Doesn’t Doug’s position demand that the church make the call? (we’re talking as part of the here-on-earth system, not necessarily of who gets in the gates up there) The church must determine who is a professing believer, yes? And doesn’t the church use baptism by the hand of it’s recognized members for an (or THE) indicator as to whether one is “in” or not? But what if Mrs. Fud says she wants out, not just of her legal marriage with Mr. Fud, but also with that church-conducted baptismal “marriage” with the now-understood-by-her-to-be fantasy husband Jesus? When does the church recognize… Read more »

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

Perf’, Wilson, and presumably Christ Churches principles on this issue are stated above.
As an example, King David was a loung lizzard so to speak. He recovered so to speak, Bathsheba recovered so to speak. Christians hold out hope for the lost, even when the lost are very committed to being lost, just like the Father of the prodigal son.

PerfectHold
PerfectHold
6 years ago
Reply to  "A" dad

You mean they hold out hope only for the lost that are officially counted as sheep? Or all the lost? As Doug says, of the OFFICIAL & RECOGNIZED sheep only, we say “both husband and wife were under the law of God. This was His teaching on marriage when both parties were believers” — but this law doesn’t apply for heathen, presumably non-baptized animalia. If hope is held out for all wayward wives, Christian or nonChristian, then why the distinction here between a law that applies to one and not the other? And if they go by a supposed law… Read more »

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

Perf’, Here is what Jesus says about lost believers: Matthew 18:15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.… Read more »

PerfectHold
PerfectHold
6 years ago
Reply to  "A" dad

You’ve lost me A dad.

Sounds like you quote Matthew 18 as agreement that Mrs. Fudd — who won’t listen to the elders, and says she wants no part of them or their member Mr. Fudd — should indeed be considered a pagan now.

Her official status has then reverted from lost sheep to goat then?

So … Mr. Fudd is then no longer bound in marriage to her? He’s free to remarry?

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

Elders? The text says:
1 individual
2 or 3 individuals
Whole Church

“treat them as you would a pagan” is how they are to be treated. It is not what they are.

There was a case in my church where in my opinion the wife had an affair to “release” her current husband, because he was likely to remain faithful to her if she did not take up with someone else.

PerfectHold
PerfectHold
6 years ago
Reply to  "A" dad

So in your church the wife wanted out of the marriage. She saw that her husband would hang around like a faithful dog, which is what she understood the church folks and her husband believe was required of him. So out of kindness she had an affair to give him the permission he and and the church folks needed to let him move on? This gets to my point I’m not hearing you answer: If the wife won’t reform (and won’t listen to and heed the church folks — one, two, all — is she to be treated as a… Read more »

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

We are talking about my personal opinion of one situation. The motives I ascribe to those involved could be wrong, as could yours.
The short version of this situation was, a married couple in the church started having problems, at one point the wife had an affair. Sometime after that they divorced. At some point the Husband remarried, as the Word allows. Don’t know what happened to the affair wife. She can’t be “treated” one way or another, because she is not around. Husband appears to have a more sucessful 2nd marraige, he is not in the area either.

PerfectHold
PerfectHold
6 years ago
Reply to  "A" dad

Seems like you’re saying the Word allowed remarriage of the husband because she had an affair.
What if she said she’s no longer a Christian.
Does the Word allow remarriage of the husband then?

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

See 1 Cor. 7/15 above, and wilsons comments.

PerfectHold
PerfectHold
6 years ago
Reply to  "A" dad

I don’t blame you for punting.

The Corinthian passage speaks to Christians on the one hand and mixed pagan – Christian marriages on the other.

Wilson’s comments are not clear as to whether a formerly Christian spouse should be considered pagan, and why or why not.

I say he calls her Christian by virtue of baptism, so husband has to wait.

John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

My two cents: If the church has gone through the Matthew 18 process, and the wife is now to be treated as an unbeliever, then 1 Corinthians 7:15 applies, and the husband is free to remarry.

"A" dad
"A" dad
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

Didn’t punt, sent you back to the Word, God’s Word is always better than mine. Mark 10:4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God… Read more »

PerfectHold
PerfectHold
6 years ago

What’s the point of divorced Christian Mary staying single after former husband Christian Larry has gotten himself remarried to Sherrie?

Wesley Sims
Wesley Sims
6 years ago
Reply to  PerfectHold

Doesn’t Larry then become the adulterer, freeing Mary?

ME
ME
6 years ago
Reply to  Wesley Sims

Well, actually today Christian Larry decides gender is just a social construct and starts calling himself Sherrie. She than enters into a lesbian relationship with Christian Mary who has decided to swear off men forever….

Wesley Sims
Wesley Sims
6 years ago
Reply to  ME

Sounds like a net zero to me!

Barnabas
Barnabas
6 years ago

I’m pretty uncomfortable with the concept of “abandonment” without abandonment. I could see such reasoning play havoc if applied throughout the rest of scripture. In some cases the Bible tells us of murder without murder (1 John 3), and adultery without adultery (Matthew 5:28) but in those cases a moral and not a legal lesson is being presented. There is no action such a stoning to be taken in response to these crimes of the heart but rather conviction and repentance. A similar example would be if every woman were to divorce her husband because he looked upon a woman… Read more »

Tim
Tim
6 years ago

More must be said about about abandonment among professing believers. It seems fairly common, for an ungodly spouse to abandon and sever all ties with a godly spouse – although both professing faith. The principle of the “innocent party” needs to be set forth clearly in these cases. The NT does not exhaustively apply its marriage principles to every scenario, some scenarios being more common in our culture (abandonment is much easier in our society). There being so little said about abandonment, has created a situation where concienses are being hurt because of either forced celibacy on one hand, or… Read more »

Tim
Tim
6 years ago
Reply to  Tim

Helpful explanation of this from the Prince of the Puritans, John Owen: “the apostle Paul expressly sets the party at liberty to marry who is maliciously and obstinately deserted, affirming that the Christian religion doth not prejudice the natural right and privilege of men in such cases: 1 Cor. vii. 15, ” If the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.” If a person obstinately depart, on pretence of religion or otherwise, and will no more cohabit with a husband or wife, it is known that, by the law of… Read more »