The Pauline Privilege: Inference or Exegesis? -- By: Robert G. Olender

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 16:1 (Fall 1998)
Article: The Pauline Privilege: Inference or Exegesis?
Author: Robert G. Olender


The Pauline Privilege: Inference or Exegesis?

Robert G. Olender

Ph.D. Student
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, NC 27587

The debate over divorce and remarriage is a highly charged complex and emotional issue. The stand taken does not simply dictate what will or will not be permitted in regard to matrimonial issues, but more pointedly it identifies which persons will or will not be allowed to be happy and who should or should not get another chance. Moreover, one’s stance is reflective of his a priori assumptions: is it reasonable to suggest that God holds a much higher view of the sanctity of marriage than I do? Is man’s desire for happiness, fairness, and liberty even a factor in God’s overall equation?

The issue surrounding the debate needs to be defined by what it really is, not what it appears on the surface to be. On the surface the issue is merely to remarry or not to remarry divorced persons. However, under the surface lie the roots of the dilemma: why should one remarry or not remarry divorced persons? How is our position, one which has the potential either to limit or liberate, justified?

It is argued by some that Paul’s teaching concerning marriage and divorce in 1 Cor. 7.15 grants a provision for remarriage after a divorce has taken place, “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 us to peace” (NASB). The so-called “Pauline privilege” is based on the inference that since the believer is “not bound” (οὐ δεδούλωται) after the unbelieving spouse separates from him, he is free. Since he is free, he is free to remarry another.

Although this line of thought may seem appealing and logical to those who wish to provide a way for post-divorce remarriage, it has two major problems. First, exegetical evidence for a Pauline privilege based on Paul’s teaching in 1 Cor. 7.15 is found to be lacking. In other words, if Paul was teaching the Corinthians that they could remarry after an unbelieving spouse left, such a teaching is not clearly supported by the text. A corresponding interpretation can only come about through inference, not exegesis. Second, this doctrine of post-divorce remarriage is clearly alien to the teachings of Jesus and completely unsubstantiated by the Pauline corpus. Consequently, the first purpose of tiiis article is to demonstrate through exegesis and contextual arguments that the interpretation of a

Pauline privilege is based more on speculative reasoning than exegetical and contextual analysis. A second purpose is to argue that...

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