“BUT AND IF” IN 1 CORINTHIANS 7:11
By Don Martin
Let us more closely examine the first three words of I Corinthians 7: 11, "But and if" ("But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife," KJV). It has been said many times that a word, verse, or extended thought must be considered in its setting or context, with this I totally agree. Paul has just taught in no unmistakable terms, "Defraud ye not one the other..." (vs. 5). He has discussed in plain words the matter of the conjugal responsibility of the husband and wife and the matter of the avoidance of fornication (vs. 2-5). On the heels of this teaching and reaching the apex of the teaching we read, "...Let not the wife depart from her husband" (vs. 10). Notwithstanding the powerful context in which "departure" from the marriage bed is forbidden, some have believed they have found justification for divorce for other causes than fornication in, of all verses, verse 11. Let us look again at "but and if."
I submit to you that "but and if" (ean de kai) is not simply introducing another verse, if you will, but is considering the plight of those who violate the command (yes, command) "let not the wife depart from her husband" (vs. 10). Paul was total in his dialectic process and exploration. Hence, what will happen if the wife decides to disobey the command of verse 10, this is his thought and this is what "but and if" syntactically means. She should know that she has forfeited all hope of marriage and a home, unless she is reconciled to her husband whom she left, this is Paul's answer. Not a very encouraging picture, is it? Therefore, rather than offering permission for divorce for multiple causes and for celibacy, Paul is only seeking to dissuade such rejection of God's commands. Please consider the explanation of the German commentator and grammarian Peter Lange regarding "but and if:"
"This and the dependent clauses are a parenthesis, so that what follows is in direct connection with what precedes. The words ean de kai choristhe ("but and if she depart," dm.) point to some possible case of divorce occurring hereafter contrary to the command of Christ....The kai ("and," dm) does not belong to the whole clause, making it equivalent to 'even if,' etc., but simply to the verb, and may be translated by 'actually,' or 'in fact" (see ASV, dm.). ['This is not intended as an exception to the law, but it contemplates a case which may occur in spite of the law...']...." (Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Vol. 10, pg. 143).
The absolute and incontrovertible point is: "But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried..." is not providing additional exceptions for divorce to the exception Jesus stated, fornication (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9). Any use of I Corinthians 7: 11 to attempt to justify divorce for other causes and then permission to remain estranged from one's mate, is a patent misuse of the verse and forces verse 11 to contradict verses 2-5 and the immediately preceding verse, verse 10.
Jesus reinstated God's original universal moral law relative to marriage when he said: "For this cause shall a man leave Father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matt. 19: 5, 6, cp. Gen. 2: 24).
Moreover, the belief that I Corinthians 7: 11 is granting permission to divorce (no fornication) and remain unmarried is a prolific sponsor of the waiting game philosophy. Here is why:
(1). First, divorce for different cases has to be advocated in order to "separate people." Many who are deprived of the conjugal rights of marriage, begin to long for physical fulfillment. Hence, temptation sets in. As soon as there is opportunity, adultery is committed.
(2). Second, the question is raised: "Are not the two, while not married, still martially bound by God when the estranged mate commits adultery?" Of course, the answer is, yes.
(3). Third: Enter the strange, twisted logic of the mental divorcement theorists: "Since the bond is in tact, adultery has now been committed; hence, the innocent mate now has the right to not only 'divorce' on paper, but to also put away in one's heart the guilty mate." They now maintain that the "real" divorce is biblical and must be recognized as the putting away of Matthew 5: 32 and 19: 9.
(4) Fourth: "Since the divorce is now the divorce that Jesus taught," they continue to reason, "the mate who put away for fornication is now free to remarry whom she desires!"
Beloved, all this twisted logic, strange induction and deduction, and warped application all was set up by the teaching: "One can divorce for any reason, they just must not remarry...." The rest of the omitted sentence is: "One can divorce for any reason, they just must not remarry, unless the one to whom they remain bound commits adultery and allows them to put away on grounds of adultery...."
I believe the foregoing as well as many other matters, is why Jesus taught that the divorce itself must be for the cause of fornication. If the divorce itself is not for fornication, all subsequent remarriages are wrong and place the person in the position of continuing in fornication (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9). Notice, also, that Jesus used the term "put away" (apoluo) both for scriptural and unscriptural divorces (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9). In addition, the put away, whether correctly or unjustly, are always condemned when they remarry.
In closing, I Corinthians 7: 11 is not offering any hope for those who want to teach or practice divorcement for causes other than fornication.