Problem: Paul's advice conflicts on divorcing unbelievers
Verses: 1 Corinthians 7:12-14, 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; Status: Weak

There's an alleged discrepancy between two pieces of advice from Paul, regarding marriages with unbelievers. First, here is 1 Corinthians 7:12-14:

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (ESV)

By contrast, this is 2 Corinthians 6:14-17:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

"I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, (ESV)

I can think of a number of responses to this, and therefore consider the problem Weak. To start with, the first passage explicitly says that this is advice from Paul rather than God, which opens up the possibility of its being revised later.

Secondly, the context of the verses needs to be understood. As Christianity was then a new religion, it is understandable that a number of converts found that their spouses were not willing to convert with them. The first passage gives the instruction not to divorce them.

On the other hand, the second passage seems broader in scope. It does not seem to be only about marriage, but gives a more general warning against social relations (especially unequal social relations) with unbelievers. Marriages that already existed would be a reasonable exception to this rule, although forming new marriages with unbelievers would be more dubious.

(But it's possible I have misunderstood Paul and the second passage really is about marriage, in which case the problem is more serious.)

Updated: Summer 2008

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