The “Pauline Exception” of 1 Cor. 7 – Jerry C. Brewer

Jerry C. Brewer

It is postulated by some that when one who is in an adulterous union obeys the Gospel, he is forgiven of his sins and may remain in that union. This doctrine has led, and will continue to lead, souls to eternal loss. One who is in such a union and becomes a Christian must leave that union. To remain in it indicates he has not repented, for repentance demands a cessation of sin. Repentance is a change of the will (Matt. 21:28-29) which is prompted by godly sorrow (2 Cor. 5:7) and is manifested in a changed manner of living (Matt. 3:8). Repentance also involves restitution—making right the wrongs one has committed to the extent that one is able to do so. One cannot embezzle money from his employer, obey the Gospel, continue to embezzle and fail to pay back money previously stolen. One who so conducts himself has not repented, and neither has the man who is in an adulterous marriage and remains in it after being baptized.

The idea that one does not have to leave an adulterous union upon his obedience to the Gospel is based on what some have called “The Pauline Exception”, derived from a false construction of Paul’s teaching on marriage in First Corinthians, chapter seven. But those who claim Paul made an exception to Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage are guilty of arraying Scripture against Scripture and Paul against Jesus. No such “exception” exists. In First Corinthians 7:1-7, Paul deals with the relationship of married persons to one another. He then goes on to deal with other marriage-related matters, including his advice for the unmarried (1 Cor. 7:8-9). He then directs his attention to those who are married and reiterates the Lord’s teaching concerning marriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11).

Then, Paul says in verse 12, “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord.” It is this statement from which many have conjured up the “Pauline Exception.” But Paul is not offering his own advice or opinion. He affirms that the things he writes in this epistle are “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). Paul is not arraying himself against Christ, but is revealing something which Christ did not personally teach while He was on earth. That’s the exact import of Jesus’ statement to the apostles in John 14:26 and 16:13. He told them that when the Holy Spirit came, He would not only remind them of all things Christ had taught them, but would guide them “into all truth” which at that time they were “not able to bear.” It is not possible that Jesus taught one thing about marriage and divorce and Paul taught another. Neither is it possible that the Holy Spirit would inspire Paul to contradict the teaching of Jesus. The further truth into which the apostles were guided would never contradict truth which Jesus taught while He was among them. That such a “Pauline Exception” does not exist is evident from the subsequent instructions Paul delineates for those in verses 12 through 16. The subject under consideration in these verses is one on which the Lord had not spoken while He was on earth—marriage between a believer and an unbeliever.

Then in verses 17-24, Paul applies the general principles he has just set forth concerning marriage to other relationships, saying, “as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk,” and ends that section saying, “Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.” These two statements are also used by those who believe they see a “Pauline Exception” to Jesus’ law of marriage in Matthew 19. But the key to understanding these statements is found in the phrase, “therein abide with God.” None of the conditions which Paul treats in this section are sinful or unlawful. He says if one is called being a Gentile, he does not have to be circumcised, nor does one who is called as a Jew have to become a Gentile (v. 18). He applies that same principle to bond-servants and free men in verses 21 through 23, saying in verse 20, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” Note carefully, that none of these relationships—servant, free, Jew or Gentile—are in themselves unlawful or sinful. But adultery is sinful and unlawful (Matt. 19:9; cf. Matt. 14:4) and Paul, who exploded the false doctrine that one may “continue in sin that grace may abound” (Rom. 6:1-2), would certainly not urge Christians to continue living in adultery. He simply applied the inspired principles he had given to Christians who are married to unbelievers to those in other civil relations. There is no such thing as a “Pauline Exception” to the words of Jesus Christ in Matthew 19:9.

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Author: Editor

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