By Timothy Sparks
What does “unmarried” mean in 1 Cor. 7:11? Paul specifically addresses those who are “married” (1 Cor. 7:10). Paul says the Lord had commanded those who are married that a wife is not to “separate” from her husband (1 Cor. 7:10). The word for “depart” or “separate” is χωρίζω (chōrizō), the same word Jesus uses: “Therefore what God united, a human cannot separate” (Mt. 19:6, translation mine).
If a married woman is separated from her husband, she has two options: (1) to “remain unmarried” to anyone else or (2) to be reconciled to her husband (1 Cor. 7:11). The separation does not make them “unmarried” since they are “married” (1 Cor. 7:10). Paul tells separated wives to remain unmarried to any other person or to be reconciled to her husband (since she is still married to her husband) (1 Cor. 7:11). If she cannot be reconciled to her husband, why must she remain unmarried to any other person? Jesus says, “. . . and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mk. 10:12).
The following sources pretty much say the same thing about the primary meaning of 1 Cor. 7:11. We begin with a number of translations or paraphrases of 1 Cor. 7:11–
NASB: “(but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not [a]divorce his wife” [a] Or leave his wife
Phillips: “But if she is separated from him she should either remain unattached or else be reconciled to her husband.”
Expanded Bible: “But if she does ·leave [or divorce], she must not marry again, or she should ·make up [reconcile] with her husband. Also the husband should not ·divorce [or leave] his wife.”
New Century Version: “But if she does leave, she must not marry again, or she should make up with her husband.”
New International Reader’s Version: “But if she does, she must not get married again. Or she can go back to her husband.”
New Life Version: “but if she does leave him, she should not get married to another man. It would be better for her to go back to her husband.”
Worldwide English (New Testament): “But if she does leave him, she must not marry again, or she must come back to her husband again.”
Wycliffe Bible: “and that if she departeth, that she dwell unwedded, or be reconciled to her husband; and the husband forsake not the wife.”
F. F. Bruce–
“The parenthesis, if she does separate from her husband, let her remain single (i.e. unmarried to any one else) or else be reconciled to her husband, may be Paul’s gloss on the dominical ruling, but is in keeping with Mk. 10:12″ (New Century Bible Commentary, 1 and 2 Corinthians, p. 69).
“What about those who are already married and are tempted to escape from marriage? Here Paul for once gives a command (cf. v. 6), though not on his own authority but on that of the Lord (v. 10). This is one of those very few places (9:14 is another) where Paul refers explicitly to the teaching of Jesus. He here cites a saying also attested (with some variations) in the Synoptics, in which Jesus declared divorce to be illegitimate (Mk 10:2-11; Mt 19:3-9; Lk 16:18). In the case of a wife he imagines a second-best option whereby she separates/divorces (vv. 13-15 suggest that these may be synonyms for Paul) but does not marry again (v. 11)” (The Oxford Bible Commentary, 1 Corinthians, p. 1119).
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary–
“11. But and if she depart—or “be separated.” If the sin of separation has been committed, that of a new marriage is not to be added (Mt 5:32)” ( 1 Corinthians 7 Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary)
“Verse 11. – If she depart. The reference throughout the verse is to separation due to incompatibility of temper, etc.; not to legal divorce” (1 Corinthians 7 Pulpit Commentary).
R. C. H. Lenski–
“All that can be said is that various reasons may bring about a separation and cause a wife (or a husband) to leave. . . . When we compare all that the Lord said regarding marriage we see what is meant by the command: ‘let her (him) remain unmarried or else,’ etc. Marriages were so often disrupted in order that the dissatisfied spouse might marry another; note Matt. 19:9, ‘and shall marry another.’ For this reason so many of the Jews got rid of their wives–they wanted some other woman. . . . For such a person but one other possibility remains, reconciliation with the deserted spouse. The conclusion is often drawn that, although the two are separated as indicated (and we may add perhaps even legally divorced), they are, nevertheless, still married in the sight of the Lord and thus also in the sight of the church. Paul could easily have said that in just a few words; he did not do so although he is reminding the Corinthians of the Lord’s own command regarding marriage” (Interpretation of I and II Corinthians, pp. 289-290).
Robertson and Plummer–
“But if unhappily she does do this, she must remain single, or else be reconciled to her husband. . . . 11. ἐάν δέ καὶ χωρισθῇ. ‘But if (in spite of Christ’s command) she even goes so far as to separate herself,’ she is not to marry any other man. The divorce is her act, not her husband’s. “Christianity had powerfully stirred the feminine mind at Corinth (11:5, 14:34). In some cases ascetic aversion caused the wish to separate” (Findlay). With the καί compare εἰ δὲ καί in 4:7. Christ had forbidden marriage with a divorced with (Luke 16:18), and His Apostle here takes the same ground. If the wife who has separated from her husband finds that, after all, she cannot live a single life, the only course open to her is to be reconciled to the husband whom she has injured. For the construction (καταλλ. c. dat.) see Romans 5:10. Like εἰ δὲ ὁ ἄπιστος (v. 15) and ἀλλʼ εἰ δύνασαι (v. 21), this ἐὰν δὲ καὶ κ.τ.λ is a parenthesis to provide for an exceptional case. He then continues the Lord’s command, that ‘a husband is not to put away (ἀφιέναι = καταλύειν) his wife.’* St Paul, like our Lord, forbids divorce absolutely: πορνεία in the wife is not mentioned here as creating an exception; and it is possible that this exception (Matthew 5:32, Matthew 5:19:9; see Allen and Plummer ad loc.) was unknown to the Apostle, because it had not been made by Christ” (The International Critical Commentary:
Meyer says a lot more than what follows–the Greek below is translated “remain unmarried” (see the link for additional study of Meyer’s commentary:
“μενέτω ἄγαμος] assumes that her marriage is not to be looked upon as really dissolved; hence she would be guilty of adultery should she contract another union. Comp Matthew 19:9.”
Expositor’s Greek Testament–
“In some cases, not so much incompatibility as ascetic aversion (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:3 f.) caused the wish to separate.—The γυναῖκα μὴ χωρισθῆναι is qualified by the parenthesis ἐὰν δὲ καὶ χωρισθῇ: “but if indeed she have separated, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband”. P. is not allowing exceptions from the rule of Christ, but advising in cases where the mischief was done; the aor sbj, χωρισθῇ, is timeless, taking its occasion from the context: see Bn, § 98. Her remaining unmarried is virtually included in the law of Christ (Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9). καταλλαγήτω, pass, “let her get herself reconciled”: the vb indicates the fact of alienation or dissension, but not the side on which it exists (cf. the theological use of καταλλάσσω in Romans 5:10 f.); if the husband disallows her return, she must remain ἄγαμος.—Romanists have inferred from the text, after Aug, and notwithstanding Matthew 5:32, that even adultery leaves the marriage-vow binding on the wronged partner; but this question is not in view here (see Ed in loc.)”