James Bales and "I, not the Lord"

in I Cor 7:12

By Patrick T. Donahue

Mr. Bales' Argument On I Corinthians 7:12

James Bales' position is that I Cor 7:15 ("but if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace") allows another cause for scriptural remarriage after divorce, other than divorce for fornication, the second cause being desertion. The first reply to this assertion is usually that Mt. 19:9, because it uses the word "except," shows that fornication is the only scriptural cause, thereby ruling out any other cause, including desertion.

Parallels are usually made to Jn. 3:5 and similar passages. Mr. Bales' response to this reply is that Mt. 19:9 is not addressing marriages involving one or more non-Christians, that it is only addressing marriages where both of the partners are "under covenant" to God. Mr. Bales' proof for this assertion is given as I Cor. 7:10-12. He understands (I think correctly) that the phrase in I Cor. 7:10, "I command, yet not I, but the Lord" is referring to the fact that the Lord gave the command "Let not the wife depart from her husband" directly while on earth (presumably recorded in Mt. 19:6-9), while the phrase in I Cor. 7:12, "But to the rest speak I, not the Lord" is introducing an answer to a Corinthian question that was not directly addressed by the Lord while on the earth. Mr. Bales then reasons that since verse 12 begins a discussion of mixed marriages, therefore Mt. 19:6-9 must not address mixed marriages, and cannot be used to refute his doctrine that I Cor. 7:15 allows another scriptural cause for divorce and remarriage.

The Correct Understanding Of I Corinthians 7:12-16

The truth is that I Cor. 7:10-11 does not specify marriages involving two Christians only, it speaks to all marriages. Verse 12 does not show that Mt. 19:9 does not teach concerning mixed marriages, but shows that Jesus in Mt.19:9 (or at any other time) did not specifically state what the Christian is to do if his spouse (an unbeliever would be assumed) leaves him. Paul answers that question in verse 15, "let him depart;" in other words, "Don't go to the point of casting your pearls before swine in trying to convince him otherwise; even if the marriage is restored, who knows if you would be able to convert him to Christ anyway (v.16)? If you (the believer) couldn't do anything to help it, you have not sinned; it is not your problem." Verses 12-14, which precede Paul's answer in verse 15, are Paul's way of keeping the Corinthians from getting the wrong idea from his answer given in verse 15. Before giving his answer to the question, Paul first wanted to make sure that the Corinthians did not get the impression from his answer that a Christian could initiate the departing himself.

To Illustrate…

I might do something similar if my little girl were to ask me if she could play outside. Before answering her question directly, I probably would precede the answer with, "now let me make this clear; do not go near the road. If your ball goes near the road, don't go get it; come get Daddy and he will get it. Don't go near the road!" Then I would finally answer, "Yes, you may go play outside."

Corinthian Question And Answer

The question raised by the Corinthians would be something like, "What if I'm married to an unbeliever, and he leaves me, would my desire/obligation to try to convert him demand that I make continuing efforts to convince him to come back to me? Just how far must I go?" That is the question that Jesus does not directly address in the Mt. 19:9 type passages. Before Paul gives his answer to that question (answer found in v.15), he first wants to make sure that the readers don't get the wrong idea and think that he is giving them permission to depart. So he precedes his answer with the warning that they may not leave their partner. The question and answer might go something like the following: "Paul, what do we do if our spouse leaves us? How far must we go in pursuing the continuation of the relationship in hopes of converting them?" "Corinthians, let me first make it clear that you must not ever leave your spouse, even if that spouse is not a Christian. But if they insist upon leaving you, that is not your fault/problem. Who knows if you would have been able to convert them anyway?"

So the thing that I Cor. 7:12 indicates that Mt. 19:6-9 does not address is not mixed marriages per se, but what must be done if my spouse leaves me against my will. Mt. 19:6-9 does not explain the answer to that question in detail, but I Cor. 7:12-16 does.


The bottom line is that both Mt. 19:9 and I Cor. 7:10 address all, not just two Christians, paired in marriage. They therefore demand, contrary to Mr. Bales' doctrine, that partners break up unscriptural (adulterous) marriages when becoming a Christian.

[EDITOR's NOTE: Thanks to Pat for the article! He can be reached at: Pat Donahue, Pat.Donahue@MSFC.NASA.GOV, 4607 Old Railroad Bed Road, Harvest, Alabama 35749, (205) 721-0726 home, (205) 461-4303 office.]

Email the Editor at markjward@yahoo.com