Earlier this week Pastor Doug Wilson published a post titled: On a Wife Deciding to Leave Her Husband. What most readers likely won’t notice is that Wilson has created a truly novel reading of 1 Cor 7. Wilson explains that when the Apostle Paul commands wives not to leave their husbands, he was really telling wives they were free to leave their husbands if they felt justified in doing so (all emphasis mine):
It is interesting here that Paul advises a woman not to leave if she can help it—“the wife should not separate from her husband.” That is his apostolic counsel, but it is clear from the context that it is merely advice. If she sees that his generally good advice is not pertinent to her situation, she is left free to leave without being hassled about it by the apostle. So if he would leave you alone in this decision, then so should the elders of your church.
It is also interesting that Paul does not here get into the grounds for the separation. If there are not grounds for a divorce that allows for a subsequent remarriage, the church doesn’t adjudicate it. If the parties are willing, the church must provide pastoral counsel, but if there is simply a separation over intractable differences, Paul just allows for the separation, even though it may be one that has gone against his counsel—he did in fact urge the wife not to separate from her husband. Note also that it is the wife he is exhorting in this passage, meaning that in the larger scheme of things, he is assuming that wives could have plausible reasons for thinking they had to go. Husbands can be brutal, as the apostle knew.
For reference, here is the Scripture where Wilson says the Apostle Paul tells wives they are free to separate from their husbands if they see fit (NIV):
10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
It gets worse. Not only does Wilson claim that when Scripture says “Don’t do this” it really means “you are free to do this”, he then takes it a step further and claims that Scripture (and God) is urging wives to separate from their husbands if they feel their husband is sinning. Don’t do this becomes you are commanded to do this!
And so, given what you have described, my counsel would be for you to go. If you are concerned for your husband’s salvation—as you should be—you are far more likely to be used as an instrument to bring him to repentance as you pursue obedience to God this way. For the rest, leave the consequences to God. “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband” (1 Cor. 7:16).
Here is the relevant Scripture, in context (NIV):
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
Wilson has taken an exhortation to remain together and twisted it to an exhortation to separate! As I wrote in the opening, very few of his readers are likely to notice this. A plain reading of Scripture is a dangerous thing for complementarians, so Wilson reversing the meaning of Scripture will be a welcome relief for many*. Holding to a plain reading of 1 Pet 3 (among other charges) recently caused Dr. Paige Patterson to be hounded from his position as president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Thankfully Pastor Wilson ignores 1 Pet 3 entirely in his analysis of a wife’s proper response to a sinning husband, and thereby limits his violence to 1 Cor 7 and a creative interpretation of Deut. 23:15.
*For those who weren’t already hungering for an interpretation that reversed the plain instructions of Scripture, Wilson is forced to rely on sheer volume of pretzel logic.
H/T JF & 7817