The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:
Now to the unmarried [footnote: Or widowers] and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
1 Corinthians 7:8-9 (TNIV)
Does this passage have anything to say to us about the issues of remarriage and homosexual practice which I have been discussing? I think it does.
Now I am sure that you will say to me that these verses are not about remarriage or homosexual “marriage”. And no doubt you would be right about the latter. As for the former, I would not be so sure, especially because in verse 15 Paul writes that a brother or sister deserted by their unbelieving spouse is “not bound”, more literally “not enslaved” (ou dedoulotai), presumably meaning that they are free to marry again, as they would be if the spouse had died (verse 39). So Paul would have held that a deserted partner like that should remarry rather than “burn with passion”. Nevertheless, Paul teaches that the best thing for them, as for all unmarried people, is “to stay unmarried, as I do”.
Paul would not of course accept that a Christian person could simply choose to divorce and remarry. He makes this clear in verses 10 to 13. So this is a serious restriction on divorce and remarriage among Christians, one which should continue to be respected. He does not deal explicitly with the issue of those who are divorced, or divorced and remarried, before they become Christians. But the principle of 6:11 suggests that in such cases Paul would let bygones be bygones.
So let’s look back to 6:11 in context:
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practising homosexuals 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (TNIV)
So, some of the Corinthian believers were “adulterers [or] male prostitutes [or] practising homosexuals” before they became Christians. (Yes, there is some dispute about the exact meanings of the words for “male prostitutes” and “practising homosexuals” here, but the latter word certainly included in its meaning practising homosexuals even if its full sense was wider.) Among these people were surely some who were remarried after divorce and so living in technically adulterous relationships. It may well also have included some people living in stable long term gay or lesbian partnerships, even if these were not the commonest forms of homosexuality in Corinth.
Let’s look next at Paul’s instructions to new Christians in Corinth. Here there is a bit of a surprise. These people were living in a city notorious for its sinful ways. So one might expect Paul to tell new believers to flee from their old evil entanglements and as far as possible cut themselves off from the world. No, he writes this to them:
Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you.
1 Corinthians 7:20 (TNIV)
As examples of this principle he mentions not only circumcision (verses 18-19) and slavery (verses 21-22), but also engagement to be married (verse 27), and, apparently from the broader context, marriage itself (verses 10-13). He makes no exception for technically adulterous second marriages, nor for homosexual partnerships. So one can easily argue from this chapter that Paul expected gay and lesbian couples who became Christians, as well as divorced and remarried couples, to continue their relationships. He could, of course, have insisted that they split up. But if he had done, they would very likely have been in the position he outlined in verse 9.
On this basis I would suggest that Paul, while not approving of homosexual relationships or of remarriage after divorce, would have considered that, for couples who “cannot control themselves” and remain single as he himself did, either of these is better “than to burn with passion”.