Divorce and Remarriage Scripturally Explained
An On-Line Book
|Copyright © 1996, 2002, 2005 - All rights retained by author|
|Written by: C. W. Booth|
Have You Ever Played "Pretend"?
Borrowing a few moments from your childhood past, let us play a game of "pretend". In this game, you pretend to be someone else, live their emotions, respond how they would respond, see life through their eyes. The game now begins:
Your college roommate enters your dorm room and sits on the bed, smiling broadly. You know something is up just from the smile. Your roomie proudly proclaims, "Chris and I are getting married!" You know that Chris got divorced last year because of an anger problem. Your roomie is well respected at the church you attend, and now looks at you expecting a response, what do you say?
You are the parent of a very pretty twenty-one year old young woman. She got married only last month and had the promise of a tremendous future before her. But now she stands before you, tears mixing with make-up as they fall from her cheeks. In a halting stammer she explains that her young husband has been having an affair since the week they were married. She thinks she wants a divorce but doesn't know if that's the wise thing to do. She wants you to help sort out some answers, like, "Will God be angry with me if I divorce him?", or, "Can I ever get married again?" You decide to respond in the same loving way that Jesus would respond, but what do you say?
Staring at you from the other side of the oak desk you are sitting behind is a couple that looks entirely too much like "Mr. and Mrs. Right" to be having this discussion. They want to know if you, their pastor, will sanction their divorce. "Mr. and Mrs. Right" have found that they have fallen out of love and would like to be divorced so that they may pursue fuller lives married to other people. They earnestly desire to know what the church policy is concerning their plans. Instead of the church constitution, you reach for the Bible. What will you share with them?
God expects us to be ready and capable of answering such questions about the most common and foundational of institutions, marriage. Perhaps it is your own marriage that concerns you, your own personal future. Whether it is your own or that of a close friend, it is very appropriate to be equipped from the Scriptures to address these painful questions when a marriage relationship threatens to be split asunder.
Why Bother Reading This Book?
On a plethora of web sites and in an abundance of bookstores there are simply a staggering number of treatises on marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Some are Christian, most are not. A number of the Christian treatments of this subject are well grounded in the Word, many are not.
Over the course of nearly twenty years I have tried to systematically extract from the Scriptures the summary doctrine of marriage along with answers to many of the brutally difficult questions that invariably crop up when one must discuss the propriety of divorce and remarriage. Without relying on pop psychology, denominational dogmas, nor emphasizing isolated passages of obscure Scriptures, this work attempts to weave together a tapestry of harmonized Bible teachings on the subject into one set of intelligible and useful principles.
This is not a self-help book and is not meant to address individual situations. It is, after all, a book dedicated to understanding doctrine. Doctrines are instructions and teachings which are extracted from out of the Word of God through the disciplined reading of passages within their given written contexts, study of the words used in the passages, placing the principles in their proper cultural and linguistic backgrounds, comparing one passage to another for consistency, and attempting to understand what the author meant for us to take away from the passage.
It is my heart-felt desire that this work help everyone who may have become confused by the contradictory input they may have experienced previously and to find precisely the principles from God's Word that will help address their specific questions about the doctrine of marriage.
Does Scripture Really Have the Answers?
As an odd couple Marriage and Divorce have an even odder "offspring" named Remarriage. Marriage stands for permanence and long lasting devotion. Divorce is the embodiment of broken devotion, indifference, and the abrupt ending of what should have been permanent. Remarriage, is the contradictory outcome where a new permanent relationship of devotion is built atop the ruin of the previous "permanent" relationship which proved itself to be all too transitory.
Dwelling overly much on the philosophy of marriage, divorce, and remarriage can become depressing, and that is not the climate of this book. This book is dedicated to hope and to the type of spiritual understanding which comes, without fail, from the Word.
An often neglected truth is that the Scriptures were delivered to all the faithful, not simply to the scholar or the preacher. As a unified body of work written across thousands of years, the Scriptures are both understandable and pragmatic, assuming the faithful take sufficient time to read and study them on their own. Scriptures are not meant to be a work of deep academia fit only for scholarly and rhetorical debate between those with the weightiest degrees. All people benefit from the Word. The Bible is an "every day Christian's" book in which we find everything needed to live and be holy.
Together we will read the very passages that hold the sound and often simple answers we seek. First we will examine what Jesus taught about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Since Jesus was often interpreting specific Old Testament laws, we will look with some care at those too. Then we need to look at what the Apostle Paul penned, since he was providing his own interpretation of what Jesus said. Finally, we will look at some tough case studies. Case studies are the "what if" questions that often plague us, such as, "What if my abusive husband threatens me, can I get a divorce?" Case studies are meant to be a theoretical application of the doctrines we have studied--no case study will mirror exactly a real life situation, so the student of the Word will have to be careful not to make rash or sweeping assessments of someone's circumstances based solely on what they read in the case studies.
God really does want us to know how to correctly answer the question, "When may I divorce and when may I remarry?" He is not trying to keep us in the dark, nor is He trying to cause us to invent Scripture. He has told us everything we need to know about the subject.
There are barriers of doubt to overcome. How often has the typical Christian heard the words: "Because so many godly Christian men differ on these points, it is quite obvious that we will never be able to come up with the right answer..."?
It is true that godly men throughout Christ's age and ours have debated the meaning of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Some of them actually were correct and some of them were sincerely wrong. That all these men of differing opinions were godly does not automatically make them all correct, nor does their continued disagreement mandate that the answers cannot be found.
Another barrier to finding proper answers is the often cited "fairness" precept. An exegesis of a passage will yield what appears to be the proper answer, however, a writer will dismiss the conclusion as faulty because of fairness: "It looks like it says this, but, God could never mean that for it would be far too callous of God, and He is a God of love. It simply would not be fair." Other times: "God could not have meant that, it allows a loophole that too many people could squeeze through, and that would not be fair." As both Job and Paul told us, God is not bound by our adjudication of fairness, He has established the Law, not us.
Rather than being "too hard to interpret," the Bible generally speaks very plainly on the topic. It is our own driving concerns and the rocks of our preconceived notions of fair play which dash and sink so many "correct" interpretations.
Marriage is, after all, the next biggest issue to life, death, and salvation. It is very human of us to bring our own hurts, desires, emotions, and rules into play; rules which are not binding on God. Humanist sentiment, by way of example, would have us believe that spanking a child is abusive and harmful. By contrast to humanism, God's Word says, "to hit your child is love, but to avoid hitting him demonstrates your hatred for him." In utter defiance for humanist rules, God actually calls it abusive should we neglect to "spank" our children. Humanist logic tends to show itself to be very faulty when it is put up against God's wisdom.
So ingrained are we to think of our human value system as being higher than God's, that we end up blurting out the same thoughtless exclamation as did the disciples when they heard Jesus speak on marriage, divorce, and remarriage: "Well if that's the way it is, then why bother getting married?" The notion that man's value system is legitimately higher and more compassionate than God's ought to be intolerable to us, yet so often our personal pain would have us act otherwise.
Instead of imparting our sense of values on God's written system, we will attempt to look at the subject as He has established it. Not by examining one set of passages here or there, but by examining as much of the Bible in context to itself as we can. No verse or passage stands alone, but contributes to understanding the whole work, the entire law. It is an integrated theology. It is it's own balance and check. Given a chance, the Spirit can lead to a fuller understanding, but it is our responsibility to be willing to study the Bible as a completed guide to "life and godliness."
In short, we are about to take on a significant study, but the Scriptures are understandable and there are right answers. Ask God for wisdom, and be prepared to question all interpretations against the rest of Scriptures. But mostly, be ready to believe and obey what God has written to us in His Word.
How Does It Begin?
Brushing the tops of the low mountain peaks, the clouds contained just a hint of rain. The June weather was kind to a small crowd of people gathered in the grass of the foot hills below the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Pennsylvania.
Like little dolls dressed up for play by their loving owner the bride's maids were lined up wearing light blue dresses. The groom's men were arrayed in navy blue. One of them played a guitar under a vine-covered arbor. Together the bride and groom walked down the aisle, hand in hand.
Somewhere in the crowd a mother watched her son leave the household and cried. Nearby a father choked back a tear, though he would never admit to it. Another mother, though not heard, was wishing her daughter well. While one sister was holding a tissue up to her cheek, another sister was clutching the stuffed animals that represented a little girl and a little boy who were somehow nearly grown up.
As the pastor spoke his official blessing, the morning saw another couple become a real family, a household was born where one had not yet existed. A bell was rung, food was cooked and served, and the celebration went on for hours.
As weddings go, this one was hard to beat, it was my own. And yet, even amid the happiness and fun, there was much pain. Unknown to the groom, his own brother was facing a separation from his wife at the time. Indeed, we have all heard the statistics, one in every two marriages ends in divorce, even in the church if the surveys are to be believed. And most of those heart-broken individuals desire to be married again.
With such high divorce rates, what stand should a loving and caring church take? Is remarriage after a divorce something that God will permit? What counsel may we provide to those whose marriages have been "split asunder"?
This book is dedicated to my brother David who, with his wife, has worked over the course of two decades to demonstrate devotion to Godís commands concerning marital perseverance.