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Split Asunder:
Divorce and Remarriage Scripturally Explained
An On-Line Book
Copyright © 1996, 2002, 2005 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth


Select this line to read the Introduction to Split Asunder.


Chapter 1: What Is Marriage?

A chemist was conducting experiments at a company I once worked for, using a liquid compound so exotic that it cost $10,000 an ounce. His laboratory assistant, having set up the experiment several times before, once again prepared the stainless steel apparatus, with the costly liquid sitting in a long cylinder just above the reaction tube.

Unfortunately, the lab assistant ignored the experiment’s protocol and forgot to close the exhaust valve under the reaction tube. The chemist, trusting his lab assistant, never checked the valve, also ignoring protocol. As quickly as the chemist's fingers opened the reaction valve to let the liquid into the reaction tube, $10,000 of precious compound slipped through the reaction tube out the exhaust valve and into the drain on its way to waste recycling.

Unfortunately, neither the lab assistant nor the chemist really appreciated the cost of the compound, so they felt comfortable ignoring the protocol. Before anyone throws anything away, intentionally or not, it is advisable to first understand its true value.

A very old copy of Webster's New International Dictionary (1934) that I own, defines divorce as "a legal dissolution...of the marriage relation." Just what is it that we dissolve or discard when we obtain a divorce? Obviously we are ending a marriage. But the question, "What is a marriage?" is really the root question to the next logical question: "What is a remarriage?"

Answering this question may certainly seem intuitive enough, but almost no two people have the same understanding. To discuss what we are ending (disposing of) and very often re-starting, is anything but simplistic until we agree on a common definition. Webster's will not be of much help to us here because marriage is more than a human institution, it is God’s creation.

God defined the first marriage this way:

Then the Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him."

And the man said, "This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man."

For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Genesis 2:18, 2:23-25

Marriage, as God defines it, is a pair of humans, more specifically a man and a woman, who have decided they are suitable, and will be committed, to helping each other overcome "loneliness". (Note: while it is a thankful reality that no wives today are taken from men surgically, it is nonetheless true that one's spouse can be helpful in driving out loneliness from his life.)

A marriage, then, is a relationship. That relationship is defined by a tremendously significant action, "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife". This statement is God's own commentary on what constitutes a marriage "joining." This is not Adam speaking. Nor was God providing a simple description of Adam and Eve's situation, since Adam and Eve had no father and mother to leave.

God was describing for us (future husbands and wives) the appropriate ending of the parental authority, and some other aspects of that old relationship, in favor of a new one! We really are supposed to "leave" the authority (headship) of our parents and "cleave" (cling to, grab hold of, grip, fasten on, be glued) to this new relationship instead of to our parents.

Certainly we must continue to honor our parents, respect them, listen to their sage advice on the meaning of Scriptures, even assist them financially if need be, but our new marriage relationship breaks the authority that our parents once exercised over us. This point is most especially needed by anyone who might be compelled to go "running home to Mom and Dad" when a conflict arises in the marriage. This is NOT a biblical option.

Once established by means of a marriage commitment (often referred to as a marriage covenant), the two people are now one; one in name, one in purpose, one for life. After the marriage commitment has been made, the couple is now afforded a privilege only those who have already wedded may exercise--sexual relations, becoming “one flesh”. Prior to the wedding ceremony (the mutual exchange of lifetime commitments) sex would have been sinful. After the ceremony, after the couple is considered married, sex is a right.

Being "one flesh" is more than just a right, it is an obligation (more on that later). But just to be certain that no one misses the point that the expression "one flesh" includes sexual relations, we can quote the apostle Paul who says, "The two will become one flesh" (1 Corinthians 6:16).

It should never be disputed that "one flesh" means much more than "they will have sex," still, first and foremost, an obvious definition of "one flesh" is sexual relations. Paul tells us without ambiguity in 1 Corinthians 6:16 that sexual relations are an accepted meaning for the expression "one flesh". Therefore, when God says that one of the defining obligations incurred by becoming married is to become "one flesh", He is ordaining sex as an ongoing element of any marriage relationship.

Emotional and spiritual intimacy along with sacrificial love are also equally appropriate definitions of the phrase "one flesh". Note the words of Paul as he writes, "So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church." Ephesians 5:28 - 32

It is impossible to think about being apart from God or His Spirit, or to think about spending a week as if you were not under God's authority. It is much the same way with marriage. "One flesh" means that you two are so emotionally and spiritually merged that even "thinking like a single person" is practically inconceivable. It is nearly unimaginable to contemplate waking up and not looking at your spouse next to you, or driving to work without evaluating the impact even a minor car accident would have on the family. Your thoughts just simply do not revolve solely around yourself anymore. "But one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided." 1Corinthians 7:33,34a

Marriage, as first inspired by God's mind and revealed in Genesis Chapter 2, held the following onetime elements which form the basis for defining all marriage:

1) two humans, male and female (Genesis 2:23)

2) one lifetime relationship for the purpose of removing loneliness--emotional and spiritual oneness (Genesis 2:18)

3) termination of parental authority (Genesis 2:24)

Enclosed in the ongoing and recurring obligations of the marriage contract are the following Scripturally required elements to which the man and woman agreed:

1)initiation and continuity of exclusive sexual relations--physical oneness (Hebrews 13:4, 1 Corinthians 6:13-18, 7:5)

2)continually remove loneliness from the life of the other (emotional and spiritual intimacy) (Genesis 2:18)

3) have the husband love the wife (Ephesians 5:25)

4) have the wife be a helper who is subject to the husband (Genesis 2:18, Colossians 3:18)



Chapter 2: What Were God's Original Intentions About the Rules of Marriage?

Jesus, Himself, interpreted Genesis Chapter 2 and defined marriage this way:

But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."

And in the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. And He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery."

Mark 10:6-12

A closer look at what Jesus actually said will greatly help us when we later wrestle with the larger question of remarriage.

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"But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female." Mark 10:6

It is not possible in terms of human beings to go back any further in time than to the very creation, which is just where Jesus takes us, back to the actual creation of man. At the dawn of mankind's creation Jesus says that God made marriage to be between a male and a female. In other words, no homosexual unions are recognized as marriages by Jesus, and therefore, by God. When Jesus is the One interpreting the Old Testament there is a certain comfort and reassurance that the interpretation is utterly precise.

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"For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh." Mark 10:7,8

Jesus tells us here that God's original plan called for only one man and only one woman to be joined -- two become one. This effectively rules out polygamy (although some Jewish kings and patriarchs did engage in polygamy against God’s law, which in most every case resulted in further and deeper sin). Again, Jesus is interpreting God's original intent. Is that not exactly what everyone always says they want, "If only we knew what God was thinking when He said that?" Now we know exactly what His intent was "from the beginning of creation". Only two humans, and only of the opposite sex.

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"What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." Mark 10:9

Once more interpreting Genesis, Jesus tells us that God seals the marriage as final and denies man the authority to end it. This statement should not be dismissed as overly simplistic for as will be seen there is much more about this topic and this quote that must be explored in depth. However, Jesus is making a strong point, God seals all marriages and man is not authorized to invent rationales with which to end them.

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"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery." Mark 10:11b,12

Here Jesus states God's law very plainly. Jesus states that if either the man or the woman leave the relationship via divorce and marries another, it is nothing short of the sin of "adultery". By using the word adultery, Jesus was driving home the point that one's marriage covenant is life-long, permanent, and is not as truly or cleanly ended following a divorce as might have been imagined.

Adultery is a fearful word, but is used here by Christ to describe a remarriage. Adultery by its common definition means that a married person is having sex with someone who is not their current spouse. Adultery in the sense that God often uses it, however, means that His people have acted in a way that contradicts the covenant He has made with man (Matthew 5:27,28; Ezekiel 6:9; Ephesians 5:31,32; James 4:3-5). In a word, disloyalty. Disloyalty to a relationship that had been mutually agreed upon via a formal contract (covenant). Such a definition of adultery has nothing to do with physical sex but has everything to do with not fulfilling the obligations of trust in the covenantal relationship.

By labeling a remarriage "adultery" Jesus is not saying that sex with the new spouse is illegitimate, but that the new covenant has contradicted the old, and that by making a new marriage covenant, one has proven to be disloyal to the first.

If a divorce that is drawn up by human hands did truly dissolve the marriage completely and forever, then remarrying would not be adultery because it could be honestly said that neither person was still bound by the terms of the marriage covenant. However, as we saw in Mark 10:9, God has not given the authority to man to initiate divorce, at least not in the all inclusive sense men would like to think. Jesus here calls "remarriage" an "adultery". Why? How can it be adultery when both partners are divorced? Obviously divorce is not the last word in breaking up a marriage. (These subjects of remarriage following a divorce, adultery, and possible exceptions are far from being exhausted and will be discussed later.)

For ease of reference, we will call the statement that Jesus made in Mark 10:11-12, the General Rule of Remarriage. Summed up, the General Rule of Remarriage is: It is the sin of adultery to marry another person following a divorce.

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When Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at the well, He tells her, "You have well said, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly." (John 4:17b,18) In other words, one additional parameter of marriage is that "living together" is not considered a marriage by default. Having sex does not qualify as marriage, the Samaritan woman knew it, and Jesus declared it.

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To summarize Jesus' interpretation of God's original intentions and parameters on marriage:

1) male and female, no homosexual marriages

2) only one man and only one woman (two become one), no polygamy

3) God seals the marriage as final, man is not given authority to end it

4) marriage is life-long and permanent

5) to become married requires more than just having sex

To literally become married requires an act of the will, an intent to form the relationship. This theme is repeated throughout Scripture. In Malachi 2:14 God describes marriage as having been formed by way of a covenant (formal agreement), "...the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant."

A working definition of marriage as taken from Genesis and from Jesus' own words might look like this:

"A life long relationship that cannot normally be terminated that is between only one man and only one woman in which each has agreed to be a helper to the other to drive out loneliness, and in which parental authority over the couple is terminated in favor of the new relationship which gives the couple the right and obligation for exclusive sexual, emotional, and spiritual intimacy."

Much more can and should be said about what marriage is. Certainly Ephesians 5:22 through verse 33 is quite specific concerning obligations of both the husband and the wife. However, we are primarily concerned with the question that the Pharisees asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" And if a man does divorce his wife, is it lawful for him or for her to remarry?



Chapter 3: Is It Lawful for a Man to Divorce His Wife?

And some Pharisees came up to Him, testing Him, and began to question Him whether it was lawful for a man to divorce a wife. And He answered and said to them, "What did Moses command you?" And they said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."

But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and the two shall become one flesh; consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."

And in the house the disciples began questioning Him about this again. And He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery."

Mark 10:2-12

At the heart and soul of this discussion, is Jesus' comment, "what Moses commanded". The Pharisees interpreted Moses one way, and Jesus interprets him entirely differently. The only way to comprehend this discussion is to go back and look at the specific passage that everyone is interpreting. Then, we will apply Jesus' interpretation to what Moses commanded.

Deuteronomy 24:1-4, Case of the Twice Married Divorced Woman

"When a man takes a wife and marries her,

and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her,
and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house,
and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife,
and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house,
or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife,

then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the Lord, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance." Deuteronomy 24:1-4

What Moses wrote is a form of "case law". It describes a law (commandment) by using a specific example, or case study. This case study gives a hypothetical situation to describe the consequences you would face if you were to commit the same actions that the case describes.

The specific case under discussion, which we might entitle "The Twice Married Divorced Woman", has the following highlights: A man (Husband-1) marries a woman. Husband-1 initiates a divorce from the woman. The woman then remarries someone else, which we will call The Other Man (Husband-2). The Other Man then dies or divorces the Woman.

That was the case set-up. A very real and possible scenario. This situation happens with exceptional frequency today.

At the end of the case, is the resulting consequence or conclusion: The woman and Husband-1 (the original couple) may never be re-joined or remarried. Why? The woman "has been defiled" and for the two to remarry would be "an abomination before the Lord" and would "bring sin on the land".

What remains then is the question, in this case study, how did the woman get defiled? This question has only two possible answers: 1) it was the original "indecency" that the first husband found, or, 2) it was the marriage to the second husband that caused her to be defiled.

Rather than wrangle over words, let us return to Jesus to interpret "what Moses commanded". Jesus sums up His divine interpretation of the commandment of Moses written in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 by saying, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery."

Earlier we called this the General Rule of Remarriage. Jesus Himself was interpreting Deuteronomy 24:1-4 ("the command of Moses") and in so doing identifies what caused the woman to be defiled: any marriage following a divorce is to be considered the same as the sin of adultery. According to Jesus' own interpretation, it was the woman's marriage to another man following her divorce that caused the woman to be defiled; adultery by remarriage.

It must be noted that it was not sex with the second husband that defiled the woman, but rather it was the making of the marriage covenant with the second husband that defiled her. This is demonstrated by the fact that many spouses “stray” into adultery and are taken back by their waiting spouses (for example, Hosea took back Gomer after her public adulteries). That type of physical adultery did not defile the cheating spouse. But making a new marriage covenant, breaking Jesus’ General Rule of Remarriage, that is a defilement of the sort that prevents reconciliation. Marriage covenants and relationship loyalty are held in higher esteem by God than is sexual faithfulness. Sexual faithlessness (physical adultery) can be overlooked and forgiven by the husband during a reconciliation, even though a disloyal and adulterous second marriage relationship precludes reconciliation entirely.

Looking at the Deuteronomy 24 case, if neither spouse had remarried, the husband and wife would have been free to forgive each other their past sins and be reconciled, just as many couples do today. However, once either one has remarried, they have committed adultery (as Jesus calls it) and have become "defiled". Having been defiled in this way, they are forbidden by the Old Testament Law to ever reconcile as a married couple again.

An interesting point of note is that Jesus did not dismiss Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as no longer being relevant. Instead, He strengthens and affirms that law by explaining the purpose behind it. The reason a man may not take back his twice married wife is that she has been defiled by an adulterous second marriage covenant. Her word, her ability to make trustworthy marriage covenants, has been forever defiled and tainted. Her promise of lifelong loyalty is so defiled as to be worthless. As a person she is not defiled, but her credibility and her word are ruined and may no longer be used to bind her to a marriage.

In yet another passage of scripture, Jesus first references Deuteronomy 24, and then interprets it for us. Matthew 5:31,32 quotes Jesus as He delivers the Sermon on the Mount. "And it was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Jesus is once again citing Deuteronomy 24, the case law Moses wrote concerning divorce and remarriage. Jesus presents a very plain, up front, and strongly worded interpretation of this case law. His interpretation is very consistent with other passages we have seen and will see, specifically, anyone who divorces and remarries someone else commits the sin of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced person also commits adultery (remember the General Rule of Remarriage).

For some, a perhaps even more troubling truth is made clear. Even the "innocent" party, whichever one that may have been, the one who is "sent away" or the one who does the sending, is still guilty of adultery if they marry another. Any marriage by a divorced person to anyone except the original spouse is an adulterous marriage.

Matthew 5:31,32 does introduce a new "wrinkle". It contains one of the two famous "exception clauses". We will deal with this clause more fully at a later time. Right now it is enough to show that for most every other situation, Jesus considered any marriage to a divorced person to be the actual sin of adultery. In other words, every divorce and resulting remarriage that was not directly initiated because one of the spouses was "cheating" is itself an adulterous remarriage. It is this General Rule of Remarriage against which the exception clause for cheating is applied.

In Luke 16:18 Jesus is once again quoted as saying, "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery."



Chapter 4: Did Not Moses Give "Permission" to Divorce?

Doubtless there are many readers who recall that Jesus again references Moses in Matthew 19:8, where He says, "Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way." After all we have read, how is it possible that Jesus said that Moses gave us permission to divorce our wives?

Let us begin our investigation by reading all of Matthew 19:3-12:

And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?" And He answered and said, "Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh'? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."

They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."

The disciples said to Him, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry." But He said to them, "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it."

Mark quotes Jesus much the same as He is quoted in the first part of this passage from Matthew. We will not repeat the analysis of Jesus' comments concerning "one flesh", "male and female", and "let no man separate".

Down through the centuries the Pharisees and religious rulers of Israel understood enough of the plain meaning of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 and Jeremiah 3:1 to enforce the law’s prohibition against an original couple reconciling if either one of them had become married to other spouses. However, they added some improper inferences to the plain meaning of the law. These added inferences became “customs” as found in the Mishna which were never intended to be a part of the law at all.

In the exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees recorded in Mark, the Pharisees make the error of invoking two of these customs inferred from Deuteronomy 24:1-4. The Pharisees state: "Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Immediately Jesus corrects these two errors which the Pharisees had made:

Pharisaical Error 1

Incorrectly stating that Moses "commanded" them to give out certificates of divorce. The Pharisees are now corrected by Jesus who points out that the commandment which Moses did write merely "permitted" divorce.

Pharisaical Error 2

"Permission" to get a divorce was assumed by the Pharisees to mean that divorce and remarriage was not sinful. However, Jesus states that even though Moses permitted divorce, God still considers any resulting marriages to be the sin of adultery, and He always has since the "beginning" of mankind.

On first look, it appears to be a contradiction. The prophet Moses, through the Holy Spirit, wrote the Law of God, which itself is perfect because it reflects the very expressed will of God. God did not allow Moses to write down even one word which contradicted His will (Deuteronomy 18:20). Jesus says this law gives permission for men to divorce, but Jesus also says that God still considers divorce to be a sin. Can it be that the Law grants permission to sin? No, of course not.

What does Jesus mean when He says "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives"? The divorce is still hated by God as a treacherous thing to do against one’s spouse (Malachi 2:13-16) and any subsequent remarriages are still called adultery for which everyone involved is guilty before God.

What kind of permission is it that still results in one being guilty of the sin of adultery? The answer is surprisingly obvious, but requires us to understand a little about the history of the Law and the nation of Israel.

God's dramatic creation of the state of Israel involved more than setting apart a nation of people. It had a distinctive called the Law, formally presented by God through Moses following the Egyptian exodus. This Law had many facets, but we need to understand two very notable aspects.

The Moral Facets of the Law

First, the Law described sin. It defined for man what God considered to be spiritually offensive. Stated simply, it was a Moral/Spiritual Law. Sins against God for which men would have to pray to God, asking for His mercy in repentant prayer. As a Spiritual Law, it also described holiness and those spiritual activities with which God was pleased. An example of a sin (violation of the Spiritual facets of the Law) was coveting someone else's worldly goods. An example of a spiritual act of holiness was prayer itself.

The Civil Facets of the Law

Second, the Law provided the new nation with a Civil Law. Complete with definitions of crimes and their penalties, court protocol and sentences to be imposed on the guilty. Civil Law defines those offenses that a man commits against his fellow man for which he must recompense the state or the victim. An example of a Civil Law violation (crime) is theft, for which the Law demanded repayment of the stolen item plus an additional penalty payment, all of which was to be repaid to the victim.

Most scholars recognize that the Law of Moses states that God imposes the death penalty on all who commit adultery (Leviticus 20:10). However, in the case law of Deuteronomy 24, Moses states that while the one who remarries after a divorce is defiled by adultery (and therefore may not return to their original spouses) Moses fails to define a civil penalty for this sin. No where does Moses decree that adultery committed by means of divorce and remarriage requires the death penalty.

This lack of a civil penalty (of death) is considered to be a form of "permission". The spiritual condemnation still remains and forgiveness from God must be sought, but the adulterers will not be executed.

This same kind of situation where no civil penalty is attached to a sin is common in today's culture. By way of analogy, think of the time you may have told a lie to your talkative neighbor. For example, maybe you said, "Oh, look at the time, I have to go now to catch up on some errands!" when in reality you were merely bored by your neighbor and had no place to go at all. Such a sin has no civil penalty attached to it at all. As far as our government is concerned, you have its permission to lie to your neighbor. God, on the other hand, has called this a sin and requires your repentance.

Let's put it another way. A police officer has observed your dialogue with your neighbor and asks you, "So you lied to your neighbor, eh?". You respond by saying, "Yes, what are you going to do about it?" The officer says, "Well, nothing actually." Again you respond by asking, "Oh, so you are going to permit me to lie?" The officer sums up by saying, "Yes, I have to permit it because there is no penalty for doing it, but I do not approve, nor does God approve."

Simply by the absence of a civil penalty, a sinful action is "permitted". Just because a sinful action is permitted by the civil law does not mean that God or anyone else approves of this action.

Sin is not nullified just because no civil penalty is attached to its commission. A sin may be "permitted" by men, but it is still a sin in God's eyes. The Spiritual Law still is in full force.

Moses never approved of divorce, but he did permit it, that is, he never attached the death penalty to remarriage following a divorce. Therefore, Jesus could very accurately state that even though both Moses and the Law permitted divorce and remarriage (no civil penalty was required), it is still a sin and is hated by God.

Approaching this concept from yet one more perspective, let us place you in the role of an Old Testament Jewish believer, zealous for the Law and for God. Hearing that your brother has divorced his wife and married someone else, you confront him about his sinful and adulterous behavior. Being zealous for the Law you want him to be tried, sentenced, and punished by the judges and local elders according to the Law. Then you realize that there will be no trial and no judgment by the elders, because the Law permits this specialized form of adultery. What he did is still a sin and is still morally wrong, but he has committed no civil offense.

Why did God direct Moses to give this special form of adultery exemption from civil penalty when other forms of adultery were given the death sentence? The only answer we have is Jesus' own explanation, "Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way." In other words, because you were hopelessly sinful in this matter God had mercy on your very lives, but from the very beginning He never intended for you to behave in this shameful fashion.

How often we confuse God's mercy on us with our own desire for a license to sin. Consider our own nation's 50% divorce rate. Imagine if every one of those divorcees who ultimately got remarried were to be condemned to death by the government. What a massive slaughter that would be. God was merciful to omit a civil penalty for remarriage, but it is no less of a sin against the spiritual law.



Chapter 5: If Marriage is so Permanent, Who Wants It?

"And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."

The disciples said to Him, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry." But He said to them, "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it."

What prompted the disciples to make such a harsh statement? It is by our nature impossible to judge accurately what another man has on his mind and in his heart unless he tells us his own truthful thoughts. And so it is in this case. Our best guess might or might not be correct.

Based on the text and its own defining context, it would appear that the disciples believed the same way as the Pharisees, that a man could divorce his wife for any reason at all. When Jesus called such behavior adulterous, and then stated that God intended that every marriage be of life-long permanence, they concluded that the celibate life would be best. After all, is it not the old cliché that men are scared to death of making a commitment, and even more afraid of getting chained to a nagging, self-willed, and bitter wife?

For those who have the same knee-jerk reaction to the concept of life-long permanence in marriage, I would recommend an in-depth study of biblical marriage. We are taught to understand our wives and to live with our wives in the same kind of loving manner that Christ demonstrated to the world. Wives are commanded to respond by being quietly obedient, respectful, and to have a beautiful inner character.

A relationship based on biblical principles is quite certainly not the dreaded prison that the natural world would have us believe. Nonetheless, a marriage based on selfishness can be quite unnerving. I was acquainted with one bachelor who was absolutely committed to life without women. One of his rationales is told in this true story.

My bachelor friend was helping a new pastor start a church around the college campus ministry to which we belonged. As a newly transplanted evangelist, the pastor and his wife graciously gave him a room in their fairly spacious house next to campus. The wife, however, was quite accustomed to being in command of the household, being a mother of three. She often treated the thirty year old as if he were one of the children, with rules about attending dinner, going to bed, or the like. Frequently these two would clash over how he used his time, where he went, and how often he was home for her dinners.

One morning he read Proverbs 27:15 and 16 during his morning devotions, "A constant dripping on a day of steady rain and a contentious woman are alike; he who would restrain her restrains the wind." Unfortunately the pastor's wife picked that time to uncork another discussion concerning this man's use of his personal time. He simply looked at her and said, "Drip, drip, drip." Somehow, she recognized the reference and understandably shrieked with horror. With awesome rapidity the bachelor relocated to his own apartment, more strongly resolute to never marry than he had been before.

Unfortunately it is this image that so many men get of marriage. The bossy, contentious, and overbearing wife, constantly unleashing a stream of nags. Based on this image of marriage, is it any wonder so many men attempt to look for loopholes in God's design of life-time permanence?

Perhaps another way of raising this question is, "What if I marry the 'wrong one'?" Mysticism has to some degree crept into the church. God does not have "the right one" selected for you and then present to you the chess game of life where the goal is to find Mr. or Mrs. Right. Whoever you marry, whoever you select based on God's principles revealed in His word, automatically becomes "the right one" the moment you marry them. Your marriage partner is a choice, not a game or a mystical hunt for the Holy Grail. As a line from a recent hit movie said, "Choose wisely".

A wise choice of brides is often cited in Proverbs as a blessing. In Genesis she is described as a helper supplied by God to remove loneliness. In the New Testament a wife wisely chosen will be submissive to the husband and to the Lord, beautiful on the inside, clothed with a gentle spirit.

As you contemplate who your life long partner ought to be, research God's idea of what a good husband or a good wife is from the Scriptures. Try dating those individuals who tend to match up to those biblical principles. Look for someone you can talk to as one talks to a best friend. And, by the way, men, it is strongly recommended that no one resort to using the "drip, drip, drip" approach when resolving differences with any woman.



Chapter 6: Can I Remarry If My Spouse Was Caught in Adultery?

Previously we encountered the exception clause that is applied against the general rule. The general rule is: If any divorced person gets married to a new spouse then they have both committed adultery.

Below are the two passages from Matthew in which the "exception clause" are used:

And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?" And He answered and said, "Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh'? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."

They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."

Matthew 19:3-9

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"And it was said, 'Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce'; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Matthew 5:31,32

In the introduction to this book, I mentioned that there are some things that no set of Godly Christian men will apparently ever agree upon. This is one of those concepts. Everyone has a different interpretation or opinion. Someone will likely be right, the others wrong.

What is the proper interpretation? Let us examine some of the possible alternatives that have been offered over the years:

1) Divorce from a betrothed (promised/engaged fiancee) is acceptable if the fiancee has been found to have committed adultery with another person.

2) The passage is incorrectly translated and does not mean "except for" but "even for".

3) Divorce from your spouse is acceptable if they have committed adultery with another person.

 

There are most definitely other possible interpretations. To limit ourselves to these will probably be sufficient for the purposes of this book.

Alternative 1: "The fiancee has committed adultery with someone other than their intended spouse." You may very reasonably ask, how can Jesus call a fiancee (betrothed) a wife or a husband? This may be hard to accept, but you are already very much familiar with this same idea, you just do not remember that you are.

In Matthew 1:18 and 19, the text reads, "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her, desired to put her away secretly."

Clearly the Word states that "Mary had been betrothed to Joseph". Betrothed means that Mary was promised to Joseph, but not yet married. It was very much like our modern engagement period, but with more seriousness and tradition attached. Like our engagement period, the couple was not yet married in the strictest sense and therefore were not permitted to have sexual relations. A wedding ceremony and final commitments were still lacking.

Now notice that in the very next verse the story continues by stating that "Joseph her husband" desired to secretly divorce her. Engaged Jewish couples were referred to as "husband" and "wife". It was the custom and culture. While it is not our custom or culture, it does not negate the fact that this was theirs.

"If there is a girl who is a virgin engaged to a man, and another man finds her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city and you shall stone them to death; the girl, because she did not cry out in the city, and the man, because he has violated his neighbor's wife. Thus you shall purge the evil from among you." Deuteronomy 22:23,24

In Deuteronomy 22:23,24 is another clear example of how a betrothed/engaged virgin woman is called a "wife". This is not complicated, nor is it trickery. Simply stated, in the culture of the Old Testament, the Jews used to call their fiancees "wives" and "husbands".

Knowing that an Israelite fiancee is called a wife or a husband, how does it impact our possible interpretation of the "exception clause"? "...whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery." Matthew 19:3-9 If we take the liberty of assuming the exception clause is only referring to engagement, then it would read like this: "...whoever divorces his wife, unless it is because his fiancee has had sex with another, and marries another woman commits adultery."

There are some difficulties with this approach. First, the text simply does not limit the word wife to mean a "virgin fiancee" in the same way that Deuteronomy 22 did. Second, to take this approach it is necessary to read quite a few thoughts into "except for immorality" that are not explicitly stated. Third, this interpretation would indicate that the only valid reason for gaining a divorce from an engagement is because your future spouse cheated; and this seems to contradict Paul's teaching that engagements can be terminated at any time for any reason.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Paul states that Jesus, while on Earth, never gave us any instructions regarding how engaged virgins should conduct themselves with regard to divorce and marriage. Because Jesus never addressed engaged virgins, Paul felt he had to render his own faithful opinion.

Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (1 Corinthians 7:25-28)

Paul’s rules were quite simple, virgins could stay engaged to their wives and become married if they so chose, and it was lawful. Virgins could break their engagements with their husbands if they so chose, and it too was lawful.

If the exception clauses which Jesus delivered were targeted at engaged virgins, then Paul was mistaken when he claimed that Jesus never gave any instructions about virgin engagements. Therefore, whatever else we know, or think we know, about the exception clauses, they were not meant to be taken as instructions concerning engaged virgins.

Given the fact that the text simply does not state that wife means fiancee in this passage through the use of any type of qualifier (such as by using the word virgin), it is not prudent to accept this interpretation.

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Alternative 2: "The passage is incorrectly translated and does not mean 'except for' but 'even for'." Although it may be possible to force fit this translation into the text, few if any credible Bible scholars accept the resulting Greek syntax as valid. For this reason I cannot give this alternative much serious consideration.

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Alternative 3: "Divorce from your spouse is acceptable if they have committed adultery with another person." In plain English, this is just what the text seems to say. Your wife, or your husband, or your fiancee, is found to have committed adultery or fornication (some form of sexual sin) with another person; the divorce appears to be justified, and apparently so does the subsequent remarriage.

While this may seem incomprehensible to some because of the strong terminology Jesus used to describe marriage as a life-long permanent relationship, there is a strong biblical basis for considering this a valid interpretive alternative. Consider the following verse:

"If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel." Deuteronomy 22:22

Death was the penalty for adultery. Death legitimately ended marriage for adulterers during the Old Testament era. However, in Jesus' day, executions by the Jewish state were outlawed by the Romans who had conquered Israel. It was no longer an option for the offended spouse to bring charges before the local elders, convene a court, pass judgment on the adulterers, and then execute them.

What then could be done with a spouse or a fiancee who is found to be having sexual relations with someone else? It is quite possible Jesus is giving us the answer: Divorce them. This is exactly what Joseph intended to do with Mary when he discovered she was pregnant before they were married.

This is a very important and emotional point, so allow me to restate this. When someone cheats on their marriage, it is the sin of adultery. Moses commanded that marriages be terminated when one of the spouses was found to be engaged in adultery; more precisely Moses commanded the death sentence for all adulterers, which effectively ended the marriage. Once the cheating spouse was dead, the surviving spouse was free to marry again.

In Jesus' day and age, and even to our own, the government has made it illegal to end a marriage by executing the adulterer. However, Jesus offers that the marriage may still be terminated via divorce, in much the same way it used to be terminated by execution. Jesus further indicates that subsequent remarriage is allowable.

If you accept this as the legitimate interpretation of the "exception clause", be very certain of your facts before taking any action. Is the adultery fact or merely suspicion? Is the marriage salvageable? Can this indiscretion be forgiven? Have you done anything sinful yourself that pushed your spouse to cheat?

While I am personally persuaded to accept the text as translated into English, I cannot offer any more justification than I have just presented. Every man and woman must be fully convinced in their own mind before embarking on any action that will lead to a divorce.

 

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Other alternatives? There are other possible interpretations, each with their own merits and difficulties. For example, it is possible that Jesus was referring not to your spouse having committed adultery, but rather that you discover that your spouse, or intended spouse, is a blood relative and that this is the "immorality" or "unchastity". Again, this interpretation is quite a stretch from what is actually written. Too much is assumed to fill in the gaps.

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Please re-read this chapter before you make up your mind. Give it prayerful thought. Meditate on all the relevant passages. Read Deuteronomy 24:1-4 again. Consider that Jesus is providing us with His divine understanding of this Old Testament passage. The Bible is one completed revelation of God's will. Any interpretation must account for, and fit with, all the rest of scripture.

If Alternative 3 is the correct interpretation, then we still have a consistent theme throughout the Bible. Marriage is life-long and permanent. Remarriage following a divorce is called "adultery" by Jesus and a "defilement" by Moses. The only possible exception to this might be if your spouse or fiancee commits fornication or adultery. It is no longer possible to have them executed (and thereby end the marriage) as it once was by the command of Moses, so it may just be that a divorce is a permitted option of last resort.



Chapter 7: Paul Allows Divorce, Doesn't He?

Paul is often quoted, or possibly, often misquoted when it comes to divorce, marriage, remarriage, and celibacy. Paul's primary treatment of these topics is centered in 1 Corinthians 7. Later in the book we will examine Paul's entire chapter. For now, I would like to continue our theme of the permanency of marriage. For this reason, we will jump into the middle of Chapter 7.

In a tremendous number of discussions with very sincere Christians, I have often heard them quote Paul out of context by citing 1 Corinthians 7:27 and 28. Then they announce triumphantly, "You see, it doesn't matter what Jesus or Moses or anyone has said, Paul says that if you get divorced and then remarried you have not sinned."

How terribly unfortunate. You can prove almost anything if you take verses of the Bible out of their context, isolate them, and then quote them. Worse, many people then feel they can dismiss all the rest of scripture that all fits together so perfectly in preference for their misinterpreted, out-of-context passage. The Bible is a consistent and integrated whole. Whenever one passage seems to go against every other teaching in the Bible on a subject, your first assumption ought to be, "Oops, this must be quoted out of context."

Never, never, never quote 1 Corinthians 7:27 and 28 without also quoting its actual context, verses 25 through 28. Below are the verses quoted in context.

Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.

1 Corinthians 7:25-28

Paul is right in the middle of his instructions and principles around who can and cannot be married or divorced based on his insights into God's word. He begins this set of instructions by introducing the topic, "Now concerning virgins". So Paul has begun his new topic, virgins, without ambiguity, and more specifically, virgins and marriage, since marriage is the broader topic he has been discussing and continues discussing.

The word "virgins" as Paul uses it here, means "one who has not had sexual relations". Even more specifically, the Greek syntax indicates the word "virgin" as it is used in this sentence is neuter of gender, meaning that Paul is really talking about both male and female virgins. So Paul is really saying, "Now concerning male and female virgins..."

Then Paul says, "I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy." Very simply, Paul is stating that Jesus did not speak on this specific subject while He was on Earth, nor has Paul received special revelation from Him. Paul is merely stating that the following opinion is faithful to all he has learned from the Word and from God directly (2 Cor. 4:1-7, Gals.1:11,12).

Paul's faithful opinion is: "In view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is." What does this mean? Well, it means nothing without the context of verses 27 and 28. But in anticipation of reading what comes next, we know that Paul is stating that the times in which he was living were particularly antagonistic toward married Christians, and he is about to advise everyone to remain single if possible (see verse 29 and 32-34).

So Paul has just said, "Virgins (both male and female), remain as you are." Remain how? "Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife."

How can a virgin be "bound to a wife"? Remember our discussion of this topic in the previous chapter. Both the Old and New Testaments refer to engaged men and women as "husbands" and "wives" (Matt.1:18,19 and Deuteronomy 22:23,24). Here Paul is following Jewish tradition, culture, and biblical language by calling an engaged virgin male's fiancee, a "wife". Paraphrased it would read, "Virgin male, remain as you are. Are you bound by engagement to a wife? Do not seek to be released from engagement. Are you released from your fiancee? Do not seek a wife. But if you do get married, there is no sin."

The word "bound", as it is used in verse 27, means "to tie". It is the same word used elsewhere to mean "tie", "chain", "imprison". It can mean "to be tied to a marriage partner" as easily as it can mean "to be tied to a fiancee". "Bound" merely refers to the fact that one is under some form of obligation. Therefore, it is proper to use "bound" to mean "bound under a marriage covenant" just as it is proper to mean "bound by an engagement".

"Now concerning virgins...Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife." Remember Paul's opinion; he desires that everyone stay in the same state of singleness or marriage that they currently find themselves, which has the net effect of reducing the number of marriages that occur. So when he advises, "Virgin, are you engaged? Do not seek to be released. Virgin, have you been released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.", he is essentially saying, "Honor your engagement responsibilities, but if you did get out of them, then try to remain single."

Finally, Paul summarizes his opinion about whether virgins should get married or stay single with the following reassurance, " But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you." Who is the "you"? It is the virgin male he had just discussed being engaged to a "wife". He is telling the virgin male that if he marries the wife (the virgin female he is engaged to), he has not sinned. Next he addresses the virgin female, "and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned". Paul reassures both the male and female virgin that if they marry, they have not sinned.

Why has Paul gone through so much trouble to discourage people from getting married while at the same time emphasizing that it is not a sin to marry? He tells us himself, "...such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. ... But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife." 1 Cor. 7:28b, 32, 33

It might be helpful to do a side-by-side comparison of the English text and a paraphrased text of the same passage. This can be useful in sorting out how the subject of virgins carries through the entire text.

NASB English Rendering

Paraphrased

Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.

Now to discuss virgins, both male and female, the Lord has not spoken on this topic before, but my opinion can be trusted. I advise that due to the current hard times, that is it good for a virgin male to remain in his current situation.

Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned.

Virgin male, are you engaged to be married? Do not try to break the engagement. Virgin male, have you broken off an engagement, do not seek to get married. But if you do get married, you have not sinned; and if a virgin female gets married, she has not sinned, either.

Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.

However, if you did get married, your life is going to be filled with trouble, and I am only trying to spare you this.

Through this side-by-side comparison it becomes clear that Paul is truly addressing just exactly who he claims he will address, virgins. Virgins who have not married but are tied to a future wife or husband by way of engagement bonds. Context is critical to good interpretation.

There will certainly be a number of readers who will have been taught differently. Using the following paraphrase, I will attempt to explain what some have been taught, albeit in error. What follows is a paraphrase that demonstrates an improper interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:27,28:

Now let us discuss virgins. The Lord has not spoken on this topic, but my opinion can be trusted. I advise that due to the current hard times, that is it good for a virgin male to remain in his current situation.

[Now let us discontinue discussing virgins and begin discussing the topic of married Christians getting a divorce even though we already discussed them a few sentences ago.]

Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you divorced? Do not seek to be married. But if you did get divorced and if you did get remarried, you have not sinned; and if a girl who has never been married before gets married, she has not sinned either.

[Now let us go back to talking about why it will be good for virgins to remain unmarried.]

 

In other words, some teachers are instructing their students that Paul in this passage is declaring that a marriage to someone besides your original spouse following a divorce is no longer to be considered a sin, much less the sin of adultery. Several errors of interpretation should be readily apparent from the above paraphrase.

First, to believe this erroneous interpretation you must assume that an unannounced change of topic is taking place, changing from virgins to married couples, even before Paul has completed his opinion about virgins. If Paul did abruptly change topics, he breaks his overall outline. Paul had already discussed marriage and divorce among Christians and even among non-Christians in verses 10-16. He has just barely begun to render an opinion on virgins, and suddenly he side-steps this opinion to contradict Jesus, Moses, and himself, and then in mid-sentence again picks up rendering his opinion on virgins. This is not logical or self-consistent within the text.

Second, Paul says that Jesus never even discussed the topic before, which is why he feels the need to render an opinion. Surely, Jesus did teach about marriage and divorce. Paul had to have meant that Jesus did not give commands concerning the rules of divorce and marriage to virgins, for Jesus had given very precise commands about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. It was not the subject of married people getting a divorce that Paul introduced in this passage, it was virgins.

Third, this interpretation of Paul's teaching would cause Paul to directly contradict the teaching of Jesus and Moses, something that is unthinkable. This erroneous interpretation has Paul saying, "Are you divorced? If you are and you get remarried, you are not sinning." But Jesus placed His reputation and perhaps His life on the line to teach, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery." Mark 10:2-12

It is not possible to have it both ways. It is simply not possible to have Jesus very publicly denouncing re-marriage as being adultery and to then claim that Paul says that re-marriage is not a sin at all.

There is no excuse for taking a passage that has an understandable and consistent message in virtually every part of scripture (specifically that remarriage is adultery), and then finding a lone passage that when isolated from its context appears to directly contradict all others and ultimately concluding that not only is the contradictory interpretation the "correct" interpretation but also that all others are wrong and superseded by it. It is entirely inappropriate to set Paul against Jesus. What Jesus said is unambiguous. If Paul were usurping Jesus' teaching on divorce and remarriage, it would be Paul and not Jesus whom we should disbelieve.

Of course, Paul and Jesus are not really sharing opposing teachings. It is those who reject the context of Paul's teachings on virgins who are in error and are contradicting the very words of Jesus, Himself. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 7:10,11 Paul confirms and restates the same teaching that Jesus gave, "But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away." 1 Corinthians 7:10,11.

In fact, what we have recorded in verses 10 and 11 is Paul's interpretation of what Jesus taught in Matthew 19, Mark 10, and Matthew 5:31,32. Paul claims that Jesus is the one who provided this teaching: "But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord". Who is the Lord, but the Word Himself, Jesus. Paul is saying, "This is just what Jesus has taught us already."

The instructions that Paul claims Jesus gave are, "that the wife should not leave her husband...and that the husband should not send his wife away." This sounds quite familiar and accurate indeed. Additionally, Paul writes that if the wife does leave the husband then "let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband". This is very much in line with Jesus' teaching and with the Law of Moses.

Jesus taught that marriage was life-long and permanent. He also taught that it was adultery to remarry someone other than your own original spouse. In fact both Jesus and Moses said that same thing. It cannot be doubted that Paul, Moses, and Jesus believed and taught the same instructions concerning divorce and remarriage.

Consider this one last thought. If Paul really were trying to say that anyone who gets a divorce and then gets remarried is not sinning, why did he take such pains with the rest of what we call "Chapter 7"? If Paul were saying that divorce and remarriage is not a sin, why bother with other instructions, because everything would be permissible, everyone would be free to divorce and remarry.

For example, why say, "if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband" (v.11)? Or why would Paul say, "A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord." (v.39)? In all of these circumstances, Paul only needed to say, "Hey, it's ok, so you got divorced, it's over, go on and get married again, it's no sin, Jesus was not serious when He called this an adulterous act."

Often this erroneous teaching is couched in very sweeping and all-encompassing terms, such as "all divorces are legitimate", or, "any divorce ends a marriage", or, "if the marriage is over, it's just like having never been married". Divorces may end marriages, but that does not free one to get married again. When Jesus says, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her" it sounds nothing like "go on, get married again, it's not a sin."

Divorces may end marriages, but Paul taught us that we are obligated to "remain unmarried, or else be reconciled". A marriage that has come to an end by means of divorce in no way allows us the freedom to be remarried. The marriage ended, but not our obligation to "remain unmarried, or else be reconciled." The only exception to this rule appears to be the "exception clause" for those who have a cheating spouse.

For someone to assume that Paul taught that divorcing a wife and marrying another woman was not a sin is essentially to declare that Paul, with malice of forethought, purposely contradicted and denied the teachings of Moses and Jesus (not to mention his own teachings from just a few sentences before). Given this weight of evidence, the idea that Paul was teaching such a concept must be rejected in favor of the truth. Paul's greatly misquoted passage merely taught that engaged virgins could break their engagement bonds or get married without having sinned. This in no way modifies any of Jesus' teachings.

Let us take a moment to explore some serious thoughts. First, and very importantly, aside from the "exception clause" there is not even one passage in all of scripture, both Old and New Testaments, that ever states, "It is fine to marry a divorced person." No passage, anywhere, in any part of the Bible. None.

All verses that pertain to or even reference marriage of divorced individuals always forbid the marriage outright or call it a sin. Often it is called a sin in the most colorful of terms, "pollution", "defiled", "adultery".

Some writers have attempted to argue that because the Law forbids priests to marry widows and divorcees, then it can be inferred that the "average" Israelite was permitted to do so. That is quite a leap of illogic.

"And they shall not marry a widow or a divorced woman but shall take virgins from the offspring of the house of Israel, or a widow who is the widow of a priest."

This passage, Ezekiel 44:22, is a prohibition that commands priests not to marry either a widow or a divorced woman, not even the divorced wife of a priest. Priests, as the passage states, may only marry virgins or the surviving wives of dead priests. Nowhere in this passage is permission given to the "common man" to marry a divorced woman.

To infer that the average Israelite was allowed to marry divorced women on the basis that this law expressly forbids priests to do so is illogical reasoning. It would be just like saying that because 1 Timothy 3 makes a point out of forbidding pastors to marry more than one wife at a time (polygamy) it must be fine for the average Christian male in the church to marry multiple wives at the same time. May God prevent us from bringing harm onto His word with our illogical reasonings.

This Old Testament law does not hint at anything that non-priests can or cannot do, it simply mandates priests may only marry virgins or priests' widows. It is horribly dangerous to invent new scripture and add new commands by "inferring" them into existence. If God did not state them, then they should be rejected. Especially something so alien to God's word as some new form of permission for the "common man" to marry divorced women. "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you..." Deuteronomy 4:2a.



Chapter 8: Are the Divorced the Same As the Never Married?

This is a very important question to ask, "If someone is divorced, are they the same as someone who has never been married at all?" Asked in a slightly different way, "Does a divorce entirely end all obligations that were taken on with a marriage?"

What does God's word say?

1) Once married, you may never get married again (unless your spouse dies or unless your spouse was found guilty of adultery and this was the reason for the divorce). Dueteronomy 24:1-4, Mark 10:2-12, Matthew 19:3-12.

A virgin still has a possible future marriage toward which to look. This is a huge difference between the never married and the divorced.

2) A married Christian who gets divorced is obligated to remain single or else be reconciled to the original spouse. 1 Corinthians 7:10,11

3) A divorced person is guilty of committing adultery if they get married again. However, two virgins who marry are not guilty of adultery. Romans 7:2,3 and 1 Corinthians 7:28

4) A re-married divorced person may never again hold the office of Pastor or Deacon.

1 Timothy 3:1-13 (see "Side Notes on Divorced Pastors, Deacons, and Widows" below)

5) Divorced women could not be put on the "widow's list" for church support. 1 Timothy 5:3-9

As these references illustrate, a person who becomes unmarried via a divorce does not fall back into the same situation as someone who has never yet been married. A divorced person has Bible-mandated restrictions and obligations that the "never married" do not have. Divorces do not "end it all" as many may have thought.

Perhaps it would be best to think of it like this: Divorce ends the privileges of marriage, but not all of its obligations. Divorce ends the benefits of marriage while placing the divorced person into a more complicated status.



Chapter 9: Side Notes on Divorced Pastors, Deacons, and Widows

Many have said that 1 Timothy 3:1-13 only forbids men from becoming pastors and deacons if they commit polygamy and that the passage in no way refers to a re-marriage following divorce. The "proof " they offer is that "polygamy was common" among men in ancient Israel and in the rest of the world and this passage merely seeks to place a higher standard on Pastors and Deacons than on other men.

While being far from a proof, this argument is also not acceptable theology. Nowhere in the Bible does it ever say that polygamy was an "acceptable" practice among the Israelites. Indeed, every recorded case of it in the Old Testament seems to imply God's condemnation because it lead to conflict, further sin, heartache, violence, and murderous warfare. Jesus condemns outright the practice and declares that God never intended it from the start of human history. Far from being an accepted norm, only a few men among God's chosen nation practiced this sinful behavior, and those that did saw tragic results.

So if polygamy was not the true "norm" of the ancient world, what does this passage mean? "An overseer, then, must be...the husband of one wife. ... Deacons likewise...Let deacons be husbands of only one wife..." This is very similar wording to "Let a widow be put on the [church support] list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man."

In the case of a widow, no one ever says that it was "common practice" for women to commit polygamy. Most historical scholars argue that women had a reduced status that would have made it impossible for them to commit polygamy. Therefore, this passage cannot mean that widows were not to be put on the support list if they committed polygamy (marrying and living with multiple husbands all at the same time).

On the other hand, it was common practice for women to leave their husbands via divorce and marry another (Mark 10:12, John 4:18). Remember that Jesus calls this activity the sin of "adultery", and the adultery is the result of the previous marriage ending in divorce and a second husband being wedded.

Given that being a re-married divorcee is called adultery, and given that the idea of women committing polygamy was unheard of, the only realistic interpretation of 1 Timothy 5:3-9 is: "Do not put widows on the church support list who had more than one husband by means of divorce and remarriage." Such an interpretation follows the context and intent of the passage which seeks, in part, to prevent women of poor morals from burdening the welfare roles of the church.

Now, since the wording concerning widows so closely parallels the wording about pastors and deacons, it is obligatory to examine how this interpretation might also apply to them. Pastors and deacons have to be the husbands of only one wife. Certainly this negates polygamists from ever holding these offices.

Is this too harsh a sentence to pass on sinners, especially those who have repented? It is not a sentence at all. Repentant sinners may fill many roles within the church, however, as those who hold the highest of church offices, and encounter many difficult personal situations among the flock, these must be men of proven character, less given to indulging their temptations, and above reproach.

In the same way, pastors and deacons "must be the husband of only one wife" must mean that these men may not be adulterers. As adulterers they would not be "above reproach", and would fail the test. If the adultery that these men committed is based on having been divorced and subsequently remarried, it is still adultery. Even more, they now are no longer the husband of only one wife, for they now have two living women whom they called wives.

Is this unfair? Not really. This man of God must be able and willing to stand in front of a room full of Christians and teach what Jesus taught, "If you divorce and remarry, it is adultery. And to lust after another woman is to commit adultery of the heart." If a man is currently living with a second wife, he will struggle against pointing out the speck in others eyes while trying to explain the log in his own.

A sincere question to pose is: “Won’t that mean that some qualified men will be passed over for service as pastors or deacons?” Such men, with two wives, never were qualified. Qualifications are pass / fail criteria; qualifications are not helpful but flexible guidelines. Such men may have met all the other qualifications for service for those two offices, however, once they became married a second time they removed themselves for consideration by not meeting this one standard.

These qualifications are not generated by a committee or a denominational oversight board. These qualifications are delivered by God to protect His interests in His church. Whose work is that these men wish to do? God’s work. Since it is God’s work, He has a right to establish the qualifications and not be called “unfair” by men for doing so.

May God give us the courage of our faith to stand by a proper interpretation of His word, for His glory and not our own convenience.

One final thought. A pastor or a deacon who is divorced because his wife ran off is not automatically required to give up his office. Why? It is only taking the step of marrying a second wife that violates the requirement, "husband of one wife". Divorce by itself may not be a valid reason for a pastor or deacon to withdraw from his office, although the circumstances may indeed warrant it, but just that action of filing for divorce does not. However, if or when that pastor or deacon remarries, he then violates the "husband of one wife" requirement, and invalidates his claim to the authority of that noted office.

What remains unclear is the following situation: A pastor or deacon divorces his wife because of the wife's sexual unfaithfulness. Under the "exception clause", he is free to remarry without the second marriage being labeled "adultery". May such a man hold the office of pastor or deacon? Each reader will need to rely upon God for wisdom in answering such a question.



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