Monday, April 30, 2012

The Bible On Divorce & Remarriage - Seven (and final)

God's ideal for marriage is one man and one woman living in complete faithfulness to each other for life.

In the Old Testament Law God set up regulations for divorce, evidently as a substitute for the death penalty (Deuteronomy 21). It is clear that the divorced man and divorced woman could then marry other people, with a few restrictions. They couldn't marry each other again after being married to someone else, and priests could not marry a divorced woman or a woman who had been a prostitute. The divorced woman is considered defiled in the Old Testament because the assumed grounds for divorce was sexual immorality.

When Jesus is teaching about divorce and remarriage in Matthew, he makes several new points.
  1. "Whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery" (Matt. 19:9). In this case the man has no legitimate reason to divorce his wife, so he is committing adultery against her.
  2. "But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery" (Matt. 5:32). This woman has been divorced without legitimate cause. The verse assumes she will remarry, but says that in doing so she has been pushed into the arms of another man.
  3. "Whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery" (Matt. 5:32 and Matt. 19:9) This applies to the woman who was unjustly divorced by her first husband. In this case, the next man who marries her is committing adultery with her in the sense that they are breaking the sanctity of the first marriage.
  4. "So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery"(Mark 10:11–12). This presupposes the "except for sexual immorality" clause. In this verse we see that both husband and wife can be the instigator of the adultery.
These teachings are a very serious matter indeed. Jesus is not replacing the Old Testament law, but clarifying it. Divorce that is for any reason other than sexual immorality grows out of and into adultery. "No fault divorce" is completely foreign to God's original design for marriage. The hypocritical Pharisees thought that by divorcing a wife before getting another wife they were obeying the seventh commandment - "You shall not commit adultery." But Jesus says they are still committing adultery - first by looking at another woman with lust, and then by divorcing in order to marry another.

But what about where a divorce IS the result of "sexual immorality?" Divorce that results from one partner's adultery leaves the innocent person as free to remarry as if the adulterer had died. If this were not the case, Jesus' words, "except for sexual immorality," have no meaning. The adulterer is defiled, but the other person is not.

Life is complicated. Marriage is hard work. Adultery is a terrible betrayal. Divorce is allowed, but not required. Reconciliation might be possible. A marriage is worth fighting to preserve! But when you have done all you can do, you might still find yourself divorced and your former spouse lost to you in an adulterous relationship.

Remarriage is not required, but it is allowed. You should definitely not date until your divorce is final. You should probably wait until all possibility of reconciliation is past. Even then, you might be better off to remain single, if you can. But it was our Creator who said, "It is not good for man to be alone," and who designed marriage as the answer to that problem.

The secret to a successful marriage is that our commitments to each other grow out of our absolute commitment to the Lord Jesus. We are all sinners. We let each other down. We are weak willed. We are easily flattered, discouraged, angered, or embittered. Jesus taught that adultery is only a glance away. Pursue Jesus Christ with all of your heart and obey Him in your treatment of your spouse.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Bible on Divorce & Remarriage - Six

So what is the answer to our questions about divorce and remarriage?


  • Can divorce and remarriage be free from adultery, or not?
  • Is a divorced and remarried person committing perpetual adultery?
  • Should divorce and remarriage result in some sort of sanction from the church?

On the one hand, God has given us a simple ideal for sex and marriage: One man with one woman for life.

On the other hand, our lives are complicated by sin and weakness. So God addresses penalties and remedies for all kinds of complications. There is defilement. There is adultery. There is selfishness and sinfulness. There are people who find themselves divorced. Someone might say there should not be divorce because the penalty for adultery was death, but the OT recognizes divorce as an alternative to the death penalty (Deut. 24:1).

The OT also addresses several other situations that do not square with God's idea for sex and marriage. If a man seduces a virgin he is forced to pay the bride price and marry her - without the possibility of ever divorcing her (Deut. 22:28-29). If a man has two wives and loves one wife but not the other, he must not deny the birthright of his children by the unloved wife (Deut. 21:15). If a man divorces his wife and she marries another man, but that second husband dies, the first husband cannot take her as his wife again because she has become defiled (Deut. 24:2-4).

When Jesus addresses issues of divorce and remarriage in the New Testament, He is not prescribing new laws. He is explaining God's perspective on the hearts of the people who are involved in these situations. Jesus is addressing people who feel pretty good about their level of success at achieving an acceptable level of righteousness. They had not violated the written law - the letter of the law. But Jesus says, "You have still violated the spirit of the law by committing adultery in your hearts." In fact, Jesus says, "You are using the law to commit adultery."

A man may not have ever committed adultery physically, but still have committed adultery by looking at a woman with lust in his heart (Matthew 5:28).

A man may have not been unfaithful to his wife while married to her, but then he divorces her to marry another woman. Jesus says that is adultery on his part (Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18). He also says that the man who marries the divorced woman is committing adultery (same verses). He even says that when a man divorces his wife causes HER to commit adultery!

Jesus is not saying that the remarriages are not legitimate marriages. Both the law (Deut 24:1-4) and the language Jesus uses acknowledges that the remarried people are really married. The second husband might die or divorce the remarried wife, making her available again to be married - but not to her first husband. When Jesus talks to the woman at the well he says, "... have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband" (John 4:18)

So what is Jesus saying? That the people who practice these things are falling short of God's ideal. Lust in the heart violates God's ideal and pollutes (adulterates) what ought to be kept pure. Divorce and remarriage spoil God's ideal and may well be just a socially/legally acceptable way of committing adultery. God knows the hearts and all have sinned, even if they have kept the letter of the law.




Friday, April 6, 2012

The Bible on Divorce & Remarriage - Five

In the Old Testament divorce was legal and remarriage was expected in most cases. The priest and high priest could not marry a divorced woman (Lev. 21) and a man could not remarry the wife he had divorced after she had been married to another man (Deut. 24:1-4).

This was the Law of Moses, so it came as a shock to many people when Jesus suggested that in God's view, you might live according to this law and still be sinning against God and against your spouse.

Consider Jesus' teaching in Matthew 5.
(Matthew 5:17 NKJV) “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.
Jesus goes on to say that not even the smallest stroke of the Law will pass away until it has all been fulfilled (v.18). But in his exposition of various commandments from the law (e.g., murder, adultery, vows, love for neighbors, etc.) he teaches that even if we have obeyed the letter of the law (like the scribes and Pharisees in verse 20) we may still have violated the spirit of the law and practiced unrighteousness in God's sight.

We might be tempted to say, "I'm right with God because I have not murdered anyone." But God, looking at our hearts sees our selfish disregard for the people around us. Our biting sarcasm, character assassination, ranting verbal attacks and revenge fantasies are all the same kind of sin to God as murder is. We may have not technically committed murder, but we are murderers.

In the same way, adultery is defined as having a sexual relationship with someone other than your spouse - or with someone who is married to someone else - not you. You are polluting (adulterating) someones' marriage relationship. 

Since they had the legal recourse of divorce, it seemed to people that they could avoid violating the letter of the commandment against adultery by divorcing their current husband/wife before having a relationship with a new husband/wife. But Jesus says: 
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27–28)
and

"...it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.  (Matthew 5:31–32)
Jesus is not here rewriting the letter of the law and invalidating legal divorces and remarriages. Jesus is saying that the widespread practice of divorce and remarriage is a testimony to the adultery brewing in people's hearts. A man divorces his wife because he is already committing adultery against her in his heart.
So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11–12)
A man may look at a woman without committing adultery with her in his heart. There is a legitimate situation where divorce is allowed and is not based on adulterous motives. (Joseph's plan to divorce pregnant Mary was evidence of his righteousness in Matthew 1:19.) But the eyes and the provisions of the law can be (and often are) used for sin.
(Proverbs 4:23)  Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Bible on Divorce & Remarriage - Four

Divorce is a fact of life.

God's design for marriage is a lifetime union of a man and woman in absolute fidelity and covenant loyalty. This design suggests the unity between the persons of the godhead and pictures the relationship of Christ with the Church.

Nevertheless, human beings are sinful and only imperfectly follow God's design even in the best case. Husbands fail their wives, wives fail their husbands and both of them fail God even if they never divorce. In the Old Testament Law, God acknowledges the fact of divorce, gives some regulations for divorce and stipulates some limits on the practice of divorce. In prophecies against the idolatrous practices of Israel and Judah God portrays himself as a husband divorcing his adulterous wives. In Ezra, men who have married pagan wives are ordered to divorce them, and this is portrayed as a good thing - a matter of faithfulness to God.

What does all of this mean to us?

Old Testament Law lays down a principle (e.g., a commandment or a regulation) and then illustrates the limits of the rule by giving exceptional examples. In principle marriage was a lifetime commitment - not just to your spouse, but also to God because of your vow before Him. In principle adultery would be punished by the death penalty. But God allowed a man to give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away (Deut. 24:1). The divorced woman was still part of the community and could remarry in most cases. She was not punished for being divorced.

The examples of exceptions regarding divorce define the boundaries and imply the normal practices inside those boundaries.

A divorced woman could be remarried.
Exceptions:
Lev. 21:7 - A priest could not marry a divorced woman. He also could not marry a prostitute or "defiled woman." / This prohibition has to do with the special status of the priest as "holy to his God." / It suggests that the woman might have been divorced because of infidelity to her husband. / But this prohibition also implies that men who were not priests could marry a divorced woman.
Lev. 21:14 - A high priest is also prohibited from marrying a divorced woman. In fact, a high priest could not marry a widow either. He is restricted to marrying a virgin of his own people. / The inclusion of widows into this list is very interesting. Is he suggesting that widows are somehow defiled? / In any case, the implication is that other men could marry women from these categories if they so choose, but a high priest, because of his special role in religious society, could not.
Deut. 24:1-4 - A man who divorces his wife is forbidden from remarrying her after she has been the wife of another man. / Verse two indicates that she freely becomes the wife of another man and implies that this is an expected course of action. / But after that, should she lose her second husband, the first husband cannot marry her again because she is has been defiled. / While it says she has been defiled, it is evidently only with regard to marrying her previous husband again. He forced her into another relationship, now he cannot say that his grounds for divorce were inconsequential now that she has had a marriage relationship with another man.