Many articles on marriage and divorce come with great personal bias, often trying to justify the circumstances of the writer. Showing that this article attempts to rise above such bias, we felt it expedient to provide a brief bio: The researcher and author of this article is Brent MacDonald. A former entrepreneur, who started his first business (out of a total 7) at age 16 and was engaged to be married at age 19. At age 20, Brent married his wife Angie, who was 19. At the date of writing (September-November 2008), they have been married for more than 25 years, and have two adult sons. They left the corporate world in 1992 and have been in full time Christian ministry since. Brent and Angie are committed to, and working at, a lifelong relationship as husband and wife.
Prior to specifically considering the topic of divorce, it is necessary to understand what marriage is and how divorce contrasts with it. In summary form, the two sections immediately following provide seven points defining marriage and six defining divorce. These will become a referenced starting place for the subsequent detailed examination of the when, why, and how of divorce and remarriage.
Some have implied that the first few chapters of Genesis insist that all should be married. That 100% of the population is so joined at the end of Genesis chapter 2, when there was only one man and one woman, carries no such implication. It merely highlights the importance of this relationship from the very beginning of creation.
Unquestionably, the text makes it exceedingly clear that marriage was to be between one man and one woman. Marriage was, and is, more than a mere physical union of two individuals. Sex acts between those of the same sex, or even a person with an animal, does constitute grounds for what God has defined as marriage.2
Marriage is portrayed, in the antediluvian world, as being as common place as is eating and drinking - and certainly a part of everyday life.
Jesus and the apostle Paul both clarified there are times and circumstances where someone shouldn't get married - indeed, that it would be good to not marry. In fact, some are born incapable of the physical union which embodies marriage or have become that way due to accidents or actions of others. Others, perhaps only very few, are enabled to remain single for the cause of Christ.9
The apostle Paul gave specific example of such a time when marriage may not be advantageous, namely during a time of crisis or persecution.
Much has often been made over the fact that the apostle Paul was unmarried, not to mention his encouraging others to remain unmarried as he was. All of this is merely in light of the aforementioned reason, to spare them the problems associated with a time of crisis. He made it clear, for those inclined otherwise, that it is not a sin to get married even in a time of crisis!
The closeness of the marriage relationship is shown in the way God created Adam's partner. She was taken from a piece of him so that literally she was "bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh." The text goes on to say that this is borne out for future unions through them becoming one flesh - the marriage brings them together physically. Notably this is the one place, even after the fall, where a man and woman can be naked in each other's presence and feel no shame. As such, marriage is still a glimpse of the perfection that was intended in the Garden of Eden.1
The parallel views of the woman being prepared for her husband and the man needing a suitable partner, both carry a teachable import showing that each are physically reserved for the other. This sexual union not only consummates the marriage but continues throughout as a fundamental aspect. It not only provides a means of procreation but also an outlet for all sexual desires of each partner, a means of intimately spending time in the enjoyment of each other.
Marriage is more than a mere physical union. In fact, a marriage only anchored in physical love is likely destined to fail. Beyond the physical is the special and unique friendship and bond that develops between the two. Further still is the sacrificial love that submits to and cares for the other. It is a love as though they are a part of their own being. This concept is difficult to explain as it is anchored in the very person of God. The best example, given in Scripture, is Christ and the church. The church becomes one with Christ, yet remains unique and different. The love displayed by Jesus exemplifies the selfless sacrificial care that seeks the best for the other. If the union of the church and Christ can be called a mystery (Ephesians 5:32), the relationship it is equated with also shares some of that mystery. It is not possible to say how this spiritual aspect of marriage happens, but there is much evidence that it does. Obviously it enabled and empowered by God in his perfect design and intent for marriage.
In many modern weddings, marriage vows put into words some of the contract that is implied within all marriage. To love, care for, to protect, to honor, to help, etc., are all terms that define the mutually agreed to conditions of marriage. A term often used to describe marriage is "a covenant". A simple definition of covenant is a binding agreement, with specified conditions, between two parties. To primary aspects of the marriage covenant include: to leave and to be united (see Matthew 19:5). This means a transfer of one's primary allegiance from their parents to their spouse. In Bible times, and currently in many nations of the world, this did not mandatorily refer to setting up a separate residence; extended families often lived together. With this "leaving and uniting" is a pledge to care for the other even as the parent once did (or should have) beforehand.
As mentioned in the heading "physical union", another important aspect to the agreement of marriage is to provide a legitimate outlet for sexual intimacy and the possibility of procreation. While the later comes with no guarantees, it is a primary part of the marriage relationship and one that comes with its own implied contract, namely to care for any offspring that may arise from that union.
Without restating the entirety of a passage referenced earlier, take note that "duty" is used to describe aspects of marriage. While not very romantic sounding, it implies what most married couples have discovered; marriage is work!
The apostle Peter highlights two integral aspects of the marriage contract, submission and respect. While many highlight the need for a clear chain of authority, with the wife submitting to her husband, they often miss the parallel requirement of respect. The husband must respect his wife. It is difficult for either of these facets to work without the other.
Judaism actually has a written contract for marriage, one they have used for millennia, based on the implied contract defined in Scriptures. This will help explain it:
Marriage is a permanent union of life where the two become one. In its design by God, there is no intent of natural divisibility, nor should the union be entered into believing that such a possibility is an option. If either party enters into marriage without commitment to indivisibility they have fraudulently declared their intent to marry. Fundamental to any definition of the word; marriage is for life.
The classic statement "until death do us part" comes from the biblical knowledge that marriage terminates at the death of either partner. The remaining partner is then free to marry or remain single as they desire. At the resurrection, in the future new heavens and earth, there is no longer any institution of marriage. In God's wisdom it was given solely for the present age.
Marriage is more than a private agreement between two parties. Even in the original marriage, that of Adam and Eve, there was an external party - God - who honored the union. Likewise, all future marriages are to be honored by all others who are aware of them. Out of fear, or respect, of the One who established marriage, this sacred union is not to be violated by any man or woman.16
God's blessing of the original couple is often viewed in terms of procreation. It is true that His blessing included being fruitful and increasing in number, something intended through marriage, but it was not limited only to this aspect. This can be seen through His subsequent command, to rule over fish, birds, and creatures, which was given jointly to both of them. The couple was to do this together, as the two had become one; the woman was the man's "suitable helper" in all these things (Genesis 2:18).
Blessing is found in the presence of God. Not only was God present at the first marriage of His specific design. He, in the person of Jesus Christ, further blessed the institution of marriage through His attendance and assistance. This marriage had become, by manmade tradition, more complex - the approved style of wedding recognized by the people and their government. Jesus' personal attendance, celebration, and intervention, all showed that God blessed marriage even as it had become more culturally intertwined with local traditions. For example, the aspect wherein Jesus came to the rescue was not a previously scripturally mandated one, but rather a part of the custom and tradition that had arisen in regards to popular celebration.17
Without sin coming into the world, divorce would not be an issue. It is the sinfulness and selfishness of mankind that works to destroy marriage, something that began to impact the human race following their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Scripture does not record when the first divorce took place, though it does show a very early perversion of marriage - namely marrying multiple wives - soon after the fall (Genesis 4:19).18 Finding marital practice deviating so far from God's intended, within only a few generations, it is safe to infer that divorce also came to be practiced at a very early period. As such, divorce is community recognition of permanent marital abandonment by either partner. While it was not until the time of the Mosaic Law that there was an official legal establishment of this practice for the Israelites, it is undoubtedly recognition of something already commonplace. Certainly, ancient historical documents prior to the time of Moses, of other ancient peoples, showed that divorce was already legally permitted. Legal recognition in no way should cloud the underlying issue that divorce is contrary to God's intent for marriage and that it is an effect and outworking of sin. In the Mosaic Law, given to ancient Israel, God provided legal recognition and recourse for a number of sins but in no way sanctioned those sins by so doing.
God's allowance for divorce, Old Testament and New, must never be seen as God's solution. Divorce is a manmade way out, complete with all the consequences that come from a decision rooted in the thoughts and desires of fallen mankind. This presupposes that God has the means and solution for making marriages life-long and a blessing to both partners (as well as their children).
When something is torn apart, that was never intended to be severed, both halves suffer damage. Regardless of how much perceived need there is for a divorce, in the eyes of either party or any external witness, each partner in the marriage will suffer damage - in other words, consequences. Having children merely compounds this. Some consequences are highly visible, even to outside parties; others are much more subtle and internal.
Divorce was allowed by God as a concession, because of the hardness of the hearts of men and women (a condition that has existed since the fall of man). This appears in both the Old Testament Law and in the New Testament provisions, though clearly more narrowly defined in the latter.
Some will insist that Scriptures are one-sided in regards to divorce, favoring the male over the female. Truly the Pharisees tended to interpret the Mosaic Law in that fashion, but both Jesus and Paul added reciprocal clauses to their teachings showing that they could apply equally to either party. Consider these examples (preferably in their greater context)...
Implicit in divorce, including its legal recognition, is that it is likewise acknowledged by all others. In severing the marital tie, it is viewed as a permanent dissolution of what formerly existed. In this, others now view each former partner as a single individual, again able to be married or remain single as they so desire - there is no longer any marriage.
A proper response by others, to divorce, is to mourn or grieve. We should always mourn the effects of sin, and divorce has broken something beautiful that was never intended to be torn in two. The mere fact that much of our society celebrates divorce shows how removed they have become from God's will and thoughts. Likewise, even as we seek to help and heal those hurt by the effects of sin, how we respond to divorce should be no different. Each of those affected by the divorce is hurting and is in need of compassion. Especially for those who are the cause of the divorce, there is a need for forgiveness most of all to be sought from God.
God does not mince words regarding divorce - He hates it! Implicit in this hatred is not merely the act itself, but of the effects it has on all, including the former husband and wife, their children, extended family, and even their friends. In a greater sense, society as a whole is likewise impacted negatively by the failure of marriages. Divorce is fueled by hatred, greed, fear, lust, backbiting, and more - all things that so quickly show the fallen nature of mankind versus the love, joy, peace, and patience that comes from God.
Divorce is a sin (and an effect of sin) regardless of why it is done. While it can become necessary, through circumstances beyond the control of the husband or wife, it is still to be treated as sin. Wherein it is permitted by God, it is done as a concession, showing God is aware that some of his fallen creation will destroy their marriages and need a legal recourse to keep from punishing the innocent or non-culpable party.
Jesus' words in the gospels have become grounds for some to say that Jesus removed all permission for divorce, effectively canceling the early concession of the Mosaic Law which previously permitted it.
Contrary to the cessation view, these words must be seen in light of the verses immediately prior, where Jesus was pointing out that the Pharisees - supposed experts in the Law - really didn't understand it. Their focus in reading and interpreting the Law was backward, centered on what was pleasing to them versus what was valuable to God.
The final statement in this passage of Luke, on divorce, is not as unrelated to the whole as is often assumed. The Pharisees spent their time arguing over what would be acceptable grounds from divorce, neglecting to note that all divorce is sin. Their light casual treatment of the subject failed to assert that all divorce destroys something exceedingly valuable to God, namely a marriage. Marriage is the first and primary human-to-human relationship, created by God in the beginning, second only to the relationship between the creature and the Creator himself. Jesus instructing the Pharisees that divorce and remarriage is effectively adultery was not something new, merely a fact missed in all the minutia of the Pharisees. This practice didn't become adultery from the point Jesus proclaimed it; it always was, even though permitted by God in the Law. Jesus didn't, in one breath, state the need for all the Law to be fullfilled and then casually terminate an portion of the law in the next. He was showing that this aspect of the law was still needed but must be better understood. In the same way, the ten commandments are each restated within the New Testament, many with more specific intent and broader meaning.
Can God permit sin, even while at the same time hating it and desiring far better? The evidence of Scriptures is clearly yes. Some sins required immediate and humanly administered punishments; others are withheld, or seemingly given lighter treatment, primarily leaving the participant to the consequences of their actions.19
In Mark's gospel, it addresses exactly the same subject as Luke, this time noting Jesus' words that divorce was never in view from creation.
Jesus does not revoke the concession for divorce in this statement. In fact, he intentionally refers to the Mosaic Law and notes why God gave the provision for divorce, even though not desiring it - namely due to the hardness of men's hearts. This hardness of men's hearts persists and reasons for divorce continue to be rooted in it. Most of all Jesus was again telling the Pharisees to stop looking for excuses to divorce and focus on the God-given reason to stay married. There's a big difference between working to stop a problem rather than looking for excuses to fix it in perhaps the worst possible way. God's standard, that marriage was until death, was heart of Jesus' teaching. This was in effect from the very beginning but missed by many because of God's subsequent permission and toleration of divorce. While not revoking the later, Jesus sought to restore the former. The final clarification given to the disciples (Mark 10:10-12), similar to the passage in Luke, is presenting more of the why behind the desired permanency of marriage. In this, divorce and remarriage are shown to be effectively the sin of adultery, even though permitted.
Why would God permit divorce, even though it always was effectively the sin of adultery? This was not something new; it is what it was from the fall of mankind. Consider that this sin has two parties involved. While a quick platitude says that all problems in marriage come from both, this is simply not true. The most faithful and devoted spouse in the world can have a spouse who does not reciprocate. There are times when one partner, for whatever reason (i.e. lust, selfishness, greed, etc.), chooses to unilaterally throw away their marriage. Divorce was therefore given as a permitted termination of marriage to free the innocent party - presupposing just grounds for the divorce. In God's toleration of this it still doesn't free the guilty party of the fact that they are the source of the sin, of their being an adulterer and the cause of adultery.
How could the Pharisees get so wrapped up in finding excuses for divorce? Consider the Mosaic provision for it as found in the Law:
This was never to be an excuse for divorce for any and all reasons. Intertwined with this provision should have been an understanding that divorce and remarriage would effectively be the sin of adultery. It should have been understood to only be necessary when there had been a fundamental and irreconcilable breach of the marital relationship and contract. The legally permitted sin of divorce was only to be accepted wherein another serious sin had already caused the irreparable problem.20 Unfortunately, as an example of the hardness of men's hearts, many of the Pharisees had turned divorce into something commonplace and casual - for virtually unlimited reasons.7 Sounds a bit like what divorce has again become in our day.
Take note that this passage in Deuteronomy nowhere commands divorce - there is nothing within it to say that divorce was mandatory. At the most it is a defined toleration of divorce, with implicit approval for divorce having just cause, and a specific procedure for how it was to be administered. All clarification of divorce by Jesus and Paul functionally return to this core, stripping away the manmade tradition that had justified, or even encouraged, abuse of divorce.
The book of Matthew refers to divorce as part of a passage with a focus on the sin of adultery and one who would cause it.
Jesus was saying get rid of anything that would cause you to sin in this area. Deal with the thoughts and heart problem, watch what you touch, and control what you see. Problems in these areas are the primary causes that lead to divorce. Again, with an emphasis that divorce is effectively the sin of adultery, Jesus points out that the one divorcing does not cause the other to be an adulterer or adulteress if they have already committed adultery (they already chose this sin). This clause doesn't substantially change anything about divorce, it's still sin and an effect of sin, it merely removes a burden from the innocent part that they were not the one who caused the sin.
The overall focus of the passage is found in the final verses. Jesus points to another aspect of the sin of divorce, namely lying. To have broken your vows, as well as the implied and real contract of marriage, is to have lied. It didn't have to be an oath or vow in God's name, even if it was merely an assent, a yes, it is still your word and is to be kept. When marriage began to be regulated by the Roman Catholic Church it was turned into a formal vow or oath before God, as if this made it more binding. Jesus made it clear that this makes no difference whatsoever, your "yes" is to be your "yes", and your agreement is to be your word. All who break their marriage contract are also liars and, in effect, cause the other partner to also become a liar.
Returning to this same passage, take note that Jesus pointed out a central problem that often causes divorce:
Adultery begins with lust. This is not a mere thought or idea that jumps into one's head. Rather it is the dwelling on that thought, savoring it, and subsequently building a mental justification for action. The next clause, regarding eyes and hands, merely illustrate the tools often used to take the next step. What is looked at and what is touched is the outworking of the lust on the inside. Cutting off the hand or gouging out the eye may seem to stop the act, but the real issue is the underlying lust. Jesus used the hyperbole of two stated actions to show that it's far better to deal with the mind problem. Unforgiven sin is what will cause a person to go to hell. Believers in Jesus Christ, while they may continue to struggle to not sin, do not remain in unrepentant willful sin. All who continue to touch and to look, or to savor the thoughts, need to reevaluate who they serve.
Take note that Jesus specifically used a man lusting after a woman for his example - based on looking. While the reverse is possible, men more probably sin in this way because male sexual arousal comes primarily through sight. Pornography is a readily available fuel for this illicit fire.
Sexual sin was the topic of a portion of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Spanning part of two chapters, the artificial division caused by the chapter change has caused some to separate the topic of sexual sin from that of marriage, when in reality they are intertwined and directly related to each other.
The list Paul began this passage with contains a quick summary of sins that that have all destroyed marriages:
He ends this list by stating that unrepentant practitioners of these things will not inherit the kingdom of God - in other words, they are not believers, regardless of what they may call themselves.
The subsequent discussion on marriage builds on this understanding. Paul states that the personal choice to marry, or to not marry, is okay. Either situation is good for some people, though certainly those who are passionately attracted to another should get married. Having chosen marriage, Paul then emphasizes that God clearly taught that it was to be permanent. All persons seeking to follow God's commands will do all they can to keep their marriage intact. For a pair of believers there is no other course of action short of entering into willful sin. Believers don't "fall out of love" or "decide to go our separate ways"; they chose to sin if they don't hold to their mutual commitment.
Paul then defines a concession, even as adultery was clearly defined as a concession in Jesus' words in Matthew. The fact that Paul finds no contradiction in defining a concessional exception shows that Jesus' words originally contained cause for it, though not explicitly stated. It must be emphasized that all apostles did not add to Jesus' words, they merely restated and clarified them. Undoubtedly, Paul shows by stating this exception that the original statement was not exhaustive and at least one additional specific exception was allowed for within the original. As part of a letter addressing a specific problem, it's likewise improbable that Paul intended his statement to be exhaustive, merely to address the matter at hand. Note that Paul does not even restate the original exception clause as given by Jesus.21 The specific problem being addressed by Paul, at that time and place, was "believers versus unbelievers".12
A pair of unbelievers will act in unbelieving ways, married or not. As a married couple they continue to live in sin, some of which may be those very sins listed above, which likely will negatively impact their marriages (Ephesians 2:1-3). It shouldn't surprise believers that if this happens, other than to avoid the obvious consequences of having a failed marriage, they have no spiritual or primary motivation to see their marriage succeed.
At risk of repetition, the couples whose lives are grounded in Jesus Christ are completely different. Their desire is to please God, to serve Him out of love, to live out the life that God has proclaimed to be best for them. They truly have been set free from sin to do what is right, not to mention having and growing in their understanding of the perfect example of sacrificial love which they may now live out in regards to their spouse. Believers should not be dealing with a hardness of the heart issue; they have been given an open, clean and pure heart (1 Timothy 1:5; Acts 16:14; contrast Hebrews 3:12). It is to these that Paul says "a wife should not leave her husband... and the husband should not leave his wife (1 Corinthians 7:10-11)". While this is a truth for all married couples, it's only the believers who will accept it for what it is - the word of God (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 2:14).
A serious problem, which Paul focuses in on, is a marriage between an
unbeliever and a believer. Here Paul says in is better to stay
together - because this is the intent of marriage - but if the
unbeliever wants to act in an unbelieving way, "let him
leave". The specific concession, initially given by Jesus -
namely that of adultery - is stating the exact same thing. The
unrepentant adulterer is living as an unbeliever (regardless of what
they might say). How a person lives shows what a person believes
(...principle of Matthew 7:16-20). This gets back to the list of sins
Paul specifically outlined at the beginning of this passage, clearly
defining them as marks of an unbeliever. The goal, for the believing
spouse is to always seek reconciliation and to actively work to keep
the marriage together, but as the expression goes; "it takes
two". Again, if the unbeliever leaves, let them do so. For the
sake of the believer, God has specifically said they are "no
longer bound in such circumstances".
Though Jesus and Paul are united in saying "don't divorce", they are also united in saying that divorce is permitted for just cause. Implicit in Jesus' "porneia" statement is that divorce is not for any old reason, it must be something that has substantially violated the marital contract. If Jesus meant only sexual sin, then Paul would be guilty of adding to Scriptures by saying that it was permissible for an unbelieving spouse to depart. In fact, he was restating in another form the same idea implicit in Jesus' words - the unbeliever departing had substantially and unilaterally violated the marital contract.
Is there any other "just cause" for divorce? I believe the answer is "yes". For example, coequal with the sin of divorce is violence, and abuse in the marriage is a clear violation of the marriage agreement which calls for each to care for the other as they would themselves (i.e. Ephesians 5:28-29). Consider the classic Old Testament passage where God declares that He hates divorce...
I believe it is no accident that God in the same breath says "I hate divorce" and "I hate a man's covering himself with violence..." Many a divorce has been directly caused by violence - abuse of the weaker partner. To prevent divorce there cannot be violence and continued violence is a sign of a non-believer (in unrepentant, God-hated sin). This gets us back to Paul's statements regarding an unbeliever departing.
On grounds of Scripture, this can be taken even further. Beyond prohibited sexual activity and violence, the marital contract can be breached by willful failure to provide for your wife and abandonment. Basic marital rights included food, clothing and sexual intimacy (see end note 3, also 1 Corinthians 7:3-5). These are clearly biblically shown to be an integral part of the marriage covenant or agreement. This is not to say that a couple in need can use the excuse that lack of food caused them to part, versus one intentionally withholding this necessity from the other. Likewise, health reasons may cause prolonged barriers to sexual intimacy, but this is a natural part of the mutual agreement of marriage (i.e. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5). What is not permitted is unilateral and unwarranted abandonment by the other. A passage providing overall perspective on a husband failing to provide for his wife or family, implicitly excluding things beyond his control, was also penned by Paul:
While this passage in 1 Timothy does not have divorce in immediate view, it does mark willful neglect as a being a characteristic of a non-believer. Perhaps willful neglect could be best described as a non-believer departing from the marriage, something Paul does directly address elsewhere.
Abandonment does not solely mean physically leaving the home. Even as the leaving and united of the marriage covenant did not require a new residence; the mere fact that a person remains in the domicile does not certify they have not departed from the marriage. A husband who withholds the basics of life and marriage - even while living in the home - has abandoned his spouse. By definition, he has left the marriage or sent his spouse away. His prolonged, sinful, and unrepentant actions have shown him to be an unbeliever and once again Paul's admonition to allow the unbeliever to depart is in view. The one who secures the modern bill of divorce, or official paperwork, is not always the one who first left the marriage or sent their spouse away.
A Jewish view as to just cause for divorce, also in light of Malachi 2:16, is summarized in this excerpt:
Divorce is an irrevocable dissolution of the marriage. All the expressions found in the list above are utilized or meant by passages that speak of divorce found throughout the Old and New Testaments. Both parties are no longer bound to the other. Clearly Paul states this in regards to an unbelieving spouse departing (1 Corinthians 7:15). Paul obliquely says the same thing regarding the one who would leave their marriage without regards to an unbelieving partner. It is clear that this following, earlier, statement is in regards to a believing couple. Only later does Paul address the unbalanced union of a believer and non-believer.
Without considering the clause added, in regards to future behavior, take note that Paul calls her "unmarried". Because she has departed there is no longer a marriage. But how can someone who is no longer married become reconciled to her husband? The answer would be understood by those knowing the Law of Moses.
Notice that the Law says a dissolved marriage can never be reconciled if one of the partners has remarried. The subsequent marriage now takes precedence. It cannot be lightly cast aside, even via divorce, to try and reestablish that which was willingly or unwillingly lost before. Paul, working on the assumption that a believers will want to work towards reconciliation - indeed, need to be working towards reconciliation - states that a believing couple who dissolve their marriage are to remain as unmarried which then allows for the future possibility of reconciliation, the healing of their broken relationship. Impossible? Certainly not, if both parties are seeking to obey God and understand that it's God's Spirit working in them that can do it. Of course, for it even to get to the point of the marriage being dissolved there had to be something seriously wrong in the marriage which would make it necessary for them to part. Yet, if both are believers the hope and goal should remain ultimate restoration.
If one of the parties then remarries, in opposition to the Lord's command, they have irreversibly dissolved the marriage and by their sin have removed the need of remaining single from the other partner.
Other than God's command to remain unmarried, for any divorced pair of believers, the divorced individuals are "unmarried". This un-marriage restores all other rights of being an individual, including removing the lines of authority normally created through marriage.
Paul's clarification, regarding letting the unbeliever depart, still has great emphasis on making sure that any believer should not divorce apart from major reason. Of course, the departure of an unbelieving spouse is something completely outside of your control. But what those who live like an unbeliever regardless of their profession? It's here that we return not merely to Paul's list of sins which mark the life of an unbeliever, but also to Jesus' original words regarding divorce.
According to Matthew, Jesus intentionally used particular wording. Jesus did NOT say "anyone who divorces his wife, except for adultery..."4 Rather Jesus said "anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness..." This word translated into English as "marital unfaithfulness" is the Greek word "porneia", the same word that was at the top of Paul's list of signs of an unbeliever. While adultery is certainly included in the meaning of this word, it is not limited to that meaning, certainly why the translators use the broader "sexually immoral" in Paul's passage. In fact, this word encompasses even more.
"Porneia", the word from which our modern word "pornography" derives, is a broad term encompassing any sexual sin. The list could include adultery, incest, lewdness, fornication, and prostitution. Those listening to Jesus would have viewed the word as also including any marriage or intercourse prohibited in the Law of Moses (i.e. Leviticus 18, 20:20-21, 21:7 etc). Numerous of the sins encompassed in this word were considered to be automatic revocation of the marriage contract. For example, the adulterer or the one caught in bestiality was not to live, thereby freeing the spouse through the death of the partner. Even by Roman times, where the death penalty was not always carried out, sometimes due to intervention of the Romans, the Jewish rulers held that these were grounds for an automatic or mandatory divorce.
One basis by which a priest was permitted or even commanded to divorce his wife was when he had entered into a prohibited marriage to begin with.
This was divorce on the grounds of "porneia", a sexual sin, namely entering into a prohibited marriage. The mere fact that the marriage existed did not nullify the earlier command. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, even speaks of a specific case where this would apply... namely a person marrying his stepmother.
In this wording, it is most probable that a man had married the former wife of his father, after she had been divorced by him. This was not only in violation to Mosaic Law, it was against Roman law as well.5 The only act of repentance which would satisfy such an occurrence is a subsequent divorce of this woman by the offender. In the case of a prohibited marriage divorce effectively becomes necessary (in our culture, often treated as though the marriage never really happened, being illegal to begin with).
Some cults (and sects of Christianity) have claimed that an unequal marriage, between a believer and non-believer, is now (in New Testament times) likewise initially prohibited (i.e. 2 Corinthians 6:14) therefore the couple should automatically divorce unless the unbelieving partner converts. Paul's command, in his first letter to the Corinthians, for the believer to not depart certainly pre-addresses this spurious thought.
Perhaps the greatest change from the Old Testament to the New, in regards to divorce, is that Paul is clearly setting forth the need and opportunity for repentance by the offending partner, wherein a Christian is involved. If the one who sinned in any of these sexual manners is repentant and turns from it, their repentance can be taken as a mark of a believer and believers are to work toward reconciliation - no automatic divorce here! Still, if it was sexual sin - "porneia" and the offended party chooses to depart, it was the sexual sin of the offender that was the just cause.
Most who divorce are completely no longer bound at all by their former marital state. The prior union has been irrevocably dissolved and they now live as a single individual again. The only exception is the pair of believers who divorce except for "porneia" ("marital unfaithfulness" in NIV). As seen earlier, they are commanded to remain single, which holds out the possibility of reconciliation and gives time for repentance. It's good to remember that believers are not to have a "hardness of the heart" problem which is the primary cause of divorce.
Another condition understood from the Mosaic Law, and certainly would have been in view as part of the word "porneia" as understood by those listening to Jesus, is that remarriage to a former spouse who had been themselves married again afterward was completely prohibited.
Apart from these specific and limited restrictions, a divorced person was fully free to either remain single or remarry as they so desired. This was true under Mosaic Law and was implicit in the restating and clarifications given in the New Testament by Jesus and His apostles.8
There is no call in Scriptures for the church, or even the priesthood in ancient Israel, to regulate marriage or divorce. Both were private acts, publicly recognized. It was not until the Roman Catholic Church began to regulate these things in the Middle Ages that marriage or divorce required ecclesiastical permission to happen. Subsequent governments built on the remnants of the Christianized Roman Empire followed suit, believing themselves political successors to social aspects of church rule. Sure, many governments, including the Roman one, had laws about what was proper or not, but these laws still didn't require preapproval. The legal framework of what was permitted in regards to marriage and divorce, as with the Biblical Mosaic Law, provided mostly legal grounds to evaluate after-the-fact what was done, often establishing basis for dissolution or compensation if invalid.
I (as a pastor) marry couples, in or out of the church, because the government permits it. I have no "divine right" to perform marriages, somewhere established by God. God actually left that right with the people themselves - the very reason an isolated man and woman could enter into a marriage agreement even though no pastor or priest was available. While the presence of human witnesses is preferred, in the absence of such, a couples' common ascent to their marriage covenant still suffices. Wherein government has now regulated marriage, requiring a more formal and public declaration or licensure, this just command of a God ordained authority must be obeyed.
A pastor marrying a couple makes the wedding no more sacred than a justice of the peace, a judge, or a captain of a ship. Each has been granted the right by the God-ordained governmental authority ruling this country. Likewise, a marriage inside a church is no more sacred than a marriage outside of the church. God never required marriage to be at a temple, synagogue or church - this is primarily derived from a legalistic Roman Catholic view. Consider that the wedding Jesus blessed by His presence was at a home and never had a priest officiating!
Since pastors do perform marriages in our culture, a fundamental question arises: Should a pastor perform a wedding for everybody who asks? Clearly there are Scriptural limits:
When a pastor or church goes further than these basic restrictions, they need to be careful to state that it is their church policy or a personal policy. For example, some pastors won't marry anyone who has been divorced. As seen in this article, that position does withstand biblical and historical examination and ultimately becomes a personal conviction, not a biblical one. Anyone can have their own personal conviction, but if they impose it on others as being the only right way - as if it was scriptural - they have created new law for God. The inconsistency of legalism causes much of the variance in church and pastoral practice throughout Christendom.
Beyond those marriages directly prohibited by Scriptures; if a pastor can't, in faith, perform a marriage, and by so doing appear to bless it, it is proper to not. Again, if it is personal conviction, don't bring discredit on the cause of Christ by assigning it to Christianity, or the church, or attempt to claim it as universal and mandatory Christian practice. Should the couple subsequently marry elsewhere, let it go. Shunning the now married couple, for being married, is a travesty. Having made their choice to marry, all should encourage it to be permanent; another divorce is in no one's best interests - two wrongs (sins) don't make a right.
A question that invariably arises from the topic of marriage and divorce is whether or not a divorce permanently disqualifies someone from ministry. To answer this question, a few parameters need to be established:
All believers are involved, or should be involved, in ministry. Every Christians has been equipped and gifted by God to serve Him, for His glory! So often the word "ministry" invokes only the idea of preaching and perhaps teaching, but there are far more ways to serve. For the purpose of this marital status question, we will narrowly focus on the offices of elder (which is synonymous with pastor or bishop) and deacon. These specific positions of leadership come with particular conditions and greater responsibility.
Much as been read into this brief statement, "of but one wife", which is part of the defined qualifications of an elder or deacon. In fact, some have taken it to mean that an elder must be married!14 Certainly this instruction is in direct contrast to the unbiblical Roman Catholic precept prescribing perpetual celibacy for all their priests (bishops/elders). On the surface, mandatory marriage would have more Biblical standing than the celibacy view. But, the real question is, what is this passage teaching?
Nowhere in the defined qualifications of an elder does it prescribe a wife or children as being necessities, requiring that a man must have either or both. The given conditions are applicable, only if the elder has a wife or one or more children. Reading too much into those clauses could have a person saying that the children clause doesn't apply if there was only one child. This is not a legitimate interpretation of that passage. The clause applies if the elder has any child (natural or by adoption), further defined as one within the household not considered an adult by society and thus responsible for their own actions. If, for example, the elder had only one child, who died as a child, the clause would likewise no longer apply.
The overseer (or elder) is clearly shown by both wording and application throughout the New Testament to always be a man. If this man has a wife, the specified marital condition is now in play, "of but one wife". If he divorced a wife in the past and is remarried, he still meets the criteria; he is the husband of one wife. If divorced and not remarried, he has no wife and the clause does not apply, even as it would not had his wife been deceased. Divorce, as with death, ends the prior marriage.15
The "but one wife" clause was given not to focus on divorce, which was not in view in any of the passages stating it, rather it was to specify that marriage within God's new creation (the living church) was only to be as God originally intended it - a husband with one wife, certainly not many wives as some cultures adopted and even a number of the Old Testament patriarchs practiced to their own detriment.
While anti-polygamy or anti-bigamy appears to be a primary focus of this text, this was generally already repulsive to most of the people Paul was writing to, implying that he desired a greater meaning than this. Additionally, if Paul was merely intending to only prohibit divorce he could have done so using a specific Greek word (as used in Matthew 1:19 for example). Some English translations provide insight into the broader nuance of his utilized Greek, providing a slightly different rendering.
The Greek text is literally calling the overseer a "one woman guy", someone who is completely faithful to his wife. This does not allow for adultery, sexual promiscuity, or sexual unfaithfulness ("porneia"). The question is; is he committed, devoted, and faithful to the wife he has? A married man found to be flirting with other women, yet not technically in an adulterous relationship, would not meet this test. This is a genuine precaution in regards to something that has destroyed many marriages, and is certainly not needed in the leadership of God's people. Men who have learned to guard their heart, as shown by their actions, are qualified to be leaders (i.e. 2 Corinthians 10:5).
Divorce may indirectly enter in to the question of the eligibility of someone to be an elder or deacon. Is he "blameless"? Even with permitted divorce comes the question of blame, which is certainly attributed to the unbelieving or adulterous wife who leaves in those circumstances. Therein the divorced husband could still be considered blameless. If it was an unwarranted or mutual divorce, by two professed Christians, then there becomes a real issue over both accepting blame and no longer could the man justly be counted as "blameless", especially if he did not follow the Scriptural admonition to remain single. Unquestionably, any elder (or potential elder) currently being unfaithful to his wife has shown himself to be disqualified and no longer blameless.
All divorce prior to Christian conversion has no impact whatsoever on the question of a man being considered "blameless". Those past sins have been forgiven and are no longer in view. Perhaps the greater standard then becomes the requirement that he be tested; certainly prescribing that time has elapsed wherein it can show that he has learned and grown in his new faith (1 Timothy 3:6).
Not only is there a level of examination by the church, as a whole, into the qualifications of anyone seeking these ministry roles, certainly the candidate must be willing to perform a self examination. A believer who has been divorced and remarried must evaluate his own circumstances, including public perception of them, and ask himself whether he can be counted blameless. How he is viewed by non-Christians is also in consideration.
The bottom line is that there is no automatic exclusion from ministry due to divorce, though the circumstances of a divorce are one aspect that must be weighed in any consideration, all in light of the other qualifications defined. While this is not as neat as legalists like to try and artificially make things, it is typical to the judgment that God requires believers to have, in all things, within the freedom He has given us in Christ.
Marriage is to be between a man and woman, a faithful union that is to be considered good and blessed by God and all people. It was, and is, intended to be permanent until the death of either spouse. While nonbelievers will continue to divorce and enter willingly into sin - for that is their nature - better is intended for believers, even as it was in the beginning. If the marriage is, or becomes unbalanced, in that one spouse is a believer and the other an unbeliever, the unbelieving spouse is allowed to depart (again acting as a non-believer, willfully sinning). It is the believing spouse who should be working to try and keep the marriage intact, which certainly may be a one sided endeavor, but always worth trying.
Marital unfaithfulness ["porneia"] is recognized as being sin that has destroyed a fundamental aspect of the marriage, similar to an unbelieving spouse departing from the relationship. In fact, unrepentant porneia may be taken as a sign that that spouse can be counted as a non-believer. Marriage in its simplest form is "leaving and cleaving" and becoming "one flesh." Destroying a fundemental aspect of this primary union, which marital unfaithfulness and departing does, will end a marriage when all attempts at reconciliation are rebuffed. In marriage involving a believer, it is recognized that though Christians are saved and set free to do what is right, believers can (and do) stumble and fall. This is why forgiveness and reconciliation is to be the norm - something worked for. For this reason, if two believers separate they are to remain unmarried and work towards this goal of reconciliation. Their reconciliation is to be a sign to a watching world that they truly are new creations in Christ.
Divorce, even as a result of just cause such as adultery or the unbelieving departing, is still sin. Functionally it becomes the lesser of two evils and it is at this level that it is permitted and tolerated by God. Certainly God desires better than this for all marriages and especially those involving believers.
Not everyone who calls themselves a believer is in fact so. This adds the element of discerning if it is a believer who is trying to depart or an unbeliever, regardless of what they call themselves. Fundamentally, this discernment is required most of all by the believer trying to find reconciliation with their partner. The church, too, has a responsibility in this regards. They were to discern if a professed believer was living in willful and unrepentant sin and then expel that wicked person from the church. If the church was doing its God ordained duty in this area, it would also assist in helping the grieved partner discern how to treat their departing spouse, as an unbeliever or a believer. Wherein the church has failed in its corporate duty to make this examination the spouse must still do so - and, indeed, may have better insight in this matter, knowing what goes on behind closed doors. Paul's list of the characteristics of a non-believer, as found in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 is indispensible in helped to do this evaluation. It must be emphasized that, even in such an evaluation, the goal is not to be divorce, but reconciliation - though divorce is permitted if the unbeliever has (or does) depart. Martial unfaithfulness, porneia, may be accepted as grounds that that partner has departed the relationship, as such to be treated as a non-believer.
A spouse physically present in the same dwelling may have already departed the marriage. Even as the leaving one's parents, that precipitates marriage, doesn't necessarily mean leaving the family home (something very common in Bible times and other lands even in modern times), so too a spouse can depart the marriage without ever physically removing themselves. Perhaps the best example of this is the spouse who has adopted violence as a way of life, and abuses their partner. This is not only the actions of a non-believer, it displays evidence that they have departed the marriage, no longer "cleaving" or being "one flesh", treating their spouse completely opposite as one would (or should) their own bodies. If the injured party physicals leaves or divorces the abuser, it was the non-believer (the abuser) who had departed the marriage first, notwithstanding legal recognition by regulating parties such as the church or governments.
All divorce, including divorce for just cause, is an admission of defeat. It is accepting something less than what is good, or the lesser of two evils, and should always be an action of last resort. Divorce has been likened to be a marital equivalent of church discipline, an action of last resort. The goal of church discipline is to seek reconciliation and restoration, yet if this fails the church is commanded to expel the unrepentant sinner. While no command exists to mandatorily expel the unrepentant partner, certainly the analogy holds that if the relationship is irreconcilable due to the just cause of unbelieving actions, the final resort is permanently parting. It is unbiblical and indeed sinful for the church to ignore the need for church discipline and to likewise accept some need for divorce, no matter how much we and God value unbroken marriage.
Those who prefer legalism, creating and enforcing rules that go beyond Scriptures, will claim that holding any possibility of just divorce provides a freedom that could be subject to exploitation. Certainly freedom is messy, but this is what God has given the church. We are no longer under a set of intricate laws, such as the Mosaic Law, complete with legislation over every little detail. The freedom we have in Christ, bound to the higher Law of Love, sets us completely free with the admonition to not use it to sin (i.e. Galatians 5:13). Initiating divorce is clearly sin. When the unbeliever (by profession or action) has chosen to depart, it is no longer a sin attributed to the believing and faithful partner. Sinful actions, beyond the believer's control, still have the consequence of terminating the marriage, apart from reconciliation where possible. The possibility of reconciliation best rests in an unbelieving partner coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, a recipient of God's gracious salvation. Apart from this, if divorce is still the outcome, the believer mourns what has taken place, as being sin, but God has forgiven them.
Believers who divorce apart from just cause, such as marital unfaithfulness, are to remain single with the hopes and goal of reconciliation. Should either party violate this admonition and remarry or enter into an adulterous relationship, the other party has been freed from this requirement to remain single as the possibility of reconciliation has been removed. All others who divorce are completely unbound. This presupposes the ability to remarry as they so choose. Their remarriage is to be recognized by all, with universal encouragement that their new relationship thrives and remains permanent. A new marriage, irrespective of the claims of some, is not ongoing adultery; rather it is a new start.13
Either of these two options could be defended from Scriptures. I tend towards the second, as it doesn't leave the list of just causes open ended. In the second view the only just cause is the departure of a non believer or one who is unrepentantly acting as a non-believer. This can be established by their verbal testimony, or by their actions, specifically the list given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and the "porneia" clause of Jesus from Matthew 5:32.
1. While marriage is a glimpse of the perfection that God intended in the Garden of Eden, the very fact that divorce exists is proof of the corruption and sin brought about by the fall of mankind into sin.
2. All subsequent law banning homosexual acts and bestiality, such as what is found in the Mosaic Law, are built on an explicit understanding of what original marriage was meant to be. Anything which violates that understanding is sin. This remains unchanged in the New Testament, as God gave marriage for all time (only to cease in the heavenly kingdom. i.e. Matthew 22:30). This is why apostles, such as Paul, could also write about the sinfulness of homosexual actions and encompass all aberrant sexual behavior in general references to sexual immorality.
3. Exodus 21:10, in the Mosaic Law, likewise speaks of "marital rights", defending the wife in case a second was taken by her husband. Here it includes a reference to her right of the possibility of having an offspring. Interestingly, two additional conditions are also clearly defined, food and clothing, thereby also making them a "right" of the marriage.
If the husband violated these rights, the woman was allowed to be free from the marriage and all claim by the husband, without any remuneration.
4. Jesus didn't have to use the more general word "porneia"; if He wanted to state only adultery, common Greek words such as "moicheia" and "moicheuo" could have been employed specifically for "become an adulteress" and "to commit adultery". These words are utilized elsewhere in the New Testament.
5. "OT law forbade sexual relations with one's stepmother (Lev 18:8; Deut 27:20 put it under a curse; both parties are condemned to death in Lev 20:11; cf. 18:29). Marriage to one's stepmother was forbidden in Roman law in well." (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament © 1990 by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)
Some have tried to say that Jesus' words, in verse eight, are a pronouncement on the permanency of the Mosaic Law - making God's provision for divorce temporary and applicable only to the Mosaic Law. In fact, it was showing that the fallen state of mankind, following the beginning (creation), is the source of sin that leads to divorce. This was not Jesus abolishing provision for divorce as given in the Law; it was His restating it and narrowing its focus. The point was, and is, that marriage was to be permanent, as God intended in the beginning, and that all divorce effectively causes a sin. In the case of marital unfaithfulness ("porneia") the sin is not caused, it already existed within the offending partner.
Jesus clearly portrays a higher standard for believers - one we have been set free to uphold - that divorce is not for us. Even as God created man and woman in the beginning to be a married couple and not divorce, so too all who have been re-created (made new) by Christ have been enabled to live again as God intended. Certainly unbelievers will not, indeed cannot, uphold this standard of righteousness and should be accorded more leniencies by believers - without minimizing God's absolute standard of right and wrong. Wrong is always wrong, but amazing forgiveness comes from God!
The clause, "except for marital unfaithfulness (Matthew 19:9)", is not mentioned in the parallel passage of Mark 10:11-12. This is not because there is no exception and Mark and Matthew are at odds, rather it is likely that Mark simply took the exception for granted. In both Jewish and Roman cultures divorce, and remarriage after adultery, was universally permitted. Indeed, to Jews, dicorce was actually considered mandatory following adultery. What was highly unique was Jesus' focus on the original design of God that marriage is to be permanent. The focus was not to be the exceptions rather it was to be the high standard which should be the rule.
Lastly, some have attempted to retranslate Matthew's stated exception, to say that it only is perhaps speaking of a separation or annulment and not true divorce. There are no good grammatical or contextual grounds for any such assertions. Others go so far as to claim that Mark's version is the original statement and that this one in Matthew was corrupted by addition at a later date. There is absolutely no evidence for this, other that the mindset of people willing to condemn Scriptures to justify their holier-than-God legalism.
7. Within the religious rulers of Jesus' day there was an ongoing and very public dispute between two major schools: Hillel and Shammai. One of these held and taught that divorce could be for any reason; while the other held that it had to be only for a major offense. The school of Hillel's understood Scriptures to teach that the law taught divorce to be permissible for any cause (or offense), including as trivial as letting food burn. Shammai upheld adultery as being a primary offense necessary for divorce. Clearly Jesus was taking direct aim at the "for any cause" party in this dispute, stating that it must be just cause for the divorce, using porneia (sexual sin) as the example. Note that Jesus, in Matthew 19:3, was specifically addressing the Pharisees...
While some might say that Jesus wholeheartedly backed the view of the school of Shammai, Jesus differed in that He nowhere claimed divorce to be mandatory. Both schools held that divorce was mandatory for cases of adultery. Jesus merely says it is permitted - thus leaving open the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation. (This is something the Pharisees missed; God appears to have been open to this all along - consider Hosea 3:1-2).
The view that remarriage is never permitted is not upheld by the text itself, even as appeals to the early church father are insufficient evidence that the text should be somehow read to support such a view.
9. Remaining single is never portrayed as a gift or calling, though it is certain that God would have to enable a person to do so. The Roman Catholic view that all clergy are to remain celibate is certainly not borne out by this or related passages. In Matthew 19:10-12, the disciples appear to suggest that staying married - what God intends - would be harder than remaining single. Jesus' agreement is very limited. Three instances are cited; it is true for those who God created physically incapable of sexual activity, and also others who have become that way due to the actions of man (i.e. castration, common in Biblical times for officials in charge of harem's, etc.; consider the eunuch of Acts 8:27). Additionally, and by the wording certainly a minority, are those who are voluntarily eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. These individuals have taken on a celibate lifestyle for the purpose of devoting themselves completely to the service of God. This may be lifelong, or only for a time. If such an individual later marries it is not sin (consider 1 Corinthians 7:25-38). It is important to not exalt or promote celibacy beyond what is stated or to undervalue it wherein it is necessary, or God motivated, for others.
10. Paul frequently holds porneia to be a mark of an unbeliever. While talking to professed believers in 1 Thessalonians, whom he assures that God desires their sanctification, notes that those who remain in porneia are showing by their actions that they have rejected God, don't have the Holy Spirit, and are no different than godless Gentiles.
11. This verse does not have Paul saying that it is "good for a man not to marry (1 Corinthians 7:1b)", rather he appears to be quoting what the Corinthians wrote to him about. In other words, Paul is saying "Now for the matter you wrote about, where you say: It is good for a man not to marry." The context shows that Paul is not speaking against marriage but in favor of it. To try and have Paul in one point say it is good to not marry and in the next breath encourage it, define rules of marital conduct, tell those who can't exercise self control to marry, etc., would have Paul speaking illogically and completely uncharacteristic to Paul's normal logical thinking. It was the Corinthians that were trying to adopt ascetic practices, something that infected many churches in the centuries that followed, with Paul working to correct them and provide a properly balanced view of the God ordained institution of marriage.
Some English translations do a better job of trying to show that Paul is quoting the Corinthians in this verse. For example, the ESV, NET, NRSV, TNIV, and HCSB all put the phrase in quotations. The CEV goes further: "You asked, 'Is it best for people not to marry?'", similar to the NEB which starts "You say, ..."
12. Before anyone protests that the entirety of 1 Corinthians chapter 7 is not "believers versus unbelievers", know that I'm focusing in on the little problem that was at the heart of a bigger issue. The greater context of chapter 7 appears to be Paul addressing Christians who were likely (and aggressively) promoting celibacy as being a better, or normative, state for believers. This "sex and marriage is bad" viewpoint infected the church very early on and, contrary to a proper Biblical perspective, continues to do so in some areas. In spelling out that marriage (and sex within it) is good, Paul also had to address divorce, which for believers was not to be an issue. This left only one remaining problem; what about the relationship of a Christian and non-Christian?
If taken strictly literal; at the most, the first sex act with a new partner would be what violated the original relationship. Instead of viewing this only from the perspective that the woman was the one who was unfaithful, consider the more probable reverse. If the woman has been divorced by an unfaithful husband, he has already broken the marriage - because of his marital unfaithfulness. While it technically would make the woman commit an act of adultery in remarrying, it was permitted because the marriage has ceased and she is no longer bound. Paul also clearly had this unbinding in view when he stated that the unbeliever could depart. In Matthew it is more likely that Jesus was using the expression "adultery" in a metaphorical sense to refer to the act of divorce itself.
14. Those who claim that Paul was commanding an overseer to be a married man do so in opposition to other passages and overall context. Paul, himself, was certainly an elder of the church and he was single (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). Indeed Paul commended those who might remain single, as God enabled them, in their service to God (1 Corinthians 7:32-35). This clearly appears to allow a single man to serve as a church leader.
15. Remarriage, following the death of a spouse, is a natural, permitted, and even recommended state for believers. Paul clearly advocated second marriages in a number of passages (Romans 7:2-3; 1 Timothy 5:14; 1 Corinthians 7:39). To claim the "but one wife" clause was stating that a remarried widower would be ineligible for ministry goes against Paul's overall tenor and message. There is no contradiction in this clause - a remarried widower is still potentially the husband of one wife.
17. It could be argued that Jesus' participation in making wine available for a wedding establishes a subsequent need to have wine at all future weddings. If example of Scripture is acceptable and sufficient grounds for establishing Christian practice apart from specific command - as is often argued for other issues - then weddings should retain this element. In the least, those opposed to drinking alcoholic beverages, such as wine, should be willing to accept that it is, at least, a permitted practice based on Jesus' participation and tacit endorsement. For more on Christians and alcohol, click here.
18. Marriage of a man to multiple women is nowhere expressly forbid in Scriptures. Rather it is shown by the stated purpose of the original marriage to be outside of what was intended by God. Likewise, the problems arising from these marriages are clearly in view throughout the examples of such given in the Bible. Even in the New Testament, with its explicit prohibition for leaders in the church to not have multiple wives, it is only an implicit disapproval of polygamist marriages for others.
While the penalty of this law - marriage or a fine - seems to treat lightly the illicit actions of the man, it does not condone them. It also cannot be taken to say that God wants a man to try and acquire a wife in this fashion. Regulation of a sin, with or without immediate punishment, does not designate approval by God of such a sin, even while it was permitted to a defined degree or cost. Divorce is similar; within defined conditions it is permitted but comes with a cost.
20. There is no question that divorce was a legally permitted sin. It did not become a sin in the New Testament; it was a sin from the very beginning. God's pronouncement that He hated divorce (Malachi), as He does all sin, was given to people still under the Mosaic Law, where He had expressly permitted it.
21. Paul may have felt no need to restate Jesus' original exception clause of adultery as he may have considered it part of his primary issue. Certainly, based on the sins Paul was addressing as marks of an unbeliever, unrepentant adultery is a characteristic of an unbeliever - one who has certainly left the marriage, regardless of any continued physical presence in the home.
(c) 2008/2010 Brent MacDonald/LTM. Duplication is permitted as long as the source is cited.
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