MARRIAGE, DIVORCE, REMARRIAGE
Divorce is rampant in our society. Some statisticians say as many as one out of two marriages end in divorce. This matter is not a pleasant one for those who are adversely affected by their condition vs scriptural teaching. Not only has our culture and society rejected God’s pattern and direction concerning divorce and remarriage but churches of Christ all over this country and many in this city have rejected God’s instructions as well. Most congregations of the Lord’s church either practice the don’t ask, don’t tell policy or blatantly ignore the word of God on this subject, embracing and practicing the doctrine of James Bales, Neal Lightfoot and others rather than the doctrine of Jesus Christ.
What was/is God’s purpose concerning marriage? Genesis Chapter Two is the first source of God’s instruction. God laid out a very simple plan that transcends time and has not been altered by His law, or commandment to this day except in two cases. The Israelite nation was given relief due to the hardness of their hearts; we are given relief if a partner commits fornication. But the context of God’s original instruction is the creation of mankind and the need for man to have a companion:
Genesis “AND THE LORD GOD SAID, It is NOT GOOD THAT MAN SHOULD BE ALONE; I WILL MAKE HIM AN HELP MEET FOR HIM.”
Genesis 2:21-22 “AND THE LORD GOD CAUSED A DEEP SLEEP TO FALL UPON ADAM, AND HE SLEPT: AND HE TOOK ONE OF HIS RIBS, AND CLOSED UP THE FLESH INSTEAD THEREOF; AND THE RIB, WHICH THE LORD GOD HAD TAKEN FROM MAN, MADE HE A WOMAN, AND BROUGHT HER INTO THE MAN.”
Genesis 2:23-24 “AND ADAM 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. THEREFORE SHALL A MAN LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE UNTO HIS WIFE: AND THEY SHALL BE ONE FLESH.”
Here in this one simple statement is God’s will for all mankind for all time. God’s will is one man to marry one woman for life. That is God’s marriage law; it still stands today the same as the day it was given and applies universally to all mankind everywhere. Jesus Christ the Son of God did provide us with the only exception to this law and that we will study in a few minutes.
The next area of general discussion we will explore is Matthew 5.
Matthew “IT HATH BEEN SAID, WHOSOEVER SHALL PUT AWAY HIS WIFE, LET HIM GIVE HER A WRITING OF DIVORCEMENT.”
It has been said? He knew the exact source of the reasoning of the Israelite nation, the Jews of his day. Jesus didn’t bring up this subject by accident. This is part of the sermon on the mount, his instructions to his disciples recorded for their and our benefit. He’s referring to Moses direction in the Old Law:
Deuteronomy 24:1 “WHEN A MAN HATH TAKEN A WIFE, AND MARRIED HER, AND IT COME TO PASS THAT SHE FIND NO FAVOUR IN HIS EYES, BECAUSE HE HATH FOUND SOME UNCLEANNESS IN HER: THEN LET HIM WRITE HER A BILL OF DIVORCEMENT, AND GIVE it IN HER HAND, AND SEND HER OUT OF HIS HOUSE.”
And in referring to Moses direction he countermands it specifically. Jesus raised the issue in order to set things right, in order to give explicit direction where it was needed.
Matthew 5:32 “BUT I SAY UNTO YOU, THAT WHOSOEVER SHALL PUT AWAY HIS WIFE, SAVING FOR THE CAUSE OF FORNICATION, CAUSETH HER TO COMMIT ADULTERY; AND WHOSOEVER SHALL MARRY HER THAT IS DIVORCED COMMITTETH ADULTERY.”
Jesus is very clear on this point; he lays down the teaching here with exact precision; he admits but one valid ground for divorce, fornication. Whosoever puts away his wife for any other reason causes her to commit adultery because he tempts her to marry again; Jesus says that the divorce goes for nothing, is not recognized by God, that she is still married to that husband and any new relationship is one of adultery. A divorce for reasons other than the only legitimate one involves the sin of adultery on the part of all parties should they remarry, the husband who puts his wife away, the wife and the man who she subsequently marries. Under the law of Moses a man could divorce, a woman could not, but in today’s world the application is equal to both man and woman. This should be sufficient for us but the Holy Spirit caused another record to be made:
The Pharisees came tempting him and wanted him to say something contrary to Moses Law, they succeeded:
Matthew 19:3-6 “THE PHARISEES ALSO CAME UNTO HIM, TEMPTING HIM, AND SAYING UNTO HIM, IS IT LAWFUL FOR A MAN TO PUT AWAY HIS WIFE FOR EVERY CAUSE?”
Every cause, any cause, this was the way it was practiced in that day even as it is in this day.
“AND HE ANSWERED AND SAID UNTO THEM, HAVE YE NOT READ; THAT HE WHICH MADE THEM AT THE BEGINNING MADE them MALE AND FEMALE, AND SAID, FOR THIS CAUSE SHALL A MAN LEAVE FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE: AND THEY TWAIN SHALL BE ONE FLESH? WHEREFORE THEY ARE NO MORE TWAIN, BUT ONE FLESH. WHAT THEREFORE GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER, LET NOT MAN PUT ASUNDER.”
Just as he had in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus provides one and only one acceptable basis for breaking the marriage covenant, fornication.
Matthew 19:9 “AND I SAY UNTO YOU, WHOSOEVER SHALL PUT AWAY HIS WIFE, EXCEPT it be FOR FORNICATION, AND SHALL MARRY ANOTHER, COMMITTETH ADULTERY: AND WHOSO MARRIETH HER WHICH IS PUT AWAY DOTH COMMIT ADULTERY.”
Jesus gave one reason and one reason only; fornication. This term in the original Greek is the word poneia, also the root word for our word pornography, and refers to illicit sex of any kind. Jesus is saying that if a person’s mate is sexually unfaithful to that marriage relationship by forming a sexual union with someone else, be it male or female, that person is guilty of fornication. The innocent party then has the scriptural right, if he or she chooses to exercise that right, to divorce that mate on the grounds of fornication, and then to contract a second, legitimate, scriptural marriage.
Now let’s turn to a textual study of I Corinthians 7:1-15
I Corinthians 7:1 “NOW CONCERNING THE THINGS WHEREOF YE WROTE UNTO ME: It is GOOD FOR A MAN NOT TO TOUCH A WOMAN.”
The Corinthian brethren had written to Paul asking some explicit questions that he was to answer. This next series of verses deals with one of those questions that relate to the marriage relationship. First of all Paul says that it would be better to be celibate, not marry at all. God is not contradicting himself here but responding through Paul to a specific situation that Paul explains in I Corinthians 7:26 (ASV) “…THAT THIS IS GOOD BY REASON OF THE DISTRESS THAT IS UPON US, namely, THAT IT IS GOOD FOR A MAN TO BE AS HE IS.”
I Corinthians 7:2 “NEVERTHELESS, to avoid FORNICATION, LET EVERY MAN HAVE HIS OWN WIFE, AND LET EVERY WOMAN HAVE HER OWN HUSBAND.”
Recognizing that few men; or women either, can successfully live a life of celibacy he recommends that each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
I Corinthians 7:3-4 “LET THE HUSBAND RENDER UNTO HIS WIFE DUE BENEVOLENCE: AND LIKEWISE ALSO THE WIFE UNTO THE HUSBAND. THE WIFE HATH NOT POWER OF HER OWN BODY, BUT THE HUSBAND: AND LIKEWISE ALSO THE HUSBAND HATH NOT POWER OF HIS OWN BODY, BUT THE WIFE.”
In this relationship each is to understand and surrender their wants and wishes to the other; a mutual caring and sharing of themselves with each other. Such a relationship should generate no need or desire to stray from the marriage bed, and in fact would strengthen the marriage bond to the extent that such would be unthinkable.
I Corinthians 7:5 “DEFRAUD YE NOT ONE THE OTHER, EXCEPT it be WITH CONSENT FOR A TIME, THAT YE MAY GIVE YOURSELVES TO FASTING AND PRAYER; AND COME TOGETHER AGAIN, THAT SATAN TEMPT YOU NOT FOR YOUR INCONTINENCY.”
They were not to deprive each other of the marriage rights to which each is entitled except by mutual consent. They could do so for a period of time but should not place either mate in a position of temptation beyond their ability to withstand.
I Corinthians 7:6 “BUT I SPEAK THIS BY PERMISSION, and NOT OF COMMANDMENT.”
Does this mean we should not pay attention to Paul’s direction? Not at all but rather that this is not a commandment. He leaves the details of the running of our marriage relationship to us because what is suitable for one couple may not be suitable for another. What is appropriate in one case may not work well in another. What is suitable for the time of this writing would not be suitable for another time, etc.
I Corinthians 7:7-9 “FOR I WOULD THAT ALL MEN WERE EVEN AS I MYSELF. BUT EVERY MAN HATH HIS PROPER GIFT OF GOD, ONE AFTER THIS MANNER, AND ANOTHER AFTER THAT. I SAY THEREFORE TO THE UNMARRIED AND WIDOWS, IT IS GOOD FOR THEM IF THEY ABIDE EVEN AS I. BUT IF THEY CANNOT CONTAIN, LET THEM MARRY: FOR IT IS BETTER TO MARRY THAN TO BURN.”
Paul would rather that all men be celibate as he was during this period of difficulty, recommends that the unmarried and widows remain unmarried; again for this period of time that the church was to be persecuted, hounded and man would make every attempt to destroy it during the next 2-300 years. This advice is in perfect harmony with what we learn in an objective study of the book of Revelation which addresses the great persecution that was to come.
Paul goes further to state that it is definitely better to marry than to burn because of desires we could not control if we didn’t marry. Paul is characterized as anti-woman and anti-marriage by some but that just doesn’t square with the facts. There is no conflict here between Paul and the Word of God in other places on this subject. What is one of the reasons we know that? He specifically states that the forbidding of people to marry was to be one of the signs of the great apostasy or rebellion against God’s laws.
I Timothy 4:3 “FORBIDDING TO MARRY, and commanding TO ABSTAIN FROM MEATS, WHICH GOD HATH CREATED TO BE RECEIVED WITH THANKSGIVING OF THEM WHICH BELIEVE AND KNOW THE TRUTH.”
I Corinthians “AND UNTO THE UNMARRIED I COMMAND, yet NOT I, BUT THE LORD, LET NOT THE WIFE DEPART FROM her HUSBAND.”
Pretty straight forward isn’t it. “LET NOT THE WIFE DEPART FROM HER HUSBAND.” God hates putting away, the prophet Malachi tells is that:
Malachi “FOR THE LORD, THE GOD OF ISRAEL, SAITH THAT HE
HATETH PUTTING AWAY: FOR one COVERETH VIOLENCE WITH HIS
GARMENT, SAITH THE LORD OF HOSTS:
THEREFORE TAKE HEED TO YOU SPIRIT, THAT YE DEAL NOT TREACHEROUSLY.”
I Corinthians “BUT AND IF SHE DEPART, LET HER REMAIN UNMARRIED, OR BE RECONCILED TO her HUSBAND: AND LET NOT THE HUSBAND PUT AWAY his WIFE.”
If she and her husband cannot live in harmony together then let her depart but remain unmarried. She is not permitted to marry again, that would be adultery. If she departs and finds that she cannot live a single life in purity then she should be reconciled to her husband.
The verse also says that the husband is not to put away his wife. This passage teaches that the believer is to take no steps to hinder the restoration of the marriage relationship, but on the contrary be ready, willing and able to restore that marriage. Divorce would be out of place, for that would intend to make the separation permanent and to make an unlawful remarriage possible.
I Corinthians “BUT TO THE REST SPEAK I, NOT THE LORD: IF ANY BROTHER HATH A WIFE THAT BELIEVETH NOT, AND SHE BE PLEASED TO DWELL WITH HIM, LET HIM NOT PUT HER AWAY.”
Is Paul switching from the Lord’s commandments and speaking out of turn here? Of course not:
I Corinthians “IF ANY MAN THINK HIMSELF TO BE A PROPHET, OR SPIRITUAL, LET HIM ACKNOWLEDGE THAT THE THINGS THAT I WRITE UNTO YOU ARE THE COMMANDMENTS OF THE LORD.”
Paul is simply telling us that instead of speaking the direct words that Jesus taught he is teaching or speaking by his authority as an apostle. The real point of the contrast is between a subject the Lord himself addressed in his personal teaching while here on earth, and another subject on which Paul now gives instruction as an inspired apostle.
I Corinthians 7:13-14 “AND THE WOMAN WHICH HATH AN HUSBAND THAT BELIEVETH NOT, AND IF HE BE PLEASED TO DWELL WITH HER, LET HER NOT LEAVE HIM. FOR THE UNBELIEVING HUSBAND IS SANCTIFIED BY THE WIFE, AND THE UNBELIEVING WIFE IS SANCTIFIED BY THE HUSBAND: ELSE WERE YOUR CHILDREN UNCLEAN; BUT NOW ARE THEY HOLY.”
The same law applies to husbands that applies to wives. If either spouse is an unbeliever but yet “BE PLEASED” to dwell with the believer without problems or trouble then Paul says let things alone. The marriage law is universal, the marriage vows are sacred; the covenant relationship between a man and a woman in marriage has been sanctified by God and is not to be broken except by divorce due to unfaithfulness.
I Corinthians “BUT IF THE UNBELIEVING DEPART, LET HIM DEPART. A BROTHER OR SISTER IS NOT UNDER BONDAGE IN SUCH cases: BUT GOD HATH CALLED US TO PEACE.”
Now here is were my brethren get themselves in trouble. Let’s simply examine what Paul writes in light of other scripture. If a man and woman are married and the unbeliever, whether it be the man or the woman, chooses to live with the Christian spouse Paul says let the marriage continue, there is no reason or excuse to separate. However, if the unbeliever objects to his or her spouse being a Christian and refuses to live with them because of that, or demands that they do things unbecoming to a Christian and leaves because of their devotion to God the Paul says let them go. The brother or sister in Christ is not under bondage in the marriage relationship; neither as a slave or servant to be carried about and denied the privilege of worshipping God as commanded.
I Corinthians “FOR WHAT KNOWEST THOU, O WIFE, WHETHER THOU SHALT SAVE thy HUSBAND? OR HOW KNOWEST THOU, O MAN, WHETHER THOU SHALT SAVE thy WIFE.?’
And I’ve seen just exactly that happen within my own extended family where a niece of my mother’s was patient, loving, raising her children to be Christians with a non-Christian husband. In the latter years of his life we see him become a faithful child of God and a willing worker in the same congregation that she and her children had attended by themselves for so many years. Young people you can’t count on that happening and the tears will generally exceed the joy in should relationships but it can happen as Paul states.
So in Summary:
God ordained marriage to be a permanent relationship between man and woman.
This is a universal law applicable to all mankind, everywhere, who ever walked the face of this earth.
God gave the Israelite nation through Moses the ability to divorce because of “the hardness of your hearts.” Jesus gave us one reason to break the marriage covenant and that is sexual unfaithfulness and only the innocent party is free to remarry.
Paul says that if the unbelieving spouse is pleased to live with the believer then let things alone. However, if the unbeliever refuses to remain in a marriage with a believer the let the unbeliever go, neither is the other’s slave. But this does not sanction divorce, nor does it permit remarriage.