Let me preface this by stating this has been gut-wrenching for me. This is not going to be popular, and I know this is the type of post that will cause a lot of anger, pain, questions and emotional charge. Please know my heart. As much as I don’t want to intentionally hurt anyone, I can’t not post this because someone may need it now.
I was looking up something for another study and came across a statement that made me stop. “John the Baptist wasn’t killed for preaching the gospel. He was killed for preaching repentance.” He told Herod it was not lawful for him to have his brother’s wife (Matt 14:3-4 “3For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife. 4For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her.” See also Mark 6:16-20). It dawned on me that John the Baptist did not say it was not lawful for Herod to have his brother’s “widow”. Herodias divorced her husband, Philip, and married Herod. Not only was the relationship considered incestuous, but it was also adulterous because Philip was still alive. That brought me to this study. This was not an easy study for me, and I’ve been sick to my stomach for the past week thinking about what it means for us if we are in adultery being remarried while our spouses are alive. However, no one has been able to Biblically show me where permission is given to dissolve the marital covenant through divorce and permit them to marry another person. I get plenty of heated emotional responses, but our eternal destination rests on getting this answer right because adulterers will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
– 1 Cor 6:9-10 “9Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.”
There are multiple views when it comes to marriage and divorce. The first is a permanence view that believes no divorce. There is a view that allows for divorce and no remarriage, and there is a view that allows for divorce and remarriage. After reading, praying, studying and hearing the different views over the past 4 years, I’ve become a permanence view person. I’ve probably always been in this camp, but hearing other Believers share their views really added confusion. However, I’m not putting this here because I want you to care about my personal viewpoint, I’m putting this here because I cannot think of one person that is unaffected by the interpretation of the Bible’s stance on this issue. I realize millions of people have their own views and many Christians differ on what is permitted, but I came to a realization last week. All those views can’t be correct! Either we are permitted to divorce and remarry another person, or we aren’t. The Bible can’t mean “yes” and “no” on the same issue.
We know a few things about marriage. It is to unite one man and one woman into a covenant bond for life where God is the witness between the two and joins them into a one flesh union (Gen 2, Matt 19:4-9, etc). Marriage was chosen to reflect the relationship between Christ (bridegroom) and His people (bride) (Eph 5:22-33, Matt 25:1-13). The Lord wanted a Godly offspring to come from this union (Mal 2:15).
Marriage isn’t just about standing in front of a minister or justice of the peace to legally be together. The words said on a wedding day are strong and sobering, but many don’t bother to reflect on what they’re doing. “This is not to be entered into lightly”, bride and groom exchange vows/solemn oaths that are legally and spiritually binding, God is a witness, the two enter into a covenant bond to be true to each other until death separates them.
We live in a culture where divorce is an everyday occurrence. The problem is that The Word of God does not change with the culture. So, a Christian should be seeking God’s wisdom before making any life-changing decisions.
1) What does God say about making vows?
Num 30:2 “If a manvowavowunto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.”
Ecc 5:4-5 “4When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. 5Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.”
– It’s amazing that we expect God to honor His word to us, save us and keep us through this life and into the next when we don’t do all we should yet we penalize and throw away our spouses because they don’t measure up to our standards.
– Paul Washer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FoQEljfJEcc&feature=related
– If I choose not to fulfill my vows, does that not make me a liar and covenantbreaker?
2) What about marriage to an unbeliever?
We’re told not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14), but there are many instances where this can occur. Two unbelievers can marry, and one becomes saved. One spouse plays the role of a Believer only to show he isn’t later. In any case, we can’t divorce based on our perception of their faith.
1 Cor 7:10-15 “10And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. 12But 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. 13And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14For 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. 15But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.”
– We’re still told not to divorce. Verse 15 is not permission to find another spouse. It means we’re not bound to perform the duties within the marriage. If we could find another spouse, it would specify, but this follows the entire chapter which states we are to remain together in marriage (see verse 39). If we separate, we are to remain unmarried or be reconciled to our spouses. We are bound in a life-long covenant bond to our spouse until one of us dies.
1 Cor 7:39 “39The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”
– Another thing to consider is that an immature Christian often resembles an unbeliever. Just because a person does not respond in the manner or timeframe we believe they should does not mean they are not believers.
3) What about the exception clause for sexual immorality?
This seems to be the “out” that is the one everybody looks for or uses. Not saying it’s an easy thing to overlook, but technically, we’re not being true if we refuse to forgive a spouse that is genuinely repentant by moving on to marry another. We’ve actually said we forgive with our mouths while our actions say we won’t forgive. Again, the picture with Christ is that we “cheat” on Him on a regular basis or treat Him with less than proper respect, but He continues to love us and sanctify us to present us to Himself.
Matt 5:31-32 “31It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: 32But 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.”
– The “sexual immorality” here is the word “fornication” (porneia) which is usually used to describe sex before marriage. This allowance is ONLY noted in Matthew which is written to a Jewish audience. The reason it would be necessary to note this is because Jewish betrothal is binding just as the marriage which is why we see Joseph being called Mary’s husband before their wedding. The book of Matthew also states that Joseph was a just man and was willing to put Mary away (versus seeing her stoned to death) when she was found with child because he believed she had been unfaithful (Matt 1:18-21). Gentiles had no betrothal system, so it was unnecessary to specify that a man could put away or divorce his wife if she was found not to be a virgin immediately after marriage. I believe that if Jesus had allowed divorce for adultery, He would have stated so since adultery is mentioned twice more in the same sentence. Basically, He states that once married, stay married. “Let no man put asunder” includes the people within the bond.
Let’s look at another passage with this exception clause. In this passage, we see the Pharisees trying to tempt Jesus to see where He stands on when they could divorce. There were basically two schools of thought on divorce – Shammai which taught that the “indecency” (Deut 24:1) found in a woman included sex with anyone other than her husband and Hillel which taught that the “indecency” extended to something as trivial as burning her husband’s toast.
– Matt 19:3-12 “3The 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? 4And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, 5And said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? 6Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 7They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? 8He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. 9And 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. 10His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. 11But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. 12For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.”
Jesus did not side with either school of thought. He went back to the beginning of the establishment of marriage. Adam wasn’t given another option for a wife after she was deceived, and Eve wasn’t given another husband after Adam did not instruct her properly. Not only did Jesus only allow for divorce in the case of fornication, but everyone listening understood the permanence of marriage. Note the disciples’ response. They understood that once they were married, they were in it for life.
Jesus stated that anyone that divorces and remarries commits adultery. Anyone that marries a divorced person commits adultery. It does not matter who was in the wrong because He stated anyone who does so commits adultery. From these Scriptures, it shows divorce does not dissolve a marriage. Legally, it separates them, but God still sees them as married. We see the disciples asked Jesus again privately as if to clarify that divorce was now disallowed. Jesus’s response also shows that women were not the only ones initiating divorces as verse 12 states the same goes for a woman who divorces her husband.
– Mark 10:2-12 “2And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. 3And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? 4And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. 5And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. 10And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”
– Luke 16:18 “18Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”
Paul repeats the same teaching that Jesus gave. A marital covenant is binding until death.
– 1 Cor 7:39 “39The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.”
Rom 7:2-3 “2For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. 3So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man.”
5) Is a second marriage perpetual adultery?
There are some that teach if you repent and do not treat the next marriage as the first, God will forgive you and bless this marriage. On the other hand, if the marriage is seen as adulterous in God’s eyes, the question should be asked if God would permit you to stay in the relationship since repentance means to recognize the sin and turn from it. If you are still someone else’s husband or wife, is there really a distinction between a twenty year extra marital affair and one where you made the same vows to another person? If God has joined you to one person and still recognizes you as being married to that spouse, would He join you in another marriage and let those vows override the first?
Now, I’m sure many people have the same dizzying responses I had plus some.
– What about if I’m not happy? – Suck it up, and find a way to make it work. Happiness is a temporary emotion that allows outside forces to dictate your mood. Go home and love your wife (or respect your husband) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkR9TBrKM7E&feature=related
– What if I’m being physically abused? – Dead women can’t serve God. Get some assistance. However, I can’t tell you to divorce and remarry. If you divorce, the Bible says remain unmarried or reconcile. He has to answer to God for not following the commands he has been given as the husband.
– What if my spouse marries someone else? – Then that person is in adultery. Each of us has to answer to God for our individual actions.
– I don’t want to be alone. – Who does? If you know what the Bible says and choose to do so anyway hoping God will forgive you, you are tempting Him. We don’t plan to sin.
– Would God permit a divorce? – If it is considered unlawful. See Ezra chapters 9 and 10.
– What about children of second, third, fourth or more marriages? – I could ask the same about the children of the first marriage?
– What if I’ve been in this second marriage for decades and have grown in God? – I can think of numerous couples in the exact same situation now which is why I had a hard time with this. The questions remain: Is the first spouse of one or more people still alive? If so, how does God view the next marriage? If He considers the first marriage valid and the second adulterous, then that is something you need to address with God.
The only thing I could think about during this time was that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. This isn’t a popular view, and I know everyone has his or her own situation. However, I’ve been on the other end, so it’s not like I’m shooting from the hip. If I haven’t experienced it personally, I have close family members who have. This isn’t meant to purposely upset anyone. My reason for looking into this is the seriousness of the issue in the Bible. If God is the One that joins a couple in marriage, then He is the One that separates which means we need to take heed.
God is a covenant keeping God and takes our vows and marriages seriously. If He would punish Israel for not keeping a covenant of peace (made in Joshua and shown in 2 Samuel when David repented for Saul killing the Gibeonites), then it follows that He has the same expectations of us voluntarily entering into covenant with one we claim to love.
If anyone has questions, issues, complaints or wants to talk with others that are facing similar situations, the following websites have in-depth Biblical explanations for multiple questions and/or forums for discussion.
More questions and in-depth responses – http://www.cadz.net/faq.html
– § –
A very detailed study from Myron Horst below suggested by Sandor.
Don’t hesitate to study it!