Divorce and Remarriage
This subject has become very controversial in our day, yet the Bible has very definite answers to the problem. We live in a day when it has become very simple to get a divorce. Nevertheless, the simplicity of it, and the acceptance of it by society, does not make it right in the eyes of God.
It is important that we think things through before we actually face the test, so that we know how we should react. For instance, young people should set their courtship standards before dating so that they will know how to respond, and so that they make the decisions at a time when they can think clearly without the emotional attachment that tends to obscure the issues. This also applies to the question of divorce. Many people who were strongly opposed to it changed their views when it was their own son or daughter who was involved.
When Jesus was approached on this subject, He quoted from Genesis 2:24. He said in Matthew 19:5, "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh." In the next verse, He emphasized the strength of the marriage bond: "Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
There are some things which automatically take place when an unmarried man and woman come together in the covenant relationship of marriage. One is that God binds them. Psychologists say that the marriage bond with the first mate is a strong one that can hardly be broken. This applies to all people, not just Christians. Even though people go through the act of divorce, if they are honest they will admit that they still have a tender spot in their hearts for that first mate. We do not understand how this comes about, but neither did Paul. In Ephesians he calls it a mystery.
Whenever people abide by Godís natural laws, they experience His natural blessings, be they Christians or not. One is the law of gravity. We benefit by respecting it, and it works for both the believer and the ungodly. This also applies to marriage, the ungodly experience His blessings also. And they lead relatively happy lives as a result of it, though they do not have the deep peace and joy we experience as Christians.
Marriage is symbolic of the union between Christ and the Church, and there is remarkable symbolism between the salvation story and the Jewish marriage. When a young man had chosen his bride-to-be, he left his fatherís house and traveled to the home of his chosen one. So Christ left His Fatherís house to come to earth to gain His bride. Then the father of the bride and the groom would negotiate a price. Christ paid the price for us with His own blood. Afterwards the covenant was established, even though as yet no physical union had taken place. They were sanctified, or set apart for each other, even as the Church is to be set apart for Christ. Afterwards the bride and groom drank from the cup over which the betrothal blessings had been pronounced, symbolizing the establishment of the covenant. Christ did this also when He blessed the cup at the Last Supper. Next the groom returned to his fatherís house for a period of twelve months. Christ also returned to heaven and is separated from His bride. During this twelve-month period, the groom prepared a place for them to live at the fatherís house. Christ is doing this for us (John 14:1-3). When this waiting period was over, the groom would go to receive his bride. We believe Christ, too, will come to receive us to Himself. Although the bride knew approximately when the groom would come, she did not know the exact day; therefore, the groomís arrival was announced with a shout. So it is with us. Someday Christ will return with His hosts of angels and with a great shout.
In this symbolism we see absolutely no room for divorce. If it would fit in, we would have to say that after we reach the kingdom of heaven, there would be a possibility of us being cast out again.
In some churches today people are trying very hard to mold the Bible into their culture, making it say what they want it to say, instead of molding their culture to fit the Bible. There are numerous studies and restudies done to see if they can somehow make the Bible say divorce is permissible. This comes very close to the attitude Satan had when he approached Eve in the Garden with, "Yea, hath God said?" They come to the Bible, saying, "Are you sure it says there is no way to get around the rules against divorce?" As a result of this attitude, Christian-professing people have come up with some "loopholes." We will consider some of these.
The first one is the exception clause as found in Matthew 5:31 and in Matthew 19:9. "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" (5:32). "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" (19:9).
There are many who will say this means divorce and remarriage is permissible if either companion has been unfaithful. But we must remember that this clause is only stated in the Gospel of Matthew, which was written to the Jews. Mark and Luke do not record this clause because they are writing to people who had different marriage customs. In this clause in Matthew, Jesus is referring to that betrothal period which was mentioned earlier: that period of waiting before marriage. In Jewish custom, this couple was called husband and wife before the actual marriage took place, and the espousal could be broken if either one was found to be unfaithful during that period. Another objection to this "loophole" is that the word fornication is used instead of adultery, which would indicate that the person was yet unmarried.
The Jewish groom would not have taken his bride back to his fatherís house if, upon returning to get her, he had found she had been unfaithful. So we, unless we remain faithful, will not be among those who are "caught up. . . to meet the Lord in the air."
A second "loophole" is the question, Is adultery a state or an act? If it is the act, then we can be remarried, confess the sin, and continue living together free from sin. But Romans 7:3 definitely says, "She shall be called an adulteress," which denotes progressive action. The first marriage is still binding, which makes the second marriage adulterous. It must be confessed as sin and forsaken, in order for one to be restored to a right relationship with God and to share in the Christianís hope.
A third excuse people give is the pre-Christian mixup. In this situation, a person has been married and divorced one or more times before becoming a Christian. Humanly speaking, we may be inclined to say there is no need to break up another home. We may think that because the other marriages were not Christian, they do not count. But marriage is not necessarily a Christian institution. It started back in the Garden of Eden, before the plan of salvation was brought to light. Another objection is the word whosoever as used in Matthew 19:9. This word is not just speaking of Christians.
Still other people will say that the Bible tells us in I Corinthians 7:17, 20, and 24 that we are to remain in the same situation we were in when we were called to be a Christian. But these people fail to realize that the verses in between are not referring to marriage, but to circumcision and servant hood. These are matters in which we can be Christians blessed of God either way, circumcised or uncircumcised, bond or free. If we would apply it in the way these people do, we could say the thief is to continue stealing and the murderer is to continue killing; but we are taught in the Bible to confess and forsake our sins if we wish to have mercy. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper" (Proverbs 28:13).
John the Baptist lost his head defending the principle of only one marriage. He told Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brotherís wife. In both Godís eyes and Johnís, that second marriage was not lawful. Herod was living in adultery.
But we may ask, "What about the innocent victim? What about the husband or wife who decides to leave and the other really tries to work things out between them?" First of all, there is hardly ever a case where the blame rests completely upon one person. But even if that were the case, marriage is so sacred in the eyes of God that here, there are still no exceptions.
I Corinthians 7:10 tells us what our first responsibility is, in the case where our husband or wife does not believe. "Let not the wife depart from her husband." The reason for this, is that there is a possibility that you can win your partner to the Lord. "If any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives" (I Peter 3:1). I Corinthians 7:11, "But and if she [the unbelieving one] depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife. Separation without remarriage leaves the door open for reconciliation.
First Corinthians 7:15 may look like another loophole. "A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace." This may sound as though we are no longer married to that person, but in the Greek, this word bond refers to the obligations that are ours to perform toward our marriage partner, such as the wife keeping house for the husband, and the husband providing materially for the wife. Paul is saying that if the partner leaves, we are free from these obligations toward one another.
The last thing we want to consider is the expression, "Two wrongs never make a right." It is bad enough if one marriage breaks up, so why break up the second one? But we read in the account of Ezra that the Jews had taken strange wives. He told them that they must put away their strange wives from them, and this probably broke up some happy homes too. It was not an easy thing to do, but there are no easy answers to these difficult questions in life. We must realize that the way of the transgressor is hard, and this is one area in which we must reap what we have sown. The Bible condemns adultery. To stop an adulterous relationship may not be easy, but it is right. If we were injured while drag racing, or in some other manner crippled as a result of sin, we do not automatically become healed just by becoming a Christian. Some of these scars must then be carried the rest of our lives. Should it be any different in this area?
Some will say, "What about the children?" It seems so cruel. But it was so in the time of Ezra, and it specifically mentions children in that account. Children become the innocent victims. Every adulterous marriage and relationship can only add to the grief and confusion of the child. Godís law of purity and holiness must be given precedence. But we realize that God is the Father of the fatherless and widows. He will bless and protect those children whose parents are truly obeying Him. Let us realize the sinfulness involved in this issue and take a firm stand against divorce and remarriage. It will affect our attitude toward courtship.
God is able to help us straighten up our lives in this area as well as any other.
ó written by David Myer
Published by Rod and Staff Publishers, Inc., Crockett, KY 41413, (606) 522-4348.