DivorceWithin the Christian community there is not a little but a lot of confusion on what the bible teaches us concerning divorce.
The Bible however is very clear on this topic when we make sure that we do read all the text provided in context.
This context is for one the verses around the referenced scripture and the context of the environment, situation and society in which the statements where and are made.
The biggest confusion is that divorce is said that the ONLY just cause would be adultery, and even then re-marriage is not allowed.
Divorce and re-marriage is however accepted under the right circumstances, and a divorce is accepted under a just cause. Then what we need to do is look at the context and set the scenario for understanding.
The key words for living within the Holy Bible is righteousness, peace (shalom), covenant, and relationship.
We have a righteous God who gives us His shalom in a personal Covenant relationship with Him.
This is the verse that starts most of the controversy and misunderstanding. “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.”(Matthew 19:9 KJV)
When we do not know the context in which these words are spoken, they are very clear, but also very wrongly interpreted.
To understand the proper context of these words we need to know the social setting in which they where spoken, we also need to know the psychological setting (the reason why they where spoken) and the intended audience.
Jesus has been speaking in the area of Galilee and was now in Judea.
Wherever He was there where also Pharisees and Sadducees to trick him into speaking against Torah (the Law of God).
The Pharisees as verse 3 tells us of Matthew 19 where out to trick Jesus.
The question they asked Jesus is written in verse 3 too “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?”(Matthew 19:3 KJV)
This now gives us a start on the context that we so desperately need for full understanding.
What is it that we are truly reading in this very well formulated question.
The key words in this sentence we can only understand if we know that they wanted to trick Jesus in saying something that would be hurting Him.
Those key words are “for every cause”and the reason they asked Him was to trick or as some might say in a nicer way test Him.
Thus then to understand why they would ask Him a question like that we also need to know one more piece of the needed context which is the historical setting.
The historical setting is their knowledge of the Torah teachings, the teaching of writings of God through Moses on the subject of divorce.
They knew that when they where living in the period of the theocracy during the time of Moses there was NO such thing as a divorce process for “any cause”at all.
So then what does the Torah say on this topic Deuteronomy 24:1-4 (KJV) “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.
2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.
3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the Lord: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.”
We see already in this text of Deuteronomy that there is no case of just any cause to divorce, there is already a very strict stipulation. It says “because he hath found some uncleanness in her” there was indecency/immorality, sending a wife away, or with other words divorcing her for something like this needed some serious attention and was not done in a thoughtless matter.
Within this law that God had provided through moses He had installed a simple but at the same time a very restrained natural procedure of divorce with a setting to put a halt to sexual promiscuity through the right of divorce.
This was not an easy decision, a husband would need to think long and hard before "sending her away" (in spite of the fact that he had found “indecency” in her).
Once a husband divorced his wife, he could NEVER have her again.
It would also be very hard for a husband and wife to agree together regarding divorcing because of the restrictions once divorced.
Within this system a wife would also be very unlikely making herself unpleasant unpleasant to her husband with some "indecency" situation, to effect a divorce certificate.
Concerning Sexual intercourse there is also a very specific, but very logical set of rules set by God.
Many stories in the bible we see coming back from the point of view of other observers, likewise with the story in Matthew 19, Mark tells the same story in Mark 10, but he writes it down in his words Mark 10:2 (KJV) “And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.”
The Keywords we see in this verse are “is it lawful”this brings us more insight again in the context of the story, Matthew says the words “for every cause”and Mark says “is it lawful”giving us again more insight.
By having been provided all this information we now can understand that Jesus places His answer into a Historical context by giving the reason of God for creating marriage in the first place. Matthew 19:4-6 (KJV)“And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,
5 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?
6 Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
The first thing that Jesus did was to let the pharisees know he understood their chicanery and said, “Have ye not read” He then continued by saying “let no man put asunder” or with our current language let no human being come in-between. Where the word for man in the Greek language used was antropos, meaning indeed human being.
This, is then the historical environment behind the question that had been asked of Jesus regarding divorce rights.
For us this time of Jesus is again 2000 years ago, but the question was still and would still be the same “is it lawful to divorce a wife for any reason or cause at all” they then continued and said to Jesus in verse 7 followed by Jesus' answer in verse 8 “They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? 8 He 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.”
Jesus provided them with the moral reason why a right to divorce had been necessary and why this had remained in effect within a world without morals. Jesus never did deny that Moshe had instituted a right to divorce, but that Jesus intended to correct the wrongful statements they had made become real clear in the verses that follow.
Matthew 19:9 (KJV)“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.”
This reply suddenly exposes the chicanery of the question by using the words, except it be for fornication.
Jesus would consistently go for the answers targeting peoples morality, thus placing the questions and the answers as business of the heart.
Sexual unfaithfulness destroys the meaning of marriage (unlawful sexual activity is defined within the word Jesus chose to use).
Because Jesus was keeping his replies directly connected to the discussion and its context,does not preclude other reasons for divorce based on immoralities (within the word Jesus chose) as Paul in his writings confirms to his readers --- the Bible is consistent in its moral teachings.
When Jesus was asked about all this by the disciples after they entered the house Jesus said Mark 10 (KJV) “And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.”
When we again place this in all the context that was already provided this would saythat Jesus was reminding them, that without a “just-cause” for divorcing, it is (and was) not lawful (moral) to divorce and remarry without committing sin.
When a person takes this reply out of context it appears that this reply in Mark states that there was and is NO right to divorce without committing a sin. And with that it also seems to be in conflict with Matthews account, we however know that there is no conflict by taking the context into consideration.
Within the first century in which Jesus lived, the Jews had not lived under the law for over 400 years (at least not as in the times of Moses) and within the Roman society men and women would divorce for anything and nothing.
The focus of both the authors Matthew and Mark shows us the reality that the disciples understood correctly that there had been, and was a “Just Cause” basis for divorce.
In other words, they knew Jesus had not been teaching against all divorce and the right to remarry even though to the less careful reader of a later time, it could and has easily been mistaken as though He is presenting such a view in Mark's account.
Another way of stating the biblical view, is that Jesus had already stated earlier (in the hearing of His disciples) that a divorce "right" for "any cause at all" was NOT correct morality in response to the question's context.
So here is one more time verse 9 of Matthew 19 “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.”
Within the Greek language we can see that the words of Jesus could have included the word Moicheia which is defined to be adultery, BUT He did not.
Thus then in context; Jesus' teaching that while there was NO divorce "RIGHT "for [merely] ANY CAUSE, (and never had been) Mark's account must be read as Jesus explaining to them that if a man or woman divorces his/her spouse (and remarries) without a just-cause...then the man or woman who had divorced his/her spouse without a just-cause, was committing adultery against that spouse.
There is no other way to rationally and logically explain and understand this concerning the right to divorce as written in the accounts of both Matthew and Mark. (By the way, the apostle Paul expands on this knowledge too.)
Examining the words of Matthew as we have done does not allow for the statement that Jesus was teaching that sexual immorality as in the acts or act of adultery is the ONLY “just-cause” basis for divorce.
So what is it then that Jesus taught?
The word He used within the context of the question(s) and the meaning of marriage is: "porneia" this word conveys a much wider meaning than the word designating an act(s) of adultery (“moicheia”).
The word, "porneia" is defined, "harlotry (including adultery and incest), figurative idolatry - fornication."
When Jesus used the word, "porneia" which includes the term, "figurative idolatry " within its definition -- the reader understands (or can understand if he/she has not already been misled) that Jesus was teaching that marriage does not destroy every human right that a person has been given from his/her birth by God merely because the person has gotten married.
The use of the word within any discussion or response regarding divorce rights means that a person cannot be forced to live within a relationship that is not sustaining of (expressing/living within) the morality of the God of the Bible.
The Apostles also understood that the term, “figurative idolatry,” provides a challenge to the entire framework of moral living that is required of the Christian:
Colossians 3:5 (CEB) “So put to death the parts of your life that belong to the earth, such as sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).”
A Bible reader once again comes up against the scriptural expectation (and insistence) that Christians are to live within a moral-living framework within marriage as well as outside it. No Christian must remain within a marriage to a murderer, thief, liar, slanderer, abusive, hostile, violent spouse (or any other behavior that is criminal or immoral) merely because that spouse has not committed sexual sins against him/her.
What is defined here in connection to the term, "idolatry" is that “immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and greed" All of this type of behavior, Jesus has defined as "idolatry."
If a married man or woman consistently acts within an immoral framework within marriage, ~ that is behavior that expresses idolatry.
It is a betrayal (unfaithfulness) to the morality of the God of the Bible and Jesus noted that it is a “just-cause” basis for divorce.
Each Christian has a right to an expectation that his/her spouse will live out his/her life within the morals of the God of the Bible.
The Bible is logically consistent throughout its writing.
To understand our liberty under the New Covenant does not mean that a Christian has been given the right to trivialize the marriage agreement by divorcing without "just-cause" (or, for that matter, simply ignore the conditions within any agreement that we place our promises on through our signature and oaths).
We each answer to God for our choices ( Neither Jesus nor His apostles ever instituted "divorce processes" or earthly "authorities" for Christians regarding divorce or any other matter - See Matthew 23:8-11 - We are all servants of Christ under the New Covenant which is a covenant of personal freedom under the morality of God).
Pastors Ministers Preachers and divorceAs James states those that preach and teach the word to the people of God will be held accountable in a double matter. In reward as in punishment.
Thus it therefore not happen that a preacher of the word divorces, no, we all know better, it happens.
I believe though that when God calls somebody into the ministry it is not just a twirl of the wind, it is not just for a moment but for the rest of your life. Thus also with the calling to preach or the teach, or to lead the flock. It is however always a large attack upon the spiritual, psychological, and social well being of the individual.
As a church, we are embarrassed by divorce and would rather have our leaders stay together to look good. Many stay together to keep things looking good even though they are miserable. As a result, we create a system where dysfunctional people, who happen to wear clerical collars, have nowhere to go for help.
Are we really saying they can never sing or teach again because they failed in some area of their life?
Who then can teach or sing or lead God's people?
Romans 3:23 (KJV) “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”
When divorce occurs. When someone does finally let go of the rope of marriage, and we read about it or hear all the gossip that always erupts after it, let's withhold our criticism and bathe him or her in prayer. Psychologists teach that divorce is more invasive on the emotions than death. Now add to that the rejection of the only spiritual place of recovery--the church--and you have some sad consequences for hearts that are hemorrhaging.
Those in the pulpit are not immune from dysfunctions in marriage. For the church to remain pastoral, it needs to be supportive rather than critical.
Every pastor needs a pastor, someone with whom they are accountable and who will know all the details. But congregants, print media and Web sites do not need all the details. Should it be required that people go public with every detail of their divorce to get validation from the church or from a person buying their tapes? I say, no!
Ministry today magazineGive the hurting pastor a pastor to be counseled, provide him with covering and a path back into the pulpit.
Even when guilt comes back towards the pastor, God loves those that repent of their sins, He does not send them away, why would the church.
The consequences and results of the divorce will follow the divorcees for a long time, if not for the rest of their life. The key word again is repentance.
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