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18 Divorce

Category: Theology
Read Time: 22 mins
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A prevalent misconception within the Christian community is the notion that the sole legitimate ground for divorce, as per biblical instruction, is adultery, and that even in such cases, remarriage remains prohibited. However, a more nuanced understanding of the Scriptures reveals that divorce and subsequent remarriage can be permissible under certain circumstances, provided they align with the principles of justice and righteousness.

A prevalent misconception within the Christian community is the notion that the sole legitimate ground for divorce, as per biblical instruction, is adultery, and that even in such cases, remarriage remains prohibited. However, a more nuanced understanding of the Scriptures reveals that divorce and subsequent remarriage can be permissible under certain circumstances, provided they align with the principles of justice and righteousness.

To fully grasp the biblical stance on divorce, we must delve into the broader scriptural narrative, focusing on key concepts such as righteousness, peace (shalom), covenant, and relationship. These themes are not only central to the discussion of divorce but are foundational to the entirety of biblical teaching. We worship a righteous God who invites us into a covenant relationship, characterized by His shalom – a deep and holistic sense of peace and well-being.

It is within this framework of righteousness and covenantal relationship that we must interpret the scriptural passages often cited in discussions about divorce. By doing so, we can better understand the heart of God concerning marriage, divorce, and remarriage, and offer guidance that is both true to the Scriptures and sensitive to the complexities of human relationships and the pain often associated with marital breakdown.

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.”

 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

Matthew 19:3 KJV

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?

 The social and psychological context of this passage is pivotal. Jesus was addressing a society deeply rooted in the traditions and laws of the Torah. The Pharisees, known for their strict adherence to the Torah, approached Jesus with a question that was not merely theological but also a test of His adherence to the Law and His interpretative authority. Their question, as recorded in Matthew 19:3, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" was designed to trap Jesus into making a statement that could be construed as contrary to the Torah.

 The key phrase in their question, "for every cause," is significant. It reflects the ongoing debate within Jewish society at the time. The School of Hillel, one of the prominent Jewish schools of thought, interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as allowing divorce for a wide range of reasons, even trivial ones, while the School of Shammai held a more conservative view, limiting the grounds for divorce to serious transgressions. The Pharisees' question to Jesus was not just theological; it was also political, attempting to position Jesus within this contemporary debate.

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.”

052412 teachme

Understanding the historical context is equally important. During the time of Moses, the concept of divorce was indeed present (as seen in Deuteronomy 24:1-4), but it was not as permissive as the interpretation of the School of Hillel suggested. The Pharisees' question to Jesus was a direct challenge to define His stance within this interpretive spectrum.

In this light, Jesus' response in Matthew 19:9 must be understood as addressing not just the issue of divorce but also the broader question of fidelity to the Torah and the ethical implications of interpreting it. His answer pointed back to the original intent of marriage as a sacred, covenantal union, while also addressing the hardness of human hearts that Moses had to contend with.

The phrase “because he hath found some uncleanness in her” (Deuteronomy 24:1 KJV) or “something indecent about her” in other translations, indicates that divorce was not to be taken lightly or pursued for trivial reasons. This stipulation served as a safeguard against capricious or thoughtless dissolution of marriage. The term “indecency” or “uncleanness” is subject to various interpretations but is generally understood to imply a serious violation of marital fidelity, possibly but not exclusively, sexual immorality.

 This law, as given through Moses, established a formal and deliberate process for divorce. It was designed to prevent hasty decisions and to discourage sexual promiscuity by making divorce a significant and consequential act. The irreversible nature of this decision – the fact that a man could not remarry a wife he had divorced if she had subsequently married another man – underscores the permanence and sanctity of the marital bond in God's design.

The restrictions placed on divorce served multiple purposes: they protected women from being arbitrarily divorced and mistreated, they upheld the sanctity of marriage, and they discouraged both parties from taking the marriage covenant lightly. In a society where women's rights were limited, these laws provided a measure of security and dignity.

Furthermore, the biblical texts also provide a comprehensive and logical framework concerning sexual relations, emphasizing purity, faithfulness, and the sacredness of the sexual union within marriage. These laws were not merely regulatory but were deeply rooted in the theological understanding of human relationships, reflecting God's intention for marital fidelity and the well-being of the community.

The phenomenon of parallel accounts of the same event in different Gospels is a fascinating aspect of biblical studies. It offers a multi-dimensional view of Jesus' teachings and actions. The story of Jesus' teaching on divorce in Matthew 19 is indeed paralleled in Mark 10, providing an opportunity to compare and contrast the perspectives and emphases of the two Gospel writers.

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 causeand 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”idea context 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.

 In addressing the Pharisees, Jesus acknowledges that Moses permitted divorce due to the hardness of people's hearts (Matthew 19:8, Mark 10:5). This acknowledgment does not imply that Jesus viewed the provision for divorce in the Mosaic Law as inherently wrong; rather, He recognized it as a concession to human weakness and moral imperfection. The allowance for divorce under the Law of Moses was a pragmatic response to the realities of a fallen world, where marital relationships could be marred by sin and brokenness.

 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.”

 In Matthew 19:9, Jesus' exception clause, "except it be for fornication," is indeed pivotal. It highlights the gravity of sexual unfaithfulness as a violation of the marriage covenant. In using the term "fornication" (translated from the Greek word "porneia"), Jesus addresses a broad range of unlawful sexual activities, not limited to adultery. This choice of words underscores the sanctity of the sexual union within marriage and its role in embodying the covenantal relationship between husband and wife.

Jesus' response to the Pharisees' question goes beyond legalistic interpretations of the Law to address the deeper moral and relational aspects of marriage. By framing His answer in terms of heart and morality, Jesus elevates the discussion from a legal debate to a matter of personal integrity and covenant faithfulness. This approach reflects His consistent method of teaching, which often challenged His listeners to look beyond external compliance to the Law and consider the intentions and attitudes of their hearts.

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.”

 The parallel account in Mark 10:11-12 reinforces this teaching. Here, Jesus explicitly addresses the issue of divorce and remarriage for both men and women, emphasizing the mutual responsibilities and commitments in marriage. His statement that remarriage after divorce constitutes adultery reflects the seriousness with which He views the marriage bond.

The Apostle Paul, in his writings, further elaborates on the teachings of Jesus regarding marriage and divorce. Paul addresses specific situations and challenges faced by the early Christian communities, providing guidance that aligns with the moral principles Jesus taught. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul discusses marriage, singleness, and divorce, offering pastoral advice that is consistent with the broader biblical teaching on these topics.

 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

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.”

 In choosing the word "porneia" over "moicheia" (adultery), Jesus indeed broadens the scope of what constitutes legitimate grounds for divorce beyond the narrow definition of adultery. "Porneia," encompassing a range of sexual immoralities including adultery, incest, and possibly extending to metaphorical idolatry, suggests a broader understanding of marital unfaithfulness. This choice of terminology indicates that the violation of the marriage covenant can occur in various forms, not limited to the physical act of adultery.

The interpretation that Jesus' use of "porneia" implies that marriage does not nullify individual rights or moral obligations is insightful. It suggests that the sanctity of marriage is not just about legal or ceremonial bonds but is deeply rooted in the moral and spiritual integrity of the relationship. In this view, marriage is a covenant that should reflect the values and morality of the God of the Bible.

 This perspective aligns with the broader biblical narrative, which emphasizes the importance of faithfulness, integrity, and righteousness in personal relationships, particularly in the context of marriage. The use of "porneia" in the context of divorce rights, as you noted, implies that individuals are not bound to remain in a relationship that fundamentally violates the moral principles of their faith.

The Apostle Paul's teachings on marriage and divorce, particularly in 1 Corinthians 7, further expand on this understanding. Paul addresses various situations related to marriage, singleness, and divorce, providing guidance that complements Jesus' teachings. Paul's writings emphasize the importance of mutual consent, respect, and the sanctity of the marriage bond, while also acknowledging the complexities of human relationships in a fallen world.

idolatryIn conclusion, the interpretation of Jesus' teachings on divorce, particularly His use of the term "porneia," provides a comprehensive understanding of the biblical view of marriage. It underscores the importance of maintaining moral and spiritual integrity within the marriage covenant and recognizes the legitimacy of divorce in cases where this covenant is fundamentally violated. This interpretation offers a balanced perspective that upholds the sanctity of marriage while acknowledging the realities of human imperfection and the need for compassion and wisdom in addressing marital breakdowns.

 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).”

 The concept that no Christian should be compelled to remain in a marriage with a partner who engages in criminal or immoral behavior, even if it does not include sexual sin, is a significant point. This understanding extends the grounds for divorce beyond sexual immorality ("porneia") to include a range of behaviors that fundamentally violate the moral principles of the Christian faith. Such behaviors, as noted, can be considered forms of idolatry because they place personal desires or actions above the will and moral standards of God.

The identification of behaviors such as immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed as forms of idolatry is rooted in the New Testament teachings, particularly in the writings of Paul (e.g., Colossians 3:5). In this context, idolatry is understood not only as the literal worship of idols but also as the elevation of anything above God in one's life. Therefore, consistent immoral behavior within a marriage can be seen as a form of idolatry, betraying the covenantal relationship established under God.

The emphasis on the expectation that both partners in a Christian marriage live according to the morals of the God of the Bible underscores the covenantal nature of marriage. It is not merely a legal contract but a spiritual and moral commitment that reflects the values and principles of the Christian faith.

The point about personal responsibility and liberty under the New Covenant is also crucial. While Christians are called to live in freedom, this freedom is not a license for moral laxity but an opportunity to live out the moral principles of the faith more fully. The New Covenant, as mentioned, is characterized by personal freedom under the morality of God, where each individual is accountable to God for their choices and actions.

Pastors Ministers Preachers and divorce

Your reflection on the challenges faced by those in ministry, particularly regarding the issue of divorce, touches on profound and complex aspects of church leadership and accountability.

James 3:1 indeed warns that

"Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly."

This verse highlights the heightened responsibility and accountability of those who lead and teach in the church. The role of a church leader is not only to impart knowledge but to model a life of faith and obedience. This responsibility naturally extends to their personal lives, including their marriages.shame

However, as it is rightly pointed out, leaders in the church are also human and subject to the same struggles, temptations, and failures as anyone else. The reality of divorce among church leaders, while regrettable, is a part of this human experience. It raises important questions about grace, forgiveness, restoration, and the standards to which we hold our leaders.

The embarrassment and stigma attached to divorce in many church communities can indeed create an environment where leaders feel pressured to maintain appearances, even at the cost of their own well-being and that of their families. This situation is not only harmful to the individuals involved but can also lead to a lack of authenticity within the church community.

The question of whether a leader who has experienced divorce should be allowed to continue in their ministry role is a complex one. It involves balancing the biblical standards for leadership with the principles of grace, forgiveness, and restoration. The Bible does set high standards for church leaders (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:6-9), but it also offers numerous examples of God using imperfect people for His purposes.

The key may lie in how the situation is handled. A leader who has gone through a divorce needs to be treated with grace and compassion, just as any other member of the congregation would be. The circumstances surrounding the divorce, the leader's attitude towards it, their repentance, healing process, and the counsel of other mature Christians should all be considered in determining their future role in ministry.

 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.

We must allow the blood that flows throughout the body of Christ to flow to the leadership head. Currently, I fear the head is being denied the blood that flows through the body. We don't want divorce to be a fire escape. But when all else fails, we must not alienate those who are divorced.

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 magazine

Providing support, guidance, and a path back to ministry for a repentant pastor aligns with the biblical principles of restoration and reconciliation.

Counseling and Support

It's crucial for a pastor going through such a challenging time to receive appropriate counseling. This counseling should ideally come from someone who understands the unique pressures of pastoral ministry. A fellow pastor or a professional Christian counselor experienced in dealing with ministry-related issues can offer the necessary support, wisdom, and guidance.

Spiritual Covering

The concept of spiritual covering involves providing a safe and nurturing environment for the pastor to heal and grow. This could be through the oversight of a denominational leader, a group of fellow pastors, or a church eldership. This covering provides accountability, prayer support, and wise counsel.

Path to Restoration

The journey back to the pulpit should be marked by clear steps of restoration. This process might include a time of stepping back from active ministry to focus on personal healing, rebuilding family relationships, and spiritual renewal. The path back should be marked by tangible signs of repentance, healing, and growth.

Dealing with Guilt and Embracing Repentance

Repentance is a key aspect of the Christian journey, especially for those in leadership. A repentant heart acknowledges wrongdoing, seeks forgiveness, and turns towards a new way of living that aligns with biblical principles. The church's role is to encourage and support this process of repentance, not to cast away those who have fallen but to help them rise again.

Long-term Consequences and Healing

It's important to acknowledge that the consequences of divorce can be long-lasting. The church community should be prepared to walk alongside the pastor over the long term, offering support, understanding, and grace as they navigate the ongoing impacts of their divorce.

Community and Reintegration

Gradually reintegrating the pastor into ministry roles can be a part of the healing process. This reintegration should be done thoughtfully and sensitively, considering the well-being of the pastor, their family, and the church community.

In summary, the church's response to a pastor who has experienced divorce and is seeking restoration should be characterized by grace, compassion, and a commitment to the biblical principles of restoration.

By providing counseling, spiritual covering, a clear path to restoration, and ongoing support, the church can reflect the redemptive heart of the gospel, offering hope and healing to those in need.

Pastor Chris

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