Here we are. Another "lightening rod" thinking cap. The "litmus test" of whether or not you are really a Bible-believer or a compromiser. I suspect that over my nearly 20 years of being a Christian, I have held pretty much every possible view on this topic. Some in ignorance. Some in "holier than thou" impudence. Some in righteous indignation. I would like to think that I can now state my case in informed grace. I would like to suggest that on one extreme of the issue we have a group of Christians who totally demean the marriage relationship, the price paid on the cross, our position as the "bride" of Christ and the meaning of "I will never leave you, nor forsake you." On the other side of the view, we have well-meaning (I hope) Christians who place a figurative big "D" brand on the forehead of all those who have been divorced and relegate them to second-class status in the church. Both poles exemplify zeal, but not according to knowledge.
Most of what we believe on this topic is taken from a few scattered verses, or taken from portions of the Bible which are not addressed to us. For what it is worth, here are my thots on this topic.
1. One of the basic rules of Bible study tells us that: "All the Bible is written for me, but all of it is not written to me. We must rightly divide the word and ensure that doctrinal positions are determined from those portions pertinent to the church age." I can draw principles from all the Bible, but portions of it were not written to me directly for doctrine. This is the case with the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the books of Hebrews through Revelation (I suspect I have already caused somewhat of a storm by this statement). I would ask if you stick to the dietary habits given to the ancient Israelites, if you reject indoor bathrooms (and use only outdoor privies) or if you still offer up burnt offerings on Saturday. If not, then you have already made my point.
2. What then does the Old Testament teach about divorce and remarriage and what principles can I draw from it? While not "to me" they are for me (Rom 15:4 and 1 Cor. 10:11). The definitive passages are: Dt. 24:1-4, Mal 2:16, Hosea 1-3. In them we see that
a. Marriage is picture of God's relationship with the nation Israel
b. God "divorced" the nation for uncleanness and spiritual adultery
c. Divorce was required, where it was necessary, in order to keep the covenant with God when a spouse was evil. Only the man was allowed to divorce, because wickedness in a wife was not to be tolerated.
d. The grounds for divorce were very broad in order to allow for the sin nature of man and provide a way for a Jewish male to preserve his inheritance through his children. And divorce ended marriage just like death did: with the possibility of remarriage. Only when a divorce was based on the grounds of "finding no favour," instead of "finding some uncleanness," was the remarriage adulterous.
e. Even when divorcing His "wife" Israel (Jer. 3:8, 12; Is. 50:1), God's desire, plan and final objective of the "divorce" was reconciliation with His original "wife." This is the whole thrust of the story told in Hosea chapters 1 through 3.
f. The bottom-line was God intended it to be a permanent relationship here on the earth and we should do everything possible to maintain it.
3. Though written to Jews (as opposed to Christians or the "Church Age"), what are the teachings of the Gospels relative to marriage and divorce? The definitive passages are: Mt. 5:31-32, Mt. 19:3-12, Mk. 10:4-12. In them we find:
a. They reiterated what Moses said in Deut 24, leaving out the part about "finding no favor," because these Jews were divorcing on that basis, instead of the Biblical basis of "finding some uncleanness."
b. The bottom-line was Jesus said from the beginning God made man and woman to be in a permanent marriage relationship. Separation was allowable.
4. The Church Age can find it's specific doctrines in the Book of Acts (starting about chapter 6) and through the writings of Paul, as they were written to churches and/or Christians. The definitive passages are: Eph. 5:31-32 & I Cor. 7
a. Marriage pictures the relationship between Christ and the church. Though we have committed vile sins and spiritual fornication against Christ many times, He has never divorced us.
b. The New Testament (age of grace) does not give one single ground for divorce under any circumstance at any time.
c. It does give grounds for separation due to abuse/abandonment
d. Remarriage is permitted in three (basically two) cases: - death of spouse - cancellation of the marriage through the abandonment and divorce of a spouse from the "innocent" party. The abandonment could be by a saved or an unsaved spouse. - adultery, but as the Christian, you should not seek, pursue or encourage it (that is, you must be the "innocent" party.
5. The general progression for a person as given in 1 Cor 7 would be:
a. It is good and proper to stay single. But, this is a special gift and not all can handle it.
b. It is perfectly good to get married.
c. Once you are married, do everything to stay married faithfully (vs. 27, 10-11). The concept here is "do not be seeking release." Do nothing that would cause, provoke or encourage a "loosening" of the marriage. Notice, also that Paul does not mention the "fornication" exception clause that Jesus gave in Mt. 5:32; 19:9
d. If you are separated, do everything to reconcile your marriage (vs. 10-11; Eph. 4:32)
e. If you are divorced, the best thing to do is stay single
f. But, under the proper circumstances (see item 6), and "in the Lord" it is all right to remarry (1 Cor. 6:12; 7:28).
6. What then are the Biblical grounds for divorce (and thus remarriage)?
a. Death of the spouse (v. 39; cp. Ro. 7:1-4).
b. Desertion (v. 12-15). The "unbelieving" can refer to an unsaved person, or a saved person, who through disobedience to Biblical principles is behaving as an unbeliever.
c. A lifestyle of adultery (Mt. 5:31-32; 19:9; 1 Cor 7:1-5). d. Even though b) and c) are "grounds" for divorce, God's standard is forgiveness and restoration (Jer. 31:31-34; Gal. 6:1-2; Eph. 4:31-32). You, the Christian, must be blameless and the innocent party; having done nothing to further exacerbate the situation and done everything to make the marriage work.
A final thought, though a very small percent of divorces would qualify a person for a Biblical remarriage, we should be careful that we don't elevate this area of disobedience too far above the myriad of sins of the spirit that are so often ignored by fundamentalist. At the same time, if we would properly train our young people in the importance and permanence of marriage, perhaps fewer of them would be taking the easy way out. If I know that there is no "escape," I would be far more prone to bend over backwards to make my marriage work (mine will be 28 years the end of this month and it's never been stronger).
Dr. Kent Haralson - "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean
Berean Baptist / GMAU - not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways
West Palm Beach, FL USA - acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths."
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