One of the troubling positions held by Christian leaders when it comes to divorce being forbidden for the unequally yoked believer is the fact that this position is 180 degrees off of God’s clear teaching for believer’s in the Old Testament era. We have selected a few quotes from the Puritan Matthew Henry’s commentary on Ezra 10 showing the unexplained change in direction based on a single verse in First Corinthians that should have been interpreted in the light of the rest of Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian churches as well as the rest of scripture, but inexplicably this verse has been understood so as to turn God’s law upside down hence dragging the body of Christ down into a horrible position.
He (Shechaniah) advises that a speedy and effectual course should be taken for the divorcing
of strange wives. The case is plain; what has been done amiss must be undone again as far as
possible; nothing less than this is true repentance…As to us now, it is certain that sin must be
put away, a bill of divorce must be given it, with a resolution never to have any thing more to
do with it, though it be dear as the wife of thy bosom, nay, as a right eye or a right hand, other-
wise there is no pardon, no peace. What has been unjustly got cannot be justly kept, but must
be restored; but, as the case of being unequally yoked with unbelievers, Shechaniah’s counsel,
which he was then so clear in, will not hold now; such marriages, it is certain, are sinful, and
ought not to be made, but they are not null. Quod fieri non debuit, factum valet–That which
ought not to have been done must, when done, abide. Our rule, under the gospel, is, “If a
brother has a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her
away, 1 Cor. vii. 12, 13.
To this we must ask the question, “What has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him?” Since God is immutable it falls upon these Christians, who have heretofore failed to explain this reversal, to faithfully answer the question: What transpired during the 400 years between the Old and the New Testaments to cause God to change His mind on divorce for His children married to unbelievers? We would like to think that the church’s answer would be that nothing has changed and we repent of our position, but that has not happened. Perhaps it is not happening because nobody has pressed the issue, because nobody is asking the question that R.C. Sproul asked in a sermon titled The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother regarding any number of God’s laws no longer being dutifully obeyed. The question: “What has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him?”
In the Old Testament Law unequally yoked marriages were forbidden as God’s law states, “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you…Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4, 11). In the New Testament these are also forbidden marriages as God’s Word proclaims, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)?
Those who teach that God’s will has changed use the biblical analogy of marriage as a picture of Christ’s relationship to His bride the church, which is of course a beautiful picture. But are not Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and all the Old Testament saints also part of Christ’s church? The point is made that just as Christ’s union to the church is eternal so also must the union between husband and wife be eternal. However, in making this claim do they not ignore the biblical teaching that Christ has no union with Belial nor has He any union with the sons and daughters of Belial. If Christ is not the husband of the unregenerate, then should the saints be married to the unregenerate? Paul taught the Corinthian churches that the believer is forbidden to be bound to the unbeliever. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that this passage specifically refers to marriage, but the vast majority of Christian leaders say, “We know that 2 Corinthians 6:14f does not apply to marriage because of Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.” The very point we see Matthew Henry making above.
When Herod the tetrarch was in a forbidden marriage to Herodias John the Baptist did not hesitate to demand that Herod repent of his sin by divorcing Herodias. “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4). The forerunner of Christ had no difficulty recognizing that God’s institution of marriage does not mean that God has joined together every husband and a wife. Herod was uncovering the nakedness of his own brother by marrying his brother’s wife (Mark 6:17). Those who marry against the will and law of God are not bound together by God. They are bound together by man and since man bound them together man must draw them asunder in order to get right with God.
Since God instituted marriage, He has the right to forbid certain marriages. Those who enter into these forbidden marriages are not bound by God’s institution but rather are in sin through their unholy union. But somewhere along the line the church usurped God’s authority over His institution and began to acknowledge every marriage union as legitimate and permanent. Reading the Old Testament book of Ezra chapter 10 leaves no doubt that God desires divorce for marriages that yoke His children to unbelievers. “We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this (Ezra 10:2).
The average Christian, whose current understanding of marriage was founded upon marriage being a sacrament, would say that the hope these Israelites had must have been that they could take their forbidden marriages and use them to glorify God by loving their godless wives and showing them the love that God has put in them. The Church’s position says that Christians must honor God’s institution of marriage by remaining in these unlawful marriages until death parts them because the wife is the husband’s body and the husband is the wife’s head. The two have become one flesh and what God has joined together let no man separate. Oh what a beautiful picture! But is it really so beautiful since it is not the biblical picture? The biblical picture: Israel’s hope was shown in the following verse, “So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law” (Ezra 10:3).
God’s people, led by the eminently godly leader Ezra, made a covenant with God to divorce their unbelieving wives. The continuation of all unlawful marriage covenants is unrighteousness. The absolution of an unlawful marriage covenant is righteous. Therefore, Ezra led God’s people into a covenant with God to end all unlawful marriages with the godless. Divorce for the believer married to an unbeliever is God’s will because God forbids marriages between His children and the children of this godless world. Why? God instructed His people that marriage to unbelievers pulls the people of God toward the false gods of the nations. For this reason God desires that his children be bound together with one another. God knows that the godless will drag His children into sin. God knows that there will be no peace in the home of a believer married to an unbeliever, that the children will be heavily influenced by their unbelieving parent as they too are not yet in Christ, that the believer’s sanctification will be seriously held back, that Christian couples will not fellowship with an unequally yoked couple and that partnership, fellowship, harmony, congruity and agreement cannot exist in an unequally yoked home (2 Corinthians 6:14-16). As our Lord Jesus Christ said, “…a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Again we ask the Church leaders, tell us what has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him? Their answer is that 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 made marriage for the Christian permanent. We have two major problems with this answer: First, it does not answer the question “what has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him?” Second, they incorrectly interpreted Paul’s teaching causing it to be in stark contrast to everything else he said to the Corinthians, and making it contradictory to the rest of God’s revelation on unequally yoked marriage.
To discover the proper interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, one that agrees with 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 and with the rest of scripture, see our article titled, “1 Corinthians 7:12-16 Properly Interpreted Strengthens the Case for Unequally Yoked Divorce Found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1”