Category Archives: from the beginning it has not been this way

The Spirit of God’s Law Governing Divorce

God’s law permitting divorce is found in Deuteronomy 21:10-14 and 24:1-4.  Jesus acknowledged God’s permission for divorce when he said, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives”.  Jesus was correcting Jewish leaders who had taken an extreme position on divorce by turning God’s permission into permissiveness.  Their custom became divorcing their wives without a valid reason.  Consistent with man’s tendency to swing out to extreme positions, the church over corrected by denying God’s permission for divorce almost entirely.  So then, one extreme treats marriage like a marry-go-round allowing anyone to get on and off at anytime, while the other extreme treats marriage like a life sentence.

For those who are thinking, “Well that is what ‘until death’ means”, consider the difference between a life sentence and a marriage that honors God.  The life sentence is imposed by someone outside of the marriage.  It does not account for abuse, neglect, hatred, godlessness, wickedness, deception, treachery and so forth.  From the first days of the church until now it is likely that more spouses have been murdered in their marriages under this monstrous view of marriage than have inmates in prisons.  Whereas a marriage that honors God is happily maintained by both spouses; it supplies companionship, love, happiness, peace, belonging, comfort, friendship, fidelity, adoration, mutual desire to serve, humility, meaningful sex and so much more.  So far from murdering one another these spouses cherish and care for one another over and above all others.  Marriage, as instituted by God, was never intended to be anything remotely like a life sentence.

Jesus spoke words to correct the permissiveness of the Pharisees, and then the church overcorrected by restricting divorce entirely.  The church misapprehended Jesus’ words and used them to abolish God’s law permitting divorce in spite of the fact that Jesus said, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished”, which includes God’s permit for divorce.  How has the church done this?  Note Jesus’ complete statement acknowledging God’s permission for divorce:  “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (Matthew 19:8).

Our Lord’s statement makes three distinct points:

WHY      1. The hardness of men’s hearts was the cause of Moses’ law.

WHAT   2. Moses permitted marital divorce.

WHEN   3. From the beginning it has not been this way.

Note that point 2 tells us WHAT God did.  Point 1 tells us WHY he did it.  And point 3 tells us WHEN he did it.  Unfortunately, the church takes points 1 and 3 and uses them to nullify point 2 effectively restricting believers’ access to God’s provision for divorce.

Because of The Hardness of Men’s Hearts

It must be said that the hardness of men’s hearts is the cause of every law.  Man’s fall into sin required God’s Law.  Law is absent wherever sin does not exist.  So then, how did the church err in using Christ’s teaching in Matthew chapters 5 and 19 to restrict marital divorce?  Notice the first distinct point in Jesus’ statement: “because of the hardness of men’s hearts”.  It seems pretty clear that the church has misapprehended this phrase to mean that man relentlessly, stubbornly demanded permission to divorce, so Moses gave in to their sinful desires and permitted divorce.  Many contradictions come up immediately with this interpretation.  First, was the law given by God or Moses?  This interpretation assumes that Moses erred, but God and not Moses is the author of the Law and God does not err.  Second, this interpretation assumes that marital divorce is sinful, but would God make a law permitting sin simply to please godless men clamoring for said sin?  And where in all of God’s word is divorce called a sin?  The Pharisees became licentious in their use of divorce, but even then Jesus said they were guilty of adultery.  Of course, he did not say they would be guilty of divorce because our Lord knows that it is not a sin to divorce when grounds for divorce are present.  Third, the church has taken the Lord’s words and used them to do away with one of the Mosaic laws.  They have in essence declared that Moses erred and Jesus is fixing or reestablishing God’s original intent.  The facts are that Moses did not err and Jesus had no intention of restricting appropriate cases for divorce.

The final concern is less a contradiction but a mistaken notion nonetheless.  The church interpreted the phrase ‘the hardness of men’s hearts’ to mean that man stubbornly insisted upon ‘divorce for any reason’ when in fact Jesus meant nothing more than that man since the time of the fall is evil continually and have desperately wicked hearts, hence the necessity for an escape from a truly treacherous spouse.  Jesus’ statement is this simple: Moses permitted you to divorce.  Why would God instruct Moses to permit marital divorce?  God understood that the hardness of man’s heart makes many people treacherous spouses; spouses who would break the conditions of the marriage covenant.  Jesus needed to correct the permissiveness of the Pharisees while at the same time reinforcing God’s provision of divorce for the protection of the innocent spouse’s of treacherous husbands and wives.  Unfortunately, the church interpreted Jesus’ words as if to say that Moses mistakenly permitted divorce to benefit the hard hearted, necessitating Jesus rectifying Moses’ err and removing one of God’s laws, which of course Jesus promised to never remove a single stroke of God’s law.

From The Beginning It Has Not Been This Way

We now come to our Lord’s third distinct point in his phrase.  Jesus said, “But from the beginning it has not been this way”.  The church has taken this to mean that God’s intention for the duration of marriage to be for the entire lifetime of the marriage partners.  I think that we can all agree that God’s intent was for marriage to last as long as the partners lasted, but that is only part of what Jesus was saying.  Jesus’ use of the phrase, “from the beginning” is a clear reference to God’s institution of marriage prior to man’s fall into sin.  Then man’s fall into sin transpired subsequently to “the beginning” bringing the hardness of men’s hearts into every marriage necessitating Moses’ permit for divorce in cases where hard heartedness became treachery and a broken covenant.

Finally, we arrive at Jesus’ second distinct point that reads: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives.”  So then, John Milton explained that God instituted marriage because Adam was lonely (“It is not good for the man to be alone” Genesis 2:18), and God provided the perfect solution (woman) to alleviate man’s loneliness.  God’s intentions were that this special friendship would last forever, but then man fell into sin and his fall was so great that we have the following recorded in Genesis 6:5-7:

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.  The Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land…for I am sorry that I have made them.”

The very next chapter records God fulfilling his promise by sending a worldwide flood.  Therefore, man’s hardness of heart deserved God wiping out the entire human race with the exception of Noah and his 7 family members.

What God said in Genesis 6 and did in Genesis 7 demonstrates the spirit of God’s law permitting marital divorce.  It frequently happens that those who enjoy studying law tend to spend most of their time working on the letter of the law.  Man can manipulate the letter of the law to come up with whatever outcome he desires.  The Pharisees manipulated the letter of God’s law on divorce and arrived at licentiousness and permissiveness because that is what they desired.  The church has taken the very same law and turned the letter of that law all the way to the other extreme so that a permit for divorce is virtually impossible to obtain because that is what they desired.  But what does God desire?  Does anyone care to discover the spirit of God’s law permitting divorce?

Just as God frees himself from the wickedness of man both in his destruction of them with the flood and in the eternal punishment of hell, he provides innocent marriage partners a permit to divorce spouses whose hardness of heart causes them to become treacherous spouses.  From the beginning divorce did not exist, but neither did sin, death and eternal damnation.  What is the heart and spirit of God’s permit to divorce?  To protect the innocent from the wicked.  The fact that the church has taken that protection away will forever be a sad chapter in the history of God’s church.  It is time to close that chapter and get this right.


Paul’s Commentary on Matthew 19:8

The Apostle Paul’s Commentary on Jesus’ Divorce Argument Regarding the Legalism of the Jewish Religious Leaders in Matthew 19:8:

19Why the Law then?  It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. 20Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is one. 21Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God?  May it never be!  For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…4:30But what does the Scripture say?  ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be an heir with the son of the free woman’…5:1It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 3:19-26, 4:30 and 5:1)[underline mine].

My commentary on Paul’s commentary:

Paul teaches a clear chronological progression:

  1. The innocence of Adam and Eve
  2. The fall of Adam
  3. The promise of salvation
  4. The Law of God (Given to Moses on the mountain)
  5. The fullness of time when faith would come to God’s elect children through Christ Jesus.

Those who fail to understand this progression will frequently misconstrue many passages of scripture as is frequently done in Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees here in Matthew 19.  In the beginning, prior to the fall, man had no need for the law.  The Law came after the fall and it is in God’s Law where we find Moses’ (actually God’s) permission for divorce.  Jesus alludes to “The innocence of Adam and Eve” in his statement, “…but from the beginning it has not been this way” (Matthew 19:8).  However, then came man’s fall into sin, which brought about the “hardness of men’s hearts”; another statement of our Lord’s from the same verse.  This ‘hardness of heart’ problem made the law necessary until the fullness of time when faith came.

Jesus’ meaning in Matthew 19 cannot be accurately received by those who fail to put his statements in the context of this clear biblical progression.  When the Pharisees reminded Jesus of Moses’ instructions to give wives a certificate of divorce and send them away,  Jesus replied, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but…”  Here Jesus referenced the period of time after the fall when the people of God were living under the Law.  Jesus’ descriptive “hardness of heart” referred to the general obstinance of the Jewish people as being under the curse of the fall (as was the whole world at that time).  Obstinate people do much harm to one another, which necessitated the mercy of divorce as a last resort for a person whose wicked spouse broke the conditions of their marriage covenant.

Many carelessly interpret our Lord’s use of “hardness of heart” to mean that the Jews stubbornly insisted upon the right of divorce until Moses (apparently against God’s will and Law) succumbed to their demands, and Jesus was taking the occasion of the Pharisees’ question to set the record straight and correct Moses’ ancient error.  Such awful interpretations could not be further from the truth.  Jesus was referring to the different periods of this progression to show the pharisees God’s original intent for marriage and then to show the Law’s provision for divorce as a merciful release from a wicked spouse.  In so doing, Jesus was clear that the divorce laws were not given by God so that men could commit adultery every time their lustful eyes fell upon another woman.  Verse 9, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Pinched between Jesus’ statements: “Because of your hardness of heart” and verse 9 which I just quoted at the end of the last paragraph, Jesus made reference to the time of innocence in the garden, “From the beginning it has not been this way” meaning that in a perfect world God’s intention for marriage was that it would have been a lasting, loving relationship.  All relationships would be described this way in a sinless world, but because of the Fall we shall not experience such a world until heaven.  Because of sin some people are so wicked that the only recourse is escaping them; thus God’s provision for divorce when those from whom escape is necessary are marriage partners.  The greatest need for this divine grace is unequally yoked marriages where a spiritually vibrant child of God is maritally tied to the rotting corpse of an unrepentant son or daughter of Satan.

Those who attempt to interpret our Lord’s comments to the Pharisees here without the light provided by the chronological progression have brought untold harm to millions of people over the centuries–forcing them to remain in marriages with covenant breakers, to remain in unequally yoked marriages against the will and word of God.

So how would our Lord’s words be understood when the progression is not overlooked?  Jesus is saying that God’s original creation of man was perfect and did not include the fall into sin; therefore, the allowance for divorce does not come from God’s pre-fall perfect world creation, but God made an allowance for it after the fall had taken place.  Divorce was not the only divine allowance after the fall: punishment, including capital punishment, is another good example.

So then, in the perfect, sinless world in which God created man…”in the beginning” neither divorce nor capital punishment would be necessary, but after the fall into sin (a step further in the progression) mankind’s hearts had become hardened (fail to love God and their fellow man), and the whole Law including Moses’ permits for divorce and capital punishment became necessary.

Christians acknowledge the progression from innocence to the fall when it comes to capital punishment, but they fail to recognize it when it comes to divorce.  This failure has caused the Church, even false churches, to restrict divorce and not capital punishment because their doctrine of divorce failed to move on from the Garden of Eden.  In the recent centuries and for similar reasons, namely, mankind is ultimately good the liberal church has restricted capital punishment.

Their doctrine on marital divorce fails to recognize the fall.  Thus their doctrine treats the believer who engages upon a path to divorce as if it is them and not Adam who has fallen from God’s grace.  Therefore, they apply Jesus’ “hard heartedness” statement to anyone who would seek a divorce from an evil, unfaithful spouse rather than applying it to the wicked traitor.  Clearly all should agree that the unrepentant, treacherous spouse is the covenant breaking spouse, and the innocent spouse being abused needs the relief God offers in his permission to divorce.  Sadly this has not been the case.

Thanks be to God, the progression continues on to those who live by faith and not by works under the law; mainly New Testament saints but including the Old Testament saints such as Abraham.  These have always been under the gracious instruction to remain separate from the world in order to avoid slipping into idolatry.  No child of God is to be unequally yoked to the children of Satan in marriage or in any other relationship.

In conclusion, how are we to understand Jesus’ words, “What God has joined together let no man draw apart”?  First, no man-made body such as a civil court or a presbytery has the right to change or wrongly interpret what God has said on the topic of divorce.  Men must not prohibit where God permits, and men must not permit where God prohibits.  Even Jesus said that he would not change the Law of God, nor would he give his church the right to do so.  Secondly, both logically and biblically speaking, if God saves one spouse and leaves the other in a hard-hearted state, then it is not man but God who has separated the marriage partnership.  This should be clearly understood by the fact that being unequally yoked is against the will of God (Literally scores of OT texts & many NT texts but especially 2 Cor. 6:14f).  Therefore, it is safe to deduce that if God wanted a married couple to remain together beyond the temporary injunction (hoping for the redemption of the second spouse) in 1 Corinthians 7 , then God would redeem both spouses.

Finally, two saints married to one another should rarely, if ever, have need of divorce because they have progressed from being hard hearted to being of the faith in Christ Jesus.  Having said this, it is important to note that many people (the majority sadly) call upon the name of Christ in vain, which is to say that they are Christian in name only.  True believers will often find themselves unequally yoked to a marriage partner who swears allegiance to Christ while bearing neither the fruit of repentance nor the fruit of a genuine love of God.  Such believers are simply unequally yoked, but many in the church will not recognize this reality and therefore cause such believers seeking relief through divorce great distress.  To these believers I say to follow the word of God as it guides your conscience.  People pleasing is a fools game.  As Richard Baxter said, “If God’s approbation and favor quiet you not, nothing rationally can quiet you.”