Category Archives: marriage covenant

How the body of Christ Misunderstood God’s Teaching on Divorce

The church has traditionally held a prohibitive position on marital divorce for those in the body of Christ who found themselves to be chronically bound in marriage to an unbeliever, yet I believe that position to be the very opposite of the instructions given in God’s holy word. Obviously the burden of proof falls upon the lone dissenter and not upon the larger body.  So then, if the church has traditionally and continually taken the opposite view from that found in the scriptures then the reasons for missing the mark should be retraceable.

Here is a list of those very reasons that have biased the people of God away from His clearly revealed will on the subject of marital divorce for believers bound together with unbelievers:

  1. The church has consistently failed at being in the world but not of the world. It rarely fulfills God’s desire for believers to separate themselves from unbelievers.
  2. The church focused in at least two wrong directions. It focused upon marriage without regard to the greater doctrine of separation from the world. FYI: The church thus far is not repeating this mistake in its approach to homosexual marriage. Secondly, when unequally yoked marriages began to fail the church focused on the symptoms (Adultery, desertion, and physical abuse, deception, corruption, etc.) rather than upon the condition (unequally yoked marriage).
  3. Family is near the top of the list of idols, and many so-called Christians worship at the family alter sadly prioritizing/worshipping family instead of God. When family is worshipped marital divorce damages the image of one’s idol.
  4. Departing biblical and logical reasoning, churchman transubstantiated divorce from its appropriate place as an amoral action to an almost unforgivable sin. If divorce in and of itself was a sin, then Ezra would not have entered into a covenant with God to oversee the divorces of over a hundred unequally yoked marriages, and God would not have divorced Israel. Like divorce, marriage is an amoral action. Transforming marital divorce into a sin is equivalent to calling marriage a virtue. But getting into an unequally yoked marriage, a homosexual marriage, a polygamous marriage or an open marriage are all regarded as sinful behaviors against God. Marriage to a “suitable” (Gen. 2:20) partner is a virtue, just as divorcing unsuitable partners is a virtue.
  5. The church was behind the shotgun wedding concept. The desire to force men to atone for their wicked behavior supplanted God’s command for equally yoked marriages. Two wrongs do not make a right. Forcing a scoundrel to get married does not inhibit his evil desires and actions; it does however avail him a ready victim for further wickedness.
  6. The church built a man-made doctrine on divorce based upon a few passages of scripture, often out of context, to the exclusion of much greater passages and related doctrines.
  7. The church failed to make a distinction for divorce between those who are equally yoked and those who are unequally yoked (see article on a comparison to killing).
  8. Most of the church failed to understand the actual condition of those unequally yoked, so they made them feel guilty for their sin and deserving of the life-long, “consequences”. Consequences that were actually forbidden by God but wrongfully insisted upon by churchmen.
  9. Fairness or the pettiness of man: “The rest of us don’t get a do-over, so neither should you”.
  10. Churchmen have fallen into group think and have come under the pressure of each generations’ thinking the same way.

All of the causes listed above have been explained in detail previously in blog articles except for the second cause, which is why it will be the focus of this article.

The argument of this second reason why the church missed the mark is that the church focused in at least two wrong directions:

FIRST, MARRIAGE BALKANIZED FROM DOCTRINE OF SEPARATION

First, the church balkanized marriage from the greater doctrine of separation from the world, and secondly, the church set out to treat the symptoms that inevitably arise in unequally yoked marriages rather than upon the condition of a believer who is bound together with an unbeliever in marriage.

Marriage and subsequently divorce have traditionally been balkanized from the biblically ubiquitous doctrine of separation, which has lead to a very high volume of Christians binding themselves to children of Satan in marriage, and it has also lead to an unbiblical doctrine of divorce for those who have done so. We must face the truth; the church has not agreed throughout the centuries as to what actually constitutes a marriage or put another way, who exactly is married and who is not.  Today it has almost become an antiquarian idea for a young couple to get married without having slept together in the marriage bed for months or even years first.  Churchmen are looking the other way as they call them neither married nor fornicators.  On the other hand, young couples with traditional values could meet, fall in love and marry all within the span of a month until one of them decides they made a big mistake.  They could separate from their new spouse and get a divorce, and the church would mark them as a divorced person for the rest of their life.  While the cohabitating couples can live together for twenty years all the while engaging in sexual relations and even having children together, but when their relationship falls apart and they separate the church fails to mark them as divorced even though God and the state does not fail to do so.

So we must ask ourselves, are people married because their parents arranged a marriage against their wishes, because they simply claim to be married, because they have a marriage license, because they had a church ceremony, because they have voluntary sexual relations, because they live together regularly having sexual relations, because they have entered into a covenant, or because God has joined them as husband and wife? When does God view them as a married couple?

To understand marriage apart from God’s doctrine of separation from the world is very much like trying to understand marriage apart from God’s doctrine on homosexuality. Today homosexuals claim to be married, they can get a license, they can have “church” ceremonies, they can live together, they can make a covenant with one another, but God certainly does not join them in marriage for He says “to the wicked”, “What right have you…to take My covenant in your mouth” (Psalm 50:16)?  So if God prohibits both homosexual marriages and unequally yoked marriages, then why does the church acknowledge one as a legitimate marriage and not the other?

Certainly if a person in a homosexual marriage wanted to repent of their homosexual behavior the church would be quick to celebrate their legal divorce, and that repentant soul would not be marked with a “D” for divorce. They would rather be lauded as being wonderfully repentant.  But if an unequally yoked person wanted to repent of their godless marriage they are forbidden to do so by the church and get no support whatsoever from the church before, during or after they choose to obey God who clearly commanded, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14).  And this even after the biblical example of Ezra and Nehemiah’s last chapters depicting over a hundred examples of divorces for the unequally yoked.

So then, if two males are not “suitable” or do not “correspond to” [Genesis 2:20] one another for the purposes of marriage then neither do a saint and a reprobate “correspond to” one another. In fact, their worlds are further apart than are those of two males who are both unrepentant.  Neither pairing can expect God’s blessing upon a marriage union; neither pairing has a right to take God’s covenant in their mouth.  Therefore both pairings must not fear a divine prohibition or hindrance when they repent by divorcing their unsuitable partners.

SECONDLY, TREATING SYMPTOMS SUPPLANTED CURING THE CONDITION

Now we should like to consider how the church set out to treat the symptoms that inevitably arise in unequally yoked marriages rather than upon the condition of a believer who is bound together with an unbeliever in marriage.

Consider the analogy of a sick person seeking a physician’s care. When a person seeks medical attention the physician immediately begins probing the patient for the symptoms that have caused them to seek medical attention.  The reason a prudent physician collects symptoms is that she wants to properly diagnose the actual condition of her patient.  Imprudent physicians, on the other hand, treat the symptoms one by one in order to make the patient feel more comfortable in their poor condition, which often leads to a declining condition and ultimately a fatal condition.

The prudent physician seeks to accurately diagnose the condition as early as possible in an attempt to separate the patient from their diseased and declining condition. Once an accurate diagnosis is determined the physician can work to replace the patient’s diseased condition with a healthy condition.  Having a successful diagnosis and cure the symptoms miraculously disappear.

The doctrine of divorce for the unequally yoked believer becomes plain when these logical concepts are applied. Has the church traditionally acted like the prudent physician or the imprudent physician?  Clearly the church has acted imprudently in treating the symptoms one by one as they arise in these marriages while forbidding a removal of the diseased and declining condition in which the regenerate marriage partner finds himself/herself.  The regenerate partner, being bound together with an unbeliever, is in a diseased and declining condition.  The church should have diagnosed this condition and prescribed a complete separation from the unbelieving spouse as was done in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah.  This restorative action would remove the believing spouse from their diseased and declining condition and restore to them a healthy condition.  The symptoms of adultery, abandonment, physical abuse, lying, cheating, corrupting, slandering, impairing spiritual growth and so many more would miraculously disappear as the diseased and declining condition has been dealt with once and for all.

To be clear, how exactly has the church focused upon the symptoms at the expense of the unequally yoked believer whose condition is diseased and declining? To begin with the church has tried to determine which, if any, of the symptoms rise to the level of making an allowance for divorce.  In their desire to be consistent most churchmen historically have decided that no allowance for divorce is biblical; as stated earlier they balkanized the doctrine of separation from the world and marriage in order to draw this conclusion.  Secondly, the church has engaged extensively in counseling unequally yoked couples and trying to get them to “get along” better.  This has so horribly missed the mark, and it should have been obvious to all who read the scriptures that such a path could never work.

Paul told the Corinthians as much when he wrote the following:

2 Corinthians 6:14-16, “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 Belieal, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?”

The church has been trying to reconcile couples who God says have no chance at partnership, fellowship, harmony, commonality, and agreement. Not to mention that God has forbidden believers to enter into these marriages, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers.”  And anecdotes of keeping these marriages peacefully together do not pass the muster as it cannot be shown how much more sanctified the believer would have been had they never married or quickly divorced the unbelieving spouse and gotten remarried to a fellow believer as scripture prescribes.

As it currently stands, the church has effectively deemed as outcasts all of its unequally yoked members who have gone through a marital divorce when what it should have been doing was casting out the wicked condition of being unequally yoked from its churches. They failed to mark as wicked the condition of being unequally yoked, and they succeeded at demonizing brothers and sisters who have not only been cleansed by the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but who have also taken the difficult step of repenting of their unequally yoked marriage.  Had the church focused upon the condition of being bound together with unbelievers rather than focusing upon the symptoms of these marriages it would have far more effectively prevented a significant percentage of these marriages.  Had the church effectively shamed the practice of marrying outside the kingdom of God rather than celebrating such marriages after the stubborn members of the church entered into them, the unequally yoked pandemic within the body of Christ would have never taken place.  The church would have been so much the better for having followed God’s path, and untold numbers of God’s children could have avoided entire lifetimes of the evil influence of godless spouses.

The church is finding out how this proper approach would have worked as it applies it to the homosexual marriage issue. When a church follows God’s precepts, whole families will leave the church in order to support their homosexual family member.  While they think they are demonstrating love for a family member bent on sin they merely succeed at cementing their loved one in their sinful condition against God.  In so doing, these family members should feel the pain of separation from the body of Christ when they stand up for an unrepentant family member over the bible and the church.  They should sense a tug toward the world and away from God for choosing an unrepentant family member over obedience to the word of God.  Jesus said he came not to bring peace but to divide families.  Why?  Because some would prove to be children of God and others would remain children of Satan.  This will inevitably drive a wedge between even the closest of family members.  Every regenerate soul has felt this separation take place.  Therefore, the absence of this separation clearly indicates that regeneration has not taken place for the family members uniting over an issue of sin.

The church can still get this right. The church must get this right.  God says, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers.”

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Part 1: Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s Theses on Divorce and Spousal Abuse

Note: Both R.C. Sproul and the author of this blog disagree with Dr. Bahnsen’s final point (C. 5. A regenerate believer who has an adulterous, but repentant, spouse will forgive the spouse and seek a restored relationship, imitating God’s gracious reaction to the sinner).

A. At the beginning of human history, prior to man’s sinful condition, there was no just ground for divorce.

1. “He said to them, With reference to your hard-heartedness Moses authorized you to divorce your wives, but it has not been so from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8).

2. “From the beginning” (Matt. 19:8) alludes to man’s situation when God “made them male and female” (Matt. 19:4) – when God instituted marriage with the words of Genesis 2:24 (Matt. 19:5).

3. “Hard-heartedness” (Matt. 19:8) is a Biblical figure of speech for man’s fallen or unregenerate nature which does not believe or obey God (see LXX for Deut. 10:16; Prov. 17:20; Jer. 4:4; Ezek. 3:7; and in the NT, Mark 16:14). Regeneration is described as God taking away the “stony heart” and replacing it with a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26).

B. Ideally there should be no divorce; it is contrary to what God desires most.

1. “What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6).

2. “For I hate divorce, says Jehovah, the God of Israel” (Malachi 2:16).

3. These words state the ideal, for God Himself makes provision for putting marriage asunder (Matt. 19:8-9; cf. Deut. 24:1) and practices divorce Himself (Jer. 3:8).

4. Similarly, death and killing are contrary to the divine ideal (and would not have come into the picture “from the beginning”), but due to man’s sinful condition God gives orders regarding them (e.g., Gen. 9:6; Deut. 21:23).

C. Between two regenerate believers, there should be no divorce whatsoever, even for the cause of fornication.

1. For believers redeemed from sin, the original creation ordinance (A) and God’s highest desire for marriage (B) will be their guide. Sinful behavior and attitudes between husband and wife will be dealt with apart from recourse to divorce – according to redemptive principles (analogous to the relation between Christ and the church, Eph. 5:22-33).

2. “But unto the married I give charge (not I, but the Lord) that the wife not depart from her husband…, and that the husband leave not his wife” (I Corinthians 7:10, 12).

3. Fornication is not the unforgiveable sin (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11; Mark 3:28; 1 John 1:7).

4. A regenerate believer who falls into the sin of adultery will offer genuine repentance for it (Ps. 51; Jas. 4:8-10; I John 1:9; Matt. 5:23-24) and do the works appropriate for turning from it (Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20). Refusal to repent in this way must be taken as a sign that the person is not truly a believer (I Cor. 6:9-10; Prov. 28:13; Luke 13:3, 5) – eventuating in excommunication, if need be.

5. A regenerate believer who has an adulterous, but repentant, spouse will forgive the spouse and seek a restored relationship, imitating God’s gracious reaction to the sinner (Matt. 6:12-15; 18:15, 21-35; Eph. 4:32). Forgiveness necessitates reconciliation and precludes divorce, for God does not forgive the sinner and then say “Depart from Me into everlasting darkness”! (Matt. 25:21, 30, 34, 41; Ps. 85:2-3; 103:12; 2 Cor. 5:18-19; Col. 1:21-22; cf. 2 Cor. 2:7-9) Refusal to forgive in this way must be taken as a sign that the person is not truly a believer (Matt. 6:15; 18:34-35; I John 3:14-16) – eventuating in excommunication, if need be.
Author: Greg Bahnsen


Part 2: Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s Theses on Divorce and Spousal Abuse

Continue from Part 1

D. Where a marriage involves an unbeliever, the only just ground for divorce is “fornication.”

1. The situation now envisioned is that at least one partner to the marriage is an unbeliever, one who refuses to live by the principles stated in the above points (whether professing to be a follower of Christ or not).

2. “Is it permitted [lawful] for a man to divorce his wife according to every reason [upon any ground]?… But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife not upon [the ground of] fornication and marries another commits adultery” (Matthew 19:3, 9). Christ here censures any divorce which is not “for fornication,” thus leaving one and only one just ground for divorce – viz., “fornication.”

3. This is clear from Matthew 5:32, “Everyone divorcing his wife apart from a matter of fornication….” The Greek term means “except for” (e.g., Acts 26:29) or “outside” (e.g., 2 Cor. 11:28). Jesus spoke quite categorically: any reason outside the category of “fornication” is a sinful basis for divorce. Fornication is the only “exception” to this censure against divorce.

4. Jesus was also speaking categorically in the sense that His principle was meant to be applied universally – to all men. He stated that “everyone” (pas, Matt. 5:32) or “whoever” (hos an, Matt. 19:9) divorces apart from the ground of fornication was doing wrong – whether believer or unbeliever, Jew or Gentile. Note that Christ’s teaching was based upon factors which apply to all men in general: (1) the creation ordinance, and (2) the condition of man’s sinful heart. God does not have a double standard for marriage: the only proper ground upon which a believer or unbeliever may divorce his/her spouse is “fornication.”

5. Although Paul deals with a particular case in I Corinthians 7:12-17 which was not directly addressed during Christ’s earthly ministry (“To the rest I say, not the Lord,” v. 12), it would be fallacious to assume that the general moral principle which he applied to that case was contrary to the teaching of the Lord – namely, that only fornication is grounds for divorce. In saying that, Jesus did not give any hint of restricting His moral principle, as though He were speaking only for the case of believers. (In fact, what He addressed was the problem of hard-heartedness – those who are unregenerate.) Rather, He explicitly directed His principle to “everyone” and “whoever” pursues divorce.

E. The scope of “fornication” in Biblical usage is broader than adultery and even broader than illicit sexual intercourse.

1. In Matthew 19:9 Christ clearly uses two distinct Greek terms for fornication and adultery; they are not identical. If “fornication” is not the reason for the divorce, He says, “adultery” will be the consequence. [Cf. the distinct use of the two terms in I Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19; Heb. 13:4] (Note that the Hebrew terms for “fornication” and “adultery” are also distinct.)

2. In Scripture (LXX & NT) “fornication” can refer specifically to sexual sin of all sorts – whether pre-marital unchastity (Ezek. 23:11-19; John 8:41), sex outside of marriage by a widow (Gen. 38:24), returning to a divorced spouse after an intervening union (Jer. 3:2), adultery (Jer. 13:27; Hos. 2:2), prostitution (Deut. 23:18; Micah 1:7; 1 Cor. 6:16-18), incest (1 Cor. 5:1), homosexuality (Jude 7), marrying foreign wives (Heb. 12:16; cf. Gen. 26:34-35), or inter-religious sexual union (1 Cor. 10:8; cf. Num. 25:1-9).

3. It should be noted that “sexual sin” (=fornication) need not involve genital intercourse. Imagine a wife who engages in romantic kissing, undressing, caressing, fondling, mutual masturbation, or oral sex with someone not her husband. It would be ridiculous to defend her against the charge of “fornication” by appealing to the absence of genital intercourse. The Song of Songs presents the kind of activities mentioned here as appropriate to the state of marriage.

4. In Scripture “fornication” can also be used more generally for moral rebellion and unfaithfulness, when there is no figurative suggestion of intercourse (as with idols) – for instance: arrogance (Isa. 47:10), disbelieving God (Num. 14:11, 33), or departure from God’s standards of righteousness (Isa. 1:21; 57:3; 2 Kings 9:22). “Fornication” appears to be part of a synecdoche for all sins in Ezek. 43:9 and Hos. 6:10. In Paul’s epistles “fornication” is sometimes run together with uncleanness, covetousness and idolatry as a way of covering all forms of immoral conduct (e.g., Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:3-7) – which explains why many translations render the Greek word generally as “impurity” or “immorality.” “Fornication” covers all of the defilements and abominations represented by ungodly Rome (Rev. 17:4; 19:2) as well as the teaching and idolatrous associations of heresy in the church (Rev. 2:21). Accordingly, the whole of sanctification can be typified as abstaining from “fornication” (1 Thess. 4:3; cf. Heb. 12:14, 16). [Cf. Westminster Larger Catechism #99]

5. In addition to the specific and general uses of “fornication” for moral rebellion, we can observe the figurative use of the term (against the background of sexual looseness) for religious unfaithfulness (Jer. 2:20; Hos. 4:11-12) – apostasy (Ezek. 6:9; 23:35; Ps. 73:27), idolatry (Isa. 57:9; 1 Chron. 5:25; Ezek. 16:15, 25) and foreign allegiance (Ezek. 23:11-19).

6. Thus “fornication” need not connote sinful sexual intercourse. This is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that desertion of a marriage (apart from any issue of adultery) counts as fornication in Biblical teaching: “But if the unbelieving [spouse] separates him/herself, let him/her be separated; in such cases the brother or the sister do not remain bound” (1 Cor. 7:15). Yet on the authority of Christ we may recognize only one just ground for divorce, namely “fornication” (D). Therefore, unless Paul be pitted against Christ, the Pauline permission of divorce for desertion must imply that desertion is a form of fornication in God’s evaluation, regardless of any accompanying issue of illicit sexual intercourse.

7. In Judges 19:2 the desertion of the Levite’s concubine from him is described with the distinct Hebrew term for “fornication” zahnah, confirming the above observation. (The use of zahnah in the text does not suggest that the concubine literally became a harlot for a while and then went home to her father – a very unlikely course of events. The Levite, then, would not have been permitted to pursue her tenderly to remain his wife [Judges 19:3; cf. Lev. 21:7; Deut. 22:20-21].)

8. Therefore, in order to understand properly the teaching of Scripture on the grounds for divorce, we will of necessity need to engage in more than lexical studies. What will be needed is a broader, theological understanding of the nature of marriage and the rationale which lies behind whatever grounds for divorce are set forth. We need to approach the question in such a way that we can account for (a) the narrowness of grounds for divorce, (b) the harmony of Paul and Jesus in giving grounds for divorce, (c) the full Biblical evidence on the subject of divorce, and (d) the reason why certain offenses are legitimate grounds for divorce, while others are not. A simple appeal to the word “fornication” cannot accomplish these ends.

F. The only forms of “fornication” which provide just grounds for divorce are those which violate the essential commitments of the marriage covenant.

1. “Fornication” can cover a wide scope of sins, but Jesus intended to restrict and narrow the just grounds for divorce when He rejected the notion that one may put away his wife for just any reason (Matt. 19:3, 9). In contrast to less rigorous schools of the rabbis, Jesus did not espouse divorce as a remedy for just any sin whatever. Accordingly, we would expect that Jesus was referring to “fornication” in some restricted, but non-arbitrary, sense – that is, is some way which follows a principle (rationale) for narrow delineation.

2. However this sense cannot be so restricted that it pertains only to illicit sexual intercourse (cf. E.3,6).

3. Therefore, we must pursue Biblical reasoning to determine just what forms of “fornication” constitute proper grounds for divorce. [Those who want to adhere strictly and literally to the Westminster Confession’s statement that “nothing but adultery” and irremedial desertion are sufficient cause for divorce (XXIV.6) will be under a similar necessity, for the Westminster Standards go on to define “adultery” so broadly as to include things which are not reasonably taken as grounds for divorce, such as intemperance, immodest apparel, idleness and drunkenness (Larger Catechism #138, 139). Scripture too uses “adultery” in a broad fashion (e.g., Jas. 4:4).]

4. Marriage is a covenant: e.g., “Jehovah has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have broken faith, though she is your companion and the wife of your covenant” (Mal. 2:14; cf. also Prov. 2:17). Marriage is a legal contract with moral stipulations and obligations to which the Lord is witness (e.g., Gen. 31:50).

5. In the case of the legal obligations of other covenant relations, one party is not released from the obligations of the covenanted commitment unless the second party has violated the mutual contract by acting contrary to its terms. For instance, when Zedekiah broke his covenant of loyalty, Nebuchadnezzar was no longer bound by that covenant to protect Zedekiah as king in Jerusalem (Ezek. 17:12-21; cf. 2 Chr. 36:13; 2 Kings 24:20-25:7; Jer. 39:4-8). Likewise in the case of God’s own covenant with Israel as a nation: “For thus says the Lord Jehovah: I will also deal with you as you have done, who has despised the oath in breaking the covenant” (Ezek. 16:59). “They did not continue in My covenant, so I disregarded them” (Heb. 8:9). When the Jews confessed their transgressions, their only plea was accordingly: “Do not abhor us…break not Your covenant with us” (Jer. 14:21). Cf. Ex. 19:5; Lev. 26:15ff.; Deut. 31:20, 29; Jer. 11:10-11; 22:5-9; Hos. 6:7; 7:13; 8:1, 4; Rom. 11:20-22.

6. Likewise, in the case of the marriage covenant, the only thing which provides a just ground for one party to be released from the covenant (i.e., to pursue divorce) would be the violation of that covenant’s essential obligations by the other party – the breaking of the covenant. Accordingly, such things as (1) constant bickering over money, (2) refusal to repent for rude behavior, telling lies, taking God’s name in vain, dishonesty, etc., or (3) breaking a promise (even if stated along with one’s wedding vows) not to move out of state do not illustrate grounds for divorce because none of them violates what is essential to the covenant of marriage.

7. Because marriage was ordained by God (Gen. 2:24), it is God’s revealed will – not man’s wisdom or desire – which defines the nature and essential obligations of the marriage covenant: “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:6).
Author: Greg Bahnsen


What Is God’s Intent With: “Till Death Do Us Part”

The greater part of the church has viewed the duration of a marriage covenant in a fundamentally flawed way, which has steered believers into thinking that God always forbids divorce. This critical flaw needs to be recognized and corrected before the church properly understands God’s will as revealed in scripture on marital divorce and in particular as it relates to God’s children who are unequally yoked in marriage.

 

Before we get started observe Merriam Webster’s definition of covenant: 1 a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement : compact
2 A written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action.

Brief observation: A commonly held but difficult to define belief is seen in the writings of many who hold a prohibitive view on divorce.  This belief or understanding could be called, “The Mystical Covenant of Marriage”.

The common belief regarding the marriage covenant has many forms, but briefly stated it is the belief that a marriage covenant is so much more than an agreement between two or more parties. The belief has an ethereal aura about it as its possessors never reveal what exactly is meant by “so much more” than an agreement, but one thing is clear: Marriage covenants, as these people envision them, do not follow the laws of a covenant. Marriage covenants have taken on magical qualities instead of righteous, moral and legal qualities that normally define covenants. It would seem that those who hold to this idea want to raise covenants to a higher plane were it is not required to stay within the bounds of scripture and reason. Of course, no such plane exists—covenants do not have mystical qualities. Reason and scripture are sufficient for all to comprehend truth.

Placing a concept into the unknown, untouchable realm is a ploy of those who want to go beyond what God has revealed in His word. If someone thinks a covenant is more than an agreement, then they should spell out the details plainly for one and all to see. But of course, this cannot be done because a covenant is merely an agreement between two or more parties.  Like any other agreement, marriage covenants must logically function as covenants are intended to function. The expected fallout for ignoring the moral, righteous and legal aspects of marriage covenants is great injury to God’s people, which is precisely what has taken place for centuries–expressly it is God’s people who have been so terribly injured by this man-made injunction against divorce for those saints unequally yoked in marriage.  And the culprits who advance this mystical view put the blame at God’s doorstep, which is even more wicked.

One brave soul who holds the mystical understanding of covenants attempted to demonstrate how marital covenants operate by rules that no other covenants are bond under. Gary Chapman’s five points below will illustrate how covenants are viewed as mystical. To be fair Chapman is comparing the idea of a marriage contract with what the bible calls a marriage covenant. Obviously many people enter marriage with the idea that they can always get out if they so choose anytime they desire. Christians must not overreact in their response to the sins of the culture. Making divorce unattainable for those whom God has provided it is just as wrong as breaking its covenants whenever one pleases.

The reader will see that Chapman’s points defy scripture and reason, which demonstrates a desire to establish the marriage covenant as a mystical union that cannot be broken for any reason. We will first show Chapman’s points and then briefly rebut each one.

Chapman‘s Five Covenant Characteristics

A covenant, like a contract, is an agreement between two or more persons, but the nature of the agreement is different.  The biblical pattern reveals five characteristics of covenants.
1. Covenants are initiated for the benefit of the other person.

Many of us can honestly say that we entered marriage motivated by the deep desire to benefit the person we were about to marry. Our intention was to make them happy. However, when needs aren’t met, spouses can revert to a contract mentality.

Blog Author:

Chapman first states that a covenant is an agreement, but the nature of the agreement is different.  This statement is illogical.  If a covenant is an agreement, and it is, then its nature must be that of an agreement as well.  Chapman’s logical failure here and elsewhere is that he begins with the premise that God hates divorce and His children can never get divorced and then builds backwards to defend his premise.  Therefore his premise is both the foundation and the conclusion to his argument, which in this case is also contrary to reason.

Chapman states that people enter marriage covenants to benefit the other person.

But the reality is that covenants are enacted for the benefit or protection of both parties, but each enters into the covenants primarily to protect themselves.  This is not selfish, but wise.

No covenant is necessary to act in ways that will benefit others.  Neither does it require a covenant to continue being a victim to an abusive person.  People do both of these all the time without an agreement in place.

Although each covenant partner should be considering seriously the promises they are making they must not lose site of the promises being made to them. The covenant is a binding agreement between two or more parties. Two equal parties should expect to benefit equally if the covenant is operating correctly. This balance is what makes the relationship flourish and keeps the covenant going strong.  The purpose of a covenant is to protect either party from deceptive or wicked behavior from the other.

Chapman:

2. In covenant relationships people make unconditional promises.
Covenant marriages are characterized by unconditional promises, such as those spoken in traditional wedding vows.

Blog Author:

In covenant relationships people make conditional promises.

Unconditional promises are simply untenable in a world of sinners. Unconditional promises sounds like a fruit of unconditional love. Unconditional love is very much misunderstood by most Christians. God chose a people for Himself and His choice was unconditional, which means that He did not choose them because of anything good that He saw in them. His choice was entirely due to His own good pleasure. Thus it can be said that God has unconditionally loved His own children. However, when God unconditionally loves an undeserving sinner He transforms the sinner by forgiving him of his sins, by granting him the righteousness of Christ, and by giving him the gift of the Holy Spirit who continues the work that the Father has begun in that person—a work of sanctification.

However, God does not have any perpetually rebellious children whom He continues loving in spite of their refusal to repent. This is a picture that is uniquely humanistic. Because men do not have God’s power to transform wicked people into saints, their claims of unconditional love from one human to another will often be detrimental to the person being “unconditionally loved”. A sense of entitlement grows into a destructive self-centeredness that sees others as a means to serve their ends. Becoming narcissists, they learn to view others with contempt and expect to be served and worshiped.

Chapman:

3. Covenant relationships are based on steadfast love.

In a marriage, steadfast love refuses to focus on the negative aspects of one’s spouse. Steadfast love is a choice.

Blog Author:

Covenant relationships are based on keeping the conditions including love.

Steadfast love sounds similar to scriptures oft repeated “everIasting lovingkindness of God”, but that’s God. If human love were steadfast, then the fall would not have taken place and sin would not exist. Covenants exist because human love is anything but steadfast. The reader must guard against being too romantic on this point. Though our hearts want to agree with Chapman our reason knows better.

Nevertheless, fallen man cannot love apart from God who is love. Do men have some great relationships? Yes, but why? Are they entirely altruistic? In a fallen world the answer is never. Not even in a fallen world where a chosen few have been set apart by/for God. Good relationships between men exist because both sides are getting something out of the relationship, which is why we need covenants.

Chapman:

4. Covenant relationships view commitments as permanent.

Unquestionably the biblical ideal is one man and one woman married to each other for life. As Christians, we must not lower the ideal. This standard can only be attained if we practice the fifth characteristic of covenants.

Blog Author:

Covenant relationships view commitments as obligations.

Human commitments are as reliable as human love. God’s word instructs His children not to take vows because their word should be enough. Let your yes be yes and your no be no. It is all fine and good to say a commitment should be permanent, but what should be the proper response to those who will not keep their commitments? It is unwise to reward such behavior. Wisdom dictates strong negative consequences for such. Destruction, brokenness and ultimately death and eternal damnation await these scoundrels. How foolish it is to insist God’s children remain united to them in this lifetime. “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate God and thus bring the wrath of God upon yourself?” (2 Chron. 19:2)

Chapman:

5. Covenant relationships require confrontation and forgiveness.

These two responses are essential in a covenant marriage. Confrontation means holding the other person responsible for his or her actions. Forgiving means a willingness to lift the penalty and continue a loving, growing relationship. Ignoring the failures of your spouse isn’t the road to marital growth.

Blog Author:

Of the five points this is the only solid one, but Chapman applies it so very poorly.

The outcome of confrontation and forgiveness is entirely dependent upon the participants. With two penitents a good outcome should be expected. With one penitent and one unrepentant soul a separation should be the outcome. And with two unrepentant souls a godless free-for-all can be the expected outcome. Come what may confrontation will end in one of two ways. The offender can either repent or rebel; his choice will generally hinge upon his spiritual condition; either dead or born-again. Repentance brings about reconciliation. Rebellion destroys and tears apart.

Thus it is not up to the faithful partner to determine the outcome. Forgiveness can be offered regardless of the direction that the treacherous spouse takes, but wisdom still insists that the innocent partner be removed from the evil, unrepentant partner. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Chapman says, “Forgiving means a willingness to lift the penalty and continue a loving, growing relationship.” First of all, God did not lift the penalty—He paid it. Men, unlike God cannot forgive another man of his sins so as to transform him. Man’s forgiveness lies in his determination to not seek vengeance, but wisdom demands a separation between good and evil people. “Do not be bound together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). No matter how good and godly a man is he cannot have “a loving, growing relationship” with godless men. If you doubt this, just refresh your memory of the story of Jehoshaphat and his son in 2 Chronicles. God’s children can be loving to the children of Satan, but they cannot have growing relationships with them.

At least Gary Chapman had the bold integrity to make an attempt at explaining why so many see covenants as something mystical and more than agreements. Nevertheless, both scripture and reason dictate that a covenant is an agreement…nothing less and nothing more.  An agreement by any other name is still an agreement, and it must follow the laws of agreements.

Defining Covenants

A covenant is an agreement. It is legally binding both by God’s laws and by the laws of world governments. Covenants are, generally speaking, legal documents that bind two or more people together for a specific purpose for a predetermined amount of time. Covenants are made up of several components.

The three primary components are as follows:

1st THE BENEFIT (or promise), without which there would be no motivation to become party to a covenant. Most people are appropriately leery of signing legal agreements or covenants because they realize that the signatories will be obligated to perform whatever they agreed to well into the future. Therefore only two types of people willingly enter into covenants: first, those who perceive the BENEFIT of the covenant to far outweigh the obligations to which they place themselves under, and secondly, those treacherous scoundrels who have little or no intention of keeping the obligations of the covenant.

The 2nd primary component is THE CONDITION(S), without which the BENEFIT would not likely be obtained or realized. When a wicked party to a covenant ceases to meet their obligation of fulfilling the CONDITIONS, then the BENEFIT should stop being awarded to that party. If the BENEFIT continues to be made available to the offending party, then the innocent party becomes the foolish party as 2 Thes. 3:10 suggests:“If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat either.” This is not a divorce thing, it is a wisdom thing. It is unwise to remain in an agreement that is injurious to you (Prov. 6:1-5), it is unwise to trade with someone using a false balance and scales, it is unwise to continue being a victim, it is unwise to allow another to intentionally or unintentionally take advantage of you, etc.

The 3rd primary component is THE DURATION, without which one’s obligations would never end.  The DURATION is why there are one year leases on apartments, a three year lease on a car, a 15 year house mortgage and so on.  Some people mistakenly think that a marriage covenant has a perpetual DURATION, but they are wrong.  Some of the shortest covenants ever made have been marriage covenants, because as soon as one of the two parties dies the covenant is kaput.  Even the best marriages will not continue in heaven.

Let us take a closer look at these three important components of a marriage covenant.

So how has the church fundamentally misunderstood the DURATION in a marriage covenant?

The DURATION has some aspects of a BENEFIT and some aspects of the CONDITIONS but remains its own aspect of a covenant.

**** HERE LIES THE HEART OF THIS ARTICLE ****

The church’s fundamental flaw has been to understand or categorize the DURATION, in essence, as though it were one of the CONDITIONS. The reality is that DURATION is an aspect of a covenant just like CONDITIONS and BENEFITS. The church has treated the DURATION like an aspect of CONDITIONS or even as though it were a CONDITION when it is in fact a separate aspect of a covenant in relation to but distinct from CONDITIONS and BENEFITS.

In so doing they entirely discounted and even slighted the DURATION’S aspect of BENEFIT. Understanding DURATION in this light caused the church to think that a divorce is itself the breaking of a CONDITION when in fact a divorce is merely recognition and acceptance that both the covenant and its DURATION have been terminated due to the covenant’s CONDITIONS being violated.

The very existence of the CONDITIONS logically establishes the possibility of a second DURATION; either the death of a person or the death of the covenant itself. In other words, the DURATION is until the death of one or both parties or until one or both parties violate the covenant’s CONDITIONS.

Therefore, the flawed understanding of DURATION allows churchmen to think that an innocent partner’s divorce action, in response to their spouse’s refusal to keep the CONDITIONS, is tantamount to returning evil for evil because the innocent party in so doing would be breaking the CONDTION of a life-long DURATION. Obviously the problem with this reasoning is that the DURATION is not a CONDITION; therefore, when the DURATION comes to an abrupt end, due to the violation of the conditions, the faithful party is no longer bound by the covenant, so the faithful party does not transgress the CONDITIONS or any other of God’s laws in divorcing and marrying another in the Lord. In this scenario the innocent partner has merely recognized a spiritual reality that the DURATION of their marriage covenant has concluded due to the violation or transgression of the CONDITIONS by their partner; a divorce is the legal representation of the spiritual reality already existing.

There is one exception in which DURATION does actually share the aspect of CONDITION:

So then, how does DURATION share the aspect of CONDITION? The DURATION of a marriage covenant itself acts like a CONDITION when either party seeks a divorce without any broken CONDITIONS. This seems to be the scenario in Matthew 19 when the Pharisees are questioning Jesus about divorce for any reason at all. Jesus rightly understood this action as adultery because such divorces were not allowed. In the absence of broken CONDITIONS, and hence a broken covenant, the married couple still belong to one another and a relationship (including a new marriage) with a third party would be adulterous. In this case and only in this case the DURATION acts in essence like a CONDITION.

The DURATION can also share the aspect of BENEFIT:

And how does DURATION share the aspect of BENEFIT? The relationship between BENEFIT and DURATION is much closer than the relationship between CONDITIONS and DURATION. If the marriage covenant is beneficial, then the longer it’s DURATION the greater it’s BENEFIT. This is easily seen in all godly marriages. When a believing man and his believing wife are deeply in love with one another they never want this love relationship to end, so the longest possible DURATION enhances the BENEFIT to the married couple. If marriages were like child raising and this deeply loving Christian marriage had to end in twenty years it is apparent how this married couple would greatly prefer a life-long covenant and view it as a BENEFIT.

As another example, heaven’s DURATION is eternal. Nobody understands the eternal DURATION of heaven to be a CONDITION that man must keep. Rather all joyfully recognize heaven’s DURATION as a divinely granted BENEFIT. The CONDITION for receiving this BENEFIT for the eternal DURATION was to be chosen of God and found in Christ Jesus. Without being motivated by a false belief nobody in this scenario would ever confuse the DURATION with the CONDITION. Neither should these two have been so confused in the case of marriage covenants.

Had the church properly understood that the only way in which the DURATION shares the aspect of CONDITION is when one or both parties seek to exit the covenant without any broken CONDITIONS, then they could have understood the necessity of God’s allowance for divorce when the CONDITIONS were violated.

On the other hand, because the church has failed to understand how the DURATION is much more like a BENEFIT than a CONDITION they have failed to see the wisdom of withdrawing the BENEFIT (a life-long marriage) to an unrepentant scoundrel who routinely violates the CONDITIONS of the marriage covenant.

Note: It is important to bear in mind that the second way in which the DURATION shares the aspect of a BENEFIT is that it also acts as a protection for the innocent party by breaking the covenant in the event of violated CONDITIONS. If the DURATION does not end once the CONDITIONS are violated, then the marriage BENEFIT becomes an evil affliction, a curse and an impediment to righteousness and sanctification for the faithful spouse, which is why the DURATION is a benefit for the godly partner whether or not the CONDTIONS have been broken. When the church has forced its members to remain in broken marriages with unrepentant scoundrels the DURATION ceases being a BENEFIT to the faithful spouse as it has been prevented, by a dogma, from functioning as a protection for faithful participants. In this horrible state of affairs it is the wicked CONDITION violator who now receives a BENEFIT by the DURATION not being concluded or terminated.

Why Did This Happen and To Where Has It Lead?

All the research in the world will not likely uncover the precise moment and the identity of the first theologian where this flawed understanding of the marriage covenant began. No doubt a great researcher could likely nail down the century it began, but no single man is likely the originator though perhaps such a man exists. Common sense dictates that the prevailing understanding on the marriage covenant’s DURATION was necessarily, albeit subconsciously, manipulated so that it would act more like a CONDITION in order to avoid contradictions in the prevailing view on marriage and divorce. The prevailing view existed in part because of some strong words found in a few biblical passages that caused people to jump to the conclusion that divorce is never allowed. The following strong words in scripture have become platitudes that push the unthinking hordes into the direction of restricting divorce in every instance: “God hates divorce”, and “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery”, and “If the unbelieving spouse is willing to stay, then let him stay”.

If divorce is forbidden, then marriages cannot be covenants because covenants have CONDITIONS that will terminate the DURATION and thereby the covenant. In order to mesh the forbidden view of divorce with God’s word the marriage covenant had to undertake a metamorphosis. This transformation of the marriage covenant, no doubt, seemed quite natural as men juxtaposed the marriage covenant with God’s unilateral covenants, which gave the strong impression that man could in no way interfere with either type of covenant.

However, a great distinction exists that was conveniently ignored. God’s unilateral covenants differed in that God promised to keep the conditions for both parties to the covenant. This clearly does not apply with bilateral marriage covenants between a man and a woman who are both fallen. Of course the problem is that the metamorphosis only took place in a “man-made concept” about marriage. Because this man-made concept gained wide acceptance, sadly, it has had a huge impact on God’s people. Most think that the impact has been positive, but it has been, in fact, very negative. It is always negative when men miss God’s mark in order to set one they prefer. It matters little whether they miss the mark on the side of excessive liberty or on the side of restrictive legalism the mark has been missed…man’s will and not God’s has been observed. And a path of destruction many centuries wide lays in the wake. May God forgive us and help us hit the mark that He has set before us.

Biblical view on divorce


Matthew 19:8 What does, “Because of your hardness of heart” really mean?

Matthew 19:8 “Because of your hardness of hearts Moses permitted you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way.”

Also read the more recent article titled, “Paul’s commentary on Matthew 19:8“.

Consider the illogical argumentation of the majority view: Moses, speaking on behalf of God, permitted divorce, which is incorrectly thought by many to be a sin in and of itself.  And we are led to believe that God acted in this fashion because adulterers were insisting upon their adultery? Seriously, are we to believe that God gave hard hearted, treacherous sinners this benefit?  The men in question were seeking release from their marriages so that they could sexually join with women, other than their wives, without being guilty of adultery.  Are we to think that God gave in to such an evil request?  Preposterous!  God demands righteousness from His people…adultery in the Old Testament was grounds for stoning to death.  If Israel insisted upon committing sin and refused repentance, then they could expect His wrath manifested through death, captivity or severe living conditions until they repented.

Nevertheless, many seem to believe that this is precisely what Moses did, and then they believe that Jesus is here undoing it and reverting back to the way God intended marriage from the beginning.  Such a viewpoint would make it difficult to take seriously the immutability of God.

Since this absurd understanding of our Lord’s words is incorrect, then what did Jesus mean with His use of the phrase: “because of your hardness of heart”?  The first test of Christ’s true meaning is that it must be consistent with the rest of Scripture.  Since the fall of Adam men have had hard hearts.  As the hard heartedness of mankind is born out in marriage, God has responded with a license for divorce.  God through Moses did not provide this license to placate the wicked but to protect the innocent marriage partner.  This protection is from continual, daily abuse from the wicked spouse.  This includes many, many wicked behaviors all falling under the description “treacherous”.  Secondly, it is also possible that forcing a godless, treacherous spouse to stay in a marriage they no longer want will push them toward much worse abuse and even often the murder of their innocent spouse a la King Henry VIII.

Once a spouse’s hard heartedness erupts into treachery against their marriage partner either party can petition for divorce because the divorce action is not that which breaks the covenant, but rather it protects the innocent marriage partner from further treacherous actions by the guilty spouse who has already broken the marriage covenant by failing to keep the conditions of the covenant (Primarily: 1.  fidelity and 2.  to love and to cherish).

In response to a question from reprobates, which was designed to trick Jesus into a sinful response, Jesus was addressing a treacherous sin that men of means and position were regularly practicing. These scoundrels came up with a scheme that would allow them access to other women without getting the reputation of being adulterers.  Their scheme made unlawful, unbiblical divorces lawful, which would then open the path for them to take a new woman as their wife.

Jesus informed them that their scheme was transparent to God.  Calling that which was unlawful lawful did not suddenly make their adultery virtuous.  Quite simply, these men were committing adultery and using God’s legal provision of divorce as a diversion to hide their sin.  Jesus realized that it was adultery for three reasons: First, their motive was adultery (they desired relations with women who were not their wives). Secondly, they did not have a treacherous spouse who had broken the conditions of the marriage covenant; hence they were living under an intact marriage covenant.  Finally these men were illegitimately using God’s provision of divorce when their marriage relationships did not call for it.

Seeing their adulterous hearts Jesus pointed out that getting an illegitimate divorce paves the way for adultery and not a second marriage.  Because these Jewish leaders were attempting to use that which was legal (legitimate divorce) as a cover for that which was forbidden (adultery) many have interpreted Jesus’ remarks to be a comprehensive teaching against divorce.  Sadly, this interpretation has created a prohibition where God made provision for legitimate divorces.  And God gave this liberty of divorce for the innocent partners of treacherous spouses who have already broken the marriage covenant through the breaking of it’s conditions to love and to cherish and to remain faithful, forsaking all others.

Therefore, with devastating results much of the church has used Matthew 19:8 to remove or reverse Moses’ law that permits legitimate divorces even in the light of Jesus saying, “…until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18).  Indeed it is wrong, as Jesus was pointing out, to call an unlawful divorce lawful, and it is equally wrong to call a lawful divorce unlawful (Deut. 24:1, 2 & Jeremiah 3:1). Having done so has resulted in untold tens of thousands of believers suffering needlessly under the tyrannical abuse of a covenant-breaking spouse.

Both scripture and logic have been turned upon their heads as the conditions and promises in the marriage covenant have been eviscerated.  They were divinely intended to protect the marriage partners so that marriage would be a blessing and not a curse, and the church cut them out making millions of marriages curses rather than blessings.  This illogical and unbiblical interpretation exposes the godly or innocent marriage partner to the very harm for which God’s Mosaic license intended to shield.  And to add insult to injury, the offenders are protected by the church’s misinterpretation of our Lord’s words.

The covenant breaker maintains dignity as they cannot be put out of the marriage for having broken its conditions, they maintain financial protection, and they maintain access to their innocent partner, access to their children, access to all relations and friends. They use deception to ruin the good name of the innocent spouse; forget not that this evil is done from the innermost position of spouse giving it credibility to those outside the marriage.

The hard hearted spouse uses cruelty, manipulation, deception and slander to attack the innocent spouse and to hide their own sin and shame.  Their wicked behavior causes friends and family to view the problematic marriage as a ‘he said, she said’ private matter between the married couple thus leaving the innocent partner without any support.  Most people will not know what or who to believe and they will cast aspersions upon both the innocent and guilty parties in the marriage. Everything about this interpretation is injurious to the innocent party, while the guilty party comes off looking better than had the truth been fully disclosed in open divorce proceedings.  All of this intentional confusion and chaos plays into the hands of the wicked spouse who is the only beneficiary of the church’s misinterpretation of Jesus’ position on God’s permission for divorce.  And frequently this position does not even benefit the wicked spouse, which is to say not only is the glory of God’s name injured, but none benefit–all are injured.

The church’s shameful reversal of God’s provision for divorce forces unequally yoked believers to wrestle with pigs in the mud and expose themselves to bad company. It prevents them from following so many wisdom passages in Scripture such as:

“The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands” (Prov. 14:1).
“He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20).
“Leave the presence of a fool, or you will not discern words of knowledge” (Prov. 14:7).
“Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord and so bring wrath on yourself from the Lord?” (2 Chron. 19:2)
“A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left” (Eccl. 10:2).
“He cuts off his own feet and drinks violence who sends a message by the hand of a fool.” “Like one who binds a stone in a sling, so is he who gives honor to a fool.” “Like an archer who wounds everyone, so is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by” (Prov. 26:6, 8 and 10).
“Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words” (Prov. 23:9).
“A foolish son is destruction to his father, and the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping” (Prov. 19:13).
“Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, reprove a wise man and he will love you” (Prov. 9:8).
“Peter said, ‘Behold, we have left our own homes and followed You.’ And He (Jesus) said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life’” parenthesis mine (Luke 18:28-30).
“For I (Jesus) came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household” parenthesis mine (Matthew 10:35-36).

Oh, dear members of the body of Christ, I pray that God will help each of you rediscover God’s provision for divorce to all believers who are unequally yoked to unbelievers in their marriages.

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14)


What is a Covenant? (authorship unknown)

Many of the biblical covenants contained identifiable components comparable to ancient secular agreements. Bradshaw lists the following (1998):
1. Title or preamble, which identified the parties and their relationship to each other.
2. Historical prologue, which explained why the suzerain demanded allegiance from the vassal.
3. Stipulations and law. All secular covenants were conditional, and were nullified through failure to observe the specified conditions (Busenitz 1999, p.180).
4. Deposit in the temple (the heart of society) and periodic public reading.
5. List of witnesses. God Himself was the principle witness in Biblical covenants (Estes 2003).
6. Oaths, ceremonies, and symbols. Every covenant had its accompanying sign. The covenant with Noah had the rainbow, Abraham was given circumcision, and the Mosaic covenant was observed by the Sabbath day (Deffinbaugh 2006a).
7. Sanctions. If the treaty were to be broken the suzerain could declare that act as the agent of the deities and attack the vassal kingdom. Biblical covenants contained blessings and curses which functioned as incentives.

Covenants Between God and Man

When God entered into a relationship with man, He held absolute unilateral sovereignty. He initiated, defined and confirmed each covenant, not on the basis of human merit but solely according to His own grace and mercy. People were “recipients, not contributors” (Van Groningen 1996). There was no “bargaining, bartering, or contracting” with God (Robertson 1980) and yet in all, man retained his power to choose to keep or reject, to obey or transgress. In short, God was wholly responsible for covenantal security. Man’s part was merely to accept and obey (Busenitz 1999, p.179).

The Nature of God’s Covenants

“God’s covenants contain two especially important components: terms and duration. Although humans may reach covenants or other agreements through their own devices, God’s covenants with people are usually unilateral. He alone determines the terms and conditions; humans choose whether to accept them.
“For example, after God clearly defined aspects of the covenant He was making with the nation of Israel, including the blessings for honoring it and the consequences for ignoring it (Leviticus 26;Deuteronomy 28-30), both parties – God and the people of Israel -accepted it. Through this process God and Israel entered into a covenant relationship, a binding commitment to honor and fulfill their respective roles.
“A second important concept for us to understand about God’s covenant with Israel is its continuing relevance to our day. In reaffirming the covenant with the generation of Israelites who were poised to enter the Promised Land, Moses explained that they were doing this “that (God) may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before the LORD our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today” (Deuteronomy 29:13-15). The covenant clearly applied to Israel’s descendants as well.”[1]

Given, on the one hand, the unilateral nature of divine covenant and its gracious and promissory nature, while on the other, the presence of stipulations the question of the conditionality or otherwise of individual covenants is a difficult one, and there is diversity of opinion. John Murray understands the answer to be in the relational aspect of the covenant which when present “implies mutuality” so that the conditions “are simply the reciprocal responses of faith, love and obedience, apart from which the enjoyment of the covenant blessing and of the covenant relation are inconceivable. In a word, keeping the covenant presupposes the covenant relation as established rather than the condition upon which its establishment is contingent” (Murray, 19).

The Six Parts to A Covenant

A basic understanding of what a covenant is will help as we study the covenants of the Bible and how they relate to us. There are several covenants mentioned in the Bible and most of them have six basic parts in common, they are the parties, promises, conditions, duration, sign and dedication.
Let us look at how each of these parts of the covenant fit together.

The Parties
A covenant is an agreement or treaty between two people or groups of people.

The Promises
Each party declares his promises to the other party.

The Conditions
Each party is responsible to fulfill his promises. If one fails to keep his promise (breaks the covenant), the other is no longer bound to the covenant.

The Duration
The length of time that the covenant is binding upon each party.

The Sign
Often there is a visual object used as the sign of the covenant. When the parties of the covenant look upon the sign, they are reminded of the covenant. This may be an object (such as a ring in a marriage covenant) or the covenant contract itself.

The Dedication
A dedication is performed, often in the form of a ceremony. This often involves the shedding of blood.


It Is Lawful to Leave a Broken Covenant.

When one spouse perpetually breaks the conditions of the marriage covenant their marriage partner is no longer bound by the covenant because it has been broken. For example, when a married man is addicted to pornography and he refuses to get professional help so that he can escape the addiction, he is breaking the condition of fidelity to his wife. When he prefers images of strange women doing all sorts of lurid sexual actions to men and other women alike so that he can fulfill his own sexual desires and fantasies he is being unfaithful to his wife.

Now those who define “until death do us part” as a divine command to never divorce for any reason would say this situation is unfortunate for this woman, but she still must remain faithful even though her husband is perpetually committing infidelity. Even though he is perpetually committing crimes against her and sins against the Lord she must remain faithful as our heavenly Father is faithful. They claim that she would be committing a crime against her husband and a sin against our Lord if she were to break the marriage covenant by divorcing her unfaithful husband. They claim that her vows are broken by her divorcing her husband—vows made in the presence of witnesses and before God.

First of all, those who hold such a foolish position should bring forward as evidence the vow that says I shall remain faithful to this covenant regardless of my spouse perpetually breaking the conditions of the covenant. The very purpose of the conditions is to assure that both parties are protected from this kind of deception. The conditions of covenants exist so that both parties will be assured to receive the benefits for which they enter the covenant in the first place. The purpose of a covenant is to convey one or more blessings upon one or both parties to the covenant. A bilateral covenant (such as the marriage covenant) conveys blessings on each party—otherwise they would not have any interest in entering into the covenant. A covenant is an obligation. Why would anybody unnecessarily obligate themselves? Again, nobody in their right mind would bind themselves for nothing—they obligate themselves because there is a desired reward for doing so. So when either partner to the covenant demonstrates that they are breaking the conditions that were requirements to the covenant, then they have broken the covenant and the injured covenant partner is no longer bound by the covenant freeing them to enter into another new covenant with someone who intends to and is able to keep the covenant conditions.

Some will argue that as believers in Christ Jesus we should follow God’s example and forgive our spouses even when they perpetually break the conditions of the marriage covenant? This of course restricts divorce more severely than Christ Himself who gave us the exception clause: “except in the case of pornia” (sexual infidelity). In addition, this is a false argument because it is not what God does. God sends unrepentant sinners (covenant breakers) to eternal damnation—“away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thes. 1:9). God only enters into relationship with covenant keepers. Of course it is God who keeps the covenant for (on the behalf of) His beloved children, but the covenant between God and His children has every single condition met without fail.

Not only does God give us the righteousness of Christ so that we are positionaly in good standing with all of the conditions of our covenant with God, but God also places His Holy Spirit within us to cause us to walk according to His statutes and He empowers each of us to observe His ordinances (Ezekiel 36:27). So the reality is that each of God’s chosen children are keepers of all of the conditions of the covenant that God has welcomed them into for His glory and for their salvation. As a result both parties of the beloved’s covenant with God will receive the blessings for which they entered the covenant.

God is and will be fully glorified and shown to be worthy of all praise and His chosen vessels of mercy will receive salvation and eternal life in heaven with God. God guarantees both ends of the covenant. Neither party must languish in and serve a broken covenant providing blessings to their spurious partner while being defiled and derided by that same person, which is precisely what the people who claim all divorce to be sin are insisting upon.

Now if men had the power to keep both ends of the marriage covenant, then it could be argued that a godly person should do so in keeping with the Father’s example, but men do not have the power to repent for another person or to keep another person from sin. Neither can we pay for the sins of another person.

Those who claim that divorce is always a sin would argue that Christians must follow the law of love and endure their unfaithful partner with long-suffering because their reward in heaven will be great. Their reward in heaven will be great because Jesus has won it for them. Having long-suffering for the brethren is not at issue in a marriage to an unbelieving spouse. Believers suffer the imperfections of one another because it is the loving thing to do and because each one remains imperfect as long as they are in the flesh, but believers are commanded to separate themselves from the unrepentant because bad company corrupts good morals, because a believer and an unbeliever have nothing in common, because Ezra’s godly example demands as much, etc.

The damage done to the believer who is strongly encouraged (frightened with the threat of God’s eternal wrath) to remain in an unequally yoked marital relationship is awful indeed. They are providing benefits in exchange for nothing, which is very much like making a house payment faithfully each month even though the house has never been made available to live in and enjoy. In addition any children in an unequally yoked marriage will receive an undue influence from the unbelieving spouse because the children come into the world slaves to unrighteousness, which causes them to feel a greater kinship with their unbelieving parent. The believing spouse will be discouraged in their own sanctification efforts, and the children will be encouraged to sin without consequence, seeing that their unbelieving parent is more often than not rewarded for taking tremendous advantage of the believing spouse.

Another sad reality of the position that says the dissolution of an unequally yoked marriage is always a crime against man and a sin against God is that it appears to turn the unbelieving, perpetually offending marriage partner into the innocent victim while at the same time slanders the name and reputation of the believing spouse who has kept the conditions of the marriage covenant often for years or decades without benefit. The obedient child of God is turned upon and torn to pieces by the very people who should be most supportive as in the days of Ezra.

By seeking a divorce the obedient child of God is following God’s command not to be in any unequally yoked relationship (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; Ezra 10: 3, 11; Judges 3:6-8; Deut. 21:10-14; Psalm 89:38-45) yet he is portrayed by many in the church as the offender against God and man, while the true offender snickers as they are lofted as the poor victim. The godless spouse often goes beyond snickering to libeling their believing partner in order to bring undeserved discredit to them. Those who hold this position in the church happily join forces with the godless partner in order to shame and pressure the believer into repenting of their decision to divorce their unrepentant, unbelieving spouse. Of course doing so would require them to break with scripture, reason and their own conscience, which does not seem to bother those who hold this shameful man-made doctrine of no divorce ever.