Category Archives: What God has joined together

“What has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him?”

One of the troubling positions held by Christian leaders when it comes to divorce being forbidden for the unequally yoked believer is the fact that this position is 180 degrees off of God’s clear teaching for believer’s in the Old Testament era.  We have selected a few quotes from the Puritan Matthew Henry’s commentary on Ezra 10 showing the unexplained change in direction based on a single verse in First Corinthians that should have been interpreted in the light of the rest of Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian churches as well as the rest of scripture, but inexplicably this verse has been understood so as to turn God’s law upside down hence dragging the body of Christ down into a horrible position.

He (Shechaniah) advises that a speedy and effectual course should be taken for the divorcing

of strange wives. The case is plain; what has been done amiss must be undone again as far as

possible; nothing less than this is true repentance…As to us now, it is certain that sin must be

put away, a bill of divorce must be given it, with a resolution never to have any thing more to

do with it, though it be dear as the wife of thy bosom, nay, as a right eye or a right hand, other-

wise there is no pardon, no peace. What has been unjustly got cannot be justly kept, but must

be restored; but, as the case of being unequally yoked with unbelievers, Shechaniah’s counsel,

which he was then so clear in, will not hold now; such marriages, it is certain, are sinful, and

ought not to be made, but they are not null. Quod fieri non debuit, factum valet–That which

ought not to have been done must, when done, abide. Our rule, under the gospel, is, “If a

brother has a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her

away, 1 Cor. vii. 12, 13.

To this we must ask the question, “What has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him?” Since God is immutable it falls upon these Christians, who have heretofore failed to explain this reversal, to faithfully answer the question: What transpired during the 400 years between the Old and the New Testaments to cause God to change His mind on divorce for His children married to unbelievers?  We would like to think that the church’s answer would be that nothing has changed and we repent of our position, but that has not happened.  Perhaps it is not happening because nobody has pressed the issue, because nobody is asking the question that R.C. Sproul asked in a sermon titled The Tyranny of the Weaker Brother regarding any number of God’s laws no longer being dutifully obeyed.  The question:  “What has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him?”

In the Old Testament Law unequally yoked marriages were forbidden as God’s law states, “Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons.  For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you…Therefore, you shall keep the commandment and the statutes and the judgments which I am commanding you today, to do them” (Deuteronomy 7:3-4, 11).  In the New Testament these are also forbidden marriages as God’s Word proclaims, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:14-15)? 

Those who teach that God’s will has changed use the biblical analogy of marriage as a picture of Christ’s relationship to His bride the church, which is of course a beautiful picture.  But are not Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah and all the Old Testament saints also part of Christ’s church? The point is made that just as Christ’s union to the church is eternal so also must the union between husband and wife be eternal.  However, in making this claim do they not ignore the biblical teaching that Christ has no union with Belial nor has He any union with the sons and daughters of Belial.  If Christ is not the husband of the unregenerate, then should the saints be married to the unregenerate? Paul taught the Corinthian churches that the believer is forbidden to be bound to the unbeliever. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that this passage specifically refers to marriage, but the vast majority of Christian leaders say, “We know that 2 Corinthians 6:14f does not apply to marriage because of Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.” The very point we see Matthew Henry making above.

When Herod the tetrarch was in a forbidden marriage to Herodias John the Baptist did not hesitate to demand that Herod repent of his sin by divorcing Herodias.  “It is not lawful for you to have her” (Matthew 14:4).  The forerunner of Christ had no difficulty recognizing that God’s institution of marriage does not mean that God has joined together every husband and a wife.  Herod was uncovering the nakedness of his own brother by marrying his brother’s wife (Mark 6:17).  Those who marry against the will and law of God are not bound together by God.  They are bound together by man and since man bound them together man must draw them asunder in order to get right with God. 

Since God instituted marriage, He has the right to forbid certain marriages.  Those who enter into these forbidden marriages are not bound by God’s institution but rather are in sin through their unholy union.  But somewhere along the line the church usurped God’s authority over His institution and began to acknowledge every marriage union as legitimate and permanent.  Reading the Old Testament book of Ezra chapter 10 leaves no doubt that God desires divorce for marriages that yoke His children to unbelievers.  “We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this (Ezra 10:2). 

The average Christian, whose current understanding of marriage was founded upon marriage being a sacrament, would say that the hope these Israelites had must have been that they could take their forbidden marriages and use them to glorify God by loving their godless wives and showing them the love that God has put in them.  The Church’s position says that Christians must honor God’s institution of marriage by remaining in these unlawful marriages until death parts them because the wife is the husband’s body and the husband is the wife’s head.  The two have become one flesh and what God has joined together let no man separate.  Oh what a beautiful picture!  But is it really so beautiful since it is not the biblical picture? The biblical picture: Israel’s hope was shown in the following verse, “So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law” (Ezra 10:3). 

God’s people, led by the eminently godly leader Ezra, made a covenant with God to divorce their unbelieving wives.  What, how can this be?  Divorce for the unequally yoked is God’s will because God forbids marriages between His children and the children of this godless world.  Why?  God instructed His people that marriage to unbelievers pulls the people of God toward the false gods of the nations. For this reason God desires that his children be bound together with one another.  God knows that the godless will drag His children into sin.  God knows that there will be no peace in the home of a believer married to an unbeliever, that the children will be heavily influenced by their unbelieving parent as they too are not yet in Christ, that the believer’s sanctification will be seriously held back, that Christian couples will not fellowship with an unequally yoked couple and that partnership, fellowship, harmony, congruity and agreement cannot exist in an unequally yoked home (2 Corinthians 6:14-16).  As our Lord Jesus Christ said, “…a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Again we ask the Church leaders, tell us what has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him?  Their answer is that 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 made marriage for the Christian permanent.  We have two major problems with this answer: First, it does not answer the question “what has happened in the course of redemptive history that has made a practice that at one time was utterly repugnant to God now something that would be pleasing to Him?”  Second, they incorrectly interpreted Paul’s teaching causing it to be in stark contrast to everything else he said to the Corinthians, and making it contradictory to the rest of God’s revelation on unequally yoked marriage. 

To discover the proper interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, one that agrees with 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 and with the rest of scripture, see our article titled, “1 Corinthians 7:12-16 Properly Interpreted Strengthens the Case for Unequally Yoked Divorce Found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1


Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce

Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce

The New Testament scriptures contain just two records of Jesus speaking on the subject of divorce.  In the first instance (Matthew 5) divorce is one of six examples Jesus provides to make a much larger point in his Sermon on the Mount.  The much larger point that our Lord was actually teaching is applicable to the entire law of God including the Mosaic provision allowing divorce.  The second instance (Matthew 19) shows the Pharisees testing Jesus by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”  The reader should understand that most of the religious leaders during the first century interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in such a way as to permit them to divorce their wives whenever they desired and to do so upon the flimsiest of excuses.  In most cases these men were casting their wives aside solely because they had found other women whom they preferred.  On both occasions Jesus did not teach a comprehensive doctrine of divorce.  On the first occasion the reader will see that our Lord was demonstrating what the life of a Christian would look like, and on the second occasion Jesus was teaching against the religious leader’s abusive interpretation of God’s permit to divorce.  A surprising number of biblical scholars throughout the centuries seem to have overlooked both of these important truths leading them to a false conclusion on the doctrine of divorce.

The Sermon on the Mount—Portion Found in Matthew 5:17-48  

We shall now examine Jesus’ first mention of divorce in the context of what he is actually teaching in this section of the Sermon on the Mount.  We are entirely indebted to D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ great book entitled, “Studies in the Sermon on the Mount” chapter twenty for the understanding that we have obtained.  Divorce is one of six examples that Jesus uses to teach a very significant Christian principle.  Jesus begins this section by making it abundantly clear that the law continues its function into the Christian era.  In regards to the law Jesus says, “I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”  Immediately he adds, “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.”  He then warns Christians of every era not to annul even the least of the commandments for to do so would cause one to be called least in the kingdom of heaven.  And those who teach God’s laws rightly shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  The sad reality throughout the Christian era is that it has been nearly universally taught that Jesus annuls the Mosaic provision for divorce.  Our forefathers were neither brazen nor foolish enough to use the word “annul”, but the doctrine they espoused on divorce, which they obtained from Jesus’ statement on these two occasions, effectively annuls the Mosaic provision for divorce.

Then in verse 20 Jesus introduces the doctrine of righteousness, which is the topic of this portion of his sermon—the very topic or doctrine for which our Lord provides a most useful principle.  In verse 20 Jesus also mentions those who have been operating outside of this principle, the scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus authoritatively asserts that these will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  As antagonists of truth, they interpreted God’s laws in such a way as to appeal to their own desires.  Jesus, through the use of six examples, provides the divine interpretation of God’s laws over and against that of the scribes and Pharisees.  We cannot hope to understand Jesus’ view on divorce without first grasping the principal for which He chose these six examples of the Law.

In Martyn Lloyd Jones’ Own Words

“The first thing we must consider is the formula which He uses: ‘Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time’.  There is a slight variation in the form here and there, but that, essentially, is the way in which He introduces these six statements.  We must be perfectly clear about this.  You will find that certain translations put it like this: ‘Ye have heard it was said to them of old time”.  On purely linguistic grounds no one can tell whether it was ‘by’ or ‘to’ for, as usual, when you come to matters of linguistics, you find the authorities are divided, and you cannot be sure.  Only a consideration of the context, therefore, can help us to determine exactly what our Lord meant to convey by this.  Is He referring simply to the law of Moses, or is He referring to the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes?  Those who would say it should read ‘to them of old time’ obviously must say that He is referring to the law of Moses given to the fathers; whereas those who would emphasize the ‘by’, as we have it in the Authorized Version, would say that it has reference to what was taught by the scribes and Pharisees.  It seems to me that certain considerations make it almost essential for us to take the second view, and to hold that what our Lord is really doing here is showing the true teaching of the law over against the false representations of it made by the Pharisees and the scribes.  You remember that one of the great characteristics of their teaching was the significance which they attached to tradition.  They were always quoting the fathers.  That is what made the scribe a scribe; he was an authority on the pronouncements which had been made by the fathers.  These had become the tradition.  I suggest, therefore, that the verses must be interpreted in that way.  Indeed, the wording used by our Lord more or less clinches the matter.  He says: ‘Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time.’  He does not say ‘you have read in the Law of Moses’, or ‘It was written and you have read’.”

To compound the matter, “The children of Israel during their captivity in Babylon had ceased to know the Hebrew language.  Their language when they came back, and at this time, was Aramaic.  They were not familiar with Hebrew so they could not read the law of Moses as they had it in their own Hebrew Scriptures.  The result was that they were dependent for any knowledge of the law upon the teaching of the Pharisees and the scribes.  Our Lord, therefore, very rightly said, ‘Ye have heard’, or ‘That is what you have been hearing; that is what has been said to you; that is the preaching that has been given to you as you have gone to your synagogues and listened to the instruction.’  The result was that what these people thought of as the law was in reality not the law itself, but a representation of it given by the scribes and Pharisees…and it was almost impossible at this time to tell which was law and which was interpretation.”

So then, this portion of Jesus’ Sermon teaches a principle that will help Christians live holy and righteous lives, and it cannot be said too frequently that our Lord is unquestionably not providing six new laws for Christians to follow.  Lloyd-Jones makes the case that men love to follow simple, direct codes of conduct.  They ask, ‘what is the bare minimum that I must do in order to be made right with God?’  For this reason institutions like the Roman Catholic Church are so popular.  Catholicism says receive the seven sacraments, through the intermediary of the priest, continue in the seven sacraments and all will be well.  The outcome is that Catholic people know little about the word of God, know next to nothing about doctrine and, most tragically, know nothing whatsoever of God as He has revealed Himself in the word.  They have superstitious notions of God without the benefits of a relationship and without understanding all that He has revealed in His word and through His Spirit.  Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “Let us once and for all get rid of the idea that our Lord came to set up a new law, or to announce a new code of ethics…It (Sermon on the Mount) is not meant to be a detailed code of ethics; it is not a new kind of moral law which was given by Him.”  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus revealed the essence of the new man.  A new race was being created, and the members of that race would be of the essence that Jesus portrayed in the Sermon on the Mount.

Jesus’ Single Principle in Matthew 5:17-48

Dear reader, focus upon the principle that our Lord teaches in this text using the same method in which He taught it as He contrasted His divine interpretation with the religious leaders’ letter of the law interpretation.  Consider first the interpretation of God’s law by the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.

Sadducees’ and Pharisees’ interpretation of the law:

  1. Adjust one’s life to the letter of the law or interpret the letter of the law to fit one’s life.
  2. The law was provided to restrict the actions of men.
  3. The law prohibits men from doing certain things.
  4. The purpose of the law is to keep men in a state of obedience to oppressive rules.
  5. The Law is an end in itself. One to which men must strictly adhere.

Now juxtapose alongside the religious leader’s interpretation the interpretation of the Lord Jesus as presented through His use of the six examples found in Matthew 5:21-48.

Christ’s principle in five segments:

  1. It is the spirit of the law that matters primarily, not the letter only.
  2. Conformity to the law must not be thought of in terms of actions only. Thoughts, motives and desires are equally important.
  3. The purpose of the law is not merely negative, but positive: To lead us to do and love righteousness.
  4. The purpose of the law is to promote the free development of our spiritual character.
  5. The Law is a means to the ultimate end of coming to know God.

The contrast could not be sharper, on the one hand are the legal minds of Israel determining the letter of the law.  Then they declare themselves blameless as to the righteousness which is in the Law.  They then assumed the moral authority to lord it over all those who depend upon them for reading and interpreting the Hebrew text.  On the other hand, Jesus demonstrates how the law of God promotes the free development of spiritual character bringing sinners into relationship with God.  Unfortunately Christians frequently take the path of least resistance by falling into the same ruts as the Israelites.  Since Jesus used six examples to demonstrate his principle many have turned them into additional laws that must be followed to the letter.  In other words, instead of comprehending Jesus’ principle and adhering to it, they have continued a letter of the law approach and added six more laws.

Jesus was saying once Bunyan’s Pilgrim has been loosed from his burden, then he will be free to repent of sin, which is shown to him by the law, and draw near to God.  But most of the church heard Jesus say if Bunyan’s Pilgrim can successfully add the additional burden of six more laws to his pack he may someday earn favor with God.   Lloyd-Jones said, “Let us once and for all get rid of the idea that our Lord came to set up a new law, or to announce a new code of ethics.”  Jesus came to establish a new kingdom.  He was the first of a new race of people.  He promised that members of this race would be of a certain type.  They would have a certain character.  They would behave differently from the rest of the world.  The six examples were nothing more than examples of what a genuine believer would look like.

The Six Examples

Example One: The natural man is content to abstain from murder; Jesus is saying that the new man will strive to be at peace with all men.

Example Two: The natural man tries not to sleep with another man’s wife; Jesus says the new man will not look upon any woman with lust in his mind.

Example Three: The natural man says I will try to be fair in my marital divorce from my wife; Jesus says the new man will love and cherish all people but especially their spouse so that divorce would be the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, yet in following God’s Law the new man would not keep company with a covenant breaker.

Example Four: The natural man says you can trust my word if I have sworn by one greater than myself; Jesus says that those who are of the new creation will speak the truth always and will be known by their integrity.

Example Five: The natural man says an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth; Jesus says the new man will not seek retribution to those who have persecuted them.  They will not act in a vengeful way.

Example Six: The natural man says I love my neighbor and hate my enemy; Jesus says that the new creation will be known by their love for their enemies and those who persecute them.

Conclusions Drawn from Matthew 5

Jesus could not have been abdicating a Mosaic law (negative or positive) because He opened this portion of the Sermon on the Mount saying He did not come to abolish any of the Law.

Jesus’ words discussing marital divorce cannot, in good conscience, be used to change what the rest of scripture says about marital divorce.  His comments on divorce were nothing more than one of six examples to demonstrate how Christians (the new man) would live differently than the natural man.

Honest scriptural interpretation recognizes that Jesus did not here provide a divorce doctrine nor was one necessary.  Those who use the words of the Lord to deny the legitimate use of God’s divorce provision should be ashamed.  Our Lord’s exact words uphold the Mosaic Law permitting marital divorce.

Matthew 19: Jesus’ Second Occurrence Speaking on Divorce

As mentioned earlier Matthew provided a second record of the Lord Jesus speaking on the doctrine of divorce.  In the third through twelfth verses of Matthew 19 a group of Pharisees attempted to test Jesus on the concession for divorce found in Deuteronomy 24:1-4.  It is difficult to know what they hoped to achieve in asking this question.  The religious leaders at that time were split on the issue of divorce.  The liberal perspective permitted divorce for literally any reason at all following the school of Hillel.  Hillel’s counterpart was a man by the name of Shammai.  Shammai held that the law allowed divorce only in severe cases especially when adultery was involved.  Perhaps they merely wanted to see which side of the debate Jesus took.

Regardless of their agenda, the Pharisees’ inquisition brought about this occasion of our Lord’s speaking on the subject of divorce, and the context is entirely different from Matthew 5.  In both instances Jesus sets the record straight by providing His interpretation of the biblical statements on divorce over and against the interpretations of those from the Hillel school, which were very popular among the Israelites.  The popular Israeli view was also the current Greco-Roman view, so nearly the entire culture held a divorce for any reason position.

It is likely that the particular group of Pharisees questioning Jesus was of the Hillel school because they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?”  So then, Jesus is specifically addressing the “Divorce is permissible for any reason at all” position of the Hillel school.  In His reply in Matthew 19 we find Jesus focused upon a single law whereas His focus in Matthew’s fifth chapter was upon the whole law.  It should not surprise anyone which law our Lord focused upon, but I fear that many will, at least initially, be surprised.  Jesus is focused upon the second of the two great commandments: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

The religious leaders, who adopted the liberal Hillel view of divorce, were men who regularly abused their positions of power by oppressing weaker groups, and they did so because of the hardness of their hearts.  These were men who oppressed their own wives just as the priests, their predecessors, had done in the days of the prophet Malachi and men in Moses’ day.

“Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant.  But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit…Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth.  ‘For I hate divorce’, (Lit. sending away) says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘and him who covers his garment with wrong,’ says the Lord of hosts.  “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously’” [Parenthesis mine] (Malachi 2:14-16).

It was Jesus who said, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another.”  He also taught that all who loved Him would obey Him.  Then, in Matthew 19, Jesus addresses the unloving, hard heartedness of these religious leaders who claim to obey the law, but in actuality have reduced the law to a mere letter all the while hating rather than loving one another.  Several passages in the synoptic gospels reveal Jesus’ sharp rebuke against the precepts of men being used to oppress the innocent.  In one such passage (Matthew 12:1-8) Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 when He says, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”  While our Lord and the holy Scriptures desire compassion and mercy, the precepts of men are generally designed to control and oppress the innocent.

In another passage (Mark 7:1-13) Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13, “But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”  Jesus then said, Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.  He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition” (vs. 8, 9).  Jesus concludes His sharp rebuke saying, “…thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that” (vs. 13) suggesting a pattern or common practice among religious leaders–especially religious leaders who themselves are not in Christ, but not restricted to these only.  In the same way, the Church invalidates the word of God by her tradition which has been handed down regarding severe restrictions to God’s merciful divorce provision for the innocent.

The Pharisees’ restrictions added to the Sabbath closely parallel the Church’s restrictions added to God’s provision of divorce.  Another prime example of their oppression is seen in Mark 3:1-6:

“He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered.  They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him.  He said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Get up and come forward!  ‘And He said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?’  But they kept silent.  After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’  And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.  The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.”

In their false piety the religious leaders composed man-made laws and regulations prohibiting doing good or saving a life on the Sabbath.  Elsewhere Jesus taught that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man, but the religious leaders had no concern for compassion and mercy; their concerns were for power and oppression of the people.  Putting themselves and their need to stop Jesus from undermining their authority, these religious leaders used the man the withered hand as nothing more than a prop.  In the same hard-hearted way they cared nothing for their wives when another woman captured their lustful eyes.  It was this hardness of heart toward others that Jesus was speaking to in Matthew 19 on the subject of divorce.  Jesus called these men adulterers because they were abusing their wives and God’s gracious law on divorce all to get what they wanted regardless of who they hurt.

Whenever you think of the man with the withered hand remember that the Pharisees wanted him to leave the synagogue that day with his hand still withered so that they could appear authoritative over Jesus.  These same religious leaders in Matthew 19 wanted their wives to be destroyed so that they could have the next women for whom their lust burned.  This unloving approach to other people is what God hated in Malachi 2 and what Jesus was condemning in Matthew 19.  Just as the religious leaders in our Lord’s day were adding man-made restrictions to the Sabbath all in the name of holiness, the Church has done the same thing with marriage.  When God wants to heal a believer from an unequally yoked marriage the religious leaders of our day stand in the way.  Our compassionate Savior is Lord both of the Sabbath and the marriage covenant.

God called this behavior treacherous throughout the Old Testament.  Specifically in Malachi and in Matthew God is saying that those who deal treacherously with others do not have the Spirit of God.  Why?  The answer is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which we have considered in some depth above.  The Christian, new creation or new man, WILL love others.  They are a new race of humanity unlike any who have gone before.  Multitudes of imposters exist but genuine Christians will forever be wholly different from the natural man who continues enslavement to sin and death.  The remnant of sin remains, but the new man will not be hard hearted, he will not be treacherous and he/she would not divorce their spouse except in cases where the spouse is devoid of the Spirit of God, has the unbelieving hardness of heart–conditions born from pride, unbelief and rebellion elicit God’s permit or provision for divorce.

So then, divorcing a treacherous spouse is a biblically mandated permit/concession/provision for the innocent spouse.  In such cases no guilt should be cast upon the innocent believer seeking divorce from their treacherous spouse.  These must not be treated as second class Christians or deemed unbelieving and unrepentant.  They must not be included in the derision of those who are examples of the declension of the times.  God forbid.  God loves them enough to provide a way of escape, and it is way past time for the church to grasp this biblical concept as well.

Finally, when the treacherous, unbelieving spouse tries to use God’s divorce provision in his/her treachery they must know that they are guilty of adultery.  They are guilty of a failure to love even their own wife or husband.  These need to repent and believe.  May the grace of God be shown in their hearts.


The View that Jesus Singled Out Adultery as the Sole Biblical Grounds for Divorce Is Wrong

Unquestionably the most commonly held view on divorce in Christian circles states that our Lord offered adultery as the sole biblical grounds for divorce in what is called the exception clause (Matthew 5:32, Matthew 19:9).  Our Lord was correcting the “divorce for any reason” doctrinal position of the Pharisees, but He was not providing a complete doctrine on divorce.  The reader may find it interesting that the second most common view on divorce is that two biblical grounds for divorce exist.  First, adultery from Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees, and second, Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian churches in 1 Corinthians 7.

Logically, Matthew 5 & 19 cannot rightfully be used as our Lord having restricted divorce solely for those whose spouse committed adultery if Paul’s teaching on divorce is as clear as it would seem.  The biblical ground for divorce found in 1 Corinthians 7 is traditionally called abandonment, which is unfortunate as biblical expounders have understood Paul’s conclusion well enough, but they misapprehended the cause.  Paul says, “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15).  It seems apparent that Paul’s instructions do not introduce the concept of abandonment, but Paul is, in fact, providing another biblical ground for divorce.  Many bible students refuse to acknowledge Paul’s clear portrayal of another biblical ground for divorce because doing so would logically mean that our Lord did not intend his “correction against permissiveness” recorded in Matthew’s gospel to limit the sole just cause for divorce to adultery, which is what the church has erred in doing with our Lord’s teaching.

Nevertheless, since God’s word unmistakably teaches at least one additional legal ground for divorce, then it is not logically correct to continue teaching adultery as the sole biblical ground for divorce.  Obviously, Jesus was saying that the Pharisees’ “divorce for any reason” doctrine was 180 degrees off.  In Jesus’ use of the Greek word ‘pornia’ he was elucidating that it would take very serious violations of the marriage covenant’s conditions such as adultery to justify dissolving the marriage.  Jesus was arguing that dissolving a marriage takes serious violations by one or both of the marriage partners.  Once covenant conditions have been broken, then dissolution of the marriage is justifiable, but without such treachery a divorce action is illegitimate and the married partners are in danger of committing adultery if they seek a partner outside of the one with whom they are still married.   In such cases, the marriage covenant has not been broken, which is to say it is still a valid and legitimate covenant between the husband and wife.

A divorce action, particularly between two believers, without just cause is not permitted and the marriage partner(s) who remarry will be committing adultery.  However, that very adultery provides biblical grounds for the innocent spouse to divorce.  So much of the church would deny this, but what does the Lord say?  “I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32).  At the very least, Jesus is saying that “unchastity” is biblical grounds for divorce, so when these Pharisees illegitimately “divorced” their wives and joined themselves to another woman, Jesus exact words exclaim that their wives have biblical grounds for divorce and are now free to remarry in the Lord.  How has this obvious logic been overlooked?  Through an oppression that is always with us where those in power use it to their advantage and to the disadvantage of the weak.  Throughout most centuries women have been powerless on the topic of divorce.  If any legal divorce would be had it was almost never going to be by the wife.


Paul’s Commentary on Matthew 19:8

Galatians 3:19-26, 4:30 and 5:1: 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” [underline mine].

How we understand 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) concession 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 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 concession for divorce as a merciful release from a wicked spouse.  In so doing, Jesus was clear that the divorce concession was not allowed 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 concession 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 bound 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 or concession 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 dead 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 the liberal church has taken the unbiblical view that mankind is ultimately good resulting in their turning against God’s law demanding capital punishment, but strangely in favor of divorce upon demand.

Failure to apply man’s decent from the Garden of Eden to the fall into sin will naturally hold a doctrine that 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.  From such a perspective it would seem appropriate to apply Jesus’ “hard heartedness” statement to anyone who would seek a divorce from an unfaithful spouse rather than applying it to the treacherous spouse.  Clearly all should agree that the unrepentant, treacherous spouse is the covenant breaking spouse, and the innocent spouse enduring such corruption needs the relief God offers in His concession for 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 has made concession, 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.”

 


The Mystical Union of Marriage: How Mysticism and Not God’s Word Has Shaped the Church’s Prohibition Against Divorce

Puritan John Milton, author of the universally praised work “Paradise Lost”, and one of the world’s greatest minds authored a book titled, “The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce”. His introduction simply reads: “Restored to the good of both sexes, from the bondage of cannon law, and other mistakes, to the true meaning of Scripture in the Law and gospel compared.  Wherein also are set down the bad consequences of abolishing or condemning of sin, that which the Law of God allows, and Christ abolished not.”

A major tenet of Milton’s argument allowing marital divorce was that God’s original intent or purpose for marriage was to cure man’s loneliness. Milton states very clearly that if physical infidelity is a legitimate ground for divorce, then a man and a woman who cannot have happy conversation with one another should be an even stronger ground for divorce because the mental and conversational relationship is greater cure of loneliness than is the mere physical relationship.  And of course an unequally yoked union should be the strongest of all grounds for marital dissolution.  It is not so much man’s body as it is his mind and spirit that set him above the rest of the animal kingdom, so they are the more important aspects to be considered.

For reasons too complicated for this article, Christians have taken a mystical approach on the doctrine of divorce. The word mystical (not in use until after Milton’s lifetime) is defined as something being given or having a spiritual meaning or reality that is neither apparent to the senses nor obvious to the intelligence. Mysticism is the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience such as intuition or insight, which is in diametric opposition to the traditional Christian belief that holy writ is the primary source of knowledge of God, spiritual truth, and ultimate reality.

The expected outcome of this sinful approach to the biblical teaching on marriage and divorce has been the creation and continual use of unbiblical and harsh platitudes which have been used to prohibit needful divorces for which God made gracious allowance. These awful platitudes have been based upon a precious few passages of scripture, which themselves have been misinterpreted through the mystic lens in order to gain acceptance for an otherwise entirely unbiblical view of marriage and its dissolution (In the following paragraphs a couple of these passages of scripture and the corresponding platitude will be shown).

A critical component of the mystification of marriage saw the Romanists lift marriage to “holy matrimony” by making it one of the seven sacraments that afford priests the power to grant the grace of God to sinners. Yet the truth of God would clearly teach men that marriage is no more holy than cows, crap, smokes or moly…all of which have also been paired with holiness.  Only God is holy!  And by extension His word is holy.  The Holy Spirit is holy because he is God.  But marriage is definitively not holy and never has it been so.  Marriage is one of God’s institutions to lesson sins’ power over man, but viewing marriage as holy is unscriptural, and the only reason anybody views the institution of marriage as holy is because of the mystical view of marriage taken by the church throughout its long history.  A sinful stubbornness (rebellion) exists within the church to maintain this false teaching.  By the grace of God, it is the aim of this author to do any part in bringing the true body of Christ to repentance on this corporate sin.

Platitudes, which are used in place of serious bible study, were mentioned in the previous paragraph. The first platitude is “God hates divorce”.  This platitude is so powerful that little else is needed to steer any student of God’s word toward the anti divorce bias.  When a single doctrine of God’s word is studied in order to obtain God’s perspective on that particular doctrine imagine if the first biblical statement on the subject was that God hates it?  Any persons’ entire study on the subject would be bathed in the thought that a perfect and holy God hates this thing, which is precisely how believers begin any biblical study on God’s teaching regarding marital divorce and remarriage.

Malachi chapter 2 seen through the mystics lens comes away with the single thought that God hates divorce. This is not at all the impression that an honest study of Malachi arrives upon, but nevertheless churchmen happily use this platitude to continue the lie with which they are so comfortable until it affects them personally.  Once faced with the reality of a failed marriage, and only then, they are forced to truly study the God honest truth on the subject of divorce at which time they realize the horribly unbiblical position the church has held these many long centuries. [See article “Does God Actually Hate Divorce?” to read an honest commentary on God’s Malachi 2 passage]

Regrettably, the next realization they will discover after doing an honest and thorough biblical study of the doctrine of divorce is that the church now considers their biblical discoveries on the subject as nothing more than twisting the scriptures in order to justify their own sin. Christians who feel no need for God’s gracious gift of release from a disastrous marriage will look upon those with ruined marriages and exclaim, “I am glad that I am not like that worthless fellow”.  And they will be dismissive of those who have need of God’s gracious gift of marital dissolution as though they are incapable of objectively seeing what God’s word has to say regarding divorce and remarriage.

The second, third and forth platitudes all come from the same text (Matthew 19:6-9) and they are even direct quotes of that text not just poor translations as is the case in Malachi 2. Having been routinely taken out of context these quotes have been useful platitudes prohibiting what Jesus did not intend to prohibit.  They are as follows: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate”, “…From the beginning it has not been this way”, and finally, “…Whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery”.

Most Christians do not care enough about the subject of marital divorce to take the extensive time required to understand all that God’s word has to say about what would have been a relatively simple doctrine had it not been for the mystical abuse the doctrine has been subject to for centuries, which has greatly darkened the clarity with which God’s word speaks upon it.

Dear reader: begin the process of demystifying the doctrines of marriage, divorce and remarriage in your mind so that the church will one day repent of the corporate sin of missing the mark on divorce. Reading as many of the articles herein will go a long way in doing this for the reader.  Contacting the author would be nice as well.  Christ’s continued blessings.


Here God Once Dwelt

The Puritan John Howe when preaching on the fall would recall seeing large palaces or castles that have fallen to ruins and there would be a sign hanging above the entrance saying something like “Centuries ago, such and such a king once dwelt here.” Then Howe would go on to say, “Now, as a result of man’s fall into sin, it is written over man, ‘Here, God once dwelt.’”

When man fell in the Garden of Eden he lost his original righteousness and thus his correspondence to God. God’s immediate response was to condemn man and put him out of Eden. No longer having correspondence with God man could no longer be together with God. The scriptures inform that it was the woman who first fell and then the man. Had Eve fallen alone, is there any reason whatsoever to believe that Adam would have been condemned along with her and both of them put out of the garden? Both logically and theologically, had Adam continued in his original righteousness, then he would have continued having correspondence to God and therefore would not have been condemned and put out of Eden.

Well then, one could speculate that perhaps Eve would have been allowed to stay in the garden with Adam even though she alone had fallen; after all she had become Adam’s wife. The Lord Jesus said, “What God has joined together let no man separate”. In our Lord’s statement we find the obvious doctrine, implicit, yet undeniable, that only God can separate what He has joined together and that is precisely what God would have done in this scenario. Eve would have been put out of the garden because she alone would have come under condemnation and she alone would have no longer had correspondence to God and, in fact, she would not have had correspondence to Adam either.

In this scenario they would have become unequally yoked in marriage, and God would have divorced them by putting Eve out of the garden alone. But some will argue that this is merely speculation. Since it never happened it cannot be known what God would have done. Speculation means: The act of theorizing. To speculate means: To form conjectures regarding anything without experiment (experience). To conjecture is to guess or to presume knowledge that is simply unknown.

Is it conjecture that man’s sin caused a separation between man and God? Few biblical doctrines are more sure than sin separates man from God. Is it conjecture that a just God would not punish an innocent man? The situation may be hypothetical but as to how God would have responded is sure. Adam would have continued in fellowship with God in the garden and Eve would have been stricken dead or put out of the garden, and since God put the both of them out of the garden for committing this offense together there is no reason, other than stubbornness of mind, to think that God would have done anything else with Eve had she alone fallen into sin.

But God in His everlasting lovingkindness sent His only begotten Son into the world so that whosoever believes in Him shall come out from under God’s condemnation and once again have correspondence to God. The righteousness of Christ Jesus is the possession of all those truly born-again. So then, they, once again, have correspondence to God in their spirit. They are granted eternal life and will forever dwell with God.

However, they no longer correspond to those children of Satan who refuse repentance. If God’s remedy for a failure to correspond to a righteous being is to put the unrighteous, condemned soul out, then that is precisely what must be done here. Notwithstanding Paul’s temporary injunction to the Corinthians that if the unbelieving spouse “consents to live with” then let them stay. The great apostle laid out four conditions of this consent, which if not followed meant that the unbeliver did not give their consent.  So, Paul provided a short “grace period” with this temporary injunction so that the grace of God in salvation might come to the unsaved spouse as well. Some time is necessary to see whether or not the unbelieving spouse softens or hardens to the gospel of grace.

Then after an appropriate amount of time divorce is inevitable as Paul subsequently commanded the Corinthian believers “Do not be bound together with unbelievers”. And the great apostle gave this command because the two no longer have correspondence to one another. Then Paul quotes the scriptures saying, “Come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord. And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:14-18). Saints who are presently bound in marriages with unbelievers should be agreed that marital separation from such unions is inevitable, and seek to know the mind of God concerning the steps which they should take.

Adam and Eve stayed married to one another because they continued in their correspondence one to another throughout their entire lives (they fell and remained fallen together), but when a marriage consists of one born-again person in whom there is no condemnation and one child of Satan who is already condemned by God a divorce is the biblically mandated remedy. It is God that has separated them when He brought only one of them out from under His just condemnation. The one condemned should be called to repentance, and if they refuse they should be put out of the marriage as they no longer have correspondence with their righteous spouse or with God who dwells within the believing spouse.

Marriages between saints and unrepentent sinners have it written over them, “Here, God has never dwelt.”