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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 used the oppression of weaker groups to their own advantage, 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.

“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.  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 and is treacherous with others.  Such behaviors elicited 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.  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 spouse tries to use God’s 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.


It Is Time For Sacramental Marriage and Divorce as a Mortal Sin to Take Their Place as Dead Relics

In the 15th Century the Roman Catholic Church invented the idea of mortal and venal sins.  Mortal sins imperil one’s soul and venial sins are less serious breaches of God’s law. The Catholic Church believes that if you commit a mortal sin, you forfeit heaven and opt for hell by your own free will and actions.  Three conditions are necessary for mortal sin to exist:

Grave Matter: The act itself is intrinsically evil and immoral. For example, murder, rape, incest, perjury, adultery, and so on.

Full Knowledge: The person must know that what they’re doing or planning to do is evil and immoral.

Deliberate Consent: The person must freely choose to commit the act or plan to do it. Someone forced against her will doesn’t commit a mortal sin.

Confusion within Catholic circles exists as to whether divorce is a mortal sin or a venal sin and many believe that some divorce actions fall under mortal sin and some do not.  Many believe that a divorce is a venal sin but remarriage is a mortal sin.  Of course the entire construct of mortal and venal sins is man-made, and the bible does not refer to divorce as a sin at all.  According to God’s word divorce is a provision of God’s law to protect the innocent spouse from a treacherous partner, and no, Jesus did not abrogate this provision in God’s law.  Catholics and Protestants alike have lost site of this biblical reality.  Regardless of marriage and divorce doctrinal positions most seem to believe that venal sins are involved when a spouse breaks the conditions of the marriage covenant, and a mortal sin is committed when the innocent spouse moves to dissolve the broken marriage covenant via divorce.  This superstitious viewpoint is a remnant from the 2,000 year history of theologians arguing over these issues.  The biblical understanding is diametrically opposed as the breaking of the marriage covenant’s conditions is a sin against God and a crime against one’s spouse and Jesus made it clear that such crimes make allowance for a divorce for the benefit of the innocent spouse.  Divorce does not break the marriage covenant, but it is God’s gracious provision for cases where one spouse has already broken the marriage covenant by breaking one or more of the marriage covenant’s conditions.

The first inclusion of marriage among the seven sacraments of the New Law by the Church’s magisterium occurred at the Council of Verona in 1184.  This man-made doctrine of the sacramental marriage preceded and, in large part, it brought about divorce being labeled a mortal sin.  These two man-made doctrines were never entirely overturned during and after the reformation.  To our shame both of these concepts are deeply embedded in the Christian psyche to this day even though they have been, more or less, formally rejected.


Fallen Man Abused God’s Institution of Marriage…So God Permitted Divorce for the Innocent Spouses.  Fallen Man Abused God’s Provision of Divorce…So the Church Shut the Door on God’s Divorce Provision.  God’s Response to Evil Was Good…The Churches’ Response to Evil Was Myopic.

God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden prior to man’s fall into sin.  From the beginning divorce was unnecessary because treachery and covenant breaking did not exist.  But very quickly man did fall into sin, and treachery and covenant breaking between marriage partners became far too prevalent.  God’s law responded with a permit for the dissolution of such marriages to punish the covenant breakers and to protect the innocent spouses.  Those who failed to respect the institution of marriage also exploited God’s permit to divorce and conspired to make it serve their wicked desires.  When the Church witnessed the treacherous, covenant breaking spouses using God’s permit for divorce to their wicked advantage they failed to look to God’s word for the answer and chose to take decisive action to stop the wretches.

In response to the godless exploiting God’s permit for divorce the church restricted access to divorce so severely that it became unavailable for the innocent spouses—those for whom God’s permit was graciously provided.  In the churches’ effort to restrict access it disciplined and even excommunicated members who so much as pursued dissolution of their marriage.  In addition they strong armed the state into making anti divorce laws making it a crime to get divorced.  The institution of marriage was exalted and referred to as holy matrimony and numbered among the seven sacraments for the Roman Catholic Church.  The idea was that if marriage was holy, then divorce must be unholy.  Ever since the church responded in this way pastors have pointed to divorce rates as one of the chief proofs of the declension in every century.

The church viewed the marriage union as sacrosanct and demonized God’s provision for its dissolution.  In so doing the Church missed the mark on both counts.  The church should have remained on the path that God provided.  It should have taken a position of rebuking covenant breakers and others who wanted to abuse both the institution itself and God’s gracious law ending the marriage union due to the treachery stemming from the hardness of men’s hearts since the fall into sin.

This move against God’s permit for divorce was entirely an initiative of man.  God would not legally grant the dissolution of marriages due to the hardness of men’s hearts only to change his mind later.  In spite of preachers holding the divorce rates out as the number one evidence of a declension in our land Paul never included it in any of his lists of sins (The Bible never calls or refers to divorce as a sin), but Paul did include 23 sins that preachers should be pointing out:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galations 5:19-21).

In fact, when the great apostle was asked whether or not believers should divorce an unbelieving spouse Paul responded first by saying, “But to the rest I say, not the Lord…”, which instructs the reader that Paul knew of no passage of scripture upon which he could site in order to prohibit marital divorce from an unbelieving spouse.  The shocking reality is that no verse exists in either the Old Testament or the New Testament that directly calls or refers to divorce as a sin.  Those who think marital divorce is a sin can only call upon three passages in the whole bible to make their claim, but clearly they misconstrue the meaning since God permitted divorce and since Paul could not claim a single biblical passage that forbid divorce for the unequally yoked believer.  Of course the abuse of God’s divorce provision is a sin.  It is the very sin that Jesus was pointing out in Matthew 5 and 19 when he called the religious leaders out and told them they were using God’s provision for divorce to commit the sin of adultery.  Those men as were the men in Malachi 2 were abusing God’s divorce provision to commit adultery.  But Even the Lord does not call or refer to divorce as a sin.  But in the very same passage Jesus says that He would not abrogate one jot or tittle of God’s Law, but rather He came to fulfill the Law.  Yet many have treated divorce as though Jesus did abrogate the Mosaic provision.

Not only are the innocent, believing spouses suffering at the hands of their treacherous, unbelieving partners, but they cannot count on the support of the church while they pursue God’s permit for divorce.  And if they avail themselves of God’s gracious escape they will discover that the church will hold them in contempt and treat them with disdain throughout the process.


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.


The Extreme Positions on Marital Divorce

The extreme positions for marital divorce are excessive liberty on the left and excessive restrictions on the right.  It is common for man to respond to an extreme position by moving too far in the opposite direction landing at the opposite extreme.  The Pharisees were practicing excessive liberty, so the church failing to understand our Lord’s correction swung to the opposite extreme and has held on to that extreme for most of its history with a few notable, and I dare say noble, exceptions.

So then, on the left, excessive liberty allows a failure to keep the conditions of the marriage covenant; a failure to even take them seriously.  When it comes to marriage this person fails to cleave, fails to forsake all others, fails to love and cherish.  They fail to take the marriage covenant seriously; therefore, they fail to keep the conditions of the covenant.  They are a covenant breaker.  They treat marriage like a merry-go-round getting off and on as often as it suits their self-centered heart.  The bible allows the innocent spouse the freedom to divorce such a treacherous spouse and remarry in the Lord.

Then we swing all the way out to the right extreme where excessive restrictions prohibit divorce for those who are married to covenant breakers.  Believers are bound up, by the church, where God’s word provides liberty.  They are coerced into a lifetime of being unequally yoked to a treacherous spouse who has broken the marriage covenant by breaking it’s conditions.  As promised in God’s word, this relationship destroys their peace, corrupts their sanctification and development in the Lord, and prevents a godly marriage in the Lord.   The churches’ divorce doctrine effectively treats marriage like a lifetime prison sentence for the innocent spouse handed down for the sins (crimes) committed by the treacherous spouse.  Ridiculously, in the eyes of many in the church, only the treacherous spouse has the ability to commute the innocent spouse’s sentence by choosing to leave the marriage covenant.

Both extremes destroy the sanctity of God’s institution of marriage, but believers are blinded to this reality because the church decided to value the continuation of the covenant above the godliness of the relationship it serves.  The church leaders require believers to serve the institution of marriage while God instituted marriage to serve man by helping him glorify God.  As the Lord Jesus taught on the institution of the Sabbath, marriage was made for man and not man for the marriage covenant.  God instituted marriage to serve man.  If a particular marriage cannot serve God’s intended purpose because one of the spouses acts treacherously toward the other, then God made an allowance in the Law for divorce.  The church in its extreme position has effectively taken away God’s allowance and as a result changed God’s law.

The rest of this blog lays out the biblical view on divorce.


The Spirit of God’s Law Governing Divorce

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

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

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

Our Lord’s statement makes three distinct points:

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

WHAT   2. Moses permitted marital divorce.

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

Note that point 2 is WHAT God did.  Point 1 is WHY He did it.  And point 3 is WHEN He did it.  Note: The church took the reason and timing of God’s action and uses them to nullify the action itself.  As though in a moment of weakness, Moses made an allowance for divorce and Jesus decided to fix the error.  It is taught that Moses only allowed divorce because men’s hearts were so hard that they could not be stopped, so Moses had to provide some guidelines.  In like manner, it is taught that divorce was not part of God’s plan from the beginning, so for Christians Jesus is simply restoring God’s original order by effectively abdicating Moses’ provision for divorce.

Because of The Hardness of Men’s Hearts

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

What about theologians’ view on the phrase, “Because of the hardness of men’s hearts”?  A careful study of Moses action recognizes that he was not permitting divorce so much as he was placing restrictions and guidelines on divorce.  Just as men would later do in Malachi and Jesus’ days the men in Moses’ day were taking advantage of the permission for divorce and using it to justify sinfulness on their part.  The ability to obtain a necessary divorce in the Old Testament was assumed.  In fact, many of the sins that made a divorce permissible also carried the punishment of death, so divorce was unnecessary when the offending spouse was stoned to death.  But if, for whatever reason, the penalty of death was not handed out certainly the spouse was free to divorce and find a more suitable marriage partner.  Therefore, we find Jesus doing exactly what Moses did with when he put in place proper guidelines for marital divorce.  Jesus reinforces Moses’ laws when the church often sees Him as abrogating them.  What we are saying is not controversial since all agree that Jesus would not have abrogated the smallest jot or tittle of God’s Law.

The final concern is less a contradiction but a mistaken notion nonetheless.  The church interpreted the phrase ‘the hardness of men’s hearts’ to mean that man stubbornly insisted upon ‘divorce for any reason’ when in fact Jesus meant nothing more than that man since the time of the fall is evil continually and have desperately wicked hearts, hence the necessity for an escape from a truly treacherous spouse.  Jesus’ statement on the hardness of men’s hearts is directed at the reality that sinful man is capable of weaponizing even God’s gracious allowances and using them to sin all the more.  So God provided Moses, not a prohibition for divorce, but guidelines to establish biblical grounds for divorce.  Those guidelines were intentionally vague because God understood that a simple rule of three (such as adultery, abandonment, physical abuse) could not possibly cover every possible legitimate need for a divorce.  God understood that the hardness of man’s heart makes many people treacherous spouses; spouses who would break the conditions of the marriage covenant.  Both Moses and Jesus needed to correct the permissiveness of the Israelites and the Pharisees while at the same time reinforcing God’s provision of divorce for the protection of the innocent spouse’s of treacherous husbands and wives.  Jesus gave an example of the type of covenant breaking that would permit divorce and the church turned it into a law of one biblical ground for divorce, but a careful study of scripture quickly sees the impossibility of that being the correct interpretation of our Lord’s meaning.

From The Beginning It Has Not Been This Way

We now come to our Lord’s third distinct point in his phrase.  Jesus said, “But from the beginning it has not been this way”.  The church has taken this to mean that God’s intention is for the duration of marriage to be for the entire lifetime of the marriage partners.  I think that we can all agree that God’s intent was for marriage to last as long as the partners lasted, but that is only part of what Jesus was saying.  Jesus’ use of the phrase, “from the beginning” is a clear reference to God’s institution of marriage prior to man’s fall into sin.  Then man’s fall into sin transpired subsequently to “the beginning” bringing the hardness of men’s hearts into every marriage necessitating divorce, which hard hearted men abused necessitating Moses’ guidelines for divorce.  The unmistakable point here is that the fall brought about hard hearts and that men must mitigate their own sins so that they can aspire to God’s original intent in their marriages.  However, Moses and Jesus did not prohibit divorce, but rather pointed to the guidelines of God’s Law on divorce so that the innocent partners of treacherous, adulterous, murderous spouses would have a way of escape.  The church effectively prohibited access to divorce entirely and ignored Moses’ guidelines reinforced by Jesus.  To make matters worse the Church’s catastrophic blunder was all done in the name of Jesus as it was our Lord’s words they misinterpreted in order to nullify God’s allowance for all necessary divorces.  So then, the church has failed where Moses and Jesus did not.

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

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

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

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

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


Reclaiming God’s Provision of Divorce: God’s Prescribed Means of Dealing with Sin in the Church

Divorce and divorcees are viewed by the church as unholy.  Yet God divorced Israel for her unrepentant godlessness.  God’s divorce action against Israel cannot be unholy because God is most holy.  If God, of whom it is said is Holy, Holy, Holy, divorced his bride because she was so unholy, then should not God’s children follow their heavenly Father’s example?  So why does much of the church prohibit unequally yoked divorce?  The Old Testament could not be more clear in its teaching that separation between the godly and the ungodly is necessary because the ungodly will pull the godly into idolatry, which is also called spiritual adultery.

Pastors routinely use Christian divorce rates as a proof of the declension in the church.  But should they be doing this?  Christian leaders commonly place divorce alongside sins listed by the Apostle Paul as “the deeds of the flesh”, but Paul never listed divorce with any other sin, and God’s word does not call divorce a sin nor does it prohibit divorce.  The word of God properly places divorce as a provision of God’s laws to protect innocent spouses and to prevent further sin.  Therefore the proper category for divorce is alongside church discipline, rebuke, reproof, punishment, and even giving a so-called believer over to Satan with hopes that he will repent and believe.  This entire category could be called “God’s prescribed means of dealing with sin in the Church”.  This category is chiefly concerned with the punishment/restoration of the unrepentant and the protection of the innocent, which are in essence two halves of the same coin.

Godly men and women lament the scarcity of church discipline, but inexplicably decry every divorce.  Yet, both are similar actions belonging to the same category in scripture.  Both remove the leaven from the body of Christ.  Both have been abused by wicked people.  Both are greatly under utilized by the church.  When a church member is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, then appropriate church discipline will always result in the expulsion of that individual from the body of believers because he is a danger to the body.  Divorce performs the exact same function in Christian marriages and families that church discipline does for the church.

So then, it is no surprise that the very people who hate to follow through with God’s command for church discipline also hate God’s gracious provision of divorce?  Whether they are uncomfortable with confrontation, lack trust in the Lord to bring about a good outcome, fear being called judgmental, lack wisdom and spiritual discernment, have a lax and slothful oversight, favoritism or just not wanting to be drug into the kind of fight that godless people seemingly enjoy, most churches never or rarely do any church discipline and most churchmen get away with repudiating divorce by classifying it with sins listed in Scripture when, in fact, divorce is never called a sin anywhere in the word of God.

In both cases churchmen remain sitting when they should stand up for battle.  Scripture refers to believers as soldiers and provides them with the full armor of God.  Christian leaders are under Christ’s command to protect and feed the flock.  Instead most Christian leaders take a let go and let God approach to these difficult situations involving unrepentant sinners within their flocks.  This disobedient, slothful approach says that if God wants the brother or sister to be set free from a godless, treacherous spouse, then God can always take the life of the wicked spouse.  And if we just wait upon the Lord, then God will remove or redeem the worthless fellow.

This is decidedly not the approach that the great apostle Paul took.  He said, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Corinthians 6:14), and “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?”  And “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus…Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened (1 Corinthians 5:4-7).  It is the Christian’s task to clean out the leaven, which means to actively remove unrepentant sinners from their sphere of influence.

Perhaps divorce actions have been improperly categorized because they can be and often are messy, but church discipline is also frequently messy.  Whenever unrepentant sinners are exposed to the light and held accountable for their sin they will usually fight back with wickedness (Contentiousness, lies, accusations, threats, deceptions, disputes, quarrels, comparisons, attempts to divide the church, self-defense, etc.), which pulls the Christians involved into the mire…a very uncomfortable circumstance for believers.  It matters not whether this unpleasant duty is a church discipline action or a divorce action the goal is the same…remove the leaven.  The outcome of obedience is peace, which is God’s desire for his children.

It is clear why church leaders do not enjoy church discipline.  It is equally unpleasant to go through a divorce with an ungodly spouse, and with the current mindset of most Churches unequally yoked divorce is made all the more difficult because Christian leaders turn upon and attack the Christian who is seeking to obey God’s call to separate from the godless.  Understandably, Christians hate the difficult work of separation, but as soldiers they must fight the good fight even when the immediate battle is difficult and unpleasant.  It would be great if the Church would get on the same page, but that will never be the case this side of heaven.  Individual churches and individuals must take upon themselves these difficult tasks because scripture prescribes these measures when unbelievers are in the midst of the people of God.

The heart of this article is that the divorce of an unequally yoked spouse is not a sin and should cease being treated as though it was listed in any of Paul’s “Deeds of the flesh” passages.  Divorce is not classified as a sin anywhere in the Bible notwithstanding Malachi 2:16, Matthew 5 and 19, and 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 all of which have articles addressing them rather extensively on this blog.  Divorce in general and especially unequally yoked divorce is properly classified in God’s word under “God’s prescribed means of dealing with sin in the Church.”  Divorce belongs to the same classification as church discipline, rebuke, being removed from leadership position, restoration and even giving the unrepentant sinner over to Satan with hope that repentance will ensue.

It is well established that divorce is an allowance in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 21 & 24), and Jesus did not annul or overturn that law as many understand from Matthew 19.  Jesus said:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  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.  Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-19).

In Matthew 19 Jesus did not say that the Pharisees were guilty of divorce.  Of course he would not say that because Jesus knew that divorce was permitted by God’s law—it is not a sin.  Jesus said the Pharisees were guilty of adultery because they wanted to cover up their adultery with illegal usage of God’s legal divorce provision.

A comparison will help clear the muddied waters.  Suppose the Pharisees exchanged their desire for young, gentile wives with a desire for young, unpaid servants.  If they asked Jesus if it was permissible for them to adopt gentile children, but their real motive was to force the children into unpaid labor, then Jesus would have said they were guilty of human enslavement and child abuse and endangerment.  But Jesus would not have said the Pharisees were guilty of adoption.  In the same way, the Lord Jesus did not say they were guilty of divorce.  It is inconceivable to think that the church would have treated adoption as a wicked sin through the centuries, yet this is precisely what the church has done with God’s provision for divorce.  God’s gracious provision of divorce should in no way be diminished because men abuse it.  God understood that since the fall people’s hearts were wicked and innocent partners would require relief from wicked spouses.  For this reason Jesus called these hypocrites adulterers.  If God understood divorce to be sinful, then Jesus would have called these Pharisees divorcers.

The Pharisees were merely trying to cover up their adultery with God’s legal provision of divorce.  Jesus showed their argument to be nothing more than a rouse.  He understood that they were not asking about divorce as it is allowed in the Law, but they were asking whether or not legal divorces could be obtained without just cause.  So he said anybody who would carry out what the Pharisees had devised would be an adulterer because they were divorcing faithful Jewish wives so that they were free to marry young gentile wives.  Jesus understood that if their wives had given them no just cause to divorce them, then their reason for seeking divorce was in their adulterous hearts, which is why he said they would be committing adultery.

Christian leaders beware of the glibness with which you disagree and continue holding your unbiblical view on divorce.  Both God’s law and Jesus tie judging people wrongly to unjust balances and weights in the market place.  God’s law reads, “You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity.  You shall have just balances, just weights…” (Leviticus 19:35-36 underline mine).  And in his Sermon On the Mount Jesus said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye” (Matthew 7:1-3 underline mine)?  Do you have an answer to the Lord’s question to the Pharisees?  Try to answer it before reading further.

Jesus is using an analogy to teach about judging others.  It is easily understood that if a street vendor is selling food items using a false scale or balance and deceitful weights, then he is cheating innocent consumers.  Jesus is saying that the religious leaders do the same to the people of God by changing God’s standards or laws by which men are to measure themselves.  In context, Jesus was saying that with their false standard of measure the Pharisees’ were twisting God’s Laws in their attacks on Jesus and his apostles for healing on the Sabbath and picking grain from fields as they traveled on the Sabbath, yet at the very same time these religious leaders refused submission to the very Son of God who was standing right in front of them.

So then, a log in the religious leaders’ eye today is using a man-made standard of measure that restricts God’s allowance for divorce.  Divorce is protected in God’s moral law.  What right do you have prohibiting it for the people of God?  God does not want his people bound together with unbelievers, but you have restricted them from accessing God’s allowance of divorce that would allow them to repent of their unequally yoked marriages.  Millions of new unequally yoked marriages take place because the church, contrary to the will and Word of God, has made a propitiation for Christians in such marital relationships.

For this reason, young people have no fear of disobeying God by getting unequally yoked because the church long since stopped church discipline for this sin.  In fact, the church has gone so far as to call repentance of these relationships the sin rather than being in an unequally yoked marriage.  Because of this widespread sin in the church a pall of darkness is placed upon all who have divorced wicked spouses even though they are the few who follow God’s provision.  God forbid the church continues this lunacy.  The people of God are suffering for it.  Families are suffering in unspeakable ways.  The church is largely becoming indistinguishable from the world because of this sin.  This sin has played a significant role in the destruction of the institution of marriage which is now taking place.  Churches are so full of unbelievers that the believers are being corrupted by the bad company IN THE CHURCH.  Brethren, these things ought not be this way.  “CLEAN OUT THE OLD LEAVEN.”


Fallacies Prohibiting Believers from God’s Gracious Provision for a Legal Divorce

Fallacy #1:  Adam’s Fall and the Subsequent Reality of Treacherous Spouses Do Not Effect the Permanence of Marriage

Jesus: “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way” (Matthew 19:8).  Here we see that our Lord understood the changes that took place after the Fall of Adam.  With the phrase, “From the beginning” our Lord is making a reference to the institution of marriage prior to the Fall.  With the phrase, “Your hardness of heart” Jesus is making a reference to “the wickedness of man was great on the earth” (Genesis 6:5), which of course was subsequent to the Fall.  The “hardness of heart” does not refer to the Pharisees wanting divorce come hell or high water as most assume, but rather to the general unrepentant wickedness of mankind.  Moses did not cave in to the sinful demands of men who sought divorces so that they could find more appealing wives—it was never the purpose of God’s law to make allowances for sin.  The Mosaic guidelines for divorce were given to protect innocent spouses from treacherous (covenant breaking), unrepentant spouses, and in the same action were intended to shame the treacherous spouses.  Only the treacherous spouse was intended to feel shame.  Nevertheless, post-fall wickedness in men and women necessitated divorce as a protection for the innocent.  Jesus said that he has not come to bring peace but a sword that would divide the most intimate of even familial relationships, but from the beginning it has not been this way.  As the reader can see, separation was not necessary in the garden of Eden either, but Adam and Eve were separated from God and from the garden once sin entered the human race.  From the time of the fall God has demanded that his children be separate from the world not only in marriage, but certainly in marriage—be in the world but not of the world.  “Do not be bound together with unbelievers.”

Fallacy #2:  Marital Divorce Is a Sin

The scriptures do not contain a single statement calling marital divorce a sin.  God’s divorce laws are, in essence, guidelines on how to carry out divorce lawfully.  God’s law does not license sin.  If any passage of scripture called divorce a sin, then Paul would have certainly referred to that passage in 1 Corinthians 7, but instead he said, “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not leave her.”  The key to this passage is the word “consents”; however, for our current purpose, it is clear that Paul had no scriptural passage to call upon that would make it obvious to Christians that divorce was sinful and prohibited by God.

The bible also uses the word for ‘divorce’ in referring to God’s action against Israel.  Logic 101: God cannot sin.  God divorced Israel.  Divorce cannot be a sin.  Obviously getting a divorce in order to commit adultery appears to show that divorce can be a sin, but Jesus made it clear that usurping a lawful path to commit adultery is still adultery.  Nowhere in Matthew 18 does Jesus call divorce a sin, but improperly using a divorce to commit adultery does not take away the sin of adultery.  The sin of those Pharisees was adultery and that is precisely what Jesus called it.

Fallacy #3: God Hates Divorce (Malachi 2:16)

Truth: Man Hates Divorce

This is the single greatest platitude that is used to predetermine the theologian’s outcome in a study on divorce and remarriage, and to turn God’s people against God’s gracious provision of divorce.  Christians generally believe that God hates divorce, and they do so because Malachi 2:16 says as much in many modern translations.  Sam Powell, pastor of First Reformed Church in Yuba City, has done considerable work determining a much more accurate translation taking into account the grammar and pronunciation of the Hebrew words and, according to him, the verse should read as follows:

“Because he hates, send away,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and violence covers his garment.”

The pronouns “he” and “his” do not refer to God, but to the wicked priests to whom Malachi was referring.  The idea in the context of this passage in Malachi is that the wicked priests actually hated their wives (not to mention they hated God as well), and they were treacherous to the very women whom they had joined themselves to in their youth.  Addressing them corporately Malachi uses a singular example when he in essence says, because he hates his wife he is a treacherous spouse and he should, at the very least, give her a writ of divorce and let her go.

It is not God but mankind who hates divorce.  And they do so not out of a strong sense of righteousness or loyalty, but rather because divorce brings the treachery they have committed against their spouse out of the dark and into the light for all to see: “…Men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (even out of context this verse is true here).  Where divorce should shame the unrepentant and free the innocent (as was the case of God divorcing Israel) it is currently viewed to shame everyone involved, and this happens because men hate God’s gracious provision of divorce.  As it has stood for centuries and currently stands to this very day it is the innocent spouse who is far and away most shamed.  In fact, it is often the final blow their wicked, treacherous spouse lands upon them knowing that the Church will not support them so much as turn their noses up against them.

Fallacy #4:  Jesus Reversed Moses’ Permit of Divorce

Moses’ rules on getting a divorce are part of God’s Law.  Jesus acknowledged as much when he said, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives” (Matthew 19:8c).  Jesus also said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stoke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished (Matthew 5:17, 18).”  All of our Lord Jesus’ statements about divorce were regarding the common abuse of divorce being committed by the rich and powerful of that day; how they made use of divorce to commit adultery with young, often foreign (godless), women in order to hide the wickedness of their adulterous actions with the legal cloak of divorce.  What they were doing was tantamount to committing first degree murder and then trying to cover it up by claiming self-defense.  Jesus never bought it.

Fallacy #5:  Marital Divorce Never Glorifies God

Ezra & Nehemiah were among the godliest of Old Testament saints and they made “a covenant with God” to have all the men who had married outside the faith divorce their unbelieving, idolatress wives (Ezra 10:3).  “Then Ezra the priest stood up and said to them, ‘You have been unfaithful and have married foreign wives adding to the guilt of Israel.  Now therefore, make confession to the Lord God of your fathers and do His will; and separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives’” (Ezra 10:10, 11).  This single passage is clear on three points: Being unequally yoked is a sin (Paul carried it over for Christians in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).  Secondly, we should confess this sin to God.  Finally, as is the case with all sin we must repent; specifically put away (divorce) our unequally yoked spouse.  Ezra’s actions were designed to get back under the will of God so that they may once again glorify Him.

Fallacy #6:  If Christians Obeyed God They Would Never Sue for Divorce

This fallacy comes from a misunderstanding of Paul’s instructions on divorce in 1 Corinthians 7.  Paul says that if the unbelieving spouse consents to live with the believer, then the believer must not send them away.  By no means is this the same as saying if the unbelieving spouse refuses to divorce, then neither can the believer.  The word “consents” requires positive action on the part of the unbeliever.  Webster’s definition of consent: archaic: to be in concord in opinion or sentiment.  Concord is defined as a state of agreement or harmony.  In the text of 1 Corinthians 7 itself Paul provides the ways in which this agreement is to take shape.  First, for the unbeliever’s consent to be given they will be actively in the process of being sanctified through the believing spouse (Verse 14a+b).  In other words, they will be living in harmony with the life of a believer (Much like Cornelius in The Acts of the Apostles prior to his own conversion).  Secondly, the unbeliever must agree to bring the children up in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Verse 14c+d).  In a divided home the children will be unclean, but with this consent the children will be holy.  Third, peace—the absence of bickering and fighting—is an integral part of this consent (Verse 15).  Finally, the unbelieving spouse must believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (Verse 16).  They must believe that the only way to forgiveness and reconciliation with God is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord.  To believe anything else divides the household and the children will not be holy.  Clearly the unbeliever would not themselves yet be saved, but they must give honest, intellectual ascent that Jesus is the only way of salvation.  For centuries it has been obvious that if Paul’s conditional clause was met, then the believer must not divorce their unbelieving spouse, but it is equally true of a conditional clause that if the condition is not met, then the believing spouse should and must divorce the unbeliever.  So why has this understanding been entirely absent?  People generally find what they are looking for.  Their presuppositions say that God hates divorce and Jesus calls it adultery, neither of which are correct, so then Paul’s text to the Corinthians must prohibit divorce as well.  They seek the fallacy that divorce is sin, so they find the fallacy.

Fallacy #7:  Jesus’ Use of “Hardness of Heart” Refers to Man’s Insistence to Use Divorce to Commit Adultery

With the phrase, “Your hardness of heart” Jesus is making a reference to the sinfulness of man, which immediately followed the Fall: “the wickedness of man was great on the earth” (Genesis 6:5).  The “hardness of heart” does not at all refer to the Pharisees wanting divorce come hell or high water.  When God’s word speaks of the “hardness of men’s hearts” it is a direct reference to stubborn, stiff necked rebellion against God and His ways.  Jesus is saying that Moses gave God’s provision of divorce to protect innocent marriage partners from treacherous, unrepentant, hard-hearted spouses engaging in unbelief, rebellion, pride and gross immorality.  Moses was no wimp.  He did not cave in to the sinful demands of godless men who sought divorces so that they could find more appealing wives—it was NEVER the purpose of God’s law to make allowances for sin.  Many in the church take the position that Jesus is undoing Moses’ Laws on divorce and going back to what God originally intended in the Garden of Eden.  If churchmen just thought about that position for one minute they would realize the many problems with it, but because it supports a very popular view they fail to give it due diligence.

Fallacy #8:  2 Corinthians 6:14f Does Not Apply To Marriage

Martyn Lloyd-Jones says that it applies to marriage and only to marriage, so he for one does not hold to this fallacy.  This argument is ludicrous on the face of it.  Who gets bound together more than husband and wife?  In terms of human beings, who is yoked together more than husband and wife?  Are married couples expected to have partnership?  Fellowship?  Harmony?  Commonality?  Agreement?  Of course they are and therefore this text applies to marriage.

1 Corinthians 7 should be interpreted in the light of 2 Corinthians 6 for a long list of reasons but time only allows for two: First, Paul’s second letter to the very same group of churches should be expected to clarify any comments he made in the first and not the other way around.  If God’s children would simply take God’s word at face value, then 2 Corinthians 6:14 brings great clarity to any confusion about Paul’s meaning in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16.

Secondly, Paul is clearly repeating a universal, divine command in 2 Corinthians 6:14f whereas in 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 he is giving his own apostolic advice as to how to proceed when only one of two married people is born-again.  His insights are spot on as we would expect from the great apostle under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  However Paul’s teaching here, properly interpreted, conforms the rest of scripture including all the separation texts and especially all the texts prohibiting being in unequally yoked marriages.  Heretofore a proper interpretation has been lacking, and this passage has for ages been understood so that it contradicts 2 Corinthians 6:14f.  In order to release the tectonic plate sized pressure of this contradiction theologians and elders have made the unbelievable blunder of claiming that 2 Corinthians 6:14 does not apply to married couples.

Fallacy #9:  Divorce Is a Salvation Issue

The fallacy says that if a Christian sues for divorce, then they are showing themselves to not be saved in the first place, and if he remarries he is practicing sin and cannot be saved unless he repents of his new marriage.  This is a most damnable heresy.  Why?  This superstitious belief is responsible for untold numbers of godless marriages being maintained for entire lifetimes when God would have desired so much more for His children.  Psalm 16:3 says, “As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.”  David delighted in the godly and so should every faithful saint—and especially so in our marriages.  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  None will be able to boast about their salvation in heaven.  Well let me tell you that a great deal of boasting takes place for those whose marriages have grown long in the tooth.  There are vast numbers of church goers with little to no fruit to show for 50 years of being so-called Christians except for their celebration of 50 years of marriage to the same person.  Of course without fruit those are not actually unequally yoked marriages because neither partner is actually saved, but a true believer should not remain long in a marriage to a child of Satan.  And salvation is by faith in the Son of God.  Salvation is not lost when an obedient saint divorces a treacherous spouse in order to flee being unequally yoked to an unbeliever.  Remarriage to a fellow saint is most glorifying to God.  Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
for brothers to dwell together in unity!”


What Is an Unequally Yoked Marriage?

Awful marriages are far too common because people are so very rarely uncommonly good and it takes good people to form a good marriage, but an awful marriage is not the same thing as an unequally yoked marriage.  Many marriages are very mismatched because one spouse clearly works very hard for the advancement of the couple while the other seemingly makes no effort whatsoever, but a mismatched marriage is not the same thing as an unequally yoked marriage.  Occasionally over time marriage partners grow apart and feel as though they have nothing in common, but growing apart is not the same thing as an unequally yoked marriage.  In fact, hundreds of factors could probably cause difficult or bad marriage relationships without an unequally yoked marriage.  So what exactly is an unequally yoked marriage?

Using God’s word as the standard, an unequally yoked marriage exists when a married couple consists of one born-again person and one person who is not born-again.  Notice that an unequally yoked marriage is not defined as a Christian married to a non-Christian, or a believer married to an unbeliever, or a religious person married to a secular minded person, or even a person who believes in God married to an atheist.  Plenty of these kinds of marriages exist and work very well for the individuals involved because they are not unequally yoked relationships or marriages.

There are Two Human Races

Two distinct human races exist: The fallen race of Adam who are under bondage to sin and death is the first.  This race came from the side of Adam when God removed one of Adam’s ribs to use it to create Eve.  In like manner, the second human race came from the side of Jesus when his side was opened up by the soldier’s sword.  This second human race is separated from the first human race the way a palm-full of water is separated from the ocean.  God scooped Israel up out of the waters (often used in Psalms to describe the nations).  In order to belong to the second human race one must be born-again.  This is not something man can do.  God alone gives the new birth.  This second race of humanity is called the invisible church because men cannot tell who is and who is not born-again merely by looking at them or by their testimony.

To be born-again means to be regenerated by God and drawn into His kingdom of light.  From what condition are men regenerated?  Since the creation of Adam and Eve, every single human being with the lone exception of Jesus has been conceived in sin and born into Adams fallen human race.  All come into this world under the domain of darkness, enslaved to sin and death.

The Invisible Church

When, by God’s grace, a person is born-again they are no longer slaves to sin and death, but they have joined the ranks of the adopted children of God.  God has bought them with the blood of His own Son.  In so doing God has scooped them from the waters (Adam’s race) and created in them a new life…a new man.  The Spirit of God comes into them and makes them children of light, and their every desire is for God and His kingdom.  They become individual body parts of the “new man”, the church, the body of Christ, and they are growing up corporately “to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13 NASB).  No greater transformation can take place in man than to be born-again.

The Visible Church

The visible church is so inclusive that it takes in everyone who has any relationship to the Christian church whatsoever.  Born to Christian parents–you’re in, a non practicing Catholic–you’re in, I converted for my spouse but don’t practice–you’re in, I deny the faith daily with my godless deeds and never give a thought for God, but when asked I tell people I’m a Methodist–you’re in.  The vast majority of those who are frequently referred to as Christians, believers, spiritual or religious are not actually born-again even though they are part of the visible church.  This reality explains why many marriages appear, to the undiscerning mind, to be be unequally yoked, and they may very well be mismatched but they are still equally yoked.  As a result, many people think that they have observed unequally yoked marriages, but the reality is that neither person in those marriages is actually born-again.  Most marriages consist of two people neither of whom are born-again.  A sliver of marriages consist of two people who are actually born-again.  Both types of marriages are equally yoked couples because both partners to those marriages are in the same spiritual condition.  When people are religious or even VERY religious they assume they must be born-again, but being religious (even the Christian religion) has nothing to do with being born-again.  So then, an unequally yoked marriage exists when only one partner is actually born-again.  Then and only then have the two spiritual races been joined together in a forbidden partnership.

The number of people who mistakenly believe themselves to be born-again is quite large due to so much false teaching.  Being born-again is so rare, even in Christian circles, that very few people can actually relate to or even begin to understand what an unequally yoked marriage looks like.  In other words, they cannot see the big picture because they have not been granted the necessary regeneration or quickening by the Holy Spirit who softens the heart and enlightens the mind.

Even many who are themselves born-again fail to discern between genuine and spurious confessions, and as a result fail to recognize unequally yoked marriages because they credit many who are not born-again as though they were.  Sadly, for this same reason many who are born-again become unequally yoked to “visible church” Christians who are not born-again.  Then, all false professors who intermarry with atheists, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. give the appearance that Christians can live in unequally yoked marriages without much difficulty, which is not the case at all according to scripture since the “Christian” in the marriage is not actually born-again.  Therefore, the marriage partners are equally yoked even as they practice entirely different religions.

This is clearly a case where men have used their experiences instead of scripture to influence scripture’s enlightenment on this doctrine.  As if that were not bad enough, the vast majority of  marriages thought to be unequally yoked were not because they were between two unregenerate people; so these experiences that have helped shape people’s perspective on the scriptural passages dealing with divorce when unequally yoked are themselves counterfeit examples of unequally yoked marriages.  So then, even though scripture and not experience should have shaped their view on the biblical doctrine for divorce for the unequally yoked, even the experiences that have shaped their view were more times than not spurious examples of unequally yoked marriages.  Thus leaning on experience instead of scripture alone has been a fatal flaw for both reasons.

Vast numbers of religious people marry partners who are not religious, and it is from this large pool that people think they have seen or are in unequally yoked marriages.  These marriages are much more common (10,000 to 1) than actual unequally yoked marriages, and they throw into confusion all understanding on the subject.  These marriages are effectually counterfeit unequally yoked marriages, which is why they cause so much confusion in understanding this issue.  It can be said of these counterfeit unequally yoked marriages that the couples just need to ride out the bumps in a marriage like any other married couple.  But the same cannot be said for a couple who is truly unequally yoked.

So What Is So Bad About A Truly Unequally Yoked Marriage?

In Paul’s words the unequally yoked married couple cannot share a partnership any more than can righteousness partner with lawlessness.  They cannot have fellowship any more than light could fellowship with darkness.  Their marriage will be as harmonious as our Lord Jesus Christ partnered with the son of destruction.  They cannot have agreement any more than could the temple of God with idols.  Unequally yoked married couples will not enjoy any commonality in their relationship to one another (from 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 NASB).

The Psalmist said of those who are not born-again, “Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord?  And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?  I hate them with the utmost hatred; They have become my enemies” (Psalm 139:21-22 NASB).  Again the Psalmist says, “Be gracious to us, O Lord, be gracious to us, for we are greatly filled with contempt.  Our soul is greatly filled with the scoffing of those who are at ease, and with the contempt of the proud” (Psalm 123:3-4 NASB).  And again, “They did not destroy the peoples, as the Lord commanded them, but they mingled with the nations and learned their practices, and served their idols, which became a snare to them” (Psalm 106:34-36 NASB).  Literally hundreds of biblical texts describe the enmity between God’s children and sons of Adam, but time allows for just one more:

“I will walk within my house in the integrity of my heart.  I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the practice of apostasy of those who fall away…A perverse heart shall depart from me; I will know no evil.  Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him I will destroy; no one who has a haughty look and an arrogant heart will I endure.  My eyes shall be upon the faithful of the land, and they may dwell with me; he who walks in a blameless way is the one who will minister to me.  He who practices deceit shall not dwell within my house; he who speaks falsehood shall not maintain his position before me.  Every morning I will destroy all the wicked of the land, so as to cut off from the city of the Lord all those who do iniquity” (Psalm 101:2-8 NASB).

God’s children can no more be yoked to Satan’s than light could be yoked to darkness.  Just as men cannot see the face of God and unrepentant sinners cannot enjoy heaven neither can unrepentant sinners be yoked to God’s holy saints upon the earth.  If men were to look upon the face of God they would be destroyed.  When light enters a dark room the darkness is extinguished.  If unrepentant sinners entered heaven, then heaven would be quenched.  When genuine believers are yoked to unbelievers the believer is corrupted.  “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

God repeatedly commanded Israel to kill every man, woman and child when they entered into the Promised Land so that they would not intermingle with them and commit the sin of idolatry.  God’s command in 2 Corinthians 6:14 is not to BE bound to or unequally yoked with unbelievers.  Many in our day behave as though His command is “Do not BECOME unequally yoked to unbelievers”, but if you do, then you will have to live with your sin for repentance is out of the question.  This unbiblical advice has done more damage to believers and the church than we know.

We must never forget what our Lord Jesus taught us regarding the unrepentant: “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-20 NASB).

It is obviously foolish to insist that God’s children stay bound to spouses who hate Jesus and who love evil so much that they hide it in a web of deception that is destructive to their godly spouse and children.  Ezra and Nehemiah were godly men who insisted that their people divorce their godless spouses.  God does not change.  It is a man-made doctrine that insists God’s children remain united to the sons of Satan.  Those who are merely religious will do as they please and it really wont matter as they are instructed to eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow they die.  But God’s children must not be bound together with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14).  What part of this biblical command is hard to understand?


Jesus on Divorce in Matthew 19

By way of reminder, this blog is not so much about divorce as it is about divorce for the believer who is unequally yoked with an unbeliever.

When discussing the topic of divorce certainly the words of our Lord Jesus should be of great interest to everybody.  One text in particular is used by those who hold to the Permanence View (no divorce for any reason).  In Matthew 19:3-9 Jesus is asked by the Pharisees whether or not it is lawful for a man “to send away (divorce) his wife for any reason at all”.  Israel’s spiritual guides were every bit as blind as their predecessors in the days of the prophet Malachi when the priests were putting out their equally yoked wives and taking for themselves wives from among the gentile nations.  At about that time Ezra and Nehemiah were resolving such wickedness through mass divorces from the unequally yoked woman that the men of Israel had taken as wives.

Nevertheless, the shameless Pharisees had the nerve to test Jesus on this same subject.  In short, Jesus’ answer was that marriage takes one man and one woman and the two become “one flesh…What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”  Then they wanted to know why Moses allowed for a certificate of divorce, and Jesus said it was because of man’s hardness of heart, “but from the beginning it has not been this way.”

With such stark words it is not difficult to see why those who believe that divorce is always a sin hold such a view.  But Jesus is not finished speaking, (Vs. 9) “And I say to you, ‘whoever sends away his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery, and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery'”.

Now we can see how important it is that people making the decision to get married take it very seriously as the marital relationship is indeed intended to be until the death of one of the two parties.  Nevertheless, our Lord provides two very significant exceptions to this overarching rule.  The second exception is pretty obvious to most people although (and this is unfortunate) many who hold to the permanence view even reject the immorality exception.

We Shall Begin With the Second Exception–Porneia

Jesus made it pretty clear that porneia (Gk) or immorality was a justifiable cause for divorce and thus an exception to the “until death parts” rule.  The reason for such an exception is that the very act of sexually joining oneself to a third party fractures the marital bond.  The marriage relationship has been so tragically altered that the marriage has actually been ruined/destroyed/broken by the immoral act(s).  The two individuals that had become one flesh have had their union fractured or destroyed by the introduction of a third person.

The marriage covenant is built upon a promise to one another to uphold the conditions of the marriage covenant  until death ends the marriage.  When immorality is committed the guilty partner has broken his/her promise to uphold the conditions of the marriage covenant.  Jesus is telling us that in this event the marriage covenant has been broken, and the innocent party is no longer bound by the marital covenant.

The Bottom Line: Treachery

Here is the bottom line when it comes to God sanctioned marital divorce.  When a spouse commits treachery within the marriage the innocent party to the marriage is not only allowed but encouraged, even obligated, to divorce their treacherous spouse.

How does a husband or wife commit marital treachery?  It falls into the category of “You know it when you see it”, but the following list is a guide:

  1. By demonstrating oneself to be outside of the family of faith (unequally yoked)
  2. By having sexual relations outside the marital relationship (adultery)
  3. By habitually denying the privileges of the marital bed
  4. By abandonment
  5. By endangerment (attempted murder and real physical harm at minimum)

Jesus’ First Exception in Matthew 19 that Makes Divorce Legal

Having briefly noted porneia as Jesus’ “exception clause” in the immediate context we can now consider the first exception which interrupts the blessing of lifelong marital union.  It is in my opinion a far superior, but a less obvious (to our utter shame) exception to God’s intentions that marriage was intended to be a life-long covenant of love between a husband and his wife.   It is also seen in Jesus’ teaching in the 19th chapter of Matthew, but it is not in the immediate context of his reply to the Pharisees.

This exception is so ubiquitous in scripture that it is even the first command in the scriptures found in Genesis 1:4 “God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”  In this instance, God’s command is an implied command for man to follow after God’s example and separate light from darkness, and it is often repeated in Scripture as a direct command.  Leviticus 20:26 says, “Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.”  Also Deuteronomy 7:1-4 “…You shall not intermarry with them…”; 13:6-11 “…The wife you cherish…”.

This sin of marrying unbelievers is also called “the matter of Peor” in Numbers 31:16 referring back to Numbers 25 where we read about the Israelites joining themselves with the daughters of Moab, which caused the Israelites to bow down to their gods and join themselves to Baal-peor making God fiercely angry with them.  Phinehas in his anger and jealousy for the Lord’s holiness took a spear and drove it through and Israelite and his Midianite woman (wife), and God was pleased with Phinehas.  Then God said, “Be hostile to the Midianites and strike them; for they have been hostile to you with their tricks, with which they have deceived you in the affair of Peor…”

God frequently commands His children to refrain from marrying foreigners.  By foreigners God does not mean people from other lands, different races or different cultures but rather God is referring to people who fail to submit themselves to him.  God’s people are not to be bound together with unbelievers in marriage (2 Corinthians 6:14).

Today being unequally yoked to unbelievers is almost viewed as an inconsequential condition.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The greatest treachery a spouse could commit is being unrepentant and unfaithful to God.  God does not want His children to be bound together or unequally yoked to unbelievers because bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33).  In fact, such relationships to unbelievers always leads to idolatry, which is spiritual adultery.

Marriage is first a creation ordinance, which means it applies to all people.  However, as with everything else marriage is to be viewed through a different lens for the followers of Christ Jesus.  Jesus teaches about marriage and divorce from the Old Testament foundation that marriage, for the people of God, is a family of faith institution.  When Jesus says that marriage makes the two become one flesh it is assumed that God’s children would not enter into marriage with an unbeliever.  So then, whenever a believer comes to the realization that they are joined in marriage to an unbeliever, then at that time they are to separate the light from the darkness, which means in the context of marriage they must get a divorce.

Not only are these many Old Testament passages the context in which Jesus is teaching, not only is this the assumption that God’s word always has when teaching on marriage and divorce, but Jesus teaches the principle of this exception in Matthew 19:29, “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.” Most modern translations of God’s word have removed the word “wife” from this text perhaps demonstrating a bias on the part of the interpreters (Although “wife” has not been removed from Luke’s version of the same teaching found in Luke 18:29).

I discovered the inclusion of “wife” in this text when I was reading Jonathan Edwards’ lectures compiled into the book titled Charity and Its Fruits, which all who love God should read.  Edwards quotes this verse in lecture XII, and the translation he used still contained the word “wife”.  You will also find a note in the column of the NASB Side-Column Reference Edition Copyright 1996 by The Lockman Foundation referring to wife being in at least one early manuscript.

In conclusion, verse 29 indicates that to leave a family member in order to follow and serve Jesus would be worthy of praise and not condemnation…that such would inherit eternal life–not on the basis of works, but because they clearly demonstrate a love for Christ.  The spousal relationship was included in the ancient text, so we understand that God means it when He says, “Do not intermarry with foreigners” (OT) and “Do not be unequally yoked to unbelievers” (NT).

 


It Is Lawful to Leave a Broken Covenant.

People want simple answers to their questions.  Yes or no, does God’s law allow for marital divorce?  Yes or no, is it lawful to exit a broken covenant?  The problem with simplicity is that it can be limiting or overly restrictive.  Simple answers are insufficient for complicated problems.  And very often biblical doctrines and the application of those doctrines are just too complex to reduce them to simple answers.  Sadly, the people who want nothing more than simple answers can rely upon sloppy theologians who make a living providing simple answers.  Frequently, the outcome of simple answers for the body of Christ is division.  For example, those whose simple answer is that marital divorce is always a sin create a division with those who think divorce is permissible and with those who truly understand the purpose for the components of a covenant.

When one spouse breaks one or more conditions (a component of a covenant) 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 covenant’s condition of fidelity to his wife. He is guilty of infidelity by preferring lurid images of strange women to his wife.  In so doing he has broken his marital covenant with his wife.

Now those who define “until death do us part” as a divine prohibition on divorce would say this situation is unfortunate for this woman, but she still must remain faithful even with a broken marriage covenant and a husband who is perpetually committing infidelity. 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.

Where to begin, those who hold to this unbiblical and illogical 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 purpose of the conditions are to assure that both parties are protected from this kind of deception. Covenant conditions exist so that both parties will be assured of receiving the benefits (another component of a covenant) for which they enter the covenant in the first place.

The purpose of a covenant is to convey one or more benefits upon one or both parties to the covenant.  A bilateral covenant (such as the marriage covenant) conveys benefits on each party—otherwise the parties would not bind themselves in a covenant.  A covenant obligates it’s participants.  People do not unnecessarily obligate themselves.  However, people will obligate themselves if there is a desired benefit for doing so.  Keeping the covenant’s conditions allows both parties continued access to the benefit(s) promised.  So when it becomes manifest that either partner to the covenant is breaking one or more conditions of the covenant, then they have effectively broken the covenant itself and are guilty of withholding the promised benefit(s); therefore, the injured covenant partner is no longer bound by the covenant (as it has been broken) freeing them to enter into a new covenant with someone who is willing and 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 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” (a term with broad meaning but surely encompassing adultery).  In addition, God forgiving covenant breakers 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 on behalf of His beloved children, but the covenant between God and His children is perfect as God is perfect and its conditions and blessings are all intact.

Not only does God give his children the righteousness of Christ, which maintains their good standing in their covenant with God, but God also places His Holy Spirit within them to cause them to walk according to His statutes and he empowers each of them 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 an eternity as the children of 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 anti-divorce crowd insists upon for the innocent spouse.  Many Old Testament passages depict God decrying Israel’s (God’s bride) unfaithfulness.  Through captivities and exiles God disciplines his bride trying to get her to be faithful but his efforts were to no avail.  Ultimately God divorces Israel for her unfaithfulness (Jeremiah 3:8, Isaiah 50:1)).  Then God takes a bride who remains faithful because she wears the white garments washed by the blood of Jesus Christ.  The righteousness of Christ keeps her faithful.

God would not remain in a broken covenant with wicked Israel or with the more wicked Judah because God knows that light and darkness cannot come together just as there can be no partnership between righteousness and lawlessness.  As Christ has no harmony with ungodliness or destruction and the temple of God cannot be in agreement with idols, neither can a believer share a life in common with an unbeliever.  Most in the church have made the tremendous error of causing man to serve the marriage covenant rather than allowing the marriage covenant to serve man.

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, and because God did so to Israel.

The damage done to the believer who is frightened by “Christian” superstition into remaining in an unequally yoked marriage with the threat of God’s eternal wrath is awful indeed.  Remaining in a broken marriage covenant forces the innocent spouse into an unrighteous arrangement.  Their wicked spouse has broken the conditions of the covenant effectively negating the benefits promised to the innocent spouse while the innocent spouse is expected to keep providing the benefits to the wicked spouse without an end in sight.

These wicked spouses are even more evil than the person who claims to have purchased a new house, who has taken possession of the house, who has placed their name on the deed, who has promised to pay for the house, but who has failed to pay a dime and has no intention of ever paying for the house that they are effectively trying to steal from the original home owner.  In fact, if this person then gutted the house of all it’s woodwork, marble and granite, heater, air conditioner, the chandeliers and lamps, the windows, the appliances, and even striped the electrical wiring, the pluming and the landscaping plants before they were finally evicted, then this illustration to the wicked spouse in an unequally yoked marriage would be more precise.

Matthew Henry highlighted an additional evil when he said that the 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.  In addition, 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 gives the appearance of turning the unbelieving marriage partner into the innocent victim while at the same time slandering the name and reputation of the believing spouse who has kept the conditions of the marriage covenant often for years or decades without receiving God’s intended benefits, which were promised by the unbelieving spouse, but withdrawn. The obedient child of God is turned upon and torn to pieces by the very people (other Christians) who should be most supportive as in the days of Ezra.  Another case for the axiom that “Only Christians shot their wounded”.

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 will be 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.  Anti-divorce Christians 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.

So then, is it lawful to leave a broken covenant?  The answer found in God’s word and by eminent reason is an emphatic yes.  It is a fools errand to remain in a broken covenant.  Having said that, the answer found in most Christian circles is no.  There advise is that you made your own bed and now you must lie in it.  Let the reader decide whether or not they prefer the approbation of God or the praise of men.  But as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord…all of us.