Tag Archives: Can a Christian divorce an unbeliever?

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 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 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 used the state to make 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.  Neither the marriage covenant’s exalted state nor the dissolution of the marriage covenant should have been the churches’ response because both are of God and both are abused by the godless.  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 at all, but he 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, not 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 was not in possession of any scriptural passage or direct revelation from the Lord regarding divorce from an unbelieving spouse as a sin.  The reality is that no verse exists in the Old Testament or the New Testament that calls divorce a sin.  Only three passages in the whole bible are used to claim that divorce is a sin, but clearly those who use them this way misconstrue the meaning since God permitted divorce.  Of course the abuse of God’s divorce law is a sin, but that is not an excuse for believers calling divorce a sin.

Not only are the innocent spouses suffering at the hands of their treacherous partners, but now 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 teaching the complete doctrine on divorce.  For this reason students of the bible should not have taken the position that adultery alone provides biblical grounds for divorce.

Nevertheless, this view is still the most common out there, but what if scripture provided at least one additional biblical ground permitting divorce beyond Christ’s pornia clause?  Logically, Matthew 5 & 19 could no longer rightfully be used as our Lord restricting divorce solely for those who can prove that their spouse committed adultery.  Well, Paul provides at bare minimum at least one additional biblical ground for divorce in 1 Corinthians 7 when the unbelieving spouse refuses consent to live with the believing spouse.  This biblical ground for divorce is traditionally called abandonment, and 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).  Many bible students refuse to acknowledge Paul’s clear teaching hear because they understand that another biblical ground for divorce logically means that Jesus did not intend his correction against permissiveness to restrict divorce to adultery cases only.

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 legal grounds for divorce all the while claiming our Lord as the source of this teaching.  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 tantamount to adultery because the marriage covenant has not been broken, which is to say it is still a legal and binding agreement between two parties.


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.

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 suites their self-centered heart.

On the right, excessive restrictions prohibit divorce for those who are married to covenant breakers.  Their spouse is treacherous to them and to their sanctification in the Lord, but they are effectively barred from divorcing their godless covenant breaking spouse and forced into a lifetime of unequally yoked bad company corrupting their own sanctification process and hindering their children as well.  The churches’ divorce doctrine effectively treats marriage like a lifetime prison sentence.

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 more than the quality of the relationship it serves.  The church leaders require believers to serve the institution of marriage while God instituted marriage to serve man and help him to 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, treachery and so forth.  From the first days of the church until now it is likely that more spouses have been murdered in their marriages under this monstrous view of marriage than have inmates in prisons.  Whereas a marriage that honors God is happily maintained by both spouses; it supplies companionship, love, happiness, peace, belonging, comfort, friendship, fidelity, adoration, mutual desire to serve, humility, meaningful sex and so much more.  So far from murdering one another these spouses cherish and care for one another over and above all others.  Marriage, as instituted by God, was never intended to be anything remotely like a life sentence.

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

Our Lord’s statement makes three distinct points:

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

WHAT   2. Moses permitted marital divorce.

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

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

Because of The Hardness of Men’s Hearts

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

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

From The Beginning It Has Not Been This Way

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

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

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

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

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

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


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 gentile wives with a desire for 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, child abuse and child endangerment.  But Jesus would not have said the Pharisees were guilty of adoption just as he did not say they were guilty of divorce.  And the church would not have treated adoption as a wicked sin through the centuries, yet this is precisely what has been done with God’s provision for divorce.  Man’s abuse of divorce should not diminish at all God’s gracious provision.  God understood that since the fall people’s hearts were wicked and innocent partners would require relief from wicked spouses.

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 would be divorcing a wife who has not broken her marriage covenant conditions in any way.  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 has made a propitiation for Christians in such marital relationships.  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 sinfulness a pall of darkness is placed upon all who have divorced wicked spouses even though they followed the provision of God’s law.  God forbid the church continues this lunacy.  The people of God are suffering for it.  Families are suffering in unspeakable ways.  The church is filled with unbelieving spouses as a result.  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 laws of 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 law gave instructions on how to carry out divorce lawfully.  God’s law licensed no sin whatsoever.  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 warrant upon which to reference 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 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.

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 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 divorce the unbeliever.  So why has this understanding been entirely absent?  What people look for they usually find.  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.

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 as most assume.  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 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!”


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).