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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!”

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1 Corinthians 7:14  What is Paul’s Meaning?: “The Unbelieving Husband or Wife Is Sanctified.”

The question, “Can a Christian divorce an unbeliever?” is frequently asked.

“For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy” (1 Corinthians 7:14).

The aim of this article is to discover Paul’s intended meaning by the use of the word “sanctified” as he uses it here to instruct the Corinthian believers.  It is universally understood that Paul is not using the word “sanctified” in the most common New Testament usage.  The sanctification wrought by the Holy Spirit must of necessity follow justification for these two must never be separated.  In his book titled “Christian Marriage” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “The first principle is that there is nothing which is so utterly unscriptural as to separate justification and sanctification.”  So clearly Paul has a different use in mind as he uses the word “sanctified”.  Additionally, Paul does not refer to the Holy Spirit as the agent of this sanctification at all, but rather the believing spouse is the agent or instrument of this sanctification.

To understand Paul’s use of the word “sanctified” it is paramount that the reader fully understands the meaning of the word itself.  The word sanctify has five significant aspects in its definition:

  1. To be set apart for holiness; a separation from everything unholy.
  2. It also carries the idea of freeing from sin or purifying.
  3. To impart or impute inviolability; this includes the idea of a social sanction.
  4. Imparting or imputing sacredness or a moral sanction such as Moses giving permission for divorce.
  5. Webster says, to sanctify is “To make productive of holiness”, which is to say having the quality of character and the power of ability for producing holiness in abundance.

Two Views:  The Prevailing View vs. Paul’s Intended View (Heretofore largely unknown)

To my knowledge no great divide has ever formed over what Paul meant when he used “sanctified” here.  This actually surprises me however, and I suspect this has been the case due to indifference more than to universal agreement on the usage here.  It is likely that most expounders of this passage focus on verses 12 and 13, which answer the big question: Can or must a believer divorce their unbelieving spouse?  The concern over Paul’s intended meaning of the word “sanctified” actually goes a long way in helping understand his instructions to unequally yoked believers, which is that they must get a divorce from their unbelieving spouse if the unbeliever fails to consent to live with the believer in accord with Paul’s pattern of consent.  Since no controversy over Paul’s use of “sanctified” has ever taken root and the result has been a misapprehension of his meaning, then a controversy must now take place in order to rediscover the truth intended by Paul.  Though controversy is loathsome the forfeiture of truth is too high a price to pay for peace and unity.  We will first endeavor to explain the prevailing understanding, and then we will offer the understanding of the word “sanctified” that Paul indubitably intended to convey.  Fortunately, Paul’s meaning was inserted or included within his very comments as he uses the word “sanctified”.  It has only been missed all these long ages because men desire a different understanding or outcome if you will…a sinful one that allows freedom from God’s prohibition against being bound together with unbelievers.

The Prevailing View: A Sanctified Insurance Policy

The prevailing understanding of Paul’s use of the word “sanctified” barely resembles the meaning of the word.  This understanding meets nothing more than the third aspect of sanctified as defined above, to impute inviolability and social sanction, while the other four more weighty aspects of sanctified are entirely absent.  Combined with the other four aspects this aspect is profitable, but understanding Paul’s use of “sanctified” as nothing more than a social sanction is a mistake of massive proportions because it strongly suggests the idea that being bound together with an unbeliever in marriage is not a sinful condition.  The church has taken a serpentine path in order to arrive at its position on this doctrine, which is responsible for a significant percentage of the likely hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of unequally yoked marriages through the centuries.  If contradicting the command against being unequally yoked was the only problem with this view it would be enough to reject it.

The purveyors of the prevailing understanding of Paul’s use of the word “sanctified” would, most of them, claim to agree with the clear biblical teaching that God forbids both the getting and the being unequally yoked, yet they unwittingly and somewhat audaciously argue that believers can sanctify their being unequally yoked by getting unequally yoked?  And what is it that makes this horrible equation amenable in the minds of these godly leaders?  This illogical comprehension prevails because of the misapprehension of Paul’s statement that “the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband”.

So then, the logic of this prevailing understanding argues that the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believing spouse, which in turn makes the marriage sanctified in the eyes of God, which conflicts with God’s command against being unequally yoked to unbelievers.  Note these equations:

Believer + Unbeliever = Divinely Forbidden Unequally Yoked Relationship

Believer + Unbeliever + Marriage = Divinely Sanctioned Sanctified Relationship

Such illogical thinking would mean that God’s children can enter into marriages with the godless person of their choosing and all such marriages will mystically engender the sanction and blessing of God notwithstanding the fact that it is He who forbids them.  This false doctrine is a monstrous lie that has done great injury to countless Christians through many centuries.  If the institution of marriage had the capability and the charge to overcome unequally yoked relationships then God would not have given the Israelites so many warnings against taking foreign wives and giving your daughters to foreign men in marriage.  Moses, Ezra and Nehemiah most definitely did not agree with such nonsense.  Paul does not hold this position either.  In his letters to the very same Corinthians he said:

“Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole…clean out the old leaven…”, “ I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one”, “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves”, “Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife”, “Do not be deceived: Bad company corrupts good morals”, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed.”  “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?  Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?”  ‘Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord.  And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you.  And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty’” (1 Corinthians 5:6, 7, 11, 13, 9:5, 15:33, 16:22, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Paul’s words inspired by the Holy Spirit manifest that God could not possibly be the author of this despicable view.  God does not bless the marriage union between a believer and an unbeliever—He forbids it!  God set righteousness and lawlessness against each other—Marriage has neither the power nor the authority to overturn such.  Neither does marriage have the means to make light and darkness fellowship together.  Neither can marriage bring Christ and the son of destruction into harmony.  God forbid!  Marriage has not the design to make a believer and an unbeliever share communion.  Marriage does not sanction idols being set up in the temple of God.  May it never be!  It seems unthinkable that the church fathers have allowed this to stand and yet, God forgive them, they have indeed done this very thing.

This prevailing understanding of Paul’s use of the word “sanctified” in 1 Corinthians 7:14 creates many other significant difficulties with only enough space here to mention them:  First, it provides no benefit for the believing spouse, but a rather enormous burden, even a mill stone.  Second, sanctification, unlike justification, is never instantaneous, but rather a process to which one must cooperate.  Therefore, this view fails to recognize the necessity of the unbelieving spouse cooperating in this sanctification.  Third, this understanding makes an allowance for an extremely wicked spouse to reside comfortably under the sanctification protection of the believing spouse.  Any actual sanctification is neither expected nor required.  Additionally, no provision or condition is made to limit the unbelieving spouses’ degradation.  Forth, this view happily calls kosher that which is vile and non-kosher.  Viewing sanctified in this way is essentially superstitious as though a thing were so simply because somebody has said it is so notwithstanding the reality or facts to the contrary.  Fifth, understood this way Paul’s use of the word “sanctified” has little to no precedent in the bible.  Sixth, this view conflicts with God’s command against being bound together with unbelievers.  Seventh, this view endangers the family and the local body of Christ by bringing wicked unrepentant people into the place of worship.  Eighth, this view makes the household divided against itself.  Ninth, this view endangers the children from such unequally yoked unions.  Matthew Henry said the children of these unions will receive an undue influence from the unbelieving parent because both are unregenerate.  Finally, the church can actually discipline these godless spouses for their unrepentance and put them out of the church (although sadly they most often do not), but the spouse has no such liberty or authority to do the same in their marriage under this understanding.

Paul’s Intended View: An All-Encompassing Influence

Certainly a good number of the great students of the word of God, over the centuries, have discovered the truth that we see in this text, but it is continually denied and lost by the vast majority of the church due to her disobedience and the sins of the flesh.  Those who happily obey this great truth here lose all hope and expectation that the masses of believers will follow suit—they cannot imagine a scenario where the vast Christian church well rise up to so high a level of obedience when a rather high cost is required from the believers who most need to obey.

We suspect that the great error of the church fathers heretofore has been that the two overarching doctrines under which this discussion has taken place has been Marriage and Divorce without consideration for two even greater and more general doctrines that instruct this subject.  Therefore, our goal will be to manifest Paul’s intended meaning of the word “sanctified” as used in 1 Corinthians 7:14 bearing in mind every doctrine that provides direct guidance.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a great man of God, taught the necessity of arriving at solutions to problems by taking an indirect approach. He said that people always want to take a direct approach to solving problems, which inevitably results in poor outcomes. The direct approach starts with the problem itself and works for a solution using the immediate circumstances or criteria involved in the problem.  He insisted that that is an altogether wrong approach.

On the other hand, the indirect approach requires one to back away from the immediate concern or problem and to begin with the overarching biblical doctrines that apply to the problem at hand.  Start with those great doctrines and work back to the problem or question at hand, and the doctrines will guide you to the proper understanding and the best solution.  With Lloyd-Jones’ logical methodology it became obvious that the prevailing understanding of Paul’s use of the word “sanctify” was arrived upon using a direct approach.  Using the indirect approach has helped me discover their error and correct it.

Therefore, we will not start with pondering Paul’s meaning of the use of the word “sanctified”, but we will start with the four biblical doctrines or truths that provided Paul with light and guidance as he developed this new doctrine (The reader will recall that Paul said he did not receive these instructions from the Lord—presumably by scriptural or special revelation).  Only in the light of all applicable biblical doctrines can we understand the meaning of Paul’s new doctrine, which he no doubt developed using the very same biblical doctrines as his guides.

Paul’s First Guiding Doctrine: SEPARATION

Separation is chronologically first (Genesis 1:4) and it is by far the preeminent of the four doctrines.  The other three doctrines that provide guidance in discovering Paul’s meaning are themselves subject to this doctrine.  From the time of Adam’s fall God’s children have been instructed to remain separate from the world, and their repeated failure to obey this simple command has been their constant downfall.  The failure of the church fathers to faithfully interpret New Testament passages such as Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 7 in such a way so as to bring them into compliance with this command to be separate from the world has created untold harm to the body of Christ.  The continual falling away of churches is a direct result of the failure to heed this great doctrine.

Paul’s Second Guiding Doctrine: DO NOT BE UNEQUALLY YOKED TO UNBELIEVERS

This is a sub-doctrine under the doctrine of separation.  It specifies that separation from the world does, in fact, include close relationships between saints and wordlings.  Jesus taught through His own actions that being in the world is different from being of the world.  Jesus was frequently in the company of publicans and sinners, but He did not do so in order to enjoy the world with them but rather He kept company with them in order to share with them the good news of the gospel—he was being their physician not their partner.  Saints must follow Christ’s example by constantly calling godless souls to repentance and faith in Christ—we too ought to be physicians of the soul.  However, Christians have no liberty whatsoever to become bound together with any unsaved person in any kind of relationship least of all marriage.

In our Lord’s warnings to the seven churches in Revelation Jesus praised the church at Ephesus because they could not “tolerate evil men”, and they tested the teachings of so-called Christians and rejected those who were false teachers.  But sadly Jesus had to rebuke the churches at Pergamum and Thyatira for tolerating those within their body of believers who held false doctrines, and He rebuked the churches at Sardis and Laodicea because most of them were no longer believers—both churches were dying because they tolerated unbelievers in their midst.

Paul’s Third Guiding Doctrine: MARRIAGE

Marriage is God’s institution; therefore, God’s word governs marriage.  Marriage is subordinate to God’s greater commands of separation and the command against being bound together with unbelievers.  Ministers of the gospel should not participate in forbidden marriages.  If Christians insist on marrying an unbeliever, then they should commit their sin without the blessing and assistance of the church.  Couples already unequally yoked in the church should receive special attention from the church elders through loving instruction including a thorough explanation of the gospel and of the doctrines dealing with being unequally yoked.  Unsaved adherents should not be allowed full membership, access to teaching positions, or any leadership roles; however, they are to be loved and constantly attended to until they believe or reject the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  “Teach the truth in love.”  Churches should work toward helping unequally yoked believers repent of their unequally yoked marriages and get back under the complete will of God [Read: The Will of God Dictates Divorce for Those Unequally Yoked In Marriage].

Paul’s Fourth Guiding Doctrine: DIVORCE

Contrary to what we are led to believe marital divorce is not prohibited anywhere in scripture.  If divorce was prohibited anywhere in God’s word, then Paul’s instructions in First Corinthians 7 would have simply referred believers to the biblical prohibition and moved on.  But that is not what we find Paul doing.  Instead Paul wrote a new doctrine to govern divorce for the unequally yoked Christian (The New Testament equivalent to Deuteronomy 24).

So what does God’s word have to say about divorce?  The guidelines for the use of divorce are provided in Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 24).  The guidelines for divorce for unequally yoked Israelites are provided in Deuteronomy 21:10-14.  God divorced Israel because she continued to be unbelieving—God would not remain unequally yoked to Israel.  Ezra and Nehemiah commanded divorce for all who married unbelievers (Ezra 9-10).  And properly taught God does not hate divorce but rather the abusive use of divorce in Malachi chapter 2, which is also what our Lord Jesus teaches against in Matthew 19.  Marriage is a covenant.  Whenever the conditions of a covenant are broken the covenant is broken and the innocent party is no longer bound by the covenant.  Divorce used properly is nothing more than an acknowledgement that one’s marriage covenant has been broken by their spouse and the innocent party is declaring their separation from that covenant breaker.  The typical teaching on forgiveness and restoration is simply unbiblical.  Forgiveness is a duty of every believer, but being restored to a covenant breaker is not normative in God’s word.  God’s wisdom and word dictates separation from covenant breakers.

The mistake is usually made to subordinate the doctrine of divorce to the doctrine of marriage since one necessarily follows the other, but both doctrines belong on the same plain.  Marriage unites one man to one woman and divorce separates couples already married.  The biblical doctrines of marriage and divorce are governed by and subordinate to the prohibition of being bound together with unbelievers, which is itself subordinate to the doctrine of separation.  Understanding these doctrinal relationships should demonstrate how foolish it has been to interpret Paul’s instructions on the doctrines of marriage and divorce in 1 Corinthians 7 independently from the governing light of the two greater doctrines of separation and prohibited relationships to unbelievers.

So Then, How Can The Unjustified Spouse Become Sanctified?

In the light of these four governing doctrines Paul’s meaning of the word “sanctified” becomes clear.  The unbelieving spouse must necessarily be set apart from the unbelieving world for holiness.  Anything short of this would put the believing spouse at risk of being corrupted.  As Paul warned the Corinthians, “Bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33).  However, this sanctification is not brought about by the Holy Spirit as the believer’s sanctification but by the believing spouse.  In order for the unbelieving spouse to be sanctified, as Paul says here, they must be like Cornelius and other God fearers.  While Cornelius was not born-again and did not yet have the Holy Spirit the scriptures tells us that he was “A devout man and one who feared God with all his household, and gave many alms to the Jewish people and prayed to God continually” (Acts 10:2).

Cornelius was sanctified in the way that Paul is saying an unbelieving spouse must be sanctified.  The unequally yoked marriage will have the quality of character and the power of ability for producing holiness in abundance when, and only when, the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believing spouse in the same way that Cornelius was sanctified by joining the worship of God in the temple.  In other words, they will believe the word of God and submit to the body of Christ even though the Holy Spirit has yet to quicken them into the body of saints.  Unfortunately, this will appear as a very strange doctrine for those who wrongly believe that a man can will his way into the body of Christ.  No man can will or work his way into the body of Christ (Romans 9:16, Ephesians 2:8-9).  Unless God performs a quickening work in us we cannot be children of God.  We are entirely dependent upon God’s Holy Spirit to breathe life into our spiritually dead bodies.  But in rare instances unbelievers can align themselves with the people of God and as did Cornelius fear God and cry out to him until he brings them into the fold.

Being sanctified as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:14 is not merely a social sanction that somehow allows light to fellowship with darkness.  God forbid!  It means that the unbelieving spouse fears God and submits to the ways of the Lord in all ways so that the married couple can live in peace and harmony, and so that the children will be holy.

For a deeper look at Paul’s teaching on sanctification in 1 Corinthians 7 see the article titled: 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 In Context Strengthens the Case for Unequally Yoked Divorce Found in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1


How the Church Missed God’s Permission (Mandate) to Divorce When Unequally Yoked In Marriage

Unity for the sake of unity is neither a biblical idea nor a rational ideal.  Churches and marriages are two beautiful examples of unity.  Church unity is seen in Paul’s final chapter to the church at Rome as Paul sends his greeting to twenty-six members of the church by name.  Paul encouraged them to express their unity by greeting one another with a holy kiss (Vs. 16).

Nevertheless, in the very next verse Paul turns to a negative aspect of unity.  “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Romans 16:17).  In the midst of demonstrating the beauty of church unity in his greeting to all the saints in Rome he urges the churches to put out of their assemblies those who reject the teaching of the Lord and the apostles and thereby destroy unity in the truth.

The desire for unity springs up out of an environment of disunity.  Sin not only introduced sickness and death into the world but it also introduced separation.  There will be no cries or movements for unity in heaven.  Unity is a virtue when people unite around that which is good or righteousness.  For instance, all who are in Christ Jesus will be united in heaven, the allies came together against the axis of evil during the Second World War, regenerate believers come together to start biblically centered churches, and vast and disparate populations come together to rescue their neighbors who have been wiped out by natural disasters.

Unity can also be a vice or a sin when people unite for evil or unrighteous purposes often as a response to having grown weary of disagreements and arguing without end.  Examples include ecumenical movements in religion, the axis of evil (Germany, Japan and Italy) during the Second World War, and the unity of the Democratic Party and major media outlets, higher education institutions, and Hollywood.

If unity is to be a virtue in a fallen world, it must exclude wicked people.  Therefore universal unity for righteousness cannot be had as long as unrepentant sinners continue in their rebellion against God.  So then, Paul’s advice to, “Keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” is a necessary component of righteous unity.

Not surprisingly, churches for over two thousand years have followed Paul’s advice.  They have both put people out of the church and they have split apart and become two churches when those who cause dissension and hindrances contrary to biblical teaching have become a faction within the church.

J.C. Ryle taught as much:

“Divisions and separations are most objectionable in religion.  They weaken the cause of Christianity…But before we blame people for them, we must be careful that we lay the blame where it is deserved.  False doctrine and heresy are even worse than schism.  If people separate themselves from teaching which is positively false and unscriptural, they ought to be praised rather than reproved.  In such cases separation is a virtue and not a sin…The old saying must never be forgotten, ‘He is the schismatic who causes the schism’…Controversy in religion is a hateful thing…But there is one thing which is even worse than controversy, and that is false doctrine, allowed, and permitted without protest or molestation.”  (J.C. Ryle quote in Evangelicalism Diveded by Iain Murray).

A marital divorce between a believer and an unbeliever is to a family what a schism between faithful Christians and heretical Christians is to a church.  In both instances the blame must be placed where it is deserved.  Unequally yoked unions (marriage or otherwise) should be added to false doctrines and heresy as things that are worse than schism.  As Ryle recommends praise and virtue for those who would separate themselves from heretical teaching I cannot see any reason not to recommend the same for those who would separate themselves from heretical, unbelieving spouses.

It should be easy to see that all Christian unity must be centered on Jesus Christ as he is revealed in Scripture.  Secondly, the word of God is the very source of truth, and all teaching must be measured by the word of God and eminent reason.  Along both of these lines the permanence of marriage view comes into conflict.  This flawed view on marriage thinks marriage and not Jesus to be the source of Christian unity…regarding the unity formed by a marriage.  An unequally yoked marriage cannot find its unifying source in the Lord Jesus because half of the partnership denies Christ’s authority and advocacy.  Secondly, the permanence of marriage view fails to take into account the fall and subsequently all of God’s laws to govern the fallen.  Though it be true that the mandate of the permanence of marriage did indeed precede man’s fall into sin, but after the fall took place the permanence view fails to account for vessels of God’s wrath, unequally yoked marriages, God’s command against unequally yoked marriage, and bad company/communications corrupting good morals.

In other words, vessels of wrath were not in the picture when God declared that marriage would be permanent.  Now that they are in the picture does God still want vessels of mercy to be permanently bound to vessels of wrath?  God’s word clearly teaches and mandates that God most definitely does not want believers bound to unbelievers in any relationship.

This has become a rather significant problem as the rest of man’s affairs are dealt with by God’s laws that were given to govern a fallen mankind, but many treat marriage differently and refuse to allow it to be governed by God’s law.  Because of this, the institution of marriage has been, for all practical purposes, exalted above the laws of God.  It is as though marriage alone continues as God had originally intended prior to the fall even though wicked people would now be in those marriages and marriage would clearly need to be subject to God’s moral laws.

So then, rather than achieving perfect harmony in marriages this view has created disharmony in perhaps millions of Christian marriages and churches.  All of this disharmony is a direct result of the permanence view being held above the laws of God—it has been treated as unassailable even to God’s moral laws.  If marriages were properly understood so as to be subject to God’s laws, then unequally yoked marriages would be dissolved as soon as the believer became convicted of the sinful union.  And church leaders would be calling upon their members to repent of unequally yoked marriages rather than urging them to seek unity between light and dark, righteousness and lawlessness, Christ and ungodliness, and the temple of God and idols.  It is heartbreaking to think that for centuries the permanence view of marriage has been coercing saints bound together with unbelievers to “help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord and so bring wrath on yourself from the Lord”.

Believers who realize that they are in unequally yoked marriages soon discover that keeping one’s vow is pitted against God’s command prohibiting unequally yoked relationships.  And being loyal and obedient to one’s spouse is pitted against the command to come out from the midst of the world and be separate.  And staying married to an unrepentant vessel of wrath prepared for God’s destruction is pitted against God’s command against helping the wicked and loving those who hate the Lord (2 Chronicles 19:2).

Hopefully the reader sees the elephant in the room (preceding paragraph)?  This is one ginormous elephant!  Follow closely: What (in context) preceded the fall of Adam and Eve into sin?  Answer: Marriage.  And what was God’s intention for marriage before the fall?  Answer: Marriages were permanent pairings (two halves of the one whole).  And finally: What (in context) did not exist before the fall?  (Clue: look at the previous paragraph).  Answer: Vessels of wrath, unequally yoked relationships and God’s moral command to separate from the wicked.  That is correct!  None of these things existed at the time when God intended marriage to be permanent.  Needless to say, God’s original intention of permanence in marriage is still a reality in equally yoked marriages between two believers in Christ.

So then, should saints, with their heads buried in the sand, continue in God’s original intention for marriage acting like no wolves in sheep’s clothing are prowling about?  Or must we follow God’s moral law that was given to govern this fallen world…the very Law that blazes vessels of God’s wrath in a light as bright as the sun, and strictly prohibits marriage to them?

It would seem that the permanence of marriage defenders want to carry on as though the fall never happened.  If only, they must be thinking, we could follow God’s pre-fall plan.  Then we would have no need for church divisions and marital divorces.  That would be nice because divisions and divorces are so very ugly and messy.  Oh, and we would not need repentance either, or faith, or Christ’s atoning sacrifice, hope, unity, truth, honor, forgiveness, the indwelling Spirit, hospitals, graves, tears, locks, keys, weapons…the list of things for which we would have no need is endless.  Yes, well if “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts, then we all could have a great big party.  But we have to live in a world that has fallen.  A world that is governed by God’s moral law.  A world in dire need of Christ’s atoning sacrifice.  A world with necessary divisions and divorces to separate the vessels of mercy from the vessels of wrath.

The church through the centuries has permitted local bodies of Christ (churches) to divide years after the people involved have covenanted together to form a place of worship, and they have done so because of Paul’s command to “turn away from them.”  In other words, whenever dissenters rise up within the church to take an unbiblical view/direction the church is allowed to put them out and covenant only with the obedient children of God.  Marriages must not be treated differently for the members of a marriage require the very same protections so obviously needful for members of a church.  Both churches and marriages should be safe havens for God’s saints…places that edify and build up…that support the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification.

Dealing with vessels of God’s wrath is not pretty (nor is surgically removing a tumor), but it is necessary because of dissension within the body of Christ.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.  This has not merely been an allowance from the Lord but it is a mandate.  Yet many in the church have blindly and mistakenly worked very hard to restrict believers caught up in unequally yoked marriages from faithfully obeying God’s laws designed to protect believers from the contagion of unrepentant sinners.

Why have they done this?  They have acted in this way because in their mind marriage has been exalted above the commandments of God.  Luther, Calvin and the Puritans declared that marriage was a civil matter, but far too many believers continue to follow the Roman Catholic bastardization of marriage by treating it like a sacrament.  Holy matrimony is a man-made monstrosity (no offense intended to those who like me are blessed with an equally yoked marriage).  God is holy.  God’s word is holy.  But everything else in this world must be subject to the laws of God because of the sinfulness of man.

God instituted one man and one woman for life, but he did so when the fall had not yet taken place.  From the time of the fall until the present day the institution of marriage has been subject to all of the laws of God that govern the affairs of fallen men.  God’s law not only forbids unequally yoked marriages, but also homosexual, polygamous, and incestuous and marriages.  The church should have treated unequally yoked marriages the very same way it treats the other three forbidden marital unions.  Having failed to do so, the church now finds itself upon a precipice; it will soon fall one way or the other.  In allowing one of the four forbidden marital unions the church has no one to blame but itself as it begins its decent down this slippery slope.

For some time now millions of so called Christians have been embracing homosexual lifestyles and marriages.  Why?  Homosexuality and soon polygamy are going to be considered mainstream in the churches because of the untold numbers of believers who are unequally yoked in their marriages.  Their wicked spouses demand that they “love” (by love they mean to advocate for and to celebrate) the homosexuals who for no fault of their own prefer homosexual relations.  The Supreme Court of the United States of America has acted like a legislative body and written a law legalizing homosexual marriages just as they legalized the murder of unborn babies in 1973.

Wake up O sleeping church before it is too late.  Is it not obvious that our children are being lost to a modern Sodom and Gomorrah?  Now is not the time to look back as did Lot’s wife to her eternal ruin (She was looking back to the world that she loved).  Repentance begins with obeying the commandments of God and separating light from darkness.  Repent of your unequally yoked marriages.  Separate yourselves from your defiled churches.  Repent of your failure to protest the false doctrines that have crept into the church.  Repent of your love for this world and its ways.

Paul, speaking the very words of God told the Corinthians to, “Come out from their midst and be separate says the Lord.  And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you.  And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:17-18).

The corporate sin of the church on this issue is massive.  It is such a complicated issue that churchmen have thrown up their hands and surrendered.  They have sat down when they should have stood up.  They have left the people of God to figure out for themselves what the churchmen could not comprehend for themselves.  And to add insult to injury, the one law regarding this matter that they enforce is a manmade law that entraps God’s children in divinely prohibited marriages for the entirety of their earthly lives.  It has been a travesty of major proportions.  It is time for churchmen to learn the biblical truth and stand up once again.

This failure is due largely because of the insistence to follow God’s original intent for marriage when marriage is and must be subject to all of God’s moral laws that govern sinful people.