Tag Archives: Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce

Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce

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

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

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

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

In Martyn Lloyd Jones’ Own Words

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

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

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

Jesus’ Single Principle in Matthew 5:17-48

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

Sadducees’ and Pharisees’ interpretation of the law:

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

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

Christ’s principle in five segments:

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

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

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

The Six Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusions Drawn from Matthew 5

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

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

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

Matthew 19: Jesus’ Second Occurrence Speaking on Divorce

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

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

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

The religious leaders who adopted the liberal Hillel view of divorce were men who used the oppression of weaker groups to their own advantage, and they did so because of the hardness of their hearts.  These were men who oppressed their own wives just as the priests, their predecessors, had done in the days of the prophet Malachi.

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

It was Jesus who said, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another.”  He also taught that all who loved Him would obey Him.  Then, in Matthew 19, Jesus addresses the unloving, hard heartedness of these religious leaders who claim to obey the law, but in actuality have reduced the law to a mere letter all the while hating rather than loving one another.  God called this behavior treacherous throughout the Old Testament.  Specifically in Malachi and in Matthew God is saying that those who deal treacherously with others do not have the Spirit of God.  Why?  The answer is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which we have considered in some depth above.  The Christian, new creation or new man, WILL love others.  They are a new race of humanity unlike any who have gone before.  Multitudes of imposters exist but genuine Christians will forever be wholly different from the natural man who continues enslavement to sin and death.  The remnant of sin remains, but the new man will not be hard hearted, he will not be treacherous and he/she would not divorce their spouse except in cases where the spouse is devoid of the Spirit of God, has the unbelieving hardness of heart and is treacherous with others.  Such behaviors elicited God’s permit or provision for divorce.

So then, divorcing a treacherous spouse is a biblically mandated permit/concession/provision for the innocent spouse.  In such cases no guilt should be cast upon the innocent believer seeking divorce from their treacherous spouse.  These must not be treated as second class Christians or deemed unbelieving and unrepentant.  God forbid.  God loves them enough to provide a way of escape, and it is way past time for the church to grasp this biblical concept as well.  Finally, when the treacherous spouse tries to use God’s provision in his/her treachery they must know that they are guilty of adultery.  They are guilty of a failure to love even their own wife or husband.  These need to repent and believe.  May the grace of God be shown in their hearts.


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 as he used the word “sanctified” 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 sanctification but rather the believing spouse is the agent or instrument of sanctification.

To understand Paul’s use of the word “sanctified” it is paramount that we first understand the meaning of the word itself.  The word sanctify has five significant aspects in its definition.  First, sanctification is to set apart for holiness; a separation from everything unholy.  Second, it carries the idea of freeing from sin or purifying.  Third, being sanctified imparts or imputes inviolability including the idea of a social sanction.  Forth, to impart or impute sacredness or a moral sanction such as Moses permission for divorce.  Finally, to be sanctified means to make productive of holiness, which is to say having the quality of character and the power of ability for producing holiness in abundance.

The Prevailing View vs. Paul’s Intended View 

To our knowledge no great divide has ever formed over what Paul meant when he used “sanctified” here.  This actually surprises us however, and we 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?  All should agree that understanding Paul’s use of the word “sanctified” is critical when he says, “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband”.  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 Paul’s Christian rule or law.  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, in the immediate context Paul’s meaning is crystal clear.  Nevertheless, theologians have misunderstood Paul’s meaning because they were not looking for it, and they were not looking for it because they were content with the common understanding that was built upon four significant factors.  First, there are two jolting biblical statements of which one’s initial and difficult to shack impressions are monumental.  With no time to discuss them here they are “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16) and “whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).  A deeper look into both passages quickly reveals that neither can rightly be used to prohibit biblically sanctioned divorces and remarriages, yet they have been for centuries.  Even understanding the full meaning, both , and particularly Jesus’ words, are jolting.  Second, presuppositions built upon these jolting statements.  Third, divorce doctrines get built with these presuppositions used as the standard of truth.  All related scriptural passages had to conform to these presuppositions and the subsequent divorce doctrine (Hopefully the reader caught that this is backward.)  Forth, man-made laws were added, which codified the false doctrines.  Two significant examples: Roman Catholicism made marriage a sacrament, and nations made laws prohibiting divorce following the lead of the Church.

The Prevailing View: A “Christian Card” Included in Nuptials Packet

The prevailing understanding of Paul’s use of the word “sanctified” is comprised of the third and fourth aspects of sanctified as defined above.  The third imputes inviolability and social sanction, while the fourth imparts or imputes sacredness or a moral sanction.  According to those who hold this view it is enough to have inviolability, and moral sanction.  The nature of both of these aspects of “sanctification” is such that they must be imparted or imputed, which leads to the question, “by what or whose power and authority are these aspects of sanctification being imparted or imputed?  In other words, if the only sanctification the unbelieving spouse has is imparted or imputed carrying with it a moral sanction and inviolability then he/she cannot be expected much less required to be set apart for holiness, they are not actually purified, and they absolutely will not have the quality of character and the power of ability for producing holiness in abundance.  What or who has the authority to provide the unbelieving spouse a “Christian Card” so that they can be accepted in all Christian circles without fear of being assailed (called out for their unrepentance and ungodly behavior among the people of God)?  Paul states that the sanctification comes from the believing spouse: “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband…” (1 Corinthians 7:14).  At least the spouse is the agency through which the sanctification comes, but a believer cannot disobey the command against being bound together with an unbeliever and suddenly gain the power to sanctify their unbelieving spouse through their own sin.  No, what the prevailing view believes is that marriage is the power that sanctifies the unbelieving spouse through the believing spouse.

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 argue that believers can sanctify their being unequally yoked by getting married.  And what is it that makes this amenable in the minds of these godly leaders?  This illogical comprehension prevails because of a wrong understanding of Paul’s use of the word “sanctified”.

Consider the logic of this prevailing understanding that the unbelieving spouse is sanctified by the believing spouse, which in turn makes the marriage sanctified in the eyes of God.  This creates a contradiction in God’s Word.  Consider two equations:

Believer + Unbeliever = Divinely Forbidden Unequally Yoked Relationship

Believer + Unbeliever + Marriage = Divinely Sanctioned Sanctified Relationship

Where would the institution of marriage have gained such power?  Of course the answer would be from God who instituted marriage.  If God had given marriage the power to sanctify unequally yoked marriages, then why was God so adamantly uncompromising in both testaments about believers not being bound together with unbelievers especially in marriage?  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.  Scripture ubiquitously warns that unequally yoked marriage leads to idolatry, which is why God has always remained steadfast in prohibiting all such unions.

This was not at all Paul’s meaning of “sanctified”.  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 sanctify or 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 neither the design nor the charge 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 quickly lose all hope and expectation that the masses of believers will follow suit—they cannot imagine a scenario where the vast Christian church will 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 problem solving, 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 what Dr. Jones calls 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 (Four directly apply) can we understand the meaning of Paul’s new doctrine, which he no doubt developed using the very same four 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 subordinate doctrine to 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 or their buddy.  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.  Christians must be surrounded by and familiar with the unsaved.  They must be loving, good, patient and kind at the very least.  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 the believers at Corinth to the biblical prohibition chapter and verse 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 bi-lateral 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.  FYI: Most sins do not rise to the level of breaking a covenant.  Two Christians must and will live together continually forgiving one another and coming together in the love of God thousands of times during a lifetime together, but breaking the marriage covenant is committing treachery against one’s spouse…against the very marriage itself.

The mistake is usually made by subordinating 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 (Fifth aspect of definition of ‘sanctify’) 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  That the church has failed to see the details Paul provided will blow your mind.


Here God Once Dwelt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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