«THE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE Leslie McFall 22 June, 2009 PREFACE There are two things that characterise the Lord Jesus and should ...»
THE BIBLICAL TEACHING ON DIVORCE AND REMARRIAGE
22 June, 2009
There are two things that characterise the Lord Jesus and should characterise all who have
His spirit. They are love and forgiveness. As His life was being taken away He prayed, “Father
forgive them for they know not what they do.” As Stephen was being stoned to death, he prayed,
“Lord, do not lay to them this sin”. The sin in both cases was murder. Both were prepared to forgive their murderers. Is the sin of adultery greater than murder? Jesus commanded Peter to forgive seventy times seven. The truly born-again Christian will forgive their murderer, love their enemy, and pray for their salvation. The unborn ‘Christian’ will behave like a man of the world and seek justice through the courts of this world.
This paper has been written as a guide for all of Christ’s true followers who have been hurt by some unseemly and distressing behaviour by their partner. Jesus’ immediate response was and is to forgive the wrong and love the wrong-doer. He says, “Go, and sin no more. Neither do I condemn you.” That is a hard example to follow, and many Christians turn their back on the idea of forgiveness and seek out counsellors who will offer a more attractive solution, one that will punish the offender. If you cannot forgive, then you do not have the Spirit of Christ, and if you do not have the Spirit of Christ, you are not a Christian. If this is your position, then it is time to have a deeper look at what you thought a Christian was.
Included are the following sins that must be forgiven, (1) adultery, (2) desertion, (3) abuse, (4) hard-heartedness, and (5) neglect. A well known rabbi in Jesus’ day taught that each of these five categories qualified for a divorce. He spoke the language of commonsense. Along came Jesus and taught the people to forgive these five wrongs, and be reconciled to the wrong-doer. This was not commonsense. But that is the difference between rabbi Hillel and rabbi Jesus. The Pharisees’ advice was this-worldly (intuitive); Jesus’ advice was other-worldly (counter-intuitive). The Pharisee preached, “Love your neighbour, and hate your enemy.” Jesus preached, “Love your enemy.” In every department of their theology, Jesus had an opposite point of view to that of the Pharisee. Where the Pharisee kept the letter of the Law, Jesus kept the spirit of the Law. “Whoso looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery already in his heart.” And so it was in their appreciation of marriage and their attitude toward its break-up. The Pharisee could see dozens of reasons for breaking up a marriage. Jesus saw none. The rabbis used Scripture to grant divorce certificates. Jesus used Scripture to invalidate such certificates. The majority of Christian counsellors think Jesus got it wrong, and the rabbis got it right. The proof is in the number of divorce certificates held by many of His followers and prominent church leaders.
The core reason why Jesus could not accept the break-up of any marriage is that God makes the bond and only God can undo the marriage bond. To undo the bond is to usurp God’s prerogative.
The second reason why Jesus could not accept the break-up of any marriage is that it is incompatible with forgiveness. In the Lord’s Prayer He taught that we should ask God for the forgiveness of our sins on the grounds that we had forgiven others their sins against us. It would be a denial of the principle of forgiveness to make an exception for the sin of fornication.
The third reason why Jesus could not accept the break-up of any marriage is that marriage is the supreme analogy of love between a man and a woman, and between Christ and His Bride Church. God is love and He showed that in the sacrifice of His Son for an ungrateful world. While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
It is with regret that I hear of Christians becoming followers of pre-Christian Jewish rabbis and taking advantage of the divorce courts of the ‘god of this world’ (Satan) to end their God-bonded unions. The god of this world is delighted to see Christians enter his divorce courts to end their marriages. He knows that divorce plays into his hands because the Christian who divorces for adultery will soon end up being an adulterer himself through a second marriage. Satan will get two adulterers for the price of one certificate.
What does a divorce certificate reveal about you?
First, the act of divorce is the act of an unforgiving person. Its possessor says, ‘I could not bring myself to forgive you, so I had to divorce you.’ This can never be spoken by a person who has the Spirit of Christ dwelling within them. The divorce certificate, therefore, certifies that you have an unforgiving spirit. With such a spirit you ensure that God cannot forgive you your sins.
Secondly, the divorce certificate certifies that you do not care for the salvation of the person you were married to. The Spirit teaches that the Christian should remain in their marriage in order to win their adulterous or unbelieving partner over to Christ. Separation may be forced upon the Christian, but the marriage bond can only be broken by death (Rom 7:1-2; 1 Cor 7:39).
Thirdly, and sadly, the divorce certificate certifies that you do not have the Spirit of Christ dwelling within you. Without Him living within you, you will not be with Him in heaven. He (and Stephen) forgave their murderers. You do not have this same spirit.
Fourthly, I view the possession of a Divorce Certificate as the possession of a spiritual Death Certificate. It certifies that you hate your enemy, and hate is of the Devil. By agreeing to a divorce you are giving your partner the go-ahead to sleep with another partner. You will be held responsible for this permission. The sin of his (or her) second marriage will be laid at your door.
Finally, you got your Divorce Certificate from Satan, not from God, and not from Christ.
Satan has a vested interest in breaking up every single marriage that takes place in the world, because in doing so, he is usurping the place of God, who alone can separate what He has bonded. He uses death, not divorce, to end all marriages.
The possession of a Divorce Certificate will tell the truly spiritual churches of Christ, and their spiritual leaders, a lot about you, and about your relationship with the Lord Jesus. It reveals that you do not have the Spirit of Christ within you (so why are you taking Communion?). It reveals that you are not prepared to forgive certain kinds of sins; that there are exceptive clauses in your policy of forgiveness. It reveals that your mindset is no different from that in the unbeliever; that you behave as someone who has more in common with the world than you have with Christ. Finally, it reveals ignorance of what your Saviour has revealed about the sanctity of marriage. A divorce certificate does not just divorce you from your partner, it also divorces you from your God. The two things go together. Your Divorce Certificate is also your spiritual Death Certificate. If you would choose Life, then the sooner you tear it up and return to your forgiven, adulterous partner, the sooner you will have Life within you once again. No adulterer will enter heaven, and no one in a second marriage, whose spouse is still alive, will be in heaven. Be rid of your second marriage, terminate it, if you would see Jesus again.
Possibly the most frequently asked question is: Is the act itself of getting a divorce a sinful act? I have, therefore, devoted Letter 5 (section 1.8.5) to a detailed answer to this question. What the reader should bear in mind at this early stage is that a Hebrew wife became an abomination (a hated person) in God’s eyes the moment she slept with two living men. Her second husband turns her into a defiled person the moment he sleeps with her (Deut 24:4). The reason for God’s judgment is that He designed ‘one wife for life’. Divorce is a rejection of this idea. Remarriage can only occur after a death, not after a divorce. Divorce does not exist in God’s world.
A divorced wife became a dangerous and a polluting force. Jesus endorsed this view when he stated that any one who marries a divorced woman is committing adultery. It is the fact that she has had sex with two living men that constitutes her an abomination, not the rightness or wrongness of the grounds of her divorce. There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ grounds for divorce. Divorce itself is wrong in principle.
God is consistently adamant, under both Covenants, that a woman cannot sleep with two men. God’s abhorrence has not changed. Practising homosexual men and women, and remarried divorced men and women, are in the same category of abominable persons.
It is the prayer of the author, that this article will open the door to the knowledge of God’s will about your marriage, and the evil of getting a divorce through the divorce courts of the ‘god of this world’ (Satan), and that as a result of coming into the light of the true knowledge, you will be able to guide others away from divorce and toward the Lord Jesus in this adulterous and evil generation.
One of the strongest arguments against divorce is the unanimous practice of the Church from the Apostolic age to the Protestant Reformation. As soon as the Lord Jesus’ followers heard of Jesus’ absolute ban on divorce they acted on it. Divorce was the opposite that God intended for all marriages. That, for most Bible-believing Christians, determines the issue. This article takes that practice seriously. It also examines the thinking of Jesus, the theology, that gave rise to that practice.
The Church of God received the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ directly from Him in oral form, and the Apostles and Jesus’ followers had time, during His earthly ministry, to be certain what He meant by each of His statements, and to work out the practical implications of His teaching on divorce and remarriage before the Gospels were written down. The earliest Gospel to be written down was probably Matthew, which, by tradition, is reputed to have been written down fifteen years after the ascension.
Out of their personal interaction with the Lord Jesus came a clear, unambiguous application that was never seriously challenged for the first 450 years by any authoritative Christian teacher/leader.1 As a result, a definite pattern of behaviour (called ‘traditions’ by Paul) characterised the whole Christian Church whereby divorce was not permitted for any reason, not even for adultery.
The break with Judaism was complete and final.
The so-called ‘Pauline Privilege’ (1 Cor 7:15-16) was always understood to mean that if an unbelieving partner took the initiative to separate (or get a civil divorce) from a Christian partner, then the Christian partner must stay single in the hope that the unbelieving partner would come back again, even if the unbeliever remarried in the meantime.
After the coming of Jesus Christ and the institution of a new priesthood of which He is its undying, great High Priest, offering a better Covenant between God and Man,2 and replacing the external Mosaic Law (Heb 6:12; 10:16) with an internal law written in the minds and upon the hearts of all those born again of the Spirit of God, divorce was abolished by God completely when the Old Covenant was replaced with the New Covenant, there being now no grounds whatsoever for divorce, for either Christian or non-Christian because of the one-flesh nature of the union. This was firmly understood by the Church up until the Protestant Reformation, which then branched off and introduced divorce for adultery for the first time as a teaching of the Lord Jesus (which is reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith ).
This paper is in two parts with five appendices. Part 1 sets out the way in which the Reformed Churches were misled into branching off from the unambiguous teaching and universal practice of the Church up until the Reformation. Part 1 ends with replies to five correspondence questions. Part 2 sets out guidelines for Christian counsellors on how to handle divorce situations given that divorce cannot dissolve any one-flesh union.
Appendix A sets out a selection of Bible translations which still support Erasmus’s false teaching on divorce and remarriage. Appendix B explains the author’s method for translating the aorist subjunctive in Matthew 19:9. Appendix C presents a critique of David Instone-Brewer’s book advocating the use of OT laws to obtain a divorce between Christians, and between Christians and non-Christian spouses. Appendix D presents what little patristic, versional and textual manuscript evidence there is in favour of Erasmus’s addition of ei (Greek eij ) to the text of Matthew 19:9.
Appendix E sets out the case for the superiority of the Majority Greek Text.
Gordon Wenham and William Heth have argued the case for a return to the doctrine and practice of the Early Church. According to them, in the centuries following the proclamation of the Gospel throughout the world, the Church’s unanimous view was “no remarriage following divorce,” and “divorce” was interpreted as separation and not a dissolution of the marriage. See Gordon J.
Wenham & William E. Heth, Jesus and Divorce: Updated edition (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1997).
About 600 years before the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, God promised that He would replace the Mosaic Law with a New Law (Jer 31:31). Hebrews 8:13 points out the logic of God promising to bring in a ‘New Covenant’. A New Covenant automatically makes the first one obsolete as regards saving those from the wrath of God who are in it.
PART I. TEXTUAL MATTERS & THE DIVORCE TEXTS
1.1. WHAT GREEK TEXT DID THE REFORMERS USE TO REDISCOVER THE TRUTH OF THEGOSPEL?
This is a crucial question, because if the early Protestant Reformers followed a Greek text that was not the Universal (Byzantine) Text used by the Early Church, and which had been transmitted faithfully from their day up to the time of the Reformation, then the application of their core doctrine of sola Scriptura (‘Scripture Alone’) would become a trap, because they would latch on to a faulty copy and attribute to it the inspiration and infallibility that only belongs to the original text and its faithful copies.