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Monday, June 15, 2009

Divorce and Remarriage

I went out on a limb a couple of weeks ago and suggested that the Bible teaches there is no valid reason for divorce (and, therefore, remarriage). One point I made as quickly and clearly as I could was that I did not believe divorce and remarriage to be some "unforgivable sin". Why would anyone think it was? Well, if you believe that divorce and remarriage is adultery, then it is likely you would conclude that the ongoing second marriage would be an adulterous relationship. The only remedy, it would seem (and there are many who make this argument), would be another divorce and a return to the first spouse.

Those who hold this view have two primary points for their argument. First, adultery is ongoing and needs to be stopped. Second, they use the biblical example from Ezra. In chapter 10, the people repented of having married foreign women and pledged to "put away all the wives and their children". There, see? If you're in a sinful marriage relationship, the right action is to divorce, even if there are children. Simply repenting isn't enough.

I'd like to make two important points on this. First, I need to point out that repentance is necessary. Those who argue "My divorce and remarriage is just fine -- I don't care what God has to say about it" are not repentant. A failure to recognize sin is no more repentance than is a refusal to admit to it. Repentance is necessary for temporal forgiveness.

The other point, though, is this. The question is inevitable: "If divorce and remarriage is adultery, what then should we do to make it right?" I thoroughly disagree with those who argue for a second divorce (and especially a necessary return to the first spouse). I understand the arguments for that perspective, but I think they are wrong-headed. If divorce is wrong, it seems nonsensical to remedy the problem with a divorce. But there is an interesting biblical perspective that affects both halves of the "divorce and return to the first spouse" argument that I think shines a light on the problem.

Lots of people know that the Bible prohibits divorce on most grounds. Lots of people know that Moses allowed divorce; according to Christ, it was a product of hardheartedness. What most people don't seem to know is that the Bible specifically prohibits divorce from a spouse, remarriage to another, then returning to the first. In Deuteronomy we read:
When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance (Deut 24:1-4).
Note the phrase "that is an abomination before the Lord." This is a serious condition. God says, "If a husband divorces his wife And she goes from him And belongs to another man, will he still return to her? Will not that land be completely polluted?" (Jer 3:1). Aparently there is something about marriage, even subsequent to a divorce, that breaks the previous union and forms a new union. Note that in the Deuteronomy passage, even "if the latter husband dies", there is no return.

It appears, then, that marriage, even if it begins in adultery, forms a union, a bond that still should not be broken. It seems that if you are in a marriage, no matter the conditions or source, that you are in a condition of which Jesus says, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate" (Matt 19:6).

There is biblical precedent to the idea that God could condone, ordain, and use a relationship that He initially forbids. In 1 Samuel 8, Israel begs Samuel (God's appointed judge) to ask God to give them a king. Of this request God says, "Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them" (1 Sam 8:7). Now, I don't think anyone can conclude that rejecting God is a good thing. Clearly God didn't think so. He warned them about the cost (1 Sam 8:11-18). Still, after all was said and done, 1) God gave them a king, and 2) He ordained that through that kingly line Christ would come. You see here a case where God recognizes an action as sin, but uses it to produce His ends not by eliminating it, but by sanctifying it -- setting it apart for His purposes.

There are those who argue that divorce and remarriage is an adulterous condition from which the only escape is to divorce and remarry. To me, it makes no sense, it violates the sanctity of marriage, and it leaves no room for God to use what He will use. To me, the remedy for a couple who are married as a product of divorce is repentance and a wholehearted reliance on God to sanctify them ... you know, like every other sinful human being.

24 comments:

Dan Trabue said...

Those who argue "My divorce and remarriage is just fine -- I don't care what God has to say about it" are not repentant. A failure to recognize sin is no more repentance than is a refusal to admit to it. Repentance is necessary for temporal forgiveness.

I wonder: What is your position on those who sin in ignorance? If, as in this example, it truly is "an abomination" and a sin to remarry but someone does not believe that to be the case, what then?

Are they still saved? Still heaven-bound?

What should the local church do in such a case? If the majority of the local church and its leaders think it is a sin and the "sinners" don't, should they be confronted and, if they don't come around, kicked out?

Does it matter on the sin/action? That is, if the preacher and deacons and a majority thinking drinking alcohol of any sort is wrong and some in the minority don't, should they be confronted and, if not won over, kicked out?

Which sins/actions ought to be worthy of being kicked out and which sins/actions aren't? Who makes the call and under what circumstances?

I know we've talked around these issues some before, but I was hoping for a clarification.

Thanks.

Stan said...

I'm quite sure we've danced this dance before. I'm also sure I did a recent post on sinning in ignorance. And it should be abundantly clear that I don't believe in perfectionism, so I don't believe that someone who sins, fails to recognize it, and dies is damned.

Matthew 18:15-17 outlines the standard approach for when someone sins. It is first handled on a personal basis, followed by a few, and finally turned over to the church leadership. (Multiple chances to see the sin and repent.) In the case of refusal to do so, Matt 18 obligates the leadership to exclude them from fellowship. In all cases, the goal is to "gain your brother". (I say that because "kicked out" sounds like retribution while this process is not intended as such.)

"Does it matter on the sin/action?"

I don't really understand this question. You've used it multiple times and I'm just not getting it. If I went to a church whose leadership held (against Scripture) that all alcohol consumption was sin, I wouldn't want to go there. They wouldn't have to throw me out; I'd leave. I attended such a church where the leadership told me that if I didn't hug the ladies I wasn't expressing Christian love. They kicked me out ... and I was glad to leave. Apparently, where you live, it's either better if all church leadership conforms to the views of all those who attend?

As for who makes the call, fortunately, it's not me. In most churches that I know the "call" is "No sin is worth disciplining a fellow believer over." In an extremely rare (and, in my view, dangerous) few, the "call" is "Either you repent of the slightest infraction that violates my sensibilities or be damned." (I, of course, would find both of those sides as dangerously wrong.) It would, in a biblical model, be the function of the church leadership.

Dan Trabue said...

I don't really understand this question. You've used it multiple times and I'm just not getting it. If I went to a church whose leadership held (against Scripture) that all alcohol consumption was sin, I wouldn't want to go there.

In my experience, at ANY church, there will be disagreements over some sins/actions. If a church is of the sort that continually divides/disciplines because of disagreements over an endless number of actions, well, they'd be fighting all the time and not progressing in their walk with Christ.

I am of the opinion that churches ought to show the same grace towards one another that God shows towards us. Yes, we will disagree at times and that's okay.

We are a Peace Church at our church, but you don't have to be a pacifist to be part of our church and not everyone is.

Of course, in the real world (and as you noted) most churches DON'T continually kick people out over disagreements about sin/actions and that, to me, is a good thing. Such a step, to me, seems like it ought to be a rare thing. We are fallen human beings with a less than perfect knowledge of the Divine Will.

As I believe Wesley said, "In essentials, purity, in non-essentials, grace..." or words to that effect.

Stan said...

Dan Trabue: "I am of the opinion that churches ought to show the same grace towards one another that God shows towards us."

"Which sins/actions ought to be worthy of being kicked out and which sins/actions aren't? Who makes the call and under what circumstances?"

"Such a step, to me, seems like it ought to be a rare thing."

In your view, then, how would you answer the questions you asked me (the middle paragraph)?

And is there anything in the post I made with which you disagree?

Dan Trabue said...

I'm not sure which questions/middle paragraph you're asking about... This one?

What should the local church do in such a case? If the majority of the local church and its leaders think it is a sin and the "sinners" don't, should they be confronted and, if they don't come around, kicked out?

If you're speaking of these questions, my answer is as stated: I tend towards showing grace over matters of "sin" or disagreements about actions over their sin natures. I am opposed to Hummers and it would be a sin for me to own one, but I don't force that upon others.

On more important matters, if someone were teaching, for instance, that we ought to hate our enemies and slaughter them and their children, the majority of our church would disagree along with our pastor and we may well ask such a person to leave.

I'm not sure if that's the question you are asking about.

Dan Trabue said...

And is there anything in the post I made with which you disagree?

I am not as strident as you are about divorce. As I have noted, the Bible is all over the place about matters of sexuality and marriage and I think there's room for disagreement about some topics, like divorce. This would be an area where I lean towards grace.

Now, if a spouse were abusing a spouse, I would certainly think steps ought to be taken to get the abused spouse away from the dangerous spouse. Such behavior is, it seems to me, quite harmful to the institution of marriage which I hold in the highest esteem.

Stan said...

These questions: "Which sins/actions ought to be worthy of being kicked out and which sins/actions aren't? Who makes the call and under what circumstances?"

von said...

Stan,

I largely agree with you on the validity of the second marriage. But what is your position on the mans obligation toward his first wife if she hasn't remarried but he has?

Stan said...

Obligation beyond the court-ordered stuff? Never thought about it, nor can I think of what Scripture says on it. You?

von said...

Well, if the second marriage is adultery, that means that the first marriage still exists, no?

Thus all the normal obligations of marriage would still be there.

Stan said...

The "normal obligations" of marriage include things like "the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." If the first marriage is actually still in effect, then we've got a polygamist we're dealing with and he will need to have sex with both wives (as well as the other obligations of headship, providing, priesthood duties, and all the rest). I'm thinking that this would not be your argument, but I'm not at all sure. Is it?

von said...

I think it would be best if I argued in the alternative here:

1) Assuming (FSA) that it is immoral (it is not illegal) to have sex with both your new wife and your first wife:
a) You still then must give her everything that you can give her: clothing, food, housing, spiritual leadership, etc. You owe her and your children as much contact as if you had not breached your marriage covenant.
You and your second wife must also acknowledge that your continual defrauding of your first wife is your fault (you and the second wife). That it is your act of adultery that forces the defrauding.

2) In the alternative you may decide that it is, indeed, morally required for you to have sex with both women. That you need to fulfill, to the best of your ability, all of your obligations to both.

The second wife and yourself will both need to acknowledge that it is your sin which has placed you in that position.


Scriptures admonitions against defrauding and divorce are clear. That against polygamy... less so.

Stan said...

Here's my conflict here, Von. While I see that remarriage is declared "adultery", there also seems to be a sense in Scripture in which remarriage terminates the original marriage.

Here, consider it from this direction. The biblical laws on divorce (and remarriage) are absolutely clear. If remarriage takes place after a divorce, the remarried spouse cannot return to the previous spouse. Now, if the marriage was still in effect, why would that be? Seems like nonsense.

It seems to me that the biblical suggestion is that remarriage after divorce terminates a previous marriage and any future marital relationship. Thus, to continue to engage the former wife in sexual relations or in anything that resembles marriage would seem to me to be a violation of God's clear command on the subject.

It's interesting, too, that your question is only in terms of the husband. What would you say to a wife who divorces her husband and remarries, but the husband has not? What are her obligations to him?

von said...

Yes, my arguements are just toward the husband. Indeed, so is the passage you cite:

Deu 24:1 When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
Deu 24:2 And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.
Deu 24:3 And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a bill of divorcement, and giveth it in her hand, and sendeth her out of his house; or if the latter husband die, which took her to be his wife;
Deu 24:4 Her former husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled; for that is abomination before the LORD: and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.

You tend to blur this into 'spouse'. But the verse says nothing of the wife divorcing the husband (which was of course not legal) nor of the husbands marital status.

Indeed the man who did this sinned. He was responsible for the adultery of his wife with this second man.

So the cases are not parrallel. A wife who remarries belongs to her second husband. No woman may have sex with two men without it being adultery.

Note the change in the word for 'husband' in these verses:

Deu 24:3 And if the latterH314 husbandH376 hateH8130 her, and writeH3789 her a billH5612 of divorcement,H3748 and givethH5414 it in her hand,H3027 and sendethH7971 her out of his house;H4480 H1004 orH176 ifH3588 the latterH314 husbandH376 die,H4191 whichH834 tookH3947 her to be his wife;H802
Deu 24:4 Her formerH7223 husband,H1167 whichH834 sent her away,H7971 mayH3201 notH3808 takeH3947 her againH7725 to beH1961 his wife,H802 after thatH310 H834 she is defiled;H2930 forH3588 thatH1931 is abominationH8441 beforeH6440 the LORD:H3068 and thou shalt notH3808 cause(H853) the landH776 to sin,H2398 whichH834 the LORDH3068 thy GodH430 givethH5414 thee for an inheritance.H5159


The first husband, and he alone, is given the title 'master':

H1167
בּעל
ba‛al
bah'-al
From H1166; a master; hence a husband, or (figuratively) owner (often used with another noun in modifications of this latter sense: - + archer, + babbler, + bird, captain, chief man, + confederate, + have to do, + dreamer, those to whom it is due, + furious, those that are given to it, great, + hairy, he that hath it, have, + horseman, husband, lord, man, + married, master, person, + sworn, they of.


The second husband is just a 'man'.

So, yes, Scripture is clear that the marriage 'of the wife' terminates her ability to return to her first husband... a marriage after he divorced her (remember David). However nothing in Scripture indicates that the marriage 'of a husband' to another woman terminates the first marriage, or prevents him from continuing with or reuniting to his first wife (indeed, in the law he is forbidden from not uniting with her).

Nor does Scripture speak of anything but death *terminating* a marriage.

von said...

You might be interested in this thread, and related threads, where we discuss divorce and remarriage.
http://mennodiscuss.com/viewtopic.php?f=33&t=7123&start=0&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&hilit=divorce

One thing that you say:


I understand the arguments for that perspective, but I think they are wrong-headed. If divorce is wrong, it seems nonsensical to remedy the problem with a divorce.

might need some clarification. Those who argue this view (I do not, obviously) argue that the second 'marriage' is no marriage at all, and that is why Jesus uses the word 'adultery'.

Thus the second 'divorce' is no divorce at all... just a legal ritual to formalize ones Biblical understanding.

As I say, I don't agree (Numbers 30).

Stan said...

Von: "However nothing in Scripture indicates that the marriage 'of a husband' to another woman terminates the first marriage, or prevents him from continuing with or reuniting to his first wife (indeed, in the law he is forbidden from not uniting with her)."

Interesting view. The truth is that nothing in Scripture at all (at least that I'm aware of) references a wife divorcing a husband. (It didn't happen in their culture.) The logical conclusion, then, would be that none of those rules regarding divorce and remarriage apply to the wife since she's not mentioned in any of them.

I'd be interested how you'd respond to that conclusion. I'm also still interested in your ideas regarding the responsibility of a wife who divorces and remarries when her "ex-husband" remains single. I'm also interested to find out if you are actually an advocate of practical polygamy in these cases. (You seem to skirt around the question.) If not, based on your views, why not?

Von: "Thus the second 'divorce' is no divorce at all"

Yes, I know this isn't your argument but theirs, and, yes, I know this argument. I'd love to see them explain how it's "no divorce at all" to the government (who requires a divorce to terminate the relationship), the spouse who no longer has an official marital standing, and the children who no longer have a parent in the legal sense. I'm also wondering how one can do "no divorce at all", terminate the relationship, and still obey Rom 13's command to obey the government.

Nope ... making no sense to me. Just because they declare it "no divorce at all" doesn't make it so.

von said...

As for the wife 'divorcing' her husband we do read:

1Co 7:10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
1Co 7:11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
1Co 7:12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
1Co 7:13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.


and

Mar 10:11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.
Mar 10:12 And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

von said...

Nope ... making no sense to me. Just because they declare it "no divorce at all" doesn't make it so.

They mean 'divorce' in the moral sense, not in the legal sense.

Oddly, I would agree with them on that point... I believe they run afoul of Numbers 30.

von said...

I'm also interested to find out if you are actually an advocate of practical polygamy in these cases. (You seem to skirt around the question.) If not, based on your views, why not?

You mean if I was counseling a divorced couple in these circumstances?

I would counsel them to get together with the first wife and, together, decide what the best way of reconciling her claims are.

I would say that the second wife and the husband, as those whose sin caused the difficulty, would have to be willing to accept the first wifes claim to sexual relations, housing, shelter, food, etc.

However I do not imagine that one modern woman in ten million would be willing to make such a claim.

I would not allow her to break up the second marriage, however, or deny the second wifes claim.

Sorry for skirting around it, thought I was clear :(

von said...

Oh, I would also argue that many men have not actually, Biblically, divorced their wives.

Stan said...

Wow, given your views on marriage, divorce, and polygamy, I will definitely need to remember not to vote for you as the next Emperor of America. (This comment is actually a response to several subjects on which you commented. I'm sure you get that.)

von said...

Well, I wasn't aware I was on the ballot... where do I vote?

:)

Anonymous said...

What does a converted Christian man do whose wife (who claims to be a believer) refuses to respect him, has great contempt for him, will barely talk to him, will not sleep with him, etc., etc. I desperately want to be LOVED by a woman and if it were only up to me I would divorce my wife immediately. Is what I describe above abandonment and am I free to remarry? I hate to divorce for the sake of my five children who range in age from 13 to 28. I am striving to survive this marriage in light of scriptures such as Phil 4:13, Rom 8:28 and II Cor 12:9 but it is so difficult. I want to want the love of Christ more than the love and respect of a woman but the desire for a loving, caring wife seems to overpower me at times. No one seems to address a situation like this in sermons or blogs.

Jim

Stan said...

Jim, let me say at the outset that I feel your pain. I've been there myself. I really know what you're going through. I read an interesting statement in a secular book recently: "Genuine love does not require reciprocation." It's true, but it's true because it's biblical (1 Cor 13:4-10). When I was in that position, this is what God told me. (I know it was God because, after all, it's His Word.) "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word" (Eph 5:25-26). I understood the concept of a good husband "taking a bullet" for his wife. Then I realized that the "wife" that Christ died for didn't love Him. When He went to the cross for her, they were in full retreat. My call is to give my life for a wife who may or may not love me. My calling was to die to my self -- those things I desired -- in favor of serving Christ. (Sound familiar?) It isn't fun or pleasant or comfortable, but I found His grace was sufficient for me, for in my weakness His power was completed (2 Cor 12:9-10).

Oh, and in response to your question ("Is what I describe above abandonment?"), I have to say it is not. I can't make it fit into a passage like that Ephesians reference or 1 Cor 7:10-16. If she consents to stay, the believer must remain. It puts you in the unique position to lean heavily on the Savior. Take it from the voice of experience. I'll be praying for you.