Inevitably, my responses to two emails about divorce and remarriage led to questions and responses in the comments. In fact, to cover the issue properly would require a book — and so I wrote one: But If You Do Marry … It’s a free (cheap!) download and covers all the familiar arguments as well as the latest scholarship.
But perhaps the far briefer comments I posted in response to questions would be of help to some readers who don’t need the full dose.
This and next comment are in response to a question posted by reader Nathan.
Nathan asks (Part 1),
How do we deal with Ezra 9-10, where God’s people took wives in violation of His law? Did Ezra not instruct them to make a covenant with God and put away those wives?
Two key points.
First, the marriages were not allowed at all. Jews could not marry Gentiles — and doing so would lead to the end of Israel as a distinct nation. The marriages were more properly considered annulled as contrary to the Law. The same result happens when one attempts an incestuous marriage. No marriage takes place because the union is forbidden by the Law.
Now, we assume that Jesus said that when someone remarries after a divorce that the remarriage is void. But the text is to the contrary.
(Matt. 5:32 ESV) 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
“Marries a divorced woman” means the divorced woman is married. Jesus does not say that the marriage is null. Moreover, he doesn’t say that sex in that marriage is adultery because she’s still married. In fact, he plainly says that she is divorced and remarried — meaning she’s remarried.
The Greek verbs are aorist or take that time action from adjacent aorist verbs, meaning that “commits adultery” and “makes her commit adultery” speak not of ongoing sexual relations but a single, point-in-time event — the remarriage. He’s saying that the remarriage is adultery, that is, a violation of the marriage covenant — just as a married man looking at a woman not his wife with lust is adultery — a breach of the marriage covenant. It’s sin. But not void.
Why is it sin? Well, in context, it’s sin because it’s a consequence of the lustful looking. If a man looks lustfully at a woman not his wife and then divorces his wife to marry the new woman, it’s adultery — even though he took the trouble to divorce his first wife before having sex with the second wife. He shouldn’t even be looking! He must be faithful to his present wife — with all that he is and has.
What about the man marrying the put-away wife? Jesus says that he’s interpreting Torah — and so we should read in light of Torah. Jesus is interpreting Deu 24, which prohibits a man from putting away a wife, her remarrying a second man, and then after being put away a second time, marrying the first man — her original husband.
The man who marries the put away woman makes it impossible for the wife to remarry her first husband under Deu 24. He thereby destroys any chance of reconciliation and restoration of the marriage God blessed. That doesn’t make the second marriage void (that’s a Catholic interpretation from the Council of Trent). It’s a marriage, but it’s a sin against the first marriage covenant.
Now, the verb “commits adultery” is passive, and there is no English equivalent. The closest I can come is “cheat on.” The passive form would be “be cheated on” or “be cheated.” Hence, the wife is made to be cheated on by the first putting away (true enough — her marital covenant is violated by being put away wrongly) and her second husband is “cheated on” in the sense that he has to live with the consequences of the first divorce and the possible accusation that he caused the first divorce.
Passive voice means that the first husband is the sinner. Aorist time action means the sin occurs due to the divorce or the remarriage, not due to having sex with a second wife.
Say what you will, some facts are clear —
1. Jesus says the divorce is a divorce. He never says there is no divorce.
2. Jesus says the remarriage is a marriage. He never says it’s void.
3. Jesus never suggests that the second husband should put away his wife or be put away.
4. The tense of the verbs are plainly point in time, making the theory that the sin is sex with the second wife plainly wrong. The action that is sinful is the divorce (quite clearly) and perhaps the second marriage (much less clear since the adultery is passive, meaning the actor being accused is not the second husband but, almost certainly, the first).
5. “Divorce” refers to breaking the marriage, not filing papers in court, since in the First Century, courts were not involved in the divorce process.