From the Comments: Divorce & Remarriage, Part 3

divorce5Inevitably, 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.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Divorce and Remarriage, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to From the Comments: Divorce & Remarriage, Part 3

  1. David Himes says:

    One of the considerations, that is often omitted from discussions about marriage and divorce, is forgiveness.

    I won’t dispute for a second that divorce is evidence of sin in a relationship — and it’s difficult if not impossible of conceive of a situation where this would not be true.

    But if I’m emulating Christ, my first response should be to forgive, not condemn. As Jesus once said, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.”

    Forgiveness covers everything, if our heart is relying on Jesus.

    It is possible to make the case that failing to forgive is as much a sin as condemning those are guilty of divorce.

    To me, this is a more critical consideration than most of what we talk about when this topic comes up.

  2. Andrew says:

    This may seem overly philosophical but it’s worth asking: At what instant does one become married? At what instant does one become divorced? I think these “moments-in-time” may be more difficult to locate than referencing a date on a legal document. I have been through a divorce. In my limited experience, the marriage was over way before the paper said so. Does God appreciate this facet of human relationships? Does he only honor the “filed-on date”? Thoughts?

  3. Gary says:

    I no longer have it but Hugo McCord, a cautious moderate of his day in some ways, wrote an outstanding article on the reference in Matthew 5:32 to the divorced wife being made an adulteress. If anyone still has it it would be worth running as a reprint.

  4. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary,

    Can’t find the McCord article, and what I have found from McCord is rife with legalistic assumptions. Nonetheless, all commentators note that Matt 5:32 says, in the English and the Greek, that the first husbands “makes” the wife he puts away an adulteress (passive voice). Even without the passive voice, the “makes” plainly places the moral fault on the first husband. Only a rank legalist would then impose penalties on the wife for actions that Jesus says are not her fault.

    We think she sins because she’s still married to the first husband, which Jesus not only doesn’t say, he says she’s married to the second husband — which we deny to fit our legalistic theories, preferring theory to scripture (not you, the traditional school of thought).

    We say her sin is in having sex with the second husband, but the tense is aorist, point in time. We ignore this, preferring legalistic theory and tradition to grammar.

    But we don’t understand the text if Jesus is saying something else! Well, a little humility before the Scriptures of God is not a bad thing. Admission of not understanding is the very best place to start. It’s where I started. I’m getting more and more comfortable with starting with not knowing.

    My Bible classes used to get upset — literally angry — when I told them I didn’t know the answer to a question. They thought we were studying for the Great True-False Test in the Sky that Peter is going to give at the gates of heaven. Uncertainly made them feel unsaved.

    Now, having learned grace, they’re more comfortable with not knowing all the answers. Makes for much better classes when we can pool our ideas and our ignorance and investigate the text together.

    If we approach the text with no traditions to fight for, no Council of Trent Medieval Scholastic theories (the three-corner contract theory is from the COT), and think in terms of what we really do know, things look very different.

    We KNOW that Jesus did not come to repeal Torah or to enact new laws. He says so. We aren’t sure how to reconcile this with everything else Paul says, etc., but our task is to reconcile Jesus’ words, not to ignore them or let Paul somehow overrule Jesus.

    We KNOW that God forgives sin. We KNOW that Christianity is about restoring shalom, not pushing God’s children into chaos. When Paul says, “God has called you to peace” in 1 Cor 7:15; that’s not a throwaway line. It’s serious theology. It’s how we’re to think. Jesus came to bring shalom. But we’re too smart for that. We blow right past it to enforce the findings of the Council of Trent on MDR.

    (Jn. 14:27 ESV) 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

    (And, yes, I’ve read —

    (Matt. 10:34-36 ESV) 34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.’

    Of course, following Jesus means no peace with the forces of chaos.)

    We KNOW that after Ezra had the men put away their foreign wives, they were allowed to remarry. (The purpose of the get was to allow remarriage. If you put away your wife, she could remarry under Deu 24. In a polygamous age, the men never had any restrictions on marriage, even when married.)

    There is not the least hint in the OT that remarriage after a divorce is sin. There a LOT in the OT that tells us that divorce is wrong. A lot? Really?

    Well, Gen 2 commands the man to cleave (KJV) to his wife. God joins them as one flesh.

    God was faithful to Israel as her husband (countless passages), despite her many sins against God.

    Malachi says that God hate divorce.

    Ezra is exceptional as the marriages were made not just contrary to Law but contrary to a Law needed to preserve Israel as a distinct nation. (The rabbis drew the annulment/divorce distinction as seen in the Torah’s mamzer regulations. A child was a mamzer only if the sexual union that produced the child was forbidden by Torah — such as incest or marriage to a Gentile.)

    But the NT is radically unlike the NT! No, Jesus was saying what the OT taught — not repealing and replacing. The entire point of Jesus’ words in both Matt 5 and 19 is that the OT says divorce is wrong. He’s telling the Pharisees and other listeners that they’ve misunderstood the Torah.

    Therefore, he says, don’t use the OT to justify putting away your wives. It’s sin, and it’s unfaithfulness — and contrary to God’s nature, the same nature to which we’re called by THE OT!!! Matt 5:43-48 — which draws conclusions from what precedes. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Don’t dehumanize and objectivize women. God doesn’t! Don’t put away your wives. God doesn’t! Don’t refuse to reconcile with those who’ve offended you. God doesn’t! See the point??

    So if we see Jesus as reading from the OT — in light of the character of God, as he SAYS he is, then we easily reach the conclusion that it’s sin to put away your wife. (Jesus grants the fornication exception in part (I imagine; really don’t know) because God never put away Israel for her fornications — and some might wrongfully argue that therefore we are bound by the same standard. But we’re only human.)

    Which points us to the compassionate part of it all. Divorce is not given but tolerated because of hardheartedness. It’s a concession to our fallen natures. But it’s not an excuse to rebel against God’s will. It’s not an excuse to dump your old wife for a new one. It’s not a loophole. It’s doesn’t make unfaithfulness okay. Rather, like repentance, it’s a way out for sinners — because we all sin. It’s compassion — and must not be abused. Divorce is still a sin, but God recognizes a marriage as broken when it’s broken.

    And so, this would seem to mean that remarriage is permitted. After all, Deu 24 plainly permits it. And David’s marriage to Bathsheba was accepted by God, although formed in sin, so much so that her son Solomon became king and an ancestor of the Messiah. So the fact that a marriage is made in sin doesn’t make it void.

    Sorry for the rant (and I know I’m arguing with the wrong person), but this whole colloquy has actually been very helpful to me. I appreciate everyone’s participation. I may not be explaining myself well (probably not at all), but things are coming much clearer for me. The prior series on covenant theology, Jewish salvation and the Law, and even Revelation and the Spirit all coalesce. It fits. It’s not easy — because, at least for me, unlearning is very hard, but it’s just amazing how it all fits. I just wish I could say it better.

  5. Christopher says:

    Jay writes:

    So if we see Jesus as reading from the OT — in light of the character of God, as he SAYS he is, then we easily reach the conclusion that it’s sin to put away your wife. (Jesus grants the fornication exception in part (I imagine; really don’t know) because God never put away Israel for her fornications — and some might wrongfully argue that therefore we are bound by the same standard. But we’re only human.)

    You hit here in a point I have thought for years, that God expects us as Christians (having the full knowledge of God revealed in scriptures) to NOT put away our spouse. And that is precisely why I read Matthew 5 and 19 the way I do (besides being the plain sense meaning of those passages). We are NOT to divorce our spouse and remarry, because in remarriage there is no or very little possibility of reconciling – the VERY purpose of Jesus’ death on a cross. It is, in a word, the very antithesis of God’s purpose, and not just a momentary antithesis but an entire life of it. Divorce, in a great many instances, is just another word for unforgiveness. The exception for adultery I cannot explain, except that perhaps it has to do with the destruction of the mystical bond of two bodies becoming one flesh – something Paul alludes to when speaking of copulating with prostitutes.

    One thing you have failed to do in your responses, Jay, is explain how 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 squares with your theology.

    Jay further writes:

    And so, this would seem to mean that remarriage is permitted. After all, Deu 24 plainly permits it. And David’s marriage to Bathsheba was accepted by God, although formed in sin, so much so that her son Solomon became king and an ancestor of the Messiah. So the fact that a marriage is made in sin doesn’t make it void.

    Jesus permits it for adultery and Paul seems to permit it for abandonment by an unbelieving spouse or the death of a spouse. Here is a key question I don’t think you’ve answered: why does Jesus call remarriage adultery? You seem to hang your entire negation of the idea that it’s because of a presumed ongoing sexual relationship on the aorist verb tense, which I tried to show does not reliably mean punctiliar action. So, to you it must be figurative. But Jesus, at the same time, was not being figurative about committing adultery in one’s heart. A lot of times we know Jesus is being figurative because taking what he said literally does not make sense. But in those cases, it is readily obvious to most everyone. That is demonstrably not true of Matthew 5 and 19, because so much ink has been spent in disputations. One has to go to great length to show why perhaps Jesus was not being literal in these passages, as you do. But that means either the greatest teacher the world has ever known, nay God Himself, did not use a very effective trope in this case or that a lot of us are really, really dull.

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Christopher writes,

    One thing you have failed to do in your responses, Jay, is explain how 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 squares with your theology.

    http://oneinjesus.info/2014/08/1-corinthians-727-28-but-if-you-do-marry-you-have-not-sinned/

    http://oneinjesus.info/2008/09/mdr-1-corinthians-7-part-2/

    Short answer: in 1 Cor 7, throughout the chapter, Paul urges single Christians to remain unmarried. The entreaties (recommendations, urgings) are the same voice etc. as the entreaty to remain unmarried in 1 Cor 7:10-11.

    Second, there is this regarding 1 Cor 7:26-27 —

    The man who ‘has been loosed’ (which may mean divorced, that the spouse has died, or that he has never married) should not seek a wife. Both verbs are in the perfect tense and indicate settled states.

    Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (TNTC 7; IVP/Accordance electronic ed. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 115.

    That is, where Paul says to remain unmarried or reconcile, I believe, consistent with Jesus’ teachings, he is speaking of a recent divorce. Do not divorce in order to remarry — therefore, if you divorce, you should remain unmarried or reconciled.

    But once these become settled states, 1 Cor 7:26-27 specifically permits remarriage.

    (1 Cor. 7:27-28 Young’s Literal Translation) 27 Hast thou been bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed; hast thou been loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. 28 But and if thou mayest marry, thou didst not sin; and if the virgin may marry, she did not sin; and such shall have tribulation in the flesh: and I spare you.

  7. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Christopher asked,

    But Jesus, at the same time, was not being figurative about committing adultery in one’s heart. A lot of times we know Jesus is being figurative because taking what he said literally does not make sense. But in those cases, it is readily obvious to most everyone.

    Let’s take the “obvious” case,

    (Matt. 5:27-28 ESV) 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

    Adultery is having sex with someone, right? Sex. But Jesus calls a thought “adultery.” No sex. Just thinking about sex. Is thinking literal adultery? No. No sex means no adultery. It’s figurative adultery. It’s a metaphor with “adultery” meaning something like “the moral equivalent of adultery.” Jesus is asking us to look beyond the command to the heart of the command, to God’s heart as revealed in Torah. Thus, Jesus reads “You shall not commit adultery” to mean “You shall be faithful to your spouse, even in your thoughts.” Why? Because this is what faithfulness means to God. And because looking soon leads to divorcing your wife to get the woman you lusted after. Don’t do the things that lead to sin.

    But is thinking about sex just as bad as having sex? Well, if your wife were tempted to cheat on you but she didn’t, would that be better than if she did? It’s not the same. And we are hyper-literal when we say that lust is just as bad as the sex — because if that’s true, then we’d may as well act on our carnal thoughts because the sin is no greater. Which would be nonsense — and which reveals that ‘adultery” in v. 28 is a metaphor.

    Jesus speaks this way because he’s not writing law. He’s teaching, and as a great rabbi, he’s teaching us to think. To turn these ideas over and around in our minds, to debate and discuss, and to dig deeper. He’s introducing us to a new and better way of thinking — not to a new legality.

    Next, also in Matthew, we have —

    (Matt. 12:39 ESV) 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

    Is Jesus accusing the generation of sexual unfaithfulness to their spouses? Or something else? How do we know? The immediate context isn’t that helpful. In fact, you likely don’t get his point unless you’ve read the Prophets. The Prophets routinely refer to covenant unfaithfulness as “adultery,” but Jesus hardly spells it out for the listener. He expects us to already know that, because it was such a common metaphor it was idiomatic to the Jews, that is, they knew well that “adultery” was routinely used to refer to covenant unfaithfulness.

    (Matt. 16:3-4 ESV) 3 And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. 4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

    Matthew actually quotes Jesus twice saying this — and so it must have been a favorite saying of Jesus’ and important to Matthew’s theme. And Matthew (written to Jews) assumes his readers need no explanation of the meaning of the metaphor.

    So, yes, it’s easily shown that Jesus uses “adultery” in a figurative sense — not always, but often. And he does so expecting us to know how the Prophets used the word. In fact, it’s typical of Matthew (not just Matthew) that the author of the Gospel expects us to know what a typical Second Temple Period Jew of the First Century would know about the OT. Matthew also doesn’t bother to define “gospel” or “kingdom” in chapter 4 — long before Jesus is revealed as Messiah. Nor does he bother to define “Christ” (Messiah). He assumes we’ve read Daniel and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and the Psalms — a very safe assumption for his original audience but no longer safe at all.

    PS — Showing that scholars argue over the aorist in some settings hardly means that you’ve shown that the aorist tenses in Matt 5:31-32 shouldn’t be read as I’ve suggested. I’ve quoted actual Greek experts addressing this exact question in this context. I’ve consulted quite a largely number of Greek grammars and commentaries. I find none that disagree. If I’m in error, show me a Greek resource that says so.

  8. Christopher says:

    Jay writes:

    “Adultery is having sex with someone, right? Sex. But Jesus calls a thought “adultery.” No sex. Just thinking about sex. Is thinking literal adultery? No. No sex means no adultery. It’s figurative adultery.”

    No, Jay, it is not a metaphor. Jesus didn’t say adultery, but adultery in the heart. People actually engage in sex in their minds. They’re called fantasies. And they fulfill those fantasies by physically gratifying their desires all by themselves. It is not technically adultery, but it frequently ends in autoeroticism. Maybe you don’t know anything about that, but I bet a whole lot of brothers could confirm it in a discipleship group.

    Jay further writes:

    “The Prophets routinely refer to covenant unfaithfulness as “adultery,” but Jesus hardly spells it out for the listener. He expects us to already know that, because it was such a common metaphor it was idiomatic to the Jews, that is, they knew well that “adultery” was routinely used to refer to covenant unfaithfulness.”

    But this is an obvious metaphor. Almost everything is a metaphor when describing God in human language. What better term would you propose?

    Jay also writes:

    “PS — Showing that scholars argue over the aorist in some settings hardly means that you’ve shown that the aorist tenses in Matt 5:31-32 shouldn’t be read as I’ve suggested. I’ve quoted actual Greek experts addressing this exact question in this context. I’ve consulted quite a largely number of Greek grammars and commentaries. I find none that disagree. If I’m in error, show me a Greek resource that says so.”

    Agreed. I will need to do some research. But I would be willing to bet there is not unanimous opinion. Are you saying you have never encountered an alternative reading ever? That would be most unusual.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Christopher wrote,

    But this is an obvious metaphor. Almost everything is a metaphor when describing God in human language. What better term would you propose?

    Jesus was describing this generation of Jews as “adulterous,” not God, so I really don’t get your point.

    It is not technically adultery …

    Exactly. It’s not literal adultery. It is figurative language using “adultery” for something that is like adultery – hence, a metaphor.

    The question of whether it is wrong is not in dispute. Of course it’s wrong. Proving it wrong adds nothing to an argument where both sides already agree on that point.

  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Christopher,

    PS Thanks for pushing me to better articulate my thinking — and to think deeper. And for actually engaging with the arguments I’m making. Very helpful conversation.

  11. Christopher says:

    You have a great blog, Jay. You must be the most prolific conservative Christian blogger on the Internet. This is a great forum for hashing things out. I am not persuaded to your view, though I agree with a number of your points. As you concede in your column on 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, the plain sense meaning of Paul’s statement is what I think. You rely heavily on the verb tense in Matthew 5 and 19 being punctiliar, not stopping to realize that, when it comes to controversial theological positions, religious commenators and translators can get surprisingly political. I think the fact that baptizo, for instance, is transliterated rather than translated is a perfect example of that. As far as I know, Weymouth’s is the only translation that does otherwise (I think he uses the term immerse). I’ll look further into that issue and digest everything that has been argued on both sides and report my conclusions at a later date.

  12. Christopher says:

    Jay writes:

    Exactly. It’s not literal adultery. It is figurative language using “adultery” for something that is like adultery – hence, a metaphor.

    I disagree. As I said, Jesus did not call it adultery. He called it adultery in the heart (or imagination), caused by lusting after a woman. It is adultery in one’s imagination, with an undeniable sexual tenor. So it is not a metaphor; it is literally committing adultery in one’s mind. But that is not the same thing as adultery for which one could have been stoned to death – anymore than killing someone in one’s imagination is murder. That’s why I suppose Jesus did not call it adultery.

    This seems patently obvious to me. Maybe I’m just dull. Anyone else have an opinion on this minor point?

Leave a Reply