MDR: The Traditional View, Part 3

To sum up, under the traditional view, we have sometimes counseled married couples with children to divorce, we have split churches, and we have denied remarriage to perfectly innocently divorced spouses, making their victimization by their former spouses permanent. We have a doctrine that allows for no mercy, that offends notions of common decency, and that drives our members from Christ.

Moreover, we have here a doctrine that is more legalistic than the Law of Moses. Jesus said (repeatedly), “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”[1] Paul taught (repeatedly) that the gospel is based on love not law.[2] And here we have an unmerciful law. The only justification is a legalistic policy argument — that by making divorce horribly painful, we discourage divorce. But this flatly contradicts the rest of the Christian message. And experience shows plainly that it doesn’t work.

Christ died to bring forgiveness. Murder, adultery, rape, theft, homosexuality, not to mention lust, greed, and failure to evangelize, are all forgivable and forgiven (1 Cor. 6:9-11, for example). That’s what grace is for. So can it really be true that a marriage, once made, can’t be ended except for fornication? Is it truly God’s law that he holds couples to their marriage vows until death — even innocent wives who have been beaten, abused, and abandoned by their husbands?

Now I readily admit that the Bible teaches that breaking the covenant of matrimony is sin. It is. But does that mean that divorce doesn’t really happen? If a couple divorces, they may well have sinned in God’s eyes, but are they still married in God’s eyes? What passage actually says that they are still married?

Doesn’t Jesus flatly say in Matthew 19:1, “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Doesn’t this imply that what God has joined together can be separated?

Now the last thing you’re going to hear from this teacher is that Jesus was wrong, but I do believe that he has been mistranslated and misunderstood. Also, as I’ll point out in more detail later, these are the wrong passages to begin our study. In the Gospels, Jesus was interpreting the Law of Moses for the benefit of Jews who were at the time under the Law of Moses.

In Matthew 5, when Jesus says, “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement” (KJV), Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 24, from the Law of Moses, regulating how Jews were to divorce under the Law of Moses.

In Matthew 19, when the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” (KJV) they are asking Jesus about the same passage in Deuteronomy.

Jesus’ teachings matter to Christians, but only in the context of who he was speaking to and what he was speaking about. Wouldn’t it make much better sense to start with what the Bible says directly to Christians about divorce and remarriage?

After we give some more background, we will very carefully study 1 Corinthians 7, because that chapter was written by Paul to Christians, no longer under the Law of Moses, about divorce and remarriage. That is where we must start, not in the Gospels. After letting the inspired Paul instruct us on what Jesus really said and how Jesus’ teachings apply to Christians, we’ll return to the Gospels to demonstrate that Paul and Jesus don’t contradict one another.

[1] Matt. 9:13; 12:7, in each case quoting Hosea 6:6.

[2] (Rom. 13:8) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law

(Gal. 5:14) The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

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.
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5 Responses to MDR: The Traditional View, Part 3

  1. Tim Archer says:

    Seems like what many advocate actually violates Deuteronomy 24:4, which says that a man can't divorce a woman then take her back after she's been with another. Many would break up the second marriage and have the first couple come back together.

    Not wanting to be a legalist about this, just pointing out that what some advocate is described as "an abomination to the Lord." I have trouble believing that's what God wants us to do today.

    Grace and peace,

  2. Jay Guin says:

    Interesting … and quite right.

    It shows a serious flaw in our hermeneutic. Based on a flawed interpretation of "repent," we specifically violate Deu 24:4. When our hand is called on it, we declare the law nailed to the cross.

    But if the law is repealed, why is Jesus' intepretation of the now-repealed law binding? Oh, well, Jesus said it, so it's law for us.

    Then why isn't the law he was interpreting law for us? He wasn't amending the law. In Matt 19, he was interpreting Deu 24 in light of Genesis 1 and 2, right?

    And so, the usual CENI and "New Testament as constitution" approaches are inadequate to unravel the knot. We need a new approach.

  3. David says:

    I have been following hte MDR articles and replys with some interest as that is certainly a growing problem within the church. We have some up with a hadge podge of solutions for various situations – some of which conflict with other situations. Let me be the first to say that you can create scenarios where I have no idea as to the way you "make it right". However I do want to address some of what I have read in these articles.

    In Matthew 19 I don't see how anyone could interpert that to mean anything but that God tolerated (but didn't like it) in the Mosaic era and that he wasn't going to tolerate it (save for fornication) from now on.

    You made a point that doesn't make sense since the New Law is supposedly less strict than the old law. Welllll not always. Before you couldn't kill – now we can't hate. Before we couldn't commit adultry – now we can't lust.

    Another argument is "would God ask us to deliberately hurt innocent children in our attempt to correct a MDR situation. ie – leave your "new" wife (and kids) and go back to your "old" wife? All I can say to that is sometimes kids (and other innocents) are hurt by our deliverate sins. Its not "fair" that a van load of kids get killed by a drunk driver – but it happens every day. I kind of compare that to the whole "abortion" argument. I'm all for choice – I just think the woman should think about that 9 months prior to her baby's birth. I am all for men not creating new familys that they are responsible for – but lets think about it before we create the new family.

    Another point touched on was the old "if I steal your car and then repent, don't I have to give the car back" argument. First off I, like you, don't really think thats such a well constructed argument. I think a better one is "you have an apple orchard and every night I sneak over and steal your apples. At some point I become a Christian. Now perhaps I don't have the ways or means to every return all your apples – but don't you think I really should stop sneaking over the fense and stealing them once converted?"

    Lastly, one point I did not see addressed was when dealing with I Corinthians 7. Something that needs to be remembered is that Paul is faced with a unique situation with a very unique sin. As I stated in my interpertation of Matt. 19 – Paul was faced with Christians who had perfectly legal divorce(s) under the Mosaic Law who now stand condemned under the New Law. Some type of dispensation had to be granted to these folks and I think that is what we're seeing in I Cor. 7. and I think the verses as a whole tie in well in explaining a verse we've woefully misinterperted for many years.

    Does anyone really think that God doesn't care whether or not we marry within the church on our 1st marriage but on the 2nd marriage we have to marry "Only in the Lord" (v. 39)?? How rediculous is that? I think again, Paul is making exceptions to that specific group of people (who were married under the Old Law) and who now found themselves yoked with unbelievers.

    All this said I will still go back to my original statement that there are situations where I don't have good answers. In our congregation we accept MDR couples but limit their service based on our best estimate of the "scripturality" of their situation. And I do believe local elderships have the authority to make policies that best fit their situations and interpertations.

  4. Jay Guin says:


    I'll be addressing your other points as we go along. But this one is new to me:

    In our congregation we accept MDR couples but limit their service based on our best estimate of the “scripturality” of their situation. And I do believe local elderships have the authority to make policies that best fit their situations and interpertations.

    * Why limit anyone's service? Aren't we commanded to be servants? Limiting service seems to be limiting opportunities to serve God, which is surely wrong.

    * It seems to suggest an in-between kind of grace. I mean, either you're forgiven or you're not. If you're not forgiven, then you must have fallen away and you aren't a Christian at all. After all, the forgiveness that grace provides is continuous (1 John 1:7, for example). Rom 8:1 seems to pretty clearly declare that there are no lost Christians.

    (Rom 8:1) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,

    * The underlying assumption seems to be that serving God is a reward for being good — which is a works-based approach to doing church. You know, many growing churches take the approach that even the lost should be invited to serve — as a way of drawing them into the community of the faithful and teaching about life in Jesus firsthand.

    But perhaps I'm missing something. Maybe you could help me better understand by giving an example or two as to what MDR situation results in being denied what kind of service.

  5. nick gill says:

    God doesn't waste his breath. If he tells us not to do something, then clearly it CAN BE DONE. Both witchcraft (the older Enlightenment argument said that there was no such thing as demons, etc) and divorce fall into this category.

    David, where do you get the idea that Jesus modified the law in Matt 5-7? The whole Sermon on the Mount is interpretation and exposition of the Torah. God NEVER allowed intentional lusting. Read the Tenth Commandment. God never commanded hatred. How else could the Second Great Command come from Leviticus? The Israelites selfishly interpreted "neighbor." Nowhere is it written that God approved of their interpretation.

    The moral code of the Mosaic law has always been perfect and never needed revision. On divorce, Hillel was a great heretic when he began to teach that Deut 24 implied that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. Jesus does not make the Law stricter.

    When we go beyond what Scripture teaches by demanding specific (uncommanded) acts of penitence that fit our creed, it is we ourselves who sin and must seek forgiveness.

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