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January 13, 2010

By Dr Gary S. Day

 The Biblical Position on Marriage and Divorce

Divorce is common in our society and often deeply touches the life of the Church, who is called upon to help married couples experience God’s blessings in their lives; teaching the Biblical stance on the subject of marriage and divorce is one way to help.  However, there is no universal consensus on how to apply the Bible’s teaching on the subject.  The correct understanding of the teaching is not the problem, yet the accurate interpretation of the relative Biblical passages must precede their application. So, what is the teaching on the subject?

The Biblical Position on Marriage

God Instituted Marriage, not man.

From Genesis 2:24 is seen that God established the permanent marital covenant.  The husband and wife are “one flesh” which no man should separate (cf. Matthew 19:4-6).Jesus said, “What God has joined together, let no man separate,”  indicating that when a couple is married, God is joining them together.

Homosexual “Marriage” is not accepted for Marriage is between a man and a woman.

“He who created them from the beginning made them male and female…and the two shall become one flesh” (Matt 19:4-5 cf. also Genesis 2:24).

Marriage is good.

Not only did God design and initiate marriage, He also says it is good (Proverbs 18:22). It was used as an image of God’s relationship with Israel (Isaiah 49:18; 62:5), and later to demonstrate the relationship between Christ and His Church (1 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:32).

Marriage is not mandatory for everyone.

Some people have chosen, and can choose, to remain single for the sake of the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:12).  1 Corinthians 7:25-35 describes reasons for choosing to remain a single (unmarried) person in the light of the then present difficulties, which can apply today also.  The single life should not be seen as second rated lifestyle, but as a valid alternative, having advantages in serving the Lord.

Marriage forms a new family.

The cleaving, or adhering to, a wife means to start a new family, without the newly married couple being any longer under the authority of the mother and father (Genesis 2:24).

The man is the head of the wife and household.

Ephesians 5:22-24 teaches the role of the husband and wife, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.”

If we ignore, change or confuse these God-designed roles, trouble surely will come in the family.  Many today, even Christians, have sought to undermine the position of the husband in the marriage relationship, because of modern day cultural and political concepts that oppose the Word of God.  Not only does this serve to injure marriages, it also dishonors the Lord by ignoring His Word.  In essence we are saying that God doesn’t know about marriage roles or is wrong about them.

The man and woman become one flesh in marriage

Marriage involves three things: 1) leaving, 2) cleaving and 3) becoming one flesh (Genesis 2:24). Becoming one flesh is the physical union between the husband and wife.

However, 1 Corinthians 6:16 shows, that the physical union in itself does not produce an indissoluble bond.  For marriage is more than two people who have moved in together and having sex, it is a man and a woman who have publicly and legally committed themselves to each other as husband and wife.  It is this union that is intended to be inseparable (Matthew 19:6).

Christians must marry Christians.

Many hurtful hours and spiritual separation from the Lord comes when a person believes that they will lead the unbelieving person to the Lord once they are married.  Although 1 Corinthians 7:39 provides freedom in choosing whether to marry and whom to marry, it has one restriction; the woman must marry “in the Lord,” meaning a fellow believer in Christ.  In addition, 2 Corinthians 6:14 teach Christians not to be “bound together with unbelievers.” This command also applies to marriage.

The Biblical position on divorce

Marriage is a covenant designed to be kept (Proverbs 2:17; Malachi 2:14; Numbers 30:2; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6). God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and so should the Christian, for marriage was intended by God to be for as long as both people are alive (Romans 7:1-3; 1 Corinthians 7:39). Therefore, divorce is not encouraged.

For those in physical danger, or those who for some other reason feel they are unable to remain with their marriage partner, a separation period is recommend rather than divorce.  Although it may not be seen by those in the midst of marital unsettlement, there is the hope of one day seeing the restoration, through God’s grace, of what He has joined.

However, there is a difference between what God intends and what God allows.

There are two passages in the New Testament that allow for divorce under certain circumstances:

1)  Matthew 19:3-12 allows for divorce when the spouse commits immorality.

In Matthew 19, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees about the permission granted by Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 to divorce.  In response, Jesus describes God’s ideal that marriage should be permanent, and that divorce and remarriage results in adultery.  The exception to the ideal rule is immorality.  Immorality is a term referring to acts of a sexual nature, most notably adultery, but also pedophilia or homosexual acts would apply here.  If the spouse has indeed broken the sexual bond, the other partner is not guilty of adultery by ending the relationship and remarrying.

However, the immorality should not be assumed, but known for a fact.  Christians have no right to end the marriage based upon our suspicions alone.   Also, lust (for example, viewing pornography) is a sin and considered by Jesus as adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:28), but it is not in itself technically an act of immorality, but it is something that needs to be addressed.

Passages such as Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:2-12 and Luke 16:18 do not include an exception for the case of immorality. However, the exception clause in Matthew 19:9 is sufficient to allow for divorce in the case of immorality.

2)  1 Corinthians 7:15 allows for a Christian to  divorce when a spouse who is not a Christian abandons them.

1 Corinthians 7:15 states that, “Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave, the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.”  A believer is not under bondage if an unbeliever leaves the marriage. This indicates that divorce is allowed in this situation. No expectation of God’s Spirit to work to bring conviction to the heart of the departing spouse is seen, insomuch that they have never submitted themselves to God through faith.

Unlike the first exception, in this case the believer cannot initiate the divorce. If this occurs, Paul teaches that he should be allowed to leave, for the believer cannot be bound to a marriage that no longer exists with the unbeliever.

The Biblical position on remarriage

Some have claimed that the Bible allows divorce in certain cases, but not remarriage. However each of the two exceptions stated above include remarriage. While the exception clause (“except for immorality”) in Matthew 19:9 is linked to the divorce clause, it must be understood as applying to remarriage as well (“and marries another”).

There is only one situation that is discussed in Matthew 19:9, an individual who has divorced and remarried.  It does not discuss a person who divorces and does not remarry. The one who divorces his wife except for immorality is the same individual who remarries in the text. The two issues cannot be honestly separated.

Also, by separating divorce from remarriage in Matthew 19:9 we are led to the odd conclusion that someone who divorces his wife, with the exception of immorality, commits adultery. That is, we are forced to say that divorce by itself is equal to adultery.   This is not the case.  Remarriage must be understood as well as divorce in Matthew 19:9.

To say that a brother or sister is not under bondage in cases where an unbelieving spouse leaves, as stated in 1 Corinthians 7:15, implies that the believer has the freedom to remarry given the action of abandonment. To say remarriage is forbidden places a restriction upon the believer that is not implied in the Scripture text. This conclusion is also supported by 1 Corinthians 7:27-28, which says, if you choose to remarry you have not sinned.

God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) yet because of the failings of man He allows for divorce and remarriage in cases of adultery, and desertion by an unbelieving spouse.

If divorce occurs it surely is a very difficult situation even under the best of circumstances.  God’s grace is sufficient for all those who with submissive hearts draw near to Him.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose;” this includes divorce.  The present attitude of our heart is more important than our past choices we have made.

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