Monday, October 12, 2015

Divorce Itself

I have previously written many blog posts on the adultery of remarriage after divorce.  I will now write on the issue of divorce itself.  God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16).  That is a statement of fact, not a commandment.  It is just as true today as was back then.  But the Bible does give commandments also against divorce.  But before we get into the commandments themselves, I will review some concepts that I wrote into my series “The Seriousness of Remarriage after Divorce”.

There is essentially no difference between a “legal” divorce and “legal” separation in God’s eyes.  A divorce is any “putting away” of one’s spouse. 

Whenever the Bible talks about relationships between men and women, if you replace the masculine words like “husband” and “man” with feminine words like “wife” and “woman” and vice versa, the resulting statement will NOT necessarily be true.  Just take everything it says as is, and don’t try to make something out of it that is not there.

There are some commandments in the Bible which are clearly moral absolutes.  That means that we are to obey these commandments no matter what and if we don’t there will negative consequences affecting the eternal salvation of ourselves and others.  There are also commandments which are not moral absolutes which we are to obey except in extreme circumstances when doing so would actually go against the two greatest commandments (love God and your neighbor).

Finally no Bible passage can render any other passage useless.  (II Timothy 2:15)

With these principles in mind let us first examine the explicit commandments against divorce in the New Testament. 

“…whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery.”

Matthew 5:32 (KJV)

"What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."

Matthew 19:6 (KJV)

“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband… and let not the husband put away his wife.”

I Corinthians 7:10-11 (KJV)

There are also other passages with bear on this question of divorce which do not explicitly mention divorce itself.  But before we get into these let us go down some false trails.

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

II Corinthians 6:14-18 (KJV)

From the above passage, one might conclude that if a believer were married to an unbeliever, the believer must leave the unbeliever.  But this is not the case.  The above passage is a general commandment, which certainly can be used to say that a believer should not marry an unbeliever, but the Bible addresses this particular situation more specifically in I Corinthians 7:12-16 (KJV):

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. 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. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

Thus we can conclude that the unbelief of a spouse is not sufficient grounds for a divorce.  However, if the unbelieving spouse wants a divorce, it should be granted.  Properly understood I Corinthians 7:15 is neither grounds for divorce nor justification for remarriage after divorce.  The "departing" actually is a divorce.  Here is another false trail :

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.

Matthew 18:15-17 (KJV)

Suppose that a man trespasses against his wife and the wife follows the above instructions.  Suppose he refuses to repent even to the point that the next step, according to this passage is to treat him as a heathen and a publican (i.e. a pagan or a tax collector).  But again, according to I Corinthians 7:12-16, an unbeliever is not to be divorced just because of his unbelief.  Treating him as an unbeliever does not mean you should divorce him.  But the “heathen” clause of Matthew 18:17 applies to generally to unrepentant sinners.  But there is another passage which gives further instruction for more specific sins.

11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

I Corinthians 5:11 (KJV)

Now this is actually saying do not keep company or even eat with such a person.  This goes much further than Matthew 18:17.  Some people might say that if you are in a situation like this, just separate yourself from your spouse, but do not legally divorce.  But I don’t think that this is the right way to look at it.  In God’s eyes, there is not much difference.  

Let’s construct a hypothetical example.  Suppose a man is married to a woman who satisfies the following :

1. She claims to be a believer.

2. She has NOT committed any form of sexual immorality.

3. But she has committed another sin or sins mentioned in I Corinthians 5:11 (covetousness, idolatry, railing, drunkenness or extortion).

4. For good measure, suppose that she refuses to repent even after her husband followed the instructions of Matthew 18:15-17.

Note that I Corinthians 5:11 is not specifically addressing relationships between men and women.  Therefore it applies equally to women as well as men.  According to the above passage, the man should separate himself from his wife.  But Matthew 5:32 and I Corinthians 7:10 seem to indicate that this would be sinful.  So what is the man to do?  Recall that Matthew 5:32 is within the context of extreme warnings against sin—those warnings are about eternal damnation.  Such commandments should generally be regarded as moral absolutes.  This means that the commandment is to be obeyed even in the most extreme circumstances (see Matthew 5:29-30).  However, note that the man who divorces his wife doesn’t commit adultery himself, but only causes his wife to commit adultery.  (This is presumably because she is then able and will be tempted to marry another man which is adultery in God’s eyes.)  But the woman in the above hypothetical situation has already put herself in danger of damnation by refusing to repent of the other sin(s) she is committing.  This fact alone would still not justify the man’s divorcing his wife, but for the reason why the instructions in I Corinthians 5:11 are to obeyed :

…that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you…To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

I Corinthians 5:2, 5 (KJV)

Again, when more specific instructions are given they take precedence over a more general command, especially when the specific instructions indicate that a person’s eternal salvation is at stake.  Nothing is more important than that. 

But let us now look at the case where a woman leaves her husband.  I Corinthians 7:10-13, the only commandment in the New Testament that is against it, is not within the context of anything about hell and the disobedience of this commandment is not equated with adultery or any sin which is considered damning if accepted as a lifestyle (see I Corinthians 6:9 and Galatians 5:21).  Thus we can conclude that it is not a moral absolute.  This means that we are allowed to use some common sense in judgement when extreme circumstances are involved.  Thus, we conclude that a woman has more leeway in regards to divorce than a man.  This is the opposite of remarriage after divorce.

In conclusion, a man must not divorce his wife except if she commits fornication or if she claims to be a believer and he has taken her before other believers and then the entire church and she still refuses to repent of her covetousness, idolatry, railing (reviling), drunkenness or extortion.  A woman may also divorce her husband for these reasons, but there may be other possible reasons not specifically mentioned in Scripture (e.g. physical abuse or if her husband is a drunkard but not a believer).  Furthermore, the woman does not necessarily have to immediately take her husband before others and the church if her life or physical well-being is in eminent danger.

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